Jersey Beat Music Fanzine

More Metal Vol 19

Well, I managed to pull it off. I got another batch of reviews done before I start my next semester of school and my time becomes infinitely precious. But, don’t worry, I’ll still be lurking in the shadows, biding my time to re-emerge from the darkness to regale you with my longwinded diatribes about the latest metal releases. This go round, I have a batch of releases from modern tech death overlords Revocation, the infamous blackened thrash barbarians Skeletonwitch, the mystical black death stylings of Quinta Essentia, the brutal riff wizardry of Dawn of Demise, the legendary metallic hardcore powerhouse Ringworm, and the truly inspirational Ukrainian modern metal alchemists Jinjer. This may be a first, but I’m thoroughly impressed with every single release here so prepare for some sickeningly gushing reviews. Until I return, stay metal, my friends.

Revocation – Great is Our Sin (Metal Blade Records)

Since taking the modern death metal scene by storm back in 2009 with their Relapse Records debut, Existence is Futile – the band’s second full length record – Boston’s Revocation have become one of the scene’s true darlings, garnering critical and fan acclaim with every subsequent release. Their last record Deathless, their first for Metal Blade Records, was widely hailed as the band’s best yet, and if you were a fan of that record’s concise melding of progressive tinged, thrash infused, technical death metal then you’ll find a lot to love on Great is Our Sin. Six albums in and Revocation seems to have nailed down their style and sound to damn near perfection, writing well composed and arranged three to five minute nuggets of metal bliss that are full of powerful hooks, tricky changes, and blistering fretwork. The band has found just the right mix of thrash and death influences that perfectly bridges the gap between the two genres like no other band in recent memory – perhaps ever. The production from the legendary Zeuss (Rob Zombie, Shadows Fall, Hatebreed, Whitechapel – just to name a few) is exquisite – THIS is what a technical death metal album is supposed to sound like. Every instrument is clear and well defined while still meshing together to create a dynamic whole. The guitars stand out without being overbearing and the drums are placed perfectly in the mix. One of my biggest pet peeves these days is the tendency of many modern tech death bands to shove the drums – particularly the double bass – so far up front in the mix that all you can hear is the incessant pitter-patter of the kick drums which completely washes out the guitar work. This is certainly not the case here as Zeuss deftly balances everything perfectly, which creates a very satisfying listening experience and really allows every nuance of the band’s phenomenal chops to shine throughout these ten tracks. This record is the debut of the band’s new drummer Ash Pearson, who steps right into the pretty big shoes of Phil Dubois-Coyne without missing a beat (pun intended). Guitarists David Davidson and Dan Gargiulo have really come into their own as a team, deftly playing off of each other at every twist and turn and unleashing some truly sick six string wizardry all over this thing. These guys combine sublime melody and finger-bending technicality better than just about any other guitar team going these days. You can really tell that the band puts a lot of thought into every riff and lick on display here, and even at their most dizzying moments of technical ecstasy there is not one single wasted note to be found. The band does get a little help from their friends on this one, with none other than the infamous Marty Friedman (Cacophony, Megadeth) putting his distinctive stamp on the instrumental track “The Exaltation” with a wrenching solo. If you haven’t jumped onto the Revocation bandwagon by now, it’s about time that you caved. Great is Our Sin firmly establishes Revocation as not only a force to be reckoned with, but as one that will prove to be classic in its own due time.

Skeletonwitch – The Apothic Gloom EP (Prosthetic Records)

Wow. It’s really hard to believe that it has been three years since Skeletonwitch released their last full length, 2013’s Serpents Unleashed. Skeletonwitch have been darlings of the metal scene ever since their spectacular sophomore record Beyond the Permafrost, and have seemed to be unable to do any wrong since then. But, much has happened since their last album, particularly in the vocal department. Longtime vocalist Chance Garnette left the band in 2014 under dubious circumstances. Details are unclear, but apparently there were questions over Garnette’s alcohol abuse and a pending domestic violence charge against him. Needless to say, this forced the band to take a step back and re-examine things. For the first time in almost a decade, Skeletonwitch had something to prove – that they could bounce back from the loss of their frontman and still be just a force to be reckoned with in the international metal scene. Towards that end, the band enlisted the services for former Wolvhammer and Veil of Maya vocalist Adam Clemens and entered the studio armed with the four new tracks that make up The Apothic Gloom EP. And what a statement this EP is. Not content to rest on their laurels, and armed with a creative shot in the arm that a new member often supplies, Skeletonwitch have redefined themselves with this release. Don’t get me wrong – the band is still firmly rooted in the Iron Maiden meets Testament meets Obituary meets Darkthrone death/black/thrash style that has endeared them to so many, but there is something new and special about this new version of Skeletonwitch that is subtle but profound. From the first refrains of the acoustic intro to the opening title track, you get a sense that there is something just a little bit different but oh-so-familiar at the same time about this record. The band seems to have embraced more of its black metal side, while injecting some killer Entombed-esque death n’ roll that supplies some truly memorable moments in each of these superb tracks. These cuts feature some of the craftiest riffing of the band’s career from guitarists Nate Garnette and Scott Hedrick. Bassist Evan Linger really shines on this thing, with his Steve Harris on crystal meth basslines incessantly driving the music forward and adding so much melodic depth. While every track is excellent, the highlight is the seven minute closer “Red Death, White Light”, which encapsulates everything that is fantastic about this EP in one track; from gloriously blackened atmosphere to dirty black n’ roll and everything in between. If Skeletonwitch can keep up this level of creative energies on their next full length, then I predict Skeletonwitch will be vaulted into the hallowed halls of the metal gods to inscribe their name on the list of truly great and ultimately classic metal artists. Yeah – no pressure. No pressure at all.

Quinta Essentia – Initiates of the Great Work (Deathgasm Records)

Fucking Alabama. From deep within the land of Skynyrd comes quite the pleasant surprise. These southern gents are eschewing all the stereotypes and giving a big fat middle finger to those who think that the only thing worthwhile that has come out of the South is Mastodon, Goatwhore, and Pantera. Quinta Essentia is a highly sophisticated blackened death metal band out of Huntsville, Alabama that actually formed way back in 2004. Initiates of the Great Work is the band’s third full length album and their first since 2008. Not sure why the long interlude between albums (I guess real life gets in the way sometimes), but the wait has been well worth it as this record is one intricately epic, sublimely artistic, thunderously powerful beast that leaves its competitors in the dust. Imagine the pomp and circumstance of the best parts of Dimmu Borgir, the dirty devil dealings of the nastiest moments of Goatwhore, and the arcane bombast of later era Behemoth and you begin to see where these guys are coming from. Throw in some shredding guitar that would give the roster of Shrapnel Records a run for their money back in the day, and you have a recipe for some truly miraculous metal. Guitarists Jason Flippo and Matt Barnes are truly unsung guitar heroes, as is unequivocally proven by the searing solo trade-offs in the instrumental track “Linear Articulation of Intent.” This music is not intended for a casual listen; this is a record that one must literally absorb into one’s psyche multiple times in its entirety to truly appreciate the depth of artistry on display. These guys are clearly into all things occult, mystical, and arcane, which is certainly reflected in the in intricacy of the music. I truly miss the fact that promos no longer come with lyric sheets as I would be intrigued to discover exactly what they are singing, growling, and screaming about. The bio talks of “transcendence” and “ethereal dark matter,” which only heightens the mystique. This record will definitely be a sleeper candidate for many fans and critics Top Ten lists – it is indeed that damn good.

Dawn of Demise – The Suffering (Unique Leader Records)

Denmark’s Dawn of Demise live for one thing and one thing only – the riff, only the riff, and nothing but the riff. In a day and age where all the rage is to prove you can play four minutes worth of sixty fourth notes at 360 BPM, Dawn of Demise are here to remind you why we all fell in love with death metal in the first damn place. It’s all about finding the right groove and combination of catchy and brutal riffs that invokes involuntary headbanging and horn throwing. These guys understand this to the very core of their being. It’s ironic that this album is released on Unique Leader, who have made gnarly tech death their bread and butter, as Dawn of Demise are the antithesis of just about everything that whole tech death scene represents. That’s not to say that these guys are technically incompetent, as the skill and precision by which they execute the music and the obvious time and thought they put into constructing these tracks demonstrate without a doubt that these cats are no slouches. The phrase “riff fest” has never been more appropriate than right here, and each and every one of literally hundreds of tasty riffs on display are death metal perfection. Dawn of Demise channel the best parts of classic NYDM like Suffocation and Internal Bleeding, throw in a little Vile and Gallery of Suicide era Cannibal Corpse, and finish it off with just a touch of 90’s era Swedish death ala Dismember. I can’t even begin to list highlights here as each and every one of these eleven tracks is so chock full of tasty riffage that trying to pick favorites is an ultimately futile task. If you like your death metal old school, full of neck snapping grooves and gut wrenching riffs, then this platter of putridity is right up your alley.

Ringworm – Snake Church (Relapse Records)

Cleveland’s legendary Ringworm spawned from the rich early 90’s metallic hardcore scene that really finalized the merging of the metal and hardcore worlds begun by earlier thrash/punk crossover bands like DRI and Agnostic Front. This would develop into the “metalcore” scene that dominated underground, and eventually even mainstream, metal in the late 90’s and early 2000’s. Bands like Ringworm, Converge, Coalesce, Integrity, and Earth Crisis established a style that combined the speed and raw power of hardcore with the technical chops and sheer heaviness of metal and made both punks and metalheads realize that there really wasn’t that much in ethics or aesthetics that separated their two worlds. Whereas many of the bands from that scene, particularly Converge and Earth Crisis, would eventually deviate their style from its origin (sometimes quite a bit – see Earth Crisis’ Slither record), Ringworm has managed to always hold true to the original feel and spirit of their metallic hardcore roots while never sounding trite or stagnant. Snake Church is the band’s eighth album and it feels and sounds like it came straight out of 1993, and this is not a bad thing. While bands like Converge embarked on bold experiments, Ringworm has steadily refined their style to perfection over the years and Snake Church is perhaps the creative pinnacle of a quarter century of work and proof that there is still plenty of sonic territory to explore within the metallic hardcore genre. This album is bold, nasty, fast, raw, and just plain heavy as fuck. It manages to sound classic and completely relevant at the same time – no small feat. The production here has just the right mix of rawness and precision to bring maximum impact to the listener while retaining an edge that bristles just under the surface. The intensity is truly palpable throughout these twelve tracks and Ringworm hold absolutely nothing back, spilling every single ounce of blood, sweat, and tears in the process. Twenty five years in and Ringworm still sound like a band with something to prove and Snake Church is a powerful statement that will not be ignored.

Jinjer – King of Everything (Napalm Records)

Normally, when I write my reviews, I cue up the music and begin actually writing a few minutes into the listening session. I continue writing and revising as the record plays out, sometimes jumping back and forth between tracks to investigate particularly interesting parts. As I cued up King of Everything by Ukraine’s Jinjer and the opening strains of the intro track “Prologue” emanated from my speakers with its tribal rhythms, melodic atmospherics, and immaculately clean female vocals, I was just about to begin writing when track two, “Captain Clock” kicked in. Jackhammer guitars spitting tightly wound buzzsaw riffs smacked me across the face with a furiousness that stunned me, only to evolve into this noisy, atmospheric, epically melodic outro that was as powerful as it was beautiful. I immediately backed away from the keyboard, my jaw hitting the floor. I had to take a step back and just listen for a while, taking everything that I was hearing in with intense concentration. I could tell that this was something truly unique and special. Take the rhythmic gymnastics and playfulness of modern djent wizards Periphery, the mad scientist wackiness of Iwrestledabearonce, the dizzying dementia of Dillinger Escape Plan, the controlled abandon of Converge, the balls out power and groove of Pantera, the futuristic cyber warfare of Fear Factory, and the brutal yet technical precision of Cannibal Corpse, throw them in a mosh pit at a Slayer concert, and it would come out sounding something like Jinjer. These Ukrainians embody just about everything that is great about the last three decades of extreme and progressive metal and create a stunning modern synthesis that could potentially influence the direction of heavy music for years to come. What guitarist Roman Ibramkhalilov, bassist Eugene Kostyuk, and drummer Dmitriy Kim have created here is a fresh, exciting, genuinely modern piece of work that manages to forge new ground while still holding firm reverence for the heart and soul of metal.
As astounding as the music itself is, the real highlight of this band is the remarkable talent of vocalist Tatiana Shmailyuk. I simply can’t get over how good she really is. Her screams and growls are full bodied, articulate, energetic, and powerful. And her singing voice is simply amazing. Seriously, Tatiana could easily be the next Pink or Christina Aguilera is she wanted to be. Thankfully, she’d rather melt faces and break hearts with a killer modern metal band. Her performance is breathtaking throughout the album, but she really shines on tracks where she can display the full range of her vocal chops to their fullest extent, such as in the catchy and charismatic “I Speak Astronomy” (her soulful vocals on the outro will literally sends chills down your spine), or the jazzy dream turned djent nightmare juxtaposition of “Pisces.” The whole album seems to be built around these two tracks, which are certainly the most accessible to the average listener. After the aforementioned “Prologue”, the band unleashes three straight tracks – “Captain Clock,” “Words of Wisdom,” and “Just Another” - of maniacal yet precise, melodically and texturally dense riffage that devastate everything in their path. Then comes “I Speak Astronomy,” which the band instantly follows with another three pronged attack of modern brutality in “Sit Stay Roll Over,” “Under the Dome,” and “Dip a Sail,” before revealing the dreamscape that is “Pisces.” The album ends with a total curveball as the band shows off its gypsy jazz chops, and overall level of musicianship, with the delightful “Beggars Dance,” where Tatiana gets to show off her sultry and playful side.
King of Everything is just a flat out astounding record from a band that has so far in its career been the best kept secret in the Ukraine. But, no more. I cannot overstate how blown away I am by this album. If Jinjer gets the push they deserve and some touring support to make it over to the States then there is nothing stopping them from taking the entire scene by storm. This is – hands down – my top pick of the year thus far. Bravo, lads and lassie. Bravo.


More Metal Vol. 16

I’m back, ladies and germs! Did you miss me? Probably not, but, well….. I don’t care what you think anyway! But seriously, I’ve been busy as all hell over the last months attending college, trying to be a good boy and get good grades (school is far different in one’s thirties than in one’s teens and twenties), and have not had the time to regale you with my thoughts on the latest metal releases. I know, I know - you’ve all been crying in your beers for not having the benefit of my infinite wisdom. But, fear not! I have something of a break now so I will force you to suffer through another round of insight (or drivel – depending on your point of view) into the world of metal and all of its various denizens. So, without further ado, here it is Jersey Beaters – round 16 of More Metal Than Thou!

High Fighter – Scars & Crosses (Svart Records)

High Fighter is a German stoner/sludge/blues outfit formed from the ashes of bands such as A Million Miles, Buffalo Hump, and Pyogenesis; none of which I’ve ever heard of (and you probably haven’t either), so that probably matters not in the slightest. Scars & Crosses is the band’s first full length album, after having released 2014’s The Goat Ritual EP shortly after forming. The group is led by vocalist Mona Miluski, whose sultry moan (pun intended) is offset by her blackened wail. She spends most of her time in blues/metal goddess mode, but periodically throughout the record she reverts to a primordial scream that would give any black metal vocalist a run for his or her money. Her only downfall is her apparent lack of range in her clean singing voice, as powerful as it is, which makes her vocals take on a sense of sameness across the breadth of an entire record as she tries to fit her limited range into the context of each track. Musically, it is pretty much what one would expect, with a definite leaning towards the ‘desert rock’ brand of Kyuss infused stoner metal riffage. The songcraft is solid, with an emphasis on ‘The Almighty Riff’ that is so necessary to pull this genre off successfully. Guitarists Christian “Shi” Pappas and Ingwer Boysen aren’t going to wow you with fancy fretwork, but they lay down a towering, reverb and flange drenched cascade of interlayered riffage that swirls around the listener in truly satisfying fashion. And, they know exactly when to come together with overwhelming sonic force to pin the listener to the wall with a barrage of sonic doom. The guitars groan and growl with a rich, full, mid-range grit that is expertly brought out by some deft mixing and production. These German riffmeisters have certainly done their due diligence and have internalized the stoner/doom aesthetic, and it shows in every chord and lick of this eight track beast. However, like Miluski’s vocals, the band seems to fall into the trap of not enough differentiation in the tone and tempo of each track so that each song tends to bleed into the next. There are some exceptions to this when the band picks up the pace and breaks from its self-imposed mold, notably on the title track, and these moments tend to be the times that most capture the listener’s attention. On the whole, Scars & Crosses is a solid effort from a new band that shows ample promise, if they can only break out of the mold they’ve put themselves in and take their sound and songwriting to the next level.

Fistula – Longing for Infection (Independent)

Fistula have been slogging it out in the underground for almost twenty years now. I remember one of my old bands playing a show in Wilmington, NC with this Ohio punk/sludge monstrosity back in ’02 or ’03. Over that time the band has released four full length albums and a plethora of singles and splits for a variety of independent labels. Longing for Infection is the band’s fifth album and proves the old maxim true – if it ain’t broke, don’t fix it. Fistula has always been able to perfectly toe the line between Black Flag and Black Sabbath, and they continue to do so here. One minute they’re slowly bludgeoning you to death with a gargantuan riff, the next they’re two-stepping along with the best of them, all while maintaining a distinctly identifiable sound. These guys would feel equally right at home at a biker rally and at an anarchist punk squat show. No track better exemplifies this unholy marriage of crusty, hardcore punk and sludgy, doomy, 70’s inspired metal than the eight minute opus “Smoke Acid Shoot Pills” that sees the band maneuvering between the two the most fluidly and for maximum impact. The guitars are downtuned to the point where the strings almost become as loose as rubber bands and can just barely hold pitch, which only enhances the overall sludge factor exponentially. This is the kind of music that makes you want to go a shoot a cheap bag of heroin and wallow around of a dirty mattress with a five dollar whore in an abandoned warehouse. While that doesn’t exactly sound like a ringing endorsement, I assure you in this context it most certainly is. This stuff is dirty, crusty, vile, vicious, and just plain ugly in nearly every way, and that’s just what makes it so damn good.

Unmerciful – Ravenous Impulse (Unique Leader Records)

Kansas based death metallers Unmerciful first spewed forth upon the metal scene back in 2001. They released one full length record, Unmercifully Beaten, in 2006 and embarked on a few years of touring in support of various big name death metal acts like Cannibal Corpse, Dying Fetus, and Cryptopsy before calling it quits in 2009. The band reformed in 2012 for a reunion show and decided to give it another go, with Ravenous Impulse being the end result of those efforts. The band consists of three former members of the legendary death metal mavericks Origin – Clint Appelhanz on guitar, Jeremy Turner on bass, and, replacing the recently departed James King, John Longstreth (also ex-Gorguts and Dim Mak) on drums. With that in mind, the bar is already set quite high in living up to such a pedigree. Unfortunately, the production on this record kills any hope of Unmerciful attaining the critical heights of a band like Origin. While the riffing and songwriting are spot on, producer Robert Rebeck really dropped the ball on the mix on this thing. The guitars are extremely high in the mix and are covered with so much unrestrained grit and fuzz as to make them almost completely indistinguishable. With the speed and dexterity at which these guys play, it is extremely important for all the instruments to be separated and find their own distinct place in the mix so that all the subtleties and nuance of the riff work is brought to the fore, not buried in the muck as it is here. Contrary to the trend in most death metal today, which is to jack the drums way up in the mix (a trend with its own inherent pitfalls), here we see the drums buried underneath the buzzsaw guitars, which makes any nuance in Longstreth’s drum performance indecipherable and it just melts into one big indistinct blur. And the bass is just about as absent here as it was on Metallica’s …And Justice for All, which makes for a weak and tinny overall tone that begins to grate on the ears after about ten minutes or so. There are a few moments where Turner’s bass rises from beneath the ashes to stake it’s place in the mix (see “Enduring Torture” or the instrumental track “Methodic Absolution”), but these moments are few and far between. It’s really too bad. I would love to hear this record with a more balanced and articulate production as I can tell that buried underneath all this sonic trash are some rock solid performances. Particularly of note are the tracks “Habitual Savagery” and the aforementioned “Methodic Absolution,” where the band almost, but not quite, manages to shine despite the murkiness of the production.

Verowed – Bodemloos (Argento Records)

Verowed is a one man ambient/psychedelic black metal project from a lone Dutchman that goes by the name of Erik B. The project began in 2014 under the moniker Woudloper, but Erik changed the name to Verowed shortly before the release of his latest blackened lament, Bodemloos. With one foot firmly planted in traditional black metal, Verowed takes cues from such acts as Leviathan, Wolves in the Throne Room, Deathspell Omega, and Nachtmysticum to create a swirling, writhing, psychedelic trip through the netherworlds of blackened sorrow and despair. Reverb drenched minor key arpeggios intertwine with massive washes of eerie synths, crash into twistedly evil riffs, and then subside into echoing, trance inducing soundscapes. There’s only three tracks here, two of which – the title track and the closer, “Leegte,” – reach over the nine minute mark and leave the listener utterly emotionally exhausted. Verowed mines the deepest labyrinths of cavernous doom and gloom only to turn around and cast the listener out into the furthest and blackest regions of space to ponder the great mysteries of the unknown. And just when you think that you have been cast adrift beyond the stars, Verowed drags you back down into the catacombs yet again. Erik really nailed the production on this thing. Even during the most thoroughly psychedelic, reverb soaked passages there is enough distinction in the mix to allow each instrument the space to stretch out and invoke its subliminal malevolence. Normally, I am not much of a fan of this particular branch of black metal, but Bodemloos is so well crafted and recorded that I can’t help but be enthralled by its ethereal and nefarious beauty. The only real question is, can Erik B. sustain this level of excellence and interest over the course of a full record? With this style, it may be better to keep to the EP format so that the listener doesn’t get bogged down. I’d like to see Erik B. give it a shot, however, as I think he may be one of the few who can actually pull it off.

Scour – S/T (Housecore Records)

Phil Anselmo is at it once again. This guy can’t take a break and seems to be always working on some new project or collaboration. Scour is his latest and finds him teaming up with members of such bands as Pig Destroyer, Cattle Decapitation, and Continuum to produce a six track slab (really five tracks as one, “Tactics,” is just a two minute long filler soundscape) of black/death infused grindcore. There’s echoes of both Pig Destroyer and Cattle Decapitation here for sure, but there’s equal amounts of 90’s era Mayhem and Darkthrone as well. Throw in a little Napalm Death and you pretty much have Scour nailed to a tee. While it is well known by now to anyone who has seen any live footage of Phil with Down or trying to do Pantera songs over the last few years that Phil has completely blown out his singing voice (no – he will never ever be able to sing “Cemetery Gates” ever again), his growls and screams have never been better and his performance here, although somewhat buried in the mix at times, shows him creatively expanding his repertoire yet again and belching forth some of his most brutal and visceral vocals in years. All of these tracks hover around the two to three minute mark and get in, obliterate everything in their path, and get out quicker than you can say “Holy Abbath’s balls, Batman!” Fast, noisy, evil, and brutal as all hell – Scour is a fine and welcome addition to the pantheon of Anselmo’s varied and always interesting body of work.

Entrails – Obliteration (Metal Blade Records)

Last year I was turned onto Entrails through their Resurrected From the Grave demo collection that was released through Metal Blade Records. That record packaged the band’s early 90’s demos Reborn and Human Decay into one collection. While I always considered myself hip to all things death metal, this band was one that had originally slipped under my radar. They had long been overshadowed by their more prominent Swedish Death Metal brethren like Dismember, Entombed, and Grave, mostly because in its earlier days it was primarily the one-man project of guitarist Jimmy Lundqvist and he could never quite get a full and consistent line-up off the ground. Resurrected… completely floored me with its perfect take on that very distinctive style. The guitars had just the right mid-range bite to them, the riffing had just the right mix of brutality and catchy melody, the rhythms had just the right mix of blast, gallop, and groove, and the aura had just the right mix of graveyard dirt and demonic swagger. With all that in mind, I was stoked to get Entrails’ newest offering Obliterations in my inbox for review not too long ago. I eagerly loaded this into my iTunes for a listen and the first thing that struck me was the old adage, “If it ain’t broke, don’t fix it”. This album and the bands’ original demo recordings may be separated in time by 25 years, but the sound, aura, and style of the band has remained unchanged and focused on one specific goal – to play the best damn Swedish Death Metal out there. Seriously, it doesn’t get any better than this, folks, and in any just world this band should be elevated up there with those long venerated names I mentioned above. I will say that Obliterations is not quite as consistent as the Resurrected from the Grave demos, with just a few songs (most notably “Beyond the Flesh”) that just kinda feel like mostly forgettable filler tracks. By and large, however, this album is chocked full of groovy riffs and memorable tunes like “No Cross Left Unturned”, “Epitome of Death” (they actually quote the Star Wars “Imperial March” in the closing guitar melody on this one and manage to make it sound like it belongs there, which gives them mad cool points in this geek’s book), “The Grotesque”, “Skulls”, “Midnight Coffin”, “Bonestorm” and “Re-animation of the Dead” that just reek of pure Swedish death magic. If you’re a sucker for good, old-fashioned Swedish style death metal like your truly, then this is a must have to your collection.

False Flag – Nest of Vipers EP (Independent)

The press release lauds Calgary’s False Flag as the Canadian answer to Meshuggah and, while there are certainly elements of those Swedish juggernauts in the mix, I wouldn’t quite go that far. In fact, labeling them as a “Meshuggah clone” actually does the band a disservice as they are certainly their own beast entirely. They have a lot of modern metalcore influences (think along the lines of The Acacia Strain), and I certainly hear some faint echoes of Machine Head in there, but they are taking it in their own unique direction. Vocalist Russ Gauthier mixes things up quite a bit with a wide range of vocal styles – from death metal growls, to hardcore screams, to straight up clean singing – and he pulls each one off extremely well. It’s like having multiple vocalists in the band and it certainly is a welcome breath of fresh air in a genre where most vocalists have one just one gear. I’m also quite fond of the guitar work, especially in terms of the composition of the lead guitar work. It’s not gonna blow you away like Rings of Saturn or anything like that, but guitarists Mike Harach and the aforementioned Gauthier definitely take their time to carefully craft every phrase and note. The solos are like mini-songs within songs, especially as evidenced in the closing solo on track 3, “Reversion of Sin”, and I just love when bands take the time and care to do shit like that as it just adds so much more to the overall impact of the music. The main riff of track 2, “Perfidious” is worth the price of admission alone with its gnarly use of harmonics. The best track of the 4 found here is definitely the closing title track where the band really lets it all hang out with multiple tempos shifts and a go-for-the-throat attitude. These guys don’t just write riffs, they craft songs and that’s the best compliment I can give any band. I look forward to hearing a full length from these guys as if they can keep up this kind of quality over the course of a full album then they will definitely be a forced to be reckoned with on the metal scene.

Gladiator – The Art of Battle EP (Independent)

New Bern, NC’s Gladiator is comprised of veterans of the eastern NC music scene going all the way back to the 90’s and The Art of Battle is the band’s debut release. A few of the guys may be a bit longer in the tooth than most of the young up and coming bands out there to today, but that doesn’t mean these guys haven’t kept up with the times and delivered here a concise slab of thoroughly modern metal with a mix of the New Wave of American Heavy Metal ala Lamb of God with modern metalcore ala Killswith Engage and Unearth with underlying elements of death and thrash metal. These five tracks speed by like a runaway Mack truck with only a couple even breaking the three minute mark. This Galdiator likes to make sure they get their kill in the first round and they get in there, slay all comers, and get out before you even really know what hit you. Guitarist Jason Wolverton has a refined riffing style that combine classic metal sensibilities with plenty of modern touches. Drummer Anthony Abernathy is a real monster and his high impact style relies on sheer force and power coupled with an underlying understanding of groove that sets him apart from your typical drummer of this ilk. Vocalist Stephen Gouras is the one weak spot here – he’s not bad at all, per se, but he’s pretty much a one trick pony and his raspy screams get a bit tired after the first few tracks. If he learns to vary it up a bit with some different styles and vocal textures then that may just be the exact thing that will elevate this band to the next level. The music is certainly already there, it just needs a dynamic and exciting vocalist to match. Overall this is a superb debut that shows a band with something to prove and that is well on their way to doing just that.

Gruesome – Savage Land (Relapse Records)

Savage Land is a total shameless rip off, no question about it. And that would be absolutely horrible if that wasn’t precisely the point of the whole thing. Gruesome was born from the fires of the Death DTA tribute tours of the past few years. Guitarist/vocalist Matt Harvey of Exhumed fame and Malevolent Creation skin basher Gus Rios had so much fun traveling the world and playing Death tunes that they decided to keep the spirit alive and form their own band to write and record songs in the tradition of the early Death records, particularly Leprosy and Spiritual Healing. There is just something truly special about those records and that era of death metal in general that just gets better and better with time and this record proves beyond a shadow of a doubt that that style is timeless and when done with passion and sincerity is just as fresh and exciting as it was “back in the day”. The reverence these guys have for classic death metal is palpable in every single lick, riff, and beat on this thing and Gruesome manages to perfectly capture the magic and the essence of those early Death records while giving it a healthy creative kick in the ass. While it is a shameless rip-off, that doesn’t mean that these cats didn’t pour every ounce of creative energies they had into Savage Land to ensure that this wasn’t merely just a tribute to one of the greatest bands in the history of death metal, but a welcome addition to a canon of material that stands toe to toe with anything their forebears ever did. Each one of these eight splendid tracks is a finely tuned instrument of sinister melody, malevolent murder, and mutilating mayhem. There’s not a lot of variation in song structure or tempo, just eight perfectly executed blasts of furious groove and whiplash inducing riffing. Matt Harvey’s guttural vocals are a far cry from Chuck Schuldiner’s throaty rasp, which definitely gives Gruesome its own distinct flavor in that department. Harvey and Rios were joined on this project by Daniel Gonzalez of Possessed fame, who teams with Harvey on guitar and who both do an amazing job with their meticulous lead work which perfectly captures both the harmonic sophistication of James Murphy, the schizophrenic whammy workouts of Rick Rozz, and the wicked melody of Chuck Schuldiner while still managing to inject their playing with ample amounts of their own personalities. Robin Mazen from the band Derketa handles the bass duties and keeps the foundation as solid as a rock, locking perfectly in sync with Rios dynamic drumming. This is the best album that Chuck never wrote. If you love classic death metal and Death as much as I do then you absolutely MUST get this record.

Maruta – Remain Dystopian (Relapse Records)

Miami, Florida’s Maruta have been clandestinely grinding and blasting through the underground since 2005. The band released 2 demos in 2005 and 2008 respectively, before signing to Willowtip Records for two full lengths, 2008’s In Narcosis and 2011’s Forward Into Regression. Now Maruta has stepped it up into the big leagues with their first release for the infamous Relapse Records, Remain Dystopian. To be honest, this is my first exposure to these death grind psychopaths so I can’t speak for their earlier releases, but Remain Dystopian definitely places Maruta in the upper echelons of the deathgrind world alongside such notable names a Cattle Decapitation, Pig Destroyer, Napalm Death, and Discordance Axis. These 17 tracks, most of which clock in right around the one minute mark, are a sonic maelstrom of virulent and kinetic riffing that marries perfectly the speed and gnarliness of grind with the brutality and precision of modern death metal. Much like Pig Destroyer in their earlier days, Maruta eschews the services of a bass player and just goes with the two guitar, drums, vocals lineup. It’s really difficult to make that configuration work within the context of metal music as the bass, even if it’s not very audible in the mix, supplies the necessary sonic underpinning that gives metal, especially death and grind, its required heft and weight. Maruta pulls it off, however, and the riff work of guitarists Eduardo Borja and Mauro Cordoba manages to capture all the rage and chaos necessary for this style to the point where you only rarely notice that the bass is not there. They play off each other extremely well and seem to have a sixth sense about covering all of the sonic territory as they fluctuate between high pitch string strangulation and low end crunch, choke, and grind. Most of these tracks blaze by at super-sonic speeds, but that doesn’t mean the band are one-trick ponies and they keep the listener constantly guessing with their often abrupt and unexpected tempo shifts. In fact, two of the most interesting tracks on the album, “Submergence aka Barren Oceans of Infinity” and “Return to Zero”, are the two longest tracks and also see the band slowing things down to a crawling pace which really allows the riffs to breathe so you can really hear the subtle intricacies of what is going on. Drummer Danny Morris is absolutely stunning all over this thing as he blasts, grinds, grooves, and rolls his way through some extremely complex yet organic skin bashing. Maruta have set a new benchmark with Remain Dystopian for a genre that seems to finally be getting the respect it deserves. If you’re a deathgrind freak, meet your new favorite band.

Sigh – Graveward (Candlelight Records)

Ever since their debut Scorn Defeat all the way back in 1993, mastermind Mirai Kawashima and his troupe of misfits from the Land of the Rising Sun known as Sigh have been defying convention and leading untold legions of metal fans to be not quite sure if they should bang or scratch their heads. They began as more of a straight up black metal band but have slowly and inexorably evolved into one of the more progressive, forward thinking, and just plain weird bands in the international metal scene. Graveward is the band’s 10th studio effort and is, arguably, the band’s most accomplished work yet. Personally I have been closely following these guys since 2001’s epic Imaginary Sonicscape album which was the record that saw the band really push forward their more avant garde side. The band took its black metal roots that went all the way back to the forefathers like Venom and Bathory and threw in just about everything but the kitchen sink – Zappa-esque 70’s progressive rock, 80’s thrash, wild free jazz ala Sun Ra, Mr. Bungle/Faith No More style oddities, epic Wagnerian classical flourishes, Cradle of Filth style pomposity, dashes of Japanese Kabuki and J-pop, and even a little bit of showtunes and video game music to round it all out. Sigh has even ventured into the worlds of funk, disco, reggae, electronica, and more at various times and points in their catalog, all without ever once coming off as trite or contrived. It indeed sounds like a hodge-podge of disparate elements that has no hope of consistency, but Sigh have managed to make it all work and Graveward is the culmination of this band’s truly unique creative vision. This is one of those albums where every time you listen to it you hear something new and different that you didn’t notice the last time around. Kawashima is a master of the keys and his heavily classical and jazz inflected playing utilizing a host of different sounds – from pianos to synths to organs – is splashed all over this thing and always provides an interesting and provoking sonic palate. The lovely Dr. Mikannibal not only lends her distinctive vocals all over this thing, but also contributes some way out there saxophone playing that really injects the jazz flavor to quite a few of these tracks, most notably and successfully on “Casketburner”. Newest member You Oshima is a revelation on the guitar and he layers this entire album with his very unique style that incorporates many elements of traditional metal guitar playing and then dashes them on the rocks of creativity to unleash some of the most interesting a different sounding lead guitar work on any metal record of the last decade. He can certainly shred with the best of them, but his style goes far beyond mere speed and technicality as his unique phrasing and note choices really set him far apart from anything that has come before. Where this album is most successful, however, is in the songwriting itself. Without taking anything away from the band’s more than noteworthy back catalog, Graveward sees Kawashima and Co. at their most focused and accomplished in their songcraft and each one of these 10 tracks is a mini-masterpiece in its own right. The entire album is inspired by Italian horror movie music composer Fabio Frizzi, who did music for classic Italian zombie films like Zombi 2 and City of the Living Dead, so maybe it’s that thematic consistency that allowed Kawashima such an artistic focus that is so evident here. It’s extremely difficult to be as musically diverse as Sigh is and still manage to write a coherent song that doesn’t sound like it was just stitched together like Frankenstein’s monster, Sigh not only manages to write intelligently designed songs, but they still manage to shock and surprise around every corner with their daring stylistic shifts and scary good musical ability. My personal favorites include the twisted and maniacal “The Forlorn” – when Kawashima croaks “I am not dead!!!” over and over you can’t help but get goosebumps; the demented gypsy flair of the extremely catchy “Out of the Grave”, the rockin’ black/thrash/jazz of the aforementioned “The Casketburner” – which sounds to me like Blue Oyster Cult meets Venom at Miles Davis concert; and the rollickin’, 70’s prog laced, black n’ roll riff fest of the album closer “Dwellers in Dream”.

Six Feet Under – Crypt of the Devil (Metal Blade Records)

I have to start off this review by saying that Chris Barnes is the absolute WORST death metal vocalist of all time. Sure, he may have helped to “invent” the guttural “cookie monster” style of death metal vocals, blah, blah, but that doesn’t mean he’s actually any good at it. I never really liked him with Cannibal Corpse (getting Corpsegrinder was the best thing to ever happen to that band) and I’ve never been much of a Six Feet Under fan at all, either musically or vocally. They’ve always seemed a bit too pedestrian to me and boring to me and Barnes’ vocals just made an average death metal band just plain awful. Now, with all that being said, I REALLY dig this album. This is quality, memorable, classic death metal that hits all the right spots. The riffing is varied, interesting, and catchy as all hell and the level of technicality and overall musicianship is light years ahead of their past releases without straying too far from the underlying essence of the band’s history. The songwriting skills on display here are phenomenal and tracks like “Gruesome”, “Open Coffin Orgy”, “Lost Remains”, “Slit Wrists”, “The Night Bleeds”, and “Eternal Darkness” just exude complete death metal mastery in every way possible and stand toe to toe with I was utterly shocked and taken completely aback by how much I totally dug this record. This can’t possibly be the same band that has been around since 1993? Well, folks, it turns out it’s actually NOT the same Six Feet Under. Not in any way, shape, or form. Not one single member of Six Feet Under (currently, Steve Swanson on guitar, Jeff Hughell on bass, and drummer Marco Pitruzella) actually wrote or played anything on this album. Not one damn thing. The album was actually written by none other than Phil “Landphil” Hall of Municipal Waste/Cannabis Corpse fame. Now it all makes sense! I absolutely love both of this bands and Landphil is a master of all styles of classic metal and one of the premier songwriters and riff creators in metal today, period. No wonder this record is so damn good! Phil also handled all rhythm and bass guitar duties on the record while his brother Josh handled the drumkit. Lead guitar was contributed courtesy of Arsis/Cannabis Corpse shred wizard Brandon Ellis who does an absolutely outstanding job on all the leads here. His playing is filled to the brim with taste, precision, and excitement. I really torn over this record. While I dig the hell out of the music, the fact that this is labeled as a Six Feet Under record kinda leaves a bad taste in my mouth. I mean, let’s not kid ourselves, this is NOT Six Feet Under at all. I dig the fact that Barnes and Hall wanted to work together, but they really should’ve just started a new project instead of releasing this as a Six Feet Under album. To be honest here, my guess is that there is some inner friction going on within the core of Six Feet Under (no surprise given Barnes penchant for being hard to work with) and there was probably some contractual things going on with the record label as well which forced Barnes to give them something. It’s a shame that the greatest album Six Feet Under ever did was not really done by Six Feet Under. If I was in that band and I wasn’t pissed at Barnes before, I would be absolutely livid now. I also find it a bit ironic that Phil “Landphil” Hall started a band, Cannabis Corpse, which was a direct and intentional rip-off of Barnes’ alma mater, Cannibal Corpse, and now has helped Barnes create the best album he’s ever participated in with the band he created after he left Cannibal. They should have just called this project Six Tokes Under or something like that to keep with the theme. A big question here is, how will Barnes manage to pull this off live? Even if the rest of the band is willing to play these songs that they had nothing to do with actually writing or recording, I don’t think any one of them is up to the task musically in recreating these tunes in a live setting, no offense intended. This music is just so far above the skill level of what we have heard from Six Feet Under in the past that it just leaves great doubts in my mind in that regard. Will Barnes just get the Hall brothers and Ellis to tour with him? Has Six Feet Under become merely the Chris Barnes show and no one else really matters? Hell, the promo pic the label sent to me only has Barnes in it, for crying out loud. Has it always been the Chris Barnes show? These are all vexing questions that I, for one, will be interested to see play out here in the near future. And, by the way, Barnes still sucks as a vocalist but, fortunately, the vocals are pulled back in the mix so that they are not so upfront and in your face which helps take away a bit of that cringe factor that his vocal stylings (if you can call them that….) often inspire.

Skinless – Only the Ruthless Remain (Relapse Records)

Skinless has long been one of those bands that have gained substantial critical acclaim and a pretty devoted core following, but has always failed to climb the death metal heap to where their name is uttered in the same reverent breath as artists like Cannibal Corpse, Morbid Angel, Obituary, etc. This probably has much to do with the fact that they didn’t really break into the scene until the late 90’s when death metal had been thrust back underground by the advent on grunge and alt rock. Their 1998 debut, Progression Towards Evil is still considered a classic of the genre, and for very good reason. The band released 4 albums and an EP before calling it quits in 2011, though their last record was 5 years prior to that. The band reformed 2 years later and now, after 9 years of waiting, Skinless is finally set to release their comeback record. And what a comeback it is. Only the Ruthless Remain is Skinless re-establishing their rightful place at the top of the death metal mountain and is the best thing they’ve done since their much lauded debut. And they have perfect timing as well with the recent resurgence in attention and appreciation for classic death metal which I guess is the inevitable backlash against the modern trend towards ever more over the top and technical death metal. While I certainly appreciate that stuff, sometimes it’s just great to hear true authentic death metal done the right way without any pretension or over-inflated sense of self-importance. Skinless have the ability to combine the guttural brutality of the more underground strains of death metal with the catchy riffing sensibilities of the masters of American death metal such as Death, Obituary, and early Cannibal Corpse. They won’t wow you with knuckle busting fretwork, but that doesn’t mean these guys can’t play; their musical aptitude is just much more subtle than that. They take their years of expertise and experience and use them wisely to cut all the chaff from the wheat to create 7 cuts of pristine death metal mastery. Using varying tempos that range from total blasting grindage to slow and low, unrepentantly evil grooves, Skinless tear through these 7 tracks like their lives depended on it. The band also knows when to inject some much needed melody in there to relieve the tension and add an extra dimension to the music that sends the whole thing to the next level. The album opens full steam ahead with the pedal to the metal on “Serpenticide” before leading right into the rapturously brutal and epic title track. “Skinless” is next and this song perfectly encapsulates the brilliant way this band combines brutality, catchy riff work, well-timed and perfectly executed tempo shifts, and smart songcraft. “Flamethrower” features some of the best lead guitar work on the whole album, particularly the melodic break in the middle which is truly outstanding. “The Beast Smells Blood” is a tour deforce of jagged, gurgling riffage that rips and tears through everything in its path. “Funeral Curse” is a 6 minute low burner that seethes and oozes pure evil the entire time. The album closes with “Barbaric Proclivity”, which is probably my favorite track on the whole album. Its’ blend of brutality, melody, and groove is phenomenal and the ending breakdown is probably the best 60 seconds on the whole thing and really showcases the genius of drummer Bob Beaulac. Nice work, fellas. Welcome back.

The Great Discord – Duende (Metal Blade Records)

Sweden does it yet again. It never ceases to amaze me how one single country with such a relatively small and isolated population can consistently deliver some of the best and most creative metal music on the planet. The Great Discord is yet another entry into the hallowed ranks of Swedish metal music and Duende is the group’s first offering unto the world, and what an offering it is. Imagine if a band like Opeth or Between the Buried and Me was fronted by a female singer and had a healthy dose of Meshuggah influence and you can begin to see where this band is coming from. Like Opeth, and to a lesser degree BTBAM, The Great Discord takes great influence from 70’s era prog (King Crimson, Peter Gabriel era Genesis, Camel, etc) but whereas Opeth draws (or at least up until the last few records) ample influence from 90’s era death metal and BTBAM has their roots in the late 90’s metalcore movement, The Great Discord reaches for more modern metal influences from the djent and modern power metal ala Blind Guardian et al. These guys are progressive and experimental in all the right ways. What I mean by that is that they can continually wow you with their musical prowess and amazing songsmithing chops while still retaining that element of accessibility that allows for those other than music nerds to appreciate them. Their secret weapon is the densely layered and emotionally powerful vocals of Fia Kempe. Honestly, most metal groups with female vocalists don’t really do it for me, with a few exceptions, and it seems like more often than not they are just there for eye candy rather than for actual vocal ability. And even if they can sing their ass off, the vocals don’t lend themselves well to the music (Nightwish, anyone….?) Ms. Kempe does not fall victim to any of those typical woes and her dynamic vocal prowess is really what allows this band to stand above the pack. The band ably utilizes her unique talent and crafts the music around her wide range, fluctuating from ephemeral passages of grandiose beauty to crushingly heavy and sharply articulated riffing that mirror her emotionally drenched vocal gymnastics. The album is not quite perfect, however, and there are a few moments where the band seems to drop the ball just a bit, namely the way too ballad-y “Woes” and the pop inflected “Illuminate” (complete with a cheesy synth solo). The band is definitely at its best when they stick with the adventurous nature that sets them apart. The best tracks here include album opener “The Aging Man”, “Selfaeta”, “Angra Mainyu”, and the epic album closer “Ephemeral”, which really showcases everything this band has to offer it’s slightly over 7 minute running time. This is definitely one of the best new bands that I have been exposed to so far this year.

Xul – Extinction Necromance EP (Self Released)

Hailing from the Great White North of British Columbia, Canada, Xul is a up and coming blackened death metal band that certainly have all the chops necessary to hang with the big boys like Behemoth. Extinction Necromance is the band’s follow up to their 2012 self released debut, Malignance, and while it is just an EP they certainly don’t jip you as 3 out of 4 tracks found herein clock in at over 7 minutes in length. All the necessary tools are here – razor sharp riffing that straddles the line perfectly between raw black metal and brutal death, sophisticated orchestrations and well-developed songcraft, and highly articulate musicianship with a flair for the dramatic. Xul’s musicianship sometimes even pushes this band into progressive metal territories, particularly in the brilliant bass work of Marlow Deiter. I’m pretty sure he’s playing fretless bass on here and his slippery and serpentine bass lines remind me a lot of Jeroen Paul Thessling of Pestilence and Obscura fame or Sean Malone of Cynic, two of the absolute best in the business. Deiter’s work on opening track “Frozen, We Drown” is some of the best bass playing I’ve heard in quite a while. The one area where this EP falls flat is in the production. Music this ornate and involved really needs top-notch production to let the music breathe and flow and that is just not there on this release. It sounds a bit thin and it just doesn’t have the impact that it should have, which is a bit disappointing. I would really like to see these guys get some label support and get into a proper studio with an upper echelon producer who can really bring out these guy’s full potential. This stuff is really good and with the right support Xul could be not just good, but great.

More Metal Vol. 16

Abscession – Grave Offerings (Final Gate Records)

Abscession’s debut album Grave Offerings is total old school Swedish Death Metal done right by actual Swedes. This band got its start back in 2009 with the sole purpose of doing just that. In 2010 they released a three song demo called Death Incarnate that spread like wildfire through the underground. It’s taken 5 years for the band to get their shit together and release a full length, but the results are well worth the wait. These guys understand perfectly well what makes this style of death metal so damn good – sick, heavy, and catchy riffs that stick in your head like icepicks coupled with that distinctive mid-range buzzsaw guitar tone originally made famous by bands like Entombed and Dismember, and those signature thick, cavernous, and dank production values that just ooze graveyard grime all over this thing. Guitarist Skaldir is a true wizard at coming up with riffs that thrust their meaty hooks straight into your skull and just don’t let go no matter how hard you bang your head to dislodge them. In fact, the harder you bang, the deeper they sink their hooks in. The bass, also played by Skaldir, is very present in the mix and it has a killer tone that meshes perfectly well with the mid-range of the guitars to maximize the music’s impact across the sonic spectrum without anything getting in the way of anything else. Drummer Markus understands perfectly well what a groove is and he has a keen sense of finding the perfect one to match each and every riff Skaldir can throw his way. And he will surprise you every once in while with some really creative work – just listen to his bass drum work on “In My Coffin” to see what I mean. The songwriting quality is really top notch with an excellent sense of dynamics, flow, and orchestration. Skaldir is really great at building multiple guitar parts that really complement each other and add a great deal to the songs. His leads aren’t gonna blow your mind, but they are perfect little nuggets of sinister melody that add a whole other layer of dimension to the music. He does occasionally cut loose and let the fingers fly, however, as is evidenced by his blistering solo in “Cabin 13”. Vocalist Thomas is a solid, but not extremely noteworthy death metal vocalist, but he does get the job done more than adequately. Tracks like “Where Sleeping Gods Dwell”, “Gargoyle”, “Blowtorch Blues”, “Plague Bearer”, and “Ruiner” all groove, pound, and roll all over everything in their path. “Blowtorch Blues” wins the competition for coolest riff with its bouncy Addams Family sounding groove riff that pops up about a minute and a half into it. The trajectory of this entire album leads up to the final track “Downfall Pt. 1”, a ten minute death metal opus that packs more catchy hooks in 10 minutes than most bands can muster over whole records. It does get bit sideways in the middle when it breaks down into a piano part that turns into a clean singing section that is definitely a surprise the first time you hear it. Thankfully, it’s a short little part and the band quickly goes back to doing what they do best. If you’re a sucker like me for catchy as hell, authentic sounding Swedish Death Metal done the way it was mean to be done then this is one band you definitely need to have on your radar.

Abstracter – Wound Empire (Sentient Ruin Laboratories)

Abstracter is based out of Oakland, California but you’d never guess it from the totally dismal blackened, crusty brand of sludge/doom metal these guys spew forth. I am often wary of bands like this because while I understand what they are going for with the total apocalyptic, misanthropic, and utterly and completely crushingly heaviness, it’s really, really hard to sit through an entire record of stuff like this because it way too often just seems to drag on and on and on without much really happening. Every once in a while a band will come along in this style that does manage to keep thing interesting (Unearthly Trance being one example), but I hate to report that Abstracter just isn’t one of them. Most of the riffing here just seems to trudge along listlessly and aimlessly and too often it just comes across as too basic and just a little trite. There are occasional flashes of uniqueness and brilliance, especially in the bass department as some nifty little basslines occasionally bubble to the top to noodle their way into your psyche, but they are way too few and far between to really make any difference. Though only four tracks, Wound Empire still clocks in at over 40 minutes and only really maybe 10 minutes of that is even remotely interesting. It’s good sleepytime music, especially the last track “Glowing Wounds”, but that’s really about all its good for. I am sure there are many diehards out there who will hail this as brilliant and if that’s what floats your boat then more power to you, but I doubt I will ever listen to this again – unless I have a bout of insomnia. This might just do the trick of curing that.

Acero Letal – Veloz Invencible/Duro Metal EP (Witches Brew Records)

Acero Letal hail from the deep south of Chile and lay down some extremely well executed traditional heavy/speed metal jams on this two song 7” EP here on Witches Brew Records. Acero Letal formed back in 2007 and have so far released only a couple of short demos, with this one first being released on the underground last year before being picked up to be pressed by Witches Brew this year. These guys have certainly been studying up on their classic Maiden and Priest and both of these tracks are expertly and carefully constructed nuggets of heavy metal bliss. The brainchild of this project is the lead guitarist/vocalist simply known as Jag. His voice isn’t quite on par with the Dickinsons and Halfords of the world, but he’s a perfectly capable vocalist who seems to understand his limits and the fact that he sings entirely in Spanish does give this a slight exotic flair, especially to these American ears. He is, however, quite the accomplished guitarist and is incendiary lead work here really takes this thing over the top. Of the two tracks here I’d have to say that my favorite would have to be “Veloz Invencible”. The chorus riff is just so damn catchy and the guitar solo section in the middle is a mini epic all in itself. My one and only complaint here is the recording is a bit awash in reverb and just a bit muddied. They could certainly have benefited from a little more crispness in the production department. That aside, this is a welcome introduction to a band that has the all the necessary tools to make their mark on the international heavy metal scene. They are currently working on their first full-length effort which is supposed to come out later this year on Witches Brew and I will certainly be keeping my ear to the ground for that one.

Aethyr – Corpus (Cimmerian Shade Records)

The word ‘aethyr’ conjures up images of ephemeral, floating, drifting, wispy clouds of light and shadow, or maybe the suffocating vacuum of the deepest space. While in some ways those images are fitting, neither of those things accurately describes the dense, doomy, sludgy, blackened miasma that is Aethyr’s Corpus. This 7 track opus from this Moscow, Russia based horde is a journey from the innermost regions of your tortured psyche to the outermost voids of space and time. Aethyr’s music begins with a base of sludge/doom, but on top of all that they add the dirgey experimentalism of a band like Neurosis, the existential heavy psychedelica of a band like Isis, the swirling groove of a band like Kyuss, and the scuzzy brutality of a band like Entombed to create a suffocating aura of desolation and a ritualistic vibe that is enchanting in its own peculiar way. The most obvious influence, other than sludge and doom, is black metal of the blackest variety; very necro ala Darkthrone, but with a slightly progressive edge ala older Enslaved, especially in the tremolo picked lead guitar melodies of lead guitarist/vocalist Denis Dubovik. The majority of the music is instrumental, with vocals only occasionally popping up here and there and when they do they tend to be of the raspy, throaty blackened variety. This album busts right out of the gate with the blackish doom of “Nihil Grail” and builds up momentum through the next three tracks, the Kyuss-on-a-really-bad-trip “Sanctus Satanicus”, the ten minute epic “ATU”, and the sludgy blackness of “CVLT”. The totally lose the script, however, on the 6 minute ambient sound collage that is “The Gnostic Mass”, which totally kills the vibe they had going and unfortunately really weighs the rest of the record down. The slow building intro of the ten minute title track that follows doesn’t help to bring the vibe back much, but it does gradually develop into a decent track. The band does finish strong with another dose of severely blackened doom in the form of the track “Templum”. Overall, this is a very interesting record that shows a band with their own unique twist on the blackened doom trend. I just really wish that track 5 wasn’t there as it really does just kinda kill the record. My advice, just skip right past it and pretend it never existed and you’ll get a much better total experience with this album.

Artizan – The Furthest Reaches (Pure Steel Records)

I’ll be the first to admit that power metal is not really my thing. I mean, I like Maiden and Priest as much as the next metalhead, but the vast majority of power metal bands have always seemed like third rate clones to me. The vocals are always what really does it for me. It’s extremely hard to sing in such a soaring and majestic style without coming off cheesy and corny and only a precious few can pull it off well. I usually kind of dread reviewing albums like this because it’s not really all that fair to the band due to my natural bias against the style. I was intrigued, however, when I discovered that The Furthest Reaches from Jacksonville, FL’s Artizan was a concept record – a metal opera, if you will. The sci-fi theme about an alien race coming to Earth after receiving a distress call got my inner nerd all excited. Maybe it’s my own background as a prog rocker, but I’ve always had a soft spot in my heart and a great respect for bands who try to pull this kind of thing off. It takes a lot of balls and a lot of dedication to actually go through the whole process of creating the concept and sticking to it over the course of an entire album. So, it was with equal parts trepidation and excitement that I hit play on this one. It opens with a spoken word part where a child is asking his mother to tell him a story and as the mother begins to read the band kicks into the first track “Summon the Gods” and I gotta say, I was instantly impressed. The music is powerful and expertly executed, the production (courtesy of the infamous Jim Morris) is audio perfection defined, and damnit if I don’t actually like Tom Braden’s vocals. He reminds me of a cross between Bruce Dickinson, James LaBrie of Dream Theater, and Geoff Tate of Queensryche. His timing, pitch, and tempo are always on point and he sings with passion and intensity without ever falling off the cliff into the ocean of cheese. The album as a whole comes off as cohesive and each track naturally leads into the next as the band weaves music and story together expertly. From powerful riff burners like “Summon the Gods”, to epics like the title track, to majestic power ballads like “Wardens of the New World”, Artizan succeeds at every turn. The musicianship of guitarists Shamus McConney and Bill Staley, bassist Jonathan Jennings, and drummer Ty Tammeus is magnificent. Staley particularly shines in the lead work on the track “Supernova” – his incendiary lines really take the track to the next level and are one of the high points of the disc. But, the shining star of this album is most definitely the vocals of Tom Braden. He really carries the weight of pulling this concept piece off well and delivers one perfect performance after another. If a power metal band can impress this writer then you can rest assured that it’s a damn good one.

Carnation – Cemetery of the Insane (Final Gate Records)

Belgium’s Carnation was formed only two years ago by several veterans of the Belgium death metal scene with the goal of playing true to form, old school death metal that mixes the best elements of both the European and American death metal scenes of the late 80’s, early 90’s. I would say that they have more than succeeded in that task. Cemetery of the Insane is Carnation’s debut release and the five tracks contained herein are all instant death metal classics. These guys have masterfully perfected the art and essence of what death metal was originally supposed to be about. They come across like a mix between Leprosy-Spiritual Healing era Death and the best of the early 90’s Swedish scene like Entombed, Dismember, and Edge of Sanity, with a slight edge towards the Swedish side of the spectrum. The songwriting and riffwork is absolutely excellent and really captures that distinctive death metal vibe that made all those early 90’s bands so memorable. “Explosive Cadavers” doesn’t exactly “explode” right out of the gate as it starts with a creepy keyboard/guitar intro, but they quickly make up for it by launching quickly into maniacal old school death metal bliss. One catchy riff after another gallops and tramples everything in its path as Carnation boldly announces their presence. The title track picks up right where the first one left off, with just a slightly more punkish edge to some of the riffing while still retaining that authentic death feel. The guitars have that perfect, mid-range bite to them that gives the riffs that extra bit of edge that sends this thing to the next level of gnarliness. The groove riff this song ends on is worth the price of admission alone. “Rituals of Flesh” is an absolute tornado of tasty riffage and a real high mark of quality workmanship here. “Delusions of Power” is a mid-paced groover that grabs you by the throat from the very beginning and bashes you continuously in the face with an iron fist for the next three minutes. The EP closes with “The Great Deciever”, probably the best and most varied track here, going from slow and groovy to an all-out full frontal assault, even venturing into all out blast beat territory around the 3 minute mark, and then back again. Every piece of the puzzle fits perfectly here – the creatively catchy and burly riffage of guitarists Jonathan Vestrepen and Bert Vervoot, the bold and commanding bass playing of Yarne Heylen, the dominating drum work of the mad simply known as Morbid, and the extremely dynamic vocals of Simon Duson all mesh together to create one of the most memorable old school death metal releases to come out since the last Bloodbath record. You don’t just want this EP, you need this EP. Trust me on this one.

Deathblow – The Other Side of Darkness EP (Self Released)

Salt Lake City’s Deathblow come screaming right out of the gates on their sophomore release, The Other Side of Darkness, an EP that comes hot on the heels of their debut, Prognosis Negative, released just last year. This is raw, gritty, dirty, uncompromising thrash that has its foot firmly planted in the old school, while peering ever forward into the future of the genre. The 5 cuts found on this little gem are all wild and frantic blasts of gut wrenching, neck snapping thrash that come across as a cross between the wilder, darker, and punker side of American thrash like Slayer – particularly their early works like Haunting the Chapel – and the sheer raw and ugly terror of early European (especially German) thrash like Destruction and Sodom. Underneath all the grit and grime, however, is an undercurrent of expert craftsmanship and superb musicality. The dual lead guitar work is particularly impressive, particularly on the title cut and the last track “Death Wish”, and adds an extra dimension to these tunes that just takes the whole thing to the next level. The production has just the right balance between capturing that raw and spirited vibe that these guys are going for with just enough audio clarity that every instrument is distinctly heard and none of the fine nuances of the riff work are buried and lost. The vocals perfectly compliment the music and have a snappy, biting snarl to them that gives the music an extra touch of that punk/HC edge. This is thrash the way it was meant to be – fun, energetic, and carefree while still cognizant enough to care about crafting excellent tunes that stick in your craw and at the same time make you want to get up and trash your bedroom.

Deivos – Theodicy (Selfmadegod Records)

Deivos is yet another in a long line of quality Polish death metal that country has exported around the globe over the last couple of decades. In fact, believe it or not, Deivos has been around nearly as long as many of their more noted countrymen like Vader, Behemoth, and Decapitated. The band’s gestation goes all the way back to 1997 and Theodicy is their 4th full length record, the first for Selfmadegod Records after their last two releases were released by Unique Leader Records. I must admit, I haven’t really heard much of these guys before, but I am pretty damn impressed with this record. These guys are most certainly all death metal, but there are ample traces of grindcore and just a hint of industrial with an unrelenting ferocious attack and just enough attention to technicality to keep the tech geeks interested. I definitely hear the influence of their Polish mates like Vader and Behemoth, but I also hear a lot of Napalm Death, a lot of Morbid Angel (particularly in some of the serpentine riff work – check the second track “El Shaddai” or the riff midway through “Ochlocracy” to see what I’m talking about), some Nile with their occasional use to exotic modes and melody, a little bit of Immolation with their tendency to write some gnarly stop-start riffs that seem to have a sense of timing all their own, and just a tad of Anaal Nathrakh with the blackened mechanized aura the band injects in numerous places all over this disc. The lead guitar work also reminds a whole lot of Trey Azagthoth of Morbid Angel. It’s all whacked out whammy work and total free form, alien-esque, harmonically amorphous slices of pure guitar terror that leap from your speakers and assault your ears. It’s all too obvious that guitarists Tomek and Mscislaw have spent a lot of time worshipping at the same Babylonian altars as ‘ol Trey has, and that ain’t a bad thing. It’s been tried numerous times before, but few have been able to pull off the sheer weirdness that typifies Azagthoth’s lead work like these guys have here. Kudos also have to go out to the drum work of Wizun, who plays with a very unique controlled chaos style that does much to set this band apart from the average death metal masses. There’s only six tracks to be found here, so I’m not quite sure if this actually qualifies as a full album, but all but one of the tracks clocking in above the 6 minute mark and the overall quality definitely makes up for the lack of quantity. My one complaint here is that at times the band seems to lose the script and the tracks veer off course into no-man’s land where it just seems like the band didn’t quite know where to go next so they just threw something together. These moments are few and far between, but they are there which does hamper this record’s overall impact just a bit. But, the moments of near genius outweigh those other moments by far. If you’re like me and Deivos somehow slipped under your radar before now, you should definitely pick this one up and introduce yourself to yet another Polish death metal juggernaut.

Enforcer – From Beyond (Nuclear Blast Records)

As is typical with just about every other trend that comes about, the whole retro metal thing seems to have about run its course. Yet, there are always a few bands that emerge during these things that do what they do so well that they have staying power even after the trend itself has become trite. Sweden’s Enforcer is just such a band. From Beyond is the group’s 4th record and the follow up to their highly acclaimed 2013 effort that really put these guys on the map, Death By Fire. Taking their cues from all things 70’s/80’s classic metal, particularly New Wave of British Heavy Metal, the band lays out 10 cuts here of hard n’ heavy, head-banging, air guitar wielding, catchy-as-fuck, pure and unadulterated heavy metal. The band also claims influence from late 80’s/early 90’s era Eastern European bands like Credo, Magnit, Pokolgep, and Kat, none of which I have any familiarity with, I must admit, but if they’re half as good as this stuff is then I definitely have some homework to do. Speaking of homework, these Swedes have certainly done theirs and this whole record just oozes authenticity. You would be easily forgiven if you thought that this thing came out in 1982 and not 2015. Guitarists Olaf Wikstrand and Joseph Tholl are true wizards with a knack for writing catchy as hell riffs that sound brand new yet oh-so-familiar at the same time. Their spectacular harmony lines echo great guitar tandems of the past like Maiden’s Smith/Murray or Priest’s Tipton/Downing, and the solo work, while not exactly jaw dropping, is expertly crafted and are like little mini-compositions unto themselves which often impresses me way more than someone who can play a zillion notes a second. Bassist Tobias Lindkvist is a raging beast and his nimble lines and powerful tone give greats like Steve Harris a run for their money – check out his dynamic and agile work on tracks like “One With Fire” to hear what I’m talking about. Drummer Jonas Wikstrand doesn’t really stand out too much here, but his solid in-the-pocket playing and expert time keeping always keep Enforcer surging ever forward. Olaf Wikstrand also handles vocal duties and, though he’s not a truly great singer, he seems to know his own limits and his attitude and charisma make up for anything he lacks in the vocal department. He does have a brilliant high pitch scream that he uses to great effect all over this thing. The band is at their best when they are firing on all cylinders on high-octane adrenalized tracks like “Destroyer”, “Undying Evil”, “One With Fire”, “The Banshee”, and “Hell Will Follow”. The all instrumental cut “Hungry They Will Come” is another winner and really lets the guitar duo of Wikstrand and Tholl stretch out and exercise their talents. “Below the Slumber” and “Mask of the Red Death” are each six minute mini epics that see the band showing off some pretty impressive compositional chops while taking the listener on quite the ride through full-on metal nirvana. Not every track is a winner, however – “From Beyond” is one of the few mid-paced numbers here and it has a kinda cock-rock hair metal vibe that just seems a bit out of place with the rest of the record. That one small gripe aside, From Beyond is a truly killer pure heavy metal record that sees Enforcer firmly and permanently establishing themselves on the heavy metal family tree.

Frosthelm – The Endless Winter (Black Work/Alkemy Brothers)

From the freezing tundra of North Dakota comes The Endless Winter, the first full length record from sinister black thrashers Frosthelm. These guys formed back in 2009 and have released two independent demos over a period of 5 years before signing with Black Work/Alkemy Brothers Records last year. The first band that comes to mind when most people, especially Americans, think of the genre of “black thrash” is usually Skeletonwitch. That band was certainly the first of the style to really break through on this side of the pond and a whole slew of bands have since followed in their wake, most being only 2nd rate clones. Skeletonwitch is a good starting point of reference here, but Frosthelm sure as hell ain’t no 2nd rate clone. Frosthelm is actually twice as raw, twice as blistering, and twice as intense as anything Skeletonwitch has done since 2007’s Beyond the Permafrost. Maybe because North Dakota is about as close in general climate to the Great White North of Europe as you will find in the continental US, Frosthelm’s sound is nothing less than a frozen blast of pure northern fury whose icy grip grabs you by the throat and causes instant frostbite of the eardrums. These guys definitely seem to lean a bit more to the black side of black thrash and their riffs are like icy daggers right in your brain as the band blasts, gallops, and stomps their way through these nine tracks of superbly constructed and performed heavy metal. There’s definitely plenty of thrash to be found here, but the overall vibe is more dark, angry, and misanthropic which just accentuates the blackened aura of the tunes. Underneath all the frosty rawness, however, the band injects heavy doses of ornate and sophisticated melody and structure that garnishes these songs like crowned heads on spikes in a snow covered wilderness. All these tracks are killer but the one’s that really stand out are “A Storm of Teeth”, “Forlorn Tides”, the title cut, “The Dragon”, the grand finale “Silent and Dark, The Everlasting Sky”. This is an absolutely vicious and highly recommended debut and I look forward to hearing much more of these guys in the future.

Fulgora – Stratagem (Housecore Records)

What do you get when you cross Pig Destroyer, Agoraphobic Nosebleed, and Misery Index? Well, Fulgora, of course! This death/grind super-trio features members of all three of those bands and if you’re a fan of any or all of them, then you’ll find much to love about Fulgora. That does not mean that these guys are ripping off their own bands. Fulgora definitely are their own beast who combine the brutality of death metal with the pedal to the metal speed and intensity of grindcore, with a little extra dose of noisy hardcore in there just for that added spice. There’s only five real songs here (two of the tracks are spoken word pieces) so this thing definitely goes by quickly, but those five tracks are gnarly nuggets of blasting riffage and crushing heaviness. The guitars are one minute all chaotic and noisy, the next all jagged and angular, and the next completely in blistering face-melt mode. The drums are nimble and precise, but they still have that fly-by-the-seat-of-your-pants feel that characterizes all great grindcore since Napalm Death invented the genre back in the day. The bass is a little buried in the mix, unfortunately, so it’s hard to discern the finer details of the bass playing here, but that’s only a small little gripe. My favs here include “Splinter”, which has a crazed Today Is the Day circa In The Eyes of God feel to it, “Artifice” which comes across like classic Death meets Napalm Death, and “Meridian” which definitely reminds me a lot of Agoraphobic Nosebleed with its schizophrenic riffing and breakneck pace. Strap on your straightjackets and blast this one very loud.

Heaving Earth – Denouncing the Holy Throne (Lavadome Productions)

On Denouncing the Holy Throne, the sophomore effort from these Czech Republic based deathsters, Heaving Earth unleash a cyclonic maelstrom of dense, rabid death metal that defies convention while at the same time revels in the true spirit of the genre. On the surface, this music seems wildly chaotic and totally discombobulated, but on closer inspection the true magic and mystique of this band is fully revealed. When the opening peals of “The Final Crowning” first come belching out of your speakers there is just so much going on that it’s simply overwhelming. It takes listening to a few tracks here before your puny little human brain can begin to wrap itself around what these Czech lads are throwing down. Over the past decade or so, death metal has inexorably splintered off into numerous and varying subgenres which, in turn, have spawned their own sub-sub-genres. Technical death metal has been but one of these numerous divisions and it too has splintered into three main forms – the ultra-precise and digitized form typified by bands such as Necrophagist and Obscura where every lick and riff is mechanically placed in just the right spots, the deeply guttural and brutal style of bands like Suffocation, Deeds of Flesh, Immolation, etc, and the more avant-garde weirdness of bands like Gorguts, Gigan, Orbweaver, etc. Heaving Earth has somehow managed to incorporate all of these into a sound that is uniquely their own. They have the overall atmosphere of brutal death metal, but underneath all the blood and gore Heaving Earth displays a very meticulous approach to the construction of each and every riff. Even at its most chaotic and noisy, there is an obvious method to the madness. Their penchant for the unconventional in both rhythm, harmony, and melody leans these guys strongly toward the avant-garde death metal camp. Like some demented arcane spellcasters, these guys weave riffs and licks together that seem to come from a complete other realm; whether it be hell, outer space, or a whole other dimension completely. Guitarists Tomáš Halama and Jaroslav Šantrucek seem to be psychically connected somehow as they deftly maneuver in and around each other to orchestrate the malevolent riffage that spews from their strings. They shift seamlessly between unison lines and contrapuntal parts, harmony and dissonance, thick and heavy low end mangling and high pitch string strangulations all without batting an eye and this thing is filled to the brim with all kinds of very interesting guitar work that engages your mind just as much as they engage your neck muscles. The band is very adept at changing tempos on a whim and they are just as comfortable melting your face off at Mach 3 as they are slowly twisting the knife in your guts with a brutal groove, often in the span of just a couple of bars of music. With this album Heaving Earth have thrown down the gauntlet on the death metal scene and have announced, “Hey fuckers, check THIS out”. You should heed their demand.

Keep of Kalessin – Epistemology (Indie Recordings)

Norway’s Keep of Kalessin have been around since 1993 and have slowly morphed from a fairly traditional black metal band into one of the most respected names in the progressive black/death biz, particularly in their home country where they have been nominated twice for the Spellemannprisn Award, Norway’s version of the Grammys. The band’s lineup has changed much over the years and at times has featured within its ranks such notable black metal names as Attila Cshiar of Mayhem fame and Frost from Satyricon. The band has always centered around the vision and guitar work of Arnt "Obsidian C." Grønbech, who has been the one consistent member throughout the band’s 20+ year history. Epistemology, which is the term for the branch of philosophy that contemplates the origin, nature, and limits of human knowledge, is the band’s 6th full length record is the first album since 2006’s Armada to not feature longtime vocalist Torbjørn "Thebon" Schei and the first where mainman Obsidian C. has taken on the vocal duties entirely himself. Though now reduced from a quartet to a trio, the band continues to push its own boundaries, with varying degrees of success. The most obvious change is the addition of clean vocals to the mix. Obsidian C. is actually a pretty damn fine clean vocalist in the vein of ICS Vortex (Arcturus, Borknagar, Dimmu Borgir) or Vintersorg (Vintersorg, Borknagar). Who knew? In fact, the first song on the record, “Cosmic Revelation” is entirely clean vocals, with a very heavy Borknagar and Tyr kinda sound to it. I was actually quite taken aback at first as this is quite the departure from the band’s previous efforts which focused almost entirely on harsh vocal stylings. Is this what I could expect from the rest of the album? That answered was soon supplied as the next track, “Dark Divinity”, got underway and Obsidian C. proved he can throw down some screams with the best of them. “Cosmic Revelation” is the only track to feature all clean vocals as the rest of the record actually sees Obsidian focuses on the harsh vocals and utilizing the clean vocals more for choruses and extra spice here and there. Musically the band still has a solid black metal vibe throughout, and the tried and true blast beat is still the primary rhythmic force that drives most of the record. But, Epistemology also sees Keep of Kalessin exploring perhaps its most diverse range of styles and influence ever. Everything from power metal, to thrash, to death, to traditional heavy metal are all on display here at various points and times. This leads to an interesting and engaging listen as you never know exactly what may pop up around the corner, but it also leads to some moments where the band seems to lose its momentum and kind of spiral off on a tangent. All of these songs, barring two, range in length from 7 to 9+ minutes and though each is filled with some very cool riffs and exemplary musicianship, the band could’ve probably cut a minute or two at least from each one and been much more effective overall. Obsidian C. is a damn fine lead guitar player who style invokes both taste and technique, but unfortunately most of his solos are actually a little buried in the mix which makes you really strain to hear the nuances of his playing – particularly on the tracks “Necropolis” and the title track which closes out the record. Overall, I applaud Keep of Kalessin for trying something different and continuing to push themselves and their musicianship, but this is probably the band’s weakest record overall since their debut, Through Times of War. Don’t get wrong, it’s still very, very good and I think that once they become comfortable with their new direction they’ll fine tune everything, but right now they just don’t seem to have fully perfected exactly where they want to go and what they want to be. Hopefully the band can conjure a record next time that can dethrone Kolossus as the band’s best record, but that’s gonna be a tall order to fill.

King Hitter – S/T EP (Restricted Release/Plastic Head Music)

Remember when bands worried more about writing a good song with strong riffs, memorable melodies, and superb musicianship than how “brootal” or “troo” or “sick” they could be? Well, I do and evidently so does King Hitter, a brand spanking new “supergroup” of sorts that has crawled out of the alleys of Raleigh, NC to re-inject the metal scene with a solid dose of pure rock n’ roll attitude. King Hitter features the vocal talents of one Mr. Karl Agell, who manned the mic for one of the true classic albums of the genre, Corrosion of Conformity’s highly acclaimed and influential Blind album. The first thing that must be made clear here is that Karl’s vocal abilities are, without a doubt, still in top notch form. The years have aged him well and Karl still cranks out impassioned, visceral, and melodically powerful vocals that command attention and respect. Joining Karl in this explosive new project are Scott Little and Mike Brown on guitar, Jon Chambliss on drums, and Chuck Manning on bass. Karl and Scott know each other very well after having spent the better part of the last two decades playing together in Leadfoot, a killer southern rock/metal band from Raleigh that never really got the credit or attention they deserved. Chambliss and Manning go way back together as well, both being founding members of the Greenville, NC based band Sex, Love, and Money (aka SLAM) that had a brief moment in the sun with one major label record, Era, in 1994. Unfortunately, SLAM appeared on the scene right at the same moment that grunge exploded all over the place and fell victim to the major label axe like many other metal bands of that period. This self-titled EP is the band’s first offering to the world and what an opening statement it is. There’s only five tracks here, but each one is a mini classic in its own right, so you definitely get plenty of bang for your buck here. Musically King Hitter straddles a very fine line between metal and straight up rock n’ roll – think Thin Lizzy, Lynyrd Skynyrd, or Aerosmith coupled with Black Album era Metallica, or Blind era CoC (naturally). There’s equal doses of rawk swagger and head banging power to be found here which makes for a rip snorting ride throughout this thing. The EP opens with the song “King Hitter”, which kicks this thing off right and showcases everything that is great about this band – excellent songsmithing, powerful and catchy riffs, a rock solid rhythm section, and a truly classic vocal performance from Agell. “Drone Again” is next and this one has a big, swinging, epic vibe to it and a soaring chorus that sticks in your ribs like quality NC barbecue. Then comes “Feel No Pain”, which is, hands down, my favorite track on this EP. This one comes straight at you like a freight train and features another superb vocal performance from Agell and some truly mesmerizing axe work from Brown and Little. Their harmony parts and guitar solo tradeoffs in the middle of this track are absolutely brilliant and firmly establish this tandem as a new force to be reckoned with in the rock/metal world. “Suicide (is the Retirement Plan)” starts out as the heaviest, most metal track here and its low and slow, creepy-crawly main riff drags you right in only then to hit you with a complete change of pace in the middle with a dramatic chorus. The EP ends with, appropriately, “The End”, another rip-snorting track that smacks you all over the place with its raunchy riffage and features an uber-rad slide guitar solo that is, surprisingly, perfectly fitting. If you’re looking for a new band that gives you everything you love about the heyday of rock based heavy metal and genuine hope for the future of the genre, then look no further – King Hitter is your band.

Kneel Before None – Carnal Disfigurement (Independent)

Kneel Before None is a brand new act out of the heartland of America – Dickson, Tennessee to be exact. But don’t let their “backwoods” roots fool you, though, as these country boys can lay down some brutal, guttural, slammin’, disfiguring death metal with the best of them. Carnal Disfigurement is the band’s first independently produced and released effort and while it is indeed a little rough around the edges, it does display a band with a firm grasp of what they want to do and how it is supposed to be done. From a musical standpoint, these guys are decidedly in the brutal death metal camp, but there is definitely something very technical and sophisticated underneath all the filth and grime. They have the caveman like brutality of a band like Obituary, the slammin’ groove of a band like Internal Bleeding, the twisted riffing of an Immolation or Morbid Angel, and the cathartic and visceral edge of early Carcass. These guys don’t play around, either. There’s twelve tracks here but only two break the four minute mark and the vast majority come in somewhere between two and three minutes. They get in, hack everything to bits, and get out before you even know what hit you. They are very good at mixing up their tempos and riffing styles – from heavy kick you in the gut grooves, to hyper blasting blitzkrieg raids, to tangled and mangled six string workouts, to slowly boiling, creepy crawling chunks of inspired songcraft. I totally appreciate the fact that these guys keep it real and don’t use triggers on the kickdrums or any fancy studio tricks, and that certainly adds quite bit to the dank and dirty aura that permeates this album, but it’s roughness is occasionally to its own detriment. It’s sometimes just a bit too loose in the tempo department and the mix is just a hair too muddy. Those slight issues aside, musically this band has definitely made a statement with their debut. I have a feeling this is just a stepping stone for these guys. They definitely have the talent and with the right label and the right studio behind them they will be a death metal force to be reckoned with.

Needless – The Dark Spirit of Ages (Independent)

You know, I really love the power of social media sometimes. I was just hanging out on the Book of Faces the other morning and I noticed that someone had posted a link on TMS’s page. So, I check it out and it’s from this band from Hungary, Needless. Now, more often than not, when a band does this and I go to check it out I find that the band is often mediocre, at best. Well, that was certainly not the case in this instance. It’s not often that I find a brand new band that truly floors me and that I absolutely fall in love with anymore – I’m too old and jaded for that. But, damn it, if this bunch of Hungarians didn’t just do it. Without the power of outlets like the Book of Faces I would have never even heard of these guys from behind the old Iron Curtain and my life would be poorer for it. What can I say about Needless? Take the best parts of classic thrash ala Metallica, Megadeth, Testament, Pantera, etc and combine it with the best parts of classic European death metal ala Entombed, Dismember, At The Gates, etc and then top it off with just a dash of blackened aura and a pinch of doom and the picture only just begins to come clear. The Dark Spirit of Ages is this group’s debut independently released EP (available for FREE over at the band’s Bandcamp page), but something tells me these guys won’t be independent for long. Over the years I have often had bands from Eastern Europe recommended to me by my more underground oriented metal pals and more often than not I find that I just can’t get into them, mainly because the recording quality and the musicianship is simply 2nd rate. For whatever reason, Eastern European bands – with a few exceptions – just have been able to rise to the quality of their Western European and American counterparts. This is certainly not the case with Needless. The recording quality is pristine and the level of musicianship and songwriting ability on display here leaves one flabbergasted that this is only the band’s first real recorded output. They sound like seasoned veterans that have definitely been around the block a few times. They are keenly aware of the need to draw the listener in and constantly keep thing interesting. They traverse a wild variety of styles and thematic elements on every track here – mechanical thrash precision, organic death metal brutality, classically ornate melodic flourishes, doomy melancholy, exotic modalities, crushing grooves, freezing blackened fury, and more are all on display here at various points and yet the band manages to keep everything completely cohesive throughout – which is no small feat. These guys just ooze metal in all its glorious forms from every single pore and their passion for their music is distinctly evident all over The Dark Spirit of Ages. Words don’t really do justice to just how good and truly fucking metal songs like “Themis Weeps”, “A Grand Transgression”, and “The Dark Spirit of Ages” really are. You don’t just want this – you NEED this. And – it’s freakin’ free, so no excuses! If you don’t love this band as much as I do I will personally give you your money back. Scouts honor.

Psycroptic – S/T (Prosthetic Records)

Tasmanian devil’s Psycroptic originally formed back in 1999 and spent almost 10 years slaving in the underground, releasing 3 albums of highly original death metal to much fanfare down under but with little acclaim worldwide. That all changed in 2008 when the band signed with Nuclear Blast Records and unleashed Ob(sevant) on a (mostly) unsuspecting worldwide metal scene. The band initiated a string of tours in Europe and America and metalheads around the globe quickly awoke to Psycroptic’s unique and viciously devastating brand of technical death metal madness. This self-titled record, the band’s first for Prosthetic Records, is their 3rd record since their breakout on the international scene, and it firmly establishes once and for all that Psycroptic stands at the at the very top of the modern death metal heap. They have just the right blend of melody, technicality, and groove that just grabs the listener by the throat and never let’s go. Guitarist Joe Haley is truly a unique presence on the death metal scene. His riffing style reminds me of some strange futuristic cyborg – the perfect mesh of man and machine. It’s clean and ultra-precise and has this digital, robotic quality to it while at the same time remaining very organic and flowing. There really is nothing like quite like it in the history of metal. His lines just seem to endlessly unfold as the spin and swirl, twist and turn in and around each other like a thousand stinging nanobots that swarm in perfect unison and kill with a thousand small but perfectly precise stings. Just check out the totally warped riffing on tracks like “Ending”, “A Soul Once Lost”, “Ideals That Won’t Surrender” or “A World Discarded” to hear what I mean. It’s like his riffs have no specific beginning or end, they just continuously flow from start to finish in one long and direct line where every single note relates perfectly to the one before it and the one after it. And no matter how technically out there he gets, he always manages to keep the catchiness factor extremely high so that even if you’re not a music nerd you can still find plenty of meat to sink your teeth into. He doesn’t really take any guitar solos, but you don’t really miss it as every single track is a master’s clinic is style and technique. And let’s certainly not forget the rhythm section of Cameron Grant on bass and Joe’s brother Dave Haley on drums. These two have to be one of the best true rhythm sections in modern death metal. They know perfectly the role that bass and drums are supposed to play and they lock together in perfect synchronicity to supply just the right framework for Joe to do his thing. There is no wasted motion or effort anywhere on this thing as every single flurry of notes and drum hit is placed exactly where it is supposed to be and everything perfectly complements everything else. It’s like Psycroptic have figured out some ancient yet highly sophisticated secret formula that allows them to concoct music that is still beyond the realm of mere mortal men. This record will be studied and dissected for years to come as hordes of eager young metalheads around the world try to figure out exactly what makes this beast tick. Vocalist Jason Peppiatt is actually probably the least interesting aspect of this band. He’s a perfectly capable death metal vocalist (and he has amazing stage presence as anyone who’s ever seen them live will attest), but compared with the truly spectacular nature of the music itself Peppiatt just seems to be always playing catch up. That small point aside, Psycroptic has once again raised the bar for modern death metal with this self-titled record. This is not merely a recommended listen, this is a must listen.

Sacral Rage – Illusions in the Infinite Void (Cruz Del Sur Records)

Take Master of Puppets/…And Justice for All era Metallica, Rust in Piece era Megadeth, Bonded By Blood era Exodus, Alice in Hell era Annihilator, and top it off with plenty of Maiden, Priest, and Mercyful Fate, throw all that in a high intensity forge and the distinct brand of heavy METAL that will come out would have to be called Sacral Rage. Illusions in the Infinite Void is an absolutely stunning debut from these Greek technical/progressive thrashers. The level of technical precision is only matched by the band’s obvious passion for their craft and the sheer unrelenting intensity of every single riff and note that jumps out of this thing. I simply cannot speak highly enough of the creativity and musicianship of guitarist Marios P., bassist Spyros S., and drummer Vaggelis F. They’re just so damn good at what they do and it really shows in just how savagely these guys attack their instruments. The only thing that’s not absolutely perfect about this album and this band are the vocals of Dimitris K. He’s definitely not all bad, it just seems at times he just tries too hard to reach notes that are simply way too far out there for him. You can totally tell this guy worships King Diamond, and that in and off itself is not a bad thing and that style does fit well over the ornately decorated thrash the other three guys are cranking out, but he just doesn’t quite have the range of the good King and too often when Dimitris goes for those super high pitched wails he is just slightly off key which can be like nails on a chalkboard. Normally things like that with the vocals would totally turn me off to a band, but the quality, creativity, and ferocity of the riffing going on here is so damn high that I’ll just have to excuse those cringe worthy vocal moments. It’s at its worse on the track “A Tyrannous Revolt”, which is oddly the band’s first single and video. And at other times, like on the spooky track “Inner Sanctum Asylum”, his off key wails actually work within the context of the music. I don’t know, maybe I’ll acquire a taste for it eventually because this one is still going into my personal rotation on the strength of the music itself alone. My favorite tracks here include “En Cima Del Mal”, “Panic In Urals (Burning Skies)”, “Waltz in Madness”, the instrumental track “Into Mental East”, and the aforementioned “Inner Sanctum Asylum”.

Schizoid Lloyd – The Last Note in God’s Magnum Opus (Blood Music)

Every once in a while a band comes along that just completely and totally defies categorization. Schizoid Lloyd may have been smoking a little too much of their native land’s wacky weed as these Dutch lads throw down some wildly diverse and often just plain weird music on The Last Note in God’s Magnum Opus, the band’s illustrious debut. Building on the traditions of Frank Zappa and Captain Beefheart, Schizoid Lloyd creates tantalizingly complex tunes that have a childlike sense of wonder and joy while retaining an intense focus on musicianship and composition. These guys inject these tunes with everything from classic metal, death metal, prog, rock, jazz, lounge, classical, circus tunes, showtunes, reggae, you name it – it’s probably in there somewhere. Think of bands like Dog Fashion Disco, Mr. Bungle, Faith No More, Devin Townsend, or even System of a Down, to a certain degree, and you’ll be at a good starting place to consider this band, but Schizoid Lloyd takes it even a step further than any or all of those bands. One minute they’re shredding like Dream Theater, the next they’re being all grandiose and majestic like Queen, the next they sound like the house band in that Tatooine bar on Star Wars. What this stuff actually reminds the most off is old cartoon music – you know, like the stuff on those old Looney Tunes shorts from the 30’s, 40’s and 50’s that was always just so all over the place yet amazingly detailed and technically marvelous. That is actually the coolest part about this record to me – the fact that it reminds me so much of all those wild cartoon soundtracks I heard as a kid. Just check out the track “Chicken Wing Swans” to hear exactly what I’m talking about. Some of this stuff is spastic and all out crazy – like some nightmarish carnival experience straight out of a Jim Morrison acid flashback (“Cave Painter”), and at other times the band is all quiet, sweet, and introspective (“Film Noir Hero”). You really just can’t ever tell what is going to be around the next corner with these guys – as is proven beyond the shadow of a doubt when they throw the expertly performed, classical guitar driven album closer “Prodigal Sun” at you. Simply exquisite. As creative and fascinating as the music actually is, where these guys really excel – and where they most definitely stand out from other bands that have sailed similar seas – is vocally. It’s very obvious that many of these songs were built around the vocal arrangements and lead crooner Remo Kuhlmann has a range and flair that is simply spectacular. Think Freddie Mercury fronting The Mothers of Invention. Comparing anyone to Freddie Mercury is quite a statement, but Remo lives up to the challenge. The rest of the band ain’t no slouches behind the mic either and they back up Remo well with amazing harmony parts. This is an album that must be listened to over and over again to truly appreciate its complexity and grandeur. This is not for the faint of heart and it damn sure ain’t easy listening, but if you are feeling truly adventurous and you want something far from the norm, then Schizoid Lloyd is here to fill the void in your existence.

More Metal Vol. 15

Abstruse – Inner Space-Outer Void/Outer Space-Inner Void ( You know, I usually am a fan of any band who attempts to do a concept album or any sort of project that reaches for more lofty artistic goals and ideals than just your average musical group. Sometimes these efforts are extremely successful and a band attains a level of artistic success and appreciation that few ever reach. Other times the project falls flat but you can still respect the band for the attempt. And, on a very few occasions, a band or artist attempts something like that and it’s downright embarrassing. Well, I am sorry to report that Abstruse would fall into that latter category. Abstruse is a one man project consisting of a fellow who goes by the moniker of Substant and Inner-Space-Outer Void/Outer Space-Inner Void is a full on double album that seeks to explore transcendence in all its forms, both inner and outer. That certainly sounds like a very broad subject which is wide open for interesting creative interpretations. What is contained herein is like a cross between Trent Reznor, Frank Zappa, Voivod, and Syd Barrett (Pink Floyd – the first leader of the band who lost his shit on acid and was replaced by David Gilmour and went on to release a few solo records of some really weird stuff). Shit, that sounds very interesting. Even as I was writing that line I thought to myself, “That certainly sounds like something I would want to hear!” Unfortunately for me, and for anyone else listening, the descriptions sounds much better than the actual “music” contained on these albums. And I use the term “music” very loosely here. What we have here is 2 albums of meandering, pointless, aimless, formless soundscapes that have no rhyme or reason. Most of it is programmed, layered, ambient noises with bits and pieces of “music” thrown around all over the place in a seemingly random and totally unpredictable fashion. I guess it could be loosely defined as “metal” as there are bits of heavy, distorted riffs here and there, but for the most part this comes across as random patches of incoherence that is virtually unlistenable. There are some moments where it seems like Substant is gonna pull it all together and there are a few interesting and challenging “musical” parts here and there, but he quickly destroys and deconstructs any hope of that within the span of a few moments. I am told that this was recorded using some sort of special 3D recording technique and that it is best listened to with headphones. Well, I tried that. Still sounded like shit, only this time it actually gave me a headache as now all those noises and incoherent bits of “music” were swirling all around my head. Maybe I just don’t “get it”, and that is entirely possible, but I suspect that 99.9% of everyone else out there won’t “get it” either. I usually try to find at least something good to say about everything I review, but I just can’t do it here. This just sucks. If you are in that very small 0.01% of people who may “get this”, more power to you, but there is two hours of my life that I will never have back. I’ll probably be on my deathbed thinking, “Damn, if I only had those two hours back that I spent listening to those Abstruse records…….”

Afterbirth – 2014 Demo ( Afterbirth was one of the early pioneers of the brutal/slam death metal style that spewed forth from the bowels of NY in the early 90’s. This Long Island based quintet released one demo in 1994 dubbed Psychopathic Embryotomy and counted among their fans such scene notables as Chris Pervelis of Internal Bleeding and Derek Boyer of Suffocation. The band made substantial waves in the local scene and were noted for their twisted, groove based riffing and the extremely guttural vocal style of Matt Duncan. Then, like a ghost in the night, the band was gone. Almost twenty years later, in 2012 death metal label Pathos Productions contacted the band for permission to re-release the band’s original demo recordings, an act that ultimately led to the band deciding to reform. Afterbirth 2.0 is a much different beast than the early incarnation of the band. While it still retains plenty of elements of the brutal/slam genre they helped to spawn, the technicality has been upped exponentially and the band explores much more progressive territory on this 4 song demo than anything the band has done before. Guitarist Cody Drasser, bassist Dave Case, and skinsman Keith Harris have had two decades to hone and refine their skills since the last time they played together, and the results as heard here are definitely intriguing. The production and tone harkens back to the same kind of sonic territory as early Suffocation and Internal Bleeding, but the music itself is much more convoluted and tricky than anything that came from that early 90’s scene. It’s like this version of Afterbirth has taken their roots and combined them with the more modern elements of the current tech-death and avant-garde metal movements to create a whole new subgenre – avant tech-slam. The guitars have this distinctive venomous rasp to them and the riffing varies from sick groove based parts, to finger-numbing fretwork, to psychotic atonal noise parts that combine to form a very unique sound and style. The bass playing is truly extraordinary, and it has to be to keep up with the guitars and fill in the sonic territory that the absence of a second guitar creates. The drumming, though it does not particularly stand out and make you go “Holy shit!”, more than ably provides the rhythmic force to drive this beast forward. Maybe the biggest thing that keeps this thing rooted in their brutal/slam past are the vocals, which still go for that ultra-low, guttural, death grunt that was a hallmark of the band’s style and has been oft imitated since. Interestingly, after the recording of this demo, the rest of the band did not feel that Duncan’s vocals really complimented the band’s music anymore and they decided to part ways with him and carry on as a three piece instrumental group. I’m sure that change will greatly impact the direction of this new Afterbirth and we’ll probably see them go into ever more complex and challenging material. We’ll just have to wait and see.

Child Bite – Strange Waste (Housecore Records) Phil Anselmo’s Housecore Records has become known for releasing some wildly adventurous bands and albums over the years, but they may have just taken the cake with this one from Michigan’s truly strange Child Bite. I have a soft spot in my heart for the weird and different and this band has wormed its way right in there and set up shop. If Jello Biafra and Mike Patton had a red-headed stepchild then it would likely be Child Bite’s totally schizo vocalist/guitarist Shawn Knight. These Michigan crazies combine metal, art-punk, hardcore, noise, sludge, and the kitchen sink into an acid drenched toxic stew of interplanetary proportions. With nearly every song except for the album closer “In A Cloud of Blood – Bog Infinity” clocking in around or under the two minute mark, Child Bite delivers one short, sharp mindfuck after another on this record that combined comes in just under 20 minutes. The guitar riffs are one second all squiggly and squirmy and the next they are beating you over the head like a meth addled caveman with an anger problem, and you never ever quite know what will be coming around the next drum break. Cross Black Flag and Dead Kennedys with Faith No More and Mr. Bungle in their most weird and wild moments and you get the closest approximation as to what exactly is this mutated beast known as Child Bite. This is truly the soundtrack for an escape from an insane asylum. Grab your straight-jackets and cancel your electro shock therapy appointment, you won’t need it after listening to this truly fucked-up-in-an-oh-so-very-good-way album. You have been warned.

Cretin – Stranger (Relapse Records) Cretin actually got their start as a band way back in 1992, although their original incarnation never actually released anything. It wasn’t until the band reformed in 2003 when drummer Col Jones left his gig with goregrind kingpins Exhumed and they were signed to Relapse Records that the world at large was first exposed to the nasty death/grind stylings of Cretin. They released a couple of EP’s and one full length on Relapse before once again being placed on the backburner in 2006. Somewhere in the interim between then and now, founding guitarist Dan Martinez decided to give up his long fight in suppressing his gender identity issues and came out as a transsexual woman, re-christening herself Marissa Martinez. The band re-emerged in 2013 with Marissa once again at the helm, only this time with some help in the six string duties in the form of ex-Dreaming Dead guitar maven Elizabeth Schall. Stranger is the band’s first record since coming back from their second extended hiatus and it is one monster of a platter of death/grind madness. Marissa may have switched genders on us, but that hasn’t tempered the ferocity with which she attacks the guitar or abuses the microphone. If anything, finally being comfortable in her own skin may have just unleashed a whole new level of gnarly brilliance. This band has pretty much mastered the art of that nasty, old-school death-grind metal that mixes just the right amount of technicality in with the brutality. They push the limits at every turn and it always feels like the whole thing is about to get away from them and spin completely out of control, yet upon a more careful listen you begin to get a sense of the method to the madness and it becomes apparent that the chaos you hear is carefully and meticulously constructed for maximum effect and impact. They mix the frenetic wildness of early Slayer, the savage chaos of Napalm Death, the maniacal wizardry of early Carcass, the hack-and-slash attack of Autopsy, the filthy lo-fi grooves of Repulsion, and the blunt force trauma of Obituary into a maelstrom of death/grind insanity that stands as one of the best releases within the genre of the last decade. The inclusion of Schall on 2nd guitar opened up a whole new world of possibilities and her schizophrenic yet strangely melodic at times axe work adds a whole other dimension to the music. This crew obviously has a sense of humor to match their twisted and depraved music as song titles like “Ghost of Teeth and Hair”, “We Live in a Cave”, “Sandwich for the Attic Angel”, “Mister Frye, The Janitor Guy”, and “They Buried the Lunchbox” will attest. Cretin doesn’t fuck around either, with most of these tracks clocking in around the two minute mark, with the longest being “The Ghost of Teeth and Hair at 3:54 and the shortest being “Husband” at only 0:37. They get in and out with a quickness and throw in more truly cantankerous and frantic riffing into every single second than you can shake a severed limb at. Those two tracks I just mentioned also happen to feature the most oddball moments of sheer absurdity here, such as the bicycle bell sound that just comes out of nowhere at the end of “The Ghost of Teeth and Hair” and the whistling chorus in “Husband”. Totally left field stuff and genius in a tongue in cheek, who gives a fuck kinda way. Over 20 years after they first picked up instruments grinded together for the first time, Cretin has finally put out a record that will stand as a benchmark of the genre that true aficionados will be talking about for years to come.

Cuff – Transient Suffering Through the Ergosphere (Gore House Productions) I’ve reviewed a lot of albums in my time - a whole lot. I have been doing this for one medium or another since 1997. One of the things that has always perplexed me is when I listen to a particular record and it strikes me – how in the hell could these guys have sat in a studio and listened to the playback of this and thought to themselves, “Hell yeah! That’s exactly what I’m going for!” Especially in this day and age when any asshole with a laptop and ProTools can make a decent sounding album. I just don’t get it, not at all. Cuff is one of those bands that found me asking myself that question. These guys hail from Canada and play a slightly demented form of brutal death metal that actually has the potential to be pretty damn good. I mean, it’s not the most technical thing you’ll ever hear, but it doesn’t have to be to be good and brutal and these guys can certainly play their instruments. What ruins the whole thing is really three things – first, the mix is terrible. The drums sounds like cardboard boxes, the guitars sound like they were played through a handheld radio speaker, and the bass (when it’s actually audible) sounds like it was strung with rubber bands. And to make that worse, the band throws all these weird sound effects all over the place which mask the actually music going on underneath. But, the worse thing of all is these damn vocals. Remember that fad that briefly ran through the “deathcore” scene a while back with all the pig grunts and squeals? Well, imagine that only with some sort of distorted robot effect on them. And then imagine that pushed up to the very front of the mix to where the vocals actually sit on top of the backing music instead of merging with it. It’ absolutely horrible. Maybe these kind of vocals could work if they are pushed back in the mix and mixed like they were another instrument instead of the giving them the diva treatment where you layer the vocals over top of everything else. Maybe so, maybe not, but I know for damn sure it would have sounded better than what we have here. I’m sorry, but the mix, the weird sound effects that overtake everything, and the absolutely terrible vocals all combine to make this thing virtually unlistenable. Steer very clear of this one.

Dimesland – Psychogenic Atrophy (Independent) The words “eclectic”, “experimental”, “avant garde”, and “progressive” are bandied about quite a bit in this day and age, almost to the point where the true meaning of the words have become at least somewhat diluted due to sheer overuse. If any of those words still do mean anything at all, then please feel free to apply any or all of them to Oakland, California’s truly weird Dimesland. They refer to their music as “abstract” metal, and that’s a pretty decent description, but I think I’ll just stick with weird. And I mean that in the best way possible. Throw artists like Voivod, Frank Zappa, Deathspell Omega, Psyopus, Into the Moat, early era Cave In, Botch, Dillinger Escape Plan, Dysthythmia, Krallice, and Gorguts in a blender and, more than likely, what you’ll end up with would indeed sound something like what this band spews forth on their debut full length album, Psychogenic Atrophy. With technical precision yet a total disregard for convention, Dimesland spit, sputter, spazz, and space out all over this thing with compositions that always flirt just on the edge of madness. There’s been quite a few bands over the years that have aimed at pushing the envelope of extreme experimental/technical metal, and most of those have fallen into three parallel categories – experimental/technical death metal, experimental/technical black metal and experimental/technical hardcore. Dimesland’s real talent here is in the fact that they bridge the gap between those parallel words – one moment they’re sounding like Gorguts, and then the next they’ll go into some jagged Botch style riff only to then burst into some Dillinger Escape Plan style insanity before then truly blowing your mind with some warped out riff from beyond another dimension ala Deathspell Omega. These guys never spend too long on any one riff or motif but prefer to spin and bob, duck and weave with stop-start precision through an endless parade of twisted musical exploration. It’s really hard to fathom how a band writes and performs music such as this, especially for the poor drummer as Dimesland never sits still for a second. The drummer must always be on his toes and ready to completely switch grooves and patterns, sometime several times in the span of a few seconds. Yet, despite the cavalcade of craziness, the band does manage to construct these tunes with a sense of dynamics and purpose so they don’t come across as just a disjointed collage of random bits of music. Just the sheer amount of patience and dedication to their craft that these guys must have to be able to so finely weave compositions such as this together is astounding. Now, not everything the band does in genius, especially when they venture in more psychedelic, ambient territory like in “Xenolith” – they just seem to lose the plot somewhere in the midst of that tracks 8+ minute duration. But, they certainly make up for that with jaw dropping excursions beyond the average imagination in cuts like “Are They Cannibals?”, “Dying Foretold”, “Malfunctioning Gears”, “Bound in Stone”, and the epic mad genius that is “Odd Feats Are Bid and Won”. This kinda thing is certainly not for everyone, but if you’re into any of the artists mentioned above then this one is a real treat indeed.

Einherjer – Av Oss, For Oss (Indie Recordings) I must admit, I have been aware of Einherjer for a long time and I have heard a few of their tracks on radio shows, comps, and parties with my more hip metalsnob friends, but none of their records has ever come across my desk for review in all my years of doing this and I have never actually sat down and listened to one of their albums. I am fully aware of the band’s pedigree and importance in the history of both black metal and Viking/folk metal, but they have still somehow managed to elude me. I’ve seen the name pop up time and again in books on the history of metal and in interviews with other artists but, like ships passing in the night, Einherjer and I just couldn’t ever seem to hook up until now. I tend to dread reviewing a record by a band with such a long and storied history that I have never really listened to before as I am not fully aware of how the band has grown and changed over time and thus I feel like my review is somewhat lacking in backstory and overall context. I am aware that the band has both black metal and folk metal roots and that over the course of their recorded history they have fluctuated to varying degrees between the two extremes, but that is honestly about the extent of my knowledge on the band. Einherjer has been around since 1993 and Av Oss, For Oss is only the band’s 6th record, a limited output for such a long period of time, but it’s all about quality, not quantity. Whatever fluctuations between the extremes of black and folk metal the band has had in the past, with this record they seem to have aimed for a more balanced approach. These guys take their Norse heritage very seriously and the aura of pagan hymns and folkish melodic motifs pervade this disc, but there is a formidable blackened streak running through the whole thing. However, I also hear a lot of classic metal ala Iron Maiden (check out the main riff from “Hedensk Oppstandelse”) and even, dare I say, classic blues rock influences popping up here and there as well, especially in the lead work of guitarist Aksel Herløe. Check out his solos in “Hammer I Kors” or “Nidstong” or the epic ten minute title track, or the lead hook in “Trelldom” that sounds like it could have been lifted from some mid-era Led Zeppelin rarity, and I think you’ll get a sense of what I’m talking about. This record sees Einherjer melding the experimentation of Enslaved with the folk metal stylings of a band like Ensiferum and topping it off with a bit of Deep Purple. And it works beautifully. They don’t paint themselves into a corner and strictly rely on a specific sound or style that runs through each track, rather each song has its own unique character and presence while at the same time you can still tell that each one is from the same artist. Each track is filled with its fair share of catchy hooks, complex arrangements, and meticulously crafted instrumentation that makes each a little masterpiece in its own right. Einherjer have certainly carved their own niche within the Viking/folk metal scene and what they are doing is widely divergent from the mainstream of the genre. Av Oss, For Oss is not only one of the best, most eclectic, and most well put together Viking metal records I have heard in a while, it is also one of the best metal records I have heard in a while, period. This album actually came out in late October of last year and if I had checked it out earlier it would have been a top contender for my Top 10 of 2014 list for sure.

Ensiferum – One Man Army (Metal Blade Records) The whole Viking/folk metal wave might have crested at this point in time, but no one told Finland’s Ensiferum, and we should all bow down and thank Odin for that. If there ever has been a perfect blueprint detailing exactly how to write and perform this style of heavy metal, then Ensiferum’s latest record One Man Army is certainly it. Ensiferum have been at it hard and heavy since their self-titled debut in 2001 so they are one of the OG’s in the Viking/folk metal world and over the course of 5 previous records they have steadily refined and perfected their sound until they have finally unleashed folk metal perfection in the form of One Man Army, their 6th full length longplayer. This record epitomizes everything that is just so damn cool about this particular brand of metal. You have the hard and heavy riffing that hints at both classic/traditional metal and death metal. You have the folk inspired melodic structures that give it that vibe that is at once exotic and familiar, like deep down within your soul’s deepest memory the music reminds you of your own distant past. You have the multifaceted vocal approach that blends harsh and clean vocals and then throws these gloriously majestic choral parts in there that just make you want to stand up with your flagon of mead and sing along. You have the densely melodic keyboard parts that at times gives it a symphonic vibe but mostly reinforces the folkish feel by mimicking traditional instruments and melody. You have the gorgeous acoustic passages that conjure images of late night drinking and feasting by the campfire next to some frozen northern fjord. There are many folk metal bands that are good at one or two of these aspects, but Ensiferum is the only one that can successfully combine them all into the perfect folk metal storm. “Epic” is a word that gets bandied about probably more than it should when discussing metal music, but honestly there really is no better word to describe the might and majesty that Ensiferum lay down here. “Fun” is also a word that instantly comes to mind when I listen to stuff like this. I mean what better style of metal is there to get drunk and party to? I certainly can’t think of one. And this record is most definitely fun, but that certainly doesn’t mean that the lads in Ensiferum don’t take their music seriously. As far as composition, songwriting, and performance, there is none better within the genre as these guys. Every song is meticulously crafted and every note is perfectly placed. All the fat has been cleaned from the bone and all you are left with is a lean, mean folk metal machine. These guys obviously spent a lot of time honing each and every one of these tracks until they had forged them into a mighty blade with which to smite everyone and everything in their path. Songs like “Heathen Horde”, “One Man Army”, “Cry for the Earth Bounds”, and “My Ancestors Blood” all blast you in the face with scintillating melody and crushing heaviness and if you are not inspired to get up on your feet and dance around like a berserker then you have no true metal heart. It all leads up to the epic upon epics, the 11+ minute album climax “Descendants, Defiance, Domination” that takes you on an emotional rollercoaster through many different moods and leaves you thoroughly exhausted. There are a few odd moments here that will take you slightly aback upon first listen, but only reinforce the sense of abandon and devil-may-care nature of the music and this band. Take the track “Two of Spades”. It begins as an absolute ripping folk metal track with a lightning quick and uber-folky guitar melody and lots of double bass, and then out of nowhere these guys break it down like the BeeGees into a… disco part? Yep. Indeed. And you know what? It works. Folk metal disco. Who knew? Then you have “Neito Pohjolan” which is an all-acoustic number with a female lead vocal that has a country and western feel to it. It still has that folk metal vibe, but there’s some pedal steel guitars and an Outlaw Josey Wales kinda thing going on at the same time. We’ll call it saloon folk. Most of the more metal people would probably skip over this track, but it’s actually a really good song and the musicianship on display is absolutely brilliant. My review copy also included 4 bonus tracks, each killer in their own right. You have the “Rawhide” cover first. Yep. Rawhide. How’s that for your country and western vibe? Ensiferum certainly put their own stamp on it and it’s definitely metaled-up quite a bit, but it’s a surprisingly faithful and unquestionably fun rendition. They throw in a killer cover of Barathrum’s “Warmetal” and a song called “Candour and Lies” that is obviously a cover of someone but I can’t find who and has a similar saloon folk vibe as “Neito Pohjolan” complete with accordion. And then there’s the final track, simply called “Bonus Song” that strips the essence of Ensiferum down to its core essentials for a deliciously tongue in cheek anthem that revels in and celebrates all things heavy metal. This one will be drunkenly sung at countless metal bashes from here to eternity, mark my words.

Gale – Vol. 1 (Independent) Evidently there has been a surge in sludge/doom bands from Arizona in recent years and Gale is just the latest monster to be birthed from what is apparently a very thriving scene out there in the middle of the desert. Though it’s roughly on the same latitude, Arizona, with its sand and sun, is a far cry from the dismal, muddy swamps of the Dirty South, which has this far been the biggest hotbed of sludge/doom music in the U.S. Their locale probably does have much to do with the nature of this music which is much more ethereal and atmospheric than their swampy cousins, but that certainly doesn’t take away from the crushing heaviness these guys can unleash. Their debut release, appropriately titled Vol. 1, is a lesson in raw tones, gargantuan grooves, and slowly boiling and bubbling atmospheric/psychedelic freak outs that one moment simmer and sizzle and the next explode into world shaking blasts of primal, archetypal fury. These guys actually remind me of a slightly rawer, more organic version of Neurosis as both bands have that similar otherworldy, transcendental nature to their approach to their craft. There’s some Sleep and Eyehategod in there as well, but I’m definitely hearing more of a Neurosis influence than anything else. All four members of the band contribute lead vocals and each has a distinctive sound and style, which makes for a very interesting listen, especially when they all come together at once, and always keeps you guessing in the vocal department. I’m not sure this actually qualifies as a full album as it’s only 5 tracks at roughly 26 minutes, so it’s really more of an EP. Gale makes the most of those 26 minutes and songs like “To Be Free”, “The Counseled”, “Unsung”, and “Burn Your Person” are some of the best sludge/doom tracks I’ve heard in recent memory. What’s really impressive is the fact that the band apparently recorded most of this thing in one take. That’s virtually unheard of in this day and age and I’m sure that heavily contributes to the organic vibe that permeates this platter. It’s not a total homerun, however, as track 3,”To Build a Fire”, which neatly divides the album in half, is more or less a throw away track as it just kinda ambles about and really goes nowhere. Aside from that, Vol. 1 is a very high quality debut with high marks for creativity and authenticity. I look forward to hearing where these guys take it from here.

Graveyard Ghoul/Cryptic Brood –- The Graveyard Brood (Split EP, Final Gate Records) What we have here is a split EP from two of Germany’s finest old school death metal merchants, Graveyard Ghoul and Cryptic Brood, each pumping out three tracks apiece of total old school death metal magic. Both of these bands live and die by the riff and understand that you don’t have to be a virtuoso to play some really kick ass metal music. It doesn’t matter if you can pack a million 32nd notes in the space of 4 bars or play on 12/8 time, what matters most in metal, especially death metal, is – does it sound evil? Does it reach out with shining metallic meathooks and grab you by the ears and force your head to spontaneously bob up and down in a whiplash like manner? If there’s anything that can be said for either of these bands it is that they certainly know how to sound fucking evil. Graveyard Ghoul is up first and they have a very authentic sounding death metal approach that harkens back to both the American style of bands like Death (in their early days) as well as the European style of bands like Entombed. The production is raw and gritty, with that warm analog feel, which totally accentuates the vibe and aura of the tunes. Cryptic Brood takes a more doom metal approach to their old school death metal and come out with some super tasty jams. These guys are my favorite of the two bands here as the three tunes they lay down are just a tad more memorable than Graveyard Ghoul’s and Cryptic Brood are just a little more adventurous in their sound. They can go from a slithering, slow doom crawl to a blasting double bass part to a quick punk style two step part and back again all within a minute or two and they make it all work cohesively together. I also just love the unbelievably dank and dirty guitar tones these guys dial in. Again, as with Graveyard Ghoul, the production has that warm analog tone and total garage vibe which is just perfect for this style. There is a fine line that you have to dance when you shoot for this type of production values as the music can easily become an indistinct mess, but whomever helmed the boards for both of these bands certainly understood exactly what they were going for and what it should sound like. This is a must have for all of you old school death heads out there.

Hate – Crusade:Zero (Napalm Records) Poland’s Hate have long toiled under the shadow of their more prominent countrymen like Vader, Behemoth, and Decapitated and have never really seemed to garner the same attention or recognition despite a long string of high quality albums going all the way back to their debut in 1996. They have long been praised in the metal press and in their own country but, especially here in the US they pretty much seemed to have flown under the radar. Perhaps one problem has been the revolving door of band members entering and exiting with the only constant being Adam “ATF Sinner” Buszko on guitar and vocals. Crusade:Zero is the band’s 9th full length record and, if there is any justice in the metal world, this record should once and for all catapult them into the upper echelons of Polish death metal along with those bands mentioned above. Perhaps the untimely passing of their bassist Slawek "Mortifier" Arkhangelsky while on tour in 2013 inspired Buszko to new heights of creative passion but, whatever the cause, this record definitely sees Hate reach new heights in chaotic, brutal yet sublimely sophisticated death metal insanity. This is most definitely a death metal album, yet there are streaks of blackness running throughout this thing that gives it that extra edge of evilness that sends this thing completely over the top. With that being said, I would hesitate to call this “blackened death metal” as the black metal touches are more of a subtle twist rather than an overtly prominent element to the music. I must say that Buszko and fellow axe slinger Konrad "Destroyer" Ramotowski (who’s been with the band since 2006) have a very eccentric and distinctive riffing style that maximizes the chaotic nature of the music to utmost effect. Slippery and serpentine, the guitars slice, dice, duck, and weave in and around each other to create a maelstrom of wicked riffery that sounds quite unlike anything else going in today’s metal scene. You can definitely hear elements and influence from their most famous Polish brethren Behemoth, but it’s more of a nod of reverence than strict plagiarism and I would even venture to say that there are places on Crusade:Zero where Hate even trumps Nergal and Co. with their sophisticated, well-articulated arrangements and clever fretwork. In tracks like “Leviathan”, “Doomsday Celebrities”, “Hate is the Law”, “Rise Omega the Consequence!”, and “Dawn of War” ATF Sinner and Mortifer lock horns like two majestic stags and proceed to engage in a frighteningly violent yet dreadfully beautiful dance of six string death as they unleash a tantalizing torrent of blistering riffs that interlock with each other and play off of each other to perfection. There’s not really any traditional verse/chorus structure or anything like that to these songs, but rather they unfold in a very well planned yet entirely organic, storybook way. Few riffs are ever repeated, yet they are constructed and pieced together in such a very musical and dynamic fashion that it doesn’t come across as a mere collection of riffs thrown against a wall, but rather one coherent and thoroughly engaging piece of music. The one and only downfall here is the fact that the band opens the album with not one, but two intros – the first, “Vox Dei (A Call from Beyond)”, being a symphonic style piece and the other, “Lord Make me an Instrument of Thy Wrath!”, is a short guitar/bass/drums instrumental. I understand building the drama, but there is such a thing as overkill. But, when the record finally does kick in with track three, “Death Liberator”, it’s nothing but pure death metal brilliance from there on out. Well, except for the little outro “Black Aura Debris”, which bookends the album with this weird sound collage that just seems out of place and superfluous. If you’ve somehow missed out on Hate before, you should definitely jump headfirst into this one. Nergal should watch out – if Hate keeps it up at this level, they may just dethrone him as the king of the Polish metal scene.

Hateful Abandon – Liars-Bastards (Candlelight Records) Gothic Industrial. That’s a bit of a new one on me. OK, I’ll bite. Hateful Abandon hail from Bristol, UK and have been around since 2004. Liars-Bastards is actually a re-release of the group’s 3rd album, a kind of stop-gap measure after they signed with Candlelight Records while they work on new material. These guys take the sturm and drang of industrial artists like Einsturzende Neubauten and the Swans and mix it with a glossy black sheen of post-punk, particularly the more “gothic” examples of that genre like Joy Division. The two influences do actually meld very well and Hateful Abandon do a fine job of creating a dreary, bleak, and atmospheric ambiance across these 7 tracks. But, what they don’t so very well is write and interesting song. These cuts come across more like audio collages or sound experiments rather than actual songs with melody, a distinct rhythmic drive, and a discernable focus and direction. Vocalist and group mastermind Vice Martyr does a pretty spot on job of aping Joy Division’s Ian Curtis in sound and delivery and if you didn’t know any better you wouldn’t be too far out of line in thinking that someone sampled some old Joy Division vocal tracks and pasted them over the top of some third rate B-grade Sci-Fi movie soundtrack. Honestly, about all this music is actually good for would be as a movie soundtrack. It’s wandering, aimless nature might actually work within that context. Vice Martyr does vary it up a bit with some harsher vocals on a few tracks, but that doesn’t make the music any more interesting or impactful. In order for something like this to work, you have to have a commanding vocalist who draws all the attention to him/her with arresting style and presence, like a Marilyn Manson. Unfortunately, Vice Martyr just doesn’t demand that kind of attention or respect with the performances here. I am sure there is a niche for this sort of thing and I have seen some reviews of this that have lauded the group with praises, but it’s definitely not my cup of tea. Yawn. Next, please.

Horncrowned – Defanatus (Ketzer Records) If anyone on this earth would know about violence and war, then the people of Bogota, Columbia would definitely be high up on the list. That is exactly where the vengeful, blackened beast that is Horncrowned hails from and Defanatus is the band’s fourth full length record. This is no crying in your absinthe or howling with the orcs style of black metal, boys and girls, this stuff is pure blasphemous hatred, violence, and chaos. This is the sound of the Four Horsemen of the Apocalypse descending from burning skies to wreak havoc upon the earth. This is the sound of the Dogs of War unleashed. Imagine bands like 1349 or Horna, only even faster and uglier. Except for the brief intro and outro, the other 10 tracks that make up Defanatus are fury personified in sound with the band not letting up for one second from the raging onslaught of blast beats and evil riffage. The sheer speed and intensity of this stuff is damn near overwhelming at times. I really don’t know how any band could keep up this level of intensity for an entire hour long live set without the drummer ending up a quivering mass of broken bones and distended flesh by the end of it all. The production here really accents the chaotic nature of the music. It’s not all lo-fi and “necro”, but yet it’s not all spit and shine either. It’s actually a happy medium between the two that gives the music the aura of the catacombs while retaining enough distinction between the instruments that the whole thing doesn’t descend into an incoherent audio miasma. There’s a sheen of ghostly reverb that covers the whole production, and yet it’s not so much that instead of accenting the music it becomes a hindrance to the music, as often happens when bands play with the reverb knob a bit too much in the studio. The rhythm guitars and the drums are all up in your face, with the vocals and the lead guitars actually a little buried in the mix. This gives the vocals and leads this feeling as if they’re echoing down some cavernous tomb from far away, which, believe it or not, actually works. And the leads themselves are like a blackened Kerry King – insane blasts of six string strangulation and mutilation that seem defy any musical sense and yet sound so damn cool. Sometimes you have to strain to hear them underneath the blasting riffs and drums, but that just adds to the sense of claustrophobic chaos that pervades this music. If you like your black metal fast as fuck and evil as hell, then you should definitely pick up this one by Horncrowned and prepare to have your flesh peeled from you bones, track by furious track.

In the Company of Serpents – Merging in Light (independent) Denver, Colorado’s In the Company of Serpents is a two piece sludge/doom duo and this three track EP, Merging in Light, is the pairs’ 3rd official release. The band consists of guitarist/vocalist Grant Netzorg and skin basher Joseph Weller Myer. I’m not sure if it’s the result of some immense studio trickery, but this band puts out a sound that is thicker, heavier, sludgier, and more bombastic that most bands with three times as many musicians in their ranks. The guitar tone is just massive – like a slow boiling volcano that is slowly and inexorably oozing lava down its slopes to envelop that hapless citizens on the plains below. You can see it coming from a mile away but you just can’t get out of the way. These guys must be enjoying the new found legalities in their home state because the influences of stoned out sludge/doom kings like Weedeater and Sleep are all over this thing. The band also had a bit of the sparse, minimalistic, and experimental psychedelic doom stylings of Earth, which is the band that the founding members of In the Company of Serpents initially bonded over and that influence is indeed obvious, especially in the epic 3rd and final entry here, “A Union of Opposites”. I also get a bit of an “outlaw cowboy” kind of a vibe here as well, like the soundtrack to some old school Clint Eastwood spaghetti western crossed with a post-apocalyptic zombie flick. It sounds crazy, I know, but one listen to this and I think you may just hear where I’m coming from with that analogy. Vocally, Netzorg actually reminds me a lot of Kirk Windstein from Crowbar, with a bit more of a blackened touch to his tone and delivery. This a pretty cool release from these Rocky Mountain lads and if you’re into sludge, doom, or any derivative thereof, then these guys indeed deserve your attention.

Innsmouth – The Shadow Over Innsmouth (Crime Records) What self-respecting metalhead is not a fan of H.P. Lovecraft? Lovecraft’s cosmic horror and Chtulu mythos has inspired countless horror writers, movies, and metal music, particularly death metal, for decades. Denmark’s technical deathsters Innsmouth take that inspiration one step further by naming their band and their debut album after one of Lovecraft’s most famous stories. The eight track A Shadow Over Innsmouth is a promising debut from this Danish crew, but it is plagued by some very obvious failures. First, the positives – the most notable being the exquisite guitar skills of Thor Sejersen “Krieg” Riis. You can tell this guy worships at the altar of the 80’s guitar gods and probably has the entire Shrapnel Records catalog on his shelf at home. His fluid, often sweep picked or tapped leads stand out all over this thing and he often pulls out some pretty rad little tricks with harmonics and the Whammy pedal that often add an extra wow factor to the music. I also can’t fail to mention the thrilling bass work of Martin Munch 'Der Mönch' Christensen, who lays down a truly excellent and technically challenging foundation that allows Riis enough room to do his thing all while injecting his own wow factor that lies just underneath the surface. The riffing itself is a blend of highly technical death mixed with plenty of thrash and even some slight black metal influence, particularly on the tracks where they had some background keyboard work. There are moments where the riffing is truly captivating, but they often get a little jumbled and confused and at times on this record it seems as if a lot of this material was just kind of thrown together with only the idea of throwing as many quirky, techy riffs as they could in there while sacrificing the overall listening experience, especially for the non-musicians in the audience. Now for the total downside – those programmed drums gotta go. They just sound too herky, jerky and inhuman and give the whole thing a stiff, almost robotic feel that definitely detracts from the overall quality and impact of the music. It is possible to get a decent, near organic drum performance out of machine these days as new drum programs have come along that have really changed the game in that regard, but Riis’ drum programming here leaves much to be desired. He really just needs to stick with what he does best and shred the six strings. I still prefer a real drummer, however, and I think that with the right drummer here this thing would instantly go from a pretty good, if near fatally flawed debut to a rock solid record that would put Innsmouth right up there with the big boys. This record is worth a listen if not for anything else than to check out Riis’ guitar work. This guy is shredtastic and I have a feeling we’ll be hearing much more about him from the guitar community. Hopefully these guys can find a drummer who can complement their skills so that they can show what they are truly capable of on their next record. I do have to give mad props to the many Evil Dead/Army of Darkness references all over this album. From several sound clips of come choice Ash quotes, to naming one of the songs after the incantation in Army of Darkness, “Clatu Verata Nictu”, I can’t help but love a band that has a reverence for those classic flicks.

Kauan – Muistumia (Blood Music) Kauan are a Russian/Ukrainian group that has only been around since 2007 and have already released 5 records prior to this new one, Muistumia. This is my first exposure to this group and I have to say, if all of their previous records are as good and as interesting as this one then I have sorely missed out. Apparently this album is mostly rerecorded material from the band’s previous works, so it would probably be safe to assume that I have indeed missed out on a lot. What we have here is a very unique melding of doom metal, folk metal, traditional metal, death metal, black metal, symphonic metal, and ethereal post-rock jams that is truly mesmerizing. A lot of times when bands try to throw in so many varied influences into one sonic stew it often ends up a cluttered mess, but not so with Kauan. This stuff is gorgeously constructed with gripping and powerful doom style riffs, epic folk inspired melodies, beautifully layered symphonic parts, and anguished, impassioned songwriting that transcends the mundane. Heavy guitars crash against sparkling piano melodies which morph into lamentably haunting viola parts. The music moves in waves and patterns that draws the listener into a whole new world of doom laden bliss. One moment they’re hammering away at a huge riff and then the next they’ll hit you with these folkish melodies that have been turned inside out and re-translated into something altogether different only to then suck you down into a slow post-rock jam with all kinds of chilling classical inspired melodies dancing around each other like dark nymphs performing some sort of magical faerie ritual. There is no one instrument that shines above the others here as all work with and around each other to weave a flowing and floating tapestry of wonderfully mysterious and darkly exotic compositions The vocals are a real highlight here and they range from a blackened rasp to both male and female clean vocals that are truly beautiful and really fit the music well. All the lyrics are in Russian (at least I assume it’s Russian) so I have no idea what they’re singing about, but it only serves to give the music that much more depth and exotic mystery. This whole thing is just astonishingly well done. If I had heard this record before the end of 2014 it would have most certainly been on my Top 10 list, it is that good and I am that impressed.

Obsessor – Assassins of the Pentagram (Deathstrike Records) To start off, do not – I repeat do not – confuse this band with the Virginia HC band of the same name. This Obsessor is a far different beast than the American band with which they share a moniker. Germany’s Obsessor is like the perfect melding of three different decades of metal glory. Take the 70’s classic melodic power metal of Maiden and Priest, add some 80’s speed/thrash metal, and top that off with the blackened atmosphere and aura of the 90’s 2nd wave of black metal and you have the exact formula that Obsessor takes on this record, Assassins of the Pentagram, the band’s second full length effort. Though the guitar tones are covered in heaps of that necro sounding grime and the recording itself is awash in reverb that adds to that blackened aura, at its heart Obsessor is a speed metal band. You can totally hear the dirty Germanic thrash influence ala Sodom, a touch of the gnarly chaos of Brazil’s Sarcafago, as well as the genre’s American progenitors like Nuclear Assault, Agent Steel, and the early days of Metallica and Megadeth. This whole album is loaded with lightning quick riffs, tons of fist pumping galloping parts, circle pit inducing drumming, and driving bass lines. These guys aren’t gonna bludgeon you to death with immense heaviness, but rather they slice you into a million fine pieces with razor blade precision until you’re left a quivering mass of diced flesh on the pavement. Thankfully, the band found that fine balance between the dirty production values they were aiming for and actual clarity between the instruments as every single guitar lick, thumping bassline, and rollicking drum fill is perfectly distinguishable. Vocalist Shellshokker mostly mines a territory that is somewhere between a deathly growl and a blackened howl, with occasional forays into all out King Diamond high pitched wails that at first seem to come out of nowhere but once you get used to them they serve as periodic exclamation marks to the frantic chaos going on underneath. My only complaint with this record is that every track is approximately the same tempo and has the same overall mix so that after a bit it does tend to wash together, but that only detracts slightly from the record’s overall impact. That one little nitpick aside, this is about as good as black-thrash gets. If you’re into bands like Toxic Holocaust and Skeletonwitch then you should check out Obsessor and find out what black-thrash is really all about.

Posthum – The Black Northern Ritual (Indie Recordings) Norway’s Posthum celebrated their 10th anniversary as a band in 2014 with the release of their third full length album, The Black Northern Ritual. This record is a bit of a departure from the band’s last effort, 2012’s Lights Out, which was a study in ambient blackness that garnered mixed reviews. This time out the band has gone in a much more direct and far less atmospheric direction and has produced an album of solid, mostly mid-paced black metal compositions. This album isn’t breaking any new ground by any means and the band does follow a pretty traditional approach to constructing their blackened opuses, but they do have the ability to shine within the confines of the box they have placed themselves in. Many styles of music have their traditional forms that must be adhered to in order for it to still be considered a “pure” form of the style, (American blues being the prime example of this) and it becomes not so much what you play but rather how it is played that distinguishes the music and the artist’s unique character. Posthum are students of the genre of black metal and have the ability to reinterpret the style into something that is familiar yet all their own. With just guitar, bass, and drums the band creates a richly detailed sound that is enhanced by a tight and focused production that allows for each little nuance to shine through. And it is those little nuances that are so important in a band like this because without them it becomes easy for the band’s music to fade into the background with all the other bands of their ilk. I particularly enjoy the subtle lead guitar playing of Mats Kjeserud who has a spooky and melodic style that really goes well with the music. He doesn’t wow you with sweeps, taps, and a million 32nd notes per second but rather gets under your skin with creepy, crawling melodic lines that are brilliant in their simplicity. His skeletal solo lines in “To the Pits” is a prime example of just what I am talking about. Again, sometimes it’s not what you play, but how you play it. This stuff has all the hallmarks of the more “necro” side of black metal and yet it doesn’t sound “necro” at all. The music contained on The Black Northern Rituals is much too graceful in its dark majesty to be lumped in with all that. Like a good ghost story, it’s subtle grimness and sublimely brooding maliciousness masks an underlying violence that leaves the listener with a sense of haunting anxiousness. This is the sound of old school black metal performed by guys who can actually play their instruments well, have an ear for a quality recording, and are careful and contemplative when building their compositions. If you are a fan of the more underground and raw forms of black metal but you are sick and tired of the crusty, ugly recordings that buries the music underneath layers of reverb drenched grime then you may have just found what you are looking for with Posthum’s The Black Northern Rituals.

Primordial – Where Greater Men Have Fallen (Metal Blade Records) Primordial has been around as band going all the way back to 1987 and over that time they have become Ireland’s most blessed and respected metal sons. (Well, except for Thin Lizzy, of course) That’s nearly 30 years, and over that time they have released 8 full length records that have seen the band slowly grow, develop, and mature in a very organic and, dare I say, primordial fashion. They began as a more straight-up melodic black metal band with their 1995 debut, Imrama, only to begin to include more folk influences into the music on the next few records, including using traditional instruments like mandolins. By their 2002 album Storm Before Calm, the band began to explore a more darker direction and the next few albums saw them beginning to eschew some of the more folkish trappings and go for a more raw, doomy, direct, yet grandiosely epic style that produced two of the best records of the past decade, To The Nameless Dead and Redemption of the Puritan’s Hand. With each album that Primordial has produced, they have steadily built upon their own achievements to create a steady arc of continual creative and artistic development, a feat that is rare in the music world. Most bands usually have peaks and valleys in the history of their recorded output, and all too often a band will put own one really great record and then spend the rest of their careers chasing that dragon yet never quite reaching it. That has not been the case with Primordial and this album, Where Greater Men Have Fallen, is yet another testament to that fact. This album sees the band further expand on their raw yet epic and doomy approach of their previous two albums to create a majestic masterwork of emotionally charged and expertly crafted heavy metal music. There is still an underlying layer of both the band’s black metal roots and their folk metal experimentation all over this thing, which only further enhances the might and majesty of these songs. Each one of these 8 tracks is a unique entity in and of itself and deftly displays Primordial’s ability to forge truly epic metal compositions, but when you take the album in as a whole it is a resplendent, transcendental journey that truly must be experienced to be appreciated fully. Mere words cannot describe it.
The album begins with the title track, which almost has an Amon Amarth in their more dirge-y moments kinda vibe going on with its steady pace and layered riff structure. Vocalist Alan Averill makes his presence known very early on this record with a very commanding performance on this song. While he may not be the most technically skilled vocalist in the biz, you can literally hear the passion he pours into the music with every syllable he utters. Track 2, “Babel’s Tower”, begins with a slow, arpeggiated guitar riff that heaves to and fro like a ship rolling on the waves and features a soaring vocal line from Averill. About the three and half minute mark the song shifts directions slightly as the band navigates through some majestic chord changes only to break the song back down for another, more understated verse section. The song then explodes again into flight as the band rides out the last part of the song with some perfectly executed melodic lead work. “Come the Flood” sees the band first showing their melodic black metal roots with a wonderful tremolo picked riff that also echoes a bit of the band’s folkish melodicism. There’s still a very similar epic vibe here as on the first two tracks, only this time things just feel a little more dark and foreboding. The song traverses through various permutations of the main riff throughout much of the song as the band plays with the dynamics and injects layers of nuance that build the track up steadily into realms of heavy metal nirvana. Where “Come the Flood” saw the band flirting with their black metal roots, track 4, “The Seed of Tyrants”, has them fully embracing it with a pretty much straight up blasting, droning black metal track that just burns everything in its path. “Ghosts of the Charnel House” is next and it definitely has the most straight up “rock” or “classic metal” sound of the entire album, while still retaining that distinct raw, epic, doomy vibe that flows across the whole thing. The way that the band structures this song reminds me of some of the more epic moments of Iron Maiden’s catalog and it has just as much impact as anything that classic band did. “The Alchemist’s Head” is certainly the weirdest and most “evil” sounding cut on this album and for that reason it’s probably my favorite. It has a kinda progressive/avant-garde black metal feel to it and it is definitely the band’s most challenging composition on the entire record. Discordant riffs crash against twisting arpeggios and thunderous chord voicings while Averill’s apoplectic performance is truly riveting. “Born to Night” starts of a bit slow at first with an echoing, melancholy and folkish guitar playing over the sound of a storm for the first few minutes. But when it kicks in, boy does it ever kick in, with a wicked and catchy riff that grabs you right by the balls. This track has a very grandiose and doomy feel to it with its heavy, single note riffing and another splendidly passionate vocal performance from Averill. The band rides out on a galloping riff that features some very tasty harmony guitar parts that would make any Viking metal band proud. The album closes with “Wield Lightning to Split the Sun” which sees the band opening the track by echoing their more folk influenced work with an intro that features acoustics guitars and a steady, ritualistic, tribal drum beat. The body of the song is an epic hymn (I know there’s that damn word “epic” again, but there really is no better adjective to describe it) that features some very richly layered guitar parts that envelop the listener in a swirling cloud of metallic beauty.
Time and again, Primoridial have proven that they can one-up themselves with each successive record. In a career that seems to be all peaks and no valleys it would stand to reason that Primordial couldn’t possibly keep that streak going forever. Where Greater Men Have Fallen makes a bold statement that, while that previous statement may eventually prove to be true, Primordial hasn’t succumbed to reason yet and once again makes an album that takes the band to an even higher pinnacle of achievement in an already storied career. I’m not sure if they can take it even higher on the next go round, but I certainly look forward to finding out.

Shredhead – Death is Righteous (Mighty Music/Target Group) Ok, for starters, I got to give this band mad props for the name. I mean – Shredhead. It’s the perfect thrash metal name. Just when you thought all the good band names were taken, up pops one that makes you go, “That’s brilliant! Why hasn’t anyone thought of this before?” These guys originally hail from Israel, but now call Berlin, Germany home (maybe a little irony there??), and they play a hard-charging, violently aggressive brand of thrash that crosses the anger and intensity of Pantera, the precision and melody of Testament, the virulent aggression of DRI, with just a slight European twist ala Sodom and Destruction. Death is Righteous is the band’s second full length album and it stands as a bold statement to the thrash metal world that a new player is on the block. This is not just another retro thrash band, however. The whole retro thrash thing has become hip over the last few years and has spawned a ton of bands trying to recapture the 80’s glory days. Shredhead is a completely modern thrash band that takes its cues from every era and phase of thrash and turns them into something new, vibrant, and exciting. Guitarist Yotam Nagor comes across as the mutant child of Dimebag Darrell and Eric Peterson and completely slays with razor sharp, barbed wire spiked riffage that is catchy as hell while retaining that perfect amount of vehemence and spite that is so necessary for a good thrash metal band. His lead playing is not gonna completely wow you and you can definitely tell the primary focus is on the riff work, but when he does break into a lead he does so with taste and a refined skill that hints at something more while always seeming to hold back just a bit. Just once I would have like to hear him completely cut loose and just go for it, but maybe that’s just the guitar geek in me. Drummer Roee Kahana is an absolute beast and his kinetic yet highly precise playing is a big reason why this whole thing works so well. He complements Nagor’s rhythms perfectly and he knows exactly when to throw down a neck jerking groove and when to put the pedal to the metal and crank the intensity up several notches. Vocalist Aharon Nagoza sounds like and even angrier Phil Anselmo, if that’s even possible, and his powerful vocals, blood curdling screams, and commanding presence are the exact ingredient that pushes this thing fully over the top into metal bliss. My one and only complaint is that Lee Lavy’s bass playing is too often buried in the mix. You can tell it’s there, but it only occasionally rears its head to fully feel and hear its impact. That one minor quibble aside, there’s really not a dud to be found on this 11 track platter, but the songs that particularly stand out to me are “Devil’s Race”, the title track, “Hallucinations” “Walk With the Dead”, “Witness Hell” and “I Hate Myself”. If you’re looking for a quality thrash metal record, especially if you are becoming sick of the whole retro-thrash thing, then you can’t do any better than this one.

Triumvir Foul – An Oath of Blood and Fire EP (Godz of War/Third Eye Temple) The mysterious duo known as Triumvir Foul hail from Portland, Oregon, a surprising hotbed of underground metal of late. This four song EP is the band’s debut release and it is one dirty, ugly, stinking, filthy mess – and I mean that with the utmost admiration and respect. I must admit, of all the ‘retro’ subgenres of metal that have cycled back around and become hip again, I have a particular soft spot in my heart for the resurgence of old-school death metal. Be it of the Floridian or European variety, I just love it all. Death metal just seemed to be more real, evil, and genuinely dangerous back then. Maybe because the bands were more worried about writing hooky, truly evil sounding riffs that melting your face with a thousand notes a second, or maybe it was because of the dank and cavernous production values and gritty aura that permeated many of those releases – whatever it was, it was just so fucking cool, especially to my pubescent mind at the time. (Yeah – I guess I’m showing my bias and my age here.) Triumvir Foul captures all of the essential essence that made underground death metal back in “the day” so damn good. The guitar tone is perfectly dirty and gnarly, with that distinctive mid-range bite of old school Swedish death metal and the riffing is creative and catchy as hell while still retaining that primitive ‘caveman’ quality of the best early Floridian stuff. The vocals are hauntingly evil sounding; all drenched in reverb to make it sound like they’re emanating straight from the depths of Hades itself. The production is crap – but in a really good way. Like ‘necro’ black metal, true old-school underground death metal needs to have that raw, saturated, swampy tone and feel to it to give it just the right vibe. If it’s too polished and pretty it just doesn’t have the same impact and can come across as trite and cliché. No, this EP sounds like it could have just as easily come out in 1989 as 2015. This Ep has three highly contagious originals, “The Vacuum of Knots”, Abhorrent Depths”, “Silence Continuum”, and one genuinely faithful Autopsy cover, “Embalmed”. True old school death metal ‘heads rejoice, this is one you really shouldn’t miss. And this is just a tease of more to come. Word is that the band is currently working on a full length through Blood Harvest Records, to be released at some point this year. Until then, feast your ears on this.

Venom – From the Very Depths (Spinefarm Records)

You know, I’ve never jumped on the Venom bandwagon. I’ve always thought of them as the most overrated band in the history of rock n’ roll. Early Venom sucks. Yep, I said it. Yeah, I know, they invented black metal and all…… that’s bullshit. The only thing remotely “black metal” about Venom was their use of satanic imagery and their crappy production. Bands like Celtic Frost and Bathory had more to do with the development of what we now consider black metal than anything Venom ever did, despite the fact that the genre was named after one of their records. They always reminded me of a third rate Motorhead with the biker shtick replaced with a faux Satanism that never came off as even remotely sincere. With that being said, I actually like this record. Though the band has never really broke up or went anywhere, I haven’t really paid any attention to them after their 1984 album, At War With Satan. Of course, they haven’t really been Venom is years, with 1997 being the last year the band released anything with the classic Cronos/Mantas/Abaddon lineup. Since then it’s pretty much been Cronos’ show with various guitarists and drummers filling in Mantas’ and Abaddon’s shoes, not that those shoes were ever really hard to fill. From the Very Depths features the talents of guitarist Stuart “La Rage” Dixon, his 3rd album with the band, and drummer Danny “Dante” Needham, the 2nd record with him behind the kit. Thankfully these guys, unlike Mantas and Abaddon, actually know how to play their instruments and somewhere along the way Cronos finally figured out how to play his bass correctly. What we have here is actually a pretty solid record of raw, heavy, punk infused metal that almost lives up to this band’s hype. It’s not a great record, by any means, but it’s not only listenable, it’s actually entertaining. Songs like the title track, “Temptation”, “Stigmata Satanas”, “Evil Law”, and “Rise” are all quality slabs of punk/metal that are well put together and performed. Guitarist Rage lays down fleet fingered licks all over this thing and his riffs stay true to that classic Venom vibe while updating the quality of the material and performance by leaps and bounds. Though Cronos still insists on calling Venom’s style “black metal”, it’s still not anything that just about anyone would consider “black metal”. They still sound like a Satanic Motorhead, only now they actually manage to pull it off instead of falling all over themselves in mediocrity (and that’s being nice). Now, if we could just only forget those 80’s albums………

Baring Teeth – Ghost Chorus Among the Old Ruins (Willowtip Records)

Dallas, Texas based avant-garde experimental death metallers Baring Teeth made a few waves with their 2011 debut, Atrophy, and have returned for round two with Ghost Chorus Among the Old Ruins. This is the record that firmly stakes this band’s claim to a piece of the more forward thinking death metal pie. Along with bands like Gigan, Ulcerate and Orbweaver, Baring Teeth are taking what avant-metallers like Gorguts started to the next level and coming up with something truly out of this world. There’s not much that actually resembles what anyone would even remotely consider a “traditional” guitar riff to be found on this entire 8 track platter of glorious oddities. This stuff is just plain weird, in every good way imaginable. Guitarist Andrew Hawkins throws out bubbling, discombobulated, jagged, prismatic riffs and lines that seem to defy all musical logic yet he somehow still manages to mesmerize the listener into a hypnotic daze like some sort of death metal snake charmer. Bassist Scott Addison takes a similar approach with the low end which results in some very interesting and often jaw dropping counterpoint and daring harmonic interplay between the bass and guitars. Underneath it all drummer Jason Roe plays like a jazz drummer masquerading in a death metal band as he challenges all known convention of death metal percussion with his offbeat polyrhythms and contorted patterns. At first you can’t really discern exactly what is happening, but as the music draws you in and you really begin to listen, suddenly, with a revelatory “Eureka!” as if you’ve deciphered some sort of metal Rosetta Stone, it all begins to make sense. It’s like the audio version of when you have to stare at one of those hidden 3D pictures for a few minutes before the image begins to appear. Following no traditional song structures, the music contained within Ghost Chorus Among the Old Ruins flows and morphs and transmutes in upon itself, weaving a perpetual tapestry of interplanetary sonic experimentation that really needs to be heard to be understood. Though the album is split up into 8 separate tracks or “songs”, there really is no discerning where one ends and the other begins and the record plays out more like one uniquely composed composition broken up into movements rather than as a mere collection of tunes thrown together. Baring Teeth have with this album not only staked their claim in the experimental metal world, they have fenced it off and set up watchtowers and artillery around it with their approach that can only be categorized as distinctly unique. While many out there will not get this at all, Ghost Chorus Among the Old Ruins is one of those records that will secretly be studied for years to come by the more progressive minded metal fans and as time progresses I am sure it will be heralded as a watershed moment in death metal history that completely changed the game. Bravo, boys, Bravo.

Deconstructing Sequence – "Access Code" EP (Self Released)

UK based prog metallers Deconstructing Sequence call their idiosyncratic brand of metallic lunacy “extreme progressive art”. The band formed from the ashes of underground UK death/black metal band Northwail and this is the band’s second EP since forming in 2012. There are only two tracks here, but each song is 7+ minutes and features enough ideas in each track to fill an entire album each. This stuff is all over the place and at times can seem a bit disjointed, but after a few spins you start to fit everything together. I hear many different styles and influences going on here – from Voivod, to Ackercoke, to Emperor, to Anaal Nathrakh, to Deathspell Omega, to Aborym, to Arcturus – but it all boils down into a futuristic cyber-black/death metal stew that is as dizzying as it is wicked. Of the two tracks, I have to say that track 2, “We Have the Access Code” is my favorite as it just seems to be a little more coherently constructed than the other. It will be interesting to see what this band can do over the course of a full length record, but in the meantime you’ll have to be content with this little tease.

Foreseen HKI – Helsinki Savagery (20 Buck Spin)

Savage indeed! These Finnish madmen unleash an album that simply defines pure, unadulterated, raw adrenaline with their debut, Helsinki Savagery. Foreseen HKI formed back in 2009 and have released a few demos and 7” records before finally gracing the world with their first full length album of blindingly vicious crossover hc/thrash. Conjuring up images of dank, dirty DIY show spaces, graffitied concrete urban skateparks, and baseball caps with the brims turned up, Foreseen HKI blast through ten tracks of absolutely ripping and genuinely authentic sounding crossover that brings back the glory days of bands like the Cro-Mags, S.O.D., D.R.I., Nuclear Assault, Suicidal Tendencies, and Carnivore and does it just as good or even better than any of those bands. This stuff was tailor made for stinky, sweaty, circle pits – none of that kung fu fighting bullshit that pervades the hardcore scene these days. I swear, there must be something in the water in Finland, as the Finns are known for their particularly raw and brutal take on just about any genre of metal they get their hands on (with the notable exception of H.I.M., of course), and this band is no exception as they take a style already noted for its filthy intensity and takes it to the next level of brutal savagery. Seriously, I haven’t heard anything with this much raw, unbridled power in quite a long time. If you are familiar with other Finnish hc/punk groups like Kaaos, Kylma Sota, or Diskelma, or even the savage punk inspired black metal attack of Impaled Nazarene, then you know exactly what I’m talking about when it comes to the Finns unique ability to make everything sound as gloriously ugly as it possible can be. There is not one single dud to be found on this thing as every single track goes straight for the throat from the first downstroke of the guitars to the last cymbal crash and leaves a scattered pile of severed body parts and blown ear drums in their wake with unrelenting, razor sharp riffage and frantically hammering rhythms. This band is ravenously hungry, frothing at the mouth to be heard and make their mark on the scene, and you can tell it in every single blistering riff and screaming, shredding guitar solo that spews forth from the speakers. The band is at its best when they put the pedal to the metal and play at mach four as this is when their wild hostility really shines through, but they also know how to break it up a bit here and there with some more mid-tempo stuff, which only makes the impact even harder when they inevitably fire up all the cylinders again. The production has that old school vibe and feel, with lots of reverb that just cakes this thing in a beautifully ugly coat of grit and grime and yet, at the same time, it’s still clear enough to where you can tell exactly what is going on at all times. This is simply a fantastic debut that demands and deserves your attention, whether or not you are a fan of or are even familiar with the style. Any red blooded metalhead can appreciate the intensity and power of this music.

Horisont – "Break the Limit" EP (Rise Above Records)

Horisont hails from that snow covered hotbed of all things metal, Gothenburg, Sweden. This 2 song EP is a stop-gap release between the band’s 3rd and 4th records and showcases the bands classic hard/rock metal sound that comes across as a mix of Sabotage/Technical Ecstacy era Black Sabbath, Stained Class era Judas Priest, Killers era Iron Maiden, Jailbreak era Thin Lizzy, with just a little Motorhead thrown in there for flavor. No doubt the band definitely looks the part with their throwback duds and hairdos and both songs here, “Break the Limit” and “Yellow Blues” are fine examples of well-constructed and executed classic hard/rock metal songs. The guitar tones are vintage with an emphasis on natural analog distortion which gives the whole thing a very authentic vibe. Guitarists Charles and Kristopher (that’s all the info we’re given on their names) make an excellent team and they rip and wail all over these two tracks like Tipton/Downing or Murray/Smith with sweet harmony lines and wicked solo blasts, particularly at the end of ‘Yellow Blues” where the two trade off licks back and forth with style and taste. “Yellow Blues” also features some cool vintage synth action in the intro and bridge sections which really sends this thing of into 70’s hard rock/metal bliss. Though vocalist Axel is not as strong as a Halford, Osbourne, or Dickenson, he does a more than adequate job and doesn’t ruin the whole thing as many vocalists in bands such as this are apt to do. Though the band has done 3 prior full length albums, this little EP is my first exposure to them and I will definitely be going back and checking out their prior works.

Putrid Christ – Burning Temples of the Holy (Times End Records)

Putrid Christ hail from St. Paul, Minnesota which, as far as climate goes, is basically analogous to the American version of Scandinavia without the mountains. That is appropriate because Putrid Christ play a distinctly Americanized brand of black metal that in aura, feel, and intent harkens back to the early days of the 2nd Wave of Black Metal movement in countries like Norway and Sweden. Burning Temples of the Holy is the band’s debut long player and it is a raw, blasphemous, violent, and nasty slice of metal fury. I wouldn’t exactly call this pure black metal, though, as I definitely hear a lot of death metal influence here. I hesitate to use the term “blackened death metal”, however, as that is a term that seems to get bandied about way too quickly these days. Bands usually lean to one side or the other; either they’re black metal with death influences or they’re death metal with black influences. Putrid Christ is definitely the former. The production is just raw enough to give it that authentic old school black metal aura without being so shitty and lo-fi as to be unlistenable. You can still hear what each instrument is doing and it doesn’t all get lost in a trebly, reverb drenched haze and, thankfully, the bass is very present in the mix which is something that happens all too often in black metal. My only complaint, as far as the actual recording goes, is that the drums do sound like they are triggered in places, which does detract a bit from the overall sound and feel, but this is really getting nitpicky. Songwriting wise, Putrid Christ aren’t really delving into new uncharted territory, but they are more than apt at writing a quality black metal tune with enough variation and creativity to keep things from becoming monotonous and repetitive. The band does use a bit of synths here and there for effect (particularly on the track “To Your God You Are Dead”), but for the most part the band sticks with the meat and potatoes of guitar/bass/drums. The best tracks here would have to be “Grab the Nail (Put Him Back on the Cross)” - the most blackened track, “Putrid Christ” – the most death metal inspired track, and “The Walls That Surround You” – the most epic track. This debut is one that is sure to make some waves on the USBM scene.

Riwen – "Riwen" EP (Indie Recordings)

Riwen is a new crusty/hardcore project from Sweden that is the brainchild of Cult of Luna mastermind Johannes Persson. Persson needed a break from the big productions that come with a band like Cult of Luna and wanted to vent some steam with something a little more raw and direct. Being a huge fan in his youth of bands like Integrity, Judge, and Damnation AD, he put together Riwen, which features members of underground Swedish bands Totalt Jävla Mörker and Sonic Ritual, with the goal of laying down some straight-up, in your face, dirty punk influenced hardcore jams. This 3 song EP is the first fruits of that labor and, to tell the truth, I am not all that impressed. While these three songs are certainly well done, they just seem a bit underwhelming to me. The EP starts off with “Nature Calls US Back”, which is a mid-tempo, dirge-y number that just doesn’t really ever get going. “Values” is up next, and this one definitely picks up the pace and has some pretty cool riffs in the first half only to have it kinda peter out by the 2nd half of the song. The EP ends with “Karlsgrundet”, another mid-paced number that actually draws in some of the atmospheric elements of Perssons main band, but its repetitiveness just proves a bit tiresome after the first few minutes. Maybe I was just expecting a bit more from Persson given the caliber of a band like Cult of Luna. This is not terrible by any means, but ultimately it comes off as a bit boring and forgettable.

Sahhr – Altar of Maggots (Domestic Genocide Records)

Sahhr is a Los Angeles based band that is seeking to establish a new fusion of styles that will excite some while completely alienating others. Blending black metal and death metal is nothing new, but Sahhr add to that an influx of more modern and distinctly American styles including the oft dreaded “metalcore”, a bit of thrash, and the NWOAHM sounds of bands like Lamb of God. The closest thing I can compare it to is imagine a combination of a band like Skeletonwitch with a band like Unearth, August Burns Red, God Forbid, or As I Lay Dying. I know many of you reading this are rolling your eyes right now and thinking there’s no way that could be good, but don’t be so quick to judge. The band definitely leans more towards the black/death side of things (and they have certainly embraced the black metal image as their promo pic will attest) and they manage to weave in the metalcore elements, breakdowns and all, pretty seamlessly into the mix. Altar of Maggots, the band’s debut, is just a three song EP so it remains to be seen whether these stylistic experiments will be able to stand the test of an entire full length album and still retain most listener’s interest, but they have definitely perked my interest. Guitarists Aarsoth and Daoloth deftly navigate between a myriad of styles; one minute conjuring Slayer, the next a little Gorgoroth, the next Dismember, the next At the Gates or early In Flames (back when they were still good), only to top it off with breakdowns and melodic motifs that would have the Killswitch Engage boys green with envy. Track two, “Slay the Savior” best exemplifies this metallic alchemy and features the most creative riff work and seamless transitions between styles, especially it’s more metalcore elements. Vocalist Ryllyeh does his best to make sure that we don’t forget the band’s blackened roots as his well textured and tortured howls stick well within the black metal paradigm, though he is not beyond dropping a few guttural death growls when necessary. What he certainly doesn’t do – thank, God (or Satan, take your pick) - is attempt any sort of clean singing, which can often lead even the best metalcore bands astray and completely turn off many “true” metal fans. In the court of public opinion, this fact will only serve Sahhr well when it comes to the ultimate decision to embrace this band and their particular brand of metal or not. This is certainly a very interesting and polarizing release and Sahhr is sure to get their share of props and haters. While I am indeed intrigued, I will wait until the band proves they can maintain this high level of creativity over the course of a whole album before I declare whether these guys are at the forefront of the next big trend in metal. If nothing else, Sahhr proves with Altar of Maggots that it is possible to blend black metal, death metal, and metalcore without coming across as completely phony sounding. I’m still a bit skeptical myself, but I am hopeful that these guys can indeed pull it off, naysayers be damned.

Sedna – S/T (Drown Within Records)

Sedna is an experimental post black metal group from Italy. The band released one demo in 2011 and this self-titled album is the band’s first full length release. The album features only four tracks, but 3 of the four clock in at well over 15+ minutes, so you’re certainly not being short changed here. What you’ll find here is high quality post black metal that fluctuates between dirty nihilistic blasts, searing tremolo picked guitar manipulations, big doomy riffs, deceptively soothing ambient atmospherics, and droning minimalistic clean parts. Given that the band is only a trio, it is pretty impressive that they are able to create such dense atmospherics with only guitar, bass, drums, and vocals. The band never resorts or relies on synths or keys to help create that sort of atmospheric aura particular to this style of BM, which is a crutch that many bands of this ilk fall prey to – to varying degrees of success. The biggest problem I have with this style of BM is that it is extremely difficult for any band to stand out from the crowd and most of them, even the ones who compose well-structured and thought out music like Sedna, tend to all start to sound the same after a few minutes. Of course, that same complaint can be made about much BM in general, so maybe that’s a bit unfair, but that’s just the hard truth of the matter. Now I do understand that the goal of much of this stuff is to create invoke a particular mood and emotions in the listener so it is not necessarily about writing “catchy” riffs, and to that extent Sedna has indeed profoundly succeeded. This stuff will definitely invoke a sense of morose melancholia and dark introspection and it is very easy to get lost within this music’s mysteries and find yourself being carried away on a moody existential journey. And maybe that is indeed the point. All in all, Sedna does succeed at this style better than most and they do write expertly composed post black metal compositions full of emotional and sonic peaks and valleys. And that’s indeed what these tracks are – compositions – not songs. There’s no verse, chorus, bridge stuff here but rather Sedna takes the music through various themes, movements, and variations much like a classical composer would do. If you’re looking for the soundtrack to your next late night candlelit ritual then Sedna might just be what the witchdoctor ordered.

Spectral Haze – I.E.V.: Transmutated Nebula Remains (Soulseller Records)

So, I probably should have taken about 5 hits of acid or ate at least an eighth of shrooms before hitting play on this record. Spectral Haze hail from the chilly reaches of Oslo, Norway and play a brand of psychedelic stoner/doom that is just different enough from the run of the mill stoner rock that has been trending over the last few years to be genuinely interesting. Spectral Haze does ply a trade that is based in your typical Sabbath inspired minor key riffage, but all of that is buried underneath a thick layer of atmospheric, spaced-out, trippy sound effects and sonic manipulations that sets it distinctly apart from the vast majority of bands of a similar breed. This album is truly a journey through the looking glass and requires a lonely dark room, a good set of headphones, and your mind altering substance of choice to really appreciate it in all its glory. The musicianship is top-notch and these guys have definitely studied at the altar of their musical forebears long and hard, which shows in the obvious reverence they have for tradition, while at the same time taking the music to new and unusual creative heights. I am particularly fond of the lead guitar work from lead guitarist Sonik Sloth as he certainly does not stick to the tried and true blues inspired lead work favored by most guitarists who play a similar style of music but rather goes in a decidedly more alien direction. Especially in the final track, the 13 minute instrumental epic “Triads and Trishulas”, the lead guitars take you on an interstellar rollercoaster ride through the aether-realms of dark psychedelic bliss. Haunting, effects laden arabesque melodies float, soar, twist, and weave in and out and around themselves to create one hell of a listening experience. I also have to commend the stellar bass work of Doomdogg whose thick, bubbling, driving basslines tether the whole thing to terra firma and are the rock around which the rest of the actors in this mad parade dance. Vocalist Spacewulff sounds like the ghost of John Garcia of Kyuss crossed with Ozzy while singing through a megaphone down a long hallway, his vocals most often acting like another instrument rather than as the feature of the music. This album contains 6 tracks, but only 4 are real “songs” as the other two comprise more of an intro and interlude kind of thing. But that doesn’t mean that the band shortchanges the listener at all as the other 4 tracks all clock in at 6 to 13 minutes each and are filled with enough rocking psyched out riffage and sonic contortionism to satiate every listener’s palate. If you’re into stoner/doom and you’re looking for something a little different to break up the monotony of the genre, then Spectral Haze deserves your attention.

Vargsang - In the Mist of Night (Obscure Abhorrence Productions)

Vargsang, which means “wolf’s song” in Norwegian, is pretty much the solo project of the man who goes by the same name, who used to be the leader of the German black metal band Graven. In the Mist of Night is his 4th album, and first in 6 years. Many had thought that Vargsang had gone the way of the dodo, but this album proves that is not the case. I must admit, I am not familiar with Vargsang’s back catalog but I don’t imagine it to be much different from what is found here. He’s certainly not reinventing the wheel and delivers up 10 cuts of very well composed and executed raw, old school sounding black metal that harkens back to the heyday of the 2nd Wave of Black Metal bands like Mayhem, Satyricon, Gorgoroth, Marduk, Darkthrone, and the like. Thankfully, the production is a bit better than a lot of that older stuff while still retaining that distinctive “necro” aura that is the hallmark of this style of black metal. The guitars are crisp and clean, while still retaining just enough dirt to keep it evil. If anything, the guitars are too much up front in the mix leaving the drums somewhat buried and the bass almost completely absent. Vargsang only occasionally uses synth parts for color, most of the time relying on a relentless stripped down black metal attack. He does vary the tempos up enough to keep each track distinct from each other which prevents this thing from blending together into a chaotic mess. The riff work is creative and catchy while still firmly planted in the traditions of the genre and Vargsang certainly knows how to write and develop a well thought out black metal song. It’s not just one riff after another without any rhyme or reason but rather there are themes and structures here that firmly establishes each song’s identity. If you’re looking for a good raw black metal fix, then you can certainly do a lot worse than this.

Witches of Doom – Obey (Sliptrick Records)

Witches of Doom are a Rome, Italy based band that melds hard rock, goth, doom, and stoner rock that comes off as a mix between Type O Negative, Monster Magnet, the Cult, and H.I.M. Obey is Witches of Doom’s debut album and, for the most part, it shows a band that has a well-developed sound and has a firm grip on who and what they want to be as a band. I say “for the most part” because some of these songs succeed more than others – it’s about a 50-50 split, honestly. And that has much to do with the vocals of Danilo Paludi. His vocals are a cross between Pete Steele, Dave Wyndorf, and Ian Astbury, which in itself is not a bad thing. The problem is that he can’t seem to decide who he most wants to sound like and as a result the vocals often come across as a bit disjointed to where sometimes you begin to question whether it’s the same guy singing or not. When he’s on point his vocals are powerful and dynamic. When he’s not the vocals seem forced and sometimes even a bit cheesy. Musically, the band focuses on big riffs and catchy tunes and are highlighted by the guitar work of Frederico Vendetti and the very 70’s inspired keyboard work of Graziano “Eric” Corrado. It is really the choice sonic palates, vintage tones, and colorful licks of Corrado’s keys that often saves some of these tracks from mediocrity and set this band just slightly apart from others of their ilk. The band is most successful when they are in hard rockin’ Type O/Monster Magnet mode as in songs like “Betrayal” and “Dance of the Dead Flies”, and less so when they venture in amore goth ballad direction as in tunes like “Crown of Thorns” and “It’s My Heart (Where I Feel the Cold)”. Altogether, this is a solid debut from a band that I think still has yet to fully come into their own and still have just a few kinks to work out. There is a ton of potential here, however, and once they mature a little more I expect great things from them. This is one of those albums where you’ll find yourself skipping around to certain tracks instead of listening to the record straight through which is a sign of either a band that hasn’t quite figured themselves out fully or one that has lost its touch. This is definitely an example of the former.

Wizard Rifle – Here in the Deadlights (Seventh Rule Records)

Wizard Rifle got their start in the rainy peaks of Portland, OR and released their debut album of psychedelic, experimental stoner doom, Speak Loud Say Nothing, in 2012. The band relocated to LA (talk about a distinct change in scenery!) in 2014 and now grace us with their 2nd record, Here in the Deadlights. Wizard Rifle takes 40 years of combined stoner rock, experimental punk, grunge, prog, and metal history and distills it all down into one band. I can hear elements of the classics like Black Sabbath and even MC5, alongside such varied artists as King Crimson, Black Flag, the Melvins, Sonic Youth, Mudhoney, Converge, Sleep/High on Fire (Matt Pike in general), Kyuss, and The Fucking Champs. But the band they most remind me of is a little known San Francisco based band called Spaceboy that released 4 albums of genre defying space/stoner/psychedelic/math/prog/doom between 1993 and 2003 that were way ahead of their time. And, trust me, though you may have never heard of Spaceboy, the comparison is indeed a compliment. I absolutely loved Spaceboy and used to try to turn everyone I met on to them back in the day, to varying degrees of success. It’s certainly not for the faint of heart. That’s not to say that Wizard Rifle sound just like Spaceboy, but the style, delivery, and general aura just instantly reminded me of that band. The first three cuts are each interesting in their own way, but where the album really takes off for me is on the final two tracks, “Psychodynamo” and “Beastwhores”, which just happen to be the two longest and most epic compositions contained herein. “Psychodynamo” starts with this spaced out and eerie synth melody and arpeggiated guitars before exploding into a giant math/doom riff which then it breaks down into this Sonic Youth meets the Melvins part before going into this hyper ending section that reminds me of Television meets Black Flag at a King Crimson concert. It’s a pretty eclectic ride to be sure. “Beastwhores” starts of sounding like a jazzed out Converge (complete with sax!) only to break down into this bold bass driven riff and chanting, lilting vocal section that sounds like some intergalactic conjuration ritual. It then breaks into this reverb and distortion drenched mathy main riff section before going straight into a smooth Kyuss-like jam and then back and forth all over again. The band then spends the next few minutes steadily building up greater and greater tension before exploding in the last few seconds with a bombastic refrain of the main riff. Good stuff indeed. Though at only 5 songs, even with the last two being over 7 minutes long each, I hesitate to actually call this a full album, more like an extended EP. That aside, it is a release well worth your time and effort to seek out, especially if you’re into the weirder and more “out there” side of rock n’ roll.



The Anthrophobia Founding Fathers – Endgame (DRP Records)

Pennsylvania’s Anthrophobia has a long and storied history. Founded all the way back in 1985, the band has been plying its signature punk/metal trade with various lineups for 30 years as of 2015 and have performed with just about everyone who is anyone in the punk/hardcore/metal community. The band initially called it quits back in 2007, but to celebrate the band’s 30th anniversary the origina high school lineup of vocalist Frank “Phobia” Fields, Steve Kasper (guitar,) Jon Starks (bass,) and Shawn Ganter (drums) reformed as The Anthrophobia Founding Fathers and spent the last year writing, rehearsing, and recording their newest audio assault, Endgame. The album is filled with 13 short sharp shocks of punk/metal fury that sound like Black Flag meets vintage C.O.C. at a Motorhead concert. The band doesn’t seem to have lost any of its’ punk angst in the last 30 years and these tracks ooze with the sort of rebellious vitriol usually reserved for bands half these guys age. They temper that angst with a huge dose of vintage metal grooves and swagger that will have you headbanging and pogoing all at the same time, which is a sure recipe for whiplash. The production is raw yet distinct and gives the record vintage authenticity while not ending up a muddy mess. The highlight of the entire record is the vocals of Frank “Phobia” Fields who manages to channel Henry Rollins, Neil Fallon of Clutch, Lemmy, and Matt Pike of Sleep/High on Fire all at the same time. If you’re a fan of the band or just really good punk/metal in general, then you will have a field day with this one.

Anaal Nathrakh – Desideratum (Metal Blade Records)

“Anaal nathrakh, uthvas bethud, do che-ol di-enve….” So begins the infamous Charm of Making that Merlin and Morgana utter in the legendary John Borman film, Excalibur. I was always a huge fan of that film and I remember being drawn to this band initially back in 2001-02 when I saw their album The Codex Necro as I was perusing through the racks at the Relapse store in Philly because I recognized the name as being from that movie. I bought the CD on the spot and when I first popped it into my CD player in the car, I was floored by the sheer apocalyptic and grim futurist sounds that emanated from my speakers. Anaal Nathrakh were one of the first bands to successfully fuse the worlds of electronic/industrial music and black metal which initiated a sea change in the paradigm of what it meant to be truly nihilistic and evil in metal music. Whereas the word “necro” used to merely conjure up images of ancient snow covered forest scenes, cloaked and corpse painted figures, and shitty production, these British lads flipped that on its head and their version of “necro” conjured up images of bleak, futuristic industrial wastelands and post-nuclear holocaust terrors. It was a match made in hell and The Codex Necro changed everything and announced to the world in no uncertain terms that Anaal Nathrakh was a force to be reckoned with and respected in the metal world. Desideratum is the band’s 8th full length album and much has changed with the band (really just a duo) in the 13 years since they unleashed their earth-shattering debut. The band’s earlier work focused primarily on the black metal elements and fused them with industrial elements that only enhanced the grim atmosphere the band created. Over the years the band has steadily evolved to a point where the industrial elements are a bit more prevalent. Don’t get me wrong, Anaal Nathrakh has always had firm black metal roots and these are still readily apparent in their sound, but there has been a gradual shift towards more emphasis on the electronic, industrial, and martial elements of their musical mayhem. The band has also introduced more straight up death metal and even some punk/hardcore influences. The ungodly tempos the band has always utilized have always given their music a bit of the grindcore flair (which has its roots in punk and hardcore), but that influence has now infiltrated into the riff work itself in some places (particularly on the track “Sub Specie Aeterni”). They have also introduced some clean singing elements into the mix, whose sound and style actually remind me a lot of Ihsahn of Emperor’s. All of these little changes add up to create a subtle but noticeable shift in the band’s style. Honestly, I’m on the fence as to whether I like these changes or not. I know a band that has been around this long needs to grow and evolve so as not to become stagnant. I mean, not every band can be AC/DC and release the same album over and over again. Maybe it’s because I missed the band’s last few records (the last one I really listened to all the way through and thoroughly digested was 2006’s Eschaton) so the differences are all the more glaring to me. I just think the band has lost a bit of their signature hate-fueled, violent atmosphere in favor of a more refined approach. That seems like an oxymoron as you would think that becoming more “refined” means becoming “better”, but in this case a bit of that certain “je ne sais quoi”, if you will, just seems lost to me. With all that being said, I do actually like much of this album. Tracks like “Acheronta Movebimus”, “Monstrum in Animo”, “Idol” are all prime slices of this new breed Anaal Nathrakh and each have their particular redeeming characteristics, but overall the album just doesn’t have quite the same impact to me as the band’s earlier, more overtly black metal influenced work. I am sure, however, there are many out there who will more than appreciate this more industrial shift in the band’s direction and actually prefer this stuff to the band’s older material. It is good stuff that is leaps and bounds, both creatively and in execution, above most other metal bands in general and I highly encourage you, whether you are familiar with the older material or not, to check this out and form your own opinion.

Annihilated – XIII Steps to Ruination (Unique Leader Records)

Annihilated is the latest death metal export from the sunny shores of California and features current and former members of bands such as Abysmal Dawn, Grotesque, Excretion, and Arkaik. The band actually got its start back in 2008 by guitarists Eric Matranga and Robert Fimbres after the dissolution of LA based Excretion. The band was signed earlier this year by Unique Leader Records and XIII Steps to Ruination is their debut release, and what a debut it is. If you like your death metal brutal as hell and utterly chaotic, with just a bit of that old school vibe but firmly headed in a new school direction, then Annihilated will be right up your alley. The band actually reminds me of a cross between Incantation, Hate Eternal, and Angelcorpse – all of those bands have a similar chaotic fury mixed with subtly nuanced technicality and unrelenting brutality. This things bowls you over like some wild berserker juggernaut from the very beginning and continues to trample your innards and your ear drums throughout all 11 tracks. There’s an overlying sense of complete and uncontrollable dementia and entropy that pervades this whole album and gives it truly nerve-wracking vibe, but underneath it all you can hear just how actually in control these guys are with what is going on underneath it all. There is indeed a method to the madness as the guitars weave their vicious alchemy to create an intricate web of death metal bliss that directs and molds the sheer chaos into something that the listener can reach out, grab, and hold on to for dear life. There are countless examples of these little guitar nuances – groaning bends, unexpected squeals and moans, and tricky little runs that really adds tons of flavor and character to the riffing that give the music a life and identity of its’ own. It’s like the difference between listening to someone speak in a deadpan monotone vs. someone varying their inflection and gesticulating with their hands and body for emphasis – the latter is much more likely to draw and hold your attention. Drummer Scott Fuller (also of Abysmal Dawn) is the engine that really drives this madness and there are places here (such as in “Eradication Profits”) where he hits truly inhuman velocities which only heightens the nervous tension. It’s like a runaway train about to crash and burn, but Fuller always manages to just keep in on the rails. The band is very vocal about their politics and most of these songs revolve around themes of government corruption, sheep mentality, media manipulation, and the like. The conviction with which Annihilated holds their ideas seems to show through in the energy with which the band delivers this material. Rarely do any of the tracks here pass the five minute mark. The band would rather get in and bludgeon you to death with their over the top brutality than bore you with extended instrumental passages. There is absolutely nothing superfluous as each and every moment here is carefully crafted and is exactly where it needs to be. My top picks here are “”Global Enslavement”, the aforementioned ‘Eradication Profits”, “Creations of Man”, and the brilliantly short but absolutely action packed album closer “Putrifacation”, but you really can’t go wrong with any of the 11 tracks (well, 10 if you don’t count the brief instrumental “Wastelands” which more or less serves as an intro to “Creations of Man”). Unique Leader comes through yet again in scouting and signing some of the absolute best and brightest from all over the death metal world and Annihilated is just another excellent addition to their already stellar roster. I sincerely hope this band can stay together as I am very intrigued to hear how they can grow and progress and what sort of venomous blasphemy they will spew forth next.

As Blood Runs Black – Ground Zero (StandBy Records)

As Blood Runs Black most often gets labeled as a deathcore act, and while they do indeed have those elements there, I’ve always thought of them as having more death and less core on their sound than most of the other bands that get lumped into that sub-genre. Though the band formed way back in 2003, due to several lineup upheavals during the bands tumultuous history, Ground Zero is only the band’s 3rd full length effort. I was big fan of the band’s previous effort, Instinct, and I saw them going into a direction similar to what Job for a Cowboy was doing in that they were trying to reinvent, in a way, death metal for modern times. Granted, As Blood Runs Black retained more of the ‘core elements than Job for a Cowboy did at that time and that still holds true now. This band is indeed at its best when they are rampaging like beasts through some tasty melodic death metal riffage. However, they do sometimes fall flat when they resort to your typical deathcore styled breakdowns as there is not near the amount of creativity in their breakdowns as the band applies to its more straight-up death metal inspired stuff. The track “Ground Zero” is a perfect example of this – you have an absolutely killer intro and verse riff that rips up and down the fretboard and then the band goes directly into a very typical open note breakdown that completely loses the originality as well as the momentum of the song. A similar thing happens on nearly every single track on this album. Sometimes it works, sometimes it doesn’t. I don’t necessarily have anything against breakdowns, per se, I just like to see a bit more creative use of them (which is becoming more and more difficult to pull off these days) and hate when a band feels like they have to put one in every single song, just because it’s become expected within a particular “scene”. The band also throws in some melodic clean singing on a few tracks, notably in the songs “The Oath” and “Eulogy”. The clean singing doesn’t necessarily turn me off, but I do question whether it was truly needed within the context of each song. I will give the band all the credit in the world for upping the ante on their overall musicality. The band were certainly no slouches on their instruments on their previous album, the aforementioned Instinct, but on Ground Zero the band has matured greatly in that regard. Drummer Hector DeSantiago lays down some pummeling yet intricate work here that provides some really cool and often heady rhythmic underpinnings to the music. Bassist Nick Stewart is an absolute beast and his technical yet melodic work really helps drive the music and adds so much depth and dimension. Lead guitarist Dan Sugarman has really raised the bar with his performances as he lays down some truly awe-inspiring work here. The towering melodicism and superb technique displayed in his solo on the track “All of Nothing” had me hitting repeat again and again to marvel in its damn near perfect construction and execution. If I was the type to do the whole 1 to 10 rating scale thing, I would give Ground Zero a solid 7. It’s good, but I hear things here that tell me that it could have been even better, even great. This is just my perception, but I think that when a band tries to hold true to a particular “scene”, especially one with such strict stylistic characteristics like deathcore, then they essentially handcuff themselves from truly exploring their possibilities and capabilities. There are so many moments here that display such promise, and then there are moments here that just don’t seem as mature and musically challenging, which causes some disappointment. I would love to see if this band could blind themselves to what they think is expected of them and just let their creativity take over completely.

Atriarch – An Unending Pathway (Relapse Records)

You know, I always have a great deal of skepticism when a band declares in their press release things like “one of the most creative and compelling heavy music bands of the twenty-first century”. That usually sends off red flags in my mind and the band rarely lives up to such hype. Yet, I have to admit, with this band, Atriarch, and this release, An Unending Pathway, the hype may be indeed true. Hailing from the rain soaked hills of the Pacific Northwest (Portland, Oregon to be exact), Atriarch come forth with a unique take on the whole death/doom metal thing. Imagine bands like Bauhaus or Joy Division filtered through equal parts Type of Negative, Neurosis, Eyehategod, Solitude Aeternus, and early Mayhem and a picture will begin to emerge as to what exactly this band is driving at. This stuff is haunting and emotionally gripping like the best gothic rock, but it’s also backed up with an ample dose of sludgy, blackened, and doomy metallic riffage and a distinctly necro, melancholic, catacomb-esque atmosphere that is a truly refreshing take on the gothic/doom metal genre. This music is the epitome of everything dark, sad, and grim and it’s dank, depressive aura seeps deep into your psyche to unearth the deepest Jungian archetypes of mankind’s folly and sorrow. These utterly creepy and claustrophobically suicidal lullabies and dirges will grab you at the very core of your being. It’s downright unsettling. Vocalist Lenny (yep, just Lenny) conjures up the ghost of Ian Curtis one minute and the next he’s wailing and howling like the second coming of Attila Csihar. The guitars range from delicately haunting reverb drenched arpeggios, to colossally bombastic riffs that tower over the sonicscape, to scathingly blackened washes of controlled cacophony. From the opening echoing refrains of opener “Entropy” to the last dying embers of reverb drenched feedback in album closer “Veil”, Atriarch take you on a harrowing journey to a deep, dark nightmarish sonic space that will consume your very essence if you’re not careful. The album seems to last much longer than its 7 song, roughly 40 minute duration, but that’s probably because it sucks you so far down into its esoteric secrets that it becomes like a time warp where seconds drag into minutes and minutes into hours. You find yourself mesmerized and sucked into rapt attention as the music washes over you like an ocean of soul crushing, corrosive sadness. With the right atmosphere and the right mindset, this music is the gateway to a transcendental and spiritual audio experience that is rare indeed in this day and age of digital enhancement and superficial insincerity. I really didn’t expect to like this at all going into it, and I was indeed surprised to discover that I not only liked it a lot, I actually think it’s brilliant.

Hideous Divinity – Cobra Verde (Unique Leader Records)

Unique Leader Records continue to consistently be at the forefront of the modern death metal movement and this latest release from the Rome, Italy based brutal tech/death quintet Hideous Divinity is a perfect testament to that fact. The band began back in 2006 as a side project of then Hour of Penance guitarist Enrico Schettino. After Schettino parted ways with Hour of Penance for good in 2009 he concentrated on Hideous Divinity full time and released the band’s debut album Obeisance Rising in through Unique Leader in 2012. Cobra Verde is the band’s 2nd full length album and these Italian maniacs have definitely not fallen victim to the proverbial sophomore slump. The album is apparently some sort of concept record based on the 1987 Werner Herzog movie of the same title that is about some notorious Brazilian outlaw. I’ve never actually seen the film and I’m not sure what that has to do with death metal but, hands down, this has got to be one of the best death metal records I have personally had the pleasure of hearing all year. Hideous Divinity take the twisted, slithering riffage and exotic tonalities of Nile and couple it with the more gritty and urban technical artistry of Suffocation and come up with something truly special here. While I use Nile and Suffocation as points of reference, I have to note that the riff work found here is wonderfully unique and is instantly recognizable as Hideous Divinity – a feat that few bands can pull off with any real degree of effectiveness. And it’s unique while still retaining enough hints of the familiar to draw the listener in and make them pay attention. These guys are each certainly technical wunderkinds, but they never get too completely and totally “out there” where you not only have to have a physics degree to play the stuff, but you need one to even appreciate the stuff. They manage to display their prowess while keeping one foot rooted firmly in traditional US and European death metal - the “hints of the familiar” I previously mentioned. This record isn’t totally breaking the mold and racing headlong into completely uncharted waters like bands like Gigan or Rings of Saturn, but it is definitely stretching that mold, a forward progression, and a brilliant synthesis of 30 years of collective death metal knowledge. The album begins with the nearly 8 minute opus “In My Land I Was a Snake”, proceeds to hit you with one knuckle busting riff after another right out of the gate and never lets up until the closing refrains of the band’s take on the Ripping Corpse unsung classic “The Last and Only Son” echo in your battered and bloodied eardrums. No matter how dizzyingly complex the music gets, everything just seems to fit perfectly together like some elaborately sinister puzzle. The intensity level is tangibly palpable throughout this whole thing and it’s like you can literally feel the sweat and the passion of these guys as the music pours out of your speakers. The band rarely, with one notable exception, stops to take a breath and when they do it’s only so they can spin on their heels into a completely new and interesting direction. I can’t even begin to pick a favorite cut here as each is unique and brutally perfect in its own way. Not only do these guys have the ability to throw riffs at you that make your jaw drop in astonishment, they never lose sight that above all they have to still play music that is actually interesting beyond the superficial level of sheer technicality. These guys are telling a story with their riff work; weaving a complex tapestry that is like an intricate, unholy incantation to the Gods of Death Metal that leaves the listener mesmerized and spell-bound. Besides the masterful guitar work of Enrico and co-axeman Antonio Poletti, I must give mention and commend the astounding drum work of Giulio Galati. This guy is a 16 armed octopus behind the kit and his stamina and brilliant chops give heavyweights like Derek Roddy and George Kollias a run for their money. The one notable exception to this near perfection of this album I alluded to earlier would be the mostly instrumental track “Adjinakou” which really kind of goes nowhere and comes across like some superfluous extended intro that the band stuck near the end of the disc. It is just unnecessary, really messes with the overall flow of the album, and should have either been used as an actual intro or just tossed out altogether. That one glaring flaw aside, Cobra Verde is truly a modern death metal fan’s wet dream. This one will certainly find its way to the top of my Best of 2014 list.

Icon and the Black Roses – Thorns (Self Released)

Well, it was bound to happen sooner or later. As soon as I saw the term “Love Metal” bandied about on this band’s press release, I visibly cringed. Yep, that’s right, HIM has finally spawned a copycat band. Now let me pre-empt this review by saying I have nothing whatsoever against HIM. I am a HUGE HIM fan and I think Ville Vallo is one of the best pure singers in the biz. I do, however, have a quite a bit against a band who is so blatantly trying to rip HIM off it ought to be a crime. It would be one thing if these London by way of Portugal boys took influence from Vallo and Co. and spun it in their own direction, but this is just a complete and total rip off. From Johnny Icon’s vocals, to the guitar tone and style, to even the keyboard sounds the band uses, every single thing is almost a direct rip off. And they didn’t even rip off the good HIM stuff. This album comes across more like Dark Light than Razorblade Romance, which was the low point of the Finn’s career, in my opinion. That was when they went almost totally over into pop-land and all but forsook their more metal inspired roots. With all that being said, this stuff is extremely well constructed and produced. This could in fact be a lost HIM album that would fit somewhere between Love Metal and Dark Light. Hell, it wouldn’t surprise me at all to find out that Ville Vallo actually wrote all this stuff as that is how much this stuff sounds just like his style. And the songs aren’t bad at all, in fact they’re excellent examples of this very particular style. Johnny Icon can indeed sing his ass off and he would indeed be the perfect candidate for a HIM tribute band as he has Ville’s thing down pat. I want so badly to actually like this band and this record, but everytime I listen to it just makes me want to grab my copy of Deep Shadows and Brilliant Highlights and hear the real thing. I don’t know, I guess to me this is just like someone trying to copy David Bowie or Pink Floyd or Led Zeppelin, and not just copy them but sound just friggin’ like them. You just don’t do it. Maybe that’s putting HIM on too high of a pedestal, I know, but I did pre-empt this by saying that I was a HUGE HIM fan, did I not? Check it out for yourself, maybe you can get passed the blatant plagiarism and enjoy these otherwise very good tunes. I just can’t do it.

Internal Bleeding – Imperium (Unique Leader Records)

This one has been a long time coming. It has been 10 years since NYDM legends Internal Bleeding have graced us with a record of their patented slam-groove style of brutality. I remember back when I did my zine, fAZE 3, I got the band’s first three albums in the mail (back when labels actually sent you real CD’s. Ah, the good old days… LOL) all at the same time and I instantly became a fan of this band’s unrelenting and very groove oriented approach to death metal. Internal Bleeding is cut from a similar cloth as fellow NYDM vets like Suffocation and Immolation, yet they step to the plate with their own unique identity. Not much has changed in 10 years with these guys, and that is most definitely a good thing. In a day and age where it seems every death metal band is trying to one-up each other on how fast and technically proficient they can be, Internal Bleeding deliver 9 cuts of pure, raw, unadulterated death metal fury here that is more about substance than all the bells and whistles. These cats can also teach all these modern deathcore bands a thing or two about how to groove without resorting to the tired and trite chugga-chugga breakdowns. I mean, how many different ways can you syncopate an open chorded riff, really? Now, don’t get me wrong, these guys ain’t no slouches on their instruments by any means, but they rather focus on actual riffs that will stick to your ribs rather than dazzle you with their finger dexterity and spew forth tricky riff after tricky riff that you’ll likely forget as soon as you hear it. This is total old-school, classic death metal at its finest. There are a few newer bands these days that are harkening back to a similar style, but no one can quite do it like the originators. The production here even sounds like it was recorded back in the mid-nineties rather than on some fancy modern Pro-Tools rig and loaded down with so much compression that it squeezes all the life right out of the music. The centerpiece of this record is the triumvirate of “Patterns of Force – Act 1 – The Discovery”, “Patterns of Force – Act II – Plague Agenda”, and “Patterns of Force – Act III – Aftermath”. These three tracks are really one long, pounding epic that sees Internal Bleeding throwing everything great about their patented style into a blender and taking the listener on an utterly slam-tastic ride straight into the bowels of true NYDM fury. This shit had me head-banging and picking up change (if you kids don’t know what that is, just ask the old guy in the corner at the next show you go to) all over my living room. Other standout tracks include cyclonic power of “The Pageantry of Savagery”, the slithering riffage of “(In the) Absence of Soul” and the twisted tempo-changes, sick grooves, and epic outro of album closer “Castigo Corpus Meum”. All you old-school ‘heads will certainly not be disappointed with Imperium, and all you young bucks can learn a thing or two about how it was done back in the day.

Orbweaver – Strange Transmissions from the Neuralnomicon (Corpse Flower Records)

If you like your death metal completely off the wall and tripped out beyond all recognition, then these Motor City Madmen are right up your alley. All the way from the deserted streets of Detroit comes Orbweaver with their death metal on PCP sound that defies all logic and good sense. These guys come across as a mix of notorious tech death bands like Gorguts and Gigan, crossed with the sheer insanity of bands like Psyopus, the tripped out, drug fueled haze of bands like Spaceboy or No Rest for the Dead, the free-form stream of consciousness sounds of bands like Fantomas and early Mr. Bungle, and just a hint of avant-garde black metal ala Blut Aus Nord or Deathspell Omega. Much of this stuff comes off like the soundtrack to some far off intergalactic space battle – guitars cut like lasers through the void, warp and sizzle like the echoes of dying stars, and explode like the ignition of a thousand gamma bombs. These guys will have you guessing at every turn and marveling and the sheer creative force of their dissonant and deranged riffage. It’s like these guys are escapees from some sort of interstellar insane asylum that managed to get their hands on some instruments and decided to play the absolutely craziest stuff they could possibly channel from the deepest and darkest recesses of their chaotic psyches. Yet, despite the sheer lunacy on the surface of this music, there is an undercurrent of form and structure here that may not be quite apparent upon first listen but as you sit and truly try to filter and absorb all that is going on here you can begin to detect a twisted rhyme and reason to this madness. Even at their most ‘out there’ moments, Orbweaver displays an underlying melodic and harmonic structure that prevents the music from disintegrating into complete and total nonsensical chaos. That is probably the most amazing thing about this EP; the fact that Orbweaver is able to play stuff this insane while still keeping it grounded and at least somewhat recognizable and accessible. This things has only 5 tracks but it still clocks in at almost 30 minutes and has more creative genius and originality than most bands can manage to muster in their entire discographies. Each song is an entity unto itself with a unique identity that stands on its own, which is another simply astonishing accomplishment given the totally non-conformist aura that surrounds this music. Granted, this stuff is certainly not for everyone but those that do ‘get it’ will be absolutely floored by Orbweaver’s very refreshing take on the tech-death genre.

Owl – The Last Walk (Zeitgeister)

The Last Walk is a single 25+ minute track delivered with all due conviction by the German (at least as far as I can tell they’re German) ambient/black/doom artists simply known as Owl. This seems to be the band’s 4th release and apparently their previous stuff is more rooted in black metal than this present release. I am not familiar at all with the band’s previous work, but I am getting very little in the way of a black metal vibe here, rather a simmering and psychedelic dose of ambient music with sketches of doom metal laced here and there. This is one of those records where you really have to be on a lot of drugs to truly appreciate. On its own and without some serious chemical mind-tweaking, this is just plain boring. I do get a sense of its “artistic” value and I can appreciate that aspect of it, but it’s definitely not something I’m gonna pop in the ol’ CD player and just listen to, unless I really need to get to sleep and I’m all out of Ambien. This is 25 minutes of aimlessly drifting ambient synths interspersed with way too infrequent yet way too long drawn and out riffs that take forever to get to the point with a vocalist doing his best Pete Steele imitation over the top. Maybe it’s just me, but I don’t really get it. I can see this stuff being mindblowing live, but on record it just doesn’t work for me. It’s like rave music – it’s great when you’re there and you’re sweating and feeling the beat from your head to your toes, but when you try to listen to the same crap at home you’re like “What the hell is this?”. It’s a totally different experience. Now, I’m all for music that can assist with a good trip, but it still needs to stand on its own without the benefit of mind-altering substances. If you need to substances to make the music work as intended then it’s a fail from the beginning. It’s like Pink Floyd – they’re always awesome, but on drugs they’re REALLY awesome, if you catch my drift. I’ll give Owl an A for effort and intent here, but a D for execution. I’m actually surprised I made it through the entire 25 minutes…..

Party Cannon – Partied in Half (Gore House Productions)

This is the slam-death version of Cannabis Corpse. Not in the sense that these guys sound anything like Cannabis Corpse, but rather in the sense that this band is a side project that is intended on being a tongue in cheek excuse to blow off some steam from their main projects but, in some ways, blows their main projects out of the water. Featuring members of two of UK’s finest brutal death acts, Laceration and Iniquitous Savagery, Party Cannon deliver up 6 tracks of some of the gnarliest riffage on either side of the Atlantic with Partied in Half, which is a re-release of the band’s debut CD-R EP with bonus demo material. These guys can blast, grind, groove, squeal, and trample with the best of them. It’s like Internal Bleeding, early Carcass, Napalm Death, Dismember, and Obituary all rolled into one and this, my friends, is a very good thing. Guitarists Mike “The Beast” McLaughlin and Craig “Cyborg Installation 101” Robinson never resort to unnecessary shredding, but rather rely on a steady barrage of really creative, killer riffs that make much of this material more memorable than your standard brutal/slam/death metal fare. Bassist Chris “Prey” Ryan is right in the meat of the mix and his more than ably keeps up with the often hectic guitar work while occasionally showing off his obviously tasty chops (as in the bass break in “There’s A Reason You’re Single”). Drummer Martin “Abs” Gazur is the real “beast” (sorry Mike!) of this band and his ability to seamlessly navigate the variety of patterns and grooves found here while still maintaining a heavy hand is quite impressive. Vocalist Stony “Fukass” Reddie (really? with a name like Stony you still needed a nickname?) is more than just your average death metal vocalist and his ability to vary his style from ultra-guttural lows to a raspy gurgle to a more mid-ranged growl keeps pace well with the action going on around him. I really do wish I knew what exactly the guys was singing about though as with song titles like “Duct Taped to a Flagpole”, “Tyrone, Put that Sugar Down”, and “Battle of the Spider-men” I am sure there’s some funny stuff going down there. Above all, one thing certainly shines through on this all too brief EP – these guys are having a blast. The energy coming off the speakers as you listen to this is truly tangible. And that’s the way good death metal is supposed to be.

Skalmold – Meo Vaettum (Napalm Records)

I gotta admit, I do have a soft spot for some good Viking Metal. Especially when a band manages to put their own stamp on the genre while still managing to keep it familiar enough to where it is still recognizable as Viking Metal. Skalmold has indeed done just that with their 4th full length entitled Meo Vaettum. These Icelanders have been around since 2009 but this is the first real exposure I have had to them. I must have been sorely missing out because I totally dig where these guys are coming from. These guys kinda remind me of a cross between Tyr, Amon Amarth, and Iron Maiden. A lot of the guitar work kinda reminds me of Tyr, though not quite as clean and fluid on the solo work as the Tyr boys. The folkish clean singing chants and passages also have that epic Tyr-ian vibe to them. They have a lot of the same kinda of heavy yet melodic riff work and steady pacing as Amon Amarth, while I hear the Iron Maiden influence with the classic metal inspired song structures that gives it an old school feel that tickles your inner metal child. Skalmold indeed really knows how to construct songs with a classic sense of dynamics that just adds that extra bit of dimension to the music that sends it over the top and separates them from the Viking Metal masses while at the same time endearing them to traditional metal fans. The band sings entirely in their native language, which is a definite plus in this style as it gives it even more authenticity. They do incorporate the obligatory folk inspired melodies in here, as all good Viking Metal bands must do, but they manage to do it without it coming off as forced or trite and they never completely throw it in your face like a Turisas or a Finntroll; it’s a bit more subtle than that. They only very occasionally use traditional folk instruments to get across that traditional folk vibe, but rather the band relies on its’ three (yes THREE) mighty axemen to supply the bulk of the music to be found here. The use of the three guitars really fattens up the sound and allows the band opportunity to really get creative with some of their arrangements. The band varies it up with the songs here quite a bit and you have a pretty even number of three to five minute ragers standing like side by side with just as many six to ten minute epics. The band alternates back and forth between the two which really allows the album to breathe and the listener doesn’t get bogged down with too much of either all in a row. I have a personal affinity for the more epic tracks and “Meo Jotnum” is probably my favorite. It has just the right mix of epic melodicism, heavy riffage, gravely growls and soaring chants, and dynamic movement that makes it an instant classic in my book. You can’t really go wrong with any of these tunes, however, as each one is a tasty nugget of Viking Metal goodness in its’ own right and all have their own unique merits. I highly recommend this one to any Viking Metal fan as well as fans of more traditional heavy metal that may not have caught onto the whole Viking thing yet. Now, I have to go back and listen to the band’s back catalog…….

Sodom – Sacred Warpath (Steamhammer/SPV Records)

No band epitomizes Teutonic thrash metal more than the legendary, infamous Sodom. The band has released 14 full length records in their over 30 years of existence and mainman Tom “Angelripper” Such has become a true living legend in international metal circles, for very good reason. Along with other German thrash acts like Kreator and Destruction, Angelripper has helped to define a distinctly European style of thrash metal that diverges greatly from its American cousin. Scared Warpath is more or less a teaser EP for the band’s upcoming 15th studio album which will probably see the light of day sometime in 2015. It features one new track, “Sacred Warpath”, as well as three live cuts “The Saw is the Law”, “Stigmatized”, and “City of God”. Angelripper himself had this to say about the EP:

“Since we’ve been getting the impression that the world is falling apart at the seams, we’ve decided to make our voices head … while there’s still time. ‘Sacred Warpath’ was originally written for our upcoming album, but we feel it’s a good idea to release it now as an appetizer for future Sodom tracks. Because it’s going to get raw, brutal and will be a reflection of all the things that we’re afraid of and that give us nightmares. Pretty much like that hate-filled world we live in. And it’s probably more authentic than any of our releases so far.”

Well, I for one, have to say we could have waited for the band to release the full length and I hope that this track is not fully representative of what we should expect from the next Sodom record. It’s not bad, per se, it’s just not great by any means and I really don’t understand what the impetus was behind going ahead and releasing this as an EP. It’s only been a year since the band released its last album, Epitome of Torture, so it’s not like the band has been out of the loop for any extended period of time and needs to be introduced to the public. “Sacred Warpath” itself is a mid-paced thrash number that has a pretty non-descript main riff and, honestly, is easily forgettable. There’s nothing here that really jumps out and grabs you by the throat. The three bonus live tracks are nice and are pretty damn good representation of the band in a live setting, but again, does this really warrant its’ own release? That is indeed questionable. I will still give the new record a spin when it does finally come out, but I must say that I am not expecting too much based on this little snippet here. They should have kept this one in their pocket for a while and just hit us all at once with a whole new record. At least maybe then “Scared Warpath” might be able to be put in its proper perspective within the context of a full album.

Voice of Doom – VOD III (Pyrrhic Victory Recordings)

Way back in 1986, Voice of Doom formed out of the ashes of NJ punk band The Systum and began to play a more hybridized form of punk/metal that fused the early hardcore of Black Flag with equal doses of Motorhead and Black Sabbath. The band managed to squeeze out one four song EP, Faith Is Torn, before disbanding in 1989 which would relegate the band’s legacy to one of relative, if infamous, obscurity. Well, it seems the band was not content to remain mired in obscurity forever as, fast forward 25 years, the band has reunited to grace us with a 5 song EP entitled VOD III, which does seems a bit odd since it’s technically only the group’s second release. That unexplained anomaly aside, VOD III sees Voice of Doom steer in a much more straight-up punk/hardcore direction than their previous work – more Black Flag than Motorhead or Black Sabbath. These 5 cuts are well executed slices of vintage 80’s styled hardcore power and angst and will have you envisioning the glory days of dark, sweaty, graffiti covered DIY show spaces and circle pits. The band includes their original EP tagged on the end of this release as well for all of you who may have missed it the first time around. Or not even born yet, whatever the case may be. This material stands in sharp contrast to the newer stuff as you can certainly hear a much more distinct proto-metal influence in the music. There are bursts of punk fury, especially on the first two cuts “”What I See” and “I Am Guilty”, but the Faith Is Torn EP is definitely a much more metal inspired piece of work than VOD III. The two EP’s also stand in sharp contrast in the recording quality as you can certainly tell the difference in clarity between the muddy demo sound of Faith is Torn vs. the much more focused recording of the new stuff. Of course, that is to be expected with the dramatic advances made in recording technology since the 1980’s, but it is a striking contrast nonetheless. Both EP’s definitely have their own unique characteristics in more ways than one and, despite their inherent differences, you can still tell that both are the same band, which is quite an achievement considering the sheer number of years between them. This is a release that all fans of 80’s style hardcore should definitely check out, and not just for its nostalgic value.


Noctem – Exilium (Prosthetic Records)

Spanish blackened death metal artists Noctem have been around in one form or another since 2001, but it wasn’t until the release of their debut album Divinity in 2009 that the band began to make any real waves beyond the borders of their native Spain. Exilium is the band’s 3rd full length record and first for metal powerhouse Prosthetic Records. Noctem can easily be placed in a similar category of bands such as Behemoth, Septic Flesh, and to a slightly lesser extent, Dimmu Borgir. The biggest difference between Noctem and these bands is that Noctem relies just a little less on orchestral elements, especially those artists mentioned most recent works. Instead of beating around the bush and going out of their way to be all artsy-fartsy, Noctem is most content to go straight for the jugular and assault you with a tornado of metal fury. The band does utilize some symphonic elements here and there, but they are used to highlight and accentuate what the band is doing rather than become the primary focus in and of itself. Taken as a whole, Exilium is a tour de force of blackened death metal savagery. The band begins the album in typical black/death fashion with a brief instrumental intro, but once they launch the opening salvo of “Apsu Dethroned” they fully unleash a whirlwind of sick riffage and blitzkrieg drumming that, aside from the acoustic instrumental track “Egregor” that serves to divide the album, never really lets up. Particularly noteworthy is the skilled orchestration, arrangement, and interplay between the two guitarists Exo and Nekros, who fill this album to the brim with scorching riffs, licks, and solos that seem to jump right out of your speakers. These guys are certainly technically proficient on their respective instruments, but they never get lost in being technical just for the sake of it and every single twist and turn here only serves to highlight the song itself. The production is crisp and clean and distinctly allows every nuance of the performances to shine through, which is key to music such as this when there is often several motifs going on at once that can easily get lost in the shuffle with a less adept production. Highlights here are hard to choose as every single track has its merits, but to my ears three stand out the most; “Tiamat’s Crown” with it’s crazy riffing that sounds like a swarm of bees descending for the attack and contains some truly epic guitar solos, “Adamantine Doors”, which is the most symphonic of all the tracks here and wins the prize for the most overall “blackened” atmosphere on the album, and “Divine Xib’alb’a”, which clocks in at a blisteringly quick 1:34 and finishes the album off in a truly wicked fashion that sees the band sloughing off nearly all of their death metal trappings in favor of pure, unadulterated black metal that wouldn’t be out of place on a Marduk album. Masterfully executed and produced, Exilium is an album that demands to be heard. Though it’s not gonna win any awards for originality, it is a superb example of what can be accomplished within the confines of black/death and I’m sure it will end up on more than one critics top 10 list at year’s end.

Cannibal Corpse – A Skeletal Domain (Metal Blade Records)

The infamous and legendary Cannibal Corpse return with their 13th studio album and once again prove that they are just as relevant now as they have ever been. Ever since 1999’s Bloodthirst, the band has settled into a very distinctive sound and style while steadily and subtly upping the ante with every album to stay just one step ahead of the pack and especially since the return of guitarist Rob Barrett on 2006’s Kill album, this has been even more true. As good as Jack Owen was, he kinda lost his way around the Gore Obsessed, Wretched Spawn period and Barrett’s return in ’06 helped to reinvigorate the band and usher them into their current string of outstanding records, including the latest A Skeletal Domain. This 12 track scorcher is chock full of killer riffs, unrelenting brutality, and subtle technicality. Cannibal helped to ignite the “technical death metal” revolution in the mid-nineties with albums like The Bleeding, Vile, and Gallery of Suicide, but they have never forgotten that a strong song backed with memorable riffs is the most important thing. Many bands have taken the tech death thing to levels beyond mere mortal understanding and as impressive as that can be, it is just as easily forgettable. Cannibal has, more than just about any other death metal band out there, married the technical with the classic death metal sensibilities of catchy, memorable riffage. While many bands have surpassed them in the overall technical category, few can touch them in regards to overall form, function, and listenability. Cannibal has the distinct talent to make the technical sound far easier than it really is and as you listen to it you can sometimes forget just how knuckle busting and creative most of their music can be. To me, this trick of folding the technical aspects ever so subtly into their overall sound is far more impressive than when a band smacks you right across the face with impressive chops and inhuman fretboard antics. And, of all the writing members of Cannibal, none do this better than the aforementioned Barrett. Taking nothing away from Webster, O’Brien, or Mazurkiewicz, but Barrett’s songs on their last few records display this aspect the best. I still say that “Shatter Their Bones” from ‘09’s Evisceration Plague is the best track the band has ever done and that was a Barrett penned tune. In similar fashion, the two most memorable tracks on A Skeletal Domain are the two tunes written by Barrett; “Kill or Become” and “Ice Pick Lobotomy”. Barrett is the master of creating riffs that just stick right in your craw and are just as catchy as they are brutal and twisted. Don’t get me wrong, the other guy’s tracks are superb, but there is just something about Barrett’s writing and riffing style that, at least to me, stand above the others.

Now, I have to address some of the most common complaints about Cannibal over recent years and especially some of the things I have seen written about this particular album. The first is Paul Mazurkiewicz’ drumming. He has been blasted for being too basic and primitive for years now and for not having evolved his playing to the level that the rest of the members of the band have, especially Alex Webster and Pat O’Brien. I counter this with the observation that Paul’s drumming is one of the key things that make Cannibal sound like Cannibal. Sure, he’s not going to wow you with octopus-like fills or insane polyrhythms that you need a graphing calculator and a secret decoder ring to decipher, but his very unique and distinctive patterns, his unrelenting ferocity, and his inhuman ability to find just the right groove and hammer it home with the endurance of a marathon runner is unparalleled in the death metal world. Without Paul and his distinctive drumming style, Cannibal would likely be a much different band. The second complaint I’ve heard is about Corpsegrinder’s vocals. He has been accused of becoming too monotone and monotonous over the course of the last few records. And, while this may be true to a certain extent, his style perfectly matches and compliments the music and to these ears there is not another death metal vocalist out there that can touch the tone and presence of Corpsegrinder. Ever since he replaced the god awful Chris Barnes way back in 1995 he has set the bar that all other death metal vocalists aspire to and the old adage, “If it ain’t broke, don’t fix it” more than applies here.

With all that being said, A Skeletal Domain is a welcome and fitting addition to this band’s already impressive catalog. From the absolutely devastating hurricane like force of album opener “High Velocity Impact Splatter” to the sledgehammer on crack riff fest of closer “Hallowed Bodies”, A Skeletal Domain delivers on all fronts. The performances are absolutely spectacular from all involved; especially O’Brien and Webster. O’Brien’s solos get more and more creative and twisted with every album and Alex Webster continues to raise the bar on what it means to be a bass player in a brutal death metal band. But, what is most impressive of all about this band is that after 25 years of existence and 13 albums, Cannibal Corpse has never wavered in their ability to deliver quality death metal that continues to define and drive the genre forward into the future. Most bands that have lasted that long have at least one complete creative and/or commercial dud in their back catalog somewhere, but this simply isn’t the case with Cannibal. Some albums are better than others, sure, but that has more to do with opinion than with any quantifiable evidence, and the string of albums that began with Barrett’s return to the fold in ’06 are all total masterpieces of the fine art of death metal, in my humble opinion. My personal faves on here include the previously mentioned Barrett tracks “Kill or Become” and “Icepick Lobotomy”, the Webster penned dynamic duo of “Headlong Into Carnage” and “The Murderer’s Pact” (which almost rival Barrett in the perfect ratio of catchy riffs and brutality, and are more obviously technical than the Barrett tunes. And O’Brien’s solo on “A Murderer’s Pact” is the coolest guitar moment on the record), and the O’Brien composed title track, which wins the award for the absolute heaviest thing on the whole record. Bravo, gents, on yet another fine performance and addition to a legacy that is unrivaled in the world of death metal.

Abazagorath – The Satanic Verses (Eternal Death Records)

Though many outside of black metal circles may be unfamiliar with Abazagorath, this US Black Metal powerhouse have been at it since 1995 and stand as one of the first, and certainly one of the longest lasting, bands of the first wave of the USBM movement. I must admit, I am only vaguely familiar with the band’s previous works, but if any of them are half as good as The Satanic Verses then I have indeed missed out on a lot. Abazagorath beautifully marries the grim, harsh characteristics of raw, necro black metal with progressive melodies and structures, a wonderful sense of dynamics, and just a dash of death metal inspired riffage to add a little flavor and variation into the mix. The production is the perfect marriage of grim atmospherics, guttural brutality, and well defined clarity that really allows the extremely well composed riffs and serpentine melodies to shine through at all times. There’s nothing worse in black metal than for the music to be masked by a totally blown out production, but Abazagorath does not fall victim to this here at all. What shines the most here, however, is this band’s ability to refine and condense so many different variations on the black metal style while remaining firmly within the boundaries of the genre. I can hear glimpses of the savagery of early Mayhem, the icy blasts of Immortal, the staccato and off kilter riffing of Satyricon, the orchestration and dynamics of early Emperor or Behemoth, the twisted black wizardry of Impaled Nazarene or Belphegor, and so much more wrapped up in this one album. Guitarist Ciemnosc is a truly unsung guitar hero in the black metal world. His riffs, melodies, and solos are some of the most creative that I have heard from a black metal guitarist in a while and they are extremely well composed and performed. One listen to the instrumental “A City Visible but Unseen” and it’s cycle of melody and musical tension is proof enough that this guy can hold his own with the best of them and his solo on the track “Garaniq” is truly magnificent. The best tracks here are the trifecta of epics; “Mahound”, the title track, and, my personal fave, “Return to Jahilia”. All of these tracks are between the seven and nine minute mark and really allow the band to fully explore the darkest and most nefarious corners of the genre and take the listener on a whirlwind rollercoaster ride of dynamic black metal brilliance. If you’re looking for a new black metal album that stands above the rest and pushes the envelope of the genre while still retaining the aura and atmosphere of “true” black metal, then look no further than Abazagorath’s The Satanic Verses.

Death Penalty – S/T (Rise Above Records)

Have you ever wondered what Cathedral would sound like with a female singer? Well, wonder no more cause Death Penalty are here to remedy that deficiency. Before you get your panties all in a wad, these guys (and gal) aren’t just some upstart youngsters cashing in on the “retro” trend and aping a classic band. This band is spearheaded by none other than Garry “Gaz” Jennings, riffmaster and founding member of none other than the mighty Cathedral itself, so he kinda has the right. After Cathedral broke up shortly after the release of their 2013 album The Last Spire, Gaz began working on new material on his own and then spent some time looking for just the right musicians to make his latest vision reality. He quickly convinced vocalist Michelle Nocon and drummer Cozy Cosemans, both members of Belgian doomsters Serpentcult, to join him and he rounded out the lineup with another Belgian, Raf Meukens, on bass. This self-titled album is the fruit of their labors and what a glorious fruit it is. If you’re a fan of Gaz’s playing and Cathedral in general and were bummed about Cathedral calling it quits, then you’ll be all over this like white on rice. Probably because of the fact that Gaz was pretty much the primary creative force behind this project, he really lays it all out there and this album is awash in his amazing riff work and guitar solos so good it makes the angels themselves cry. I always thought that Gaz was sort of an unsung guitar hero and have been a huge fan of his work with Cathedral, especially on their classic record The Ethereal Mirror to which I have a special affinity for, but his work on this record really cements the fact that this guy is damn good and he certainly has never gotten the credit he deserves. If you close your eyes and let yourself drift off with the music, you almost feel like you are listening to a lost Cathedral record that just got dredged up from the stockpile. That is, until Michelle Nocons sweet and sassy croon enters the picture. It is truly her vocals that set this band distinctly apart. While there are many bands out there right now doing the female fronted retro/doom metal thing (Witch Mountain, Castle, etc), Nocans vocals backed by the superb writing and exquisite riffing of Jennings are truly incendiary and catapult this band to the top of the current heap of similar artists.

Now, I know I have led you to believe that the music here sounds just like Cathedral. For the most part that is correct, however there are slight whiffs of NWOBHM here as well. Just enough to be noticeable, but not quite enough to steer the band off into a whole new direction. Death Penalty is just slightly more straight up “metal” and a just little less psychedelic and doomy than much of Cathedral’s catalog. But, were talking minute increments here. The best example of this mix of doom and NWOBHM is the track “She is a Witch”, which plays out like an epic doom riff-fest until it gets to the middle section where the band kicks into high gear and gallops it’s way straight into full-on metal assault mode only to rein it back into doom-land for the conclusion. The one exception to this general rule is the track that immediately follows “..Witch”, “Immortal By Your Hand”, which almost sounds like it could have been lifted straight off of Iron Maiden’s Killers album. Nocons even has a bit of that Paul Di Anno snarl in her voice on that one. Other album highlights include “Howling at the Throne of Decadence”, “Eyes of the Heretic”, and my personal favorite “Children of the Night”. My only complaint on this album is the 8+ minute closing track “Written by the Insane”. Contrary to what the title might lead you to believe, this track is actually the most mundane one of the whole album. It just kinda plods along and Nocon hits the limit of her range and the chorus especially finds her hitting an almost cat like screech that is downright unnerving to listen to. The track is almost saved by some tasty solo work from Jennings in the middle and especially on the ending ride out, but it’s too little too late. If you just hit stop before this last track and forget “….Insane” never existed, this album would be damn near perfect.

Gormathon – Following the Beast (Napalm Records)

Gormathon arise from the wintry shores of buxom blondes and social democracy, namely Sweden, and Following the Beast is the band’s second full length album and first for international label Napalm Records. I must say, even after listening to this whole album several times, I am still on the fence about it. On one hand, it’s a pretty good melodic death metal record. Not spectacular, but pretty damn good. On the other hand, when the clean vocals kick in it just keeps reminding me of Volbeat. Not that this band or vocalist actually sounds like Volbeat, it just has that same over the top feel and tone to the vocals that I just have a hard time taking seriously. If vocalist Tony Sunnhag had just stuck with his guttural growls and harsh, yet melodic scream I think I could fully get behind this record. But, every time he goes into that bellowing croon, I just can’t help but laugh. I’m sorry, that is just the way it is. It doesn’t really help that most of these songs are in the slow to mid-tempo variety and there’s not much dynamic movement going on throughout the album; very little tension and release that really keeps the listener hooked in. The band hits its peak right smack dab in the middle of the record with the one-two punch of “Celestial Warrior” and “In Benevolence”, the two fastest and most well put together tracks on the album. Everything seems to fall into place on those two tracks and even the croon doesn’t seem to bother me quite as bad as on the majority of the rest of the record. However, the later it gets into the album, the cheesier it seems to get. Once you get to tracks like “Warlords of Doom” and “Falling into Oblivion” it just seems to have completely jumped the shark into metal joke land. Like if a band such as Lordi actually were trying to take themselves seriously.

With all that being said, musically Following the Beast packs quite a wallop. Tight and precise riffing, well developed songwriting and arrangements, and some sweet and tasty yet never overdone guitar work from Stefan Jonsson and Markus Albertson all combine to pull this record back up and into the realm of the listenable. While they certainly wade mostly within the cold northern lake of Swedish Melodic Death Metal, they have a bit of the pomp and circumstance of classic and power metal, as well as a bit of Viking Metal ala Amon Amarth thrown in just to make sure you understand you’re listening to a Scandinavian band here.

Now, I am sure that the metal masses will disagree with me vehemently on this one. I’ve already seen this album on some Best of 2014 charts (Really? Are we there yet? It’s only early November, right?) and, like Volbeat before them, the novelty of the vocal stylings of Sunnhag is exactly what many will latch onto and praise as innovative and distinctive. Me, I just can’t do it. While I don’t hate this record and I can certainly find some redeeming value, I don’t think this is one I’ll be pulling up on the ‘ol iPod anytime soon.

The Acacia Strain – Coma Witch (Rise Records)

I must admit, I’ve always had a soft spot in my metal heart for The Acacia Strain. These deathcore pioneers have unapologetically and unashamedly maintained a steady course over their career while many other bands that came up along with them have all but eschewed the deathcore tag and moved on to the next trend. Their mission to be the heaviest band on the planet is one that you can’t help but admire. If you can listen to an Acacia Strain track without having the compulsion to bang your head and completely wreck stuff then there is something fundamentally wrong with you. This band’s penchant for finding an unrelenting groove that you can feel all the way up and down your spine is second to none. Sure, the whole breakdown thing is completely overdone and passé at this point, but when done well it can still be a very powerful and dynamic tool and The Acacia Strain have pretty much perfected the art. Coma Witch is the band’s 7th album and the first to feature new guitarists Devin Shidaker (ex-Oceano) and Richard Gomez (ex-Molotov Solution). You would imagine that a complete changeover in the guitar department would radically alter any band’s sound, but that is not the case here. If you didn’t know any better, you wouldn’t even notice that original guitarist and longtime creative force behind the band, Daniel “DL” Laskiewicz, is no longer in the fold. The spirit and essence of the band and their distinctive style is fully intact, which will be sure to please the band’s fanbase. That’s not saying that Coma Witch doesn’t show any progression, far from it. There is a subtle but noticeable change in the riffing style that sees the band incorporate a bit more movement and melodic variation into the mix, while still retaining the overall rhythmic force and massive groove that we have come to know and love from this band. Another noticeable change, if you listen closely enough, is in the band’s patented atmospheric lead guitar work that underlies much of the music. Whereas previously this aspect of the band’s sound has primarily been subtle dissonance and static melodic undertones, the band has introduced a little more melodic movement and variation there as well which, though very subtle, makes the music that much more interesting and engaging. These subtle differences are a brilliant way for Shidaker and Gomez to add their own flair to the music and take the band’s sound forward without sacrificing the essential substance of their style. Stagnation is the death of any band (unless you’re AC/DC or Motorhead!) and the addition of these two guitarists may have been exactly what The Acacia Strain needed to ensure they did not fall into this trap. Standout tracks here include the first single “Cauterizer”, “Holy Walls of the Vatican”, “Nailgun”, “Graveyard Shift”, “Whale Shark” (the breakdown that comes in at about the 2:20 mark is so damn badass it will make you want to slap your mama), and “Delusionalisphere”. There is also the almost 30 minute album closer “Observer”, that is mostly ambient soundscapes, spoken word bits, with occasional interludes of slowly creeping riffage and atmospheric sonic manipulations. Actually, it kinda reminds me, in a way, of the deathcore version of Sleep’s infamous “Jerusalem”. Frankly, I could have done without it and if you hit stop right after track 10, “Delusionalisphere”, you won’t be missing much. Overall, Coma Witch is a welcome addition to The Acacia Strain’s already loaded catalog and may indeed be a strong contender for the band’s best album thus far.

More Metal Vol. 11

Black Trip – Goin’ Under (Prosthetic Records)

It seems apparent at this point that much of Sweden has nearly abandoned their love for black metal in favor of retro 70’s classic metal, doom metal, and NWOBHM style stuff. Maybe I am exaggerating a just a bit, but there have been a plethora of bands from up that way of late that are mining this retro metal territory and Black Trip is just the latest to add to the list. This band was actually conceived about a decade ago in the mind of former Entombed/Merciless drummer Peter Stjarnvind (who plays guitar with Black Trip) but only came to fruition in 2011 when Stjarnvind found vocalist Joseph Tholl (ex-Enforcer, Corrupt). They released one demo in that same year and now in 2014 are set to release their debut album for Prosthetic Records. Imagine, if you will, that Iron Maiden had never gotten rid of Paul Di’Anno and stayed true to their roots of the dirtier, more straight up rock n’ roll type sound that they had on those first few records. That’s exactly what Black Trip sounds like. Tholl even has a bit of that snotty Di’Anno piss and vinegar in his voice that just really seals the deal. Goin’ Under totally comes across as the best album that Maiden never made. And this is a good thing. Stjarnvind and fellow axeman Sebastian Ramstedt are like Smith and Murray reborn and their soulful and melodic guitar pyrotechnics drench this entire album in six string glory. Bassist Johan Bergeback totally worships at the altar of Steve Harris with his crafty bass playing that perfectly compliments and plays counterpoint to the guitars. I mean, just take one listen to a track like “No Tomorrow” with its galloping beat, nimble bass work, dual guitar attack, and Tholl’s whisky drenched wail. If you can tell me that doesn’t sound like some old school Iron Maiden I’ll kiss your ass. Shit, the song is even structured like a classic Maiden epic ala “Phantom of the Opera”. Though they are very obviously trying to sound like their heroes, it never comes across like they’re ripping anyone off, but more like they are paying homage to them and taking this classic sound and style to its logical conclusion. Hell, if you’re gonna try to sound like a classic metal band like Maiden you better be fucking good, and Black Trip manages to pull the whole thing off in fine fashion. In no way are these guys mocking or cheapening classic metal, they’re actually adding to the legacy of this classic style of metal with the skill and care with which they do it. The production even has that same analog warmth and space that pervaded those old records which only intensifies the impact of what Black Trip are trying to do here. The whole package is just damn near perfect; the music, the songwriting, the performance, the production, the artwork – it all just fits just right. Besides the aforementioned “No Tomorrow”, other highlights include the rollickin’ album opener “Voodoo Queen”, the Mercyful Fate meets Alice Cooper meets Maiden vibe of “Tvar Dabla”, the creepy and mystical “Thirst” (which features some of the best harmony guitar work on the whole album), and the epic rock n’ roll masterpiece that is the title track, which closes out the album and leaves the listener with no doubt that their ass has been rocked and rocked hard.

Almost Human – "O" EP (Self Released)

Almost Human is a Swiss based band who plays a twisted and weird brand of modern metal that’s got hints and touches of nu-metal, alt metal, djent, industrial and electronica. They kinda have that same futuristic, cybernetic feel that is reminiscent of Fear Factory’s Obsolete album mixed with the quirkiness of the first few Korn albums and just a taste of the jackhammer riff work of Ministry circa Psalm 69 or maybe Meshuggah circa the None EP. O is Almost Human’s debut EP but you would never tell it at all by listening to this thing. It’s extremely well produced and put together and it seems these guys have developed their own fully realized sound and style right out of the gate. There’s five tracks here, but only four are actual songs with track two being just a short throw away instrumental track. But, the four songs we actually do get are all aces. These guys utilize their electronic elements very wisely and they seem to always remember that in heavy metal it is the fucking riff that matters the most and anything else is just decoration. And Almost Human bring the riffs in spades. Particularly check out the outstanding and unique riffing in the last few minutes of “Obey, Consume, or Disappear” and throughout “Normosis”. The vocals are really good and vary from harsh screams to raspy wails to actual melodic clean parts and they all blend very well with the music. I certainly hope this Swiss quintet didn’t blow their creative wad and pile all of their good songs onto this EP and failed to save any for a full length because my interest is definitely perked by this band’s unique take on modern heavy metal, and I’m usually not big on this kinda thing at all. If they can maintain this standard and elevate it at all when they finally do unleash a full length record on the world then I can see these guys breaking through pretty big if they play their cards right. Let’s just hope that if and when that happens that taste of success doesn’t ruin these guys and they begin to lose their edge and become just another crappy alt metal radio band.

H5N1 – A Time of No Tomorrows (Self Released)

H5N1 hails from the frozen wastes of Canada and play what I would call a blackened form of death metal, but it’s not blackened death as you might think. This is not the ultra-pristine and tight as hell black/death of bands like Behemoth or Septic Flesh, but rather imagine Death, Suffocation, or Incantation’s earliest albums recorded with that total necro, lo-fi black metal vibe; like the whole thing was recorded in their rehearsal room with an old boombox. The guitars are reduced to what sounds like little flies buzzing around, the bass (when audible at all) is like the strings are moldy rubber bands, and the drums sound like cardboard boxes stuffed with pillows. There are patches of some keyboard work going on here and there which adds a bit to the black metal vibe, but the riffing is total old school American death metal. The vocals are so high in the mix as to overpower everything, which really makes for an uncomfortable listen. It’s like all the music was recorded with one microphone and the vocals on another and they just laid the two tracks over the top of each other. It just doesn’t work. I get that they’re trying to get the rawest, dirtiest sound they can, but in the process the music just becomes virtually unlistenable. It’s shame because I can tell underneath all the grime there are some pretty cool riffs going on in parts but they are so buried and squashed that they are extremely difficult to make out. Evidently there are actually two bass guitars on some of these tracks as vocalist/guitarist Mr. M sometimes throws the 6-string aside and joins his comrade Mr. K for a dual bass assault, but I couldn’t tell you which ones to save my life. They also claim to have influences from Industrial metal but I couldn’t find a trace of any to be found on this record. This trio supposedly has roots in some of the “most extreme black metal bands of the Canadian underground”, but they all choose to remain nameless. If I made music that sounded this bad, I would choose to remain nameless too. The best thing about this album is that the 10 tracks go by pretty quickly and it’s all over but the crying in just under 30 minutes. Thank Satan for small favors, I guess…..

Witch Mountain – Mobile of Angels (Profound Lore Records)

Witch Mountain has been together since 1997, but it wasn’t until 2009 that they added the distinctive voice of Uta Plotkin to the mix and fully came into what they are today. Mobile of Angels is the 3rd full length album the band has put out since bringing Plotkin into their doomy fold and 4th album overall. Imagine Stevie Nicks at her sultriest with a Pat Benatar attitude singing for a band like Sleep, or Pentagram, or maybe Saint Vitus, and you can begin to get an idea of what Witch Mountain is all about. There’s only five tracks here, but all of them except for one clock in over the 7 minute mark and that one is really more or less kinda an ambient spoken word track and doesn’t really count. Don’t feel cheated, though, because these are some fucking epic, doomy, bluesy jams and Plotkin’s soulful, sexy, and seductive vocals really elevate Witch Mountain above and beyond your average retro-doom metal band. And she’s no one trick pony at all. This lady can throw down some pretty vicious sounding death growls as well, and while she doesn’t use it often (notably on track 2 “Can’t Settle”) when she does break them out it adds a whole other dimension to the band’s sound. But, for the most part, Plotkin is in full on rock goddess mode for the majority of the album. Just check out the commanding presence and kinetic energy in her vocals on the ten plus minute doom masterpiece “Your Corrupt Ways (Sour the Hymn)” or the angelic lilt in her voice on the majestic and beautiful album closer “The Shape Truth Takes”. This album never really gets out of the slow to mid-tempo range, but that’s quite alright because that low, slow, simmering bluesy crawl is where this band shines the best and if they sped it up too much it just wouldn’t have that same groove and feel to it. While Plotkin is certainly the highlight of the album, the band themselves certainly are no slouches. Guitarist Rob Wrong knows exactly when to lay back and let Uta do what she does best and just when to come in with some ballsy riff or launch into a sizzling, tasty solo. His guitar riffs seem to have the uncanny ability to seem familiar yet unique at the same time and they are the glue that ties it all together. The rhythm section of Nate Carson on the drums and Charles Thomas on the bass lay a rock solid foundation that struts and swings while leaving plenty of room for Wrong and Plotkin to do their respective things when called upon. Even if you’re not into the 70’s inspired, blues based, doom metal thing you should give this one a whirl. If Uta Plotkin doesn’t make you a true believer then…well, there’s just no hope for you.

Machinae Supremacy – Phantom Shadow (Spinefarm Records)

Geeks everywhere rejoice! Welcome to the advent of SID metal. Sid metal? What the fuck is that, you may ask? Well, it’s something like the Nintendocore craze of bands like Horse the Band or, more recently, Minibosses. But, unlike Nintendocore, which was meant to be completely tongue in cheek (which was a big part of what made it so rad), Machinae Supremacy take their SID metal very seriously. They call it that because they actually use what’s called a SidStation, which uses the SID chip (the sound chip used in vintage 8-bit computers like the Commodore 64) in much of their material. This Swedish group has actually been around since 2000 and Phantom Shadow is the band’s 6th studio album and they have self released 32 singles on the internet, but this is the first I’ve ever heard of them or this SID metal. What this sounds like more than anything to me is the kind of stuff you would hear on the soundtrack of games like Final Fantasy. I guess it makes sense that they have actually performed music from that game series with the Swedish Royal Philharmonic Orchestra in the past and they also have worked on music for a game entitled Giana Sisters: Twisted Dreams. The whole sound has got that whole Japanese anime vibe going on and I imagine these guys to be absolutely HUGE in Japan. Like, headlining stadiums huge. It’s very power metal influenced and the music itself is extremely well composed and performed, particularly the at times truly astounding guitar work. They don’t quite reach Dragonforce territory of “Holy shit, did he really play that?” but it comes close in places and lead guitarist Jonas “Gibli” Rorling is certainly an accomplished player that will give the shred-heads out there plenty to chew on. There are 16 tracks on this thing, but only 11 real songs and 5 interlude tracks and I think this may be some sort of concept album, but I’m not 100% positive on that one. I can’t find confirmation anywhere on that but judging by some of the song titles and lyrics there appears to be at least a common thread throughout this record. Despite my better judgment (I usually have a hard time liking any sort of power metal beyond Maiden or Priest), I find myself liking much of this stuff. Maybe it’s the nostalgia this band invokes in me when they break out the SID music, maybe it’s just the fact that this stuff is so well composed, maybe it’s the fact that the vocalist Robert “Gaz” Stjarnstrom, while not the greatest in the power metal singer in the world, sings within his means, has his own sense of style, and doesn’t take this thing completely over the top which is the downfall of many singers of this style. There are certainly moments that venture into cheese territory, but that actually seems to make these guys all the more endearing, for some strange reason I can’t even explain. This stuff works the best on songs like “The Bigger They Are, The Harder They Fall” when they fully integrate the SID music into the main riffing on the song itself instead of using it as interludes or to bridge sections of songs. That’s when they really differentiate themselves from the pack and realize a truly unique sound and style. Damn it, I guess it’s just gotta be the kid in me, but Machinae Supremacy just make me smile. Don’t tell anyone I said that….. I got street cred to maintain….. Keeping in true geek fashion, Phantom Shadows is a digital only release so you’ll have to dig this one up on the interwebs.

Secret Cutter - S/T (Bethlehem Rust)

Secret Cutter is a noisy, dirty bastard. And I mean that in the best of ways. This self-titled gem is the band’s first full length release through their own Bethlehem Rust imprint. The band released one previous EP on Square of Opposition Records entitled If You Don’t Hate Yourself, You’re Not Paying Attention. This Pennsylvania based trio puts out more sound and more sheer heaviness per square inch of sonic space than most bands do in their entire careers. And, they have no bass player; just guitars, drums, and vocals. A few bands have pulled this off in the past (Pig Destroyer comes to mind, but even they eventually succumbed and added a bassist in 2013, and they always had keyboards and samples to fill up the sound), but I can’t think of one that managed to sound this huge. Secret Cutter takes the noise and angst of Converge, the speed and gnarliness of Napalm Death, the twisted and demented riffing of Bloodlet, and the sheer low down ugliness and groove of Eyehategod and creates something truly nasty. From the opening moments of “Mirror, Mirror” to the closing peals of “Driftwood”, Secret Cutters goes for the full frontal assault with no mercy and no quarter. It’s got plenty of metallic bite, but it also displays plenty of hardcore/punk presence and feel, like it’s just been belched forth from the dirtiest gutter in Detroit. At only 26 minutes, this thing blows by you faster than a Bruce Lee right cross and the band wastes no time with in getting in, blowing your eardrums out, and getting the fuck out. I understand these guys are quite the live act and I imagine seeing them in some dirty, urban underground DIY space would be truly epic. If you’re into bands like the ones mentioned above, or some of the newer acts of this ilk like Trap Them, The Body, or Nails, then Secret Cutter needs to be high on your list of bands to check out.

The Hell – Groovehammer (Prosthetic Records)

Well, guys and ghouls….. For the first time in a long time I am almost completely dumbfounded. I just don’t quite know what to think about this one. This UK band combines modern detuned deathcore, a 90’s era nu-metal feel and urban influenced grooves, and a classic hardcore/punk aesthetic, particularly in the vocals. There’s NYC hardcore style gang shouts all over this thing. Some of this works and works well, but for the most part I have a real hard time taking these guys seriously. It just all seems like it’s all a part of some inside joke that I’m just not privy to. The Hell knows how to write a pretty fucking grooving riffs, the guitars tones are massive, the performances are tight and on point, and these guys have certainly managed to find a sound and style all their own, and for all that I commend them. But, as soon as the vocals kick in for some reason it just totally loses it for me. You can definitely tell these guys are Brits as the Cockney accent is very prevalent. Maybe it’s the culture gap, I don’t know, but I just don’t get it. The vocals and lyrics just come across to me as too often juvenile and asinine. I mean, they have a song called “We Love Dicks” where they pretty much just shout the title the whole time and it just seems, well….. contrived. It’s kinda sad actually, because musically these guys have a lot to offer. I found myself banging my head quite a few times to their very groovy and catchy riffage, but every time the vocals would kick in I would just cringe. On the other hand, I can totally see these guys being huge with all the kids who might can identify with these guys. I can totally see all the kung-fu kids going apeshit in the pit with these guys while all the old heads stand in the back with quizzical looks on their faces. This is one you’re really gonna have to take a listen to and form an opinion for yourself. The vocals might bother you as bad as they bother me. For me, this one shall go into my “Never Listen To Again” file.

Kafirun – Death Worship EP (Self Released)

Kafirun are a Canadian black metal band that swims in the same seas as early, necro black metal bands like Burzum, Mayhem, Darkthrone, etc. Death Worship is the band’s debut, self-released EP. These three songs here are lo-fi, bestial slabs of blackened metal that are more than solid examples of the genre. These guys aren’t breaking any new ground here, by any means, but they do the lo-fi, necro thing really well. In this style, it’s all about the “atmosphere” and Kafirun does an excellent job of conjuring just the right about of hate fueled, blasphemic ambiance. Underneath the cobwebbed production, you can actually tell these guys can play their instruments and there is some very interesting things going on with the guitars and bass here. They do a great job of shifting tempos and dynamic, which is very important with this type of black metal. Those bands that just tremolo pick and blast incessantly throughout just end up sounding like a bunch of white noise after a while. There is actually not a whole lot of blasting going on here at all. The drummer tends to follow more closely with the guitar riffs which helps immensely to define and refine the music, again especially considering the lo-fi production values. Vocalist Luzifaust sounds an awful lot like Attila from Mayhem, and that’s certainly not a bad thing. He varies between a harsh blackened screams and hellish tortured moans and groans and he doesn’t use the exact same scream at all times but changes it up a bit in places which goes a long way to spicing things up. Of these three tracks on this EP, my fave has to be the last one, “Thousand Spears”. I really dig the riffs on this one as they are the most catchy and memorable ones on the EP and the vocal performance is also the best and most varied out of the three cuts to be found here. Kafirun are currently working on a full length record. If they can keep up the standard they have set with this EP then they should be just fine. If you’re into genuine, authentic, lo-fi, necro black metal then you should definitely check out Kafirun.

Phobiatic – Fragments of Flagrancy (Handean Records)

Phobiatic are a technical death metal band from Essen, Germany. They formed back in 2008 and Fragments of Flagrancy is the band’s second full length album. The band did a demo called Spreading the Plague in 2009 and a 2 song promo called An Act of Atrocity in 2010 which was also the name of the band’s debut full length in 2012. What Phobiatic is trying to do is to combine the catchy, riff based ethos of classic death metal with a more modern, technical approach and, for the most part, they succeed. Fragments of Flagrancy is 10 tracks of brutal, technical death metal that wastes no time in getting to the point. With most tracks clocking in at or under the 3 minute mark, Phobiatic aren’t gonna bore you with atmospheric passages or long drawn out instrumental interludes, these German ragers hit the ground running and don’t stop until the end. Though they certainly aren’t the most technical band in the tech death sub-genre, they do have enough of that flair to keep the fretboard geeks happy and they have enough of that old school approach that focuses on song structure and creating memorable riffs to keep the less tech inclined listeners interested. Yet, with all that being said, I don’t think this band has completely and fully matured into themselves and their sound yet. The album is good, but especially in this day and age where the tech death genre has exploded and it seems every band that comes along ups the ante on the last, it’s just not quite good enough or technical enough to make a big splash on the scene. There is certainly lots of promise and potential here, but they’re just not quite there yet. I like the direction they’re going with trying to bridge the gap between classic and modern death metal and I think that approach has a lot of potential that, for the most part, has yet to really be explored. Most tech death bands are so focused on wowing you with the next “betcha can’t play this!” riff that they forget about constructing a solid, well thought out song that actually takes the listener on a journey from point A to point B. Phobiatic has the right idea, but I think it’s gonna take just a bit more woodshedding and honing their sound before these guys can climb to the top of the modern death metal mountain. I have two recommendations; first, get a second guitar player. Guitarist Robert Nowak is a more than capable axeman and has a knack for coming up with some really cool ideas, but I think with the addition of another equally skilled six stringer to play off of Phobiatic can be really dangerous. Second, they’ll have to do a bit better on the production side of things. The production of Fragments of Flagrancy comes across as a bit too primitive and muted to really let the music shine it’s brightest. The instruments at times seem to be all clamoring for the same sonic space and there’s a lack of any real distinct definition to the individual instruments and the overall tone is muddied as a result. The production is more geared towards an underground brutal death/grind band than a modern technical death metal band. While I like the more organic approach and way too many bands manufacture their entire sound within a computer program these days, there is still a way to find a happy medium between that organic, more “real” sound and those pristine digital modern production techniques. Despite these shortcomings, Phobiatic have grabbed my attention with Fragments of Flagrancy and piqued my interest. There are certainly moments of brilliance here, especially on tracks like "The Downward Spiral", "House in Cleveland", and "Abnormal Dilation". I look forward to seeing where this band goes next and if they can fully blossom into the band that I think they can be.

Halcyon Way – Conquer (Nightmare/Massacre Records)

Atlanta, Ga based Halcyon Way formed way back in 2001 and Conquer is their 4th full length release. They have been sludging through the touring circuit for years now playing with such bands as Stuck Mojo, Fozzy, Delain, U.D.O, and Fates Warning across the US, Canada, and Europe. They have also headlined such elite prog/rock/metal fests as Pathfinder Metalest and ProgPower USA. Halcyon Way play an accomplished and highly polished form of progressive metal that is very reminiscent of Dream Theater (though quite a bit less “noodly” than DT, if you will), with large doses of power metal and hints of thrash and even a little death metal here and there. I’ve said it before and I’ll say it yet again, what usually makes or breaks a band such as this are the vocals. Vocalist Steve Braun does an excellent job here without ever really venturing full on into cheeseball territory, which is the danger when doing this type of clean, soaring metal vocal style. The only point of contention is that at times he almost sounds too much like James LaBrie of Dream Theater. He skillfully layers the vocals with harmony parts that do much to add to the overall impact of the tunes. Guitarist Jon Bodan adds a bit of hardcore/death shouts and growls here and there that change things up a bit and, surprisingly, they manage to pull it off without making it sound forced or out of place. Musically these guys are top notch with obvious technical skill, creative riffing, and a keen sense of how to write and structure a song. They don’t really wow you with over the top prog geekery, but what they do they do extremely well with just enough of that progressive bent to keep the nerds happy. The production on this thing is outstanding with every instrument crisp and clear which is so important with this style of metal. Of particular note is the guitar tone which has a sharp crunch and bite to it that gives the music an extra hint of heaviness that separates these guys from many other bands of similar ilk. Highlights here include “Web of Lies”, “Militant”, “Save Your Tears”, “King of Ruin” and “Eviscerate the Morning Sun”. These are also the faster, heavier tracks on the record, so I may be a little biased with those choices, but the band seems to really shine the brightest when they really go for it all. Overall, an extremely solid release from these southern gents that will be sure to please prog/power metal fans everywhere.

Mutilation Rites – Harbinger (Prosthetic Records)

Mutilation Rites burst on the scene in 2012 with their critically acclaimed debut album Empyrean. Their raw, dirty, yet clandestinely sophisticated take on black metal mixed with doom, D-beat, and crusty punk rock took the scene by storm and led these Brooklyn lads out of the underground and into the upper echelons of the metal world. Well, if you were a fan of Empyrean, Harbinger will surely not disappoint. Everything that made their first record the devilishly dirty masterpiece that it was is present on Harbinger in spades. The raw and gritty tones, the rampaging rhythms, the evilly catchy riffs, the blackened clouds of cleverly creepy guitar work all return for album number two. Out of the gate “Black Pyramids” claws at your flesh with tremolo picked madness as this 7 minute ripper screams for your attention. “Exhaling or Breathing” showcases perfectly how this band combines the dirty sounds of crust and the driving force of D-beat bands like Discharge with the shimmering, echoing sophistication of spaced out black metal. “Tactical Means of Ouroboros” explodes with frantic riffing and reaps everything in its path like the Four Horsemen of the Apocolypse with hurricane speed and force before breaking down halfway with a majestic guitar melody that leads straight into a very doomy ending as the band slowly breaks the song down until only the echoing rasp of a lone guitar remains. “Gravitational Collapse” shows the band venturing into almost death metal realms with a heaping dose of blackened death riffing in the first minute or so before leveling off with some tremolo picked black metal chords in the middle only to return to the songs more deathly roots and ending with a stomping D-beat riff. “Contaminate” sees the band showing some thrash influences, particularly of the German variety, and the song comes across like Sodom meets Marduk at first only to morph into a mid-paced black metal burner. “Suffer the Children” continues in the same vein as its immediate predecessor with a slightly more crusty punk bent. The band throws a twisted doomy bridge in the middle before ending with perhaps the best riff of the whole record. “Ignus Fatuus” begins with a raw and distorted bass riff that builds into a creepy, crawling blackened miasma that approaches audio transcendence. The album ends with “Conspiracy of Silence” which perfectly encapsulates nearly every facet of this band and is a fitting end to this dirty black tour de force. My only complaint about this album is that it is almost TOO much like its predecessor. There’s not really much growth or change here from what we heard on Empyrean. Not to take away from this record at all, but I would have liked to see the band stretch just a bit on this release. I certainly don’t expect or want the band to reinvent themselves, but a little growth is always a good thing just to keep things interesting and moving forward. Very few bands can get away with releasing the same record over and over again and I don’t think Mutilation Rites is one of them. So, while I’ll give them a by on this record just because it is so damn good, I certainly hope by album number three the band shows that they aren’t just a one trick pony.

Bjarm – Imminence (Self Released)

Bjarm is a Russian sextet that plays a very well-oiled and produced brand of symphonic black/death metal that fans of bands like Dimmu Borgir will find very familiar. Bjarm formed in 2009 and this 10 track album is the band’s first full length release. The band has an apparent Viking/Norse thing going on. The band name itself is in reference to a region of Russia known in the old Viking Sagas and they evidently mine that territory lyrically, but you would never really tell it from listening to the music. There are no folksy melodies of any sort going on here which tend to be a red flag for a band following the Norse aesthetic. Even bands of that ilk that don’t use any of the traditional European folk instrumentation usually at least inject some folk inspired melodies into their guitar riffs. The band sticks for the most part to a pretty typical symphonic black/death formula. All the obligatory pieces and parts are here. Fast paced aggressive rhythms and riffing paired against mid-tempo burners, layers of melodic touches, orchestrated keyboard passages and interludes, and harsh male growls and screams coupled with angelic female vocal sections; Bjarm includes them all and does them all extremely well. The music is massive and bombastic and the band obviously takes time and care when crafting these songs. Though their style may be somewhat formulaic and maybe even a little dated at this point, that is to take nothing away from the obvious skill and craftsmanship that this group of Russians has put into their music. My only beef with the music is that at times they do sound almost too much like Dimmu Borgir circa In Sorte Diaboli and Abrahadabra, but they do manage to inject enough originality in there to not come off as a direct clone of that band. There are moments where the music kinda falls flat and seems a little cookie cutter, but there are just as many moments where the band displays signs of greatness and individuality, particularly songs like “Knowledge of Doom”, “Fire Lord’s Torment”, and “The Highest Fall”. Vocally is where they really separate themselves from Dimmu, as the fluctuate from a death-like growl, a blackened rasp, and an ominous chant and the female clean vocals stand in contrast to Dimmu’s use of male clean vocals. What really impresses is the fact that the band manages to sound this mature and well put together on their very first album, especially one they’ve done as an unsigned act on their own. If these guys can score themselves a record deal and manage to hook up with the right producer who can further hone and develop the band’s distinctive sound that is only really hinted at here then Bjarm could indeed be a force to be reckoned with in the metal scene.

This Will Destroy You – Another Language (Suicide Squeeze Records)

This Will Destroy You is a something of a post-rock group from Texas. They have been around since about 2005 and Another Language is the band’s 3rd full length effort. I say “something of a post-rock” group because there is very little actually “rock” to be found here. What you get is about 45 minutes of laid back, atmospheric, experimental instrumental music that sounds like Radiohead’s more introspective and weird moments (think Kid A) without Thom Yorke’s impassioned wail. I guess this is good bedtime music, but that’s about all it’s good for. These are just basically soundscapes; there’s no distinct melodic movement, no hooks, no discernable structure. Each track pretty much just bleeds into the last and it all pretty much sounds exactly the same. They keep the tempo at pretty much a crawl and there is little dynamic shift going on. Every single track starts off soft, slow, and low then builds to an anticlimactic pseudo crescendo and then fades back into obscurity. Rinse, repeat, ad infinitum. Maybe this is just not my thing, but it’s just boring. Yawn. Next please.


More Metal Vol 10

Crowbar – Symmetry in Black (Century Media Records)

Many metal fans were pretty bummed out when Kirk Windstein announced a few years ago that he was leaving Down for good. His heavy handed riffs and imposing presence had become almost as synonymous with that band as Phil Anselmo’s meaty roars and gravel throated croon. Yet, not long after that announcement, Kirk also announced that he would be going back to focusing full time on his own band, the legendary Crowbar, and those same metal fans went from dismay to joy. The roots of Crowbar go all the way back to 1988 when Kirk joined NOLA hardcore band Shell Shock, which also featured future Crowbar drummer Jimmy Bower (whom also plays guitar with Eyehategod and still beats the skins for Down). That’s a history of almost 30 years. I remember seeing the video for “All I Had (I Gave)” off the band’s 1993 sophomore album on MTV’s Headbanger’s Ball as a wee lad and being completely blown away with how massively heavy the band was. I had never heard anything quite like it. And Kirk and Co. certainly had the look to back up the sound; these were some big burly looking dudes! I was instantly hooked and I followed the band throughout the 90’s through such brutal and genre defining releases as Time Heals Nothing, Broken Glass, and (in my opinion) the band’s masterpiece, Oddfellow’s Rest. Crowbar took the slow, thick as molasses, sludgy sounds of fellow NOLA bands like Eyehategod and Acid Bath to a whole other level and in the process totally reinvented what it meant to be truly heavy. After the turn of the millennium, as Down became more and more of a priority for Kirk, Crowbar seemed to be pushed aside a bit and became more of a side project rather than a full time commitment. The band did release 3 albums in the first decade of the 21st century, and while they were fine records in their own right, they just didn’t seem to capture the same magic of albums like Broken Glass or Oddfellow’s Rest. 2011 saw the release of Sever the Wicked Hand which did show signs of that old je ne se quoi again, which really made my earbuds perk up. It still wasn’t quite up to par with the Kirk’s pre-Down era work, but it was pretty damn close. Now, with Symmetry in Black, Kirk has finally seemed to recpature that magic that made those early records so damn good. Songs like “Walk with Knowledge Wisely”, “The Taste of Dying”, “Ageless Decay”, “The Foreboding”, “Shaman of Belief”, and “Symbolic Suicide” are just as good as anything the band has ever done and are sure to tighten your sphincter muscles in joy.

Cannabis Corpse – From Wisdom to Baked (Season of Mist Records)

Death metal and weed. Two great tastes that taste great together. Richmond, Virginia’s Cannabis Corpse is considered by some as somewhat of a joke band, but they certainly take their music very, very seriously. All of their songs might be about puffing the old chiba, but that doesn’t mean these guys slack off when it comes to composing some absolutely stunning pieces of death metal brilliance. The band features Phil “Landphil” Hall from Municipal Waste on bass and vocals, his brother Josh on drums, and former GWAR guitarist and newest Corpse-mate Brent Legion, who replaced founding guitarist Nick “Nickropolis” Poulos in 2011. That year also saw the exit of original vocalist Andy “Weedgrinder” Horn and Landphil take over vocal as well as bass duties. Since 2007, Cannabis Corpse has released 3 full lengths and 3 EP’s of some of the most brutal and catchy as hell death metal in existence that even gives their namesake, the almighty Cannibal Corpse, a run for their money. Like their European counterpart, Bloodbath, this is band that may technically be a side project, but they have become just as relevant and influential as its members main bands. Their newest and 4th full length release, From Wisdom to Baked (a take on an album title from Canadian death metal legends Gorguts, From Wisdom to Hate – all of their album and song titles contain tongue in cheek spoofs and references to classic death metal bands), is no exception. Opening track, “Baptized in Bud”, unleashes pure death metal fury right out of the gate and fully sets the tone for this scorcher of a record. Unrelentingly, these stoners rip through one tasty neck snapping riff after another over the course of these 11 choice cuts. Of particular note is the bass playing from Landphil – he churns out some of the gnarliest bass runs and fills in all of death metal and stands on par with great metal bassists like Alex Webster, Steve DiGiorgio, and the quintessential metal bassist Steve Harris. His bass is very present in the mix and is just as much an integral part of the whole as the guitar work, which really adds to the overall punch of these tunes. Guitarist Brent Legion does an absolutely amazing job of conjuring up sonic images of nearly every single style of death metal while still retaining a unique sound all his own and he more than ably fills the shoes of original axe-slinger Nick Poulos. Highlights here include the aforementioned “Baptized in Blood”, the blistering ‘Individual Pot Patterns”, the hooky spazzed out brutality of “Pull the Carb”, the whirlwind savagery of “Voice of the Bowl”, the epic proggy feel of “THC Crystal Mountain”, the rapid and rabid riff stew and abrupt tempo changes that is “With Their Has He Will Create”, and the weird Gorguts like mind fuck that is the title cut. Once again, Cannabis Corpse has delivered a truly great slab of death metal that simply demands to be recognized. This album is sure to end up on my Top 10 list for 2014 and if you are a true death metal fan. So, pull some tubes, put this platter on, and let Cannabis Corpse melt your brain. And that ain’t no joke.

Mastodon – Once More ‘Round the Sun (Reprise Records)

Mastodon is one of those very rare bands that, like the Beatles, Led Zeppelin, Black Sabbath, and to a large degree Tool, manages to achieve legendary and damn near mythical and mystical status in their own time. This has always been a rare thing, but the phenomenon has become especially so in these days of short attention spans and the immediacy of the internet. Of course, when you put out an album as brilliantly conceived and executed as 2008’s magnum opus Crack the Skye that will happen. But, the problem with the critical and commercial success of a record like that is that everything the band does henceforth will forever be judged against that album’s brilliance and mystique. Although this is understandable, it’s not quite fair to the band. The reception that 2011’s The Hunter received is the perfect example of this – an album that most bands would have given their left nuts to have written and released was largely shrugged off by Mastodon fans. It certainly wasn’t as truly great as Crack the Skye, but it was a damn good album by any stretch of the imagination and certainly did not deserve the thrashing it got from many. So, what can we say about the band’s latest, Once More ‘Round the Sun? Well, for starters – it’s no Crack the Skye; but it wasn’t meant to be. Much has been said leading up to this record’s release about the fact that the band has pretty much abandoned the screaming and growling vocal styles in favor of a more melodic direction and I’m not sure why that has been the case. The band pretty much left those types of vocals behind years ago and the past two records have shown great depth and maturity in the vocal arrangements and performance and this one is no exception. If anything, the band has focused more and more on their vocals since Crack the Skye and Once More ‘Round the Sun sees this trend continue in that same direction. I especially love the vocal stylings of Troy Sanders; his very unique singing voice defies description and his vocals have become some of my favorite in all of metaldom and he does not disappoint me one bit on this new one. Another gripe of many longtime fans is the apparent “dumbing” down of Brann Dailor’s signature octopus-like drumming style. While I totally get this complaint as a highlight of many classic Mastodon songs is Brann’s incredible drum parts, Brann has now found the ability, or should I say restraint, to play more within the song itself while still adding colorful swaths of polyrhythmic brilliance when the moment is right. The new album comes across like a continuation and a natural progression from The Hunter and that album’s focus on individual songs and its blend of the metal bombasity and progressive leanings of the band’s previous work with the more layered, jazzy atmospherics introduced heavily with The Hunter. I certainly love the bands more over the top and heavy works such as Leviathan and Blood Mountain, yet I am finding myself really liking the direction the band is going. The riffs are more clear and concise, the vocals are more varied and engaging, and the band knows when to let their prog freak flag fly and when to reign it in. On their earlier works the band at times just seemed to throw everything but the kitchen sink in there and while this led to some truly intense music, the tunes never could really breath and evolve. I’ve already heard many Mastodon fans on the interwebs disparaging this record as “boring”. While I get where they are coming from, again I feel like most of these people are not even giving the record a chance or listening with fresh ears. It’s also an inevitable phenomenon that once a band reaches a certain level of success, the “cool” people cast them aside and shit all over everything they do and tell you how much better the band used to be “back in the day”. One of the things I have grown to appreciate from this band over their last few albums is the fact that they have been able to break into the mainstream on their own artistic merit and are spearheading the movement for greater and wider acceptance of heavy music with brains as well as brawn. There are some really great songs on this record; album opener “Tread Lightly” – which actually sounds to me like it could have been an outtake from the Crack the Skye sessions; “The Motherload” - which is probably Mastodon’s first attempt at a big soaring sing along chorus and it works remarkably well; “High Road” with its big sludgy riff and another soaring chorus; the boiling and bubbling riff and incessant forward march of “Chimes at Midnight”; the lush arpeggiated chords, gorgeous guitar interplay, and layered vocal patterns of “Asleep in the Deep”; the concise yet complex “Feast Your Eyes” which packs just about every aspect of the Mastodon sound into one 3 minute chunk of brilliance; the chaotic, proggy and psychedelic “Aunt Lisa” which features a killer gang chant at the end that will be sure to be a highlight of future concerts; the Mastodon meets Iron Maiden riffing, big chorus, and tasty guitar solo from Brent Hinds on “Ember City”; the rockin’, spaced out and thoroughly psychedelic “Halloween” which features an another absolutely searing solo from Hinds; and, last but not least, the sublimely epic and utterly sinister sounding album closer “Diamond in the Witch House” which, like opener “Tread Lightly”, harkens back to the Crack the Skye album and sounds like the band wrote it after listening to a steady binge of Pink Floyd records. Don’t let the naysayers and the haters influence your opinion if this record and don’t take my word for it either. Listen to this record with open ears and judge for yourself.

Fucking Invincible – It’ll Get Worse Before It Gets Better (Atomic Action!/Reflections Records)

What a great fucking name. Fucking Invincible. Brilliant. I wish I could say the music was as brilliant as the name. Featuring former members Daughters, Drop Dead, Soul Control, and Sweet Jesus; Fucking Invincible play a harsh, heavy, and chaotic brand of hardcore that is equal parts power violence, sludge, thrash-core, grindcore, and crust punk. This is the band’s first full length (if you could call 15 minutes a full length) after having released two EP’s, one in 2012 and another in 2013. The recording quality is intentionally shitty to give it that “authentic” vibe. Fourteen songs all clocking in at approximately one minute, with the exception of album closer “Nothing, No One” which qualifies as an epic at just over two minutes. This is some seriously intense shit and the band is certainly really good at it, but they aren’t quite good enough at it to stand above the multitude of other bands of this ilk. This is the kind of stuff that is really awesome live, preferably at some dirty, sleazy hole in the wall club as you rip it up in the pit with a one hand wrapped firmly around a PBR, but it just doesn’t have quite the same impact on record. I would totally go see these guys live and probably love every second of it, but I will likely never listen to this album again.

Trap Them – Blissfucker (Prosthetic Records)

If you haven’t heard the sadistically sinister, brutally ugly, and terrifyingly scary sounds of Trap Them yet, you have sorely missed out. This band has been around since 2001 and has released a half dozen releases since their inception that have steadily helped to redefine the art of hardcore music. With the wild savagery and tortured artistry of Converge, the sheer sonic onslaught of bands like Discharge and Napalm Death, and the groovy death n’ roll rumblings of Entombed, Trap Them have successfully married the “thinking man’s” post-hardcore dynamic with the genre’s original straight-from-the-gutter sensibilities and the beastly vibe of old-school death metal. Their 2011 release, Darker Handcraft, was one of the best metal/hardcore records of that year and Blissfucker continues in that fine tradition. Guitarist Brian Izzi sounds like the bastard child of Converge’s Kurt Ballou, Napalm Death’s Mick Harris, and Entombed Uffe Cederlund; his jagged riffs, cantankerous fretboard torturing, and uncompromising heaviness saturates this record and gives the tunes a unique flavor all their own, which is rare in this style of music. The Kurt Ballou influence comes as no surprise as Kurt has produced and recorded the band’s last few records and the band was formerly singed to Converge vocalist Jacob Bannon’s Deathwish, Inc record label before hooking up with Prosthetic. Ballou’s pristine production accentuates both the beauty and ugliness of this music in equal measure and greatly enhances the overall impact. Whether pummeling your ears with the ferocity and intensity of tracks like “Lungrunners”, or sending you spiraling down into the pit of desperation with the slow, drag-you-through-the-streets-and-leave-you-for-dead swagger of tracks like “Savage Climbers”, Trap Them never fails once to leave keep you interested and attentive throughout this 11 track platter of bitterly nasty music. By the time the runaway train (in a good way) that is the last minute of album closer “Let Fall Each and Every Sedition Symptom” spews from the speakers, Trap Them have once again firmly established and entrenched themselves as one of the few modern hardcore/metal bands that truly matter. If you only listen to a few new releases this year, you have to put this one on the list.

Septic Flesh – Titan (Prosthetic Records)

Greece’s Septic Flesh is one of those bands that have become widely acclaimed amongst the underground ‘heads in the know and among their colleagues in other metal bands across the globe, but has largely managed to stay below the radar of the wider metal audience. While other symphonic death/black metal bands like Dimmu Borgir and Cradle of Filth have catapulted to the top of the metal heap in the last decade, Septic Flesh has been steadily building a back catalog of highly underrated and ingeniously creative work. The band has been active in one form or another since 1994, but I was first fully introduced to the band with their 2008 release, Communion and I was thoroughly impressed with that record’s death-like brutality mixed with blackened atmospherics, gothic sensibilities, and Wagnerian orchestration. That album was the first to feature a full orchestra, a feature that continued with 2011’s The Great Mass, and again here on Titan. As opposed to bands like Dimmu or Cradle that have done the same thing in the past with full orchestras, Septic Flesh manages to more fully integrate the orchestra into their metal sound and make it more a part of the music as a whole instead of the slap-dash and more gimmicky approach taken by those other bands. The orchestra saturates every nook and cranny of these tunes and you can certainly tell that the songs were written with the orchestra parts in mind rather than the orchestration being added after the fact as with so many other bands that attempt this sort of thing. The orchestration adds a level of bombast and blackened beauty to the music that truly sets it apart from the herd and the way the guitar riffs interplay with the orchestra is absolutely breathtaking. When the band throws in some eerie choir parts into the mix it sends the whole thing over the top and really gives it that classical, operatic vibe. This is some truly epic sounding shit that rarely strays out of the slow to mid tempo range, which only adds to the massive heaviness and powerful force of this music and when they do let the flood gates open and pick up the pace, the sonic impact hits harder than a Bruce Lee one inch punch. Songs like “Burn”, “Prototype”, “Prometheus”, “Confessions of a Serial Killer”, “Ground Zero”, and “The First Immortal” ooze and drip with metal fury and Wagnerian pomp and circumstance to create an aural storm of earth shattering and cataclysmic dimensions. One moment melodic and haunting, one moment sublimely heavy, one moment grandiose and foreboding, one moment a whirlwind attack of barbarous yet cultured death metal; Titan is a work of symphonic metal that truly lives up to its label. If you think the whole symphonic death/black metal ship has sailed, think again. Septic Flesh is here to prove that there is still plenty of life and creativity left to be explored within that genre of metal.

Metsatoll – Karjajuht (Spinefarm Records)

You know, I was just thinking the other day that I haven’t heard any good folk metal in a while. It was only a few years ago that bands like Finntroll, Korpiklanni, Wintersun, Tyr, and a score of others were all the rage and then all of a sudden it seemed like folk metal just disappeared. I’m sure there were still tons of bands doing the folk metal thing that whole time, but the fad had faded from the average metal fans repertoire, for sure. Metsatoll hails from the Baltic state of Estonia and that region’s take on traditional folk music is the basic building block of the unique brand of folk metal that this band dishes out. Apparently, they have been around since 1999 but I must admit that this is the first I have heard of them. They seemed to have missed out on the most recent flowering of the folk metal fad and flew under my radar. This is unfortunate because this stuff is pretty damn good. There is just something about those traditional folk melodies that just seem to get under my skin and speak to me in a very atavistic and archetypal way. They use tons of traditional instruments, some I’ve never even heard of like the torupill, kannel, angipill, and (my favorite – for obvious reasons) the stink drum. All of the vocals are done in the band’s native tongue and every band member partakes of the vocal duties, which makes for some really cool choruses, chants, and call and response vocal parts. The way these dudes roll their r’s is cool as hell to hear and makes me damn near giggle every time they do it, and I mean that in the best way possible. All of this gives the whole affair that genuine air of authenticity that any good folk metal band has to have in order to be taken seriously at all. These guys don’t just know how to fiddle and jig, if you will, they also know how to rock and rock hard. The guitars have an early Swedish death metal (ala Entombed or Dismember) vibe going on and guitarist Markus certainly keeps the metal flag flying just as high as the folk one throughout this record. The songwriting is top notch and the Markus’ riffing is creative and articulate all while staying true to the underlying folk feel. The band manages to keep things upbeat, in your face, and catchy as hell at all times and the music constantly demands attention, which is tough in a genre where sometimes all the songs start to sound the same. Despite not knowing what the hell these guys are singing about, I find myself pumping my fist in the air and singing along after a few listens of this thing. If you somehow have found yourself, like me, missing your regular dose of folk metal then you should certainly seek this one out. I, for one, think I have found my new favorite folk metal band. Move over Finntroll.

Castle – Under Siege (Prosthetic Records)

I first got wind of San Francisco’s Castle with their sophomore release, 2012’s Blacklands. At that time I remember not being too impressed with this bands attempt to join in the plethora of other “retro” metal acts. Despite the novelty of a female vocalist singing in a classic metal style, Blacklands came across as a tad boring and uninspired to me. I also remember not being too much of a fan of the vocals; they just seemed to always be slightly off key. So, let’s just say I wasn’t all that excited when I got this one in for review, but I was willing to give it a listen. And, I must say, as much as I was expecting this to bore the shit and quite possibly annoy the hell out of me, I have to admit that this is pretty damn good. It’s not slap your mama good, but pretty damn good nonetheless. The band seemed to have fixed everything that I found wrong with Blacklands. The songwriting is better, the riffing is better, there are some killer dual guitar bits going on at times and, thankfully, the vocals are way better. Vocalist Liz Blackwell not only manages to stay in key, but she comes across like Pat Benatar’s evil twin sister that decided to sing for a metal band. For whatever reason, the band sounds like an authentic classic metal band and not just a band trying to sound “retro”. They’re like a cross between Judas Priest, pre-Dickenson era Iron Maiden, Mercyful Fate, Rainbow, Motorhead, and I even hear some old school Scorpions and maybe even a little U.F.O. in there as well. The album starts off strong with “Distant Attack”, but really begins to pick up steam on track three, “A Killing Pace”, and track four, “Pyramid Lake”. The latter has a really cool Mercyful Fate inspired main riff and is just evil as hell sounding. “Powersigns” features some excellent dual and harmony guitar parts, a badass proggy part in the middle, and a soaring vocal performance from Blackwell. “Labyrinth of Death” begins like a suave mid-paced rocker and sees the band flexing some blues rock muscles before launching into a total Maiden meets Black Sabbath section that they ride to the end like the Four Horsemen of the Apocalypse. “Temple of the Lost” brings back some of that Mercyful Fate vibe on the guitars in the intro before launching into a hard driving classic metal number that seems to get heavier and heavier with each passing minute and features a particularly haunting vocal melody. The album closes with “Evil Ways”, which almost sounds like it was lifted off of the first Iron Maiden record, when that band had a more straight-up rock edge than on their later work. Just replace Blackwell’s vocals with a little Paul Di’Anno and you’d never know the difference, and this is a good thing. My one complaint on this album is the production. I get that they’re trying to sound authentic, but the whole thing sounds a big squished, for lack of a better word, and has a sort of distant sound to it like you’re listening to it through a muffle or something. This music could greatly benefit from a true modern sounding production that brings out every little nuance of the performances. If they could just fix that one thing and keep raising the bar on their songwriting and performance, their next one may just well be one the one that puts this band firmly on the map. And when that one comes across my desk for review, I won’t be nearly as hesitant to hit play as I was initially on this one.

Marty Friedman – Inferno (Prosthetic Records)

Holy shit, Marty Friedman is back with a vengeance! The guitarist who is best known for his landmark work with Megadeth (his playing on Rust in Peace is one of the single greatest metal performances ever put to tape) as well as with Cacophony, his shred duo with Jason Becker, has spent the last 15 years in Japan where he has become somewhat of a legendary figure, releasing a string of solo records and even hosting his own TV show. His solo work over that span saw him veering away from his metal roots somewhat and incorporating a new fascination with Japanese pop into his music. While some of that stuff was pretty good, it in no way matched the intensity or the quality of his work with Cacophony, Megadeth, or his pre-Japanese era solo record Dragon’s Kiss, which has left many of his fans Stateside a bit disappointed. Well, be disappointed no more, folks, because Marty has now made an album that seeks to settle the score once and for all. Inferno is the album that fans have been waiting for ever since he left Megadeth in 1999. Intense, over-the-top, heavy as fuck, finger-busting – this is Friedman’s magnum opus and the album by which has firmly cemented his place among the guitar pantheon alongside such illustrious names as Steve Vai, Joe Satriani, and Eric Johnson. His playing on this album is invigorating, exciting, technically dazzling, powerful, and absolutely jaw-dropping. Like Vai’s Passion and Warfare or Satch’s Surfing with the Alien, Friedman’s Inferno is the new benchmark by which all future instrumental rock/metal guitar records will be judged. It is that damn good. Marty shows that he certainly hasn’t been asleep at the wheel during his 15 years in Japan and has kept up with emerging trends in metal as he combines his thrash and shred roots with more modern metal touches, even bringing in some djent elements on occasion and out djenting the djentlemen. He brings in some help on quite a few tracks, teaming up with such varied artists as acoustic flamenco/metal duo Rodrigo y Gabriella for the track “Wicked Panacea”, Indian prog virtuoso Keshav Dhar on “Stereohead”, Norwegian blackjazz saxophonist Jorgen Munkby from the Shining on “Meathook” (perhaps the most amazing track on the whole record – hearing Marty and Jorgen trade solos on this whacked out track is worth the price of admission alone), death metal guitar wizard David Davidson from Revocation on “Sociopath”, and Alexi Laiho from Children of Bodom on “Lycanthrope” (which actually sounds like an outtake from a Children of Bodom session). He does bring in a vocalist for a couple of tracks, “I Can’t Relax” and the aforementioned “Lycanthrope” which feature Danko Jones. Although Jones does well, particularly on “Lycanthrope”, “I Can’t Relax”, in particular, sounds a bit out of place from the rest of the record and actually detracts from the whole. Other than that one little slip, the rest of the album is an all instrumental guitar tour de force of truly epic proportions. It’s one guitargasm after another and Marty plays like a man possessed as it seems he crams every single amazing lick and crafty run he has ever come up with on this one single album. By the time it gets to the end, the listener’s brain is already completely melted but Marty leaves one more trick up his sleeve. “Horrors” is co-written by Marty’s former partner in crime Jason Becker, who is almost completely incapacitated with Lou Gehrig’s Disease but is still able to write music using a special computer program. This track stands up to anything the two wrote together in the Cacophony days and its intricate, classically inspired arrangement and orchestration is truly breathtaking and Marty’s playing is absolutely astounding. Inferno is the album that Marty Friedman fans on both sides of the pond have been waiting almost two decades for and if you are a Friedman aficionado, or just a fan of amazing guitar music, then you MUST get this record. Marty is back to take his crown as the reigning metal guitar god back and show all these new youngbloods on the scene exactly how it’s done.

From Below – No Gods, No Monsters (

From Below hail from the NY/NJ area and No Gods, No Monsters is their debut record. Its part lo-fi, riff heavy, dirty, punk inspired rock n’ roll and part off-kilter Sonic Youth inspired artsy whackiness. At its best there’s the rawness of Iggy and the Stooges, the snottiness of the Sex Pistols, the quirkiness of Television, and a bit of the catchiness of the Buzzcocks all rolled into one. The band shines the most when they let it all hang out on tracks like “Carnivore” and the blistering “Blood Money”. Then they get a bit weird and artsy on a few tracks, notably “Stay”, the 10 minute atmospheric noise fest of “The Violence in the Silence”, and the meandering album closer “Psychoacoustics”. They should certainly stick with the more rockin’ stuff as their more artsy moments tend to fall flat overall and consistently had me reaching for the skip button. The biggest hurdle to overcome while listening to this record is the vocals of Cero Cartera whose vocal stylings are an acquired taste, at best. He has a bit of that off-key, snotty, Johnny Rotten vibe going on and at times it gets to be just a bit much, especially when he veers into the higher registers. Maybe it’s something you can get used to, kinda like Robert Smith from the Cure, but upon first listen it’s sort of like nails on a chalkboard. It works OK for the more up-tempo rock stuff, but gets especially annoying on the artsy, atmospheric stuff. It’s like this band has a split personality and they’re not quite sure if they want to be a punk rock band or an artsy indie band. I much prefer the punk stuff, especially the aforementioned “Blood Money” which is the shortest cut on the album at only 1:59, but its gut wrenching intensity almost makes sitting through the artsy stuff worth it. If these guys can make a whole record that captures the magic of that one track then they may just be onto something.

Spell – The Full Moon Sessions (Hard and Heavy Records)

Full Moon Sessions is the debut longplayer from Canadian NWOBHM retro-metalheads Spell. I can say one thing, the album definitely sounds like it was recorded in the late 70’s, the heyday of NWOBHM bands like Maiden, Priest, Saxon, Diamond Head, etc. While the lo-fi, analog sound certainly adds to the nostalgia value of the record, it doesn’t cover up the fact that these guys sound like a second rate NWOBHM cover band. If you’re gonna pull of any sort of “retro” genre you better be damn good at it. While Spell is adequate to the task, they are certainly not damn good at it. Cam Mesmer’s vocals, in particular, really bring this whole thing down. When he tries to sing he can’t stay in key, and when he tries to scream and wail like Rob Halford he just sounds pathetic. It just comes across as farcical and totally insincere, like they are mocking the genre instead of paying tribute to it. Lead guitarist Graham McGee is solid on the rhythm and lays down a few pretty good riffs (notably “Possessed by Heavy Metal” and “Shocker”), his leads sound like a 2nd year guitar student making his first attempts to solo over pre-recorded backing tracks; rushed, mistimed, sloppy, and meandering. There are brief moments of promise here and there and the aforementioned “Possessed by Heavy Metal” is a well written and constructed traditional heavy metal song, but overall this one just falls flat on its face.

Schammasch – Contradiction (Prosthetic Records)

Contradiction is the sophomore release from Swiss avant-garde black metallers Schammasch, and as a double album clocking in at almost 90 minutes it is an epic, monstrous beast of a record. The album was produced by ex-Celtic Frost, current Tryptikon guitarist V. Santura and you can certainly hear that influence all over this album, particularly the last Celtic Frost release Monotheist. If you dug the moody, swirling, slithering, abysmal echo of that album then you will totally get exactly where this album is coming from. These guys certainly are not a Celtic Frost clone, however, make no mistake about it. Schammasch takes the mood and sentiment of Celtic Frost and Tryptikon to the next level and their sophisticated arrangements, orchestrations, and superb execution stand head and shoulders above that of their most direct influence. This is a mystical, mythical, cathartic album that is a journey through a universe of endless voids of darkness, despair, and swirling chaos. Contradictions is one of those albums that bears repeated listens to fully reveal itself, particularly in the mesmerizing guitarwork as the two guitarists constantly weave rich sonic tapestries of expertly crafted point and counterpoint that one can very easily get lost within. This is an album that must not merely be listened to, but experienced. Though each track can certainly stand on its own merit; only by taking it as a whole unified piece of art can one truly appreciate the rapturous and darkly majestic splendor that is contained herein. It’s like a long lost sonic grimoire of evil enchantments and black rituals to summon forgotten demons and usher in the apocalypse. Lush and creepy atmospherics, lurching funeral dirges, haunting acoustic passages, furious blasts of chaotic blackness, coiling tendrils of malice and melancholy, serpentine melody and venomous countermelody, and epic Wagnerian grandeur are all skillfully combined to create a masterwork of an album that stands toe to toe with the most creative and forward thinking groups of the black metal genre. I can easily see this album ending up on quite a few top 10 lists of 2014. If you are a fan of the more sophisticated black metal stylings of such groups as Enslaved, Wolves in the Throne Room, Agolloch, Alcest, and their ilk then you owe it to yourself to check out this record.

Forest of Tygers – Bruises (Acteon/Primitive Violence)

Bruises is the debut EP from Nashville, TN duo Forest of Tygers. The band consists of the husband and wife team of Jim and Rachel Valosik who unleash 4 tracks of blackened hardcore/metal that is primitive yet progressive all at the same time. Husband Jim handles guitar and vocal duties while wife Rachel ably pounds the skins behind him. Imagine Converge crossed with Darkthrone and you’ll have a pretty good idea of what this stuff sounds like. Overall it’s not bad, but I’m not really hearing anything that really stands above the pack here. The best parts are when Jim gets a bit noodly on the guitar to break up the monotony and give the music a slight progressive bent. They would certainly be better served with a bass player on board. I’ve never really been a fan of the guitar/drums duo format as there is just so much sonic territory left unfulfilled when the only melodic and harmonic components are just one guitar, especially for any “metal” band. The recording is fairly lo-fi, adding to the blackened aura but only further detracting from the overall impact of the music, especially with the lack of bass or any additional instruments. If you’re already into this sort of blackened/hardcore stuff like Tombs or Trap Them then you may dig this stuff, otherwise you may want to pass on this one.

Eyes of Mara – Akkadia (Imminence Records)

Eyes of Mara is a new “deathcore” band hailing from California’s East bay region and Akkadia is their debut EP. They sound pretty much like every other “deathcore” band out there right now. Double bass riff, gallop riff, big breakdown, melodic singing part, throw in a techno sound effect for good measure, and then more breakdowns. Rinse and repeat ad infinitum. Don’t get me wrong, the EP is well produced and well performed, but so is all of this type of stuff. These days you can’t tell if what you are hearing is the result of the band themselves or just a good producer/engineer who knows his way around a Pro-Tools rig. “Deathcore” has quickly become just another cookie-cutter sub-genre of metal full of interchangeable bands that only the most discerning listener can even remotely tell apart. A few bands, like Whitechapel and Acacia Strain, have managed to make this sub-genre work while others, like Job for a Cowboy, have their roots in the genre but matured into a more straight-up death metal direction. Eyes of Mara are still a bunch of young cats and they do show some promise here, especially on track four “Nothing Left” with is creative riffing, so maybe there’s hope they will still find their own voice and bring something unique to the table on future releases, but right now they’re just another needle in the haystack.

Eyehategod – S/T (Housecore Records)

After more than a decade long absence, N’awlins sludge/doom pioneers Eyehategod return with a new record and a new lease on life. The band has been around since 1988 and early records like In the Name of Suffering, Take As Needed for Pain, and Dopesick helped to invent the entire sludge metal genre and gave birth to the NOLA metal scene that would also spawn acts like Crowbar, Soilent Green, Acid Bath, Goatwhore, Down, and Superjoint Ritual. Calling this band “legendary” almost seems not quite good enough to describe their profound impact on the underground metal scene of the 90’s and beyond. The band’s last album of new material was all the way back in 2000 and since then guitarist Jimmy Bower has spent most of his time behind the drumkit with Down which basically left Eyehategod in the lurch for over a decade. The rest of the band released some material under the Outlaw Order moniker and vocalist Mike Williams spent some time with Down/Pantera frontman Phil Anselmo in the punk/hardcore project Arson Anthem, but other than some previously unreleased material on the 2005 compilation album Confederacy of Ruined Lives, Eyehategod had all but faded into nostalgia. Their reputation has always been one of hedonistic excess and drug fueled debauchery which has always come across in their music, so it seems very fitting that their first album in 15 years, and the first since all the members of the band have kicked their various bad habits, is a self-titled record as this truly is a fresh start for the band. This is the most coherent, cohesive, and fully realized album that the band has ever done. Maybe it’s the clarity of mind and purpose that comes with kicking hard drugs, maybe it’s the many years Bower has spent with Down and the lessons learned from that experience, maybe it’s just the wisdom of a age but, whatever it is, Eyehategod have created their single greatest musical achievement in a career already at near mythical status. Don’t get me wrong, everything you love about Eyehategod is still here; the scuzzy and bluesy riffs, the drag-you-through-the swamp grooves, the punk nihilism, the tortured vocals, the droning and wailing feedback, and the boot-to-the-gut heaviness. Everything is just turned up a notch and done so much better than before. The riffs are bigger, the tunes are better thought out and constructed, the tempos are more varied, and the overall vision is more clearly defined. There’s enough simply badass riffs among these 11 tracks to fill the Superdome and there are moments here where the band almost echoes Jimmy Bower’s other short lived side project, The Mystical Krewe of Clearlight, with some intricate, almost prog-like arrangements. Just check out the convoluted riffs and sick harmonized guitar runs of track 6 “Worthless Rescue” for an idea of what I’m talking about here. Yet, even at their most carefully arranged moments the music still oozes the low down, grit and grime the band has become infamous for. From the opening riffs of the very punk/hardcore inspired rager “Agitation! Propaganda!” to the closing refrains of the feedback drenched sludgefest “The Age of Bootcamp”, Eyehategod firmly solidify their legendary status on this album with nary a dud to be found in the lot. The band did suffer a tragedy shortly after the recording of this record with the death of longtime drummer Joey LaCaze due to lung failure so this album also stands as Lacaze’s final recorded work and he certainly went out with a bang with probably his single greatest drum performance ever. The band has since recruited Aaron Hill to replace LaCaze on the skins so, fear not, Eyehategod will continue and the band plans to tour extensively behind this album. This is the album that Eyehategod fans have always been waiting for and it encapsulates everything that makes this band great. If you weren’t a fan before, you still need to give this record a chance as it just may make you change your tune.

Hour of Penance – Regicide (Prosthetic Records)

Regicide is the 6th full length album from Italian death metal powerhouse Hour of Penance and their second for American label Prosthetic Records. Their first four albums didn’t get much exposure here in the States and it wasn’t until 2012’s Sedition that the band began to make waves on this side of the pond. I was first introduced to the band with that record myself and was impressed with their intensity and precision. The band fits right in with the new wave of modern death metal bands like Black Dahlia Murder, Job for a Cowboy, and Psycroptic and Regicide picks right up where Sedition left off. Hour of Penance are everything you would want in a death metal band; unrelentingly savage, earth shatteringly heavy, punishingly brutal, and technically precise. These guys don’t let up for one second of this album and track after track they unleash utter audio hell on the listener. If you don’t whip your head around and throw the horns while listening to this then you can’t call yourself a death metal fan. The recording quality is absolutely pristine and every instrument is clearly defined in the mix which greatly enhances the impact and lets the listener truly appreciate every little nuance of the music, which is so extremely important when you’re dealing with this type of death metal. There is so much going on at such a fast pace that even a slightly muddy mix can really ruin the whole thing. As with most death metal albums these days, Regicide begins with an intro track “Through the Triumphal Arch” before launching into the ripping “Forging the Crowns”. The album steadily builds steam and culminates in the absolutely vicious and sinister blasting attack of “Redeemer of Atrocity” and “The Sun Worship”, the two most standout cuts on an album full of killer tunes. By the time you get to the final cut, the masterful “Theogony”, the level of intensity has reached critical mass and the listener is left nearly overwhelmed with death metal might and majesty. This is about as close to a perfect modern death metal record as you can get. They’re not breaking any new ground and they’re not gonna amaze you with over the top technicality, but Hour of Penance have damn near perfected the recipe for modern death metal and this record helps to set the bar by which future death metal will be judged.

Bloody Hammers – Under Satan’s Sun (Napalm Records)

Bloody Hammers is the 70’s inspired gothic rock/metal band from longtime goth rock/darkwave artist Anders Magna, who has released 7 albums under his own name and this is the 4th under the Bloody Hammers moniker. Not being much of a goth rock fan (though I do have a secret affinity for the Cure – shhh, don’t tell anybody), I had never heard of Anders before receiving this album for review. Honestly, I am not all that impressed. Anders’ vocals sound like what Peter Steele would maybe sound like after a big lungful of helium, or a slightly less tortured Marilyn Manson. He sounds like he’s straining way to hard and it seems like he’s always just slightly off key. Musically, it’s pretty pedestrian stuff. Slow to mid-tempo plodding riffs performed very stiffly predominate with a fuzzed out 70’s tone on the guitars and a bit of organ thrown in here and there just for that extra air of pseudo-authenticity. There are a few moments where everything seems to almost come together with some creative riffing and cinematic overtures like on “The Second Coming” and the doomy closing track “Necromancer”, but these moments are overshadowed by the rest of the album which is just…well, boring. Oh well, at least the album art is pretty cool.

Space Raft – S/T (Dusty Medical/Bachelor Records)

I had real high hopes for this one. First the name; Space Raft. A name like that conjures images of high minded 70’s era progressive blowouts ala Pink Floyd, Hawkwind, Rush, or Yes. What we get is none of that at all. Basically, Space Raft is an alt rock combo that mixes the jingle-jangle of the early 90’s Athen’s Ga scene ala R.E.M. and with just a dash of the Canterbury prog rock scene of the 70’s ala Caravan. It’s pretty forgettable stuff, I must say. It’s all well done, for what it is, but it just seems… well, lacking. Humdrum songwriting, humdrum performance. It’s just boring, and that’s worse than being bad. At least if it’s bad it’s noticeable.

Psycho Merchants – S/T (self released)

This band is the brainchild of Kevin Hupp and Rick Tedesco. Hupp has played drums with such illustrious names as Iggy Pop, Rick Derringer, Edgar Winter, and Joan Osbourne and Tedesco has played guitar with Alice Cooper and Ian Hunter. Those are impressive resumes, but as it is in most cases where a sideman has tried to step out into the spotlight, this album just falls flat. It’s 2nd rate bar rock at best. Hupp takes on lead vocal along with his drum duties and while is voice is not bad, it just doesn’t seem to have much life or vibrancy to it. It just sounds like he’s going through the motions. The music is pretty well arranged and executed, but again, it just seems like paint by numbers southern tinged bar rock. The band also makes the cardinal mistake of putting two ballads back to back right in the middle of the record (“Dashboard Jesus” and “Magdalena”) which totally sucks all the air out of the album and leaves it flopping on the floor like a dead fish. The best performance on this thing is actually from bassist Frank Gagliardi who almost rescues a few of these tunes with some nimble and crafty bass lines. I’m sure all of this stuff comes across way better live than it does on record and I would probably enjoy them if I was about a six pack deep in some dive bar somewhere and I might even buy the CD at the end of the show, if I was drunk enough. Then I would probably listen to the CD once and never do so again.

Keep Me Alive – Bear Attack (Got You on My List Records)

Keep Me Alive is a bunch of German kids trying really hard to play American style metalcore, and sadly, failing miserably. The band executes these tunes fairly ably but there’s not an original riff in the bunch and the whole thing comes across as amateurish and juvenile. Breakdown, gallop riff, thrash part, gang vocals, breakdown, gallop riff, hardcore chug part, melodic interlude, breakdown. Rinse, repeat. At least they don’t try to do any clean singing, I will give them that. And some of these lyrics are just completely asinine. I knew I was in trouble when a quarter of the way through track one there’s a gang shout of “Oh Snap!”. SMH. And then there’s tracks like “Without Beer, Without me” which is about trashing someone’s house at a party. Maybe I would have loved this shit when I was 14, and I’m sure these guys are all the rage at all ages venues in Germany, but I just don’t get it. Maybe I’m old. That must be it. If you’re under the age of 16, you’ll think this shit is the bomb, yo. If you actually have hair on your balls, steer clear of this one.

Before I launch into this month’s reviews, I just would like to dedicate this installment of More Metal to Dave Brockie, aka Oderus Urungus of GWAR who recently passed away. As some of you may know (or at least, I hope some of you know, LOL) I had a chance to interview Dave for this very website when the band released its most recent album not too many months ago, and I am honored to have been one of the last people to ever get the chance to do so. I had met Dave a few times over the years previously and he was always super kind and gracious and just an all-around cool dude. His impact on the metal scene as the leader of the genre’s most over the top and certainly most entertaining band cannot be underestimated, and his loss to the metal community is staggering. There was never another like him before, and I doubt there ever will be again. RIP, Dave. You will certainly be missed.

Also – I need to issue a correction on one of my earlier reviews. When I reviewed the newest Carcass album several months back, I was under the mistaken impression that guitarist Michael Amott was again apart of the band. Turns out I was wrong as wrong can be. Due to his commitments with Arch Enemy, he was unable to rejoin his ex-bandmates and all guitar duties were handled by Bill Steer, which actually makes the album all the more impressive. If you still haven’t checked out Surgical Steel, then you owe it to yourself to do so. There is a reason it ended up on just about every metal scribe’s top 10 list of 2013.

And now… back to your regularly scheduled broadcast…..

So Hideous – Last Poem / First Light (Prosthetic Records)

Don’t let the fact that this group hails from Brooklyn, NY fool you; this is not some pseudo-retro-art-school-garage-rock schlock. These guys are out there…. Way out there. Take one part old-school Scandinavian black metal, one part Philip Glass style classical, one part Italian horror flick composers Goblin, and one-part My Bloody Valentine at their most spaced-out and you may begin to get a sense of what this music is like. They partner with the NY based choral/instrumental ensemble New Light Orchestra to add that authentic classical vibe; no synths or keyboards here. They combine black metal and classical in a completely new way that is a far cry from the sometimes pompous, over the top way used by “symphonic” black metal bands like Dimmu Borgir. No, this is something completely different and unique. So Hideous’ brand of black metal is not the super polished and refined kind, but rather more chaotic and ambient type of bands like Wolves in the Throne Room or early Ulver. This very raw take on black metal, when coupled with the orchestral arrangements from The First Light Orchestra and their obvious penchant for 90’s shoegaze bands, yields something that is disturbingly ugly yet hauntingly beautiful at the same time. This is a totally surreal listening experience and it’s certainly not for the faint of heart. It actually reminds me a lot of the Shining, except without the saxophone and jazz elements. The recording really captures the cavernous, reverb drenched vibe that is a hallmark of lo-fi black metal and it only goes to highlight and accent the overall tone and feel of the music. One moment the band can haunt you with a creepy melody only to explode into a dizzying, whirling, swarming organized cacophony that is texturally rich, melodically interesting, and psychologically disturbing. Surely, this is truly what Hell’s orchestra would sound like. At only six tracks, I don’t know if I would call this a full album; more like an e.p., but nevertheless this is a really amazing first showing from a group that’s testing the boundaries of what metal is or should be.

Mothers – Panamanian Times (Mama Coco’s Funky Kitchen)

Here’s another strange group out of Brooklyn this month, though this time in the completely opposite direction from the previously reviewed So Hideous. I guess Mothers can best be described as a “post-punk” band, but that description doesn’t really do it justice. It’s like the Dead Kennedys meets the White Album- era Beatles meets Sonic Youth meets Public Image, Ltd. Sound weird enough for you? It’s punky, it’s noisy, it’s arty, it’s snide, it’s quirky, it’s high-brow stuff delivered with low-brow sensibilities. Vocalist Ben Mollin lays it on thick with his faux-Johnny Rotten British accent, and it works quite well. In fact, with the inherent tongue-in-cheek vibe I get from this stuff, it wouldn’t sound right any other way. If the Monty Python troupe listened to Sonic Youth and liked the Buzzcocks, then they would probably sound a lot like Mothers. The bass tends to drive the songs for the most part with the guitars providing bursts of noise, sound effects, jarring and angular riffs, ambient textures, with only sporadic snippets of what could be deemed “normal” guitar work. This is certainly not easy listening stuff, but if you’re in the mood for something arty, wild, and different then Mothers might just be what the doctor ordered.

Prong – Ruining Lives (Long Branch/SPV Records)

Tommy Victor is back once again at the helm of the infamous hardcore/industrial/metal pioneers Prong for their 9th studio album since Victor formed the band in NYC way back in 1986. Truth be told, he never really left; but he did spend much of the last decade lending his services to Danzig and Ministry and only managed to squeeze out two Prong records in the first decade of the 21st century. From out their more hardcore punk roots, Victor and Prong became one of the first bands to fuse industrial/electronic music and metal, most notably on their seminal 1994 release Cleansing, and helped to launch the whole industrial metal subgenre. Prong circa 2014 seems to have, more or less, embraced their more metal side, leaving the industrial elements well in the background. They’re there, but it’s so downplayed as to be almost negligible. All in all, it’s somewhat of a mixed bag, but thankfully way more good than bad. When they lean the hardest on their more thrash/hardcore roots they do really shine. On tracks like “The Barrier”, with its evil sounding martial groove, the title cut “Ruining Lives” and “The Book of Change”, with their uber-thrashy almost Slayer-esque vibe, the neck snapping riff fest of “Come to Realize”, and the galloping groove of “Chamber of Thought”, Prong proves that they can still lay down some serious riffage and killer grooves with the best of ‘em. When the band goes in a more, day I say, “commercial” direction with more melodic, big chorus, disco beat songs like “Windows Shut”, “Remove, Separate Self” and “Absence of Light” they seem to fall a bit flat. These tunes do actually have a few really great riffs between them, but it’s a big letdown when a really killer riff leads into a mundane chorus part. Partly it’s Victor’s voice; he has always sounded better when he’s in full on angst mode, as opposed to when he actually sings, and there is a lot of singing on this record. It’s not that his singing voice is bad, per se, the music just seems to lose some of its thrust when he goes overboard into crooning mode. Occasionally, as in songs like opener “Turnover” and closer “Limitations and Validations”, the band does marry the metal and the big melodic choruses effectively without sounding forced or trite and if they could have managed this throughout the whole record then it would be an overall great album. As it is, it’s a really good album that has a handful of “hit the skip button” moments. While this album will never be hailed as a classic like some of their early material, it is a welcome addition to the Prong discography and will certainly provide quite a few killer mosh pit moments at future shows.

Animals As Leaders – The Joy of Motion (Sumerian Records)

Tosin Abasi is the reigning arch-wizard of the guitar. No question about it. This guy is taking the guitar to new heights and I predict will go down in history along with guys like Jimi Hendrix and Eddie Van Halen as one who completely changed the instrument forever. The Joy of Motion is the 3rd album from Abasi’s instrumental tech jazz/space/electro/rock/metal outfit, Animals as Leaders, starring Tosin and fellow Leaders Javier Reyes on 2nd guitar and newest addition Matt Garstka of the skins. No bass player here folks, as Tosin and Javier both use 8 string guitars whose range pretty much negates the need for a bass player. The album previous to this one, Weightless, was criticized by some as being a bit of watered down rehash of their debut (which is very ironic considering that if Weightless was their first album it would have been hailed as a masterpiece, I’m sure), and it appears that Tosin & Co. set out to dispel those demons right from the start on the Joy of Motion. Whereas both the debut self-titled record and it’s follow up were firmly rooted in the technical metal/djent movement they helped to create, The Joy of Motion downplays this connection while still keeping one foot in that universe. I hear much more of a jazzy, progressive fusion vibe on this new record that will either piss off their older, more metal oriented fans, gain them newer, less metal oriented fans, or both. Don’t get me wrong, there is still plenty of off-kilter, odd-time, chugging rhythms and fleet fingered fretwork, but overall this aspect is less prevalent than on their previous work and a greater emphasis is placed on forging a slightly different path that is a cross-pollination of their djent/tech metal origins and a jazz-fusion and progressive rock vibe. The first track “Ka$cade” isn’t much different than some of the stuff on their first two records, but track two, “Lippincott”, is where things start to appear a bit different. By track three, “Air Chrysalis”, the jazz-fusion vibe is in full effect. Clean-toned, polyrhythmic notes and chords bounce off each other like ping-pong balls and Abasi lays down some decidedly understated yet melodically gorgeous lead lines. The harmonic atmosphere they create with their unique “out” note choices is expansive and truly unique. The last minute or so of the track sees the band powering it up a bit with an epic chord progression and some more of Abasi’s impeccable leads. “Another Year” is almost nu-bop in its approach. It starts with a funky, finger picked, jazzy chord pattern from Abasi that wouldn’t be out of place on a John Scofield album. By halfway through the band shifts gears into a djent-y pattern with Tosin laying his jazz/funk patterns on top and some sweet Fender Rhodes-esque keyboard parts that just sends this thing full on into the stratosphere. “Physical Education” is like a cross between the jazz fusion vibe of track three, the nu-bop vibe of track four, still with those djent underpinnings that keep this thing from becoming just a straight up jazz record. This cut sees the first (but certainly not the only) appearance of Abasi’s “slap-guitar” stylings and the funky interplay between the drums and the guitars are ingenious. The next track, “Tooth and Claw”, sees the band bringing the metal back with some truly twisted riffing and Abasi, for the first time on the album, really letting all hang out with his lead lines. The band does break down in the middle for a clean-toned, proggy workout before finishing off back where they started. “Crescent” starts with some electronica sounding synth work before almost immediately going into these funky, metallic polyrhythms featuring some more “slap-guitar” workouts. A few minutes in it breaks down into some spaced out, swirling, clean arpeggios before blasting back off into this kaleidoscopic, polyrhythmic universe that you almost need a secret decoder ring to decipher. It’s truly breathtaking. “The Future That Awaited Me” begins with a kinda classical sounding guitar pattern and navigates through a labyrinth of melodic movements. Abasi’s solo in the middle is tasteful, elegant, and refined. The whole album Abasi seems to lay back a bit with his leads while still being able to amaze with his stunning note choices, gorgeous phrasing, and superb taste. It’s like he doesn’t need to prove how good he is anymore and is making music for the sake of music and not for the sake of impressing anyone with his technical mastery. Track nine, “Para Mexer”, is where the band goes as far out from what you would expect from them. Abasi plays the whole song on an acoustic and it basically sounds like what you would expect them to if they were an acoustic band, but it’s so thoroughly unexpected that the surprise factor alone leaves you stunned. With this track, Animals as Leaders proves they don’t need all the fancy equipment and processors and can astound even when stripped down to their bare essentials. “The Woven Web” is next, and is aptly titled as the bubbly guitar work that opens the song is like the band is weaving a sonic spider web around the listener. Halfway through the cut we see the return of some funky slap-guitar and some more really cool rhythmic interplay. The band goes into a more proggy metal part for the guitar solo before returning to weaving the web it began at the start. “Mind-Spun” is a total mind-fuck of dizzying riffing, neck jerking rhythms and the album ends on a high note with “Nephele” which starts out as the heaviest, most metal song on the entire album only to break down a minute and half in for some Hendrix-on-crack chordal work. After another sweet solo from Abasi, the band navigates back to metal-land and finishes the record with a djent-y breakdown that fades into the nether. Though this album is certainly not as earth shattering as the band’s debut, it’s a signal that the band is heading in a newer direction and it challenges the listener to follow along or be left behind in the dust. Animals as Leaders solidify themselves with this record as the leaders of a new movement not just within metal, but in music on the whole and I, for one, am fascinated to see where it all will lead.

Conquering Dystopia – S/T (Self Released)

This album is nothing more than tech death metal fans wet dream. This band includes some of the biggest names in the death metal world; Alex Webster of Cannibal Corpse on bass, shred masters Jeff Loomis (Nevermore) and Keith Marrow on guitar, as well as Alex Rudinger from The Faceless on drums. Just reading that roll call should let you know that you are in for one hell of a ride and the band certainly does not disappoint as they unleash 12 tracks of knucklebusting, genre defying, instrumental mayhem here that is absolutely mind-boggling. Artful in construction, dizzying and meticulous in execution, mesmerizing in its complexity; Conquering Dystopia raise the bar to a whole other level with their debut release. You don’t miss the vocals for one second as the band puts on an instrumental display for the ages that puts them right up there with instrumental metal icons like Liquid Tension Experiment and Animals as Leaders. After all, does anyone really listen to the vocals in most tech/prog death metal anyway? Rarely does a vocalist actually bring much to the table and just seems to get in the way most of the time. Loomis and Marrow sound absolutely stunning together as the trade one amazing lick after another, and when they come together for harmony lines it’s like a fucking guitargasm. Though there’s enough jaw dropping guitar solos here to fill up about a dozen normal albums, this is not merely an excuse for Loomis and Marrow to jerk each other off; there’s careful attention paid to songwriting and arrangements, actual melody, and some truly killer riffs that groove, thrash, and grind with the best of ‘em. Alex Webster proves once again that he is probably the best bass player in metal, period, (as if there was any doubt after his work with Rob Jarzombek on Blotted Science) with his masterful performance on this album. Drummer Alex Rudinger may be the least well-known name here, but he certainly steps up to the plate with playing that is at times jazzy, at times brutal, and always lock-tight with the guitars and bass. This is just straight up badass shit all the way around, no two ways about it.

Magnum – Escape From the Shadow Garden (SPV Records)

Magnum is a band that has reached legendary, near iconic status on the British prog-rock scene but has received little to no attention State-side, mostly due to the fact the band has never made much of an effort to tour the US. They’ve been around since 1972 (with only a brief 5 year hiatus between 1995 and 2000), releasing their first album, Kingdom of Madness, in 1978 and Escape From the Shadow Garden is the band’s 18th(!!) studio album overall. The band’s music has always been centered around the guitar of Bob Catley and the vocals of Tony Clarkin, both of whom have been the constants in a band that has seen almost a dozen other members come and go over the years. I am only mildy familiar with the band’s previous work, but judging from what I know about them, this album is typical for the band. Though the band is considered a “prog”-rock band, I am not sure if that label truly applies. When I think of prog-rock I think bands like Rush, Yes, King Crimson; bands that display astounding instrumental prowess as well as complex and technical arrangements. Magnum really does none of that. They are more of an AOR sounding band with typical 70’s/80’s Hard Rock sensibilities and arrangements. There are occasional glimpses of some some near-proggy arrangements, but certainly not near enough to qualify them as a full-on prog-rock band. I’m sure many old school prog fans out there are probably yelling and cursing at the screen right now about how much of an ignorant dumbass I am, but it really is the truth of the matter, I hate to say. Honestly, it’s pretty boring stuff. Yawn….. next please.

The Tower – Hic Abundant Leones (Bad Omen Records)

This Swedish “bad luck boogie” quartet’s debut album, Hic Abundant Leones, is a record three quarters of a century in the making. Or, at least, that’s how the story goes. The band has created a richly detailed, mythological, alternate time stream back story about their origins and they delve deeply into some pretty esoteric, occult-themed stuff. According to the backstory, The Tower formed in 1938 in the city of Uppsala, Sweden when two Swedish brothers met a Soviet refugee who possessed a rare “blues” record from all the way back in 5300 BC. The trio formed a band and started an epic blues jam that lasted for the next 7 years. In the interim, nuclear war has ravaged the earth and by 1945 the globe was in the grip of a post-apocalyptic winter. The band retreated to their rehearsal space, known as The Tower (hence the name), where they spent the next two decades rehearsing with their only contact with outside world being a small tube driven radio. The band emerged in the 70’s for a while only to return to the Tower in 1983, where they stayed until 2012 – finally ready to bring their bloozed out, space boogie, 60’s psych meets 70’s metal jams to the world. I gotta say, I love this kind of shit. Any time a band puts enough time and effort into not only their music, but their whole image, persona, style, and story, it really makes them seem all the more special and worthwhile. That is, in my humble opinion, something sadly missing in rock n’ roll these days. Bands aren’t as surrounded by an aura of mystery, mysticism, and danger as they seemed to be in the past. The sheer glut of music available these days, thanks to Pro-Tools and the internet, is partly responsible for this as the cookie cutter, instant gratification those technologies provide just make things too damn easy. But I digress…. Que sera, sera. After a quick demo in 2012, the band sent about recording Hic Abundant Leones which they now, allegedly some 70+ years after forming, deliver unto the world. There have been quite a few bands, especially from the Scandinavian regions, such as Pentagram and, more recently, Ghost BC that have been doing something similar over the past several years. The Tower fits right into that trend yet, at the same time, they definitely have their own style and vibe going on as they lean more towards the 60’s psych rather than the 70’s hard rock/metal vibe of other “retro” metal acts. The best way I can describe this album is it’s like Jefferson Airplane meets Cream at a Black Sabbath concert where ZZ Top opened the show. There’s an almost film noir/spaghetti western/delta blues from space thing going on here that gives the music a raw, smoky, cowboy-in-an-opium den feel that really sets it apart. The more you listen to it, the more it draws you into its parallel universe and tickles your imagination just as much as it tickles your eardrums. The songs are melodically unique and interesting, leaving plenty of room for all the instruments to explore while retaining a discernable melodic structure and overall hypnotic feel. Some of the jam sections here are truly majestic as the guitar, bass, and drums all weave in and out of each other in a musical cosmic dance, but the band never lets them get out of hand and remain firmly rooted in the essence of the song itself. The production here is spot on and sounds like it comes straight out of 1969. The band retains a very classic, reverb drenched, analog sound that really lets the music breathe and adds to the overall aura of authenticity. Sadly, I was not provided with a lyric sheet so I can’t comment on the lyrics, but judging by what I could make out (one song is about Lucy in the Sky and another makes reference to Alice in Wonderland) and the fact that two of the members have penned and had published treatises on occult knowledge and magick, I think it safe to say they’re pretty far out there. This is late night bong hits by candlelight over the Ouija board stuff here. And I can dig it, man. I can dig it.

Polar – Shadowed by Vultures (Prosthetic Records)

Polar is basically a punk band with a heavy dose of metalcore influences hailing from the British Isles and Shadowed by Vultures is the band’s sophomore effort. If you are familiar with other bands of this ilk, such as Bring Me the Horizon, then you pretty much know what to expect here, and the grey and dismal shores of England have been notorious for producing bands of this sort over the last 10 years or so. Quick blasts of pent up rage consisting of basically simple punk riffs detuned and cranked to 11, coupled with bursts of jagged and unrefined metallic riffage and layered with textural/ambient/melodic elements that bubble up to the surface from time to time. Of course, there’s the occasional obligatory breakdown part but, thankfully, the band keeps those few and far between. Each song clocks in around the 3 to 4 minute mark so the band definitely likes to get in there, make their point, and get the fuck out with no time to dilly dally in between. It’s produced well, ably performed, and they certainly sound like they are totally into what they’re doing but, honestly, after the final refrains of the closing number “Our Legacy” faded from my speakers I couldn’t recall any moment of the previous 30 or so minutes where I found myself truly intrigued or drawn into the music. It just kinda went by, and that’s not a good sign. Honestly, if I didn’t already know better I might have mistaken this for a new Bring Me the Horizon album. The Hot Topic kiddies will probably be all over it as this seems to be somewhat the “rage” these days and all I can say is that at least it’s better than fucking Asking Alexandria.

BEHEMOTH – The Satanist (Metal Blade Records)

Unless you’ve been under a rock for the last few years, I’m sure you’ve heard about the plight of Behemoth’s leader and mastermind, Nergal. Diagnosed with leukemia in 2010, the band’s, and indeed Nergal’s own, future stood in question for quite some time. Formed way back in 1991 at the height of the New Wave of Scandinavian Black Metal scene, this Polish powerhouse gave the Swedes and Norwegians a run for their money with their pure necro black metal blasphemy. Never a band content to rest on their laurels, Behemoth have been on a constant path of reinvention almost from the start. By 1999’s opus, Satanica, they were venturing into more death metal territory and straying further and further from their pure black metal roots. By the time they released 2007’s The Apostasy, Behemoth had fully morphed into a death metal force to be reckoned with and had fully established themselves as one of the more respected bands on the metal scene period. 2009’s Evengelion was the culmination of that almost 20 year journey and Nergal and his bandmates seemed poised at the top of their game both creatively and commercially when the news of his cancer struck. After several years of treatment and a never-say-die attitude, Nergal has emerged on the other side of his disease like a phoenix from the ashes with a new lease on life and a new sense of purpose to once again take Behemoth to the next level. To say this album is Behemoth’s finest moment would be an understatement. This album reinvents everything while, at the same time, staying true to the past. While much of the first decade of the 21st century saw Behemoth steadily steer into more death metal realms, The Satanist sees the band reaching back into the past to delve in to the chaotic and esoteric black metal of its earlier existence and pull it kicking and screaming into the present to combine it with their later death metal tendencies as well as a whole new classical and orchestral element and a sense of hook, melody and structure that simply defies categorization. Everything about this album is simply brilliant. From the playing, to the writing, to the orchestration and arrangements, to the mix; everything comes together to create one absolutely astounding metal masterpiece that will stand as a new benchmark for the genre. The whole album flows like one unified piece of art and is best ingested in its entirety to truly appreciate the gloriously sinister grandeur that it invokes. Whether they are shredding your ears with intense blasts of blackened furor, lifting you up on the demon wings of orchestral majesty, casting you into the pits of a chaotic deathly maelstrom, soothing you into a sense of melancholy with eerie melodicism, or driving you forward with a hook laden death march; Behemoth cram enough brilliance and creativity into this one album than most bands do over their entire careers. From the opening refrains of album opener and overture “Blow Your Trumpets Gabriel” to the closing echoes of “O Father O Satan O Sun”, The Satanist stands as a testament to the creative mastery and triumphant resolve of Nergal and Behemoth. Behemoth stands at the vanguard of heavy metal, leading the pack into the next wave of a genre that refuses to stay stale. This is the future. This is Behemoth.

EtHERSENS – Your Wandering Ghost (Scarlet Records)

Your Wandering Ghost is the second full length album from French prog-avant-garde metallers EtHERSENS, and their first album in over 5 years. It’s a concept album about a tragic relationship that has a very personal element for vocalist Laurent Mora, and it shows all over this album. Musically, it comes across as a mix between bands like Katatonia, My Dying Bride, Tool, fellow Frenchmen Gojira, with maybe a little Porcupine Tree slipped in there. Opening track “Two for One Mind” is a 9 minute epic that runs the gamut of emotional peaks and valleys and is an excellent introduction to the diversity and dynamics that this band can unleash. From melancholy reflection to intense anguish to raging anger, EtHERSENS lay it all on the line from the very start. Track 2, “Same Goodbye” is a reflective ballad that more serves as a bridge between track 1 and 3 than an individual piece and at just over 5 minutes is one of the shortest cuts on the record. Track 3, “This is Where You and Part Ways” introduces a kind of alt-rock element, but don’t let that dissuade you as it’s an excellent track that is actually extremely catchy without venturing into lame radio-rock territory and retaining an overall progressive vibe with its intricate arrangements. The next track, “Living Memory” brings a bit of the metal back while keeping the previous track’s alt-rock element with a really cool, slippery riff that comes in about a minute in, an urgent, striding chorus, and a really cool bridge section that moves through several different movements. Track 5, “Mourning Light”, is another epic track, clocking in at over 8 minutes. It begins with an eerie, melancholy intro with reverb drenched arpeggios which then crashes like a wave into a crescendo before receding back into a drifting, steadily building verse section. The songs ebbs and flows in this way throughout in a very organic and natural way, inexorably building tension and intensity before fading back into the mists from whence it came. Laurent Mora’s vocals here are particularly gripping and you can literally hear the emotion dripping from his words. The next track, “Reflect” brings the metal back in full force with an intense, almost death metal like riff that really harkens to their fellow countrymen Gojira. It’s the shortest cut here, at only a little over four minutes, and it packs all the intensity and dynamic shifts of the bands longer works into one powerful punch. “Waking Disorder” is next and is probably the most prog-metal cut here. The band deftly switches between syncopated riffage and haunting cascades of plaintive guitar work which makes this song one of the album highlights. Album closer “To Live is to Forget” brings back the more alt-rock tendencies present in track 3 only to morph into an kind to doom like section followed by a tension building syncopated bridge that dives right into a soaring chorus part. The band then brings it all home with three minutes of tension and release which builds to a final climax that perfectly finishes off this excellent album. Superbly crafted, perfectly executed; Your Wandering Ghost is an album that will appeal not only to fans of progressive metal, but is catchy and melodic enough to transcend boundaries and appeal to more traditional rock and alternative listeners. Not everyone will get it, but those that do are in for a real treat. Definitely worth your time to check out.

PRO-PAIN – The Final Revolution (Steamhammer/SPV)

You know, I really wasn’t expecting to like this at all. These New York hardcore/metal legends came stomping onto the national scene in the early 90’s with their landmark album Foul Taste of Freedom. They, along with Biohazard, really brought the NYHC meets death metal sound to national attention and I remember as a kid completely wearing out my copy of that album on cassette until my boom box finally ate it. After that, I lost track of them for the most part but the band still continued to stay together in one form or another, always centered around vocalist/bassist Gary Meskil, and put out record after record. I reviewed a couple of their albums for other publications through the years and I remember not being too impressed by what I heard and not much else other than that, which is why I was almost reluctant to throw this one in the player for the first time. Well, paint my toenails and call me Shirley if this album doesn’t just absolutely kill it. The energy and intensity that exudes from this record sounds like a young band anxious to prove their mettle (or metal, if you will) and not a bunch of grizzled veterans whose heyday is long gone. Back is that classic NYHC style groove tempered with just the right dose of two-step and circle pit breakdowns (the REAL circle pit, not that kung-fu shit these kids do these days) as well as plenty of all out neck snapping thrash mania. It’s like Agnostic Front meets Slayer; all machismo and aggression, with a constant feeling like it’s all about to veer completely out of control at any instant, yet the band is lock-step tight at every turn. Gary Meskil’s bark is as virulent and venomous as ever, the riffs constantly beat you senseless, and lead guitarist Adam Phillips lays down one blistering solo after another. Phillips really sends each song over the top with his well-thought-out, tasteful yet intense lead work. This album is just chock full of just flat out really fucking good riffs that no red blooded American metal fan can possibly fail to appreciate. All the songs clock in at around the 3 minute or so mark, each one like sneak attack punch to the gut as the band wastes no time in getting in there, kicking some ass, and getting the fuck out before you even know what hit you. Every single track is a well-crafted nugget of high quality, foot stomping, fist pumping, headbanging glory and there’s not an artsy-fartsy interlude or whiny ass ballad anywhere within striking distance. This is certainly nothing new under the sun, it won’t win any Album of the Year awards and the hipsters will hate it, but this is one helluva kick ass album. Welcome back, Pro-Pain. Well fucking done. Keep putting records out just like this and everything will be A-OK.

VANSIHING POINT – Distant is the Sun (AFM Records)

I must admit, I’m not really much of a fan of most prog/power-metal bands. Though most of them can mesmerize you with some pretty amazing technical ability, many of the songs end up sounding exactly the same with no real hook to grab onto and the vocalist usually just ruins the whole damn thing. Some guys got it, some don’t when it comes to the melodic, operatic style of metal vocals and some guys, while their voice is not terrible, just sound like they’re trying too damn hard and it all comes across as a big ol’ cheese fest. The best bands of this style are those that can walk that fine line between tasteful and majestic classic melodicism and progressive dazzle without falling over the edge into what is called the ‘cheese-factor’. It’s a hard road to tread and even the good ones (like Dream Theater) fall victim to this every once in a while. This whole aesthetic has always found a ready home in Europe but has, for the most part, failed to gain a wide audience here in the states. I guess what’s considered ‘cheese’ here and there are two very different things. Australia’s Vanishing Point do maintain that balance fairly well here on Distant is the Sun. While they don’t ever completely fall over the cliff into the ‘cheese’ river, they skirt the edge the entire time and at some of their more AOR oriented moments they dip their toes right in the water, especially in the middle part of this album. All the band members are quite adept at their respective instruments and they navigate some tricky changes when they venture into prog-land, but there’s not much here that really reaches out and grabs you or sets this band apart from the countless other bands trying to do this type of thing. Vocalist Silvia Massaro has an really good voice and he never tries to do more than he can actually pull off which keeps it from sounding corny, but he does fall into cliché at times and he just doesn’t have that ‘wow-factor’ that is so necessary for this sort of thing. At 14 tracks, the album is just too long and the band just doesn’t have the staying power to make you wanna sit and listen to the entire thing. It’s not bad at all, and someone who is into this style would probably find much to rave about, but this reviewer just doesn’t get it.

RIOTGOD – Driven Rise (Metalville Records/E1)

Riotgod hails from Jersey and is masterminded by drummer Bob Pantalla, known for his work with Monster Magnet and Atomic Bitchwax. Of those two, Riotgod has more in common with the former rather than the latter and if you’re into that band’s laid-back, stoned-out space rock groove then you may want to bend your ear to this. Don’t get me wrong, they are certainly not mere Monster Magnet clone. They actually kinda remind me of a cross between MM and the often quirky garage-pop/rock sensibilities of a band like Stone Temple Pilots, and, you know what? Somehow, it actually works. Vocalist Sunshine - despite the lame name (Sunshine? Fucking Sunshine? Really?) - has this voice that’s a weird mix between Ozzy, Lemmy, Halford, and Scott Weiland (maybe that’s where the STP thing comes from…) that surprises at first, and seems to change track by track, but he soon won me over. He has an ability to adjust his style and delivery to fit the song while still sounding like the same singer the whole time. The music navigates some strange waters; one moment trippy, the next moment in full tilt rock out mode. One moment jamming out like a bunch of hippies, the next moment working their way through some off time, proggy change. One moment going all Beatles on you, the next riffing like Sabbath. It’s a pretty eclectic mix, all while keeping that overall retro kind of feel without sounding like they’re trying to be retro. The recording oozes that reverb-drenched, analog sound that so characterizes the era of 60’s and 70’s hard rock and it lends to the overall loose and organic vibe. Highlights include the trippy rocker “Grenade and Pin”, the proggy-jammy “Sidewinder”, the hard rockin “Positronic”, the double dose of epic space metal that is “Davos” and “Melisandre” (yes, THAT Davos and Melisandre form the Game of Thrones series), and the very Sabbath-esque album closer “Beg For Power”. The only real dud on the record is the band’s attempt at a ballad, “You’re My Waste of Time”, that has an almost country flair. The song was certainly at least named appropriately as a waste of time is exactly what it is. Other than that, this is a strange but somehow very satisfying album that is definitely worth a listen.

ISSUES – S/T (Rise Records)

Maybe I’m getting old, but I just don’t get these kids these days. Issues represents everything I hate about the newest wave of “metalcore” bands like A Day to Remember, Of Mice and Men, Memphis May Fire, etc. This whole “pop” metalcore thing is basically just this generations’ version of 80’s hair metal. But at least those hair metal guys usually knew how to write a song. These guys can throw down some mean riffs, but just as you’re really getting into that they have to go and ruin it with this whole thing that sounds like more like N-Sync that anything else; synths, samples, J-Lo button and all. And only to make matters worse, these guys then throw some really horrible white-boy rap in there. Makes me want to fucking gag. It all just comes across as so disingenuous and cheesy; like if the Disney Channel put together a metal band. They do use a real DJ, whose deft spins and slick scratches actually add a nice element here that does set the band apart, which I actually like. During the more metal parts, the DJ plays of the guitars and the drums with these cool counterpoint and off-rhythms that would grab may attention everytime, and then the band would go back into Backstreet Boy mode which makes me want to claw my eyes out and stick them in my ears to stop the pain. This shit just sucks and 10 years from now all these kids who are eating this stuff up now will be embarrassed to admit they ever listen to this stuff. Immature music for immature people. Steer clear, for your own sake.

IRON SAVIOR – Rise of the Hero (AFM Records)

Have I already mentioned recently that I’m not really a fan of power metal? Iron Savior is more along the lines of true classic power metal (without the prog influence) than their labelmates Vanishing Point which I reviewed above, and for the most part stick to the tried and true power metal formula on Rise of the Hero; chugging verses, big over the top choruses, and noodly guitar breaks. Iron Savior features members of some of the biggest bands in the power metal scene, Kai Hansen from Gamma Ray and Thomen Stauch of Blind Guardian, and their pedigree shows in the meticulous and carefully crafted tunes here, but ultimately they just seem to fall flat and no matter how well executed it is it just all ends up sounding exactly the same. If it wasn’t for the short breaks between songs I wouldn’t even notice the tracks had changed. This band has been around, mostly as a studio project, since the mid-nineties and if you’re familiar with their previous work then you know exactly what to expect. Bands like this just all sound interchangeable to me and I honestly couldn’t tell the difference in most of them if my life depended on it. Every once in a while a riff comes up that makes my ears perk up and my head start to bob (the opening riff to track 6 “Thunder From the Mountains” being an example) but they quickly ruin it with some cheese ball chorus part that is ripped right out of the power metal by numbers handbook. Definitely not my thing, but if you’re into power metal, Iron Savior is certainly well put together and expertly performed. That’s about as good as you’re gonna get from me. It takes a very special power metal band to get my juices pumping and those bands are very few and very far between. It’s all downhill after Iron Maiden and Judas Priest anyway.

LEGION OF THE DAMNED - Ravenous Plague (Napalm Records)

Dutch thrashers Legion of the Damned have been around for quite some time now. They began back in 1994 under the moniker Occult with vocalist Rachel Heyzer and released 5 albums with that lineup. The band parted ways with Heyzer in 2004, recruited Maurice Swinkels on vocals and changed the name to Legion of the Damned. Ravenous Plague is the band’s 7th release under the new name. That’s 12 full albums and 20 years, which is quite the legacy for any band. The band has never really been promoted or distributed properly here in the States and have, as a result, slipped under the radar on these shores. I must admit, I have heard a song or two over the years from these guys, but this is the first full album which I have listened to from start to finish. The band certainly has that distinctive European thrash flair and echoes of European thrash titans like Kreator and Destruction abound here. They also have a chaotic bent that harkens strongly back to classic Slayer. Far different from the sleek, sharp and direct sound that is associated with American thrash, particularly classic Bay Area thrashers like Exodus, Testament, Death Angel and, of course, Metallica and Megadeth, this is thrash taken to the other extreme. Wild, rabid, gnarly and ugly; Legion of the Damned epitomize that raw and furiously intense sound that distinguishes European thrash from its American cousin. The album begins with a succession of raging neck snappers and really hits full stride on track 5 with the maniacal “Ravenous Abomination”. Track 6, “Doom Priest” slows things down just a notch but nevertheless delivers a face smashing stomper that should have all but the most jaded metalheads throwing the horns in the air. Other album highlights include two more mid-tempo crushers “Bury Me in a Nameless Grave” and its immediate successor “Armalite Assassin”. The band seems to shine the most when they do slow things down a bit and allow the riffs a bit of breathing room to really get under the listeners skin. If you’re a fan of European style thrash then this album from Legion of the Damned is certainly right up your alley and an excellent example of the genre.

LYKEN21 – Konceptus (Self Released)

Konceptus is album number 3 from New Jersey’s own Lyken21. This is a band who seems to be having identity issues. They’re just not sure if they want to be a power metal band or a thrash metal band. The band displays elements of both genres here and I’m sure it’s meant to come across as a modern fusion of styles, but it instead comes across as a little disjointed and at times out of place. Musically, the band is pretty solid, yet nothing really jumps out, grabs you by the throat and demands that you to take notice. The band valiantly attempts to write well thought out and structured songs, but they too often fall into cliché. This isn’t necessarily a horrible thing in the metal world if done well, but Lyken21 just can’t seem to make it work for them. Where the whole thing really falls flat is in the vocal department. A vocalist can really make or break a metal band, believe it or not. Even if the band is musically amazing, a shitty vocalist can just ruin the whole damn thing. The biggest hurdle a metal vocalist has to overcome is that no matter how over-the-top the vocals get, they must be able to sell it with conviction. That have to make the listener believe it. Lyken21’s vocalist Marton Miklos never quite gets there. Whether he’s doing a rough, thrash metal bark or a soaring power metal wail it never quite comes off as sincere and sounds like someone trying to make fun of a metal vocalist rather than someone taking it seriously. It doesn’t help he is extremely pitchy in his singing voice and it seems like it’s just not quite powerful enough to pull it off. I actually feel a little sorry for him, because it really sounds like he’s trying here. I couldn’t even get through the whole album, unfortunately. I had to turn it off after the industrial tinged, half spoken word awfulness that is track 9, “Come One Come All”, I couldn’t take it anymore. Maybe with a little more time (and some vocal lessons) he can bounce back and make me eat my words. I don’t want to write these guys completely off here as they do show a little promise here, but there is a ways to go yet before these guys can make any real waves in the metal world.

MOTHMAN – Proboscis EP (Self Released)

Well, I can certainly say one thing about this New York experimental post-hardcore trio; they are very, very interesting. This 5 song EP is chock full of twists and turns with shards of angular guitar, neo-black metal-isms, dense post-hardcore freakouts, thoughtful and melancholy interludes, and tricky math-rock intricacies that keep you constantly on your toes. It’s like early Cave In meets Don Caballero with overtones of Isis and Agalloch, and if that description doesn’t peak your interest then I don’t know what will. My only complaint, and I’m not sure if this was an intentional choice on the band’s part or not, is that the guitars at times sound like they were recoded with cardboard amps. They have this dry, hollow sound that lessens their impact just a bit. If these 5 songs are any indication of what we can expect of from Mothman, then I look forward to hearing what they have in store for a full length. They might want to think about changing the name, however, cause when I Googled “Mothman, band” I got lots of links to some hippy jam rock band of the same name. No Bueno! LOL

TRUTH CORRODED – The Saviours Slain (AFM Records)

The Saviours Slain is album number four from Australian death metal act Truth Corroded, and the first to gain worldwide distribution through German label AFM Records. The album showcases the band’s healthy mix of classic death metal, particularly Floridian acts like Cancer, Obituary, and early Death, and more modern death metal ala Krisiun, Carnifex and Aborted. The press sheet claims them as a “death/thrash” band, but I’m having a hard time finding much of a direct thrash influence here. Not overly technical but certainly more than capable, the band concentrates on writing tight, concise, and bludgeoning 3 to 5 minutes slabs of quality metal that will please most fans of modern death metal. The highlight is certainly the fleet fingered, slick and twisted melodicism of lead guitarist Chris Walden who delivers one near perfect death metal solo after another all over this disc that comes from that classic James Murphy (Death, Cancer, Obituary, Disincarnate, Testament, Konkhra) school of melody over flash. What the band ultimately suffers from is an inability to stand above the pack. The riffing is good with moments of near greatness, they can construct well thought out and arranged tunes, they have a great ear and feel for dynamics, tempo, and aggression, and the recording is certainly top notch; yet they never really succeed in delivering that moment where you’re truly floored and run to hit the repeat button. The band hits their most impressive stride in the middle of the disc with tracks like “Of Gods Drowned in Blood” and “As a River They Bled” which is a brutal one-two punch of blistering and intense metal and showcases some moments of near brilliance. Overall, there is a feeling like this album almost gets there but for some reason never quite makes fully makes it. Despite this, it is certainly a worthwhile listen and I’m sure these guys are more than capable of getting the mosh pits churning up a storm worldwide. First impressions aside, I might have to give it a few more spins as it may be a grower; one of those albums whose true merits are only revealed after multiple listens.

RED DRAGON CARTEL – S/T (Frontiers Records)

Infamous guitarist Jake E. Lee, who had the very difficult task of replacing the legendary Randy Rhoads in Ozzy Osbourne’s band in the mid 80’s, returns after a long hiatus from the public eye with a new band and a new album. If you’re a fan of Jake’s work on Ozzy’s seminal albums Bark at the Moon and The Ultimate Sin then you will find much to rejoice about here as this collection of cuts have much the same vibe as those two records, with just a few adjustments. Jake does inject a bit of a modern flair with sparse yet tasteful use of programmed synth and drums here and there, which stands more to date the material as contemporary rather than “retro” and, thankfully, doesn’t detract from the overall feel or come across as hokey or pandering. Vocalist DJ Smith actually earned his position through a Facebook contest where thousands of submissions were sent in and Smith came out on top. His vocals kind of have an Ozzy mixed with David Coverdale (Whitesnake) and maybe just a hint of Rob Halford (Judas Priest) sound to them, and it’s easy to see why he won the gig. The main star here, of course, is Mr. Lee himself. His guitar playing is still as distinctive and mesmerizing as ever and he loads this entire platter up with heaps of truly wicked and twisted licks that are unmistakably Jake E. Lee. Along for the ride here are quite a few guest stars that supply their own distinctive touches across these tracks. Robin Zander, vocalist of Cheap Trick, sets down a killer performance on the track “Feeder” and his uncharacteristic (for him, at least) minor key vocal melody on the chorus coupled with Jakes slippery, Arabesque guitar work make this song the first really stand out track on this album. Original Iron Maiden vocalist Paul Di’Anno puts his pipes to work on “Wasted” and, I must say it kinda falls flat. The track is good and the hook it pretty catchy, but Di’Anno just doesn’t seem to fit. New school metal maven Maria Brink of In This Moment chimes in with a powerful performance on “Big Mouth”. The track has a semi-industrial vibe, especially on the verses, but Maria makes the whole track worthwhile with her amazing vocals as she wails and screams all over this thing. If ever there was a female vocalist that was born to sing heavy metal, it is Ms. Brink. The relatively unknown Sass Jordan delivers a soulful performance on “Redeem Me”. If you’re not familiar with her work, Google her now. She has one of the best female blues/rock voices ever and she put out some killer albums in the 90’s and this cut is a perfect vehicle for her sultry, whiskey soaked stylings. Other stand out tracks here include the very modern sounding “Slave” with its almost thrash-like main riff, one of Smith’s best performances of the record, and some of Jake’s best and most creative guitar work. “War Machine”, an epic, classic metal banger that has a very Black Sabbath vibe to it, is another truly excellent offering. Rex Brown of Pantera/Down fame is listed as a guest on this album and though I can’t find info on which particular track he plays on, I highly suspect it’s this one with its nimble bass work. Jake E. Lee proves with Red Dragon Cartel that he hasn’t lost his touch and, if anything, his playing has only gotten better with age and if you’re a fan then you should certainly pick this one up.

TEMPEL – On the Steps of the Temple (Prosthetic Records)

Tempel is a duo based out of Arizona that plays their own unique brand of instrumental progressive doom metal/post-rock with slight tinges of black metal. When one thinks of instrumental music the mind usually conjures up images of an over the top technical tour de force of instrumental prowess and craftsmanship. What we have here is something quite different. The tandem of Ryan Wenzel on keys and guitars and Rich Corle on drums instead play music that is much deeper than that. They’re not trying to dazzle you with their technical skills (though they are certainly no slouches in that department) but instead they create epic sound journeys that ebb, flow and weave themselves inside the listener’s consciousness like the soundtrack to some epic sci-fi horror film. Using bands like Isis, The Ocean, Wolves in the Throne Room, Agolloch, Electric Wizard, and Neurosis as points of reference, Tempel run the gamut from eerily gorgeous melancholy to punishingly heavy bursts of all out intensity and everything in between and it’s all so very hypnotically mesmerizing. Without vocals it’s hard to tell the tracks apart, but that doesn’t matter as this is an album that should be taken as one whole listening experience. Though there are only 6 tracks here, all but one clock in past the 8 minute mark and each is full of twists, turns, and surprises that keep you constantly engaged despite the overall hypnotic effect. Just when you find yourself drifting off into musical la-la land, Tempel will throw something new at you that jerks you back from the brink and forces you to pay attention. There is a constant sense of drama and these two lads to a fine job of crafting songs that don’t make you miss the vocals one bit. This is music you can easily lose yourself in, and that is a good thing. I am particularly taken with the guitar playing of Ryan Wenzel. Not only can he create some truly epic riffs, but his lead playing is just plain gorgeous. He won’t dazzle you with fleet fingered sweep arpeggios or anything like that, but rather he seems to be coming from that David Gilmour school of lead playing where less is more and it’s all about playing the right note at the right time. He has a unique sense of note selection and phrasing that just hooks you in. He doesn’t take a solo very often, but when he does it’s like a mini-composition unto itself; tasteful, melodic and constantly interesting without being flashy or having anything superfluous whatsoever. I know a lot of guys in the metal world who could take a few cues from Mr. Wenzel in that department. Sadly, music like this will likely never become too popular due to its very nature, but if you are a fan of any of the above mentioned bands, or are looking for something a bit left of center without being too out there, then you should definitely check this one out. I know it’s still early in the year, but this one is making a strong case to be included on my year end Top 10 list and it’s gonna be hard to knock it from that perch.

NASHVILLE PUSSY – Up the Dosage (Steamhammer/SPV)

Back in the late 90’s I used to publish a magazine called fAZE 3 and for one issue I had the bright idea to feature a picture of longtime Nashville Pussy guitarist Ruyter Suys (pronounced ‘Rider Sighs’) and then bassist Corey Parks full on French kissing on the cover. For whatever reason (I can’t imagine why…) this image of two hot rocker chicks pressing face was just too much for some of my more conservative readers and I received quite a bit of backlash and even lost a few distro spots because of it as my zine was subsequently banned from a few places. I also remember seeing these guys play at a little dive called Bessie’s in Wilmington, NC around that same time and was floored by not only the skill of Ruyter on the guitar, but also her take no prisoners, give no shits attitude. Wearing naught but a bikini top and some daisy dukes, she strutted around that stage spitting all over the place, sweating like a whore in church, and throwing down one tasty lick after another like her life depended on it. Her tits kept flying out of her top due to her rocking out so damn hard and she would just nonchalantly reach up with her picking hand and pop them back in place and never missed a note. Needless to say, I’ve been a fan for a long time, which is why I hate to admit that I’m a bit disappointed by this album. Guitarist/vocalist (and husband of Ruyter) Blaine Cartwright is quoted in the press release as saying this album is Nashville Pussy’s Back in Black so I was expecting something really earth shattering and epic. A rock n’ roll masterpiece. What I got is a ho-hum album of trite and clichéd rock n’ roll. The Pussy has always been known for their tongue in cheek sense of humor and it’s worked well for them in the past, but here it just comes across as juvenile and silly. I don’t quite know what happened, but it seems like maybe they’ve reached a point where they’re just kind of going through the motions. Songs like “Everybody’s Fault But Mine”, “Rub It To Death”, “The South’s Too Fat to Rise Again”, “Before the Drugs Wear Off”, “Hooray for Cocaine, Hooray for Tennessee” and “Pillbilly Blues” come across as kinda goofy instead of coming off as smart assed, wry and tongue in cheek. The intensity, the passion, the unbridled rock n’ roll energy that used to ooze from every pore of this band is just not there anymore and that makes me sad. There are a few moments here where the band comes close to regaining their glory of old, the cuts ‘Spent” and “Beginning of the End” being prime examples, but it’s not enough to save this record. Like a middle aged hooker, this Pussy sounds like it’s been rode hard and put up wet. I’m gonna have to pull out some of their older records like Let Them Eat Pussy and High As Hell just so I can wash the sound of this record from my ears and remember what the Pussy used to be like. What a shame.

ASOMVEL– Knuckle Duster (Prosthetic Records)

Prosthetic Records has recently jumped on the emerging trend of retro, 70’s style hard rock/metal with offerings like Zodiac’s A Hiding Place and this offering from British retro rockers, Asomvel. Apparently, the band has been at it since 1993 and finally released their debut album in 2009, shortly after which founding member and bassist/vocalist Jay Jay Winter was killed in a car accident. Undaunted, the band recruited bassist Conan (yep, simply Conan – how metal is that?) and soldiered on to reemerge now with their sophomore effort. Where these blokes differ from most of the bands plying these retro waters is that instead of drawing their influences primarily from the more grandiose 70’s era acts like Deep Purple and Black Sabbath, Asomvel instead draws on the more punk inspired bands like Motorhead and Venom to create their brand of sonic sorcery. In fact, if Cronos from Venom fronted Motorhead and Lemmy just played bass then they would probably sound a lot like Asomvel. All the ingredients are here; fly by the seat of your pants drumming that always feels like it’s about to jump the rails whether they’re rockin’ and rollin’ at the speed of sound or locked down in a hip-shaking groove, gritty and rollicking basslines that are up front and in your face, and searing blasts of tasty riffs and volcanic guitar overload that will have you headbanging and waving your PBR in the air in one hand while throwing the horns with the other. The kinetic energy this band exudes with their wild and reckless style is genuinely palpable and infectious. If you have a truly hot blooded, rock n’ roll heart you can’t help but dig this kind of thing when done well, and these cats are certainly doing it well. Yes, this has all been done before and yes, they are basically ripping off Motorhead, but damnit, you simply can’t deny the sonic force and unbridled rock n’ roll spirit drips from every pore of this 11 track album. The recording quality is very analog and recalls the warmth and life of vinyl which certainly does much to add to the retro ambiance. It sounds like it was recorded and released circa 1981 and not 2013, which is a good thing. You just couldn’t take this seriously at all if it didn’t. If you like it fast, loud, and dirty then you can’t do any better than Knuckle Duster. Crank it up.

I EXIST – From Darkness (Prosthetic Records)

From out of the murky depths of the Australian capital, Canberra, comes I Exist with their 3rd album From Darkness. The band takes elements of early Swedish Death metal like Entombed and Dismember, adds some southern sludge ala Eyehategod and Crowbar, throws in some dense, chaotic hardcore like Bloodlet and Buzz*oven, and tops it all off with a crust of first wave black metal like Venom and Celtic Frost. This record is ugly, plain and simple, and I mean that in the best possible way. From the very start, the music leaps from the speakers and goes straight for the jugular with no quarter and no compromise. It’s beastly, it’s intense, it takes no prisoners, but it’s also subtly well-crafted and arranged with a sophistication that belies the crusty exterior. The guitars run the gamut from full on death metal grind, to massively churning hardcore aggression, to slow and pounding sludgy grooves, to slash and burn proto-metal swagger, to sweeping Maiden-esque flights of fancy. The bass playing actually reminds me of the jazzy acrobatics of guys like Geezer Butler crossed with the stabbing punch of Steve Harris which firmly grounds the music in tradition while adding a key melodic and rhythmic foil to both the guitars and the drums. The bass does lock in with the guitars for the most intense riffage, but when it takes off and plays between the guitars it adds an extra dimension to the music that elevates it above the pack. The drums at one moment are flailing away barbarically like some insane Neanderthal and then can completely switch gears to a powerful groove or a tribal polyrhythm or a jazzy swing and then back again at the drop of a dime. Altogether these elements are masterfully melded into one unified front while allowing each one to shine where appropriate. This idea is best showcased by the epic title track where the band throws everything but the kitchen sink; huge riffs, numerous changes and shifts, soaring guitar harmonies, and intricate instrumental sections. There’s not a boring or bad cut on this album but the title cut is the one that screams out for repeated listens and seems to encapsulate fully the bands’ intent. They manage to combine primitive aggression with an underlying sophistication coupled with muscular instrumental prowess without losing that sense of revelatory abandon and ‘guts and glory’ attitude that this kind of music requires. If you’re into the New Wave of Southern Metal acts like Mastodon, Black Tusk, Kylesa, ASG, or Weedeater then I Exist fits right in along with any of those bands in overall aesthetic while simultaneously maintaining a singular identity of their own. I am not sure if I Exist took cues from some of those NWOSM bands or if their style developed independently, but either way they are a welcome addition to a movement that is carving a new and extremely interesting path in metal that manages to honor the past while looking squarely towards the future.

TIDAL ARMS – S/T (Black Numbers)

Tidal Arms comes to us via Brooklyn, NY and they certainly carry on the recent tradition of genre defying and forward thinking arts coming out of that borough. Formed by drummer/vocalist Francis Mark (ex-From Autumn to Ashes), guitarist/vocalist Tom Tierney, and bassist Patrick Southern, Tidal Arms is, at heart, a post-hardcore band whose lineage can be traced directly to seminal acts like Quicksand and Jesus Lizard. Yet, they are also much more than that. They have taken the roots of the genre and overlaid it with elements of “space-rock” ala Jupiter-era Cave In, and a strong influence from such experimental stoner rock and doom/sludge acts like Kyuss, the Melvins, Acid Bath, and Eyehategod and created something that is uniquely their own. The first thing you notice when you hit play on album opener “Gooski’s Ladder” is the sheer massive weight of the bass that assaults your ears with suffocating force. It almost reaches sub-harmonic levels that you feel more that actually hear. This is some heavy shit, indeed, but not just heavy in the “metal” sense of the term, though there is certainly plenty of that. They retain this sense of “heaviness” even when they break away from the almighty riff and traverse more ethereal realms of sonic and melodic experimentation. The bass becomes somewhat the central force that lays the foundation and propels the songs forward which then allows the guitars to become more of a textural element that seem to at times float over top of the mix like a creepy fog, at times swirl and echo like some nebulous anomaly, at times bubble up from underneath like some noxious swamp gas, and still at others stab and slash like a hail of daggers. When the guitars and bass do come together for a unison assault it has a tremendous impact that almost peels the skin off your face. The mix itself plays a huge part in the overall perception of the music. Drenched with reverb and variations in instrument and vocal placement creates a cavernous 3-D audio effect that adds amazing dimension to the music and evokes images of echoing caves deep within the bowels of the earth and floating aimlessly through the voids of space and time all at the once. The band also uses subtle yet effective time signature and tempo manipulation as well as a mature sense of dynamics and volume to heighten and intensify the overall effect. The mix of the cosmic and the earthly makes for a deeply satisfying listening experience. It’s certainly vastly different from the overly compressed and computerized sound that is a product of the digital recording revolution and it’s a welcome change of pace. The music breathes; it ebbs and flows with a life of its’ own and takes the listener along for the ride. Highlights include the previously mentioned “Gooski’s Ladder”, which is simultaneously angular and jagged like the best of The Jesus Lizard and dense and bombastic like the best of Kyuss; the melodic dissonance and psychotic swirl of “Jungle of Dust” that harkens to the more chaotic side of bands like Mastodon and Baroness while still maintaining a firm footing in east coast style post-hardcore; the epic tour de force of dreamy cacophony and massively cataclysmic wall of sound that is “Molasses”; “On the Train” which alternates between swirling cascades, piercing angularity, and gargantuan fury; the quirky yet colossal “Jelloshotgun”; and the space jazz-doom from beyond that is album closer “I am the Owl”.

DARKHAUS – My Only Shelter (Oblivion/Steamhammer)

Darkhaus is a new “synth-rock” project featuring a truly international lineup. Its’ members hail from four separate countries; vocalist Kenny Hanlon calls Scotland home, drummer Paul Keller is from Germany, and bassist Gary Meskil and guitarist Marshall Stephens are both American. Gary and Marshall may sound familiar to some of you as the core of hardcore/metal band Pro-Pain. With that being said, don’t expect anything like the sledgehammer riffing and tight hardcore punch Pro-Pain was known for from this new project. Darkhaus is a completely different beast. Taking cues from bands like HIM and, to some extent, Depeche Mode, Darkhaus plays a style of super-slick, neo-goth, pseudo-metal, highly compressed, synth drenched rock that is supposed to be all Byron-esque and emotionally powerful but comes across as completely fake and insincere. The cold, compressed mix just sucks any emotion out of this. The songwriting is formulaic and, while the band members are sufficiently skilled in their instruments, there is no creative fire here. Singer Kenny Hanlon has nice pipes, but his super-clean delivery and precise intonation is devoid of depth and distinctive character. Now, with THAT being said, I can totally see some “new” rock radio station getting a hold of this and it exploding all over the airwaves. It’s just catchy enough to appeal to those same casual rock fans that like bands like Hinder, Breaking Benjamin, Three Days Grace, and Nickelback. Of course, I would do to Darkhaus the same thing I do to any of the just mentioned bands when they come on my radio; I switch the channel. Or better yet, plug up my iPod. Who still listens to radio anyway?

PROTECTOR – Reanimated Homunculus (HR Records)

Protector: The name conjures up images of a knight in shining armor riding a huge white stallion coming to save a damsel in distress. Or, maybe some Celtic warrior carving and cleaving his way through a band of Viking raiders. You would think this band would all super power metal with soaring guitars and high pitched operatic vocals. You would be wrong. Evidently, Protector is something of a legend in German thrash circles, though they never got the same cred that bands like Sodom or Destruction achieved. I must admit, I had never heard of them before but, of course, I was just a wee lad in the 80’s and I didn’t get introduced to Teutonic thrash until much, much later. They had a string of albums in the late 80’s and early 90’s before fading into obscurity and finally breaking up in 2003. Fast forward to 2011 and original vocalist Martin Missy (Missy? Really? If that’s a stage name, he needs to fire his manager!) drafted a trio of Swedes to replace the original lineup; Mathias Johansson on bass, Carl-Gustav Karlsson on the skins, and Michael Carlsson on guitars. Now in 2013 this new version of Protector unleashes Reanimated Homunculus on the world. The album has an authentic 80’s vibe, with that almost lo-fi, rough around the edges sound that conjures up images of smoky clubs, bullet belts, and spiked gauntlets. You can definitely tell their German thrash roots, but there are also overtones of death metal brutality and black metal ambiance here that only adds to the creepy, graveyard vibe. Don’t expect flashy guitar pyrotechnics or big choruses here; this is raw, ugly, dirty, and evil, just the way it should be. Songs like “Deranged Nymphomania”, “Holiday in Hell”, the title cut “Reanimated Homunculus”, “Lycopolis”, “Road Rage” and “The End” are all the prime examples of this style done the way it supposed to be done. The guitars saw their way through the mix with menacing bite as they unleash one gnarly riff after another. The bass is actually fully present and has a bold, semi-distorted, scuzzy tone that rumbles and growls just underneath the guitars and provides great depth and dimension. The drumming has a primitive, chaotic vibe and comes across kind of like Dave Lombardo from Slayer meets Animal from the Muppets – and that is, by all means, a good thing! If you were a fan of Protector back in the day then I’m sure you’ll find this new incarnation does the original band much justice. If you never heard of them before, like me, but are familiar with and a fan of German Thrash then you’ll find this a rippingly good representation of the genre. If you are ignorant of both then you were deprived as a child. Get this record now, bask in the glory of Teutonic thrash and school thyself, my son.

MOTORHEAD – Aftershock (UDR)

Twenty-one albums. Twenty-one dirty, filthy, sweat soaked, whiskey fueled, chew-you-up-and-spit-you-out platters of pure unadulterated rock n’ roll. Very few bands can reach the point in their careers where they not only can say they have put out 21 full length records, but who are actually just as relevant (if not more so) at album number 21 as they ever were. Motorhead is certainly one of those very, very few bands. (Honestly, I can’t think of anyone except Zappa who’s put out that many!) bandleader and rock n’ roll icon Lemmy Kilmister has reached the status that only the Keith Richards’ of the world can claim with his decades of babes, booze, and rock n’ roll. Here he is, damn near pushing 70, and still putting out some the hardest rocking music out there and putting dudes half of his age to shame with no signs of slowing down any time soon. He is the living embodiment of everything that is rock n’ roll. There is a reason why many fans proclaim Lemmy as God, because when it comes to living the life and making it count, there is none higher than him.

So, what do we get with album number 21? Well, it’s fucking Motorhead! We get new Motorhead, that’s what! If they tried to change their style at this point we’d have an epidemic of mass denim jacket burnings across the major metropolitan areas of the world virtually overnight. That would be akin to trying to rewrite the Bible. It’s sacrilege! Like AC/DC, if it ain’t fucking broke, don’t fucking fix it. It is what it is and if you don’t like it; fuck off, no one asked you anyway. Take one shot of Chicago blues, one shot of Texas boogie, one shot of 50’s era rockabilly, one shot of 60’s proto-metal, one shot of 70’s punk and the throw in a shot of Jack Daniels and you got Motorhead. That’s what they’ve been doing for close to 40 years now and the recipe hasn’t deviated one bit that entire time. If anything, they have only gotten better with age and have benefited greatly from today’s superior production values. Every gritty nuance of Lemmy’s signature Rickenbacker bass tone and every whiskey soaked, gravel throated groan and growl of his vocals, every machine gun rhythm and bluesy wail of “Philthy” Phil Campbell’s axe, and every bulldozer beat and rock solid groove of Mikkey Dee’s drums come through the speakers loud and clear. It’s pure rock magic. They’ve managed to keep the warmth and analog feel of old while utilizing the tools at their disposal to heighten the overall sound while managing not to kill it with too much studio sheen. Despite all these years and all these albums, these guys still sound like they are having blast doing what they are doing. Unlike most bands at this point in their careers, where it starts to sound like they are just going through the motions, Motorhead sound like they still give a shit; like they still have something to prove. They still have that riding the rails, just-on-the-edge-of-disaster-but-somehow-holding-it-together-through-sheer-force-of-will feel to the music that keeps you on your toes and always leaves you wanting more.

We get a taste of everything Motorhead has to offer here; plenty of full on proto-metal thrashers (“Heartbreaker”, “Coup de Grace”, “End of Time”, “Do You Believe”, “Going to Mexico”, “Queen of the Damned”, “Paralyzed”), a healthy dose of mid-tempo, hard rockin’ stompers (“Death Machine”, “Silence When You Speak to Me”, “Crying Shame”, “Knife”, “Keep Your Powder Dry”), and even a few low down, bluesy burners (“Lost Woman Blues”, “Dust and Glass”). This an album just as strong as any of the bands back catalog. Track by track, it holds its own with classics like Ace of Spades, Overkill, and Bomber and even occasionally, on tracks like “Queen of the Damned” and “Death Machine”, surpasses its predecessors. “Queen of the Damned”, in particular, stands out as this era’s new “Ace of Spades”. It’s that good and rocks that hard. Fans rejoice; the boys are back in town and they’re better than ever. Grab your denim vest, a bottle of Jack, a copy of this album and raise your horns high in salute to the undisputed kings of rock n’ fucking roll. Motorhead. ‘Nuff said.

SKELETONWITCH – Serpents Unleashed (Prosthetic Records)

Hailing from the depths of Ohio, Skeletonwitch have been shredding ears across the globe since 2003 with their unique mix of blackened thrash that’s equal parts mid to late 90’s Scandinavian black metal, classic Bay Area thrash, and New Wave of British Heavy Metal all rolled up into one tight ass heavy metal wrecking crew. Serpents Unleashed is the bands’ 5th album overall and fourth with Prosthetic Records. The band’s breakout album, 2007’s Beyond the Permafrost, set the blueprint that Skeletonwitch has since followed almost religiously and Serpents Unleashed is the just the next progression in what Skeletonwitch fans have come to know and love. No matter what trends the Hot Topic crowd scamper after like so many rats, Skeletonwitch do what they do and they do it with a skill, finesse, and uncompromising authority that you just can’t help but respect. Far from becoming boring or stale, Skeletonwitch just keeps getting better with age and though they don’t stray too far from the blueprint they set almost a decade ago, they maintain interest with skillful songwriting, technical precision, and a raw exuberance for all things metal that exudes from their every filthy pore. Of course, it helps that the band knows how to write some neck snapping riffs and this album has more of those than you can shake a battle axe at. They have the unique ability to channel the hook laden power and thrust of classic metal with all the speed and aggression of thrash metal and the icy intensity of black metal to create something that not only kicks you right in the ass but also sticks in your craw long after the last chord’s refrain echoes from your speakers.

Every piece of the Skeletonwitch puzzle fits perfectly. The twin guitar attack of Nate Garnet and Scott Hedrick is mesmerizing and you can certainly tell these guys spend a lot of time orchestrating their guitar parts for maximum effect. Whether they are riffing in unison, playing intricate counterpoint lines, or hook up for a majestic twin harmony, they hold ranks with any twin guitar team from heavy metal’s illustrious past. Bassist Evan Linger is an absolute beast. His ballsy, in your face tone, lock tight timing, and nimble and melodic bass fills come off as a cross between Geddy Lee of Rush, Steve Harris of Iron Maiden, and Alex Webster of Cannibal Corpse. He certainly does not play second fiddle to the guitars and his presence and power is the glue that holds everything together and gives the music its driving intensity. His playing on track 8, “This Evil Embrace”, in particular is a lesson in how heavy metal bass should be played. Not to be outdone, drummer Dustin Boltjes is a machine. Everything he plays is the exactly what needs to be played at that given time and his timing, articulation, and intensity are perfect.

There is not a dud to be found amongst any of the 11 tracks found here. All but two of the tracks clock in at somewhere between the 2 and 3 minute mark, the other two barely flirt with 4 minutes. The band certainly doesn’t waste any time at all; they attack, rip your ears and your neck to shreds, and then leave you for dead without a single wasted note or boring interlude. These guys just can’t seem to do any wrong and they are one of the few bands that is nearly universally hailed amongst all metal fans. If you haven’t been introduced the metal monster that is Skeletonwitch then you don’t know what you are missing. You must run, walk, stumble, stammer, crawl, whatever you got to do, immediately to your nearest record store (or computer) and buy this album immediately. If you’re a true metalhead, you will not be disappointed. If you are disappointed, your membership to the Brotherhood of Metal is hereby revoked and you are banished to the wastelands of Kanye West and Miley Cyrus. May the Devil have mercy on your soul.

TERMINUS – Terminus (Mutants of the Monster)

This is the debut album from Arkansas based Terminus. Apparently, the oldest member of the group is 18 but you wouldn’t know if from listening to this music. These lads lay down a highly original style that has elements of many different genres: Post-punk, prog, classic metal, black metal, stoner rock, 70’s hard rock, and just about everything in between and beyond that belies their tender years. The album opens with “Gardens”, which has a distinct New Wave of Southern Metal flair (think Mastodon, Kylesa, Baroness, et al). That same swamp groove from outer space vibe that pervades much of the NWSM stuff is highly apparent for most of the song and then from out of left field comes a processed guitar solo that sounds like it could have been lifted straight off a Mose Giganticus record (If you are not familiar with Mose Giganticus, you should be – amazing band with just guitars, keys, and drums but still heavy as a Mack truck). Despite the fact that it’s played on guitar, it’s got a Casio-on-steroids kinda tone (Imagine if Devo were a metal band) to it that just grabs your ear drums and doesn’t let go. “Leatherneck” is next and continues where the first track started with a killer Melvins meets Kiss riff before breaking down into a tricky little Mastodon like prog part only to crash back into the main riff. Track three is, oddly enough, entitled “Seven”. This is where the album starts to get really interesting with some curious singing that kinda has that Mars Volta-esque tone to it; high pitched, near falsetto almost. At first the vocals here took me aback, but after a few spins they grew on me with their hooky melody. The band then throws a real curveball when they break down into a slow Thursday-esque part with clean arpeggiated guitars. Here is where the vocals did lose me a bit as they break down into a whiny tone that sounds just slightly off key. After navigating through several clean changes the band amps it back up with a straight up stoner rock ending complete with a total rock n’ roll guitar solo to bring it all home. And then, if that last track wasn’t enough of a mind-fuck for ya, track 5, “An Ocean of Their Own” is an instrumental that pulls out all the stops. A little black metal blast beat action, some more quirky post punk action, a little Mastodon like prog, and some more of that Mose Giganticus keyboard sound as well. It’s like the guys from Darkthrone listened to too many Mastodon, Quicksand, and Thursday records. It sounds crazy but it works. Everything comes together all at once on the next track “Runelords”. These boys certainly did save the best for last and this epic track combines all of their various and disparate influences into one magical potion that just leaves the listener in shock and awe. It’s a massive, twisted musical journey and these lads throw everything but the kitchen sink in there and yet somehow manage to make it all work as a cohesive whole. I guess this is more of an EP than a full album with only 5 full songs and an intro and outro track, but it still has a complete feel to it. Not everyone is gonna get this band, and the clean vocals on some of the tracks will probably be slightly off-putting to some, but these kids from Arkansas are onto something here. If they can stay together and continue to develop their unique creativity, once they mature full as people and as a band these guys have the potential to do great things.

TRAGODIA – Mythmaker (Kolony Records)

Mythmaker is the third full length album from this Italian quintet who play a slick, modern version of progressive, melodic metal. Too slick. Everything is washed over with a thin plastic sheen of compression and studio gloss that just removes any and all life out of this thing. The tone of the guitars in particular sounds completely fake, which they probably are. I’m sorry; no studio amp simulator software is gonna give you the same tone as a real amp cranked to 11. This style is of metal is not necessarily ruined by such studio magic, but only if the quality of the music itself is there. Tragodia just don’t live up to the standard of the genre. The musicianship is there (well, for the most part); vocalist Luca Meloni can croon and wail with the best of his ilk and guitarists Francesco Lupi and Riccardo Tonnoli know their way around a fretboard but, while they excel technically, they fall flat on overall creativity. No amount of woodshedding or training can help you write a riff or a song that has a unique character and creative flair and it shows here. It doesn’t help that the drums and bass seem to be an afterthought and don’t live up to the standard set by the guitars and vocals, particularly the drumming of Daniele Valseriati which is stiff, basic, and unimaginative. The whole thing comes across as boring and lifeless. File under: Never Listen to Again.

LUMBAR – The First and Last Days of Unwelcome (Southern Lord Records)

This doom metal trio calls the windswept shores and towering forests of the Pacific Northwest home and I guess you could venture to say that Lumbar is a “supergroup”, of sorts. The band consists of Aaron Edge (Himsa, Iamthethorn, Roareth, Brothers of the Sonic Cloth), Mike Scheidt (YOB), and Tad Doyle. (Yes, THE Tad Doyle from one of Seattle’s 90’s grunge scene’s forgotten sons, TAD. Though Doyle is most known for his menacing, mountain man visage and profound girth, TAD did yield a few killer records like 8-Way Santa and Inhaler that sounded more “grunge” than anything the some of the bigger Seattle acts like Pearl Jam and Soundgarden ever did.) The project is the brainchild of Aaron Edge, who was diagnosed with multiple sclerosis shortly before the recording of this album. With the knowledge that this may well be his last recorded musical effort before the disease took its hold, he poured his all into this album and what we get is one seriously fucked-up journey into doomy madness. It’s a doom record for sure, but it’s more like “art”-doom. The bombastic, gargantuan fuzzed-out riffs and quicksand tempos are interspersed with weird soundscape interludes, harsh ambient and electronic elements, and sometimes just some way out there disharmonious cacophony. The vocals range from a euphoric and melodious wail, to painful screaming, to a chant like moan, to a beastly growl as every possible emotional facet of “doom” is explored here. The album’s 7 tracks are named “Day One”, “Day Two”, etc. It seems that it is meant to represent a week of suffering; a week of cloying claustrophobic madness of cataclysmic and abysmal torment, each day a new lesson in bitter despair. Though only roughly 25 minutes long, the music has an uncanny ability to seem to slow down time as it draws you hypnotically into its embrace and time itself begins to lose all meaning. This is an album that is meant to be experienced; cut the lights down low, imbibe your favorite psychoactive agent (or none, if that’s how you roll – the music itself is enough to alter consciousness under the right circumstances), place the headphones on your head, close your eyes, and just let it take you on its journey. Don’t fight it, just let it happen. It may take you to some pretty scary and fucked up places, but the catharsis just may be a revelation. Although certainly not for the faint of heart or the casual fan, but for the truly adventurous and initiated there are rewards to be had with The First and Last Days of Unwelcome.

MINISTRY – From Beer to Eternity (13th Planet Records)

Al Jourgenson is a rock n’ roll legend. He almost single-handedly invented the genre of industrial metal and with the album Psalm 69 set the blueprint and the standard that all industrial metal bands seek to obtain. His escapades as the leader of the godfathers of industrial metal are of mythic proportions and just about any interview with him is filled with wild stories of debauchery and shenanigans. In 2008, Al announced he was putting Ministry to rest for good but a mere three short years later the band reunited which resulted in an album, Relapse, and a tour. By late 2012 the band was working on the follow up to Relapse when tragedy occurred. While onstage with his other band, Rigor Mortis, longtime guitarist and sidekick Mike Scaccia died of a heart attack. This catastrophe nearly lead Jourgenson to shelve the band again, but ultimately he decided to lock himself in his studio with producer Sammy D’Ambruso for three months to put the finishing touches on what was to become From Beer to Eternity, if for no other reason than to do honor to Scaccia’s memory and finish what they started.

The album begins a bit slowly, and weakly in my opinion, with the intro track “Hail to His Majesty (Peasants)”, but track two certainly lives up to its name “Punch in the Face” and they follow this up with more patented jackhammer riffing and industrial grit on “PermaWar” and “The Perfect Storm”, the latter of which features a truly memorable and blistering guitar solo from Scaccia. Jourgenson’s penchant for political commentary shows up here in spades on tracks like “Fairly Unbalanced” where he rips into Fox News with sheer ferocity. Mixing samples of Fox News talking heads with some of the most intense riffs in the entire Ministry catalog, Jourgenson tears into Fox with lines like “The other day I was watching the Fox News Network/I swear they’re all on crack/I need to get me an aluminum helmet/My brain is under attack”. The song “Side Effects Include Mickey’s Middle Finger TV 4” is another steamroller of a track with riffage that borders on grind with some truly intense blast beats on the drums and chaotic guitar breaks that stab and slash like Jack the Ripper’s blade, though the last few minutes of the cut does drag on a bit as we are assailed with a series of samples followed by random bursts of music that seem to detract from the rest of the song. “Lesson Unlearned” is quite different from your standard Ministry fare featuring guest female vocals that seem like Ministry backed by Diana Ross and the Supremes and an almost funk feel to it. Sounds crazy but somehow Al manages to pull it off. The next track “Thanx but no Thanx” is another departure for Ministry as it begins with a dubstep feel before morphing into a mid-tempo stomp fest by about the three minute mark only to segue back into dubstep by the seven minute mark. Once again, it sounds outlandish, but Al makes it work. This cut is Al’s personal diatribe against just about everything from the KKK, to the Westboro Baptist Church, to the War on Drugs, and everything in between, and culminates in the chorus refrain of “Thanx for nothing!” “Change of Luck” also throws one for a loop a bit with the Arabesque guitar intro and ambient feel before once again morphing into another killer Ministry riff. And then there’s the almost pop chorus that seems to come out of nowhere, but again, magically Al makes it work.

Despite a couple of missteps with almost pointless sound collage tracks like the aforementioned intro track and track six “Horror”, as well as couple of points on where the songs seem to devolve into random samples and noise, From Beer to Eternity shows Ministry doing what they do best and doing it just as good as ever while also challenging themselves to step outside the box and experiment, successfully in all cases, with things that you would never expect from a Ministry album. Who says you can’t teach an old dog new tricks? If you are a Ministry fan you will certainly not be disappointed and you also will probably be a little surprised by what you’ll find here.

DAMNATIONS DAY – Invisible, the Dead (Nightmare Records)

Invisible, the Dead is the debut record from Australia thrashers Damnation’s Day, although the term ‘thrashers’ doesn’t quite do these guys justice. These blokes temper their thrash attack with heavy doses of power, progressive, and melodic metal to create a sophisticated and uncompromising sonic maelstrom that hits you square in the gut from start to finish. It’s like a cross between Nevermore, Fates Warning, old school Flotsam and Jetsam, and Dream Theater. The biggest highlight here are the vocals of Mark Kennedy. This guy can croon like James Labrie, wail like Rob Halford, and scream like King Diamond; sometimes all within the same song. Kennedy has talent oozing from his pores and even if this band doesn’t gain traction, with pipes like these he can certainly make a long and productive career in the metal business. Musically, the band is extremely tight and play with an intensity and ferocity that only a young band with something to prove can pull off, riding just on the edge of disaster at every second yet somehow managing to keep it straight as an arrow. Highlights here include the dizzying one-two-three combo of “The Meaning”, “I Am”, and “Reaper” (the latter two of the three featuring some truly throat ripping vocals from Kennedy that’ll make you wonder how notes like that could possibly come from a human throat), and the equally face melting track “Reflections”. The album does take a few pit stops from the full on assault on a pair of ballads, “Ghost in Me” and “World to Come”. Both of these tracks are well done and feature some gorgeous acoustic guitar work and surprisingly soulful vocals from Kennedy, but overall they don’t even really sound like the same band and seem to bring the album as a whole down just a bit. Of course, I don’t usually like metal ballads, so maybe that’s just me. This is certainly a band to look out for and if you’re a fan of thrash, prog, or melodic metal with killer vocals then you may have just found your new favorite band.

THE ICARUS LINE – Slave Vows (Agitated Records)

I must admit, though I have heard of The Icarus Line through the last decade, I have never been formally introduced to their music. Formed back in 1997 as a high school band called Kanker Sores, the band has been sloughing through the underground in one form or another ever since, releasing four albums prior to this one along the way to varying degrees of acclaim. Long plagued with typical rock n’ roll problems like drugs and “creative differences”, The Icarus Line is known for never really living up to their full potential. With all this in mind, I dove headfirst into Slave Vows and was greeted by the 11 plus minute opener “Dark Circles”. The track begins with about 5 minutes worth of feedback before morphing into something akin to Ennio Morricone meets the Butthole Surfers. Not exactly the kind of track most bands would use to introduce their record, but if nothing else it makes you wonder what a band with that much balls will throw at you next. Track two, “Don’t Let Me Save Your Soul”, begins somewhat along the same lines before exploding about a minute in into a lurching, hedonistic rocker that just oozes sex and violence. “Marathon Man” struts and creeps like an alley cat with an almost film noir-like feel only to rupture in the middle into a volcanic, psychedelic assault with a wall of guitars crashing into everything in their path only to melt back into the alley from whence it came. At this point I was more than intrigued. These guys seem to be playing by their own rules here, and could give two fucks what anyone thinks about it. “Dead Body” begins with a throbbing bassline, echo-drenched brushes of lo-fi guitar noise and fuzz and the anguished wail of vocalist Joe Cardamone. The tension is steadily built in this way until the orgasmic release at about the four minute mark where the wall of guitars once again surge from your speakers. The band locks into a riff and hammers it home like they’re on a mission from God as the guitars swarm, dive, and scream over the top. Pure rock n’ roll ecstasy. “No Money Music” might be the first (and only) true misstep here (if you discount the droning 11 minute plus intro track), but thankfully it’s a quick one. This 2 minute track just kinda goes nowhere. “City Job” sounds like The Stooges meets the Velvet Underground with its hypnotic and trance inducing dirge that pulls the listener down into its circadian rhythm like a warm, drug influenced embrace. “Laying Down for the Man” continues in a very similar vein as its predecessor, only with an even more heightened sense of emergency. If “City Job” was a warm embrace, then “Laying Down for the Man” is that violent jolt awake where all your senses are at peak awareness and fear and survival are your only instinct. The Icarus Line has been often compared to The Stooges and nowhere is that influence more apparent than on the album closer, “Rats Ass”. This track bursts with all the Detroit grit and swagger that were the hallmarks of that band while still retaining its own character as well. Apparently, this entire album was recorded live straight to tape and it certainly shows in the level of intensity and organic pulse that permeates the entire record. It takes a lot of balls indeed to record live in this day and age and here The Icarus Line not only make it work but use it to their advantage to help capture the catharsis of their live act and what results is probably the most “authentic” sounding album you’ll likely hear this year. The band exudes elements of 60’s psych, 70’s proto-punk, new-wave, and early eighties hardcore and melds them into a truly formidable sound that delivers exactly where it counts. If you wanna hear a band doing it the way it’s supposed to be done; no tricks, no frills, no apologies, then this album just moved to the top of your “must have” list.

SARKE – Aruagint (Indie Recordings)

Sarke started as a one man project of one Thomas “Sarke” Bergli who is known for his work with Khold, Tulus, and Old Man’s Child. Now, on the project’s third album, Bergli has expanded the project into a full band featuring some of the biggest names in Scandinavian Black Metal circles including Nocturno Culto (Darkthrone), Steinar Gunderson (Satyricon, Spiral Architect), Anders Hunstad (El Caco, Autopulver), and Aesgir Mickelson (Spiral Architect, Borknagar). The best way the sound of this album can be summed up is if Scandinavian black metal developed in the 70’s instead of the 90’s then this would have been exactly what it would have sounded like. Black n’ roll, death rock, whatever you want to call it; Sarke owe just as much to Led Zeppelin, Black Sabbath, and Deep Purple as they do to Bathory, Mayhem, or Burzum. If anything, they lean more towards rock than they do black metal with a focus on maintaining an overall sense of groove; a swinging from the hips rather than from the neck, if you will. If anyone reading this has paid attention to the last couple of Darkthrone records, Aruagint is coming from a very similar place, which is no wonder why Nocturno Culto himself decided to grace this project. It’s raw, it’s ugly, it’s dirty, it’s nasty but yet it has a certain sophistication in structure and delivery that belies its crusty exterior. As sometimes 70’s rock tended to be overly dramatic and theatrical in its approach and song structure (though not quite as over the top as many “symphonic” black metal bands), Sarke follow a similar pattern and concoct some really interesting songs here that bridge the divide between black metal and rock n’ roll with an overall success that has eluded many others who have followed a similar path. They also happen to come up with some of the most sinisterly twisted yet thoroughly gut-wrenching riffs these ears have heard in a while. Imagine Satyricon filtered through Houses of the Holy and you may begin to imagine what I’m talking about here. The only other band that comes to mind that has done this sort of thing this well is Ghost, the biggest difference being that Sarke is just a bit more on the raw and edgier side. Highlights here include “Joduu Aura”, “Strange Pungent Odyssey”, “Salvation”, “Skeleton Sand”, and “Rabid Hunger”.


BRICK + MORTAR – "Bangs" EP (Anchor and Hope Music)

If you made it to this year’s Lollapalooza event, you may have caught a set from this Asbury Park NJ based duo, Brick + Mortar, who have been garnering some acclaim of late. Comprising of just two dudes, Brandon Asraf on bass and vocals and John Tacon on drums, samples and vocals, Brick + Mortar combine rock, pop, drum n’ bass, and dancehall into an intoxicating brew of effervescent pop nuggets. Though the Gorillaz may have invented it and Gnarls Barkley brought it to radio stations across the country, ever since Danger Mouse and The Shins’ James Mercer teamed up several years ago for Broken Bells this kind of sample laden pop has been steadily rising in popularity and more and more artists are stepping into put their own spins on the new style. Much like the synth heavy New Wave emerged from the chaos of the aftermath of the first punk movement, this new take on indie pop has broken through as this generations’ answer to New Wave. This stuff is unapologetically catchy with big bass hooks, energetic and lively drumwork, tasteful and appropriate use of samples and synths, and charming and intensely hummable vocal melodies that stick right in your ears and burrow in your brain. This stuff is certainly the future of pop music and I, for one, am thrilled that groups like this are bringing creativity and a new level of artistry back into popular music that has become stagnant with the Kanye West’s and the Taylor Swift’s of the world. My only regret is that there’s only seven tracks here. It’s just a tease, really. Though all seven tracks are choice cuts, my favs are “Heatstroke”, “Locked In a Cage”, and “Old Boy” (the drumming on the latter is of the charts!). If these guys can keep it together and keep churning put tracks like these while steadily upping their own ante, I predict big things indeed for Brick + Mortar.

ULCERATE – Vermis (Relapse Records)

Ulcerate hail from Auckland, New Zealand and Vermis is their fourth full length album and first for Relapse Records. I was only very vaguely familiar with this band prior to this album, and my very first impression was this band REALLY likes Gorguts, particularly that French Canadian band’s landmark platter of truly unique death metal, Obscura. Released in 1998, Obscura revolutionized what many thought could be done within the confines of the death metal genre with truly abstract, technically astounding, and just plain weird music. It lost many traditional death metal fans with its complexity and unconventional take on the style but many more got it and Obscura was responsible, in part, for the subsequent rise of the technical death metal genre (the German tech death band Obscura even named themselves for the record) which has since become the status quo within death metal circles. As Vermis progresses beyond the first few tracks it becomes obvious that while Ulcerate may begin with Gorguts as a starting point, they are certainly no mere clone. In fact, they may have taken the obtuse, abstract, arcane, and mystifying elements that made Obscura so special to the next level and created something unique all unto themselves. When black metal began to get stale in the late 90’s after the crest of the 2nd wave of black metal had crashed with the death of Euronymous and the imprisonment of Varg, many black metal bands (most notably Poland’s Behemoth) began incorporating more death metal elements into their music to breathe new life into the genre (not sure if I’m allowed to use the phrase “breathe new life” when speaking about black metal, but, hey – what the hell) and thus “blackened” death metal was born (though it probably should have more appropriately been called “deathened’ black metal). Now we’re seeing the opposite happen as many new death metal bands are incorporating more blackened elements into their sonic stew and Vermis reeks (in a good way) of the same progressive blackened experimentation that have made bands like Deathspell Omega and Wolves in the Throne Room such inspired listens, all while keeping one foot firmly entrenched within the death metal genre. Much of the album sticks within the slow, at times almost doomy, to mid tempo with only occasional bouts of blast beat and double bass frenzy. The music slithers and slides like a serpent, gurgles and moans like someone drowning in their own blood, and shambles and quakes like some monstrous swamp beast from the depths of some astral netherrealm. It always seems like it all could come flying apart at any second as the tempo shifts and sways all over the place and at times it seems like the guitars and the drums have some demented mind of their own, yet the band always manages to bring it all under control, even if that control seems tenuous at best. The guitar work, in particular, really shines on this album. Truly unconventional, especially within the context of death metal, the guitars spit, sputter, gnaw, gnash, grope and grind their way through the songs seeming to never really play the same thing twice and leaving the listener sometimes befuddled but always astounded at the sonic maelstrom being conjured before them. My one and only criticism of the album is that, as astounding as it is, over the course of the 9 tracks it becomes very difficult to tell the difference between the songs. While the guitars never seem to play the same exact thing twice, every now and then it seems like despite this you’ve heard it before as there is too much reliance on the same techniques and patterns. What sounds astounding and unique in track two or three sounds a little rehashed by track eight. Don’t let that dissuade you from checking this out, particularly if you are a fan of the more unconventional and weird bands within the death and black metal genres, as it is certainly worth your time.

OLA MADRID – My Fear Is To Be Forgotten (

When I first hit play on Ola Madrid’s My Fear Is To Be Forgotten I was all like, “Oh, shit – another Thursday clone”. Describing themselves as “post progressive indie rock”, the band certainly navigates much the same waters as their fellow Jersey brethren in Thursday but do it with a style and grace all their own. Coupling indie, early screamo, and just a dash of prog, the band plays with an intensity and abandon that is certainly palpable. Ola Madrid utilizes the classic screamo tandem of clean and screamed vocals, with guitarists Dylan Young doing the singing and Oscar Bamaca on the screams. Young and Bamaca as a guitar duo work together brilliantly with one complementing the other at every turn without stepping on each other’s toes or mimicking each other. You can distinctly tell the two different guitar parts going on as they weave in and out of each other, with one or the other occasionally emerging to the forefront for a few brief moments to make a statement. Drummer Damien Alexis holds his job down admirably, but the real standout performance is from bassist Ralph Hayre whose bass lines cut through the mix like a machete and cavort around the music in truly devilish and enticing ways. While the band is not breaking any new ground here they do what they do very well and would be a welcome addition to your collection if you’re into bands like Thursday, Alexisonfire, and At The Drive In. Unfortunately, this may be the first and the last you hear from Ola Madrid as the band announced they were splitting up just prior to this record being released.

SEIDR – Giggunnagap (Bidrune Recordings)

This is one of those bands that you either love or you just feel completely indifferent about. These guys obviously take their craft and its’ meaning very seriously with lots of talk in the bio about lyrical themes of “Why am I here?” and “What does it all mean?” and album artwork that shows a field of stars superimposed over a picture of what looks like a tribal deer skull fetish. With that in mind I knew I was in for an existential, cosmic sound journey that is meant to take the listener on a mind expanding rite of passage that brings one a bit closer to some spiritual revelation. Or, at least, that’s the intent. Bands like Neurosis, Agalloch, and Katatonia come to mind and that’s pretty much what you get over the course of the nearly 90 minute running time of this disc as Seidr combines elements of doom, drone, folk, black, death, and psychedelica to create this sonic grimoire of transcendental ruminations. The album opens with the 17+ minute “Blink of a Cosmic Eye”, of which the first eight of those seventeen minutes are nothing but ambient soundscapes and echoing feedback gradually building to a crescendo until, finally, halfway through the track we get up to speed with some heavy, doom laden riffage. I used the phrase “get up to speed” in the loosest of ways as Seidr’s max speed it just shy of a snail’s pace. Riffs are not played, they unfold of their own accord. This mix of ambience followed by droning, detuned riffs is pretty much the formula the band follows throughout the entire proceedings. They do throw in a little Native American flute for added atmosphere during the intro of the albums shortest track (clocking in at a mere 6:32) “As You Return”, which was probably the highlight of the album for me. Vocally they delve into death like growls, a bit of higher pitched black metal screeches here and there, the occasional clean chanting parts as well as some spoken words bits thrown in for good measure. With every track here except for the aforementioned “As You Return” surpassing the ten minute mark, and the last track “Sweltering II: A Pale Dot in the Vast Dark” reaching nearly the half hour mark, the album just seems to drag on and on and quickly becomes background music. It’s well played and performed (particularly the drum work as the slower tempos allow for plenty of room for the drummer to stretch out with fills that span the course of several bars) and I admire them for their existential bent, but there just nothing here that really reaches out and grabs you and pulls you into the journey with them. There’s just no big hooks or soul stirring melodies here that really take it up a notch and make up for the long interludes. It always feels like it’s just around the corner but the payoff is never really there. This can best be described as bedtime music for metalheads as I can totally see putting this on at night to help one drift off to sleep but I certainly don’t see this being spun on a regular basis by anyone. When done well, this style can be very moving (see Neurosis’ Times of Grace or Agalloch’s Pale Folklore), but I guess with Seidr I fall into the indifferent category.

REVELER– Iridescence (Infamous Empire Records)

Reveler hails from the verdant slopes of West Virginia and yield up a platter here of pretty straight forward and altogether forgettable metalcore. Chugga-chugga, screamy-growl, big strummed chords under auto-tuned clean vocals, breakdown, chugga-chugga, breakdown, repeat over and over ad nauseum. It’s pretty standard formula stuff here and nothing bands like As I Lay Dying and The Devil Wears Prada haven’t done before and done much better. The musicianship is tight and the production is excellent, but in this day and age of Pro-Tools you’re never really sure if that is because the band itself is tight or if they just know someone that knows their way around digital recording software. And how come on every album from all of these bands like this, when the clean vocals kick in it always sounds like the same dude singing no matter what band or album it is? I swear, it seems there’s one guy in some basement studio in some nameless suburb who every metalcore band on the planet uses to do their clean parts. Someone should do an investigative expose on this ‘cause I’m pretty damn sure I’m onto something there. There are a few moments of brightness here, however, as just when I was about to give up on this disc altogether I was hit with track five, “Iridescent”, who’s flirtations with epic death-metal, noise rock, and un-characteristic breakdowns show signs of redemption and surprise, surprise; there’s not a clean vocal to be found on this track. My ears perked up with hope but it was not to be as by track seven, “Made For This”, the band is up to all the usual tricks again. Occasionally a riff pops up here and there that will get your head moving, but these are too few and too far between to really make a difference. It’s a shame, really. – Eric Walls

RAFTREE – “What I Say (2012 Remix)” (Self Released)

– So, Jim sent me an email saying I had my first fan who had submitted a song for review in my column. I gotta say, that did make me all giddy inside and I was excited yet also nervous to check out this track. What if I didn’t like it? I surely didn’t want to piss of my first fan, but I also don’t want to blow smoke up my reader’s ass, either. My journalistic integrity is always at stake, after all. So, with mixed emotions I navigated to the ReverbNation page I was directed to by the email and pressed play. Well – in all good conscience I must say, it’s not too good. “What I Say” from Raftree is typical radio rock posing as metal ala Godsmack, newer Avenged Sevenfold, Disturbed, etc, etc. It’s pretty well put together for what it is, but in general I absolutely loathe this style of stuff. I just find it completely disingenuous and with little redeeming social value whatsoever. Even Hair Metal had its redeeming value in that it was all so tongue in cheek and not pretentious at all (usually), but bands like this obviously take themselves seriously which just makes it all seem absurd in a way. Raftree is also a terrible name for a band. I get that it’s the last name of frontman Kenneth Raftree, but sometimes we gotta put egos aside for the greater good and when it came time to pick a band name it would certainly have behooved Kenneth to do just that. I wish I could say that this band is awesome and fill up about five hundred words or so full of nifty adjectives to describe just how awesome it was, but alas, I cannot. Sorry, Kenneth. I’m sure I may have just lost my one fan, but be careful what you ask for; you just may get it. – Eric Walls

VISTA CHINO – Peace (Napalm Records)

Kyuss is probably best remembered as the band that Josh Homme of Queens of the Stone Age used to be in, but to many they were the forefathers and originators of the modern “stoner” rock scene. Albums like Blues for the Red Sun and Sky Valley are considered masterpieces of the genre and launched a thousand imitators in the stoner rock boom of the 90’s and early 21st century. Their mantra of “The Riff and nothing but The Riff” and the unique blend of Black Sabbath meets 60’s acid rock that they dubbed “desert rock” was a clarion call across the grunge rock landscape of the 90’s and supplied a healthy breath of pot smoke drenched air to a musical clime that was beginning to become too unamused with itself.

Some people got it, most didn’t, and Kyuss flew under the radar at the time only to become infamous after their breakup once Homme found success with QOTSA and people began to take another listen to his previous work. I was always a huge Kyuss fan ever since seeing the video for “Green Machine” off of the Blues for the Red Sun album on Headbanger’s Ball as a young teenager, so I was super stoked to find this little gem in my email inbox.

Vista Chino is the new project from three fourths of the original Kyuss lineup; vocalist John Garcia, bassist Nick Oliveri (who played in the original QUOTSA lineup as well until a now infamous squabble with Homme forced him out of the band), and drummer Brant Bjork. This is the closest thing to the original Kyuss as we’re likely to ever hear considering that Homme has repeatedly turned down heaps of money for a full reunion. Though the members of Kyuss other than Homme have done various projects over the years such as Unida, Mondo Generator and Slo Burn, to varying degrees of success, none have come close to matching the magic that was Kyuss in their prime. Garcia in particular has long sought to capture the essence of what made Kyuss so special to many (Unida in particular springs to mind) and even did a few tours under the “Garcia Plays Kyuss” banner with various backing musicians.

In 2010, Garcia reunited with Bjork and Oliveri to form Kyuss Lives! and proceeded to tour heavily. In 2012 Homme sued Garcia and the rest of Kyuss Lives! for trademark infringement and after a court battle in which Homme won the band was forced to change their name to Vista Chino. Despite this, or maybe because of this, Garcia and the boys have unleashed the best Kyuss record since Sky Valley and have proven that they don’t need Homme to write some great riffs and killer tunes. Garcia’s wail sounds as strong as it did back in the day, Oliveri’s bass playing bobs and weaves in and out of the riffage like a musical Muhammed Ali, and Bjork’s drumming anchors everything down with the grace of Ginger Baker and the force of John Bonham.

New guitarist Bruno Fevery does his best to conjure the spirit of Homme’s signature style while injecting a little of his own personality in there and does an outstanding job. He manages to capture the essence without sounding forced, trite, or contrived. Tracks like “Dargona Dragona”, “Sweet Remain”, “Planets 1&2”, “Adara”, “Dark & Lovely”, and “Barcelonian” drip with that signature Kyuss swagger and mysticism and make you feel like it’s 1992 all over again. Like the Kyuss of old, Vista Chino can roar and moan like a ’67 Mustang burning up a desert highway and then turn around and lure you into a hypnotic, trance-like stupor as they lock in on a riff and ram it home with elegance and abandon.

The coup de grace here is the album closer “Acidize – The Gambling Moose”, a 13 minute epic that distills everything that makes Kyuss great into one monster track. Fevery’s playing here really shines and this cut is the best example of how he has injected his own unique magic into the Kyuss formula without sacrificing the overall feel and aura of the music. It’s all there; gargantuan riffs, blissed out and dreamy interludes, low down and dirty grooves, and all the while Fevery lays down tasty lick after tasty lick that moan and groan with a lyrical flair and leave you wanting more even after the 13 minutes have expired. This is the album that Kyuss fans have been waiting for almost 20 years now and it would fit right in neatly between Sky Valley and The Circus Leaves Town. If you didn’t know any better, one might even think this was a lost and previously unreleased Kyuss album. Who needs Josh Homme anyway?

WAKING HEROES - One Fight to Fight (

NJ’s own Waking Heroes is the brainchild of vocalist Danny Roselle and guitarist Mikey Vranek, formerly of NYC based power pop troupe The Crash Moderns. With this new project we see the Danny and Mikey mining a very similar power pop territory as their previous project. With nods to influences like the godfathers of power pop Cheap Trick and more modern practitioners like Motion City Soundtrack, Waking Heroes deliver here with an EP of finely crafted, expertly performed, and perfectly produced power pop nuggets. The only real issue with this release is the fact that it’s almost entirely forgettable. As well written and arranged as the songs are, they are formulaic and devoid of the big hooks and memorable melodies and refrains that are the hallmarks of power pop giants like the aforementioned Cheap Trick, Weezer, and Marvelous 3. After the closing echoes of the final track “Something Like Tonight” finish ringing in your ears you’ll likely find it hard to recall much of what you’ve just heard. All 5 tracks here stay firmly within the mid tempo realm which tends to blend the tracks together and creates a sense of sameness that makes individual songs difficult to differentiate from one another. Unless you are a huge power pop fan or a fan of Roselle’s and Vranek’s previous band you won’t be missing much if you pass over this one.

MISERY SIGNALS – Absent Light (

It’s been five years since Misery Signals graced us with an album, 2008’s Controller. After losing their record deal when their label Ferret Music was absorbed into the megalithic beast that is Warner Bros. Records, the band members decided to strike out on their own and formed various side projects. When they decided to reconvene Misery Signals they looked to crowdfunding site Indiegogo to finance the new record instead of going the traditional label route. The band not only met their funding goal but doubled it and as a result Absent Light was born. The five year hiatus has done nothing to diminish the band’s creative force and they pick up right where they left off in 2008 with their unique blend of progressive, melodic and at times atmospheric metalcore. Odd time signatures crash into wicked breakdowns while angular yet melodic guitars and the occasional synth dance and swirl over top. Just when you think you can’t stand the beating anymore the band drops into a sweetly melodic and lush passage that gives you just enough breathing room to prepare for the next pummeling. The music twists and turns in and around itself, never seeming to look backwards but always moving forward and taking the listener along for the wild ride the whole time with nary a dull moment in sight. Especially when listened to on headphones, the intricate complexity and subtle nuance of the bands’ technical skill is showcased leaving one speechless at the ability of the band to arrange such well thought out and superbly performed music. The performance of particular note is that of drummer Branden Morgan whose ability to seamlessly shift from the punishingly brutal to the sublimely jazzy and delicate all while navigating some of the trickiest time changes around is mesmerizing. Everything fully comes together with the final track “Everything Will Rust” which is probably the most beautiful while still heavy songs I’ve ever heard a metal band of any ilk do. If there was ever any doubt that Misery Signals stands in the upper echelon of the metalcore elite, Absent Light crushes any naysayers to a bloody pulp.

LAST CHANCE TO REASON – Lvl. 3 (Prosthetic Records)

Maine’s Last Chance to Reason have been well known among prog metal aficionados since the 2007 release of their debut album Lvl. 1 on NC’s Tribunal Records. The band shows strong influences from 70’s prog like King Crimson and Yes, more modern practitioners like Opeth, Cynic and Between the Buried and Me, as well as video game music. In fact, the band REALLY likes video games. Each of their albums are concept works based around the idea of man’s relationship with technology and the virtual vs. the physical worlds. For their second record, Lvl. 2, the band even developed their own video game based around the album (which you can download a demo of from the band’s webpage). Having followed the band since their debut, I can firmly say this is the bands’ most developed and mature work to date with each successive album being a logical progression from the last. There is more of a focus on songwriting and developing the music thematically rather than falling into the trap of just connecting the dots from one riff to the next, of which many prog acts find themselves the victim. They seem to have taken a cue from the last Cynic record both vocally (Vocalist Mike Lassard, also of the band The Contortionist, uses a very similar vocal effect that Paul Masvidal uses with Cynic) and atmospherically with an even greater focus on keys and synths as used more for texture rather than directly competing with the guitars. That’s certainly not to say that the band has lost any of its heaviness as big, bold guitars are still front and center with plenty of gnarly, finger busting riffage and dazzling solos that will please even the most discerning prog-head. Sadly, it seems this may be Last Chance to Reason’s last album as shortly after the band recorded the album guitarists AJ Harvey and Mike Abdow left the group and Mike Lassard went to The Contortionist full time, though he states he will continue to work with LCTR as a side project. The band will tour in support of Lvl. 3 with Robby Braca of The Contortionist filling in on guitar duties. If this does turn out to be the bands’ swan song then it is certainly a work to be proud of, though I certainly hope this is not the last we’ve heard from Last Chance to Reason.

MAPS FOR TRAVELERS - Change Your Name (No Sleep Records)

Kansas City’s Maps For Travelers debut with their first full length and right out of the gate establish themselves as carriers of the post-hardcore torch began long ago by Quicksand and continued by bands like Cave In, The Bled, and Thrice. Actually, this band reminds me a helluva lot of Calico System, also from Missouri (St. Louis to be exact), if anyone out there even remembers those guys (and if you don’t, you should!). Though with slightly less of a metal influence and a touch more indie rock than Calico System, the resemblance is noticeable. Add all of the above and throw in some later period Norma Jean, and you have a pretty close approximation of Maps For Travelers. Thoughtful and brooding when they want to be, spastic and noisy when the have to be, caustic and grating when they need to be, and heavy and bombastic when they just can’t hold it in anymore; Maps For Travelers deliver here with 10 tracks that will sit well on the shelves beside any of the above mentioned bands. Musically it’s mostly your standard guitar, bass, drums but they throw in some keys here and there and even trumpet (!?!?) on a few tracks, which makes for an interesting twist. While not breaking any bold new ground, they do what they do extremely well and passionately. If you see them coming around your neck of the woods on tour you should go check them out as judging from the intensity and breadth of emotions navigated in this music I’m sure these guys rage live.

UNMOTHERED – EP (Toxic Assets Records)

Unmothered emerge from the longtime musical hotbed of Austin, TX and throw down here with a debut EP of some very unique and interesting music indeed. Taking a cue from the legendary Amphetamine Reptile Records “noise” rock roster of the 90’s (bands like The Cows, The Melvins, and Today Is the Day) as well as the legendary NY noise rock pioneers Unsane, coupling that with the bitter flavor of US black metal like Leviathan, Xasthur, Twilight, and Nachymystium, all the while giving a heavy nod to post-metal pioneers like Isis to create a post-blackened/noise concoction that is a refreshing twist in a musical landscape that most of the time revels in its sameness. When you think about it, the seemingly disparate genres of post-metal, noise and black metal are much more alike than one would at first assume so it seems only logical that someone would at some point make an attempt to marry the three. The band has dubbed this marriage made in the back alleys of hell “Haunt Rock”, which is an apt title as the production here drowns the guitars in reverb which certainly creates a haunting effect while leaving enough bite in the tone to keep it just enough on the edge to avoid the listener from drifting away. The drums and bass cement the sound with a driving and pounding, urban yet tribal (no blast beats here, folks) feel that keeps the overall atmosphere grounded in noise rock while the guitars heave, spit, gnarl, and swirl over top with a decidedly black metal meets post metal bent. If you’re a fan of any of the above mentioned genres, or just looking for something new and refreshing, then this is certainly a band you need to know about. I know I for one will be eagerly anticipating a full length from this adventurous trio. This EP at the moment is a limited run of only 500 copies on vinyl so snatch it up while you can. is an independently published music fanzine covering punk, alternative, ska, techno and garage music, focusing on New Jersey and the Tri-State area. For the past 25 years, the Jersey Beat music fanzine has been the authority on the latest upcoming bands and a resource for all those interested in rock and roll.

Jersey Beat Podcast

Home | Contact Jersey Beat | Sitemap

©2010 Jersey Beat & Not a Mongo Multimedia

Music Fanzine - Jersey Beat