Tuesday, April 28, 2009

Kreon - Impact Winter (2009)

Yet another quality release from a new German death metal band. Kreon are a little rough around the edges, which one might expect of a newish band, but the guttural hammer of J. Morti Uhlig's vocals and the slight technical flourishes balance nicely to forge a work of some promise, and Impact Winter will likely stir some waves across the rank and file of 90s USDM purism.

"God is Beauty" explodes with a volley of spastic guitar and bass before the graveled, Morbid Angel tones of Uhlig's vocals enter the arena, a nice lead bellied counterpart to the rather crisp and wafer thin razors of the guitars. "Imminent Impact" seems sloppy initially, it accents a central, brutal old school groove with some jangling note selection that did little for me but distract me from what I really wanted to hear, the core rhythm of the track. "Name Your Poison" is a faster flurry of technically tempered molten steel, but it's not so heavy or memorable. The chaos of "Reinvent the Wheel" has a nice mix of thrash riffing and primal abuse. Other decent tracks include "Rage Boundary" and the epic title track which closes the album.

The production of Impact Winter is decent, in particular the bass playing sounds distinct and nicely rounds out the crisp mute picking of the guitars. Uhlig's voice is just killer, this guy is like a tear in reality through which some extradimensional Satan is intoning the end of our universe. As for the song writing, some of the tracks wander off in directions which do them little good, but the jist of the material should be enough to please a fan of say...Suffocation. It's at least a worthy debut, if nothing outstanding.

Verdict: Win [7/10]


Gory Blister - Graveyard of Angels (2009)

This Italian band's previous album Skymorphosis was quite the surprise, an album of progressive death heavily influenced by the later Death discograpy. The follow-up Graveyard of Angels (their 3rd full-length) drifts further into the band's own territory, a careful balance of melody and brutality. Despite a better production, the riffs here didn't catch me quite as much as those on Skymorphosis, yet the album is still recommendable if you like your death/thrash melodic with brutal vocals.

"The Hatch Opens" is spearheaded by its use of glistening mid-paced chords, evoking a transcendental, almost cosmic vibe before the track opens up into vicious sledgehammer death. The band busts out some of their prog metal essence within the lead, but the track actually reminded me of mid-period Cryptopsy over all. "Void Made Flesh" is a pure rager with some acrobatic groove and a pretty melodic breakdown involving shred. After this, the album actually picks up for a few superior tracks. "Vanishing Ruins" is a nice piece of progressive death with captivating riffs and atmosphere. "The Descent" is tech death fused into thrashing rhythms. The instrumental "emiT despalE" is immersive and powerful. Another of the stronger tracks on the album is "The Shining Hades" for some ripping riffs.

Graveyard of Angels is mixed with a clarity that can balance the melodic grace of the band's leadwork and riffing with the bludgeoning brutal shell enveloping it. This is primarily a guitar band, most of the head-spinning you'll get is through the leads. Otherwise they don't indulge in the stark technicality of some tech death acts. Gory Blister are very much in the habit of writing songs, not exercises in musical virtuosity. This particular album reminded me a little of the recent debut from Centaurus-A of Germany, who have a similar (but better) approach. Although this is a focused effort, I was marginally underwhelmed by a number of the tracks. But it's likely that other fans of technical death metal with high standards are going to lap this right up.

Verdict: Win [7/10]


Profane - Hérétique Ârya (2009)

While I certainly favor the more experimental of the French black metal acts (Deathspell Omega, Blut Aus Nord, etc), there is quite a large scene going on across many black fronts. Profane have a fairly direct take, a well-produced execution akin to several Norse and Swedish influences. I hear a little Mayhem and Dark Funeral in the sound, and while you won't come away feeling as if you've just encountered something trailblazing, this isn't bad for a debut.

The first track "Ennemi Du Genre Humain" is a fast and twisting tune anchored by its forceful, melodic rhythms and the full-bodied snarling of Necrose. There are a few moments where the pace is slowed slightly, but I didn't find any of the riffs here memorable. "Sur L'enclume De La Race" is a more furious manifestation, but again suffers from some monotonous riffing which did little for my tastes. The title track gathers some of the most glorious riffs on the album and has some well placed backing shouts, but again, mediocre. "Pa Vikingtod" is one of the stronger tracks, more of those timely gang vocals and a riff here that is almost catchy. Another of the better tunes is "La Parole Obscure Du Paysage Intérieur" which conjures a somber mystique with its whispered and spluttered French vocals, then erupting forth into glory.

The band's tone is definitely not a weakness, Hérétique Ârya has a brazen, bold delivery with bass grinding below the unrelenting chord battery. A very professional sound for a debut. The major downside to the album is just a lack of memorable or evil riff writing. Fans of glorious war/black metal with decent production standards might do well by this album, but personally I found nothing to grasp on to (only hints of grace).

Verdict: Indifference [6/10]


Sunday, April 26, 2009

Altar of Plagues - White Tomb (2009)

After a tasteful pair of EPs, Ireland's Altar of Plagues issue their debut full-length through Profound Lore records, and if you were a fan of their brand of swelling ambient and melodic, melancholic black metal then you are unlikely to be disappointed with this.

White Tomb consists of two tracks, each divided into two sections, and clocks in just beneath 50 minutes. "Earth Pt. I: As a Womb" sets off the album with a crisp grace; a monotonous, progressing synth saturated in sparse guitar plucking and then a crescent of feedback, migrating into a blast beat and wall of driving chords beyond the 2 minute mark. The track wanders through numerous sequences of chords, all are very pleasant if at times repetitious. "Earth Pt. II: As a Furnace" is even more breathtaking, with some scintillating aggression and lush acoustic/folk segments, a post-rock edge throughout much of its discourse. "Through the Collapse: Watchers Restrained" opens with some of the heaviest black metal on the album, but then devolves into a creeping, minimalist landscape of snarled spoken word over chagrin inducing black doom. "Through the Collapse: Gentian Truth" is a majestic piece which winds across the morning hills like a mist, again breaking down into minimalism, but in its case a sort of ambient with distant vocals...perhaps the most telling moment on the album.

The imagery conjured through Altar of Plagues is not one of abandoned forests and mountains, but the dark and forgotten underbelly of urbane, mundane existence, transformed into a dark beauty often overlooked. Listen to this as you overlook an empty city at 5:00 am sunrise. This isn't something one is often exposed to through this medium of metal music, and it's certainly this band's forte. White Tomb also sounds quite good, the guitars are immersive throughout. The vocals tortured. The drums flowing and expressive. It's a difficult journey to leave once you set foot down its path, and superior to their previous EPs, which had already promised at a rare potential.

Verdict: Win [8/10]


Friday, April 24, 2009

Denial - Catacombs of the Grotesque (2009)

I've never been a fan of much Mexican metal, aside from the rare exception like Hacavitz. This applies to not only death metal but most of the styles popular there. However, the debut from Denial is out to change my perceptions. Try and imagine a hybrid of Bolt Thrower and Demilich. Yes. The tone and style of Catacombs of the Grotesque ends up somewhere in this realm of possibility.

These gentlemen are no new kids on the chopping block, they hail from Mexican death veterans like Cenotaph, Pulverized and Shub-Niggurath, but I'm going to be honest: this album destroys anything I've heard from their past bands. Lurching and shuddering like a hellish titan unleashed from cavernous depths, the album captures the horrific, unrelenting aesthetic of true death. You can pick any track at random here and be floored. "Abominable Undead" is a disgusting, slower paced fist in the eye of the living, and Marko Guevara's vocals are so huge and dominating (in a good way) that it took a forklift and several laborers hours to retrieve my jaw from the floor. "The Pestilent Pits of Disgrace" is another monolith of gutwrenching death, and "Necrotic Invocations" is one of the faster tracks, one of my favorites here. The band have revived a few of the tracks from their previous Immense Carnage Vortex EP for inclusion, and they also sound great.

Denial knows exactly what tone will render their creations most effective, and bombards you with these extremely dense and meaty guitars. The material here is not technical, it's just effective in a darkly old school sensibility. Each track burdens you with an impossible weight of despair and dread. You feel the alien subterranean force of the cover art creature calling to you at each turn. Give yourself to me! Feed yourself to me! Truly cavernous and unnerving debut album here, once of the best death debuts I've heard in 2009 alongside Tribulation, and if you fancied my recent reviews of Funebrarum and Vomepotro you will also want to hear it. Essential listening for the morbid purist and flesh florist.

Verdict: Epic Win [9/10]


Ramesses - Baptism of the Walking Dead EP (2009)

The fraternity of Electric Wizard alumni strikes yet again with a quality short player sure to darken your afternoon, three tracks of torturous sludge/doom with very grim bluesy guitar tweaks that drive deep and hard into the mutilated womb of that bitch called Hope.

"Baptism of the Walking Dead" itself leads off the charge with a grinding crawl below some of those dark, minimal leads. Adam Richardson's vocals can shift from a rasp to a rumble and back again with no downtime, and the riffs here are truly destructive, on par with anything off Misanthropic Alchemy. They can pull off a level of depressive on par with the Paradise Lost debut many years ago. "Another Skeleton" is more of a down-stoner piece, opening with acoustics over some subtle, creepy vocal chants. It 'picks up' into a painful sludge segment with some more of those old doom metal leads, while Richardson's vocals become more akin to the New Orleans sludge style. The third and final track "Khali Mist" is crepitating doom which descends into minimal, horrific acoustics with more of the distorted whispers and chants. The EP ends just below 20 minutes.

As usual of this outfit, the tones here are perfectly crunch and evoke a stark, bleak atmosphere from which there is no escape once you've let it swallow your soul. This is one of those bands who truly represent the 'blues' of the modern day era, none of that traditional bullshit but blues that are actually HEAVY on both the heart and mind. I shudder to think of anyone who could some positive output from a recording like this, but Ramesses prove yet again they are one of the best in this category, more than worthy of their alma mater. Now, if you'll excuse me, I need a drink. And some pills. At the same time.

Verdict: Win [8/10]


Burning Human - Resurrection Through Fire (2009)

New York's Burning Human represent to me exactly what NYDM should sound like. Brutal and entirely pit-friendly, with an almost hardcore aesthetic lurking below the chug and blast while still possessive of a technical edge to sate the death metal purist. This is no typical deathcore or metalcore act, but it's just as appealing to the street crowd. You might think of it as 'tough guy' death but the band isn't writing about anything quite so trite. That they open the album with such a strong track in "Tormented Mind" was enough to grasp my attention, but they don't stop at that. The rest of the album is also good.

After a dark ambient intro, the guitars churn forth over an ascending drum roll, then the riff transforms into a groove while a tasteful lead stretches across it. This is "Tormented Mind", and once those dual grunt/snarl vocals erupt over an intensely violent riff you know this is a band that will be responsible for MANY bruises and broken bones over the course of their live career. The song is quite simple, but has a few flourishes of mildly more tech death metal. As if this weren't enough, the real breakdown hasn't even arrived until about 3:40 in the track, when it clouts you over the head in true Earth Crisis fashion before transforming back into some nice death metal riffage. "As Good as Dead" continues the beating with a riff reminiscent of old Death and Obituary, a mid-paced flow with some nice slower shifts using creepy chords ala early Pestilence. It's another of the best on the album. "Chemical Experimentation" is all fists flying and sickness, and the rest of the album follows suit.

The sound here is quite good. Thick and brutal guitar work over a vibrant kit. The vocal styles are both executed well and despite all the simple mosh and groove of their approach the album never becomes boring and it puts to shame the vast majority of boring slam/death metal from this country. Burning Human are not quite original, but they take the very best elements of classic death metal cred, street core aesthetic and a penchant for brutal 'swing' to create a successful debut. I'll see you in the pit!

Verdict: Win [8/10]


Crucifixion Wounds - Bastard Son of God EP (2009)

The latest EP from this German cult is a 4-track offering of snarling black/death metal, and for what it might lack in production values it makes up for with heart. The vocals are solidly within the former camp, whereas the grinding rhythm guitars add the deathstyle.

The band couldn't be more direct. It's quite easy to imagine a couple guys showing up in your garage, plugging in and churning out "Profanation of the Crucified" without even spending the time to write it. A few very simple riffs are repeated throughout the brief two minutes. "Blasphemous Punishment" is simpler though it follows a slightly quicker beat. "Moonlight Impalement" barely clears one minute in length, and features a few growls along with a slower Slayer-esque rhythm. The title track is the best on the EP, with a few evil riffs dominating the maniacal and hostile vocals.

Bastard Son of God clocks in below 9 minutes of total length, but you get the impression none of it is wasted. It's god a raw tone to it, with the guitars separated in the stereo channel to create a jamming effect. The bass isn't quite distinguishable here, I can't tell often if it's a rhythm guitar, but this doesn't hold the recording back. You can pick this up as a 7", so if you're a collector into the proto black & death sounds of the early 90s, it's probably worth your while. Simple and sincere, hostile and about as non-pretentious as you'll find.

Verdict: Win [7/10]


Tuesday, April 21, 2009

Beherit - Engram (2009)

Oftentimes innovation can come through the deconstruction of an artist's constituents, stripped down and examined to produce a new whole. Engram is one such album, and Beherit are no strangers to change. The Oath of Black Blood was one of the filthiest black metal prototypes of its age (I personally can't stand it), but the band evolved through Drawing Down the Moon into their ritual electro noise phase for H418ov21.C and Electric Doom Synthesis.

Engram is a return to the roots, as it is essentially a pure black metal release. Yet there is something left of center here. The songs are extremely repetitious, moreso even than the majority of black metal. This should be a turnoff, yet somehow the Finns make it work. It is easy the filthy philandering of "All in Satan" and "Suck My Blood". Not all the tracks follow the same pattern. "Demon Advance", the album's closer, is a sludge/doom piece with some trippy flange and black/death grunts in unison. "Pimeyden Henki" features chanting over driving melodic angst before it turns black. "Axiom Heroine" features some folkish keyboards over its driving mid paced rhythms.

The album sounds filthy and vibrant, the guitars perfectly distorted to mesmerize the listener through these very simple riff patterns. The vocals are full throated and harsh, just as evil as the band's 1991 debut. The monotonous feel to many of these songs is likely to turn off a listener who is interested in more adventurous black metal hooks, but if you're into the bare bones of the style, Beherit delivers a decent re-integration of its former self.

Verdict: Win [7/10]


Gigantic Brain - World (2009)

While I don't normally go out for the cybergrind, there was something alluring about The Invasion Discography and its 60+ tracks of sci-fi (or just plain odd) brutality and mischief. While it was clear from that album that Gigantic Brain was interested in more than just blasting and grunting, the new album World has come as quite a surprise...the grind is still there, but the majority of the album consists of Godflesh-like melodic industrial grunge and lush, alien instrumental synth scapes.

I am once again subject to the psionic domination of the Gigantic Brain, because I really enjoyed this. Of particular note to me are the instrumental tracks, they shine with ambient astral light for all their simplicity. "We Come Together in Hell" and "Debris" are great, and they even manage to mesh grind, samples and ambient together in "The God in Flames", another of the album's strong pieces. As for the slower melodic industrial tracks, "We've Reached the Stars" and the instrumental "Eons Pass" both stand out. If you're worried about the Brain losing its edge, fear not, because there are still numerous flurries of savage cybergrind, below the minute mark. "Colors of Bone and Blood" and "Melting Brain" are both as destructive as anything on the previous album.

What's missing? Well, the conceptual void of space lends the album a rather serious aesthetic, so the wealth of humor from The Invasion Discography is nowhere to be found, that is if the fact you are listening to a cyberambientgrindustrial band called Gigantic Brain isn't comic enough already. I was rather impressed with this change of pace, something transient and wonderful has been evoked here. I'm also glad this project wasn't some one shot product of a drunken or baked night of dork revelry (I realize they have some other EPs in a similar vein which passed me by). Looking forward to more!

Verdict: Win [8/10]


Monday, April 20, 2009

Wallachia - Ceremony of Ascension (2009)

Wallachia is an interesting band on the Norse black metal scene; their style doesn't fit in with either the true old school flavor (Mayhem, Burzum, Darkthrone, etc), nor does it jive with the more brutal, modern end of the spectrum (1349, Emperor, etc.) Instead, they fuse a lot of diverse elements into the sound, from death and thrash to symphonic/progressive metal.

"Self-Inflicted Stigmata" sets the pace, more of a straightforward thrash/death piece with a few discordant, bouncy tones. It's not one of the better songs on the record, as it breaks into some very dull and forgettable riffs. "Refusalvation" begins with a melodic mid pace, almost folkish metal and then the synths erupt along with some black snarls. This song is a little catchier, but then the band heads back into the thrash/death territory with "Kamikaze Christians", mostly pretty bland though it does have an atmospheric, melodic break in the latter half of the track. "Rival of a Cursed Destiny" is a mixture of black and crispy speed/thrash with some of their glorious melodies and slight synth accompaniment. "Sanctimonia XXIII" is one of the better tracks, a symphonic black metal anthem with majestic overtones. "Genesis Enigma" utilizes a clean gothic tone to the vocals. "Void Expansion" was another of my favorites on the album, simmering and glorious.

While Ceremony of Ascension is by no means bad, it often feels a little out of focus. Though clearly a hybrid of styles, the diversity of the band never comes across as a strength. I got the impression that if there were more songs in the vein of "Void Expansion" I would have become more immersed. A few of the tracks feel like filler. Also the guitars feel a little thin and crispy, they could use beefing up to add power to the compositions. Still, there are some intelligent minds at work here, the concepts and lyrics are interesting and the cover art gorgeous. If you're seeking some left of center Norse black metal, I daresay 'progressive' black metal, then you could do worse than give Wallachia a try, otherwise I feel the album is a little inconsistent to give higher recommendations.

Verdict: Indifference [6.5/10]


Wolok - Caput Mortuum (2009)

Let's try and imagine for a moment what black metal might sound like if Martians starting writing and releasing albums to the genre. That would probably some downright familiar compared to the bizarre creations of this French outfit, whose deranged approach to this style is a hybrid of asphyxiating neurosis and effects. Though it's only my first personal exposure, Caput Mortuum is actually their third full-length.

"Bacterium Dei" opens with a barrage of warped minor chords and uncanny infected notes, before launching into this incredible segment of slow, lurching chords fellated with Lhükkmer'thz vocal vomit and distorted guitar atmospheres. While the core retains a black metal aesthetic, the overall effect is truly alien. "In Vacuo" begins like extra terrestrial shoegazer black metal, like if My Bloody Valentine lost a bet and had to record an album with Attila Csihar or something. Quite incredible. "Transubs(a)tantiation" is another track making use of a stop/start lurch, interspersed with some swerving bass and double kick. The remainder of the album is equally intriguing, from the noisy orgy interlude "Repellence Serum" to the fucked demented "Necro Priapus Worship".

These three space cadets are no stranger to the more eccentric variety of French black metal, as they hail from bands like Zarach 'Baal' Tharagh, Devilish Era, and the more industrial La Division Mentale. Wolok, however, is their most insane creation, and I found myself hypnotized by the dark and alien sounds. I will certainly be tracking down the band's earlier albums, and this is an easy recommendation to make for fans of the 'outside the box' French scene like Blut Aus Nord, Peste Noire or recent Deathspell Omega. This is one of those 'what the fuck' releases that any discriminating gloom dweller need endure.

Verdict: Win [8.5/10]


Necropsy - Deathprayer (2009)

There have been many bands throughout the years to wield the title of Necropsy; alas this is one of the German necropsies here to offer their debut of chugging death metal which rarely exceeds a mid pace. Almost tailor-made for the careening, violent mosh pit windmill kicks and jabs, Deathprayer is no less than 100% carnage, falling somewhere between Bolt Thrower and Suffocation in style.

One of the strengths to this band is their tone. The chords carry a perfect amount of crunch, and the majority of the rhythms are written very low on the guitars to maintain an impenetrably dark and dense atmosphere. Vocalist 'Chriggy' has a suitable grunt which sloshes slavishly amidst the bludgeoning tones, while the drums deliver a payload of snaps and grooves. This band could probably transform any show into an immediately bloodbath, because tracks like "The Chosen One" and "My Tormentor" simply roll human beings over like a tank (the latter gets a little mathematical and playful during its bridge, with some nice riffs).

That said, while I found the album fun for a listen and a few of the riffs fairly competent and punishing, the majority of the material here isn't something I'll want to come back to. There is a certain sect of primal death metal purists who will devour this album. Whether they fancy the old school bands I named above or the simpler slam death scene of modern times, I can't imagine they would be immune to this albums trash compactor grooves and lumbering mayhem. I found nothing necessarily bad about the album, just very average. Necropsy have their heart in the right place. They've got a heavy as fuck tone, and it's obvious they are writing some real death metal, perhaps on their next album I'll dig more of the individual songs.

Verdict: Indifference [6.5/10]


Saturday, April 18, 2009

Wolfchant - Determined Damnation (2009)

I must admit I've not been a fan of this band's previous output; the previous albums were average at best and I made a mental note that this might be another of the million bands posing out in the forest with paint smeared over them and weapons they purchased at some folk or renaissance faire. Avast, thar be pagans! However, this third album Determined Damnation deserves a fair shake as its a catchy enough slab of dirty folk tinged black metal which often borders on the glorious aspects of melodic death.

The majority of the tracks here are of that 'charge' variety, carried by the barking vocals of Lokhi and the majestic guitar lines, while the rhythm section batters away. If you found yourself standing at one of the band's gigs, these tracks would no doubt have you swilling your honeyhorn and shaking your fist. This is the case for the first few tracks like "World in Ice" and "Until the End". The band also has a darker, more serious edge, as that present in the title track. During the chorus, the snarls are joined by clean and manly backing vocals, for a second it reminded me of a Grave Digger chorus (and that's a positive thing). There are a few pure folkish parts like the intro track "Determination Begins" or the opening of "In War". Though this isnt' a band to fuck around much, the track "Never Too Drunk" may come off a little cheesy in the midst of the more interesting fare. The music to this song is quite nice, but the lyrics, well...

Determined Damnation breaks no molds and it honestly does not stand out much from many of the cliched bands out on the party pagan metal scene, but it's superior to the previous Wolfchant albums and I found myself enjoying it, for the most part. The band is best when it's delivering darker rhythms like "In War" and the title track. If you're into similar bands like Finntroll, Helfahrt, Heidevolk or Asmegin, they are worth a listen.

Verdict: Win [7/10]


Irrwisch - Irrwisch [DEMO] (2008)

Ever surfing the information highway for new bands to report, I was fortunate to come across this s/t Dutch demo. The three members of Irrwisch are all formerly from another band (with a similar forest logo) known as Widergeist, which also released a demo last year, but appears now to be defunct. Irrwisch has the rare talent to concoct miserable elixirs of dense and atmospheric black metal of the 'depressive' vein. But rather than corner the band into such a cluster, they appear to have much more than this going for them.

Simple melodic guitars are usedto create a fuzzy, crisp, ambience over the swerve of the bass and crash of the drums, evoking mesmerizing atmospheres of melancholic days apart from civilization. The five tunes ebb and flow like the waves on the demo's cover, while the vocals paint the tortured existence of a soul flayed bare. These are the type of vocals you hear a lot amongst the depressive black metal crowd, focusing more on despair than a snarling, venomous attack. But the very basic guitar riffs used here create an almost overflowing sense of pride and warmth, anything but depressing. The tracks interlock seamlessly, a single voyage in five segments. I found "Leer" and "Irrgang" to be slightly superior to the remainder of the demo.

Irrwisch has a lot of potential, and I'd recommend this sampling to both purists of the suicidal/ atmospheric black metal scene (Drudkh, etc) and well as any bleak soul seeking something obscure, beautiful and pagan. An excellent start and I'm eager to hear further demos or a full-length.

Verdict: Win [8/10]


Friday, April 17, 2009

God Dethroned - Passiondale (2009)

I was rather underwhelmed by the Dutch band's previous effort The Toxic Touch, especially after 2004's The Lair of the White Worm was so good. Passiondale is their 8th full-length and a concept based around the city of Passendale in WWI. It falls between the last two albums in the quality of songs, but the execution of sound here is superb, crushing.

God Dethroned have always had a Swedish melodic death influence in their sound, and this album is no exception. The first few tracks "Under a Darkening Sky" and "No Man's Land" are crushers which alternate faster melodic riffing with some ravenous grooves. Despite the fact that the tracks sound great, they didn't do a lot for me. "Poison Fog" improves the situation considerably with a nice grinding riff and a nice touch of atmosphere during the bridge. "Drowning in Mud" kept the blood flowing with a good rock out riff intensified into speedy melodeath riffing. The title track "Passiondale" opens as a slower paced, epic march rhythm, and remains at a lax pace but quite beautifully executed, with a repetitious, effective melody under Henri Sattler's cries of no escape from Passiondale! The rest of the album is also pretty good, with highlights of the quickening "No Survivors" and the great "Behind Enemy Lines".

The killer here is the tone. The guitars swerve and groove with bombastic Marshall crunch and you'll not find a better sounding record in the band's entire discography. This album also has that simplistic 'war metal' style which should appeal to fans of Bolt Thrower or Hail of Bullets, though God Dethroned are faster. It took a few songs to get going, but once Passiondale had me in its clutches I was attentive for the rest of the ride. Good to see this band standing strong with a partially new lineup. Well worth a listen.

Verdict: Win [8/10]


Ch'aska - Pururauca (2009)

Let me preface this review by saying that Ch'aska have already got a winning formula style-wise; the use of traditional instruments like the charango and zampoña alongside a hybrid of old school South American thrash and death metal makes for an intriguing listen and creates a haunting and beautiful atmosphere at certain points of the record. Now, the metal ITSELF doesn't always live up to expectations, but there are enough points of positive fusion on this debut full-length to make it worth a recommendation to those craving a different style of folk metal.

"Bicolour Cannibalism" is the first track, a raging thrasher which is reminiscent of old Sepultura with a dash of Euro speed metal, flavored in the haunting pipes which drift alongside the verse and immerse you into this foreign world. "A Flower Brought Me Down" starts with some creepy acoustics and then has some of the finer metal riffs of the album. Some of the tracks I enjoyed most were "Nymph of the Lake" which plays out like a Peruvian Amorphis, gently balanced acoustics with raging mutes and melodies. The instrumental "Achuma" is pure folk for the first bit but then becomes a scorcher which wouldn't seem out of place on Beneath the Remains. Here, Ch'aska makes a flawless use of their aesthetic, all it is missing are the vocals. Speaking of which, Carlos Raffo alternates between a throaty and raw harsh style and a soothing, clean register. It works well. Another of the better tracks here is the epic title piece, over 14 minutes long. As for the rest of the tunes, they're passable but not memorable.

The album has a natural, raw tone to it, really capturing the folk and thrash without sounding entire digitized or overbearing. It sounds like it could be pulled off live. Pururauca is a solid debut album, and it's one of the most successful I've heard at incorporating the South American folk elements. Many bands have tried this thematically, but I've yet to hear the one that can really knock me flat (maybe Chaos A.D., maybe not). Ch'aska has come close to delivering that here, and if they can maintain and evolve this sound then their future looks very bright.

Verdict: Win [7.5/10]


Neurasthenia - Your Omen (2009)

Neurasthenia is an Italian band well versed in their classic thrash metal; Your Omen is a decent sophomore full-length, one that may appeal to fans of the old school European thrash sound of bands like Deathrow, Paradox, Midas Touch, Vendetta, and so forth. Now, their style isn't quite as complex as a Deathrow in their prime, but the band has an excellent aesthetic for dual riffing and a great tone to the album which reminds me a little of Paradox' Heresy. You'll also hear some of the Bay Area forebears like Metallica or maybe Hexx here.

Vocalist Claudio Loprieno has a meatier mid range, quite dirty sounding and with the hint of his native accent. In other words, genuine European thrash metal. He (and the backing vocals) often merges these with some death snarls or grunts, but they're not quite as effective. After a subtle acoustic intro, the title track blazes through with some great riffs, the immediate strength of this band is the ability to pattern rhythms and leads together into a flawless marriage. "Go Fuck Themselves" maintains the energy before "Church of Tomorrow" dials it back for a good mid paced thrasher with some more good riffs. Other good songs include the rocking "Liar #1" and the busy "I Hate My Family", but there aren't any stinkers to be found, except for the title of "Thrash is Back in Town" (but the music is actually pretty good).

Many bands go for a retro thrash sound and fail ultimately because they're more about the 'look' and 'attitude' of the period, but simply copying Exodus and DRI and then calling it a day is not in this band's repertoir. Neurasthenia are good at what they do. It's clear they have a real love for their influences and they're worth checking out if you're into some of the bands I listed in the first 'graph. This is a better effort than their debut Possessed. I'm glad to hear some Italian bands playing this style, since we know there are so many of their countrymen engaging in the old heavy/speed style already.

Verdict: Win [7.5/10]


Tuesday, April 14, 2009

Agoraphobic Nosebleed - Agorapocalypse (2009)

US grinder gods Scott Hull and J. Randall return for what is being billed as their 2nd 'proper' full length album, an intense blitz of thrash riffing tightened by the throat into a grinding death fuck fest. The tones of the album sound vibrant, from the caustic turbulence of the guitars to the 3 vocalist barrage. Randall is joined by Richard Johnson and KAT as they offer up a variety of shouts, growls and snarls which lend a density to the songs which few peers can muster.

Intact are the amusing socio-political lyrics and fucked humor of the band, if tracks like "Dick to Mouth Resuscitation", "White on White Crime", and "Flamingo Snuff" are any indicator. As always, the band meshes plain old cock'n'balls street talk in with the more serious implications in the lyrics. Most impressively, Hull is a veritable farm of brutal riffs. They're not always catchy, but they are always organized into a fashion to propel the songs through their admirably brutal affectations. Some of the more exciting tracks on the album include "Moral Distortion" and the guttural slug fist of "First National Stem Cell and Clone". "Agorapocalypse Now (Loneliness of the Long Distance Drug Runner)" is another fun track with its distorted grooving bass erupting into uncouth leads and punishing grind. AnB have always been great at programming their drums into dense machinations of chaos. This album is no exception.

There aren't as many tongue in cheek experimental tracks this time out as there have been on past efforts, and in the end the album never quite rises above what I shall know henceforth as the 'grind barrier'. That is, many of the riffs here sound like countless other grinding riffs you've heard a million times from bands like Napalm Death or Brutal Truth or Nasum or whatnot. This isn't a knock against AnB, because they can match intensity with nearly anyone. It's fun to blast your way through the album alongside these demented bastards, and the use of multiple vocalists is beneficial, but very few riffs or tracks on the album illicit a replay mentality. Alas, it's difficult to elaborate further, and perhaps most grind mavens simply do not give a fuck. The album is brutal and fun while it lasts, just long enough to grant you the ringing headache you deserve and expect.

Verdict: Win [7.5/10]


Viraemia - Viraemia EP (2009)

This was a difficult review to write as I found the band's staggering level of noodle riff proficiency both terrifying and confusing at first. Once I was able to crawl forth from my cavern, both feet on solid ground and take stock of my surroundings with a rock and stick for defense, I realized the truth of my situation: I was in a brave new world of acrobatic death metal the likes of which you simply DO NOT often hear from a demo-level band.

Viraemia are indeed one of those young bands which will make you scratch your head in astonishment when you hear the dual guitar and bass plugging of Josh Hernandez and Scott Plummer. Each of the 5 tracks on the EP are so frenetic and bewildering that all but the most hardened guitar aspirants are likely to quit their lessons and take up something safer...like crochet. Here's the kicker: I generally hate this type of shit, spastic excess which comes at the cost of effective and memorable writing. But Viraemia are a rare exception in that their devotion to this style is so prevalent that they actually tear open the fabric of spacetime to create a cartoon universe where the NORMAL laws of physics ARE the intense volleys of squiggly and paranoid guitar taps and wails, with the deviant phenomena occuring through the band's sparse application of brutal grooves (which are honestly not as impressive, but crucial in that they give the listener a break).

The vocals alter between Salacious Crumb grind snarls and a brutal low end while the drums of Michael Collins somehow manage to reign in the wild guitar and bass into something like a song. The tracks are all consistent, but I'll give "Necrotizing Fasciitis" and "Pit of Pestilence" the slight favor as they frightened me the most. Viraemia is a band likely to attract a lot of attention among the technicality starved masses in the USDM scene and beyond, I imagine this would make a good match for Willowtip or a similar label. I wouldn't be surprised if they were snapped up by the time I finish this review. In the meantime you can order the EP directly from the band.

Verdict: Win [7.5/10]


Centaurus-A - Side Effects Expected (2009)

Another of those debut albums which comes out of almost nowhere and literally beats the surprise into you, Side Effects Expected is a tech death head's dream of calculated grooves and winding, well-constructed death/thrash rhythms which should quickly snare your attention. I say 'almost nowhere' because the band has actually been around since the dawn of the millenium, releasing a slew of demos between 2000-2003. After a six year silence, they return to produce one of the more impressive death metal debuts of late, and we are all the richer for it.

Now, Centaurus-A are a technical band with great ability, but they understand that this NEVER comes at the cost of great songwriting. Each of the tracks on Side Effects Expected has a number of fetching riffs which serve as anchors to the more frantic paced exhilaration of the leads. "The Praying Mantis" opens the album as a tour de force of the band's precision skills. Choppy, sporadic guitar bursts excrete neuroses above a perfectly diamond honed laser battery of percussion. In spots the band recalls a groovier Theory in Practice, but they put to shame a lot of other tech death acts who just don't know how to use their talents to write a proper song. "Narcotic" creates a frightful and ambitious journey to the clinic medical locker as a string of polarized emotions chokes your neck. "Drop Off" transforms from an automata of surefire mechanical thrash into a lightning paced missile launch, later braking for some extremely catchy grooves. Most of the tracks on the album are highlights, but the glorious "The Ease", the thrashing "Arson" and unrelenting bounce of "Dripping Red Canvas" are among those which resonated the most for me.

For a debut the album has a killer production which expertly captures the precision of the manic guitar work, and crash of the snare and bass as the two juxtapose. The vocals here are your garden variety grunts and growls, blunt and percussive, fully functioning within the band's style without becoming overbearing (like you'll hear in a lot of US spazz-tech death metal bands). Centaurus-A is quite able to shift from melodic, thrusting rhythms and leads into their focused, jerky thrashing and the balance makes for a diverse listen, not to mention a massive payload for future potential. We waited 9 years for this band's debut, let us hope we don't have to wait another 9 for the follow-up. Side Effects Expected is a killer album, and this is a band to watch if you fancy death and thrash metal which is technical and well-moored, never losing itself to baseless indulgence.

Verdict: Epic Win [9/10]


Powerwolf - Bible of the Beast (2009)

It's clear by now that Powerwolf are a somewhat silly band, parading about in their gothic makeup while they sing ridiculous gothic power metal songs about vampires, werewolves and the devil. These are adorned with all the pomp and circumstance once could imagine: organs, manly gang shouting where important, and lyrics that will literally break you down laughing.

The thing is, the band is really good at this, and more than a little self aware. Bible of the Beast pushes the envelope of absurdity just a bit farther than Lupus Dei lyrically, but the presentation is much the same. Attila Dorn's powerful register drives the simple and effective rhythms while Falk Maria Schlegel's organs and atmosphere bind the tracks into that very peculiar style which separates Powerwolf from the rest of the European power metal scene. They also like to give 'shout outs' in their music by writing various tracks about Eastern Eurasia (i.e. "Moscow After Dark" and "Werewolves of Armenia"). Although these are topical, they are also likely to create an added bond with the listenership. Some of the lyrics and song titles are pretty far out there this time, ranging from funny ("Raise Your Fist Evangelist" and "Catholic in the Morning...Satanist at Night") to just dumb ("Resurrection by Erection").

Just like its predecessors, Bible of the Beast sounds amazing. A bold and beautiful mix which highlights each individual piece of the puzzle, wisely leaving Dorn's vocals at the apex while the organ and synthesizers formulate lush gothic atmospheres that summon imagery of a not so olde world of gothic cathedrals and countryside, where Transylvanian terrors await in each shadow but the most frightening monster is the beast within. The album is pretty consistent in quality, though few of the tracks are as catchy as those on Lupus Dei. Rather than a step forward, this album seems more of a step sideways. Highlights for myself would be "Raise Your Fist Evangelist", "Midnight Messiah", "We Take the Church by Storm" and "Werewolves of Armenia" for its nice thrashing riff.

In the end, it's just another night at the opera for Powerwolf. If you enjoyed Return to Bloodred and Lupus Dei, then this is par for the course. There weren't any tracks which struck me quite as loudly as "When the Moon Shines Red" or "In Blood We Trust" from the previous album, but they're all fun, and this material should blend seamlessly into their live sets.

Verdict: Win [8/10]


Thursday, April 9, 2009

Running Wild - Port Royal (1988)

You wanna know where you are? HA HA HA HA! In Port Royal!

I once dismissed Running Wild, but after some further exposure to the band induced by someone much wiser than I, I had a change of heart, and it didn't even take long. As Boutros Boutros-Ghali said, only stupid people don't change their minds. They are simply: traditional speed/power metal with a pirate theme, putting out masterstrokes of metal in this vein long before the sudden surge of ironic pirate worship and "pirate metal" bands like Alestorm.

One of those masterstrokes, Port Royal, was their fourth full-length, yet only their second of the swashbuckling persuasion. After the memorable intro, you are grabbed by an umistakable riff, so emphatically piratical, impressive considering this was 1988 and the only music to exist in that day certainly was not metal or anything close. Looking beyond the driving theme of the album, there is still so much musical merit, the tunes catchy and killer, the lyrics not what you would expect from a big hair metal band singing about pirates in the eighties.

Rock 'n' Rolf Kasparek's could not be more fitting, one of his finest performances, vocals reverberating ever so slightly in the album's superb production. Literally every song is awesome. "Raging Fire" has a hook so catchy it can and has kept me up at night looping in my head, supported by one of many superb ripping guitar leads, smooth as the masts of a sleek corsair ruffling in the wind.

"Uaschitschun" and "Conquistadores" have the swarthy sound in spades, yet depart from the subject matter somewhat. "Uaschitschun" is a sentimental Native American piece commenting on their freedom (or lack thereof), which is a thematic undercurrent of the album. "Conquistadores" continues the movement, a furious solo sinking its talons into your skin as Running Wild proceed to decry religion.

One of the best songs is saved for last, "Calico Jack" an eight minute tour de force. An acoustic prelude serves as the calm before the storm of the song which takes you directly into the Spanish Main circa 18th century. The song's namesake is defiant to the last, detailed with another memorable spoken section that bookends the intro of the album nicely.

If you have never experienced Port Royal, get some rum, kick back, and enjoy one of the most glorious, original and well-excuted albums to ever be released in metal. It makes me proud to call myself a fan.

Verdict: Epic Win [10/10]
(it's time for the red flag, no remorse)


Wednesday, April 8, 2009

Mr. Bungle - California (1999)

I've never set foot in the 31st state, but when I listen to California I am transported there. Or, at least to a kind of cinematic stereotype. Palm trees rustled by mild summer breezes, half-dense urban sprawl at dusk, especially vain women, anonymous motel rooms, and countless other things flash in and out of my head. I have never been even close to that place and it's silly of me to try and draw conclusions based in reality, or try to unearth allegory from this album -- especially considering singer/keyboardist/usual lyricist (and legend, but I won't get into that) Mike Patton has remarked on how his lyrics are usually chosen for their effectiveness in enhancing the song in an aesthetic sense. It's rather nice, given the impossibly varied musical style of Mr. Bungle, as the pseudo-nonsensical lyrics and the experimental wanderings of the songs allow you to craft your own entirely unique experience.

As reminiscent of its namesake as this album is, it never brings up the location in song directly (or anything close, as far as I can tell), and in truth it is, of course, a vessel for the music. "Sweet Charity" opens with the sound of waves and seagulls, followed by a charming and lazy, rambling tune that quickly evolves into a lounge feel, Patton crooning, percussive miscellany appearing throughout. "None of Them Knew They Were Robots" begins with a slasher-movie-chase-scene experience before skidding to a halt, Patton conversational in his vocals. The song is an especially bizarre entity from lyrics to inexplicable musical progression within. Long story short, there are some metal riffs (death scream/grunts included) whispered Latin, camera shutters, what sounds like Patton doing Elvis briefly, along with positively baffling and incredible lyrics that I really don't have room to even begin to describe here.

"Retrovertigo" is the probably second most accessible song on California. Mike Patton showcasing just how touching he can sound, an acoustic backbone with some very subtle keys that escalates to the emotional refrain, complete with beatboxing in the background that somehow fits. Around the two-thirds mark things get especially bittersweet and quiet, the acoustic guitar alone with a xylophone before the decidedly not quiet climax of the song positively explodes, cinematic, somewhat tragic, powerful.

"The Air Conditioned Nightmare" picks up where "Retrovertigo" left off, but not without some oddities: clapping hands, marakas. Then, quite simply, another smörgåsbord of the unexpected throughout the entirety of the song. It's something of a pop metal surf rock horror amalgamation.

"Ars Moriendi" has a playful Middle Eastern theme, otherwise indescribable as a whole. "Pink Cigarette" is in the same vein as "Retrovertigo," remarkably accessible for a Mr. Bungle song, the easiest listening on the album and maybe of the band's career. The song is slow and lounge-like with a hint of Beach Boys, lyrics gloomy with that only reflecting partially on the music, with something else there. Regret? Longing? Fantastic song.

Needless to say by this point, California is all over the place. What is brilliant to me is that it still immerses me deeply into that place, a surreal, almost film noir California, as well as a mood that can't come close to being replicated or even really described. I continue to mention the state, but really the album is so intricately layered that my crude attempts to put words to the atmosphere it evokes really do it no justice. You have to hear it for yourself. Yes, this album is weird as hell, and yet still cohesive (especially compared to Bungle's earlier work) and I love every goddamn second of it. It's disappointing that there will most likely never be more from these guys as they split up after California's release and subsequent touring, but at least they went out with a masterpiece of an album.

Verdict: Epic Win [10/10] (champagne, your hair in the breeze)


Tuesday, April 7, 2009

Old Man's Child - Slaves of the World (2009)

Oslo's Old Man's Child are one of the more commercial bands of their genre, surely drawing the ire of black metal purists, but when has that ever mattered? If that debate is still going on, I'd be surprised, with OMC having not shown a degree of that thin, trebly grimness in any large amount for a number of albums. Slaves of the World continues their path down something of a melodic and symphonic death metal avenue, musically at least. In spirit they still share similarities with the black metal scene, but they are fleeting at best, mostly shown in song titles.

Galder's vocals are relatively unique and certainly well done, as he shows a nice variety, and still emanating evil through and through. The music is up to the task, produced excellently as one would expect given past efforts, with punchy guitars, some simple and yet effective keys here and there à la Emperor, that coupled with a vocalist of Galder's caliber, make for a good listening experience (like most of their work). The first song, the title track, wastes no time. It opens on a rollicking riff reminiscent of Impaled Nazarene, then slowing to a mid-paced tempo that gives way to a nice hook.

"Saviours of Doom" is a personal favorite of mine on the album, a breakneck quilt of metal goodness, which actually sums up the entire album pretty well. "Path of Destruction" opens with a military-esque drum piece over ominous keys, touching back on a similar smattering of percussion just before the two minute mark in "Saviours of Doom." These are nice, unobtrusive touches. "The Spawn of Lost Creation" is the most purely death metal song, with the vocals approaching something similar to Karl Willets -- perhaps the drums in the aforementioned tracks are subtle Bolt Thrower nods? Maybe. However, musically the death metal link is somewhat tenuous, certainly there in some aspects, but Old Man's Child simply have a niche of their own that tops any comparison.

Slaves of the World is a rather good album, inching them farther into the death style, yet retaining their symphonic touches and occult spirit that have been there since the band's beginnings.

Verdict: Win [8.5/10]
(dark is the day)


Friday, April 3, 2009

Scott Lynch - The Lies of Locke Lamora (2006)

A good fantasy yarn is difficult to come by. I find that few authors have the chops to immerse me in such a work, but Scott Lynch is apparently one of them. That The Lies of Locke Lamora is his first novel is surprising, it has a polish and sophistication which put many more experienced authors to shame.

The trait I find recurrent (and perhaps most important) in quality fantasy is world building. Some schools of thought shun this in favor of pure character development, but the very best fantasy evokes a rich sense of place. You'll find this in George R.R. Martin's A Song of Ice and Fire series, or China Mieville's 'New Crobuzon' novels. Even Tolkien was excellent at re-packaging old Europe into a finely tuned fiction, and Lynch is no exception. The novel is set in the city-state of Camorr, a retread of early Venice, divided by waterways into a great many districts against the backdrop of the enigmatic Elderglass towers, left behind by an ancient race. Camorr is given much attention in the novel, and we learn about its various districts through the exploits of the primary characters, a troupe of thieves and confidence men known as the Gentleman Bastards.

The story centers on the garrista (street boss) of the Gentleman Bastards, who operates by the name Locke Lamora (named for the Final Fantasy VI character, according to Lynch). Numerous chapters detail the boy's origin and the events leading to his current situation, though Lynch has wisely left a few holes where further stories might be set. While 'flashback' or out of sequence chapters can occasionally annoy or distract, these are paced perfectly throughout the current events of the book. Lamora and his gang are thrust into a deadly tale of revenge between the current criminal overlord Capa Barsavi and a mystery assassin known as the Gray King. In addition to some entertaining stories of Lamora's various schemes, this is a tale of murder and betrayal. Without spoiling much, I will tell you here that the plot is for the most part reasonable and satisfying. There may be a bit of Hollywood in the various close escapes of the main characters, but not as tactlessly plotted as you would find many inferior fantasy works.

Locke isn't a disagreeable character, but he does feel outclassed by much of the supporting cast. In particular, I enjoyed the boastful 'Eyeless Priest', the scornful sorcerer known as 'The Falconer', and Don Salvara's henchman Conté. All colorful folks that one might populate his or her D&D campaigns with. Lynch has admitted he's an avid gamer, a fact which is apparent through this richness of setting. The most IMPORTANT character, however, is the city of Camorr. Beautifully realized, from the Italian-derived language to its geographical layout. The wonder of its noble-inhabited Elderglass spires to the seedy underbelly of its criminal underground, where traitors are fed to various sea creatures. Not only is the city fleshed out well, but plenty of hints are dropped towards the world at large. Karthain. Tel Varrar. This is a world we want to explore. A world we WILL explore (Lynch has already published the 2nd novel, Red Seas Under Red Skies, and promises 5 more in this saga...with the possibility of a second 7-book series ... no shortage of ambition.)

The action is taut and sufficiently brutal. The prose is well developed if not too lyrical. The cussing and street talk of the characters highlights the immediacy of their situation, the thread of fate they all hang from. There are a few surprises and hints at ominous future rivalries with a rather deadly caste of villains. This is relatively low-fantasy, comparable to Martin's saga. Sorcery and alchemy exist but they are performed by few, and in many cases for cosmetics, herbs and lighting fixtures. I have few gripes at all. I'm not a huge fan of the central character, I feel he's one of those hero types who gets beaten on endlessly but always manages to turn the fight around. The end of the novel isn't quite the best it could have been, feeling mildly rushed, especially after such a labour of love in building up this setting.

It's pretty much a given that readers of urban centric fantasies like Perdido Street Station or the surreal City of Saints & Madmen will enjoy this, but it might also be fun for historical or crime fiction addicts. I am eager to get started on the second novel, and this is the type of fantasy world I'd like to explore further. Lynch is a young talent. I admit a little envy here, but the good kind.

Verdict: Epic Win [9/10] (I can choke all day if I have to.)


Fleshgod Apocalypse - Oracles (2009)

Fleshgod Apocalypse are an explosive technical death metal act from Italy who have wisely chosen to sign with Willowtip for distribution of their first full-length release (Candlelight in EU). This was an excellent decision for all parties because their brand of choppy blasting, swift lead precision and tech stomping will undoubtedly create salivation among the many US fans of tech deathcore (Job for a Cowboy) and brutal death (Cryptopsy, Necrophagist, Suffocation, etc). Oracles is a good album, because despite their obvious ability to create sickening pit grooves or noodle off into arpeggios at any turn, they focus on what's most important to this style: the creation of bewildering, grinding and winding riffs that can hold the attention of the death metal purist through the creation of a caustic and blood pumping environments.

This isn't to say Fleshgod Apocalypse are very original or that Oracles is a masterpiece. It contains a lot of what we expect to hear: mute chugs for moshing, mute to squeal riffs, and average brutal grunts. But their use of chants and classical interludes between the tracks is a nice touch, and they incorporate enough hyper melody into the mix to keep each track interesting. They also focus on occult and philosophic lyrics rather than the all too common gore and perversion. As far as specific tracks, there aren't many that stand out from the remainder. The album is consistent in quality. I might give a specific nod to "Post-Enlightenment Executioner" for its killer song title and really laying the smackdown or "Infection of the White Throne" for the frenetic pace and cavorting melodies, but if you like any one track here you are going to like them all.

Oracles sounds fully functional, though the bass is often lost under the punishing chug/blast combo. Drummer/guitarist Francesco Paoli is also a member of Hour of Penance, another good Italian death metal outfit (in particular for The Vile Conception) and he excels behind the kit. There is a high caliber of talent in all of the musicians, and I'd easily recommend this album to fans of Severed Savior or The Faceless who have both recently released great tech death.

Verdict: Win [8/10]


Amoral - Show Your Colors (2009)

I'm going to state first that Amoral has shifted quite a bit from their earlier years of energetic death metal riffing and vocal grunts. The musical proficiency is still intact, but if you are expecting Wound Creations or Decrowning part two, just avert your ears and do not even bother checking this album out. I'm serious. This is a melodic metal album with more akin to countrymen Twilightning or Sonata Arctica than anything you'll hear in the Finnish melodeath uproar. There were hints on Reptile Ride, but the band has gone all the way this time.

With that in mind, Show Your Colors is not a bad record in of itself. In fact, it's catchy. "Random Words" is a tasteful but forgettable acoustic intro, but "Release" really opens the album with a speedy, resounding guitar lick reminiscent of what Amorphis was doing on Tuonela or Am Universam. Gone are the growls of Niko Kalliojärvi; Amoral have chosen to employ Finnish idol singer Ari Koivunen as the new frontman. To his credit, he sounds far stronger with this material than on the prettyboy melodic metal by numbers of his solo efforts. A silky voice which can hit any register required, and it flows seamlessly across the progressive thrash leanings of "A Shade of Grey", the driving anthem/groove of "Year of the Suckerpunch", and the dirty rock out factor of "Sex 'n' Satan". The ballad "Last October" and the catchy "Vivid" are also strong, despite a few weak lyrics. The album does have some filler material, like the bluesy shuffle of "Perfection Design" or "Gave Up Easy", but even these have at least 1-2 riffs of worth.

The album sounds top notch; the guitars are playfully riffing even during the most accessible metal radio tunes. The band does retain some of its youthful energy and the 'excite' factor that made the earlier death metal records stand out. Though good, the songs here could always be better, and now that they've got a strong voice for this style we will have to hear if they can truly capitalize on this directional shift. Fans of Amoral past who are not open to change had best avoid this, they will hate it, but if you enjoy melodic metal with good vocals and musicianship (especially the aforementioned Twilightning), this album may sate you.

Verdict: Win [7/10]


Candlemass - Death Magic Doom (2009)

Candlemass return for their 2nd album with new vocalist Robert Lowe (Solitude Aeturnus), a rocking out affair with a number of faster paced songs, yet still cogent of their strength for resounding, slower gothic crush. Perhaps it's the vocals, or the songwriting, or both, but I was left less than inspired by this record. In fact it's probably the worst Candlemass album since the mediocre Chapter VI. Boring enough that a second and third listen were increasingly difficult, as any errant distraction (a fly buzzing past, or a car) could instantly pull me away.

Robert Lowe does not have a bad voice, it's sharp and crisp, and certainly he has the repertoir and qualifications for this duty. But his voice is just...so plain for this band, lacking the powerful operatic theatrics of Messiah or even the chagrin of Björn Flodkvist. He can hit all the necessary notes but I just don't feel any power here; crucial for effective doom to mine ears. He's not helped by the songs, the faster tracks like "If I Ever Die" and "Dead Angel" are forgettable, and it's only on a few of the slower tracks that I felt my attention span increase. The strings in "The Bleeding Baroness" are nice. "Demon of the Deep" is a pretty good track overall which recalls the old days and feel of Epicus Doomicus Metallicus. "Clouds of Dementia" is another of the better offerings, a crushing lament.

Death Magic Doom isn't bad, it's just not up to snuff with the band's past works. I actually quite enjoyed King of the Grey Islands, even with Lowe singing, so this is somewhat of a disappointment. It's unlikely the band could manifest another Nightfall or Ancient Dreams, but I shall continue to mourn for those days.

Verdict: Indifference [6/10]


Fluisterwoud - Laat Alle Hoop Varen (2009)

One of the most interesting of the cult Dutch black metal bands has returned for their 2nd full-length, six years after Langs Galg en Rad, and I am cannot claim any disappointment. Notable for their deceptively loose approach to the form, incorporating jangling suicidal chords and an almost pyschedelic groove to the more familiar relentless blasting and driving despair, they spew their black ichor across seven tracks.

An elevating, carnal sneer rips forth the album into its first charging blast, but the title track then mellows into a mid-paced groove which reminded me of proto-sludge. It then mellows even further into a simple but mesmerizing repetition of simmering chords, before returning to its roots. The bass winds beneath the charnel house chords of "Kerkganger" to provide a mystical opiate, the drums shifting from a rocking pace to blasting to create a warm yet uneasy effect. "Verloste in Het Vuur" opens with a somber, gracious presence, the drumming converts to a sort of field march during the bridge. "Met de Wind Wedergekeerd" seems the typical mid-paced grim black anthem, yet its chords create a strange effect, like a Sonic Youth of black metal. "Hoemannen" is similar in structure, once again vague unfamiliarities in the use of discordant note selection separate it. "Mijn Donker Wezen" is one of my favorites of this album, its rummaging bassline and malignant chords are both sobering and mesmerizing. "De Bezetene" is the closer, a slow groove alternating with some pick up blasts as the discordant notes frighten and mystify.

Laate Alle Hoop Varen is a short expression by some standards, just over 27 minutes long, but contains no dull and unnecessary filler. It's a consistent offering from one of the best of the grim underground in Holland. The lineup features members of Sauron, Dimensional Psychosis, Planet AIDs and of course the amazing Galgeras. Though they do put their 'twist' on the material, at the core it remains raw unadulterated black metal. The mix is very simple, a pure translation of the musicians, balanced nicely.

Sadly, this is yet another posthumous recording. The band recorded this in 2006 and has since split-up. But it's better to have it than not, so if you're a fan of black metal whose heart beats slightly left of center, but with the blood of pure blaspheme, indulge yourself.

Verdict: Win [7.5/10]


Wednesday, April 1, 2009

Funebrarum - The Sleep of Morbid Dreams (2009)

Cyclone Empire seems to be headed in the right direction as they snap up tasteful old school death metal acts and issue records like this sophomore full-length from New Jersey's Funebrarum. If you fancied their split with Sweden's Interment a few years ago you'll know what to expect here: brutal old school 90s death metal with both Swedish and Floridian influence. Gnarled compositions of utter darkness and conquering grooves, aimless and seizure-inducing lead work, and vocals that can unearth those long committed to the earth for a corpse incursion into the world of the fickle living. You'd expect members of Evoken and Abazagorath to know their shit: you would be correct.

The Sleep of Morbid Dreams is a monolith of pure brutality, real fucking death metal. "Perish Beneath" opens with a creepy horror sample before unhinging destructive Bolt Thrower style rhythms under a decrepit winding melody. The track picks up as Daryl Kahan's low register pulverized the living flesh into a mash of writhing maggots and guts. "Grave Reaper" is like Incantation meets early Entombed meets more Bolt Thrower, repulsive grooves which can wither your speakers. At this point the album is already superior to its predecessor Beneath the Columns of Abandoned Gods, but there are still five tracks to go, led off by "Beyond Recognition", a festive and pummelling grind machine. "Cursed Eternity" goes for the mystique through some atmospheric chords and melodies, though the song is still sentenced to shred flesh with some bombastic faster rhythms. "Incineration of Mortal Flesh" lunges forward at a lopsided groove, like a bulldozer through a graveyard, unaware of what it just stirred up. "Nex Monumentum" offers some brief acoustics and somber collapsing melodies before transforming into what might be the best song on the album. The closer "Among the Exiled" creates atmosphere with dark ambience before corroding all arteries with its aural warfare grooves.

I have to admit I was truly impressed here. This is assured to darken all skies to gray if not the blackest of nights. The album captures and maintains the grim aesthetics of earlier death metal, where brutality was delivered through simple punishment and a sincere, squirming hatred. This should appease any fan of the retro wave of death metal, and it's combination of influences and crushing production should score them some recognition beyond that niche. One of the best new US bands I've heard lately in the vein of roots death metal which is proud to wear the name, far superior to the noodly spastic tech shit so many bands are phoning in to impress their girlfriends and combat their attention defecit disorders.

Only death is real.

Verdict: Epic Win [9/10]