Monday, January 16, 2017

1914 - Eschatology Of War (2015)

Hailing from the Ukraine, this black, death and doom act released their debut just a few years ago and it's definitely still worth checking out today. This was a personal submission that I had not expected, featuring a very interesting way of looking at war. Now the war by which this album is centered on is the bloodiest one we've ever had, and that would be World War I. It was so barbaric that it's surprising it ever warranted a sequel. In any case, the most interesting thing I find about this band outside from their crushing metal outputs is their “dare we call them atmosphere” pieces. Often a very popular song for the time would begin to play from a scratched record or an old vinyl, and then suddnely fill with the sounds of warfare. I may have said this before, but if anyone ever decided to make a music genre made of classic songs from the forties and the sounds of battle, I would become a quick fan of it. Aside from that, these guys certainly know their grime. The record feels often carnivorous, terribly morose and uncomfortable and even quite horrific in the vein of Cpt. John B. Kumar's vocal expressions. Lt. Serge Russel's drumming was heavily felt in both “Gasmask” and “Frozen In Trenches” as it really brought a paramount degree of force and fire. Yet in “Verdun” the band takes a much different approach altogether, which is slow and melodic courtesy of Sgt. Andrew Knifeman and Pvt. Liam Fissen. Said piece even fills heavy with majestic choirs. The entire album places you dead center into the middle of European warfare, in possibly one of the most realistic ways that metal can do. If you watched a WWI documentary while listening to this album, you may even feel as if you're there. Word has it that Tolkien wrote some of his books down in those muddy trenches, and the world of modern fantasy has him to thank for making it out in one piece.

I'm actually hearing a lot of God Dethroned here, which is quite peculiar as they've also done their war epics, and actually went out doing them. The difference here is that there is definitely more of a fiery black metal edge to the performance than that of the death metal pummelers, which adds a much different feeling to these songs of warfare. Also, God Dethroned's work with similar material felt much cleaner than this record, which has a gritty rawness that feels more believable. Cpt. Kumar displays his vocal range perfectly as well, which translates to horrendous scowls and pained clean vocal moments, nothing ever feeling overly happy. Nor should it. This was a hell of a time for the whole of humanity. “Zeppelin Raids” gives me the right amount of ominous doom, as “Ottomon Rise” gives me an absolute splattering of mud and chaos. The riffs here sound downright demonic, once again making me feel the sorrow and fury of the war. Once again, this record puts you right in the middle of a war. You might want to put on a flak jacket before you even sit down to listen to it. That's not to say that there isn't any light-hearted bits of atmosphere to be found on the same track, but the howling and shrieking in the background certainly dirties up the clean guitar nodes used on the piece. There's no remorse here, not even in the twinkly bits. It's war! Have you forgotten?

I will say that more progression finds it's way into the mix later on, and that's fine. I do prefer records with more texture and depth, and these guys could have just given me pounder after pounder, by which I'd have been sick with the record by then. Rather, 1914 decide to give me an actual performance worthy of being on a disc, with many twists and turns in lieu of songscape and that's when I start to give a damn. I'm aware that this is an older record, but if you have not heard it yet, now is your chance to do so. I will warn you that it is absolutely gruesome, not for the feint of heart and drenched in the blood and guts of merciless warriors who fought for several things, but namely their own lives. Nothing I've seen in the metal market puts you right in the heat of battle faster than 1914, especially with album, which should be heiled as a modern classic.

(10 Tracks, 51:00)

10/10

Carved - Kyrie Eleison (2016)

I have been meaning to cover this one for a while now and I knew that I couldn't simply hold off any longer. When I first saw that Italian metallers Carved were described as “melodic death metal” I didn't really expect much seeing as many melodeath acts just seem to copy each other these days, but this one really blew me away. According to Metal Archives, Carved are actually considered symphonic death metal and the SepticFlesh and Fleshgod Apocalypse similarities are certainly here, making this act seem like a bit more than just a normal melodeath act. There's also a bit of a folk element here, which brings up obvious nods to Amorphis. Symphonics obviously lie heavy on the record, combining with folk elements to make it seem as if some sort of monumental war is being waged through each of the tracks. This is also produced with such a clarity that Carved do not feel like some bottom of the barrel underground act that you simply forgot about, instead they're the kind of metal act that has the ability to rise to the very summit of the mountain. What I like most about this record is how bombastic they've made it, almost reminding me of early Battlelore. But that bombast doesn't seem to come into blandness like Ex Deo for example, and it instead measures a sort of satisfaction in it's attention to detail. Carved aren't necessarily trying to be the most brutal act that ever smashed you in the face, and would prefer to dazzle your ears with many different shades of color and flavor. The guitar solos on this one are simply astounding at times, and when they double with the piano as in “Malice Striker” you can certainly feel the very passion on this album. That's not to say that they've completely stripped out pummeling sections of death metal, there's just a bit more offered here in lieu of bands who seem to only know how to do one or two things on an album. Yes, I know that a drum kit can be played realitively quickly to sound uncompromising. But there's more that can be done with a kit than that. There's also more that can be done with a bass guitar than to creat thick, heavy grooves, but some bands just want to throw everything into downtune and seem to forget that people love to hear the sound of a guitar simply played well. I get that with this album. Damiano Terzoni and Alex Ross (Souldeceiver) perform the dual-axe wield that decorates that point to me, and it decorates it beautifully. Unlike some reviewers out there, I haven't forgotten that a big part of heavy metal still lies in riffs melodies and leads, which Carved have not forgotten about.

Christian Guzzon performs both the harsh and clean vocals, with bassist Lorenzo Nicoli performing the backing growls. Their style is definitely more tinged to death metal, but that doesn't mean that Guzzon doesn't get a full-on clean moment in “Heart Of Gaia” which offers a much different side to the band than we might have expected judging on the previous cuts. Some bands would be content to continue the metallic onslaught throughout, but giving us a little more as Carved tend to do, is just what separates them from so many of their peers, even the more popular of those. The band also manages to mix saxophones together with djent riffs and hefty growls on “Swamp” which comes off as something else I wouldn't expect. Another thing I wouldn't have expected is the band's cover of The Bloodhound Gang's “The Bad Touch” which is going right on my phone playlist right after this review. Not only does it have the Carved touch to symphonics, but the death growls actually translate well into the rapped vocals, and the guitars actually emulate the keyboard sections in the original piece quite well also. It's definitely folkier than we expected, but much more interesting than some of the out of touch covers Andy Rehfeldt has done lately. It follows the tone of the original, which I love.

It's safe to say that Carved have much to offer to fans of symphonic death metal, folk instrumentation and unexpected pop covers. There is an increasingly large amount of bands jumping on the symphonic death metal bandwagon, but these guys actually know what they're doing. As with most records of it's type, it could use a bit more differentiation and is certainly no Mystic Places Of Dawn, but what is these days? Kyrie Eleison is a disc that gives us more than most bands in this genre, at least those I've heard for the past couple of decades – and that's a good thing in my book. It's the band's sophomore album and shows that they're still going strong. It would be great if someone recognized them or even decided to review them (reviews are a bit scarce for this one) but often acts, even of a great caliber get left behind for more popular or more heavily publicized acts. Don't worry though, as Carved are just as good as any of those bands, if not even better.

(12 Tracks, 63:00)

8/10

Mindahead - Reflections (2016)

Formed from former members of Evergaze Eternity, Hellrage, Athena, Exsecror and more, Italy's Mindahead prove that they are a bit more than anyone ever expected. Mixing together seventies prog landscapes with pounding metal and the Lacuna Coil style gothic metal approach is something quite new, especially with the fact that these guys are also willing to experiment and incorporate bombastic solos in areas where acts like Lacuna Coil, Theatre of Tragedy and Theatres Des Vampires wouldn't have even given them a second thought. Now it does have some modern core elements within Francesco Novelli's harsh vocal approach which could be a turn-off to some, but shouldn't really be as the band can actually save face due to their incredible approach to musicality. If you were looking for an artier approach to the gothic metal/hard gothic rock style that we've hard so much of in these days, you might just find it here. Now they're no Ram-Zet, but this is definitely a step in the right direction. To be fair, Novelli also attempts some unusual vocal styles aside from his Trivium influenced crap, which also adds to the building blocks here. A female vocalist is also featured quite a bit through the album in the form of Kyo Calati, but she doesn't necessarily have the microphone ninety-percent of the time, which is refreshing. In other words, Mindahead aren't trying to sell this band on female vocals and attractive eye-candy like so many of their peers, but overall skill – which they have tenfold.

Some of these songs are quite long folks, even ranging into the seven, eight and ten minute marks. You're not getting a bunch of “quick to the chorus” numbers here, and instead are being challenged to listen to full-fledged music tracks with a great deal of depth and texture. This is definitely due to the Matteo Ferrigno's (any relation to Lou?) carefully calculated drumming as well as the dual-guitar tag team of Nicola D'Alessio and Guido Scibetta, which combined work to create a chemistry that listeners will notice right from the start. If the overall riff and lead structures (even though I'll admit that the band throw into down-tune probably more than they should) don't work for you, then the instrumental sections and solo moments will definitely sell you on this band. You're not getting Lacuna Coil, you're not getting Dream Theater and you're not getting Trivium either. It's something sort of halfway between all of those mainstay acts and it has the possibility of becoming even better in the future.

There's an hour of music to challenge your mind here, and it most certainly will. As I have stated, there's definitely room for improvement, but with such a tremendous leap at the debut level as I'm offered here, I can't honestly see much. I can almost say without being challenged that nearly eighty percent of bands in this industry do not offer this much at a debut level. Reflections is a record that certainly requires several listens to understand, just like I remember when I was a teenager enthralled by Ram-Zet's Escape. I didn't know a record like that could possibly exist and that's just one reason I'm really excited about this band as well. Even though the band are considered progressive, they definitely incorporate slight elements that I would almost consider avant-garde, and the electronic sections utilized within some of the pieces help just as much as those of a purely atmospheric nature. I haven't heard this kind of music done this well in quite a long time, so I certainly recommend checking out Mindahead. This is the kind of music that works it's way out of the box and goes every which way but loose in order to create something that is truly worthy of the term “art.”

(11 Tracks, 61:00)

8/10

Ols - Ols (2016)

Poland's Ols is a neofolk project that it's female mastermind describes as being influenced by black metal. While I can't exactly give her the benefit of the doubt on that, especially after listening to the disc itself, I can say that the Katatonia and Agalloch covers certainly seem to place it into that category. But what we've got here is a bit more etheric, and it sometimes even sounds a bit jaunty. I'm quite reminded of various pieces from The House In Fata Morgana soundtrack, especially in the first few tunes that play during the novel's opening tale. In fact, one of the cuts entitled “Krew Na Mchu” reminds me almost directly of the music that you hear while playing the game, and makes this record almost a must if you loved the folk interpretations utilized there. Her voice is absolutely hypnotizing, almost making for what feels like a ritualistic sort of sound similar to something from Qntal or possibly even Lisa Gerrard of Dead Can Dance. “Kolysanka” is one such piece where vocalization seems to prove stronger than actual phrases, making what again feels deeply spiritual and inhuman. If the sounds of a woman chanting amidst a sea of folk instrumentations entices you, then you will certainly find something here. It isn't a heavy metal album obviously, and is something that you would probably want to put on later at night to cool off a little before slumber. Thirty-four of the forty minutes on this record consist of original pieces, but the final two tracks on the record are “Unfurl” (Katatonia) which works extremely well as an acapella piece and “Bloodbirds” (Agalloch) which forms a nice closer, but is too short for me to truly recall. That being said, overly impressive and heartfelt neofolk is being utilized here and I do believe that fans of folk, ethereal, darkwave and other genres will find something in it. I don't really hear the frozen chill of black metal here, but it certainly comes off as something intriguing enough to get your hands on. Ols is definitely worth a listen, but just make sure that you're a place of quiet contemplation when you listen to it, as some parts can get a bit deep.

(8 Tracks, 40:00)

8/10

Viranesir - Supports Flag Burning and Female Raping (2017)

The Turkish experimental black metal project Viranesir has returned with a new album, this one more influenced than black metal than the previous disc I reviewed. It's a bit different, a little more raw and far less experimental than the previous as well. I can't say that I like it as much, but nor would I suggest Viranesir repeating itself, which to my knowledge has not happened. Emir Merdumgiriz recorded the record earlier in 2016 and it's filled with treatises on everything from politics to an overall hatred of the modern metal scene. The Turkish born composer has been through quite a lot during his career, and mostly the dissension seems to come from him being the exact opposite of politically correct. Some artists apparently fear for their image and have obviously taken a strict liberal basis (metal is far more liberal by nature) which actually feels more conservative in the sense that they're almost afraid to be on an album release with this artist. Such a dispute was handled in the same form similar of a hip-hop diss track, entitled “Metal Is Full Of Faggots” which comes off pretty well until Emir starts using the high pitched vocal for the other unnamed band member that he was quoting, and it becomes a bit funny. Emir seems to be going for an almost G. G. Allin approach to black metal in a politically correct age, which is going to lead to more and more issues in the future. I don't take issue with it, rather I champion it. Because Viranesir is taking a path that artists seem afraid to do. Satan no longer really invokes fear among metallers, so in order to upset and offend them in the way that early black metal records used to do, uncomfortable topics like rape, murder and siding with terrorists are satirically hinted around at, more than likely in a way that will offend and upset the scant few who actually pick this one up. I haven't seen anyone actually covering this record nor this artist, and it maybe be all the Bandcamp hassles as a reason for it. I think Viranesir was also banned from social media. Hell, just mentioning these guys for some reason may result in people thinking I support the myriads of horrible things talked about on a record, but I also know the difference between reality and fiction, satire and the actual intent or belief in these items. The record explores many instances of raw black metal, death metal, doom and even some experimental quirks in places – but it's definitely not as uncomfortable as the last and feels full of anger. Emir is seriously pissed.

To some, the record might come off a little bit soapbox, but that's fine as I've made similar records and will continue to do so. It allows Emir to get some things off his chest, which I think is truly great art. Even when the message may come off as grossly offensive, rather harsh and undoubtedly pungent, it is still art at it's core and must absolutely be respected. Viranesir has made an album by which to shock and upset a great number of people and we're certainly not going to shame him here for doing it. There's no money here, no big corporate agendas and most certainly no safe space garbage to be had over at The Grim Tower.
Judging it in the vein of raw black/death record, it's pretty strong and I think that fans of extremely raw approaches to what can be considered heavily aggressive genres well find something in it. If the song titles turn you off or suchlike, there's not much I can say there. Obviously not everyone is going to love this thing, but it hearkens back to the days when metal was actually considered evil and dangerous. To be honest, the last couple of tracks (in native Turkish) were my favorites on the album and definitely show the act's strong suites. If you can get around some of the more comical sections of the disc, you'll find that it's what we need in extreme metal today. Viranesir makes no compromises here and the entire album is better because of it.

(10 Tracks, 37:00)

8/10

Friday, January 6, 2017

Khonsu - The Xun Protectorate (2016)

Earlier we reviewed the 2012 debut album from these Norwegian electronic experimental metallers entitled Anomalia, and now after several years, we finally have a follow-up in The Xun Protectorate. This album marks their second release and could very well be their last one, at least from what I observed while reading a recent interview with the band. If that is to be the case, this album sees the Nords with an impressive amount of attention to detail, vibrancy and downright variety. Regardless of the album's overall concept, there isn't a necessary structure that flows in between all of the songs here and it is a bit of a Baskin Robbins album. But you really can't go wrong with thirty-one metallic flavors instead of vanilla, and when I describe each of them to you, I think you'll have even more of an interest in this material.

The first track here is “A Jhator Ascension” which is also the first single released from the band. The track pounds with blazing drums and blaring black metal tremolos. In all instances, it is the essential “black metal” track on the disc and feels inspired by Emperor. After that, things dramatically shift to a sort of electronic/industrial metal in “The Observatory” which features the first of many clean vocal spots from Rune Folgero of Manes. It sounds almost like eighties industrial, and I would have never expected it here. But as I am a huge fan of that style, I welcome it. With the guitars and electronics combined here, it almost sounds a bit like the final satellite stage from Mega Man X4 in some areas. There is still some black metal to be had here, and even some death metal bits before an astonishing solo effort. After that unexpected moment comes yet another in the fearsome black/death of “Liberator.” This is what happens when Khonsu fuse with latter-era Behemoth and tack some Cannibal Corpse onto the end of that. It's also nearly ten minutes long, so you're getting more than just a pummel. S. Gronbech knows his way around entertaining melodies, which have so far been one of my personal favorite things about this album. The track is still going to pound your face off, but then it goes straight into Manes style territory complete with a barrage of trumpets that almost sound like a king is being welcomed in. As the track ends, it gets hugely theatrical, which you may not expect – but keep in mind that this one battles between pomp and pulverisation at the same fucking time. It's quite unprecedented. The death metal continues as well, with frontman T'ol showing his hefty pipes on what soon sounds like a mixture of old-school Swedish death, robot rumblings and even more of Gronbech's melodic and moon-faced riffs. That guy knows how to write one hell of a nighttime melody and proves it here. There's even another strong clean vocal performance from Folgero.

I know that Manes is dead (I have no earthly idea why) but it's good to hear Folgero still able to perform similar material today. Do you even remember Manes? Have you heard any of their albums? Even the disc where they experimented with more modern and alternative approaches (it has rapping, for instance) is worth checking out. I'm not going to mention it by name, as I kind of want you to do that research and start from their first record, working your way up as I did. It is also necessary to do that with the band I'm supposed to be reviewing here as well (No, I didn't forget about you, gentlemen.)

Getting back to the record, we get a nice mix of harsh and clean sections within “The Death Of The Awakened One” as well as a decent solo section in the middle. Gronbech doesn't use a solo on every cut, but he does utilize similar melody lines, which manage to bring a little bit of uniformity to the album. Perhaps it is not quite the chaotic mess I may have described in the beginning, but it is still chock full of variety nonetheless. “Visions Of Nehaya” throws the most extreme moments of black and death metal together for a little less than three minutes and offers a filthy sledgehammer to the face. There are no clean vocals to speak of here. “A Dream Of Earth” sounds like it was written in space and is wonderfully filtered in the vocal region to sound like a machine is singing the lines. This piece heads even deeper into electronic territory as a female vocalist (uncredited, but a wonderful perfomance!) comes into play and fades out leaving us with a very familiar sound effect around the 4:15 – 4:19 mark. Yes, that very much sounds like the noises that the metroids made in games like Super Metroid and AM2R which only gamer nerds like myself will probably notice. Let's just hope Nintendon't!

Without spoiling any more of the listen, it's safe to say that the work done here is nothing short of exemplary. If you're looking for something heavier than you might be getting with other electronic metal acts, you're definitely going to find it here. As a matter of fact, I need to mention that some of the solos and riff-melodies I've accredited to T'ol may actually have been performed by Keep Of Kalessin's Obsidian C. That's because he performed additional guitars throughout the entire record, along with Rune Folgero's many clean moments. Altogether, it sounds like a full band with a highly produced and undoubtedly professional level of production quality. I'm surprised that I didn't hear much about Khonsu in mainstream heavy metal news media, but seeing as they are too busy talking about bands that I listened to back in my teenage years, it makes perfect sense. I think it goes without saying that the late release of this album might have placed it well under the radar for many of you – and since it seems to be their last, you may want to pick up on it now. If you're a fan of acts like mid-era SepticFlesh, mid-era Satyricon and of course Manes, then you'll definitely want this one in your collection.

(10 Tracks, 58:00)

9/10

Deathblow - Demolition Deployment (2016)

With the single from this Utah thrash act, I feel that I'm getting a good mix of Slayer style thrash along with some extra fixins in lieu of structure that even Slayer have yet to offer these days. I'm talking about muscular guitar where it matters, taking what could have been basic thrash plodding into a slightly more listenable and intriguing experience. I especially loved the band's old school Motorhead cover of “Mean Machine” which changed the whole playing style that I heard in the beginning and really worked to show their old-school grit.

When you first hear the opener and title cut, you're immediately going to want to cast these guys off as Slayer knock-offs, and that's definitely a bad move. Both instrumental sections on this song alone seem to deliver and change the whole feel of the piece in a way that I feel paints a much better picture of the kind of thrash band Deathblow want to be. Sure, they're a thrash act. That's not going to change. But like so other few thrash acts out there, these guys want to do a bit more than cookie-cutter thrash and they prove it in the way that classic bands have always done, with memorable riffs and melodies flowing throughout this composition, sometimes so quickly utilized that you'll wind up having to play the track again to understand what I'm talking about. “Implements Of Destruction” is a little more straight-forward and almost feels like a slightly more technical Slayer, but I've always found the more technical and progressive thrash acts to be my cup of tea.

You know, when I first listened to this thing, I didn't think much of it. But now that I'm sitting down with it again, I can see where there might be some real talent, and the kind that you just don't hear in thrash these days. Not even Testament's latest carried such soundscapes within the compositions as these do here. Sure, Testament might be good at writing hard-hitting thrash cuts, but they never wrote such highly spirited and truly dynamic pieces as the one's I'm hearing here. There were never any truly technical or proggy bits to their song structures and that of course is expected. Overkill never did the same either, as it's just not something that people were into at the time. It was about making music sound raw and aggressive, not artistic. I think thrash acts like this were trying to move away from the more technical and progressive epics that bands like Iron Maiden and on occasion Judas Priest, were creating. Sabbath in those days was pretty much a prog rock band without Ozzy, so you can kind of understand why thrash had to be the way that it was. But this is 2017 and thrash doesn't have to sound the same way that it has since 1980. I hope that this is just the start of progressive thrash movement, because in all honesty; I can only count a handful of bands that did anything remotely similar. And when I say that, I mean bands that have progressive elements, rather than just mixing the two together. DAM is a good example. I'd like to see these guys get to that level, and then outright surpass it.

In any case, Demolition Deployment is a short but very sweet single release that I think showcases a possible grand slam in the thrash department. These guys do what so many other thrash bands just don't these days, and that says something. I am going to say that perhaps they need to tone down just a little on the Slayer worship and sort of take it outwards towards their own unique style, but sometimes you just have to accept that it's tough to write new thrash without incorporating the roots of the genre. Like trying to raise a plant without soil.

(3 Tracks, 12:00)

8/10