Thursday, February 25, 2016

Batushka - Litourgiya (2015)

An obscure Polish act (and I do mean that, as no one knows who they are) these guys revel in thick chants, thick doom riffs and blazing black metal. One might even call it black/doom metal, which it certainly seems to be from the listen. Of the tracks, they are all named “Yekteniya 1-8” so one might assume that such a piece was meant to be heard as a whole. But it's not all that long either, as it's only a little over forty minutes which seems satisfying. The beauty of this record is in the way it melds black metal atmospheres with cleaner vocal approaches, which are backed with doom elements and change up the style quite a bit. The black metal featured on the disc is quite raw and vehement, one might even say that it's very true what we know of the genre and feels natural. But the fact that the record gives us much more than just that is a thing that I think such a mysterious act will be wholly known for. While there's more than enough black metal and blast beats offered on the disc, the clean vocal sections offer more doom and melodies, which really seem to balance the formula out.

There are sections which remind me heavily of Graveworm's earlier days, especially “Yekteniya 3” which also throws in backing chants as part of some sort of mad ritual. Sometimes atmospheres are also observed, in which you'll hear the ringing of bells. These subtle but noticeable atmospheres make Batushka seem more like a spiritual project than something of a musical product to be bought and sold. These guys made this record to share with the world and I feel that the effort will be heavily respected by fans of black metal and doom atmospheres. Especially if you're into very melodic tremolos, which you'll hear en masse throughout the album. It almost feels like Rotting Christ's Rituals, but with a greater influence in memorable tremolos, harsh shrieks and machine-gun drum abrasions. Perhaps “Yekteniya 7” is a little bit different in it's slower and more doom oriented nature, but more often than not the record offers what is a truly noteworthy black metal and ritual performance that I don't think we can really compare to anything else.

Bands have certainly mixed doom with black metal before, and Batushka certainly aren't the first to use chants in their music; but they've certainly made an album that feels like pure Polish black metal as it carries with it both the spirit of their country and it's people. Litourgiya isn't just a black metal record, or a doom album. It's history in the making and a sure outreach from a country whose fantastic metal scene has gone unheard and unnoticed for far too long. Perhaps after you're done listening to this album, you'll find that the country has several other great acts of similar style and quality who you've probably never heard of and will want to check out. Please allow a fantastic performance like Litourgiya to be your gateway into the world of Polish heavy metal music. You'll even hear about some other great and relatively unknown Polish acts in some of our earlier reviews. The country has far more to offer than just Behemoth. Allow Batushka to show you how it’s done!

(8 Tracks, 41:00)


Obscura - Akroasis (2016)

Canada's Obscura are finally back with a brand new record and it shows that they've only been getting better since the release of 2011's Omnivium. I actually cannot believe it's been that long since we've had a new Obscura record, but let me tell you – the wait was ever worth it. I sure I'm going to upset a few people when I say that I thought the band's debut Cosmogenesis was simply boring, and I still think so. It wasn't until their sophomore that I started to hear a really great band, and that's only continued. But there's no use in looping what I previously said, so let's just get to the observation. We start out with “Sermon Of The Seven Suns” which is more Cynic worship than anything else, seeming surprising from a band that literally named itself after a Gorguts album. The track even changes into completely non-metal territory, observing some acoustic prog-rock. “The Monist” however finally kicks it into gear with a heaping helping of beefy death metal. I don't know about you, but it's great to hear thick death growls emanating out from frontman Steffen Kummerer instead of the harsh vocal rasp of which I think has been excessively overused. Oddly enough, even this song turns into a bit of progressive art rock, but I guess that's just the kind of style they're going for this time around. Though to be honest, when the title track opens up for axeman Rafael Trujillo to play some tasty solo sections along with Kummerer, is anyone really going to object? It certainly won't be me.

“Ten Sephiroth” and “Ode To The Sun” both feature the death growls of which I've asked for, but the latter is a much stronger piece with angelic choir vocals and some marching drums performed by Sebastian Lanzer. Problem ends, it ends just as it gets good and goes right back into that formula this band tend to lose themselves in. Gentlemen, we know that you can play technical death metal. We've known it for years now, but there's no real need to remake the same sorts of songs you've already made. Unless you're just adding more songs to Cosmogenesis or dare I say it, Focus. “Fractal Dimension” does get more interesting towards the end, but you'll have to be patient before Trujillo's obscure solo section comes into the mix and adds a bit of breath to the track, as well as the section which comes after. Sadly, it offers us another solo and fades out with that. So I guess you'll have to go see the band live in order to hear the whole song. Then we have “Perpetual Infinity” in which some folk instruments are shortly utilized as well as a nice solo and some proggy parts, but it's nothing special. Okay, I've got that one out of the way. Now here comes the real meat of the record, in the form of an EP length track by the name of “Weltseele.” I won't even kid about this one folks, as “Weltseele” is over fifteen minutes long and contains possibly one of the most grandiose tracks that this band have ever recorded and probably will ever record. Lyrically it's not much longer than any of the other songs on the record, but that's because it offers more in overall instrumentation and most of all, experimentation. Using a combination of both the harsh scowl and the deep gravel, Kummerer's skills are really put to the test on this one. Considering the length of the piece, I'd assume that Kummerer and Trujillo's guitar skills along with Sebastian Lanser's drum acrobatics and Linus Klausenitzer's bass licks are all being put to the test here. Constructing something of this length isn't nearly as difficult as it may have been years ago with the advent of technology and file transfer, but you can only imagine how much strain it would put on these guys to have to perform something like this live every night. We can't all be Opeth, you know. But the band doesn't necessarily have to kill themselves over this one, as there are also several violin, cello and double bass sections performed by various session musicians to give the guys a needed break between the heaviness. They still manage to put up a fight though, showing that they didn't bite off more than they could chew as they ultimately deliver a magnificent piece to end most copies of the album with.

There is an instrumental bonus track on the limited edition version of the disc entitled “The Origin Of Primal Expression” but it seems like a bit of an afterthought and feels like the end credits to the musical equivalent of a film that I just listened to. It's not really necessary, but I feel that it does accentuate the piece a little and makes for a fuller experience. I can't really see why one would have to pay more for what is really the shortest track here, especially when it shows the musicians doing what they do best; but perhaps that's why I'm not in music marketing. Again, it's a nice piece but not worth the extra money I feel. Should have been on there to begin with. How I hate musical DLC. When all is said and done, Akroasis serves up a very strong performance, albeit with some doctored up approaches of material they've already excelled at on prior discs. You can tell that they're trying to spruce up their old hat a little, but it's nice to see them taking on new territory as well. Three albums in and Obscura seem to be getting even better, while taking what they know onto broader horizons. Surely, there's nothing wrong with that.

(9 Tracks, 58:00)


Dissvarth - Between The Light and The Moon (2016)

It would certainly seem that I've got a mixed bag this week, with groove, death metal, electronic music and now this atmospheric release. Officially considered a mix of cosmic ambient, darkwave and neo-folk, the debut release from this two man project is most certainly a journey. Dissvarth might sound like some sort of cosmic black metal act, but that is certainly not the case here, as Dis Pater (Midnight Odyssey) and Svarthen (Aeon Winds) instead whip up atmospheres that remind me of everything from Dead Can Dance to those little known atmospheric projects that Mortiis fronted so many years ago. Elend and Arcana are also mentioned here in the leaflet, which I can certainly attest to as influences. Of course Elend always sort of took me for a loop, particularly during their early Satanism based records. Surely there's nothing wrong with beautiful and atmospheric (yet dark, as you'll find here) pieces about the devil, but I always found it a rather silly subject to make atmospheric music about. As expected, they later changed their style to something a bit more intriguing.

With Between The Light and The Moon, one can become quickly enraptured within the passages of what I'd consider an absolutely brilliant and memorable experience from literally the very first song on the album. “Into Darkness Your Spirit Flies” features a rather dark vocal croon, quite similar to that of not just Dead Can Dance and Arcana, but also Black Tape For A Blue Girl, who have been making darkwave music since there was such a thing as darkwave. A gentle and spacey piano really sets the piece off though, making for a rather beautiful trip into the stars. “Ablaze Of Solar Night” sounds a bit like Bowie (of which I've no objection to) especially when the vocals raise a little beyond their deep overtones, as the title piece seems to serve as something of a short meditation observed from sitting at the center of the universe. “Polaris” adds acoustics into the mix, which seems on track for that neo-folk vibe you might have seen tagged earlier in the review. “Halls In A Hidden Fog” is where we'll end the observation, showing that these guys excel most when they're channeling new dimensions from out of thin air by the magickal art of music. With Between The Light and The Moon, you're getting a mixture of ethereal soundscapes, passionate darkwave and shadowy folk tunes, all seeming to meld together perfectly. There's not a song here that I would consider a throwaway, so it's definitely worth a listen if you're looking for something to zone out to for a bit. It certainly delivers the kind of “chill music” that you might expect expect from such a release and would work wonders in a state of meditation. Well, most songs. I don't feel that I can personally focus on meditation when songs contain very bright and audible vocals, but they did intend on making a musical release with vocals, rather than just an instrumental. So we've got to take that into consideration. Between The Light and The Moon is a step in the right direction for this genre and shows Dissvarth as a prominent act. Just don't confuse them for black metal, as their name is very confusing in that regard.

(9 Tracks, 53:00)


BAK XII - Aut Caesar Aut Nihil (2016)

I've actually been looking forward to reviewing this one for a while now. But not because it gives me another chance to listen to the record, but because it's a rather strong electronic/industrial disc and it needs to be talked about. You can already point out the influences in this Swiss act, like KMFDM, Kraftwerk and numerous others. You can already tell that the disc is already setup in verse/chorus format, but it's catchy and done right – which is what I really care about on this kind of disc. Let's talk about it in electronic terms first. BAK XIII utilizes everything from dance club beats to chiptunes, and it all works as they’re able to structure it properly. Have you ever tried to make electronic music before? It's not exactly easy to perfect regardless of how simple some artists can make it sound. Listening to “Death Is The New Hype” as an example shows exactly how much goes into this kind of a record, guitar riffs included. While BAK XIII definitely feature guitar sections in their pieces, the music they play here is far from metal or even electronic rock. As I said, I hear an awful lot of influence here from KMFDM and definitely Kaptain K himself. But even in all that, I can hear some lighter nodes from acts like The Pet Shop Boys, who the band seem to have taken a lot of inspiration from as I’m noting with this listen. Recently, The British legends have experimented with their own dance-club friendly musings which you'll hear on their latest album Elysium, and a similar approach can be heard here. Yet as I said, chiptunes are also mixed in with that, making for an approach that I'd expect from a band that has been around for over a decade.

Though this is my first time being exposed to BAK XIII, they're certainly not a new act by any means. To electronic fans, these guys are considered veterans. Yet it's very easy to see why, as this album seems to contain just the sort of formula that makes for a commercially acceptable, yet extremely powerful electronic performance. The vocals can be harsh at times, even utilizing a bit of spoken word, but they can also bring a sort of calm clarity that makes for memorable choruses. Aut Casear Aut Nihil is the kind of record that won't just have you humming choruses, as it'll also have you in deep thought as you’re walking down the sidewalk on your way to the daily commute. Many important topics are discussed here, like religion (The Awakening) fear mongering, (Fear Is Big Business) musical integrity (Fucking Bloody Song Of Shit) escapism (Living In Video Games) and more. BAK XIII really made the sort of record that not only comes off easily accessible, but also seems to more or less be a dissertation of what is going on in today's society. If there's one song that really gelled with me, it's “We Know Nothing” which I feel is a lesson in humbleness that a great deal of people on the internet need to have shoved down their throats. There's also an unexpected oddity called “Wake Up” which explores several world music implementations. Such a piece like this might come off a bit oblong at first, but what's wrong with a song that carries a little bit of a different vibe every once in a while?

In any case, I'd highly recommend this bright and highly intelligent new release from BAK XIII who've proven that they're still just as strong as they were when they began. Aut Caesar Aut Nihil is the definition of capable electronic music in this modern age, and shows that the approach can still evolve and devour newer ideas like video game chiptunes and even (extremely light) dubstep in order to make for a disc that sounds like it belongs in 2016. Make sure you pick it up, because you'll enjoy it. I did.

(14 Tracks, 60:00)


Iniquitous Deeds - Incessant Hallucinations (2015)

Rolling in at a little more than a half an hour, we've got another dose of greasy grimy gopher guts coming our way from out of California. Some little place called Walnut Creek. Well, the people of Walnut Creek might be very well to do and prefer putting on the green while sipping from a glass of shanty, but these gentlemen are the kind who will arrive uninvited on that same course with a golf cart full of baseball bats, sledgehammers and brass knuckles, ready to pulverize any incoming meat that interferes with their plans of well... carnage. These guys have no rhyme or reason to their devastation, they just simply play the living hell out of their instruments, most notably featuring a rather prominent drum approach by Matt Kilner (Nithing) who reminds me almost of the majestic and legendary work of 7 H Target. This occurs especially to me at the end of “Merciless Disintegration” which goes out in one of the best ways that I think a song of this nature can. It's great to hear a man behind the kit that sounds like he can actually play and is having a hell of a good time with it too. While that one might only be the opener and additionally the disc's longest song, these guys prove that they don't need long songs to show what they're made of.

On guitars we have Niko Kalajakis, who plays some rather powerful death riffs that we'd expect, yet mixed in with more progressive (Atheist/Cynic) style stuff that we wouldn't. You could even say there's some Demilich, but let's not reach too far over the hills. Vocals are regurgitated by Mike Simon, who is absolutely no stranger to this sound or style by any means. You can expect these massive gurglings to fill the entire album, regardless of what the lyrical matter may be about. But honestly, we don't care. Most listeners will come to Iniquitous Deeds by what they hear at face value, and that's just fine. I strongly doubt that someone is holding their ear up to the speakers in an attempt to identify with what Simon is gurgling about here and would be honestly very surprised if that was the case. If you could even understand so much as “I fucked a chicken” then you're doing a great job, certainly.

All jokes aside, Incessant Hallucinations offers a real beating, beyond what anyone might expect. But shouldn't we expect it? This is brutal death metal after all. If they changed to polka music, people might be a little upset by it. I can imagine hundreds of thousands of listeners all simultaneously shouting “What the fuck is this!?” all at the same time, with a force of energy that could split the Earth in half. But rest assured, you're getting nothing less than an intelligent, yet rather vile approach here and I think you're going to be happy with it. Well, you'd better be. There are far less interesting acts out there than these guys, which is one reason they stick out amongst a sea of others. If you like Brutal Death Metal, you're buying this. Chances are, you already have it and I'm late to the party. But there's nothing wrong with promoting great death metal right? Of course not.

(8 Tracks, 33:00)


The Erkonauts - I Did Something Bad (2016 Reissue)

Formed from the remains of industrial melodic death metallers Sybreed, The Erkonauts don't quite make the kind of music that you might have expected. Originally this thing was released in 2014, but I sure as hell didn't know about it and chances are, neither did you. Both of those 2014 pressings sold completely out and it's easy to see why. First of all, the label (Kaotoxin) has these guys pegged as sounding like Primus, mid-90's Suicidal Tendencies and The Offspring. But maybe someone over there must have not heard the black metal influence in “Tony 5” and the Emperor/Borknagar/Ihsahn inspirations particularly, which are painted all over it. These guys have always fucked with a bit of black metal, particularly on “Lucifer Effect” which is still one of my all-time favorite Sybreed tracks. Speaking of Sybreed, the band features former vocalist Ales Campanelli who also tackles the bass, along with their former drummer Kevin Choiral. Guitarists Sebastian Puiatti and Adrien Bornand are completely new, but are just as talented. These two definitely command catchy grooves amidst the industrial feel that still manages to exist somewhere within the confines of this formula. This being said, there is definitely some catchy blues to be found here as the leaflet claims, and it's quite like what you might expect from a band like Clutch or Down. I Did Something Bad really is a mixed bag, so you never know what to expect.

Right now I'm listening to a toe-tapper by the name of “Nola” but just before that came the rather sappy (but keep in mind this is coming from the same band who wrote “Next Day Will Never Come”) “All The Girls Should Die.” Out of most of the tracks here, that one seems to resonate with me the most and I'll no doubt add it to my personal play list. If we keep listening, we'll run into the High On Fire/Superjoint Ritual influenced “Dominium Mundi” which also seems to toy around with darker territory just a bit. It also works to remind me a lot of mid-era Gojira. Rest assured, the piece certainly doesn't sound “silly” and instead seems a little more heartfelt, albeit gut-wrenching. But that's just the kind of musical passion I'd expect from Campanelli and I'm really glad to see that that hasn't changed. When I first read the press release for this one, I almost choked a little. I was a bit worried that perhaps the guys would take it a little too comical with songs like “The Great Ass Poopery” and in the process end up killing what they really do best. Yet I am aware that this isn't Sybreed and it should stand as a replacement for what that band meant to me. Nevertheless, I'm really glad that what I remember and love most about Sybreed is still here in The Erkonauts, just flavored a bit differently. It works and I personally enjoy it.

When we get into “Hamster's Ghosthouse” which also takes on a slightly darker approach, I'm again reminded of the power in such an act like this. Take the use of the thick Gothic organs mixed in with the proggy Pink Floyd inspired blues on this same track, and you've got a noteworthy act from the start. I don't think it's necessary to discuss the entire album and spoil it for those who haven't heard it, but I will talk a little about the bonus tracks, as they are exclusive to this version of the album. The first one of these we have definitely feels a little more robotic, as such it is titled “Machine.” There will also be a video for this one upon release of the album. As for the song, it almost feels like a Sybreed cast-off with a much different vocal approach. We could compare it to something from Fear Factory or Gojira. The second song is actually quite long and feels like maybe something from Godflesh with a cleaner vocal approach. You could compare it to Killing Joke, but I think it's too slow of a number to tie it to Fear Factory again. But when I even utter the words, “Killing” and “Joke” that should be enough to already get you interested. In the end, both tracks are actually really good. They both stand out on the disc and are not mere filler. I actually feel kind of bad for those who bought the earlier version of this record, because these tracks are very good and it seems a little unfortunate that they have to buy the record again to get a copy of them. The band really should have just held out to put these on another record. It would have been worth the wait. If you don't already have the DIY pressings, then please go pick up this album, especially if you like Sybreed, sludge, post metal, groove and acts like Fear Factory, Gojira and The Killing Joke. As the leaflet said, there are some silly moments here, but there's more passion and conviction than comedy. I like the sound of that. It almost feels like ending Sybreed was the best thing these guys could have done, because The Erkonauts just feels far more inventive and tasteful. I felt that the final Sybreed album, God Is An Automaton really said it all and that The Erknonauts are a necessary evolution. Let me know what you think.

(11 Tracks, 54:00)


Tuesday, February 16, 2016

Exumer - The Raging Tides (2016)

Let me be brutally honest here. Exumer's a thrash act and you'll catch that from the moment you put this record on. But at the core, there's just way too much fucking Slayer worship here for me. I get it, you really dig that early Slayer and that punk attitude that they had, but for the love of all that's metal, differentiate it up a little bit. I listened to the entire album from front to back and only a small bonus cut called “Forever My Queen” managed to actually change the tempo a little. Which means I literally sat through almost forty minutes of what sounded like the same damn song. Granted these guys definitely have the Slayer formula down and they certainly deliver in the solo department with the utmost care and concern, but as far as the meat of these cuts, it doesn't really seem to go too far beyond Hanneman's legacy. It would be nice to hear them do some groovier cuts, some slower cuts, or maybe just utilize more than the same old sets of riff patterns that I've already heard in the opener. But don't take my word for it, listen to the record itself. Granted I can hear the hardcore influence here, but I'd much prefer something like Pro-Pain or Prong's thrashier stuff. It's noting against the guys, as they're doing a great job with what they're doing, I'm just not getting anything I haven't heard before and it is a bit bland. Aside from the solos, of course. One again, the band really did put a lot of thought into the album's solo sections and those are at least memorable. If you're looking for speed-thrash that pulls no punches, give the record a listen. But know what you're getting here, which is approximately forty minutes of classic Slayer worship with some punk and hardcore influence.

(12 Tracks, 41:00)


Mesmur - Mesmur (2015)

Mesmur is a sort of symphonic doom/death project, which utilizes some elements of electronic music within it's forlorn compositions. This act is formed from members of Dalla Nebbia, but it's definitely a different can of beans as far as I'm concerned. The most interesting thing for me here was how much electronic influence was sampled right at the very beginning of the disc, but after that it really starts to plod. Plodding is quite normal for doom/death in the My Dying Bride, November's Doom and Saturnus style (among others) but at least these guys round it out with strong, memorable lead melodies. These leads help to accentuate the piece, making it far easier to feel as an atmosphere and not just a bunch of slow doom riffs. There are ten and twenty bands that utilize that style, and even we're guilty of it at times – but that's why I feel it is essential to achieve more than everyone else. Aside from the metallic side of things, the vocal end is still very powerful and heavily memorable. If you remember what I said about Dalla Nebbia, the same can be said for Mesmur, where there is a definite focus on the deep growls, yet there's a bit more passion behind them. It very much sounds like classic doom/death, but with an added aspect in once again, the electronics. Yes, I know that electronics in such music are sometimes seen as a detriment, but here is where they deliver. Mesmur are definitely symphonic and these songs rely as heavily on synthscapes as they do on dreary, melodic riff melodies. As you can start to imagine, these synths eventually move into a sort of wave, which takes over the sound completely and makes it something new. The final cut on the disc, “Osmosis” seems to deliver this the best, as it sounds like “doom in space” and really resonates with me. While the band are still playing a very staple style as far as doom and death have been concerned, with this added synth element, it almost feels as if the band are hurtling through the stars, with the bass thumps on the record being likened to the pounding of asteroids on nearby planets. It's all very fascinating and like very few other acts out there is the genre, Mesmur is giving doom a facelift.

When Pallbearer came out of Arkansas with a sound in doom that no one's ever heard before, doom purists were quick to tear it apart. They called it everything from “hipster doom” to “poser doom” to whatever else they could utilize in an attempt to demonize something different. But the problem was, Pallbearer was actually a terrific doom act. It wouldn't have mattered how much the small community of doom elitists condemned the record, it was receiving a lot of praise and publicity. Mesmur are in that same boat, but the metalllions at large haven't really heard them yet. So I don't know how that small circle-jerk of doom elitists will actually respond to these guys. At any rate, this self-titled release is a good place to start for these guys and I'm sure that things will only receive more definition and clarity in the future, as they discover what kind of band they really want to be. I still feel that it needs a bit of work, but I feel that it will definitely be a built-upon approach. Even so, I'd still recommend it, but more to fans of the doom/death style than anyone else. Even the doom/deathers might not get it so much, so it is a tough little classification. But there's still no doubt in my mind that Mesmur are delivering just the kind of doom/death that we need right now.

(5 Tracks, 58:00)


The Lumberjack Feedback - Blackened Visions (2016)

If you're a fan of acts like Neurosis, Pelican and a slew of other post metal acts, then you're going to want to give this one a spin immediately. If you don't remember my reviews of this French acts previous EP's (though I'm not sure if I covered all of them) then you know that I've been waiting quite a while for this debut album. The guys finally decided that it was time to put everything they had together for a full-length, even though we know full well that they aren't afraid to make a forty minute disc and call it an EP. The band, which features two drummers, is still wholly instrumental as they should be. I think they're doing an excellent enough job with these dark and sludgy atmospheres and the hard-hitting bass riffs will speak louder here than any vocal approaches ever could. That being said, I can't literally tell you how much I agree with the Pelican comparisons, as this is the kind of record that sounds almost just like Australasia and that makes me smile with glee. I actually used Australasia quite a bit as vocal practice, which definitely helped my chops and showed me where vocals can go on these types of records. Once again, not that they need it. Nor would I say to buy this kind of disc so that you can practice vocals to it – even though yes, instrumental music approaches do help very much for that sort of thing. But let's not take this too far out of context, because I'm not heading down that road with Blackened Visions. What I really mean to say here, is that like Australasia; you'll find the disc to be just as crunchy as it is melodic, just not in the pretty kind of way. Instead, the melodies here seem to allow for a larger flow, which keeps the record far beyond that of just simple doom and sludge, which we can all map out. There's even a few lighter sections in “Salvation” and closer “Mah Song (Horses Of God)” which allow for slight breaks and even slight psychedelics in the formula (unfortunately, where most of these really begin to take off is where the album ends.) Said closer also contains the album's only solo, but it is ever so awesome. This is actually a guest solo from Agressor (formely Loudblast) axeman Colin Tocquaine.

For the most part, you're getting hefty sludge and doom with a level of theatrics that is just intriguing enough to keep you entertained. They don't go into black metal, or death metal or anything other than what you see described before you – but we didn't ask them to either. These guys got together to play the kind of music that they wanted to make and after finally releasing this debut we can see that they're still just as good at it as when they started. Blackened Visions is not without it's little experiments, which keep our ears glued and ready for the next section to come into play. I don't really think of it as a series of songs so much as one large piece that exercises several different layers within it. It's like a dark and musty old cake with a lot of sludge in the middle and maybe some sugar in the melody section. At times the album can even be a bit haunting, even ominous as “Dra Till Helvete” displays right before an unexpected face-pounding. Dark, ominous, experimental and likely to cause earthquakes, Blackened Visions is truly top notch. These guys are definitely doing a better job with this style than their worn out peers, who've done very little to impress me in recent years. Yes, The Lumberjack Feedback are the ones to beat this year, so to all of the other instrumental sludge, post doom experiments out there, I say to you – bring it.

(8 Tracks, 44:00)


Ravensire - The Cycle Never Ends (2016)

Portugal's Ravensire bring to mind herculean marches of manly metal might like those from Manowar as illustrated by Frank Frazetta and written by Robert E. Howard. While I don't recall if such a thing ever happened in the world of heavy metal, I definitely feel such a statement applies here. Rick Thor's thunderous bass riffs doubled with F's drumming bring about that mighty feeling of doom, yet there's also a great deal of classic heavy metal here; which is basically the kind of act that it boils down to. I'm also a bit reminded of Hansi Kursch in early Blind Guardian when it comes to the vocal approach here, which makes Thor's performance feel ancient, even legendary. The band also employ two guitarists, Nuno Mordred and more recently Mario Figueira who just joined the act as of this album. It's Figueria's first record and from what I can tell, it's a fine performance that seems to emulate everything that this genre of metal stands for. It is the fire and the dragon, it is the titan and the column, the sword and the spell, the battles between gods, demons and mighty men. It is filled with pounding solos, just the way your mother used to make in the warmth and fire of eighties metal. I'm not sure if the current generation of metalheads will get into what they call “dad rock” but don't even let me get started on that again. I should have had kids years ago and would probably end up being a stepfather in any case, so maybe this stuff is for me after all. But scratch that – children should grow up with Howard and Lovecraft, I think. I'd have treasured them far more than the stories I was reading at such an age, not having known of either man prior.

In any case, this is the kind of record that comes with might. It's like picking up an album and gaining immense strength just from holding it. It's like Conan's sword, which is far too heavy for you to pick up. These gentlemen even have a three-piece epic about the majesty of architecture and ancient temples called “The White Pillars” which seems to further cement their awesomeness as it shows what they're really capable of instrumentally. In particular, the solo section in “Temple At The End Of The World” is absolutely fascinating as it demonstrates the kind of awesome solos that I remember hearing from this genre. Altogether, The Cycle Never Ends is filled with monstrous doom riffs, a powerful vocal performance and about fifteen hundred pounds of testosterone. This is man's metal, for men by men. I'm just glad to see that it's an approach not lost and I wish Ravensire the best with this one and future efforts. I definitely think that fans of Manowar, Manilla Road, classic Blind Guardian and even Iron Maiden will find something to like here and you're sure to hold your axe highly to this one. Speaking of axes, I'm also reminded of Golden Axe with this one, which again describes the atmosphere perfectly. Not only is it mighty, but it's finely crafted and has the spirit of the metal gods looking over it from high above the horizon.

(8 Tracks, 43:00)


Septagon - Deadhead Syndicate (2016)

This German speed/thrash act formed from members of A Crimson Trail, Lanfear and Atlantean Codex (particularly Atlantean Codex's awesome frontman Markus Becker) is definitely worth your ears, and I truly mean that. This is one of those albums that caught my attention the very first time through and I knew I was going to cover it immediately, without hesitation. The record itself isn't that long, but who cares? This is the kind of disc you're going to play over and over again, with speedy riffs, memorable solos and catchy choruses that remind me of classic Anthrax. If the six-minute opener “Revolt Against The Revolution” doesn't get your attention, then I'm quite sure that you'll be singing right along with “Exit... Gunfire” which had me singing along right from the beginning. Yet while we're at it, listen to that muscular guitar composition, especially the instrumental section right in the middle of the song. That's how you make memorable thrash, there's no doubt about it. The chorus is really good, but they don't hang on it. Instead, the five-piece show why there's two guitarists in the band as both Stef-Binnig-Gollub and Markus Ulrich prove their worth beyond what I can even explain in words. Listen to “Ripper” and it's amazing Egyptian inspired melodies, that sound like something right out of Iced Earth's “Birth Of The Wicked.” Keeping in mind that Iced Earth also covered this same topic on “Jack” I'm kind of torn between which version I like better. Both are well-written and have choruses I'll be singing in my head for a few days, I'm sure.

“Septagon Conspiracy” (shouldn't it be “The Septagon Conspiracy?”) adds in some robotic vocal elements, as well as a rather rocking solo, making for an interesting thrash experiment. The title track is another one that popped right out to me. If not for the strong chorus, the progressive riff infusions most definitely. It's not a song where the chorus is heavily embraced, but as I've said – Septagon have enough musical might behind them that they don't have to rely on such a commonly used pop maneuver. If a song here is longer than what the radio might accept, then you can bet that these guys have the right kind of instrumental backing to keep your ears entertained the whole way through. The disc ends out with the oblong “Secret Silver Panorama Machine” which is a bit vocally oblong, but has a wonderful chorus number that certainly seems to show the world that there's more in store from this little act. If this conspiracy-laden thrash treat doesn't get your attention, then I think there are few things this year that will. Now obviously, despite the fact that the disc is quite pleasing, it's still a bit of a rough effort – as in, they'll get better with time. I think Septagon are only showing a fraction of what they can really pull off and the band's next output should be even further realized. Even so, I'd still recommend picking it up and it's definitely the kind of disc that has several cuts you'll want to play over and over again. This is how great and intriguing thrash metal is made. Without question, I'm already ready for the next offering.

(9 Tracks, 39:00)


The Bloodhound Gang - Hard Off (2015)

A bit of an oddity, I'm sure that nine out of ten people are wondering just why in the hell we're reviewing an album from The Bloodhound Gang. Well, I've been a fan since they debuted way back when and haven't heard a new release from these guys in several years. As a matter of fact, I think it was 2005's Hefty Fine which was the last I'd heard from them and that was a full decade ago. So what in the hell kind of record did they make this time? As you may have expected, it's just as experimental as their previous record and '99's breakout Hooray For Boobies.

The first one we've got here is “My Dad Says That's For Pussies” which sounds like a melancholic emo-era Blink 182 track, except for the fact that it's a bit hilarious and full of the level of potty-mouthed humor that we'd expect from these guys. The next one, “Dimes” is actually more like the group's hit “The Bad Touch” which takes an electronic/nerd rap approach. It's actually really good, but what really interested me here is that the electronic melody utilized here somewhat resembles E1-M2 from the first Doom game, or “The Chemical Plant” stage. You'd have to really listen to it, but it certainly seems like it's there. An obvious dance track, it works pretty well and the rhymes are spit with a nerdy sort of humor that is pretty much classic Bloodhound Gang. The ending section of the track changes the style up, making for a better dance track than what I hear in the majority of modern Hip Hop music. “American Bitches” is a weird melancholy acoustic that seems to be both depressing and comedic at the same time. “Chew Toy” brings the electronic rap back, but with a more simplified sense that actually works for them. The song is obviously comparing a woman to meat, which is obviously problematic and oh noes, but it's pretty damn funny to hear “When I see you, I see steak” as the main chorus number. “Uncool As Me” features Joey Fatone who adds backup vocals to the cut, almost making it like a comedic duet. There's definitely some Weezer influence to be found here, as most people will notice.

“Clean Up In Aisle Sexy” goes back to electronic rap about sex, bringing along more of a dance/rave atmosphere as well. “Diary Of A Stranger” finally changes things up to allow for a New Wave piece. I'm quite a fan of the style and obviously the genre revival, so I was a bit glad to hear this one. The lyrics are all comical, but at least the musical element is there. “Socially Awkward Penguin” continues the melancholic rock style, which seems to poke fun at emos. Unfortunately, it seems to come off as a pretty decent piece as well. What really surprises me is that these guys are what, forty now? These are the kinds of lyrics I'd expect them to write when they were twenty. Very bizarre. I'm guessing there are notebooks full of this stuff from the past and that's where this material came from. “Think Outside The Box” is another electronic rap track about a guy who's considering having sex with a groupie or other woman of ill-repute. “We're Gonna Bring The Party To You” is definitely a tribute to one of the band's biggest influences, The Beastie Boys and it's a pretty good way to end what I'd consider a rather awkward listen. There's one more piece here, which isn't even worth mentioning. At the end of the day, I still have to ask the question: Can a record be comedic and musically proficient at the same time? Musically and even vocally, the record seems to deliver exactly what it wants to. But the lyrical fodder is so much chaff that I don't even know if it's suitable for human consumption. Bit too late for that, as the record's been out for a while now, but if you're a nerd or geek and a socially awkward penguin yourself, you might find something in this. I will say that it was much better than I would have expected from a band at this stage and after ten years of dormancy, I've heard far worse. At least they didn't ruin what worked for them and it certainly sounds like a Bloodhound Gang record. Just keep in mind that it is comedy.

(11 Tracks, 38:00)


Mussorgski - Creatio Cosmicam Beastie (2016)

Mussorgski is a Polish one-man project from a member of another well-known act, Arkona. This is the project's third album, which seems to also deal with occult, spiritual and furthermore magickal concepts. Considering the fact that the record was “recorded mixed/mastered in Church Of Chaos” I wouldn't really be all that surprised if mastermind Khorzon was indeed a chaote. Surely the lyrics, particularly those in “God Is In The Neurons” and “Sabbathum In Perpetuum” would point directly to this, with the former being very close to my particular observation of reality as well. But that's enough with the philosophical discussion, let's talk about the album. Described as a mix of industrial and black metal, I certainly see this roughly put into effect. There are creepy synths, as well as creepy riff melodies which are probably not supposed to sound as frightening as they are spatial. It just sort of comes off that way. Particularly in the track of which I said I lyrically identified with, sounding like something out of an alien film with a Theremin like effect. Yet that breaks way into the far more calmative atmospheres of “Stellar Core” of which I'm hearing a certain dreamlike effect that makes the latter track I mentioned fit in with the rest of the material. Obviously judging from the lyrics, the man had some sort of experience by which he saw a sort of ritual that he couldn't explain. I also like the fact that he mentions, “could it be some sort of alternative reality, I don't know?” which says to me that he's not going to be arrogant and vehemently claim it's somethinghe can explain as I've heard more arrogant types on the internet speak of. Instead, he simply describes what he saw and thundering blasts seems to decorate that along with what can sound like a full orchestra. Yet there is no actual orchestra described within the recording, so that shows just how great of a composer Khorzon is and how much technology has evolved. Sometimes a large and threatening cybernetic voice appears, along with a female chant, quite similar to Diamanda Galas. The metallic portion of the disc even ceases for a bit, as we become wrapped almost completely within atmosphere, something that might be a hard sell for all those but the most open-minded of listeners. Nevertheless, it is something that I enjoy. That being said, this is still a black metal album. It feels like one, it has the vibe of one and most certainly the fury.

“Key To The Universe” brings on more of an industrial tone, even though it still feels very much like black metal within it's overall vibe, opening way for some creepy Castlevania organs. Doubled with that vocal effect, it sounds positively frightening and truly monolithic. Lyrically, the song would seem to take a different avenue. I don't really think the lyrics fit with what I'm hearing here, but it doesn't really matter as it works as a whole musically and once again, demonstrates how good of a composer this guy truly is. “Implanted Consciousness” adds even more industrial electronics into the mix, as I now begin to hear a series of beeps and bloops, in addition the the voice of our future robotic overlords. Scowls still exist in the mix, but with the addition of the robotic vocal effect and the electronic elements (don't forget about the ominous synths) the music here truly fits the lyrics. It's actually quite amazing, really. The finale here is “Paradisum” which is (judging from the lyrics) as satirical as our upcoming album's title track. So obviously when dreary and hollow atmospheres back harsh verses like “you should kill yourself” and “you should kill your children” we can already tell that such a terrifying piece has nothing to do with paradise. Perhaps the paradise he's talking about is when there's not a human left to ruin anything on this globe. For the third time, Khorzon shows just how much skill he has in musical composition as all of this is programmed – brilliantly. This guy basically made the kind of record that I tried to make twice during my short-lived solo efforts and couldn't get right. Though I'm sure he's got better software and is actually playing the guitar, which makes for a much better performance than the “electric guitar” effect I had far too much fun with. In any case, definitely check it out if you're into as much experimentation with synths, metal and electronics as I am. It's not for everyone, but the people that do decide to check it out will probably be in the camp of people who really enjoy it. It's pretty much flawless from my standpoint, though I'm sure yours will differ. But I'm the boss here, so The Grim Tower highly recommends Creatio Cosmicam Beastie because it's a well-structured and magnificent experiment in black metal music. I also like it far more than his stuff in Arkona, but let's just keep that between us.

(8 Tracks, 50:00)


Prong - X: No Absolutes (2016)

Prong is back with yet another album, as well as a testament to Tommy Victor's incredible stamina. As it stands, the band have released a new recording every year since 2014's Ruining Lives and the machine just keeps on rolling. Now while I liked the band's previous output of original material (2015's Songs From The Black Hole was a covers album) I felt it was a little more radio-friendly than I would've cared for, with this record being more in the vein of 2012's Carved Into Stone. That's not to say that all of the commercial material has taken a bow, because “Without Words” is definitely well in that vein. But it's also a very good song, with a thrash meets Killing Joke/Fear Factory vibe that I can definitely get behind. But before we even get to that one, there's a four-minute cut early on in the record called “Sense Of Ease” that comes directly before it. This track definitely sees the kit aflame, with Victor screaming as much as he's using a cleaner vocal approach much in the vein of current-era Anthrax, which I can again, get behind. We also have screaming guitars in the background, which I've also got no problem with. This is clearly what Prong sounds like at their best, so I don't feel that anyone should have a complaint with the performance. The title cut definitely contains a more industrial rock approach, where the verses and chorus prove strongest. It's one of those songs that feels like a sing-along, reminding me a bit of Dope's lighthearted material. But the record gets even lighter with the ballad “Do Nothing” which is a rather passionate piece that I can actually feel. I remember this piece from the first time I listened to the record and that says something. These guys prove that they can be commercially relevant, but I don't think they'll ever strip down completely to the point where even the shouts are removed from the track. I don't feel that Prong are channeling Linkin Park here, but in their defense, those guys got a bit heavier themselves as of late. Fear Factory and Killing Joke definitely had their share of great ballads, so I'd much more compare it to one of those great moments, rather than saccharine radio crap. Victor is obviously not channeling Adelle, whose new record should come with a box of tissues. Especially when he resorts to pounding your face into the ground during the djent-laden “Belief System.” Normally I don't care for djent, but prong are one of the few bands where it sounds tolerable, even memorable.

In addition to the Victor's approach, is a rather nice guitar backing in which the man is pulling off some rather nice and quite pretty solo moments. There's still and obvious core influence here, but there should be. That's the idea. These guys didn't simply hop on the bandwagon like Five Finger Death Punch (even though I'll admit I liked their debut Way Of The Fist) and have only been showing the world what hardcore music can sound like mixed in with industrial, thrash, rock and other familiar genres without sounding too much like bubblegum pop rock. Even if the chorus numbers can sound squeaky clean on cuts like “In Spite Of Hindrances” you can't deny that you're getting an absolute pummeling at the same time. While “Ice Runs Through My Veins” might sound a little too mainstream at first, we do have to keep in mind that Victor wants to explore other territories and if such an approach is delivered well enough, then why not? I've already walked you through the majority of the record and you can pretty much get the idea at this point, which is that X:No Absolutes is definitely a hefty record with a rather sugary center that you might not expect, nor will you expect the fact that you're actually enjoying it. For some it still might not be as heavy as they'd like, but that's not to say that these guys didn't deliver a beating. They just delivered a bit more than that, and when done right, is there really a problem?

(13 Tracks, 41:00)


True Cross - Pure Divorce (2016)

True Cross are a four-piece from members of Landmine Marathon, Trap Them, Transistor Transistor and Vehemence. (That last one really surprised me.) The kind of music they're playing here isn't the sort of catchy core or extravagant death metal that you'd expect. Instead, it's a sort of posty mix of melodic rock which comes off quite soothing, sort of like Palms. The music actually fits pretty well with the bright white cover art, making it almost something of an absence of color flowing into the dreamy abyss of emotion. But if that sounds just too artsy fartsy for you, then I'll break it down like this. You're not going to bang your head to this record, you're not going to hear flying solos or powerful drum blasts. True Cross just aren't that kind of band. They're actually the kind of act that you play when you want to chill and just really soak up the music.

With a crispy vocal approach and so many romantic riff melodies that they'd make Deafheaven jealous, this is definitely the after-hours kind of experience. Hell, it might even make the mood better during a sexual experience. Couple of lit candles, a lit stick of incense and a warm, naked body either in the bedroom or in the bath, and I think you've got a real winner here. The record as a whole is actually quite long, but it's an expectable length for the kind of experience offered. The songs don't even have titles, but do they need to? Obviously, Pure Divorce is the kind of record that you'll want to listen to from front to back and it's sort of made that way. There's a little bit of electronics here as well as some drone, all coming together to make a very intimate music experience. It's kind of odd that they'd call the album Pure Divorce as I don't think you're going to want to divorce the person that you're embracing while such a record plays in the background.

Call it what you want, hipster, gay, not metal, not rock, whatever. If it doesn't speak to you, that's fine. But you can't argue with me that it's a lot more passionate than some of the lifeless approaches you may have heard on the American Grammy's last night. Which makes me wonder, if such an act stepped onto the same stage, would they have been accepted? Would people hear this kind of music and actually get it? Would they feel the same sort of emotion as they do when they hear the same overbearing choruses in use twenty times in a row, and that's the song? Truly there's something of real musical merit here. Something that I think appeals to people far beyond that of rock, metal and other less popular genres. If you like dreamy soundscapes with just as dreamlike vocals and ethereal guitar melodies, you'll certainly find something here. Once again, there's a massive musical appeal here and hopefully more people will be talking about this band in the future. They really should. Much more exciting than Coldplay.

(16 Tracks, 62:00)


Monday, February 8, 2016

Entombed A.D. - Dead Dawn (2016)

These Swedish death metal legends are already hitting us in the face with another album, this being their second since reforming with 2014's Back To The Front. Much as you'd expect, you're getting another exercise in classic death metal that sounds much closer to the band's earlier efforts in Entombed. It's not Left Hand Path, but it's definitely among the same territory. Make no mistake, there are no keyboards, orchestras or clean vocals to be found and certainly no punk elements. Dead Dawn literally sounds like the kind of record that Entombed fans have been craving, regardless of the new edition in A.D. Some people apparently don't like L. G. Petrov's vocal approach on the previous album though, which they may additionally despise here. It just depends on the listener and how they feel about death metal that is delivered with more of a rusted bellow than a downright growl. Petrov obviously seems to be saving his vocal chords on the disc, but I suppose I can't blame him as one can do serious damage to their vocal chords over time when performing this kind of music, especially for as long as he has. Aside from your normal death metal pummelers, there's a real gem in “When The World Fell” which features some tremendously eerie, yet awesome leads from Nico Elgstrand. Without question, Elgstrand is playing these riffs with as much fright and bite as we'd expect from old, crusty death metal and that seems to be what really sets this album on fire – along with Victor Brandt's pounding bass riffs and Olle Dahlstedt's calculated drumming. All of these men were in Entombed before and they're definitely playing like they're in it again (which they technically still are) and you certainly won't hear me complain about it. From what I've heard from these guys in their years up to this point, something like Dead Dawn just seems goddamned refreshing. I mean, this is death metal whether you like it or not. Perhaps there are some lighter riffs used on tracks like “The Winner Has Lost” and “Hubris Fall” but for the most part, you're getting a burly death metal disc with bone crushers like “Silent Assassin”, “Black Survival” and the title track, which the band can truly be proud of.

When you first listen to Dead Dawn, you may need to listen to it again. It's just not the kind of disc that fleshes itself out on the first listen. It's definitely the kind of performance that you'll appreciate more with repeated listens and you might even discover new things each time as well. I most certainly did. The record comes in and goes out at about the same speed, so you'll definitely want to keep that in mind. It's also only about forty minutes long, which makes it a disc that you'll definitely have to pay more attention to. These Swedes had no intention of sticking around, instead preferring to go in and out with a vengeance that conquers all in their wake. While it's true that some might not be able to get through the vocals, especially during the lighter riff melodies on the disc, there's still enough meat here for those willing to sit down to it. If it's not your thing, I understand. But it definitely sounds more like classic Entombed to me and is a huge upgrade over some of the other records we've heard from them in the past. At least they're still playing death metal this time around, which I think we can be thankful. Swedish death metal is certainly far from dead.

(11 Tracks, 57:00)


Axel Rudi Pell - Game Of Sins (2016)

If this act is new to you, then you've probably been living under a rock. But don't feel bad, as I just discovered the band upon the release of their twenty-five year anniversary DVD, Magic Moments. But what a great place to start, right? Hearing some of the band's greatest tracks performed in a raw live setting truly shows you what they're capable of. Yet now we have Game Of Sins, the band's next in an unbelievable line of heavy metal albums that have spanned throughout the ages. Obviously we can tell where a lot of Axel Rudi Pell's influences come from, and the very heat and fire of the heavy metal gods (some who've become saints, like Dio) can definitely heard on this one.

Just like any good heavy metal record should, this thing truly pounds as a memorable vocal performance from frontman Johnny Gioeli delivers the experience face-first into your auditory nerves, making for the type of heavy metal world that you might have seen adapted in Deathgasm as of late. When you see an armored guitarist standing on top of a mountain with two naked women swooning over him as he shreds a solo, that's exactly what you can expect here. If “Fire” doesn't hit you as hard as it to me, or for some odd reason you can't feel the eighties power of “Sons Of The Night” then you obviously don't get it. But maybe I don't get the scene these days either. While talking with a group of metalheads around my own age, I was a bit surprised to see them call this kind of music “old man metal.” I really kind of thought that heads would embrace the very roots that brought forth extreme metal, but that apparently doesn't seem to be the case anymore. Even so, it won't change my opinion on the power and majesty of a record that has delivered as well as this one has. Game Of Sins is one of those records that can have a powerful title track which extends to nine minutes in length, most of those being moments where a massive solo effort is employed, just like the old days. You know, those “old man metal” days.

There is a ballad here as well, but it's a little too Poison for me and I guess I'm not feeling it as much as the heftier cuts, but I will say that a fine solo effort is utilized here and surely there's an audience for this sort of approach. Another interesting note about Game Of Sins is that there are actually three huge cuts here other than the title track, “Til The World Says Goodbye” which is almost a ballad, but far memorable than the previous one and “Forever Free” which is the album's technical closer. It is also a much slower track, highlighting the fact that Axel and the boys wanted to make a strong, almost AOR friendly album full of real power ballads that drag us kicking and screaming back into the house of hair. I've never found anything wrong with these power ballads, especially when those ballads come with balls.

While not as punchy as one might like, it hits you where it counts and shows that we can still make classic music in today's age that doesn't feel dated. At least not to me. Keep in mind all the heads that call this stuff “old man metal.” But you know what? That's fine with me. Because I'll take my Axel Rudi Pell and age gracefully with the rest of these guys. I'm definitely looking forward to the next one, and the one after that. But before I get too ahead of myself here, I need to mention one very special thing about this record, which is only available on the digipack release. The legendary Jimi Hendrix has indeed been covered here, a definite saint of rock if there ever was one, and the song in particular is the classic “All Along The Watchtower.” The band have definitely given it their own touches though, making it more of a personal interpretation than a karaoke number. This is something Axel has wanted to do for years and is truly excited about having it appear on the album, so definitely pick up that digipack if you want to hear it. In the end, I'm happy with the performance delivered on Game Of Sins and it shows that these guys just keep plowing on without stopping. Here's to many more.

(11 Tracks, 64:00)


Autopsy - Skull Grinder EP (2016)

Holy shit, new Autopsy. But this isn't a new full-length by any means, it just simply seems to be some songs that they were going to put on the new record and decided not to. What's very funny about this, is that there are actually seven cuts on the disc, some of them being almost five and six minutes long. So either Autopsy have written a hell of a lot of songs in the past year or so, or these are cuts from an album that they decided to scrap and just release as an EP. Or they need money. Or something. But whatever the reason for this disc, it's certainly not the band's take on Now That's What I Call Music. As a matter of fact, death metal fans will be quite pleased to know that nothing within this recording is far beyond the realms of the genre and that Autopsy still fucking sounds like Autopsy. There's still a little bit of a death/punk vibe to the whole thing, but I'd expect nothing less. After all, these guys came from the days when punk and death and thrash were mixed together and it didn't have to have a special little title. We just called it fucking death metal, and that's what was important. As far as the performance, I'm being literally assaulted with guitar solos and that familiar garbage mouth vocal approach that I could tell from anywhere. There's a lot of death metal bands out there, but there's only one fucking Autopsy. Seriously folks, listen to all the goddamn solos in the title cut. More please, I'd like another helping. Because that's what metal sounds like. It's why we pick up records like this instead of the new Kanye West or Coldplay. Which are both shit bands, in my opinion. Coldplay will put me to sleep, Kanye trips over his own ego too much, and these guys humbly just beat the living crap out of you. Someone needs to send both those bands a copy of this EP. Knowing Kanye though, he'd probably just sample it and consider it genius. But I'd certainly like to see the look on those limey British bastards in Coldplay when someone begins to play the vinyl of Skull Grinder in their studio. You can figure they're having tea time, when one of them comments, “What on earth is the god awful racket?” Then it just gets louder, as tea cups shatter and the drink scolds their fingers. But that's just the kind of carnage that one can expect from death metal. You know, it doesn't really matter what I say about this disc, because Autopsy fans know what to expect. Maybe we have a few more atmospheres in play here like “Sanity Bleeds” and the instrumental “Return To Dead” but I honestly haven't heard anything on Skull Grinder that doesn't sound like death metal, or that doesn't embody the spirit of death metal music, which means that you're getting an EP that is actually worth buying. I never liked the ideas of EP's or (extended plays) but in this case, you're getting one hell of a tasty appetizer. If you're an Autopsy fan at all, please go pick this one up. It's definitely one of the band's finest moments, as it offers a great variety of death metal that doesn't run into boredom or get too full of itself. Well, maybe it does that – but we'd expect nothing less than grim grime and gore from these legends. If you can't get into this one, then perhaps you'd like to listen to another genre of metal. Or the new Kanye album.

(7 Tracks, 28:00)


Anthrax - For All Kings (2016)

Anthrax have returned and with a real monster here in For All Kings. Pound for pound, this is exactly the kind of disc I was waiting for from these guys and it definitely cements the fact that they can still do it after all these years. The excuse for Worship Music was something to the tune of, “we wrote the music to accompany our new vocalist, Dave” but that's not the case here and you can see and hear the difference. Obviously the band have stepped it up quite a bit and For All Kings definitely sounds more like a thrash album than a modern metal or groove metal disc. There are still groove elements here reminiscent of We've Come For You All, but I actually liked that album and can't say that I mind them. For All Kings is definitely the kind of album that wants to combine thrash with a little more substance and structure, just so long as the choruses come in catchy as saccharine and that they certainly do. 

The record is surprisingly punchy, with a drum performance that really serves as a fine backbone, as Scott Ian's riffs seem to have one foot in eighties thrash, with another in eighties prog metal (think Queensryche). There's also an obvious pop/rock flair here as the chorus melody of “Breathing Lightning” sounds very much like a radio cut. Save for the fact that it's almost seven minutes long. Other than the fact that thrasher “You Gotta Believe” (yeah, it makes me think of Sonic The Hedgehog or some anime theme) are quite long pieces, the record features much shorter and easier to digest pieces amongst what some might call more muscular numbers. Yet I feel it was a fine idea to mix them up as the band have done here. I also feel that there's some obvious lyrical nodes to The Dark Tower here, as with 93's Among The Living. All in all, I think that if you're looking for a thrash disc with very bright and memorable choruses as well as prominent musicianship that sounds like a band that's been doing it for over thirty years, you can't really go wrong with this one. As much as I hated most of Worship Music, this album really feels like the band have picked it back up and delivered a record that I think Belladonna fans are going to be very proud of. No, it's not technically as much of a thrasher as was made back in the old days, but it's definitely the best record I've heard from them since We've Come For You All. I've always been partial to the John Bush era, but with this disc I'm opening up to Belladonna and perhaps that's a good thing. I almost feel like it's a thrashier Sound Of White Noise and a secondary “Black Album” in that respect. For All Kings is the kind of thrash album that still sounds like thrash, but still has an obvious commercial viability and will pick up just as many sales at Wal-Mart as it will in independent record shops. Even if you don't like this album, it's really hard to deny the fact that they really put the pedal to the metal on this one. Sure, there are some slower ballads to be found here like “Blood Eagle Wings” and even some touches of atmosphere that might feel alien on a thrash record. But for a band that was fucking around with electronics and Nu-Metal riffs the last time, I don't feel that I mind this kind of experimentation. 

There's almost a final opinion in the very phrase that I've used about four or five times in this review so far, “I don't feel that I mind” which couldn't be further from the truth. I don't feel that I mind many of the ideas on this record, I don't feel that I mind this record as a whole and I think they could have put out a far worse recording than this one. It's not perfect, but I didn't expect that. I wanted an album that shows what these guys can do with a little bit of snow on the mountains, and that's what we got. It sounds like it comes from experienced musicians, rather than trend-hoppers and I can't say that I mind that either. Welcome back, Anthrax.

(12 Tracks, 59:00)


Friday, February 5, 2016

Emil Bulls - XX (2016)

German alt/nu-metal rockers Emil Bulls have been around for twenty years, yet this is now the first that I'm ever hearing of them. In order to commemorate the band's twenty year anniversary, this “Greatest Hits” compilation was made in a very peculiar way. At first, not having known anything about the band prior, I was going to say that such a disc was a horrible marketing attempt for a brand new recording. But XX is simply not that. Instead of giving you a “Greatest Hits” collection of sorts, the band decided to record many of their songs in a much sappier, lighthearted tone as you'll witness here. It actually sounds kind of goth, to be honest; definitely a mile's difference from the kind of material you'll hear during the much upbeat “Hellfire versions” as they are titled. This, is in essence the band's actual “Greatest Hits” disc, which fans will have to purchase as a special limited edition digipack, of which I am not fond of. If you're going to release a “Greatest Hits” album, then it should come with these lighter “Candlelight versions” to begin with, rather than making people spend extra money for what is the actual product.

Of the many tracks offered here, I'll mention that there is very little difference between the lighthearted (some might say darkhearted) version of “Dear Sadness” and the slightly more upbeat original. The same could be said for “Dancing On The Moon” of which the differences are nearly vacant. However, the differences between the fiercely brackish Hellfire version of “Way Of The Warrior” and the Candlelight version of the track are so much like night and day that it's amazing how it works. It's almost like Emil Bulls have transformed into a completely different band, not unlike something to the tune of Coldplay or U2. The same might be said of “Hearteater” which takes an almost Mudvayne meets Soilwork approach and turns it into a nearly romantic ballad. Look, I wouldn't have believed it if I hadn't heard it for myself. Then we have a thrasher with a clean chorus in the form of “The Most Evil Spell” that completely changes shape. I actually had to listen to see if “you fucking coward” was in the piece, which it was. There's actually quite a few F-bombs in this poppy number, making me think of something from Gotye, Finger Eleven or Maroon 5 with a little more bite. I think it's “Worlds Apart” though, that had the greatest effect on me. Though the Candlelight version is quite expectable for such a composition, I really like the balls-out Soilwork influenced Hellfire version of the track. I wish I'd heard that one years ago.

As you can see, XX is definitely something different, but it actually works and I have to say that I'm quite fond of it. From what I've heard on both discs, I can see that Emil Bulls are indeed an act to be reckoned with and it's very surprising that these guys never made it to the US. I can see fans of acts like Breaking Benjamin, Chevelle, Soilwork, Five Finger Death Punch, Motograter and Linkin Park really getting into the material presented here. Just think, twenty years have passed and I had no idea who these guys were and just how damn catchy their tunes are. Sorry folks, but we don't have all the great rock bands here in the states. Give this one a listen to see what you're missing.

(2 Discs, 29 Tracks)


Thursday, February 4, 2016

Akhenaten - Incantations Through The Gates Of Irkalla (2015)

A project of two very talented brothers, Akhenaten is a black/death act similar to that of Melechesh, Nile and SepticFlesh of whom has been covered here. The Houseman brothers have separate duties here, with Jerred handling all of the music and S. Wyatt handling the vocals. It's not an uncommon way to record and is exactly the same way that we do it in Torii. The brothers excel heavily in creating Egyptian atmospheres, especially when there are no vocal elements involved (and there are several of these). Incantations... is the sort of album that balances atmosphere and metal together quite brilliantly, except for just one tiny hiccup. It's very muddy during the metal sections and awfully low in the mix. It feels like a clean production process was used during it's sandy soundscapes and a rougher process was utilized during the metal sections, which seems to make the heavy stuff seem like it had been recorded in a separate box of some sort. My guess is that the metallic sections were recorded with a different program, or perhaps in a different quality, which makes the whole thing seem completely unbalanced as far as sound is concerned. Akhenaten feels like a good band with a whole lot promise, but you can tell that these guys have no real idea what they're doing as far as mixing is concerned and should have hired someone to do that part for them. I'll admit that I'm not all that good at it either and still don't like the quality of the first track on our forthcoming album, as I'm tempted to change it yet again. That's what I think needed to be done here. While Wyatt uses an excellent filter for his vocals that makes things sound inhuman, it can be very tough to hear anything of a metal variety apart from guitars. Perhaps the program they're using for drums is watermarked or something, it has a fuzziness that really thickens the whole thing in a not so memorable way. What is done here at a musical standpoint however, is celebratory and I'd certainly consider it promising. I think that fans of SepticFlesh and Melechesh are going to thoroughly enjoy the piece, but it still has some obvious mixing errors which definitely take away from what would be magnificent as a clearer performance. That being said, this coming from two guys is still quite phenomenal. As far as that SepticFlesh cover, “Anubis” is by and large one of my favorite songs but it's still a pretty tall order for a band just starting out. I'm glad to see that it left such a mark on them however, and hopefully they'll continue to expand and polish this middle eastern style with time.

(12 Tracks, 56:00)