MARCH 2002. Printable Reviews.

Well it is March and the stack of CD's isn't getting any shorter. I've tried many times to catch up and all I wind up doing is getting exhausted. Here's some reviews and interviews, but rest assured, there is a LOT more to come.

CENTURY MEDIA

WEBSITE: CENTURY MEDIA

ANGEL DUST "Of Human Bondage" (10 tracks. 47:29).

Enlighten the Darkness was a very enjoyable record. This one blows it away. Since coming out of a ten year hiatus, Angel Dust have four albums as compared to the two albums of their earlier days. Now this point is significant because it shows the determination with which the members of this band have sought to be a vital part of the metal industry. With each successive release, Angel Dust continue to produce their excellent brand of German power metal complete with crunch-heavy guitars and melodic keyboards. Above all this is Dirk Thurisch's distinct and impassioned vocals. The combination is powerful. Favorites this time around include "Unreal Soul"and the haunting Ozzy/Queensryche sounding "Disbeliever" In short, Of Human Bondage is the combination of experience and tenacity; a great combination for a metal album.

ARCH ENEMY "Wages of Sin" (12 tracks. 1 CD-R Video. ).

I eagerly awaited this new album because they are Arch Enemy after all. But I wasn't prepared for Angela Gossow's vocals, and even now I'm still trying to adjust. She is just downright brutal, and I am talking Linda Blair from the Exorcist! It is pretty much a turn off. She is also being touted as a sort of new thing when in actuality, Century Media released an album by Japanese band Shadow last year with an equally extreme female vocalist. Needless to say, the awesome music on this album is overshadowed by my prejudice against such raspy vocals coming from a female. She sounds like she should be singing for a Polish black/death band, not a Swedish classic thrash band. Otherwise, the galloping rhythms and dual solos played by the Amott brothers are like nitro in your car, and Sharlee D'ngelo is solid as ever. So I guess it is up to you to decide whether or not you can handle the vocals. If you can, you'll love this album. If you cannot adjust to the vocals, well, you may want to look elsewhere. Oh, let me add my own little pithy line: "The Wages of Sin is death metal"(with apologies to the Apostle Paul!).

BLIND GUARDIAN "A Night at the Opera" (11 tracks. 70:45).

Their early releases are full of youthful vigor. Their later releases, especially Nightfall in Middle Earth, are more deliberate, focused, and lush. So after four years of waiting for the next Blind Guardian release, what do we find ourselves with? How about a combination of both? To begin with, there is a much more aggressive edge to A Night at the Opera than Nightfall in Middle Earth. While listening to this album one hears echoes of Imaginations from the Other Side. And yet, the lush, epic feel of Nightfall is felt throughout. After all, there are 50 tracks of vocals, and 30 tracks of guitar sound. It is so overwhelming that it takes time to let it all sink in. I think A Night at the Opera is more free to be aggressive because it is not a concept piece like Nightfall, each song has an identity that is independent of itself. And yet, one cannot escape the tragic hero emerging from several of the songs. The album opens with "Precious Jerusalem,?a song about Jesus contemplating the task ahead of him. Another song with Biblical themes is "Sadly Sings Destiny." It is about a fictional character who makes crosses for executions. He goes about his task reluctantly, knowing that the pain and suffering which is going to be inflicted on this instrument of torture will bring about something good for humanity. Another song is "Age of False Innocence" about Galileo and how his faith in God and his knowledge of science were held in tension. And finally, the song, "Punishment Divine" talks about Nietzsche's days in a sanitarium. So, throughout this album there is a unifying thread, but it is more like unity in diversity. To sum it all up, the four year wait has paid off with an album that meets the expectations of fans in that it is both recognizable but energized. Now all that remains is for BG to achieve the success in the U.S. that they have achieved abroad.

I HAVE CONDUCTED AN INTERVIEW WITH HANSI OF BLIND GUARDIAN AND AM WAITING ON SOME FOLLOW-UP QUESTIONS TO BE ANSWERED. CHECK THE APRIL UPDATE FOR THE INTERVIEW.

ROYAL HUNT "The Watchers" (10 tracks. 69:04).

It does my heart good to hear a progressive metal band that is both extremely talented and also interesting. I really enjoyed their last full-length, The Mission. Though I had seen advertisements for them in zines, it wasn't until Century Media signed them that I got to experience their exceptionally good music. And frankly, if I had only read a description of their music, I probably would not have imagined how much I really dig this music because "Progressive rock/metal"is not enough of a description to interest me in a band. Anyway, if you can imagine a cross between Saga and Stratovarius, you can get a good idea of what Royal Hunt sounds like. This particular album is a collection of bonus tracks and live recordings to further prepare the world for the next Royal Hunt studio album and to tide the fans over until then. It is a great listen whether you know their music or not.

CONQUER MUSIC

WEBSITECONQUER RECORDS

APRIL ETHEREAL "Advent" (8 tracks. 47:00).

Have you ever wondered what a Polish version of Opeth might sound like? Polish dark metal band, April Ethereal come close. They certainly fit into a category with Opeth, even if they don't sound exactly like them. Any band that can effectively combine acoustic guitars, subtle pianos, and rich atmospheres with extremely heavy fast parts has my vote as a great band. From beginning to end, this CD exudes intensity, seriousness, and atmosphere. They sort of elements Opeth is famous for. The songs flow together seamlessly, and if you are not paying attention, you will hear three or four songs without noticing a break in the music. It is simply mesmerizing. Thanks to Conquer Music for making this top notch album available to the world. If I were to rate this album, I'll give it a 9.5 out of 10.

DEVIL'S HEAD RECORDS

WEBSITE:DEVIL'S HEAD RECORDS

SWEATPANT BONERS "Cruisin?with the Masters" (11 tracks. 69:58).

Lock up your daughters if these guys come to your town! They sound like the sort of band that Beevis and Butthead would be in. You thought "Big Bottom" by Spinal Tap was offensive? Ha, ha, you've heard nothing brother. The Sweatpant Boners sound exactly like you'd expect (i.e., Ray Stevens in a Metal Mood). The lyrics on this album are downright hilarious, though quite offensive at times. Songs like "Save Your Virginity ('Til We Get to Your Town)" and "Shower Games" need no explanation. Particularly funny are "Fire (Acoustic Death Metal)" "Singing Heavy Metal with a Mouth Full of Cereal" new lyrics for Billy Joel's "Always a Woman" and Donna Summers' "I Will Survive" and my favorite, "Number 2" What is surprising about a band with such a sense of humor is that they guitarist plays some very appealing riffs and solos. Especially in the solo department is he quite impressive. The vocalist reminds of Jesse "the Governor" Ventura, or maybe Hulk Hogan. Certainly this album is not for all audiences, particularly with the rated "R"language. I especially don't want my sons to hear it. But I am one who enjoys bathroom humor, so I can find myself enjoying much of what is here.

EARACHE

WEBSITE: EARACHE

DECEMBER "The Lament Configuration" (10 tracks. 36:13).

I find myself compelled to refer to December's music as controlled chaos. Imagine a cross between Converge's chaotic hardcore sound and Testament's thrash riffing, and you can get a feel for The Lament Configuration. It is one half structure, and one half fury. This slab of molten lead was produced by none other than Devin Townsend, so you know that expectations are high. Further, December are Earache's first signing since 1998 when they signed Hate Eternal. But I have one problem with this band: vocals. To me, the vocals are too hardcore and too up front in the mix. I'm tempted to mosh around the room, knock over the ironing board and break some dishes when listening to this album, but then the vocals come in and kind of ruins the effect. I guess the problem for me is that the vocals are just too loud and too hardcore. But aside from that, the music is awesome.

INDEPENDENT BANDS

BLOOD-N-FIRE "Messiah?(12 tracks).

Fans of King's X, Galactic Cowboys, and Atomic Opera will definitely like Blood-n-Fire. Like those other bands, this band combines heavy guitars with a pop structure and vocals. They have a real "gut level"feel to them. I don't know who does what here, but the vocalist sounds like a cross between Lenny Kravitz and what's-his-name from Stone Temple Pilots, and kind of like Doug Pinnik!. But the real highlight of this album is the flashy, deft guitar playing. In case you haven't guessed it, Blood-n-Fire have a very evangelistic thrust as they are a distinctly Christian band. This accounts for the variety in musical styles found on this record, the highlight of which is a killer cover version of Petra's, "Judas Kiss." I've always wanted to hear a heavier version of this song. Top it all off with an extra-crispy production.

To order: contact Kevin at kjsounds@compserv.net.

LIMB MUSIC PRODUCTS

WEBSITE: LIMB MUSIC PRODUCTS

BURNING POINT "Salvation by Fire" (10 tracks. 50:50).

This Finnish band has got it all together, but I must admit that they are the first band on Limb Music Products that don't really move me. When I say that they have it all together, I mean that they are a tight, competent band that plays some up tempo power metal accented with occasional hints of melody. They actually sound more like a German power metal band than a Finnish band in my opinion. I imagine that there will be some reviewers out there who really like this band, so don't just take my word for it. Get another opinion.

MIDNIGHT SON "Metalmachine?(10 tracks. 45:56).

I admit I was skeptical at first because of the title and artwork. But thank God I listened to it, because after listening to this album, I get the impression that the "metalmachine" is a crucible into which several elements are boiled into a powerful new amalgam. Diverse elements ranging from Deep Purple, Rainbow, and Dio to Accept and Therion combine to make this one very exciting power metal album. Midnight Sun are, I think, the freshest sounding power metal band I've heard in a long time. While they belong to a genre full of competent acts, they sound like the more colorful power metal bands of a generation or two ago with today's aggressive production. Don't let the Hammerfall-like title of the album fool you, this album kicks ass. Fresh riffs, crisp production, and a vocalist whose singing could melt the coldest of hearts, make "Metalmachine" a hot item in my book.

READ MY INTERVIEW WITH JACOB OF MIDNIGHT SUN HERE: Midnight Sun

LOST DISCIPLE

WEBSITE LOST DISCIPLE

PESSIMIST "Slaughtering the Faithful" (9 tracks. 35:36).

I've read and heard a good bit about Pessimist, now I know what all the hype is about. This mega brutal, mega technical band could eat Diabolic and Krisiun for lunch! Just a few minutes into this CD and you'll be asking, "Is this playing humanly possible?" Unbelievable is about all I can say. I'm sorry for all you connoisseurs who have their older material, this is my first Pessimist album. There's not much I can say in comparison to the older material. But if these few words are not enough to convince you of the power and brutality of the music on this disc, would it help to mention that Erik Rutan (Morbid Angel, Hate Eternal, Alas) produced it? That means the production has rendered the music heavy as lead, but clear as a bell! If brutal, technical death metal is your thing, you'd be a fool to pass this one up.

MERCILESS RECORDS

WEBSITEMERCILESS RECORDS

ARMAGEDDA "The Final War Approaching" (8 tracks. 40:30).

The primitive sounds of Norwegian metal acts like Darkthrone and Mayhem have immigrated eastward to Sweden where Armagedda comes from. Of course, there really are no geographical boundaries any more for primitive black metal of this nature. One could rightfully argue that black metal came from Sweden in the first place with Bathory, not to mention England's Venom and Switzerland's Celtic Frost. The U.S. has Krieg and Judas Iscariot for example. Italy, Germany, France, the Czech Republic--even Australia has such bands. But it isn't every day that you hear a band with this sound from Sweden, though one could invoke Nifelheim as a close parallel. While Armagedda deliberately go for the "primitive" sound, they clearly know how to play their instruments and they have made some better than average sounding stuff. For one thing, there is a clarity of sound in the production which many of those bands lack. Secondly, the music is very diverse and doesn't sound like one long song with breaks in it. You know what I mean? So many of those bands have one drum speed with no variation whatsoever. Here the drummer is definitely multidimensional. The same can be said with the guitars. Sure there are your regular high speed single-note parts, but there are also chords and riffs. So while the word "primitive" applies to their attitude and approach, these guys are not primitive in terms of talent.

NUCLEAR BLAST RECORDS

WEBSITENUCLEAR BLAST RECORDS

THE DEFACED "Domination Commence" (11 tracks. 40:01).

If someone asks you, "have you heard of The Defaced?" and you answer, "No," would it help to know that it is composed of people in bands you already like? Members of Darkane (Klas Ideberg, Jorgen Lofberg) and Soilwork (Henry Ranta) team up to produce a more traditional metal sound than their respective groups of origin. Instead of the death and thrash metal they are known for in their other bands, here these guys play something more akin to Metallica and Pantera, but certainly with a Swedish sound. Comparisons to recent Entombed are not out of the ballpark. But it is also clear that this band contains members from Darkane and Soilwork. And if you are familiar with those two bands, you know what talented musicians they are. Sometimes when you are debating about what albums to spend your music allowance on, it often pays to go with a release with such distinguished members. I'd say it is a sure thing.

Read an interview with the Defaced by Mark1340 The Defaced

SOILWORK "Natural Born Chaos" (10 tracks).

Occasionally a release will come along which inspires me to write more than the usual paragraph. I think this is one of those releases. In fact, I believe that when 2002 comes to a close, Natural Born Chaos will be on quite a few reviewers?top 10 lists. Label mates In Flames better watch out as Soilwork have here pushed the envelope on angst tinged Gothenburg metal. You knew they were good before, but I think here they have put together their most powerful album to date.

I mention the term "angst"for the simple fact that this album, like Clayman, have similar existential themes in their lyrics. Compare "Follow the Hollow" on this album to "Pinball Map" on Clayman. That feeling of angst is carried over into the music. It is interesting, for instance, how Soilwork vocalist, Bjorn Strid, sings the usual abrasive vocals in the verses, but in the choruses he actually sings with harmony backup. It adds a totally new dimension to the sound, bringing a broader range of sounds to Soilwork's sound. Just listen to "As We Speak"and "The Flameout" and you'll feel the intensity of the music contrast with the deeply emotional quality of his vocals. It is a powerful combination. Natural Born Chaos makes for one of the most carefully crafted, and well-executed albums of the new year!

OLYMPIC RECORDINGS

WEBSITE: OLYMPIC RECORDINGS

CENTURIAN "Liber ZarZax" (11 tracks. 45:30).

Again, I am not the most knowledgeable person, so I confess that this is my first exposure to Centurian outside of a track or two on the "Fire On the Brain?Compilation recently put out by Olympic. But after having given this CD a few spins I'd say that Centurian certainly lives up to the standards of that label's bands. If you don't know what that means, let me explain. First off, Centurian is a mega-brutal black/death metal band. The sound is very death metal a la Morbid Angel, Throneaeon, etc., but the subject matter and imagery is very black metal. The production is razor sharp so that all the instruments are distinguishable and it still sounds good coming through your speakers. It is a no-holds-barred aural assault that only fans of serious metal can both tolerate and appreciate.

SOUTHERN LORD

WEBSITE: SOUTHERN LORD

SUNN "Flight of the Behemoth" (5 tracks. 51:29).

When I was a probably a Senior in high school I once borrowed my grandma's little Casio and hooked it up to my guitar effects rack. I played and experimented with it for several hours and caught it all on cassette. Occasionally I'll get that tape out and have a good laugh with it. But after hearing "Flight of the Behemoth" I suddenly realize that there is a market for any kind of doodling that gets recorded. This album, like the recent Boris release, is the ultimate in post-modern art: i.e., it lacks structure and meaning. It contains over fifty minutes of deep, fuzzy rumbling guitar riffing, most of which is unaccompanied by anything else. Keyboards show up once and a while, but for the most part it is just one long sonorous noise. Somebody obviously buys this, and somebody obviously makes it. My question is: why? What is the appeal? I confess that it escapes me, and I am usually very open-minded.

THE END RECORDS

WEBSITETHE END RECORDS

THE END RECORDS, aside from releasing some of the best metal available today, also serve as a distributor in the U.S. of releases from several key labels. Here are some releases they are distributing from Listenable Records (France) and AFM Records (Germany).

PALE FOREST "Exit Mould" (12 tracks. 51:56). Listenable.

For about ten seconds I was wondering what the appeal was about this band that The End Records would want to license it for U.S. distribution. But after only a little more time had passed I decided that I was going to be hooked on this band. Let me tell you, everybody hypes THEIR female fronted band as unique or out of the ordinary, and in most cases that isn't really true. It is definitely true here. Listening to Pale Forest is like hearing a metallic version of Sixpence None the Richer ["Kiss Me" and "There She Goes"]. I have no information on the band, but whoever the vocalist is, she sings much like Leigh of Sixpence. Musically, the band is similar to, but heavier than The Gathering. And I suppose that the majority of comparisons will go that route. But for me, while I like The Gathering, Pale Forest sound fresher. Keep in mind, though, that while PF are heavier than The Gathering much of the time, this music is light in terms of heavy metal. But it is definitely worth listening to. Great music is just great regardless of whether the amps are turned up to 10 or 11! (You must get the implied Spinal Tap joke!) I'm very pleased to recommend this album to all connoisseurs of great music who do not insist on brutality all the time. You'll be glad you took a chance on it.

SQUEALER "Under the Cross" (11 tracks. 43:19). AFM.

You know how you are tempted to judge a CD by the cover? Well, the artwork and title made me think this was a Polish black/death band. Not so. Squealer are a German thrash/power metal band, and man they are tight. Though the tone of their music is much darker sounding, there is an element of "Let Me Out" on this album. If you are familiar with that classic song written by Kai Hanson and recorded by Helloween, you know it has that sense of crying out against injustice and oppression. Well, Squealer have many songs on this album which are similar in theme, but again, they don't sound quite so cheerful as Helloween. Musically, a comparison to Helloween would not be out of place, i.e., fast tempos and flashy leads, but not only is the tone darker, but the music is also grittier. And then, just when you think you've got this band pegged, you hear "Fade Away" which is clearly a gothic song, not unlike early Theatre of Tragedy. Quite good too. And because of the darker tone of this album, this song doesn't really seem out of place, only more mellow than the preceding. The intensity cranks right back up once it is over. The album concludes with another diversion in the song "In Zaire" I don't know anything about this song, but I assume it is a cover song. It is obviously about Muhammad Ali and George Forman's famous fight in that country. Appended to the end of this album is the bonus track, "Low Budget Heroes" In toto this is a very strong album. It is distributed exclusively in the U.S. by The End Records.

THEORY IN PRACTICE "Colonizing the Sun" (9 tracks. 47:37).

I confess that I am far from being an expert on the whole world of metal, but I wish I could have said to you that I've heard of this band before. If I have heard them previously, I do not remember; but I suspect that if I had heard them I would have remembered. It is certainly an incredible album to listen to. Imagine a cross between Children of Bodom and Believer. That is, imagine a band with heavy production, neoclassical and progressive guitar playing. It is a non-stop barrage of monster riffs and shredding solos, gutteral vocals, driving drums, and razor sharp production. At times the fretboard gymnastics might cause you to think of early Destruction, but the vocals and the heaviness of the music brings Extol comparisons to mind. Believe me, this Swedish band does not sound like every other Swedish band! It's one hot tamale!

WORLD WAR III MUSIC

WEBSITEWORLD WAR III MUSIC

PROTOTYPE "Trinity" (10 tracks. 43:55).

Who said that all the bands in L.A. pander to the latest musical fads? While such a statement contains a lot of truth, it certainly does not apply to a band like Prototype. Prototype are not your prototypical L.A. band (I'm sorry, I couldn't resist that one!). Their music is like a heavier version of Voivod or Zero Hour, i.e., heavy duty progressive metal, with hints of Nevermore. One is also tempted to evoke the mighty name of Rush. Needless to say, Prototype are an aggressive, but also progressive metal outfit that stick their fists in the face of trends and make some wholesome metal which WILL stand the test of time. With this band Artillery Music expands their roster with a band that can give Sensory some serious competition.

NEWS

Send me BRIEF news items and I'll include them here.

Diamond Productions is a new label from France. We search [out] heavy,death,grind or black m?al bands all over the world for productions. Send your promo materials to this address:
Diamond Productions
Le plan de cabri?ouest
83440 Fayence
France
Diamond_productions@worldonline.fr

HELL-BORN & PSYCHOMANCER USA TOUR 2002
April:
28. NJ - \"The Obsessions\":
29. Jackson Heights, NY - \"Castle Heights\":
30. Baltimore, MD - \"\":
May: :
1. Philedelphia, PA - \"\":
2. -off-:
3. Lorain, Ohio - \"THE FLYING MACHINE\":
4. -open-:
5. Cincinati, Ohio - \"Sudsy Malones\":
6. Detroit, MI - \"Harpos\":
7. Grand Rapids, MI - \"Intersection\":
8. Chicago, IL - \"The Rockhouse\" :
9. -open-:
10. Chicago, IL - \"The Rockhouse\":
11. Harvey, IL - \"Rubes\" :
12. -open-:
13. -open-:
14. -open-:
15. Des Moines, Iowa - \"Hairy Marys\" :
16. Omaha, NE - \"Ranch Bowl\":
17. St.Paul, MN - \"The Lab\":

READ MY SHOCKING NEW ARTICLE HERE: MINISTER

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