Reviews 2003 Volume 2

 

A NOTE ABOUT MYSELF, MY INTERESTS, AND WHO SHOULD CONTACT ME.

1) I am busy.  I am a married, mid-30’s, father of two who works two jobs and goes to grad school.  This makes me a little slow about writing reviews sometimes.  Nevertheless, I am dedicated to this website because I am really into METAL!  2) My interests are primarily black, death, and doom metal.  I do enjoy power metal and progressive metal, and a little hardcore, but it all depends on the group.  I despise nu-metal. If it’s not dark and gloomy I amy not like it!  3) Bands, zines, etc., interested in contacting me should send inquiries to criticaltom@juno.com.  4) I rarely do interviews due to time constraints.  4) You will rarely see a rating less than 7.  This is because I usually don’t bother with the really bad stuff. 

 

AGENT STEEL  “Order of the Illumiati (11 tracks.  53:54).  AOS/ARTILLARY.

Rating:  8.5

Just shy of their 20th year in existence this Californian proto-thrash metal band emerges from the shadows once again to show the younger generation of metal-heads how it is done.  Like Iron Maiden and Saxon, Agent Steel has stayed the course.  But unlike Iron Maiden and Saxon, Agent Steel have not put out so many albums, something which makes their occasional releases more welcome and less likely to have the occasional “lemon”.  From the first notes of “Avenger” till the end of “Human Bullet” this album flat out cooks. Only their fourth album in 19 years, it is quite possibly the best one they’ve done so far. 

 

ARGHOSLENT “Incorrigible Bigotry”  (7 tracks. 38:00).  MORIBUND/DRAKKAR.

Moribund is proud of its non-commercial, non-trendy approach to music.  Arghoslent is the perfect band for this label as they do not compare to any band I have encountered.  Musically it is dead on serious death metal.  Lyrically, it is either social commentary or anti-social commentary.  It is hard to say.  The opening song, “Flogging the Cargo” is a prime example of what I am talking about.  Are they decrying the evils of slavery (i.e., sympathizing with the slaves), or are they glorifying the institution (i.e., demonizing the slaves)?  I really don’t know what to make of it.  Suffice it to say that it is unique in its field.

 

CAGE  “Darker than Black”  (13 tracks.  68:15).  FUGITIVE.

Rating:  10.

Happy birthday to me, this is just what I needed!  Of course it’s not my birthday, but this band kicks major ass.  Contained on this hot little CD are thirteen well-crafted power metal anthems with top-notch production, awesome vocals and killer music.  Everything is done just right.  Anyone who loves Judas Priest, Winter’s Bane, Metal Church/Wayne, and early Warrior will fall head-over-heels in love with this sensational band.  I should mention that fans of Gamma Ray and Iron Savior will also have a liking for this one.  A few moments into the album and I was magically transported back to that day (c. 1985) when I discovered Warrior’s “Fighting for the Earth.”  In a word:  exhilarating.  The press sheet that came with this CD is two pages long with quotes (in 6 pt. Type!) from metal zines all over given it highest praises.  Albums of this quality do not come along every day, don’t miss out on it.  I guarantee it will be in your player for a while.

 

CELLDWELLER      “Celldweller” (18 tracks.  69:47). ESION MEDIA.

Rating:  10.

I have followed the career of this amazingly talented artist since the debut of Circle of Dust in 1992.  I met him at a festival in Atlanta in 1993 and saw his act twice more over the years at some well-known venues in the Atlanta area.  Circle of Dust had garnered a tremendous fan base despite the underground nature of this music (at the time) as well as the limitations of an obscure label (R.E.X.).  From the very beginning he impressed me as a musical genius.

As I was anticipating the arrival of this new project I wondered if Klay Scott (f.k.a., Scott Albert) would want to totally break from that distinguished past both musically and philosophically.  After reading the press sheet and “living” with this album for a couple of weeks (my 12 year old son is also quite taken with it), I believe that he has neither broken with his past nor has he confined himself to it.  On the one hand this is recognizably the voice and musical work of Scott.  It bears much resemblance to his Circle of Dust stuff.  But I would hate to jade the reader’s opinion by giving the mistaken impression that Celldweller is only a new name for a familiar act.  The reality is that Celldweller is Scott’s most diverse and accessible album to date.  The production is way better.  But the real improvement is that Scott is now more than just a clever songwriter, he has pushed himself beyond the boundaries he had previously reached.  The truth is, I would have been quite satisfied with another Circle of Dust type album.  What I got was way better.   And I think it fair to say that Scott has created the best album of his career. 

For the reader who is unfamiliar with all I have written above, Klay Scott’s music is in a category roughly with Rob Zombie, Braindance, Klank, Level, and similar acts.  Celldweller is the perfect music for the post-modern age.  It is an open-ended blend of metal and rave, goth and grind, and a little pop (even acoustic guitar) here and there.   If it is any indication, just realize that among Scott’s projects include music for MTV programming, a Matrix video game, and the band Prong; dark and extreme, but also diverse.  There was a great deal of anticipation and build up for this album among those who know of Scott’s work.  Now I can say that it was all very justified.  I cannot image anything but success for this project. 

 

DIABOLICAL   “A Thousand Deaths” (9 tracks.  32:50).  WWIII/MERCENARY.

Rating:  7.

          The Swedish do death metal right.  Part of the secret is in the production.  You can actually discern all the instruments and the guitar solos make sense.  The overall sound is kind of raw, with harsh, raspy vocals. Nevertheless, it rates only as a good addition to your collection rather than a great one. The reason is that while it is well-performed and well-produced, it doesn’t break any new ground or pull any surprises.  Music like this is enjoyable when you pay attention to it, but it can fade into the background like muzak.

 

EXTOL        “Synergy”    (11 tracks.  42:35).  CENTURY MEDIA. 

Rating:  9.5

I have been waiting a long time for this CD.  Since Extol’s underground debut on Rowe Productions’ Northern Lights Compilation CD, I have had a keen interest in this band with such technical prowess and theological goodness.  Their first two albums, Burial and Undeceived, along with the Mesmerized E.P. were a bit over-the-top, though.  Enjoyable yes, but a bit overwhelming at times.  All that is past now as Synergy demonstrates the band’s ascension from raw brilliance to metallic dominance.  It is no surprise then that Century Media, who rarely if ever carries bands from the righteous end of the metallic spectrum, snatched this band up from Sweden’s Endtime Productions (www.endtimeproductions.com) in time to release this groundbreaking album.  It is sure to create a buzz among serious purveyors of technical death/thrash metal.

To my ear, the best comparison for the uninitiated would be Destruction and Believer (remember my earlier comment) with touches of Borknagar—especially with Ole’s clean vocals—and some Opeth-like acoustics on track 9, “Aperture.”  In terms of technicality, Extol certainly match all of the aforementioned bands.  The bottom line is that a band of this caliber that garners the attention of the execs at CM is no passing phase or flavor-of-the-month band.  Extol have been building their chops and honing their talents for quite a while now.  They are worthy of your attention.

 

FORLORN  “Hybernation”  (9 tracks.  53:16).  NAPALM.

Rating:  6.5.

A while before the release of this album—in anticipation of its release, actually—I received an e-mail from a friend of the band (as did countless others I’m sure) regarding a new direction the band took on this album.  I suppose you could argue that this is true, but it is not glaringly true.  Hybernation has the same overall feel of their previous albums in terms of production, though one could also argue that Forlorn has aimed generally for the Old Man’s Child sound, though one will also notice affinities with Dimmu Borgir, Aborym, and early Mayhem (De Mysteriis dom Sathanas era).  The bottom line is that this is a rather generic sounding black metal album.  All the pieces are in place but they lack the “magic spark” many other bands have in my opinion.

 

GOLDEN DAWN  “Masquerade”  (10 tracks.  46:52).  NAPALM

Rating:  8.

          Upon first listening to this band, one might find it hard to pin down their sound.  Golden Dawn strike me as a neo-classical/baroque metal band with black, death, and gothic metal and electronic elements.  They remind me of a little known band from Germany called Lightmare.  Occasionally the black metal and death metal influences surface, especially in “Masquerade”, but the overall feel is a baroque neo-classical sound with a haunting vibe.  And actually, while they draw upon a diversity of styles, those styles are very closely related, especially as they are used here. 

 

GRAND BELIAL’S KEY  “Judeobeast Assassination” (8 tracks.  ).  MORIBUND/DRAKKAR.

Rating:  8.

          Some labels are like subcultures.  Moribund is like that.  All their bands share a death/black/satanic/screw the mainstream vibe.  GBK is one of the most interesting bands on this label.  I mean musically, of course.  They aren’t necessarily innovative or off-the-wall, they just sound different.  You might say they sound like what Celtic Frost may have sounded like if Tom G. Warrior had stayed on track from Morbid Tales rather than pursuing a more avant-garde style.  Obviously, though, with song titles like “Pimps of Gennesaret” and “The Shitagogue”, they have a very anti-Biblical lyrical slant (big surprise, duh!).  But the reason I mention it is because their lyrics demonstrate a greater knowledge of biblical information than most Christians possess.  How’s that for irony?

 

HIDDEN  “Spectral Magnitude”  (9 tracks.  ).  RED STREAM.

Rating:  6.

This CD has been out for a while, but when the promo came I was really burned out on the reviewing business.  I put it in a stack of CD’s for a later date.  Now that I am getting back into the reviewing mode I thought I should give it a review.  With apologies to Red Stream and the Hidden (Himinbjorg too), I submit this review.

          Whether a serious attitude or just a gimmick, this group claims to be composed of known musicians that prefer to remain anonymous for this musical project.  Thus they live up to their name:  Hidden.  The idea is that the listener will approach the music without any expectations.  Of course that doesn’t keep us from speculating or listening for clues in the music or looking for them in the lyrics.  But I won’t do that here.

Hidden go for a raw, death metal sound.  Quite often they are slow and almost doomy.  But the slow grinding riffs and the thin production make this CD sound like something typical of the 80’s underground, maybe with more than just a nod to Venom.  This is not a criticism, just a description.  It is simply music made to satisfy the band no doubt.  I am willing to consider the possibility that the production is intentionally thin in order to create that retro sound, but I would have been much more satisfied with a more up-to-date sound.  (See Vassago below).

 

HIMINBJORG  “Haunted Shores”  (7 tracks.  37:34).  RED STREAM.

Rating:  8.

This “full-length” album is only 11 minutes and 18 seconds longer than Himinbjorg’s previous release, the Third E.P.  Nevertheless, 37 and ½ more minutes of Himinbjorg is always welcome.  Dark but not brooding, somber but not depressing, Himinbjorg’s music is atmospheric in an aggressive way.  There is always that underlying Viking vibe reminiscent of Bathory’s Twilight of the Gods album.  Still, one is tempted to avoid overly specific descriptive titles for their music.  Heavy metal with a dramatic feel will do.  The title, “Haunted Shores,” says it all.

 

ILLUMINANDI  “Demo I & II” (8 tracks.  31:32).

Rating:  9.

Don’t let the fact that this is a demo disc bother you, this CD is a very near cousin to Opeth’s Damnation CD.  This demo is not all acoustic/clean guitar, of course, but the emphasis in their music is on the stringed instruments.  This means that there are a lot of clean guitar sounds as well as violin and cello.  Also, almost all the vocals—male and female—are clean.  Everything I have heard from Eastern Europe, particularly this type of progressive death metal, has been deeply interesting.  Illuminandi bring to mind groups like Love History (The End Records) and Without Face (formerly Dark Symphonies, now on Elitist/Earache).  Much heavier than gothic, and also without that trendy feel, Illuminandi may yet appeal to a cross-section of the doom, death, and gothic crowds, but especially to anyone who has a more mature taste in metal (once again, think Opeth’s Damnation).  The inclusion of stringed instruments like violins is an added bonus.  Fans of Undish and Paramaecium may both take a liking to them.  The best thing about this combination of demos is that it sounds like a professionally recorded album, albeit on a small budget.  With a label deal and some studio time this band will be able to produce some amazing music.  To order, send $7 carefully hidden to: 

Illuminandi

c/o Jan Trebacz                       E-mail:  illuminandi @ kdm.pl

ul. Chopina 20                           website:  Illuminandi Website

39-200 DEBICA

POLAND

Or download the CD from Mp3.com: MP3's of Illuminandi

 

KEEP OF KALESSIN  “Through Lines of War” (7 tracks.  47:36).  MERCENARY/WWIII/AVANTGARDE.

KEEP OF KALESSIN  “Agnen:  a journey through the dark” (8 tracks.  50:51).  MERCENARY/WWIII/AVANTGARDE

Rating:  8.

Keep of Kalessin are a solid Norwegian-flavored Black Metal band.  This band is a serious, straight ahead, no keyboards or electronics type band.  Early Bathory influence is detectable, but not a full-on Viking sound.  What you will experience is hyper fast drumming and guitar riffing and gruff vocals.  This is the kind of solid black metal that non-trend people buy.

 

LACRIMAS PROFUNDERE  “Fall, I Will Follow” (10 tracks.  46:04).  NAPALM.

Rating:  7.5.

          Previously on Burning: A Wish, LP won my appreciation with some heavy duty doom/goth metal in the vein of My Dying Bride’s Angel and the Dark River album.  This time around they aim for a slightly quicker-paced Katatonia gloom rock vibe, though one song has a curiously My Dying Bride type title:  “Sear Me Pale Sun.”  Hmmm.  The cover art and song titles (e.g., “For Bad Times”) confirm this.  Good stuff, but not as good as the previous album.  Also for fans of late era Paradise Lost, Love Like Blood, Jack Frost, and maybe Anathema.  Again, it is good listening, but not as pleasurable as the previous album.  Perhaps imitation has won out over innovation.

 

LYNCH MOB  “Revolution” (13 tracks.  ).  DEALINE RECORDS.

Everyone should recognize this band.  Their guitarist, George Lynch, is a legend who first received major attention when Dokken released Tooth n’ Nail.  The video to “Into the Fire” was played to death on MTV.  I don’t know the story well but George Lynch broke away from Dokken more than once and founded this band.  Here is a new release with new recordings of old songs with a different vocalist (kinda like Company of Snakes).  Frankly, listening to this CD reminds me of why I didn’t get into Dokken much.  It is not because there is no talent or musicality here, it is just too commercial and too symmetrical for my tastes.

 

MACTATUS   “Suicide”  (10 tracks.  ).  NAPALM.

Rating:  7.5.

          It’s been a while since Mactatus released an album (about 2 years).  On Suicide Mactatus maintains pretty much the same sound and feel of their earlier material—similar to Dimmu and Cradle of Filth—but with a different source of subject matter.  Gone is the evil black metal image, in its place are images of death and violence. 

 

PHARAOH  “After the Fire”  (9 tracks).  CRUZ DEL SUR.

Nearly every classic metal album I receive is good, solid, well-executed, etc.  If this is your thing, pick up Pharaoh.  It is another great power metal album.  I’ve read other reviewers who really like this album.  I guess I am just getting kind of bored with this kind of album.  It doesn’t excite me.

 

SCARVE  “Luminiferous”  (11 tracks).   WWIII/LISTENABLE.

I feel like I should mention this release because it is from a label I enjoy doing reviews for.  Nevertheless, this form of grinding death metal with slavering mad man vocals isn’t my thing.  Apparently people do like them though since WWIII licensed them from Listenable to distribute in the U.S.  This album was produced by Daniel Bergstrand for all who keep track of those things. They’re French which means they are one of the few French bands to get imported to the U.S.

 

SUMMON  “And the Blood Runs Black”  (15 tracks.  45:51).  MORUIBUND.

I am reminded of some of those hysterical things people used to say about KISS, Alice Cooper, and AC/DC in the 1970’s.  If they only knew!  This American black/death metal band would scare the living hell out of those paranoid alarmists.  Now in their 11th year in existence, Summon make their Moribund debut with 15 tracks of pure cult music produced by legendary guitarist/producer James Murphy.  More death than black, with somewhat serious but occasionally humorous satanic lyrical material (e.g., “Satanic Slut”), Summon betray some Venom influence.  Thus song number seven is none other than a cover of Venom’s “Buried Alive”.  Nevertheless, the album is hard-hitting death metal with Murphy’s excellent sense of production.

 

VASSAGO “Knights from Hell”  (15 tracks.  32:13).  WIII/MERCENARY.

Rating:  7

Take some cool sounding death metal, throw in some black metal influences, add producer Andy LaRoque and Los Angered Studios, mix in a healthy dose of Hellhammer (a.k.a., pre-Celtic Frost), and you get Vassago.  The pseudonyms and lyrics are on the funny side of satanic.  Albums like this one just go to show that sometimes really talented musicians like to have a little fun.  Perhaps that is why they use pseudonyms like “Pepa” and “Sin” and have guest musicians like “Sadistic Sodomizer”, “Suckdog”, “Bloodlord”, and “KK Kranium”.  A really patient person could probably figure out who some of these guys are.  My guess is that some of them are from the Swedish Black Metal scene.

 

VINTERSORG  “Visions from the Spiral Generator”  (9 tracks.  ).  NAPALM.

Rating:  9.5.

Vintersorg is one of the highlights of the Napalm roster.  Napalm, in fact, touts Vintersorg as the world’s #1 Viking metal band and I am inclined to agree. Visions from the Spiral Generator marks V’s first album since becoming the new vocalist for progressive black metal band Borknagar.  It also marks the beginning of a broadening of V’intersorg’s own band.  From the sound of things, V has brought some of the Norwegian influence with him back across the border to Sweden.  He did, in fact, in the person of drummer Asgeir Mickelson (Borknagar).  He also brought in some American influence with Steve Di Giorgio handling bass duties (Death, Sadus, Testament).  Thus Visions was recorded in three studios in three countries (Sweden, Norway, US).  But that is not to say that Visons is really all that different from previous Vintersorg albums.  It has less of the folk feel of previous albums (especially Till Fjalls and Odenmarkens Son), but it is also stronger than its predecessors.  Again, this does nothing to belittle the previous albums, but they were more or less solo projects with a guest musician here and there.  Perhaps the most remarkable thing about this album is that it comes so quickly on the heels of Borknagar’s Empiricism album.  But sometimes such collaborations are fertile and do more to inspire than to fatigue.  If so, then Vintersorg is riding the creative wave right now and we are the beneficiaries.

 

VIRGIN BLACK  “Elegant … and Dying” (9 tracks.  74:24).  THE END RECORDS.

Rating:  10.

          Their previous album, Sombre Romantic, brought this band out of obscurity and into the open.  With Elegant … and Dying, VB will once again be hailed as a voice of distinction among a lot of talented bands.  Unlike Sombre Romantic, which required some getting used to on my part, I was immediately into Elegant … and Dying.  It is a lot like its predecessor, but I think it is accurate to say that Elegant is actually a stronger and even more beautiful album.  There is no need here to speak of a sophomore slump, VB are right on the mark.  If you haven’t heard Rowan London’s haunting voice or Samantha Escarbe’s fluid guitar playing, you are missing a rare treat/talent.  Anyone looking for a truly emotional musical experience needs to hear this band.  The magic of Virgin Black is that their music does not immediately “grab” you.  It may confuse you, but it will also intrigue you.  Finally, this isn’t music for the car or for parties, it is music for a quiet dark room and a calm demeanor.  It is music for the audiophile of an amalgam of dark, gothic, metallic, esoteric, poetic, symphonic, operatic, and other elements.  No doubt those who have a taste for the various musical excursions of bands like Ulver will embrace Virgin Black’s own excursions enthusiastically. 

 

WIND OF THE BLACK MOUNTAIN  “Black Sun Shall Rise” (9 tracks.  35:06).  MORIBUND.

Rating:  .

          Not to be confused with another guitarist/vocalist named Tchort, WofBM was formed by the American Tchort and another pseudonymously titled musician, Nybras. 

 

ANNOUNCEMENTS

*SEVENTRAIN Announce New Website and Album
Hard rock/metal act Seventrain featuring guitarist Eric Horton (formerly of the San Diego, CA power metal band Cage) has just launched their new website at www.seventrain.com. The site features four tracks available for download from their debut album titled Moments of Clarity, which will be released worldwide in the fall. The CD was produced by former 24-7 Spyz and current Crown 10 drummer Joel Maitoza who also played drums on the disk. An official release date and track listing will be announced within the next few weeks.

 

SUMMON / THORNSPAWN / EXCOMMUNION

“The Unholy Crusade” Ideological West Coast Tour!

THE METAL TOUR OF SUMMER 2003 !!!

7/4 St. Louis, MO @ Creepy Crawl- All Ages w/ Ornament of Disgrace

7/5 Arlington/Ft Worth/Dallas, TX @ Division 1- All Ages

7/6 Houston, TX @ Fitzgeralds- All Ages w/Bar w/ Crimson Massacre

7/9 Guadalajara MEXICO w/ Ravager

7/10 El Paso, TX @ Serges- 21+ w/ Anal Blast

7/11 Juarez, MEXICO @ Planet Rock Club- All Ages w/ Engorge

7/12 Las Cruces, NM @ Dirt Records- All Ages

7/13 Phoenix, AZ @ The Mason Jar- All Ages

7/14 Mexicali, MEXICO (Baja CA) @ El Palmar- 18+ (change from Rock City)

7/15 San Diego, CA @ Brick by Brick- 21+ (change from Blue Aguave)

7/16 In-Store Signing at MUSIC OBSCURE Monterey Park, CA 323.888.2790

7/16 L.A./Corona, CA @ The Showcase- All Ages  w/ Nokturne

7/17 S.F./Oakland, CA @ iMusicast- All Ages *  w/ Occission

* Show filming for DVD release!

7/18 Reno, NV @ Ark-a-ik- All Ages  w/ Bloody Victim

7/19 Portland, OR @ Meow, Meow- All Ages *  w/ Drawn And Quartered

* Show filming for DVD release! + Drawn And Quartered CD release Party!

7/20 Seattle, WA @ Studio 7- All Ages *  w/ Drawn And Quartered

* Show filming for DVD release! + Drawn And Quartered CD release Party!

7/21 Boise, ID @ Club Savvys- 21+ (moved from JD & Friends)  w/ Conscious

7/22 Salt Lake City, UT @ Uprawk- All Ages  w/ Ibex Throne

7/23 Denver, CO @ The Bluebird Theatre-All Ages  w/ Throcult

 

Seattle and Portland shows Special Features:

Moribund 10 Year Anniversary Party! A Decade of the Devil’s Metal!!!

1. Free CD, T-shirt OR Magazine to the first 200 people through the door!

2. Free “The Unholy Crusade” Color Tour Poster to the first 300 people through the door!

3. Drawn & Quartered “Extermination Revelry” CD Release Party-

    Win free D&Q “Extermination Revelry” CD’s, T-Shirts and Posters!

4. Win a chance to appear on “The Unholy Crusade” DVD Video!

5. Moribund and Napalm Merchandise Stores!

 

 

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