2005 Critical Update #1

 

2005 Critical Update #1

Welcome to ‘THE YEAR OF METAL!”  Just look at how many releases are covered in this first update, with many more already started for next time.  They are all so good, I really had a hard time reviewing them.  By all indications, most of the labels out there are really pouring it on this year.  So start saving your milk money …

 

This year I am trying to include more information.  Along with my rating system (totally subjective to my impulses!), I am also including a release date when I have them, and the band’s country of origin.

 

AUDIOVISION  “The Calling”  (10 tracks.  43:28).  RIVEL RECORDS.

Rating:  9.   Country of origin:  Sweden.

Christian Rivel (f.k.a., Christian Liljegren) of Narnia has a very recognizable and powerful set of vocal chords.  He is best known as the front man for Nuclear Blast recording artists, Narnia.  But Rivel (who recently took his wife’s family name when they married), has been doing other projects for a number of years; namely, Modest Attraction and Wisdom Call.  This year he adds two more side projects to his repertoire, Divinefire (see below) and Audiovision.  He has started up his own label, Rivel Records (replacing C.L. Records) to provide an outlet for these releases as well as other bands (below) like Veni Domine, Crimson Moonlight and others.

Any band with Christian Rivel will obviously carry his trademark lyrics and vocal delivery.  But do not expect Audiovision to be another Narnia.  To me, Narnia is very neo-classical due to the axework of Carl Johan Grimmark.  But Audiovision is more of a classic power metal meets progressive rock.   In terms of vocal delivery, Rivel lets us hear his grittier side.  From the opening track, there is a Freddy Mercury quality about his delivery.  I find it very exciting.  The guitar work and production is handled by Lars Chriss of Lion’s Share (both are excellent!).  And the band is rounded out with Mikael Hoglund on bass, Thomas Broman on drums, and Andreas Linhahl on keys.  This tight, top-notch band, deliver a variety of killer grooves ranging from the Mercyful Fate inspired riffs of “Show Me the Way” and “Hold Me”, to the 70’s cover tune, “Love is Like Oxygen”, originally recorded by Sweet, and a great instrumental at the end called “Colors”.  All this is topped off by Rivel’s dulcet toned voice and evangelistic lyrics.  Like I said, it’s classic power metal meets progressive rock.  Few countries have produced so many great commercially oriented metal bands as Sweden.  And Audiovision is clearly a band in that fine tradition.  Fans of any kind of classic Swedish rock/metal would be foolish for passing on this one.

 

CALLENISH CIRCLE  “Forbidden Empathy” (Disc one, 15 tracks.  Disc two, 14 tracks).  CANDLELIGHT.

Rating:  7.5.          Country of origin:  The Netherlands.  Release date:  January 25.

By now many of you have heard, or at least read about, Callenish Circle.  You may be aware that this Dutch band records for Metal Blade Records, and that they have a new album due out soon.  But if you have tried to get hold of this band’s earlier material, you may have had trouble until now, thanks to Candlelight Records USA.  For whatever crazy reason, Metal Blade has passed on the opportunity to release this excellent band’s earlier material.  Not to worry, Candlelight has “picked up their slack”!  Forbidden Empathy consists of two discs, 29 songs, and over two hours of metal; that’s two full albums, a MCD, and some demo material from their earliest recordings.  It is a lot to take in, but it is definitely worth it.

Callenish Circle play a style of death metal not unlike their Swedish neighbors—tight, clean, semi-melodic, with crisp production, but they are not Gothenburg copycats.  They nuance their music with some doomy and other atmospheric touches.  One may at times be tempted to compare them to In the Woods or early My Dying Bride, but the overall feel is definitely death metal.  Anyway, it is a great mixture and well worth your consideration.  

 

See my interview with Patrick of Callenish Circle.

 

CRIONICS  “Armageddon’s Evolution”  (11 tracks.  66:06).  CANDLELIGHT USA.

Rating:  7.  Country of origin: Poland.         Release date:  March 8.

          I popped this CD in and began perusing the promo sheet for a country of origin.  Before I found it, I had already guessed correctly.  Crionics’ ultra-heavy form of blackened death metal is pretty characteristic of similar bands from Poland.  Groups like Vader, Hate, and Belfegor (not Belphegor of Austria) come quickly to mind.  But there is a twist here.  One clue is the last of two bonus tracks, a cover of Emperor’s “The Loss and Curse of Reverence”.  From the first track of this album on, you will notice a fairly active keyboardist in the mix.  You will also notice some very Ihsahn influenced guitar solos—think walking up the fretboard.  Further, you will notice the high speed rolling bass drum/bass guitar attack.  It is interesting to hear this done Polish style, and the imitation is convincing.  I do think, however, they have some room for growth; that is, unless they want to be known simply as the Polish imitators of Emperor. 

 

CRIMSON MOONLIGHT  “Veil of Remembrance”.  (9 tracks.  43:18).  RIVEL RECORDS.

Rating:  9.   Country of origin:  Sweden.

          A couple of years ago I interviewed one of the members of Marduk.  He told me that there is no way black metal could be Christian.  Black metal is by nature satanic, he said.  Nevertheless, I think Marduk—a fine band musically, if not theologically—have met their match in the current Crimson Moonlight release, Veil of Remembrance.  VoR is a punishing assault of Swedish black/death metal in the musical tradition of non other than Marduk and Black Funeral.  In a phrase: total musical brutality. There are no keyboards here, no ballads, no clean vocals, just a pure metallic beating.  It is quite a change from the Eternal Emperor demo that I bought several years ago.

Theologically, Crimson Moonlight are upfront about their faith.  And there are plenty of you readers out there who have written me about your faith on the one hand, and your love of metal on the other.  So let me strongly urge you to support Crimson Moonlight.  They have proven their merit as a serious “black” metal band.

 

CROWBAR  “Lifesblood for the Downtrodden” (11 tracks.  50:01).  CANDLELIGHT USA.

Rating:  8.   Country of origin:  USA.          Release date:  February 8.

          Once again, Crowbar lays down a heavy slab of pure musical adrenaline.  I have always like Crowbar, but personally have always had a little trouble finding just the right words to describe their sound; perhaps it helps to just think of them as America’s “Motorhead”, albeit with a heavier, doom-laden pool of sludge.  But these descriptive terms seem a little too specific for Crowbar, and at the end of the day, I would settle for simply referring to Crowbar as “heavy metal”.

          It goes without saying that Crowbar has been true to the vision of Kirk Windstein over the last 13 years or so.  But I will have to say, that Crowbar has never sounded better in my opinion.  “Lifesblood for the Downtrodden” consists of eleven really good songs which enough diversity to keep it interesting.  Aside from the expected power tunes, song five, “Fall Back to Zero” is a killer mellow tune.  Of course, when I say “mello,” remember that I am talking about Crowbar!  I think it is a very memorable tune, classy in an extreme sort of way.  The only thing that keeps this disc from getting a higher rating than an 8 is that Windstein’s vocals can get a little monotonous.  But overall, “Lifesblood for the Downtrodden” is highly recommended.

 

DIVINEFIRE  “Glory Thy Name”  (9 tracks.  42:36).  RIVEL RECORDS.

Rating:  9.5.         Country of origin:  Sweden.

          And now for something really different.  How about a symphonic black metal band, complete with thundering guitars, hyperspeed double-bass, and triumphant keyboards.  But wait!  Clean vocals, shredding solos?  Who would have expected the combination?  Like Audiovision (see above), Divinefire is one of the bands showcasing Christian Rivel’s immense vocal talent.  It also has guest vocal growls by his brother Hubertus Liljegren (Crimson Moonlight), Fredrik Sjoholm (Veni Domine) and Eric Clayton (Savior Machine).  Divinefire is by far the most musically aggressive of Rivel’s recordings.  It is not lacking in finesse, of course, but certainly is faster and heavier than Narnia.  Rivel’s collaborator in this band is Jani Stefanovic (Renascent, also did time in Crimson Moonlight) who handles guitars, keys, drums, and programming, and Andreas Olsson on bass.  Guest solo guitar work is done by Carl Johan Grimmark (Narnia), Torbjorn Weinesjo (Veni Domine), and Pontus Norgren (?). The philosophy behind the music of this album (see interview), was to create an album that borders on symphonic black metal, but with clean vocals.  If it sounds like an interesting idea let me assure you, it works even better than you might imagine.  Like I said, these guys rock hard, and they have pulled off a monster of an album.   

 

See my interview with Jani of Divinefire.

 

ENSLAVED  “Isa” (10 tracks.  51:07).  CANDLELIGHT USA.

Rating:  9.   Country of origin:  Norway.      Release date:  February 8.

I for one have enjoyed Enslaved’s evolution.  While I enjoy their more “primitive” sound on “Frost”, I was particularly taken with “Mardraum” and have enjoined all the progression since.  They still sound very Norwegian to my ears, but now more avante garde (some would say “psychedelic”).  “Isa” is, in my opinion, an even better album than “Below the Lights”, more interesting musically.  It may be one of their best albums.  It is truly as powerful and emotional as ever Enslaved has ever sounded. 

 

ENTOMBED  “Unreal Estate”  (11 tracks.  42:39).  CANDLELIGHT USA.

Rating:  6.  Country of origin:  Sweden.     Release date:  February 22.

          I know that Entombed are a high priority band for Candlelight, and that they are paragons of Swedish death metal, and innovators of the “death n’ roll” sound, but this live album is something of an albatross in my mind, mainly because it has several tracks that don’t translate well without the visual element.  CDLXVI/INTERMISSION is an awkward start for the CD, even if in concert it makes sense with the ballet (which in itself is odd).  And the build up into “Chief Rebel Angel”, track 2, takes long enough that the CD has been playing for nearly four minutes before you actually hear something that resembles Entombed.  Track four, “It is Later Than You Think,” is basically ambient noise loop with someone saying, “it is later than you think.”  Also, not that I mean to complain, but I can think of a lot of songs that I wish were on a live Entombed disc.  I realize, of course, that the concert was a special production which included ballet and such, and I am sure the songs had to be worked into that frame, but Entombed live without playing “Wolverine Blues”?  No way!  But the bottom line is that something like this should be released on DVD, not CD.  Especially not at $16.98.

 

FRANTIC BLEEP  “The Sense Apparatus” (9 tracks).  THE END RECORDS.

Rating:  10.           Country of origin:  Norway.      Release date:  Febrary 8.

Let me introduce you what I think will be considered one of the top albums of 2005.  It arrived at the very end of December, 2004, and before I had listened to even half of it, I began to feel very confident that by the end of 2005, I will still be thinking about it.  The press sheet said it took the band an entire year to record this album (October ’03 – October ’04), and it shows. 

Think of several metal bands with different styles that can all be described as “progressive”.  For me, bands like Into Eternity (power prog.), Opeth (death/prog), Madder Mortem (prog. ???), and Arcturus (prog. black) come immediately to mind.  These bands are favorites of mine, and all of them come to mind when listening to Frantic Bleep.  They also bear a resemblance to AGE OF SILENCE (also on The End Records).  If imitation is the highest form of flattery, then Frantic Bleep has flattered all the right bands.  And they have done it beautifully, in their own unique, schizophrenic way.  There are no dull moments on this album, and once you think you have it figured out, it will change on you.  Thought-provoking lyrics are included too!  To me, these are the ingredients for a truly great album.  Expect to hear more about this band in the days to come.

 

OATHEAN  “Fading Away into the Grave of Nothingness”  (11 tracks). THE END RECORDS.

Rating:  8.5.          Release Date:  February 22.     Country of Origin:  South Korea.

          Somehow I missed out on their second album, but since their first album, I have enjoyed listening to Oathean.  This new album shows the band vastly improved from their original, but also quite changed musically.  They have moved away from the earthy melodic death metal they used to play, and it sounds as if they have taken in a lot of Emperor, Old Man’s Child, Immortal, and Dimmu Borgir, the most notable change being in the keyboard department.  But they have also beefed up in the guitar department, sounding tighter than before.  This is all fine and good for me, but I do miss the more authentically Korean sound of the earlier stuff (with the possible exception of the intro and middle section of “Scent of Longing” and the closing track, “Road to …” My own beautiful Korean wife cannot stand metal, but at least she was able to appreciate these parts on the CD).  Some of this authentic sound remains in the keyboard parts, but overall the impression is that they have consciously imitated the well established Norwegian style.  Another change is the vocal style to a more “dungeon metal” sound, perhaps influenced by Darkthrone or Enslaved.  Overall, though, I have to say that I am quite pleased with this CD, and the improved musical chops of the band make them a serious force to be reckoned with in the international metal scene. 

          As an added bonus, this CD includes a live track, “In Cold with Shiver” (I know, awkward English title), and another track called, “The Money from the Tobacco Pouch.”  These two songs both sound very authentically Korean to me.  I do wish bands from other countries would incorporate more of their own native sounds into metal … Oathean does it more than most non-Scandinavian and non-German bands.

 

REQUIEM AETERNAM  “Philosopher”  (8 tracks).  ICORP AMERICA.

Rating:  10.   Country of origin:  Uruguay.

          The first thing that jumped out at me was the title and artwork.  These two things alone were enough to interest me.  But what really piqued my interest was when I noticed that this is the band Martin Lopez (drums) and Martin Mendez (bass), both of whom are now well known as members of Opeth, came from.  (Lopez is also with Amon Amarth).  Needless to say, expectations for this album are understandably high.

          Well, as you may expect, Requiem Aeternam are a progressive death metal band with elements of jazz and real singing vocals, black metal at times, and some very South American sounding acoustics.  In other words, they do not sound completely like Opeth, though similarities definitely exist.  They remind me also of Sculptured (The End Records), and a little of Vintersorg (Napalm), but again, with a flavor from south of the equator.  At times the music is frantic and over-the-top heavy.  At other times it is smooth and satisfying.  Though all these comparisons may make the band seem “familiar”, I would have to say that it is almost impossible in my opinion to quite describe in words what the experience of listening to this band is like.  Needless to say, I am very impressed.  I think you will be too.

          This CD is over 45 minutes long, but it ends way too soon.  Requiem Aeternam gives us just enough here to crave more.  At least once every year I get a CD from a South American band that really blows me away.  I know there are a lot of bands down there, but we don’t get enough of them here in the U.S.  But when we do, they are usually the cream of the crop (crème de la crème).  This is absolutely the case here.  Requiem Aeternam’s “Philosopher” is bound to be one of the surprise hits of the year.  And definitely one of my favorites already.

 

See my interview with Jose of Requiem Aeternum.

 

SCENTERIA  “Act of Aggression”  (9 tracks.  38:28).  CANDLELIGHT USA.

Rating:  7.5.         Country of origin:  Sweden.      Release date:  February 22.

          Swedish death metal is a highly developed and a highly imitated art.  Scentaria seem to me to lean towards the heavier, more brutal side of Swedish death metal.  I would drop them in a category that would include Entombed and Carnal Forge.  My oldest son, CriticalNate, says they sound like Lamb of God.  I can hear the resemblance now that he mentions it, but I might not have made the connection otherwise.  The clear production, good guitar solos, tight drumming, and brutal vocals are all typical of the excellent school of Swedish death metal.  It’s good, but is it original?  Hardly.

 

CHUCK SCHUDINER “Zero Tolerance” (disc one: 10 tracks. 57:21) (disc two: 19 tracks.  76:33). CANDLELIGHT USA       Rating:  Priceless. Country of origin: USA.  Release date:  February 22.

          This is what the fans have been waiting for.  The first four tracks on disc one are the rehearsal tapes of the final project of Chuck Schudiner’s life, what was slated to be the second Control Denied album.  Though it is not a polished studio recording, it is a very solid live in the studio recording.  Needless to say, it is classic Schuldiner.  No one will be disappointed.  However, here are no vocals on these four tracks.  Interestingly, on disc one, these four final tracks are followed by two of Schuldiner’s earliest recordings, Death’s “Infernal Death” and “Mutilation” demos, marking the beginning of the start of death metal’s genre-defining eponymous.  Disc two contains two more Death demos (“Death by Metal” and “Reign of Terror”) and a live performance from 1990 during the “Spiritual Healing” tour.  The demos are demo quality, of course.  But hey, it is Death after all. 

This CD is a piece of death metal history and is essential.  Thanks to Candlelight for putting  together Chuck’s earliest and last recordings on a 2 CD set for the price of 1.  RIP.

 

SIEGE OF HATE  “Subversive by Nature”  (20 tracks.  31:33).  CANDLELIGHT USA.

Rating:  5. Country of origin:  Brazil.        Release date:  February 22.

          Siege of Hate’s “Subversive by Nature” is a 20 song, 31 minute grindpunk album.  Okay, so it’s grindcore, but the short songs and their titles (e.g., “No Religion”, “Fake”, “Subversive by Nature”) have a punk flavor.  Even the vocal style, deep, gutteral, and brutal as it is, also has a hint of punk/hardcore in it.  It’s decent for what it is, but not my thang.

 

THE MIGHTY NIMBUS  “The Mighty Nimbus” (10 tracks).  THREEMAN/CANDLELIGHT USA.

Rating:  6.5.         Country of origin:  USA.          Release date:  February 8.

  Here’s another band with a propensity to play 70’s rock at the death metal level.  Generally referred to as “doom” or “stoner rock”, I tend to use the former term to describe bands like Trouble, November’s Doom, My Dying Bride, etc.  But this is definitely too heavy and too metal to be “stoner rock”, and too hook oriented to be “doom” in my opinion.  The Mighty Nimbus are a collaboration of Erik Larson from Alabama Thunderpussy and Pete Champel of Sixty Watt Shaman.  It sounds like what you might expect from these two musicians binging on Goatsnake, St. Vitus, and a touch of Entombed, perhaps.

 

VENI DOMINE  “The Album of Labour”  (11 tracks).  RIVEL RECORDS.

Rating  9.    Release date:  2004.     Country of origin:  Sweden.

          Those who’ve known about Veni Domine over the years have appreciated their dedication to their craft as well as their consistency.  They first appeared on the scene in 1992 with Fall, Babylon Fall, and three years returned with Material Sanctuary.  Taking another three years, their third masterpiece, Spiritual Wasteland, was welcomed by faithful and adoring fans.  But since then, the long wait for a fourth album, delayed by illness and record label difficulties, seemed like an insurmountable hurtle.  And yet, at long last, after seven long years, here it is, appropriately entitled, The Album of Labour.  I would never want to make light of the band’s struggles, but after many listens, the long wait has proven that out of great difficulty comes great art.  The process has made the band stronger.  As Nietzsche said, “what doesn’t kill me, makes me stronger.”  Anyway, I think it is by far their best album. (According to their website, www.venidomine.com, they are now working on album 5).

          When listening to Veni Domine it is easy to think of bands Queensryche and Dream Theatre.  But the similarity is only “skin deep”.  Veni Domine is a very deep band in their own way, and not to be simply compared to others in the same genre.  On this album a noticeable change comes in the guitar department.  While still playing a decidedly prog. metal level of heaviness, Torbjorn Weinesjo has adapted a bit of a classic rock feel on a few songs.  “Doom of Man” and “Deep Down Under” bring to mind some real 1970’s styled guitar work like Jimmy Paige, the latter song also utilizing fretless bass.  The Album of Labour is a welcome addition to the Veni Domine collection.  Anyone who has followed this band will be satisfied—and relieved!

 

VREID  “Kraft”  (8 tracks).  CANDLELIGHT RECORDS USA.

Rating:  9.   Country of origin:  Norway.      Release date:  January 25.

If any band today reminds me of old Bathory, it is Vreid.  Imagine what Quorthon could have done 20 years ago in a real studio, and you have, in my opinion, an idea of what this cool band sounds like.  That aggressive spirit, touched with a sense of atmosphere, is definitely there.  Formed by the remaining members of Windir—a highly acclaimed black metal band in their own right—following the death of Valfar, Vreid has has brought forth great blackened art from tragedy.  Fans of Enslaved and Immortal, Thorns and Khold will really get into this album just as I have.  Vreid also have an experimental side in the vein of Enslaved, and perhaps a touch of Burzum as demonstrated on track 3, “Helvete”.  But also, track 7, “Empty”, is an unforgettably original song.  I don’t know exactly how to describe it except to call it, black metal unplugged.  It is really cool—uh, I mean, dark!  So, this album has a solid, recognizable, Norwegian vibe, with a little something extra to show that they are not just imitators, but also innovators.  I expect this band to grow in popularity among those who are serious about black metal (not the trendies!).

 

YYRKOON  “Occult Medicine” (11 tracks).  OSMOSE/THE END RECORDS.

Rating:  8.   Country of origin:  France.       Release date:  January 18.

I don’t have a clue what the word Yyrkoon means, but this band is insane.  While I typically don’t go for bands like this, here I have to make an exception.  Yyrkoon is like the Blair Witch of death metal!  They are fast and furious, and extremely heavy.  But seriously, despite the occultic theme and the hyperspeed riffs, I think there is a fair resemblance between Yyrkoon and early Carcass (circa Necroticism …).  I say this because the riffs are brutal, the vocals are brutal, but the sense of movement and direction in the songs is clear, and the solos are cool.  And like Carcass, there is a tight interplay between guitarists (Jeff and Steph, last names not provided).  But Yyrkoon is definitely heavier than Carcass.  And dare I use the word “fun”?  Also for fans of Bloodbath. 

 

For next time:

BELEF  “Infection Purification”.

DARK MOOR “Beyond the Sea”.

DREAM MAKER “Enclosed”.

EPOCH OF UNLIGHT “The Continuum Hypothesis”.

KAAMOS  “Lucifer Rising”.

LABYRINTH   “Freeman”.

NOVEMBER’S DOOM “Pale Haunt Departure”.

PHAZM  “Hate at First Seed”.

THE SWEET ACCORDING TO SWEDEN.  Various.

Interviews with LILITU and VREID.

And more . . .

 

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