2005 Critical Update #2

 

ANTESTOR  “Forsaken”  (10 tracks.  46:11).  ENDTIME PRODUCTIONS.

Rating:  9.5.   Country of origin:  Norway.  Release date:  available now.

          This band deserves a break.  This band deserves respect.  Both have been hard to come by.  Let’s face it, there is prejudice in the world of black metal.  For over a decade Antestor has been creating some of the most potent music to come out of Norway only to be stiffed.  (This is a story worth telling, so bear with me).  After producing two very well-received demos, The Defeat of Satan and Despair, Antestor recorded an unbelievably powerful album entitled Martyrium.  They were unable to get a reliable label to release it at the time, so the band pressed on and eventually recorded a second album entitled, The Return of the Black Death.  This album was picked up and released by Cacophanous Records in England and things looked promising; that is, until the people at Cacophanous discovered that this otherwise legitimate sounding black metal band were Christians.  To my knowledge, Cacophanous has never paid this band royalties for the sales of this album, nor returned any correspondences.  (This does not mean that it hasn’t happened, but to my knowledge Cacophanous has not been forthcoming).  Thankfully, Samuel Durling (co-founder of orthodox industrial band, Mental Destruction) founded Endtime Productions, a label specializing in releasing albums by Christian bands from Scandinavia.  (This is the label Extol were on before getting signed to Century Media, for instance).  Durling and company released the much sought after Martyrium album and later, a limited pressing of the two demos onto disc.  And now the latest, The Forsaken, which was preceded by an E.P. which I don’t have.  Maybe 2005 will be the year that this band gets the props they deserve.

          Interesting story, huh?  There is one more important piece of information you need to know.  Antestor didn’t have a drummer at the time of recording, so guess who plays drums on this album?  None other than Jan Axel Von Blomberg, a.k.a., Hellhammer of Mayhem, Age of Silence, etc., etc., etc.  I don’t know where he fits in ideologically with the band—probably doesn’t.  But he respects this band enough to play drums on this album, and that speaks volumes!

          At first I thought Antestor had changed their style, but I was wrong.  What I can say about The Forsaken is that it is more aggressive, not quite as mournful as Martyrium and Return of the Black Death.  What has remained constant is Antestor’s trademark ability to mix riff into melody—or is it melody into riff?  “Forsaken” is as harsh and shrill as black metal can be, yet purposeful and moving.  But of course, with Hellhammer on drums, comparisons to Mayhem will be both natural and unavoidable—even justified.  Fans will also agree that Arcturus and other elite Norwegian bands should welcome Antestor among their ranks. 

 

BELEF  “Infection Purification” (8 tracks.  55:59).  CANDLELIGHT USA.

Rating:  6.   Country of origin:  France.       Release date:  March 8.

          This is one crazy French band.  They band play some of the most frantic and insane death/black  metal I have ever heard.  Inhuman would be a better way to describe it.  I wonder if they can actually do this live?  That would be quite a feat.  Fans of primitive Mayhem and Aborym will relish this CD from beginning to end.  Others will get migraines and pray for death.  But don’t expect the requisite bad production.  Infection Purification has been mixed and mastered with sonic clarity.  Finally, I would be remiss if I did not register my objection to the cover art, not just because it is satanic, but also because it portrays violence against women and nazis.  Call me whatever name you like, it is not appropriate ever.

 

DREAMAKER  “Enclosed”  (12 tracks).  ARISE RECORDS.

Rating:  8.   Country of Origin:  Spain (I think).    Release date:  March 11.

          You could have fooled me into thinking this was a Sinergy CD.  Dreamaker sound almost exactly the same.  Elisa Martin’s impassioned delivery calls Kim Goss’ powerful vocals to mind.  And like Sinergy, Dreamaker are a tight classic metal band with some great musical hooks.  It is a very exciting CD to listen to, and I haven’t found any dull moments anywhere.  You’ll find that guitarists Albert Maroto and Matias Sosa are both very dexterous and creative in both riffing and soloing.  My only complaints are (1) that the promo CD cuts about half of the songs off before the end (to discourage illegal copying), and (2) that a band like this could use a little variety from time to time.  This doesn’t take away from the fact, though, that I think it is a great CD to listen to.

 

EPOCH OF UNLIGHT  “The Continuum Hypothesis”  (11 tracks. 54 ).  THE END RECORDS.

Rating:  9.  Country of origin:  USA.         Release date:  March 8.

          Epoch of Unlight’s third release picks up where they left off both lyrically (vampire story) and musically.  Since this band has never exhibited a need to pump out an album every year, they have managed to remain very consistent on all their releases.  The Continuum Hypothesis is no exception.  It has their characteristic grinding black death sound, and as usual, comparisons to Dissection come quickly to mind.  However, I think that EoU have their fair share of thrashy moments a la Kreator.  If you already have the first two EoU albums you will definitely want to add this one to your collection.

 

FROSTHARDR  “Makteslos” (5 tracks.  26:18).  MOMENTUM SCANDINAVIA.

Rating:  8.  Country of origin:  Norway.  Release date:  Available now.

          This band exhibits some real potential.  They combine the hyperspeed, blizzard style of black metal played by Immortal with a strong melodic presence like Antestor, and cold, harsh industrial elements (kind of) like Thorns.  They also play slower, more deliberate parts similar to Khold, and some clearly death metal stuff too, like song three, “Death My Relief.”  Their harsh, dungeon vocals bring to mind Satyr of Satyricon and the vocalists of all the aforementioned bands.  It certainly is a good combination of styles.  Right now their music is very derivative.  I am interested in hearing how they progress in the future.

 

HEARTCRY  “Lightmaker”  (10 tracks. 49:04).  RIVEL RECORDS.

Rating:  7.  Country of origin:  USA.   Release date:  already available.

          Heartcry is kind of an old fashioned hard rocking band whose music borders on the line between rock and metal, but is basically hard rock.  They have that sort of “live” feeling that many of the harder bands of the late 70’s had, but of course, they are a bit heavier.  Guitarist/vocalist Anders Johansson shreds up and down the blues scales like those old type guitarists (think Iommi here), and I was delighted to see that Dan Tibell (keyboards, formerly in Jerusalem) is still around.  The songs are great for all who like classic rock/metal sounds like Purple, Sabbath, Glenn Hughes, Whitesnake, and more recent acts like Jorn.  My only reservation is that Johansson’s vocals are at times too nasal.

 

KAAMOS  “Lucifer Rising”  (10 tracks.  37:45).  CANDLELIGHT USA.

Rating:  7.   Country of origin:  Sweden.       Release date:  March 22.

          To my ear this band sounds like a Florida death metal band rather than a Swedish death metal band.  But then again, Hypocrisy is from Sweden.  Anyway, Kaamos kicks it kind of “old school” like Hypocrisy, Hate Eternal, Morbid Angel, and such.  If I were a betting man, I would say that Kaamos has intentionally aimed at earning this comparison not just musically, but lyrically as well.  In fact, I’d say that they could be easily confused for one of those bands, particularly Hate Eternal.  The title track is a particularly moshable tune.  Don’t be surprised if you wind up breaking something—as in a bone or some furniture—if you play this disc too loud.  Lucifer Rising is decent addition to the brutal death metal category for 2005. 

 

LABYRINTH  “Freeman”  (10 songs).  ARISE RECORDS.

Rating:  8.5.  Country of origin:  Italy.  Release date:  March.

          Labyrinth is another band that puts “power” into “prog” metal.  This album is a very exciting blend of classic metal and heaviness that occasionally approaches the intensity of Into Eternity.  They also remind me a bit of Human Fortress in song structure and overall style, and Wolverine in content.  They have a great sense of dynamics and variety, occasionally dipping into some jazzy stylings in the bridges of a few songs.  There are also traces of industrial influence scattered in a few places.  I especially like song seven, “Malcolm Grey.”  All the elements of the band—guitars, bass, drums, keyboards—are solid, but the highlight of the band is vocalist Roberto Tiranti.

 

MARDUK  “Plague Angel” (11 tracks.  45:03).  CANDLELIGHT RECORDS USA.

Rating:  8.  Country of origin:  Sweden.  Release date:  March 8.

          The previous Marduk album, “World Funeral”, was my first exposure to this most evil of all bands.  Marduk’s reputation for evil is legendary both in the title and artwork of their original demo (F*#k Me Jesus) as well as their unsuccessful attempts to get visas to visit the United States.  It seems that these guys aren’t out to get the Nobel Peace Prize any time soon.  But I did get a chance to speak with Morgan Hakansson in an interview and found him a regular fellow for the most part. 

It appears that the long pause between albums has been good for Marduk.  After taking their longest break between albums (3 years), they have come forth with an incredibly violent, blistering album like you have come to expect from them.  Of course personnel changes have occurred in the bass and vocal departments.  Magnus Devo Andersson—whom we are told also produced this album—returns as bassist, and Mortuus joins on vocals.  But these changes have not hurt the band in any way.  Plague Angel consists of unbelievably fast riffs, hyperspeed drumming, harsh, brutal vocals, sounds of battle, blasphemous lyrics, just like the other stuff of theirs I’ve heard.  In short, Marduk has once again lived up to their reputation.

 

MIRADOR  “The Azrael Tales”  (9 tracks.  56:25).  RIVEL RECORDS.

Rating:  10.   Country of origin:  Sweden.  Release date:  available now.

          What a pleasant surprise!  There are a few prog.-metal bands out there with a real dramatic flair, but Mirador is one I had never heard of.  Listening to this band is like hearing a Broadway soundtrack on metallic steroids.  Mirador is apparently made up of Jakob Forsberg and Erik Mjornell and a few guest musicians.  What is not clear is who does what.  So, whoever does vocals could well be a Broadway singer (think “Jesus Christ Superstar”).  Comparisons to singers like Murray Head, Glenn Hughes, the original singer for Deep Purple (Ian Hill?  I can’t remember his name). Keep in mind, however, that this band is “metal” and not “rock”.  Song after song, minute by minute, this band inspires.  Words fail me, and I know I have listened to this album for two months straight! 

          The Azrael tales is a concept album, so here is a description from Jakob Forsberg in an e-mail: 

“A main theme in the lyrics is about being outcast; Azreal stands as a symbol for that. In some religions he is indeed the arc angel of death, which is good enough for some parts on the album. But in some lore he is told to be outcast from heaven or maybe he has abandoned his duties of his own free will, still saving souls occasionally and still keeping in touch with, for example Gabriel, another arc angel. That theory is even more suitable for the cancept of the album.

“Azrael is a kind of link between heaven and earth. He has tasted the holiness, but still he is not satisfied or totally convinced. Lyrically, many phrases refer to that situation or feeling.

Musically and art conceptual, we wanted to create a somewhat mystic and dark metal album (but of course with light paths and more powerdriven parts). And trying to get feeling, we have spiced the songs with some oriental flavours, swedish folklore and jazzy interludes.

“For the artwork, more than the dark colors, I chose not to have band pictures, a relatively short thanklist, as few credits as possible.”

 

NOVEMBER’S DOOM  “The Pale Haunt Departure”.  (8 tracks.  51:50). THE END RECORDS.

Rating:  9.  Country of origin:  USA.           Release date:  March 8.

          I sincerely love this band.  What albums of theirs I have not received as promos I have purchased.  And of the promos I have received, I have purchased jeweled copies.  I was jubilant when I found out that they had been signed to The End Records because now one of America’s most respectable bands is on one of America’s most respectable metal labels.  So imagine my excitement when this CD arrived in the mail.  And then I practically had an orgasm of joy when I discovered that this album was mixed by the legendary Dan Swano and mastered by the highly respected James Murphy.  This is surely a formula for success.  And sure enough, the album kills. 

          The Pale Haunt Departure, from its opening notes, is a very recognizable November’s Doom album.  Practically all of the trademark elements are there except for the female vocals, now absent.  And there does seem some forging of new territory with songs like “Dark World Burden”, which has a more traditional style riff structure.  But the most “pleasant” surprise about this album is that it is heavier than To Welcome the Fade.  Don’t get me wrong, To Welcome the Fade is a great album and gets its fair share of play in my disc player.  But since it was so progressive and not so doomy, I worried slightly that the band might “go soft” on us.  Not so!  They sound as heavy as ever.

 

PHAZM  “Hate at First Seed”  (9 tracks + CD-Rom Video Clip).  OSMOSE/THE END RECORDS.

Rating:  7.   Release date:  February 22.    Country of origin:  France.

          There is without a doubt a hefty sense of humor shared by the members of this band.  I don’t mean parody, they aren’t a Spinal Tap or Hellhammer.  But from the combination of black, death, and good ‘ol boy metal, it is obvious to me that Phazm have an affinity for old Mayhem and ZZ Top, Motorhead and Venom.  The album cover has that Loudblast and Cathedral type art depicting trees attacking humans, and the songs are full of references to trees, Ents, and so on.  And have a look at some of the song titles: “What a Wonderful Death” and “Resinous Balm” for instance.  Now it really isn’t as silly as all that may sound, but it is in my opinion, going to be hard for this band to continue recording albums without diversifying their subject matter a bit.  The CD includes a video clip for “Loneliness”. 

 

RAMESSES  “We Will Lead You to Glorious Times”.  (4 tracks.  30:29). THE DARK REIGN.

Rating:  7.5.  Country of origin:  Great Britain.  Release date:  Available now.

          This slow churning E.P. nicely straddles the fence of doom metal and what I might dub “experimental stoner noise.”  Comparisons to the likes of Spaceboy and Goatsnake come to mind as well as Warhorse and also some of the more bizarre stuff you might hear on Southern Lord.  And in fact, I find this not unlike Cathedral’s “Endtyme” CD in places.  It’s good stuff and I can’t wait to hear what these guys come up with in terms of a full-length.

 

VAAKAVANDRING  s/t (4 tracks.  21:39).  MOMENTUM SCANDINAVIA.

Rating:  8.  Country of origin:  Norway.   Release date:  available now.

          This is actually a reissue.  Vaakevandring’s music is heavily folk-influenced, atmospheric Norwegian metal.  To me the closest comparisons are Vintersorg (Sweden) and Ulver (Norway), particularly from their Bergtat era, and maybe a touch of early Dimmu.  The mixture of clean vocals (with a definite Scandinavian flavor) and shrill black metal vocals, acoustic guitars and heavy guitars, and keyboards make it a rock solid release.  Like Antestor (see above), Vaakevandring are another band from Norway composed of Christians that have earned respect in the larger world of Norwegian/black metal.  This disc, for instance, was engineered and mixed by Stian Arstad, formerly of Dimmu Borgir.  My only complaint is that it is too short and that the band has yet to follow it with a full-length.  At least it has one more track than the original, an English language song entitled, “To  Find Eternal Peace,” making it worth purchasing if you have the original.  Other than being too short, I defy anyone to find fault with it.

 

VARIOUS  “Sweet According to Sweden”  RIVEL RECORDS.

Rating:  8.  Country of origin:  Sweden (duh!).  Release date:  Available now.

          This compilation is a veritable “whose who” of Swedish rock/metal musicians (and a few others) in the field.  It features members of Narnia, Audiovision, KISS (Bruce Kulick), Lion’s Share, Candlemass (vocalist on Chapter Six, Thomas Vickstrom), and a whole lot more.  What is good about this disc is the remarkable consistency in the quality of tracks, which is not something you can say about all V/A albums.  But then I have to remember that any time the word “Sweden” appears, it practically always means “quality”.  Sweet was one of those classic bands in the 1970s similar to Queen, Styx, and others.  They walked a line between prog. rock and hard rock.  When you listen to bands like this, you can easily hear the influence that they had on the bands paying tribute.  Very listenable, very collectable.

 

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