Critical Metal Update #4




AXENSTAR  “The Inquisition”  (8 tracks.  38:52).  ARISE

Rating:  8.5.    Country of origin:  Sweden.    Release date:  .

            Third time is a charm for Axenstar.  Their first two albums, Perpetual Twilight and Far from Heaven, were very solid, but The Inquisition has surpassed them.  Axenstar now sounds like a band with some experience behind them and a healthy measure of confidence.  Once again, echoes of Stratovarius can be heard in their music and the more manly, less commercial side of Hammerfall as well.  Fans of Iron Savior and Gamma Ray who have never heard Axenstar should also give them a listen.  Riff-wise this band can cook up some mean sounding riffs in the vein of Mercyful Fate.  This is, of course, modified with the characteristic Scandinavian keyboard accompaniment and the “male-chorus” type vocals.  But the guitar skill is definitely there.


BANE  The Note”  ( 28:04).  EQUAL VISION RECORDS.

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

            They are billed as hardcore, and speak of themselves as hardcore, but to me Bane is a throwback to old punk, particularly the heavier stuff of the 1980s and early 90s.  I am not very experienced in this area, the only band comparison that I am able to make is The Crucified, for those of you who will know who I am talking about.  What I like about Bane is not their music but their sort of opposition to violence in the hardcore/punk scene.  The artwork in the tray insert says a lot, as do their lyrics.  It’s not my cup of tea, but I do recommend it for those who enjoy the less commercial side of punk (the side which led to hardcore).


BLIND STARE  Symphony of Delusions”  (9 tracks.  42:48).  ARISE.

Rating:  10.     Country of origin:  .    Release date:  .

            I thought from the chick and the picture on the cover art that Blind Stare were going to be another classic or prog-metal band.  Boy was I wrong.  These guys sound a lot like Children of Bodom mixed with Arcturus, Borknagar, and Dimmu Borgir.  Sounds like an intriguing mixture, eh?    I guarantee it.  Symphony of Delusions may turn out to be my favorite Arise Records release.  This album has everything:  great, great riffs, excellent solos, triumphant keyboards, and some awesome songwriting.  Best of all is the Garm/ICS Vortex type vocals of Eino Tuominen.  He does both the shrill and the operatic.  He could pass himself of as either of these two legends.  The album starts out with an emotional burst of black metal and rips through 43 minutes of awesome stuff.  Also, lyrically Blind Stare waxes philosophic, another plus in my book.  What makes Blind Stare a bit different from Arcturus, Borknagar, and Dimmu Borgir is that their riffs have a more heavy classic metal sound, or Gothenburg a la In Flames quality (another plus).  Best of all, Blind Stare hasn’t simply written songs in the vein of the above-mentioned bands, they have put together some really excellent songs.  I cannot find anything wrong with this CD.  It gets a 10!


DAM  “Purity:  The Darwinian Paradox”  (12 tracks.  49:08).  CANDLELIGHT USA.

Rating:  9.       Country of origin:  England.    Release date:  June 28.

            I am very excited for this band because finally there is a brutal English death metal band with the chops and the creative power to rival Carcass.  This doesn’t mean they sound like Carcass, though early Carcass isn’t out of the question.  This band is both technical and brutal (more emphasis on brutal) and just sound really good.  They remind me a bit of Pestilence, especially their Testimony of Ancients album, but they also bear the influences of British grind, and some of their heavier parts also bring Opeth to mind.  But you know who they really sound like to me?  Old Morgoth, especially their Cursed album.  When you get down to it, DAM are just a good old-fashioned death/grind band like we haven’t heard in a good long while.


DEFLESHED  Reclaim the Beat”  (12 tracks.  36:00).  CANDLELIGHT USA.

Rating:  6.   Country of origin:  Sweden.  Release date:  May 3.

            It seems rather odd to say that a Swedish band has been struggling to be heard in America, but apparently it is true.  Formed in 1991, it has taken fourteen years for Defleshed to get a proper North American release date for one of their albums—this one, Reclaim the Beat.  Anyway, Defleshed sound exactly how you might imagine a band with a name like that to sound.  To me it is a mixed bag.  First, the drummer has only one speed—fast.  It sounds pretty much the same all the way through the CD.  The vocalist sounds like a hoarse escapee from a mental asylum.  Actually, the vocals are not really bad, just monotonous.  By contrast the guitar work is a bit more interesting, but not enough to really sell me on the album.  Song titles like “Stripped to the Bone,” “Chain Reaction,” and “Red Hot”  aren’t very original, and titles like “May the Flesh be With You” are kind of cheesy.  It’s like they were aiming for Carcass, but the Ded Engine and Motorhead in them won out. 


DEMONS AND WIZARDS  Touched by the Crimson King”  (10 tracks.  49:24).  SPV

Rating:  9.5.    Country of origin:  USA/GERMANY.            Release date:  June 28.

One part Iced Earth (guitarist/composer Jon Schaffer), and one part Blind Guardian (vocalist/lyricist Hansi Kursch) Demons and Wizards are a classic metal lovers delight.  Once again these two men have come together to unite their incredible talents into another dynamic collaboration.  The result is an even better album than 1999’s self-titled debut.  I don’t think I have enjoyed Hansi Kursch’s vocals more.  And musically, Touched by a Crimson King is crisp and fresh. One thing I have truly enjoyed about both these Demons and Wizards collaborations is that while Kursch’s vocals are unmistakable, and Schaffer’s trademark galloping riffs appear here and there, this band doesn’t sound like a mixture of Iced Earth and Blind Guardian to me.  Honestly, there are a couple Iced Earth albums that I can live without, and Blind Guardian gets a little tedious to me, but Demons and Wizards is just the right combination.  I love it.  This band has to go on tour!


DISGORGE  Parallels of Infinite Torture”  (10 tracks. 43:56).  CRASH.

Rating:  7.5.    Country of origin:  California, USA.    Release date:  May 17.

            Like the title suggests, Parallels of Infinite Torture is like dropping an anvil on your head—it is HEAAAVY!  This is brutal death grind for the purist.  There are no melodic passages, no atmospheric keyboards, just brutality.  It reminds me of Hate Eternal, Pandemia and Infestation a bit.  What I especially like about this album is that the songs are 4-6 minutes long rather than 1-3 minutes long.  I also like the fact that the music is clear and not blurred like a lot of brutal death metal.  This means that the songs are distinguishable and you don’t get to the end of the CD wondering what you’ve just heard.  I’ve learned from their promo sheet that this is actually their second album, the first being on Unique Leader (very obscure).  Now that they are on Crash Music—and they have already toured on three continents—they are going to be promoted by a professional promotion agency.  In other words, Crash believes they have a real contender on their hands.


GRAND MAGUS  “Wolf’s Return”  (11 tracks.  38:19).  RISE ABOVE RECORDS.

Rating:  8.       Country of origin:  Sweden.    Release date:  June 14.

            There’s something really timeless about this band.  Designations like stoner, and doom rock do not adequately describe them.  First, there is just something plain, old-fashioned heavy metal about their style.  Band leader JB, who also plays in Spiritual Beggars, has a voice like the 1960’s. 

The combination of JB’s gritty, passionate vocals with some groovy rock n’ metal, all with a decidedly Swedish accent really makes this disc a lot of fun to listen to.  No doubt there are traces of Lemmy DNA in these musicians.  But I would also say that occasionally a little Quorthon/Bathory pops up in the music as well (“Jarnbord” for instance), and surely a measure of Entombed influence is there.  But for the most part this is stoner rock’n metal.  I think they are a stand out group in their genre.


IN FLAMES  “Lunar Strain”  (14 tracks.  49:13).  CANDLELIGHT USA.

IN FLAMES  Subterranean”  (9 tracks.  38:45).  CANDLELIGHT USA.

Rating:  Priceless!  Country of origin:  Sweden.  Release date:  June 14.

            I got into In Flames when Clayman came out (this is about the time I started doing the ‘zine).  I really liked that album and wanted to work my way backwards into their catalog, but two things prevented me.  The first is simply the sheer number of CD’s I wind up listening to for review purposes often hinders me from catching up on old stuff.  The other reason is that I feared that the older stuff would not hold up to the newer stuff.  WELL WAS I WRONG!  This is the stuff here!  Lunar Strain may actually be In Flames’ best album.  While the newer material has the “Gothenburg sound” with the electronic embellishment, this older material has acoustic and folk embellishments reminiscent of Borknagar and Bathory.  And the vocals are much more black metal sounding than now.  You can also tell that from the very beginning this band has had an exceptional chemistry regardless of what stylistic changes they have made. 

Thanks to Candlelight USA once again for bringing to these North American shores much of Europe’s buried metallic treasures.  Lunar Strain and Subterranean have not been impossible to get hold of here, but now Candlelight has made it easy with the re-issue of these two essential releases.  And as these re-issues usually go, both discs have bonus tracks.  On Lunar Strain there are three demo versions of songs that made it on the album and one unreleased track, an acoustic piece.  Subterranean features two bonus tracks with Jocke Gothberg (I confess my ignorance here), and two excellent covers.  One is Metallica’s “Eye of the Beholder,” the other is Iron Maiden’s “Murders in the Rue Morgue.”  You can’t lose with either of these.


METALIUM  Chapter 5:  Demons of Insanity”  (14 tracks.  1hr. 6min.).  CRASH.

Rating:  8.       Country of origin:  Germany.  Release date:  .

            I confess that this is my first time to actually hear Metalium, though I am aware of their reputation.  I have listened to this CD a good bit and find it a very commercial German power metal album.  It borders on rock but is way heavier than what American rock stations play.  Comparisons to Warrior, Cage, and other rock oriented metal bands are appropriate, but Metalium also bear a characteristically German penchant for speed.  I think that at times they sound like a beefier Narnia.  Vocalist Henning Basse reminds me a lot of Christian Rivel (Narnia) in his delivery, and at times the guy from Boston.

            I can certainly understand why these guys have such a big following and good reputation.  Had they been around in the 80’s they would have really cleaned up.  This is not to imply that their music is dated.  The word “classic” is more appropriate.  But certainly this album breathes the spirit of heavy metal confidence that permeated that era.  The reputation is deserved.


NIHILIST (pre-Entombed) “The Nihilish Demos  (14 tracks.  48:07).  CANDLELIGHT USA.

Rating:  7.       Country of origin:  Sweden.    Release date:  June 28.

            The cooperation between Three-Man Recordings and Candlelight have yielded another gem from the vaults of obscurity.  This time we are treated to a collection of four Nihilist and one Entombed demo(s) (there was a name change in 1989, obviously).  First comes “Premature Autopsy” then “Only Shreds Remain,” both from 1988.  Then comes “Drowned” and “The Drowned Sessions” from 1989, each featuring different tunes.  And finally, the Entombed demo, “But Life Goes On,” also from 1989.  In total are 14 pre-“Left Hand Path” songs.  The music is, of course, demo quality, but  has been cleaned up for this release. 


OCTAVIA SPERATI  “Winter Enclosure”  (11 tracks.  40:41).  CANDLELIGHT USA.

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

            Octavia Sperati are a new band hailing from Norway composed entirely of females.  Their music is both familiar and different at the same time.  Fans of The Gathering and Lacuna Coil will take to it very quickly.  But for those who appreciate their fluid, hypnotic styles but have always wanted a little more punch in the music will love Octavia Sperati.  Producers Herbrand Larson and Arve Isdal, both members of Enslaved, have brought out a more recognizably aggressive Norwegian vibe in their music.  Their touch is obvious.  This doesn’t take away, however, from the band’s excellent finesse and sense of style.  Vocalist Silje style is passionate and sassy, complementing the bands powerful vibe.  It’s a great combination.

I applaud this quintet of ladies for venturing into a male dominated genre and proving their mettle.  If any word comes to mind for commending this CD to you the consumer, it is “respect.”  These ladies have earned it with their excellent debut.


OVERMARS  “Affliction, Endocrine … Vertigo”  (12 tracks.  69:47).  CANDLELIGHT USA.

Rating:  8.       Country of origin:  France.      Release date:  June 28.

            If the band name and album title seem a bit unusual, then you can imagine that the music is too.  Many of the song titles are definitely strange:  “A Spermwhale’s Quest,” “From Love to Exhausting: The Story of This Intangible Thing Between Us” just to name two.  Overmars’ experimental sound reminds me a little of Spaceboy, but only a little.  A few of the songs are short (1.5-2 minutes), while some of them are quite long (9-13 minutes), and about half of them regular length (3-5 minutes).  I was amazed to read that this band has only been around for two years seeing that they already have a 70 minute long release on a serious metal label.  They really sound like they know what they are doing, even if we are having a hard time figuring out just what it is.  This is not music for the car, but may go well in the living room while reading a book or enjoying incense and candles and/or independent films like Eraserhead!


PHOBOS  Techtonics  (8 tracks.  58:00).  CANDLELIGHT USA.

Rating:  7.5.    Country of origin:  France.      Release date:  July 26.

            This is all metal, but it has a very orthodox industrial sound.  It is harsh, choppy, and sounds like Mental Destruction with guitars and lyrics.  It also has its obscure moments, like “Engulfed in Subduction” which is similar to ambient acts like The Nothing.  Fans of Nine Inch Nails would probably find it too heavy and non-commercial for their tastes.  But this should give you some sort of idea of what Phobos sounds like.  Intellecutally, Phobos brings to mind Solefald with their interest in Continental Philosophy, (and philosophy in general).  Song titles include, “Nietzschean Dynamics,” “Nihil Credo,” and the punny, “Wisdoom.”  It’s not easy to listen to, and not what you will likely play in your car on a long trip, but it is intellectually stimulating and VERY powerful. 


PRO-PAIN  Prophets of Doom”  (10 tracks.  43:35).  CANDLELIGHT USA

Rating:  9.  Country of origin:  .  Release date:  June 14.

            Pro-pain are another band I have only known by reputation until now.  Wow!  What an awesome band too.  They sound like a perfect blending of Entombed and Crowbar (labelmates, btw) on the one hand, with the metalcore stylings of Lamb of God, Shadows Fall, etc. on the other.  It is a great combination, at least on this album.  Pro-Pain seem to know exactly how to blend anger and cool riffs into songs.  I also like the fact that their lyrics are very strong social commentary.  This album speaks straightforwardly, powerfully, even eloquently about the hypocrisy of the Bush administration’s so-called “War on Terror.”  Note especially songs like “Operation Blood for Oil” and “UnAmerican.”  Sepultura’s Chaos A.D. album comes to mind (“Territory,” for instance).  Pro-Pain doesn’t pull any punches either musically or lyrically and I find this sort of bald honesty refreshing and powerful.


RAINTIME  Tales from Sadness”  (8 tracks.  41:53).  ARISE.

Rating:  8.       Country of origin:  Finland?      Release date:  May 6.

            If I were to simply describe their music I would say that Raintime sounds like a cross between Stratovarius and In Flames (two oft-copied bands these days).  But I think that such a description may be a little near-sighted.  They sound to me like a very young band with a lot of energy.  Their use of blast beats and semi-thrashy riffs along with the soaring vocals and melody pushes them quite beyond the realm of domestic.  Occasionally, like on “The Experiment,” they remind me a little of Tourniquet.  Nevertheless, the Stratovarius/In Flames comparison still suggests itself, and maybe a touch of Amorphis heavier moments (check out “Denied Recollections”).  In contrast to all this is the power ballad, “Chains of Sadness,” which highlights the band’s more emotional side.  Overall, I think they are an excellent band.  It will be interesting to find out what this band will do in the future.


SINESTHRA  “Last of the Stories of Long Past Glories”  (8 tracks.  40:33).  ARISE.

Rating:  9.       Country of origin:  Finland.     Release date:  May 13.

            The promo of this CD is an unmastered version of the album and has some obvious needs, but despite this, I find it a very passionate album; very listenable.  Sinesthra are nearly rock, but maintain a heaviness that can only be described as metal.  Their songs have a very clearly pop structure with melody and sublime moments, but this does nothing to diminish the sheer power of the music.  They are very creative and have what I think is a very full-bodied sound.  Most Finnish bands I get to hear seem to have commercial leanings, and to my ears this band could be played on alternative radio stations.  In the end, Sinesthra is just plain good music.  The opening track, “Coming up roses” is a powerful anthem followed by some intriguing songs with titles like “Ice Cube Sun,” the sweet and somber “My Sweet Nothing,” and ending with on a doomy note with “Completely Incomplete.”


SLIGHTLY STOOPID  Closer to the Sun”  (20 tracks.  1hr. 44 secs.).  STOOPID RECORDS.

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

            I put off listening to this CD for a while because I was expecting it to be a punk CD.  It turns out to be something of a calm, popish reggae type album.  Hey, it’s cool to listen to, a nice diversion.  I actually enjoy listening to it, but I have no idea of why it was sent to me to review for a metal zine.  It has the acoustic guitar I mentioned, light drumming, steel drum(s), active bass lines, and some laid back Jamaica style vocals.  I guess it is best to describe them as “Caribbean.”  Fans of the Marleys, Jimmy Buffet, Sting, and Sugar Ray will definitely like this.  (Those of you who are more familiar with this kind of music will have to forgive me for not adequately describing it).


SUBTERRANEAN MASQUERADE  “Suspended Animation Dreams” (8 tracks. 54:53).  THE END.

Rating:  8.5.    Country of origin:  USA.        Release date:  June 21.

            This CD is a wonderful diversion from the ordinary.  It is difficult to classify musically, but certainly has appeal for the metallic palette.  It has its heavy moments, but I think it is mostly abstract pseudo-jazzy alternative.  Perhaps the best way to describe it is a conglomeration of styles ranging from Pink Floyd, maybe even Tiamat, to a bizarre off Broadway jazz-metal fusion musical, and a hint of the Beatles’ more experimental side.  The instrumentation is very diverse and includes just about everything including the kitchen sink (chorus, piano, brass and wind instruments).          

As many of you already are aware, Subterranean Masquerade is the brainchild of Tomer Pink, whose 2 song e.p., Temporary Psychotic State, last year teased us and created a thirst for more.  Tomer’s vocal collaborators include Paul Kuhr of November’s Doom, and Kobi Farhi of Orphaned Land (these two alone are enough to sell me!).  Also of interest is the fact that the album was mixed by Neal Kernon, an award-winning producer whom I think worked with bands like Kansas and produced November’s Doom’s To Welcome the Fade CD.  Fans of labelmates, Sculptured, with definitely appreciate this CD as well as other The End Records bands with a similar experimental bent, including Ulver, Age of Silence, and so on.


Coming Next time:

DARK FUNERAL, ULVER, and much more.