Critical Metal Update #5



My apologies to all who have been waiting for these reviews. I have been out-of-town finishing my master’s degree. But now here I am, here they are . . . (and I’ll graduate in a month!).

Check out my interviews with DEMONS AND WIZARDS and ULVER and HAVOCHATE



ANTIMATTER “Planetary Confinement  (9 tracks.  47:15).  THE END RECORDS.

Rating:  9.5.   Country of origin:  England.    Release date:  July 26.

             Antimatter’s third release is like an unplugged aural depressant.  I don’t think Kurt Cobain in all his whining could have conceived of something so angst-ridden and dark.  Especially troubling is the cover of Trouble’s “Mr. White” (pun intended).  Amelie Festa’s vocals on this song are absolutely creepy.  And I love it.  I don’t have the second Antimatter album (I somehow missed out on it), but this one is not like Saviour.  Well, it is dark and negative sounding, but rather than the electric guitars and drum programming, it has real drums and more acoustic instruments (guitars, piano).  The mood is much the same, the sound is even bleaker.  It’s great!


CIRCUS MAXIMUS “The First Chapter” (9 tracks.  1:09:55).  SENSORY.

Rating:  8.5.  Country of origin:  Norway.  Release date:  ?

            People who love Yes and Saga, Karmakanic and Transatlantic, Adagio and Andromeda, but also the heavier stuff like Tourniquet and Spiral Architect (to a certain degree) will really dig this.  Circus Maximus is an instrumentalist’s album for sure which mixes prog-power metal with some thick chunky grooves.  More prog.-metal than power in my view, the upper crust of the metal world will sit around their frappacinos and lattes debating the merits of this obviously talented band.  To me they sound like the above mentioned bands with Supertramp’s vocalist.  Really good stuff.


KULT OF AZAZEL “The World, The Flesh, & The Devil (9 tracks.  36:03).  CRASH MUSIC.

Rating:  8.   Country of origin:  Florida, USA.    Release date:  Available now.

            Florida has some really strong black/death metal bands.  Among their best is Kult of Azazel.   They can go head-to-head with any of Sweden’s black/death horde.  Though actually, if I had to compare them with a European band, it would be Immortal from Norway.  Kult of Azazel has, to me, the same type of furious attitude and blinding speed riffs as Immortal, though you could argue that KoA is faster.  I’ve heard older KoA stuff which was good, but this album with flatten your home.  If there is any problem with this kind of music—and this is a totally subjective criteria—it is that there is really only one speed:  fast!  But I believe this is what the band is aiming for and what their fans want. 


DARK FUNERAL “De Profundis Clamavi ad te Domine” (15 tracks.  1:01:49).  CANDLELIGHT USA.

Rating:  9.   Country of origin:  Sweden.    Release date:  May 3.

            This live CD ranks near Emperor’s Emperial Live Ceremony in terms of excellent black/death metal performed at album quality level.  A very accomplished black metal band in their own right, Dark Funeral’s Swedish style rivals that of Marduk.  Here they have pulled together fifteen of their best tracks (including “An Apprentice of Satan” and “Thy Legion Come”) and performed them live in South America before a very enthusiastic audience.  They do an admirable job and sound like they are on top of their game.  One funny note, though: these guys are supposed to be pure evil, but they sound so happy on this album, saying “thank you so much” and “muchas gracias” to the crowd a lot.  I think that even someone who is unfamiliar with Dark Funeral can really get into this disc.  This CD marks Candlelight USA’s debuting of Dark Funeral into the mainstream U.S. metal market before their next studio album.


FLOTSAM AND JETSAM  Dreams of Death”  (9 tracks.  47:23).  CRASH MUSIC.

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

            You know how some bands say that they have gone back to their roots after so many years?  Usually this is not the case, just wishful thinking or deceptive p.r.  This time you can believe it.  Dreams of Death is like stepping back to the time of No Place for Disgrace, only with better production.  It takes you back to the day.  As a band Flotsom and Jetsam have been entertaining, but have not represented in my opinion the best of their genre.  The same is true here.  It’s a solid, enjoyable album that starts out strong but gets a little bland towards the end.  I certainly think they are a respectable band with a classic thrash sound, but I feel like it lacks some charisma. 


MONOLITHEMonolithe II” (1 track.  50:26). CANDLELIGHT.

Rating:  9.5.   Country of origin:  France.    Release date:  June 28.

            Oh yes!  There just aren’t enough bands like this.  I’m speechless.  Fans of Morgion who are bummed by their recent break-up can take major consolation with Monolithe, a French slower-than-snails, heavy-as-crap, atmospheric doom band.  Monolithe II is a single track lasting for over 50 minutes.  At times the music is moody and soothing, at others it is full-on power.  I’m sure that in reality this album is really several songs fused together because you can get a feel for where transitions and repeating patters occur.  However, the whole CD is one lengthy listening experience and can hardly be divided into parts.  This band probably took a bit of inspiration from Anathema as well, but I would have to say that they are a perfect replacement for Morgion.  Only critique:  how about dividing the album into individual songs while keeping the non-stop sound?


NEW DEAD RADIOAvalon Bridge Will Burn” (15 tracks.  1:02:51) Mediaskare Ent. 

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

            From the get go this CD made me think of early thrash, particularly demo era Metallica, or like Metallica doing “Last Caress” on 1988’s Garage Days Re-Revisited.  Before the term “hardcore” was coined to there was more interaction between thrash and punk, and bands sounded kind of like this.  Today we are more likely to call it “metalcore,” but I will insist that New Dead Radio have a kind of raw vintage sound.  Whether this is the intention of the band or not, it is what I think.  The album was recorded in North Hollywood with Logan Mader (formerly of Machine Head and Soulfly) and produced by Chuck Johnson who has worked with bands like Slipknot, Korn, and Sepultura.  So you can imagine what the vibe is like here.  But again, more punkish and less rhthymic than some of these other bands.  So while the usual metalcore comparisons are not inappropriate, take it from an old man, these boys have some old school in them.


PECCATUM  “The Moribund People”  (3 tracks.  1 video.  15:11).  THE END RECORDS.

Rating:  8.5.   Country of origin:  Norway.    Release date:  July 12.

            I only have Oh, My Regrets to compare this CD to.  It is interesting to compare these two E.P.’s.  First, Oh, My Regrets is interesting, but this one is amazing.  OMR is choppy compared to The Moribund People.  The earlier CD has some clear musical connections to Emperor’s final album, which I found to be a little too disjointed and baroque.  This CD has struck a better balance between finesse and power.  Third, the totally cool version of Bathory’s “For All Those Who Died,” makes so much more sense than OMR’s cover of Judas Priest’s “Blood Red Sky.”  It is good to hear that Ihsahn can still do black metal, but Ihriel’s introduction to the song—Peccatum style—is an especially nice touch. 


RELENTLESS “Tempest of Torment”  (10 tracks.  37:33).  CRASH MUSIC.

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

            This band has got some serious CRUNCH!  Though Relentless are a Swedish death/thrash band, they have a very Floridian brutal death metal vibe.   They pull off some classic sounding, crushing riffs that would please fans of America’s finest grinders.  All this being said, Relentless do exhibit Swedish tendencies towards tightness, crisp production, and well … death metal.  They even occasionally bring a little recent Mayhem to mind, like the song ominously entitled, “Scraped off the Wall.”  But of course song titles like that and “Zombified Genocied,” “Kneedeep in Gore” as well as the title track can only mean one thing: brutal death metal.  Fans of Morbid Angel and Hate Eternal as well as Hypocrisy will love this band.


TRISTANIA “Ashes”  (7 tracks.  42:36).  SPV.

Rating:  7.   Country of origin:  Norway.    Release date:  Available now.

            I played this CD for my oldest son, Criticalnate, who is unfamiliar with Tristania’s earlier material.  Almost immediately he said, “they sound like Therion.”  Not a bad observation, I thought.  And it just so happens that they are currently touring together.  But this also highlights the changes that Tristania have undergone over the years.  Tristania has changed from a very atmospheric doomy type of band with violins and such—reminiscent of Celestial Season and Sins of Thy Beloved—to a more progressive metal, while retaining three vocalists (gruff male, operatic male, and operatic female).  On this new album we see the band streamlining their sound even more with less of the electronics of World of Glass.  For me, the new sound is not as enjoyable as the earlier material, but it is still good and definitely metal (for any of you who may have feared a weakening of the sound).


ULVER  “Blood Inside”  (9 tracks.  45:51).  JESTER/THE END RECORDS.

Rating:  9.5.   Country of origin:  Norway.    Release date:  July 12.

            Some readers may think I am too easy to please.  I am into just about everything, Ulver included.  And I am really into Blood Inside.  How this entity could be the same outfit (and really isn’t) that produced Bergtat and Nattens Madrigal is beyond me, though Ulver’s more recent works, beginning with William Blake’s The Marriage of Heaven and Hell makes this CD a bit less surprising.  At this point, some ten years or so into the game, any suspicion that Garm is a musical adept has been confirmed by these multiple incarnations both musically as Ulver, and stylistically as Ulver, Arcturus, vocalist for Borknagar (1st album), etc.  This is not to mention the two Spellemannsprisen (Norwegian equivalent of the Grammy) nominations Ulver has received. 

            Blood Inside, whatever it is, is a great album to listen to, but I think Ulver needs to create a new word to name their musical genre.  We could describe it as electro-experimental-occasionally ambient-sometimes rock-always atmospheric and interesting, etc.  But Ulver doesn’t need a musical descriptive term—especially with their continual musical evolution—rather, they need a philosophical term which can explain all of their repertoire.  Recently someone told me that “post-modernism” is giving way to “post-realism”.  In my opinion, a term like “post-realism” may be appropriate.

            Now for the shocker!  You know what this album reminds me of?  Brian Wilson and Van Dyke Parks.  The experimental and moody tone of this music, including its odd excursions well into deep space (or as we Americans would say, into left field), the odd vocal harmonies, etc. call to mind Pet Sounds, Smile, and The Brave Little Toaster (hey, I have kids), but especially some of those really weird tunes Wilson scattered over several Beach Boys albums after his big breakdown.  Imagine what these three albums would sound like if they were produced by Ulver, with Garm’s lyrics, and you have an idea of what Blood Inside sounds like.  Then again, you might think of them as ELO meets Katatonia—weird and beautiful and creepy all at once!


UNSHINE  “Earth Magick  (8 tracks.  42:42).  CRASH MUSIC.

Rating:  6.   Country of origin:  Finland.    Release date:  Available now.

            Interesting.  Hmm… The artwork and title made me think of Finntroll, but Unshine sound more like female fronted bands such as Lana Lane, Lacuna Coil, or Edenbridge due to Susanna Vesilahti’s voice, but especially like Sinergy.  I guess you could call them “druid metal.”  They have a pair of guitarists by the names of Jukka and Harri Hautala (brothers?), but apparently Harri writes all the music.  It isn’t extremely heavy, preferring atmosphere over power (as you can expect from a number of Finnish bands).  They have potential, but I don’t think they have reached it yet.


V:28  SoulSaviour  (tracks).  VENDLUS RECORDS.

Rating:  10.   Country of origin:  Norway.    Release date:  Available now.

            Here’s another band I’ve never heard of that has totally blown me away.  This is one of the best post-black metal Norwegian albums I have ever heard.  While every track on this CD is saturated with that cold aggressive Norwegian elite black metal sound (think recent Mayhem, Thorns, Khold), the music is actually death metal with some bottom heavy riffs a la Morbid Angel.  All of this is counterbalanced with some ethereal keyboard and programming work which really tops it all off.  There is an incredible intensity in V:28’s music and it is so well spent on the topic of nuclear war (rather than satan or other mythological topics).  Mad Max would love it.


WITCHCRAFT  “Firewood”  (11 tracks.  ).  RISE ABOVE RECORDS.

Rating:  7.   Country of origin:  Sweden.    Release date:  Available now.

            When bands like Witchcraft come along they usually get compared to Cathedral and Trouble, St. Vitus and a dozen other doom-oriented bands.  To me this is misleading.  Witchcraft’s sound is clearly 70’s drenched classic rock with a nod to Sabbath, but a great deal of influence from bands like the Doors and Cream.  Meteorcity Records has a whole roster of bands like this including Solarized and Blind Dog.  Witchcraft are definitely good at this style.  Better than most I would say.