2005 Update 6


It took me a very long time to write all these reviews because I have been working extremely hard in grad school (2 languages, Ph.D. seminar, and one regular master’s level course).  For this reason, I admit there may be some errors here and there, and maybe a little repetitive language.  Nevertheless, I have striven for excellence and accuracy as always.  Finally, due to my very heavy schedule, I have little time right now to promote this website (www.oocities.com/criticaltom_2000).  I would be very grateful to all of you who pass on the word about these reviews.  A quick list of bands reviewed is directly below.  Thanks in advance.  שׁלום!

 

You may notice that where I list the CD length that some of them look like “1.1 hrs.” as opposed to “31:12”.  This is because I have changed from using Windows Media Player to iTunes.

 

Featured reviews:  1349, Age of Silence, Asguard, Audrey Horne, Balzac, Centinex, Dark Black, Dream or Nightmare, Epica, Grimfist, GZR, Horna, Impaled Nazarene, Lord Belial, Lunatica, Mindgrinder, Misfits Meet the Nutley Brass, Obituary, Redemption, Ritual Carnage, Rob Rock, Royal Hunt, Sheavy, Sonic Syndicate, Space Odyssey, Starbreaker, Third Degree, Totalisti, Twilight, and Wetwork.

 

1349  Hellfire”  (8 tracks.  52.1 mins).  CANDLELIGHT USA

Rating:  7.   Country of originNorway.    Release date:  Available now.

     As the explosion of Norwegian acts over the twelve years has diversified and expanded in every possible direction, there are still those who prefer the cold, harsh aggression of Mayhem, Satyricon, and Thorns (to name a few).  Formed by members of the now defunct Alvheim and incorporating Frost (Satyricon) on drums, 1349 have kept company with the likes of Zyklon, Gorgoroth, and My Dying Bride just to name a few.  Hellfire is pure aggression.  Cold, dark, stark, pulsing darkness.  Musically very tight, Hellfire recalls recent Mayhem, particularly Chimera, but with a real hint of chaos like Emperor accomplished on “Thus Spake the Night Spirit.”  Even so, 1349 aren’t clones of Mayhem and Emperor.  Their music draws comparisons but is distinct also.  The key element to my ears is insane speed.  It’s not syncopated or off beat like Mayhem, nor is it triumphalistic and operatic like Emperor, it’s just fast and in-your-face.  I don’t have their previous two albums, so I can’t say anything about how this latest album relates to them.  But the promo sheet calls this one their most powerful to date.  It is definitely powerful.

 

AGE OF SILENCE  Complications”  (3 tracks.  16 mins) THE END

Rating:  9.   Country of originNorway.    Release date: ?

     Brilliant as always, this group of Norwegian notables treat us here to a three song concept E.P. conceived of by vocalist Lazare’s philosophical mind.  Those familiar with his Solefald material will know exactly what I mean.  Complications is all about the blind commercialism rampant in Western society with an apocalyptic twist:  “Hell opened a new wing on the sixth of June and expanded into the area of human, lustful yearnings with a shopping mall the size of Canada …”  It’s great—but don’t let the critique keep you from buying this CD!  Ha, ha!  But seriously, the message is very timely and I personally agree with Lazare’s evaluation (what we biblical scholars refer to as “prophetic critique”).  Musically Complications is reminiscent of Age of Silence’s stellar debut, Acceleration.  It is somewhere between progressive metal and avante gard rock.  Andy Winter plays keys, Hellhammer is on drums, but I am not suer who the guitarists are (Extant and Kobbergaard).  Eikind plays bass.  Needless to say, these guys are superb, but the total package is basically the brainchild of Lazare (lyrics) and Winter (music).  What’s not to like?

 

ASGUARDDreamslave  (16 tracks.  50.4 min)  THIS DARK REIGN RECORDINGS.

Rating:  9.5.   Country of originBelarus.    Release date:  08/09/05.

    Not long after introducing America to BelarusAsguard, This Dark Reign Recordings are able to release their newest album, Dreamslave.  I was very impressed with their previous album, Wikka, but I am really blown away with this one.  It is stellar.  Not only did Asguard “take it up a notch” in the creativity department, but they also added a real orchestra.  Now orchestras are not new to the world of metal, but bands in the Dimmu Borgir/Old Man’s Child realm usually rely on keyboards to play that role.  I think this band will have a very broad appeal in the black metal genre to fans of diverse bands like Agalloch, Aurora Borealis, Finntroll, Golden Dawn, Mystic Circle, early Emperor, Satyricon, Enslaved, and the above-mentioned bands. 

    With Dreamslave Asguard has done more than up the ante here in my opinion,  I think they have demonstrated a serious attitude towards both music and lyrics that make Dimmu and other “satanic” styled bands (Cradle of Filth, etc.) seem silly by comparison.  This album isn’t about offending people, being politically incorrect, or trying to “out-evil” the competition, it is about making a CD that is respectable and to be taken seriously.  They pull it off wonderfully.  It is a four act, sixteen song concept masterpiece.  Give a little respect to our Eurasian metal brothers, they have definitely earned it here.

 

AUDREY HORNE  No Hay Banda”  (14 tracks.  1 hr.). CANDLELIGHT USA

Rating:  9.   Country of originNorway.    Release date:  Available now.

     I was getting bogged down in my studies and behind in my reviewing.  One day I put this CD in my car not knowing what I was going to experience.  It was great!  The info on the promo sheet says it will appeal to fans of Queens of the Stone Age, Foo Fighters, Velvet Revolver, and HIM.  Maybe.  I really don’t know these bands very well.  But I will tell you who they remind me of:  45% Green Carnation (yeah!), 45% Katatonia (yeah!), and about 10% Ulver (yeah!).  I would describe their music as dark, emotional metal with quirky, strange, disturbing, and very clever lyrics.  Songs like “Get a Rope,” “The Sweet Taste of Revenge,” and maybe “Crust” remind me much of Katatonia.  The satirical “Candystore,” a personal favorite of mine, really evokes comparisons to recent Ulver in my opinion.  But it is the overall sound and especially the vocals (I have no names to work with here) that makes me think a lot of Green Carnation.  Audrey Horne’s No Hay Banda rocked my world and brought me some much needed musical pleasure.

 

BALZAC  “Atom Age Vampire in 308” & “Out of the Grave and Into the Dark” (22 track CD + DVD).  MISFITS.

Rating:  .   Country of originJAPAN.    Release date:  Available now.

    This is very strange but interesting.  I don’t feel qualified to comment on it because punk isn’t my thing.  But I will say that the sheer length of this CD as well as the bonus DVD makes it a hefty release.  The band obviously has a sense of humor which is evident throughout the concert and conceptual pieces.  But best of all, the DVD contains a short horror movie which I thoroughly enjoyed (including the shocking ending). 

 

CENTINEX  “World Declension”  (9 tracks.  38.7 min).  CANDLELIGHT USA.

Rating:  9.   Country of originSweden.    Release date:  Available now.

   Listening to a Centinex album is like riding a runaway train off the side of a cliff.  Fifteen years in the business has done nothing to soften or mellow these guys out.  They have stuck to their principles of fast-paced, head pounding Swedish death metal.  World Declension is no exception, present is the evil chainsaw tone of their guitars, the clever riffs, and the full-on aggressions.  If anything, these guys have gotten tighter and more aggressive over the years, and this new album finds them firing on all 8 cylinders.  In short, World Declension is one 39 minute highly concentrated bottle of whoop-ass!  If it were any longer your ears would start bleeding.

 

DARK BLACK  “The Barbarian’s Hammer”  (5 tracks.  31.4 min.).  HOT DOG CITY RECORD.

Rating:  5.   Country of originUSA.    Release date:  Available now.

    I think this band fits somewhere between Bathory and Spinal Tap, maybe in the ballpark with Motorhead.  They are a step heavier than Kiss, and less refined than Iron Maiden, but you get the picture.  It is clear that these guys are aiming to relive the “glory days” of heavy metal when it was simply called “heavy metal”.  You can tell this from their name and the song titles too (e.g., “The Warhammer”).  Dark Black are just that, classic heavy metal with pre-thrash and thrash type riffs, blues scale soloing, and screams mixed with singing (wailing vocals).  It has the elements of many of the type of records that arrived at the local music stores on a weekly basis back in the 1980’s, but not everything that came out in the “glory days” was of enduring quality.  All that said, Dark Black isn’t terrible, and I suspect there are people out there who will actually find this album exciting.  For me, I would like to see these guys hone their talents, keep thinking in terms of the glory of heavy metal, and then upping the notch to “11”.

 

DREAM OR NIGHTMARE  “Light Burning Bright Till the Dawn”  (4* tracks.  31:12).  GRIMM THIRTEEN PROD.

Rating:  7.5.   Country of originUSA.    Release date:  Available now.

     Speaking of “old dogs,” thrash veteran, Joe Sims (Reign, Axemaster, and The Awakening) has this new project called Dream or Nightmare.  This self-produced E.P. has the band looking to get noticed by some labels.  But it is surely an E.P. more than a demo due to the good production.  At first I didn’t know how to approach this CD because it is an interesting combination of traditional and modern metal sounds.  It’s not overly heavy, nor is it commercial; not thrashy, but certainly technical in places.  In the final analysis I must say that it is rather genre-defying and is best described simply as “heavy metal”.  What is absolutely definable about this disc is its dark, even sinister, tone.  Not too surprising considering song titles like “Self-Inflicted Gunshot Wound to the Head”.  Especially

 

EPICA  “We Will Take You With Us”  (9 tracks.  54:00).  TRANSMISSION/THE END RECORDS.

Rating:  9.5.   Country of origin:  The Netherlands.    Release date:  August 9.

            Here is another unbelievable band from the Netherlands on Transmission Records.  If like me you have come to love the orchestrated symphonic metal bands with female vocals backed by choirs and occasional gruff male vocals, you will absolutely swoon over Epica.  Formed by former After Forever guitarist, Mark Janssen, Epica have risen swiftly and won a lot of praise for their well-conceived, expertly executed music.  This CD, their second release, is a combination of studio tracks and acoustic pieces composed for the popular Dutch unplugged music show, “2 Meter Sessies”.  Epica handles both ends of the spectrum wonderfully.  The first six tracks are symphonic metal which rivals the work of Aina and Therion for its orchestral genius, and Nightwish for their beautiful female vocals.  Mezzo-Soprano Simone Simons is undeniably one of the ablest female vocalists in popular music of any genre, and blows a lot of the metallic competition away.  Her angelic voice is clear and strong in the heavy metal songs (tracks 1-6), and it totally dominates the acoustic tracks, including a breathtaking rendering of “Memories” from Cats. 

 

GRIMFIST  10 Steps to Hell”  (10 tracks.  43.4 mins).  CANDLELIGHT USA.

Rating:  .   Country of originNorway.    Release date:  November 1.

     10 Steps to Hell is aggressive, brutal as you might expect from and band named “Grimfist” and with such an album title as 10 Steps to Hell.  At the same time the band displays a real knack for the classic thrash/death riff, some well-placed slower parts (especially the doomy section in track one, “Power”), and some traditional metal stylings.  You could say that it is brutal, but not oppressive.  It gives you a sense of satisfaction from simultaneously wanting to smash your furniture while smiling at your co-listeners, banging your head, and give the goat-horn salute Beavis and Butthead style.  As before, the production is spot-on.  This CD would make a great companion to Mindgrinder (also reviewed here).  Both bands should tour together.

 

GZROhmwork  (10 tracks.  43.6 min).  SANCTUARY.

Rating:  8.   Country of originUSA.    Release date:  Available now.

     Respect!  Geezer Butler’s latest offering shows that he isn’t accumulating any moss and that life after Black Sabbath is good.  You might expect a musician who has been around for this long to be playing country music or perhaps trying to relive the “glory days”.  Not Geezer.  Granted that the other members of the band are younger than Geezer, it is still worthwhile to mention that the “old man” sounds like a “spring chicken”.  Ohmwork is a completely up-to-date record.  Anyone listening to this album without knowing who it is would never get the impression that the founder/bassist is old enough to be a grandfather.  And, the album comes across as a real team effort.  It has the band playing some cool uptempo songs which will undoubtedly have a strong appeal to younger metal fans.  (I’ve already seen this CD prominently displayed in local music stores).  It  has a great deal in common with the metalcore movement—fast, chunky riffs with screeming vocals and such—but I would have to argue that Geezer’s long experience in the music biz looms over the creation of these songs, thus they are not totally given over to trend.  Track 8, “Alone”, is kind of a stand-out track with a doomy feel; not the Black Sabbath feel, but more like a lighter November’s Doom. 

 

HORNA  Envaaatnags Eflos Solf Esgantaavne” (8 tracks).  WOODCUT/THE END.

Rating:  6.5.   Country of originFinland.    Release date:  Available now.

    I don’t think this is Horna’s first recording, but it is my first time to hear them.  They basically sound like early Mayhem, Darkthrone, and obscure acts like Armagedda, Judas Iscariot, and maybe Burzum minus the keyboards.  You can even hear on the tracks at times where they have layered one guitar over another (there are only two of them after all).  The appeal of this kind of music is not its complexity or its having been well-thought out or planned, but rather its rawness, energy, and atmosphere.  Or to put it another way, it is all about the black metal attitude. 

 

IMPALED NAZARENE  Death Comes in 26 Carefully Selected Pieces” (26 tracks.  1.1 hrs.).  Osmose/The End.

Rating:  8.   Country of originFinland.    Release date:  08/23.

     Impaled Nazarene are one of the most chaotic bands to hail from Finland.  Their music has always been a combination of fury and blasphemy all at blinding speed and over-the-top vocals.  Imagine, then, what a concert consisting of 26 of their most volatile songs would be like.  It would be like this CD.  Thanks to current technology and a carefully selected venue this recording is very clear and extremely well mixed.  And most impressive of all, the album consists of ONE concert, not several; a sign that they have their material quite together.  And they do.  Though I suspect some dead time has been edited out, they basically rip through all 26 songs with no noticeable hitches.  If you don’t know their music, this CD is sort of a “best of” presented in live format with good sonics.

 

LORD BELIAL “The Seal of Belial  (8 tracks.  47.5 mins.).  CANDLELIGHT USA.

Rating:  8.   Country of originSweden    Release date:  Available now.

     Lord Belial’s brand of Swedish death has a very old school feel.  It is not the hyper-fast, blastbeat style so prominent today.  Rather, it is heavy and sinister with emphasis on atmosphere.  Fans of Dimmu Borgir and Old Man’s Child will appreciate this sound, though it is typically slower paced and missing the keyboards.  There are blastbeats, of course, and some of the songs are rather fast; but again, the accent is on atmosphere.  Often while listening to this CD I was reminded of Antestor’s atmospheric flair and Bathory’s sense of darkness.  It’s a good combination.  The name and subject matter earn the band the added designation of “black metal.”  For the first time a Lord Belial album will be released domestically thanks to Candlelight USA. 

 

LUNATICA “Fables & Dreams  (10 tracks.  51.6 mins).  LOCOMOTIVE.

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

     The fact that Sasha Paeth was involved in the production of this CD is enough to make me want to buy it.  Like many of his other projects—Rhapsody, Epica, AinaLunatica is a dazzling symphonic classical metal opera with female vocals, choirs, orchestra, and a lot of class.  Not quite as ostentatious as Rhapsody and Aina, Lunatica more resembles Epica’s focus on the total package rather than individual talent within the band.  As opposed to the more bombastic bands in this field, Lunatica’s music maintains a more artistic even keel.  As the album title suggests, the storyline is certainly reminiscent of fantasy epics like Aina and Rhapsody are known for, perhaps also a little Blind Guardian influence as well.  I do not have names for the band members, but the vocalist, whoever she is, has a lovely voice.  She of course can take her side by the other female vocalists in her genre, but I would also have to point out that at times she has a bit of a twang which makes me wonder if she listens to some of the younger female country vocalists. 

 

MINDGRINDER “Riot Detonator” (9 tracks.  36.1 mins).  CANDLELIGHT USA.

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

    What do you get when a Norwegian death metal outfit has contributing members hailing from bands like Zyklon, Scum, and Windir?  You get some talented musicians refocusing their talents into a slightly different genre—and doing it very nicely!  Every listen to this CD makes you want to listen to it more.  And I predict that with Zamoth’s already established reputation in the metal world, Mindgrinder will go far.  All that said, these guys have reached beyond themselves to create one of the most memorable (an important word in this genre) albums of recent memory.  There’s a lot here to recommend itself to the discriminating death metal enthusiast.  First, there is the classic sound.  Second, the exceptionally fine riffs.  Third, marvelous execution.  Fourth repeatability, that is, you want to go back and listen to it over and over again. 

 

MISFITS MEET NUTLEY BRASS “Fiend Club Lounge”  (11 tracks.  ).  MISFITS RECORDS.

Rating:  7.5.   Country of originUSA.    Release date:  Available now.

    Imagine being at a lounge in Las Vegas with lots of people drinking and listening to the band.  Some old couple is sitting at a table enjoying the music.  The wife says to the husband, “that music has a snappy beat, but I don’t recognize it.”  The husband asks the waitress what the name of the song is.  She says, “Die, Die My Darling”.  The man has a massive coronary right there.  Well, that’s what you get here when the Nutley Brass, a lounge act, does 11 of the Misfits’ trademark horror punk songs.  If you know the songs you’ll recognize them quite easily, but in this format it is a real hoot.  You could play this in a restaurant or in a shopping mall and most people would never be the wiser.  It just sounds like a Las Vegas lounge band playing standards.  But you’ll recognize such classics as “Astro Zombies”, “Some Kinda Hate”, “Teenagers from Mars”, and more.  My absolute favorite is “Last Caress”.  It always brings a smile to my face.  Buy a copy and give it to your preacher for Christmas.  It sure beats the crap out of ska!

 

OBITUARY  “Frozen in Time”  (10 tracks.  34:12).  ROADRUNNER.

Rating:  8.   Country of originUSA.    Release date:  Available now.

     Obituary returns after another hiatus (remember Back from the Dead?) to deliver a solid example of what Floridian death metal is.  As suggested by the album title, Frozen in Time, Obituary have not tried to “move forward” or “progress”.  While other bands and trends come and go quickly, Obituary has decided to stay the course.  And they imply in the CD cover that they are still around because their type of metal—death metal!—has more staying power than the trendy stuff.  They refer to it as “natural selection” at work in the metal world.  Thus the dinosaur becomes the predator.  Tough talk, eh?  What can I say?  These guys know their craft and stick to it.  The album begins with a real mosher’s anthem, “Redneck Stomp” which sets much of the tone for the album.   Track 6, “Mindset”, reveals a little Celtic Frost influence—no, make that a lot of CF.  Think Morbid Tales.  Also one might speculate that these guys may have been kicking back a little Motorhead in their time off.  And so the majority of the tracks on this album don’t seem to be as technical as some of their older material, (“Lockjaw” being one notable exception), but they are all about heavy metal in its classic form.  In a word, “classic”.

 

RAM-ZET  Intra”  (9 tracks.  53.5 mins.).  CANDLELIGHT

Rating:  8.   Country of originNorway.    Release date:  Available now.

     As always, the interesting band with a strange name delivers a third helping of their unique blend of beauty and brutality.   As the old saying goes, “third time’s a charm,” I find that Intra is the strongest and most accessible album by Ram-Zet to date.  On their previous two albums one could see their potential budding, but the first was largely a solo project (if memory serves) and the second album was the first with a full band.  Here we see the full band with some real chemistry clicking on all eight cylinders.  It is tempting to lump Ram-Zet into a category between Dimmu Borgir and Ein Soph—especially since Ein Soph has that sort of chaotic element.  Members of the band also have gigs in The Kovenant, Asmegin, and For My Pain, fine bands all.  But that is only half the story.  The chaos and brutality are set off with lovely female vocals, violins, etc. reminiscent of Sanctum (Swedish ind. Band on Cold Meat Ind).  Don’t be surprised if Intra isn’t the real break-out album for the band.

 

REDEMPTION “The Fullness of Time  (8 tracks.  57.4 min).  SENSORY.

Rating:  9.   Country of originUSA.    Release date:  Available now.

    This album demanded I do more and just listen to the music.  It has a story that compelled me to read the lyrics and be inspired.   Like NovAct a few months ago, Redemption is a band that shows how metal can be mature and deep while still making you want to bang your head.  It is both musically muscular and deeply emotional.  Redemption features members of Fates Warning, Steel Prophet, and Symphony X and is produced by none other than Tommy Newton.  To me they sound similar to their respective bands, but also a lot like Savatage meets Green Carnation.  But I especially like the youthful vigor that comes across in their music.  Though they are seasoned and respectable musicians, they know how to sound fresh and exciting.  This is a great combination. 

 

RITUAL CARNAGE  “I, Infidel”  (12 tracks.  35:00).  OSMOSE/THE END.

Rating:  8.   Country of originJapan.    Release date:  08/23.

    Now this is a band that has kept the faith with thrash in its true form.  After twelve years in the business RC sound as fresh as 1984.  (1984 is my personal reference point to thrash).    Other thrash bands like Annihilator and Flotsam and Jetsam have endured and kept the faith in a much more pristine form than the recent metalcore bands have, but I think I, Infidel is probably the best example of pure thrash that I have heard in a long time.  If I didn’t know that this band is from Japan, I might have bet money that they come from San Francisco due to their perfect emulation of that sound.  To me they sound incredibly like Forbidden (Forbidden Evil, Twist Into Form).  And after all this time, it is nice to have something new to hear in that vein.  Some may find Danny’s vocals and lyrics a little too retro, I don’t, but I can understand why others might.  The only real problem with this album is that it is too short!

 

ROB ROCK  Holy Hell” (10 tracks.  46.6 mins.).  CANDLELIGHTUSA.

Rating:  8.5.   Country of originUSA.    Release date:  Available now.

     After establishing a solid resume as a vocalist/session vocalist for a number of impressive bands like Impelliteri, Warrior, Angelica (oh yes, Rob, I know about this one!), and others, Rob Rock set out to create an entity of his own choosing and further established his credibility with Rage of Creation.  Now he returns with a second solo release which shows no signs of slowing down, weakening, or commercializing; Holy Hell has its own set of sanctified steel balls.  Of course “I’ll Be Waiting for You” and “Move On” may have their places among the more commercial power metal acts, they stand as a ballads on an otherwise destructive album (this is a typical feature on albums by religious musicians).  And while “Calling Angels” may have the power metal anthem quality, it still demonstrates an aggressive intensity that would make Bon Jovi crap his pants.  Other songs like “Slayer of Souls,” “Holy Hell,” and “Lion of Judah,” among others will crush your skull.  Like Narnia and other bands that do not hide their theological convictions, Rob Rock conveys a positive message lyrically that is apocalyptic (which is quite normal in all forms of heavy metal) without being obnoxious or preachy.  With this latest CD Rock has brought to bear his faith and all of his musical influences in a very powerful way. 

 

ROYAL HUNT  “Paper Blood”  (12 tracks.  1.1 hrs.) MAGNA CARTA.

Rating:  8.   Country of originDenmark?    Release date:  Available now.

    This band deserves more recognition.  They are an incredibly talented and well-seasoned band.  I prefer to think of them as neo-classical prog. Metal, but I have to say, that they are among the more exciting prog. Metal bands in my opinion.  The label compares them to Queensryche and Deep Purple.  I agree, but Kansas, Whitesnake, and Savatage are also good points of comparison.  In terms of younger bands, Human Fortress are another great comparison.  But unlike these bands which are totally guitar dominated, one should take note of founder Andre Andersen’s keyboard gymnastics which rival that of bands like Rhapsody.  Andersen is, of course, surrounded by very able musicians on guitar (Marcus Jidell) and drums (Allan Sorensen) as well as the extra musicians.  John West lends his excellent voice to the mix.  These guys together are a dynamic band with an excellent mix of commercialism with raw power, musicianship plus emotion, and great songs.  This new album is no exception, it rocks and rocks.  If you haven’t heard Royal Hunt before (this being their 9th studio album), you may not really be a prog. Metal fan.

 

SHEAVY  “Republic?”  (11 tracks.  50.9 min).  CANDLELIGHT USA.

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

    I can’t think of a stoner doom rock/metal outfit that deserves the Black Sabbath comparisons more than sHeavy.    Vocalist Steve Hennessey sounds so much like Ozzy that even Sharon Osbourne may be fooled.  The lyrics and structure of the songs also are highly suggestive of Sabbath.  However, while the band and vocals clearly embody the “Sabbath ethic” so to speak, guitarist Dan Moore really has a style of his own which may get overlooked because of the Sabbath comparisons.  To me his style is a bit more modern and blue collar than Tony Iommi’s.   sHeavy was first recognized by Lee Dorrian and signed to *** Records, but now Candlelight has signed them and has delivered Republic? which is their third, and perhaps their strongest record to date.  Look for these guys to expand their fan base with this new release.

 

SONIC SYNDICATE  Eden Fire”  (10 tracks.  42.9 min).  PIVOTAL RECORDINGS.

Rating:  7.5.   Country of originSweden.    Release date:  Available now.

     The oldest guy in this band was born in 1983 (I was a freshman in high school!), and the ages of this band range from 17-22.  This is a significant fact when you listen to this band, because they sound like they have it together in ways that 17-22 year-olds rarely do.  This CD is a collection of three E.P.’s the band previously recorded and marks their record label debut to the metal world.  It sounds like they have been taking in heavy doses of Swedish death metal in the vein of In Flames, Dark Tranquility.  And they have really made that style their own.  I would not at this stage give them points for creativity—not that much older bands automatically get creativity points either—but I would say that they have done an excellent job of emulating their influences.  The music and the production are excellent and you might fool some of your friends into thinking they are In Flames.  Pivotal Recordings label founder Leevan Macomeau believed in them so much that he launched said record label in order to make this music available to the rest of the world.  I think it was a good choice.

 

SPACE ODYSSEY “The Astral Episode  (8 tracks.  53.4).  CANDLELIGHT USA.

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

    The Astral Episode is the second release of Richard Andersson’s Space Odyssey.  It features Richard Andersson (obviously!) whose resume includes work with members of Royal Hunt, Yngwe Malmsteen, Translatlantic, and work as touring keyboardist for Symphony X.  I know that says a lot, but believe me, he is awesome.  Guitarist Magnuss Nilsson is an excellent choice to compliment Andersson.  Anyone who is into Warmen and Rhapsody and any band that has a strong guitarist/keyboardist team will certainly want to gravitate to this.  Vocalist Nils Patrik Johansson the band a Dio-styled vocal delivery.  And the intensity is maintained by a very competent 17 year-old drummer named Andreas Brobjer; no bassist is mentioned.  From the sound of things I think it is safe to surmise that Andersson put a great deal of time into selecting band members, and also in crafting these songs.  It’s good stuff.

 

STARBREAKER  s/t (13 tracks.  56.5 mins).  LOCOMOTIVE

Rating:  8.   Country of originUSA?  Release date:  Available now.

    I am at least old enough to remember the 80’s/90’s pop metal band, TNT.  So when I read that Starbreaker features TNT vocalist Tony Harnell I wondered if this CD was going to be one of those “we still like glam metal” type albums.  The answer is that Starbreaker sounds more like a young melodic Swedish band doing their 21st century rendering of classic metal.  This is not surprising since Harnell recruited a young Swede named Magnus Karlsson (Last Tribe, Lande/Allen).  Karlsson’s musicianship lives up to the expectations one has for a Swedish guitarist, and nowhere is this more apparent than on the killer instrumental, “Dragonfly”.  Harnell still sings like a pop/metal singer with his gritty metal voice which sounds really good.  True to his roots, his vocals allow for easy attainment of the lyrics, which are more substantive than TNT’s and reflect the process of maturation (nothing is more disturbing than a late 30’s/early 40’s aged rocker singing party songs).  The combination of Harnell’s experience, Karlsson’s modern Swedish guitar approach, and the rest of the band makes for a very solid classic/melodic metal album.

 

THIRD DEGREE  “Outstay”  (13 tracks.  34.9 min).  SELFMADEGOD RECORDS.

Rating:  8.   Country of originPoland.    Release date:  Available now.

    I could have told you that this was a brutal death metal CD before ever popping it in because it is from Poland.  I could also have told you that it probably is a really good album.  I would have been right on both counts.  What I wouldn’t have been able to predict is how creative these guys are, there isn’t a boring or repetitious song on this CD (some death metal CD’s are one long blur, this one isn’t).  Nor could I have predicted how much they remind me of Bloodbath with Michael Akerfelt on vocals.  This is not to say that you would confuse this band for Bloodbath, only that I hear a strong resemblance at times.  And like BB, Third Degree seem to have a knack for cool riffage.  Of course the CD is only 35 minutes long, but you certainly get your money’s worth!  Third Degree may be the top death metal discovery of 2005.  Need I say more? 

 

TOTALISTI “Slave to None”  (12 tracks.  ).  MAGNA CARTA.

Rating:  7.   Country of originUSA.    Release date:  Available now.

   Just like the promo sheet claims, Totalisti is a hybrid of modern groove and classic prog. Metal.  One could simply call it modern progressive metalcore, but that would probably lend the wrong impression.  In my own words, I would say that they are like a heavier version of the Stone Temple Pilots with perhaps a Pacific Northwestern take on metalcore, which is lighter than the New England variety.  Overall, despite whatever comparisons this band draws, two things are unmistakable in my opinion.  One is that Totalisti are mostly a prog. metal band.  Second, they sound like a band from Washington State.  They are commercial enough to get some recognition outside the usual circles, but heavy enough not to be called wimps.  Lyrically they have chosen to sing about real life issues and not fantasy, horror, or organized religion.  The CD insert mentions diverse influences as Extol, Demon Hunter, Rush, Tool, Dream Theatre, and Incubus.  I don’t agree with the Extol or Demon Hunter comparisons—at least musically; and the Rush comparison doesn’t seem to fit either.  But maybe the others make sense.  I’m sticking with “like Stone Temple Pilots, only heavier; like metalcore, only lighter than the New England variety.  Definitely progressive.”  I think that does it.

 

TWILIGHT  “Twilight”  (9 tracks.  44:12).  SOUTHERN LORD

Rating:  8.   Country of originUSA.    Release date:  September.

    The ultra-dedicated fans of obscure American underground black metal will have an orgy over this album.  Twilight is composed of five American black metal hermits: Wrest of Leviathan and Lurker of Chalice, Malefic of Xasthur, Hildof of Draguar, Imperial of Krieg, and Azentrius of Nachtmystium.  Each of these five miscreants have until now been known for their solo work much like Burzum and Judas Iscariot.  But now they have pooled their “talents” and created a very interesting, haunting, creepy, fuzzy, obscure, and altogether intriguing mixture of their styles.  It is practically impossible to separate their individual contributions, and one wonders if these are collaborations, or a collection of individual tracks drawn together.  One thing is for certain:  Twilight recalls the darkest days of black metal’s primitive beginnings complete with tortured dungeon vocals, atmospheric keyboards (in place), Bathory type riffs (in places), and all the other perks you would expect from such a collaboration.  Euronymous would have signed them back in the day. 

 

WETWORK  Synod” (9 tracks. 38.5 mins.).  KRANKENHAUS.

Rating:  9.5.  Country of Origin:  Canada?  Release date:  available now.

    Here is another great surprise for 2005.  Wetwork in my opinion are a band that has taken what might be called the “classic death metal sound” and brought it forward.  This CD is a combination of killer classic death metal riffs and a sinister atmosphere.  Their music is intense and powerful.  Many times the driving, double bass  and the chunky riffing is too intense for you to simply sit and listen.  At the very least you will have to bob your head intensely.  On the other hand, the band knows how to compliment their aggressive style with some well-placed melodic and progressive asides.  These are not “thrown in” for variety’s sake, they are legitimate and suggest the members of the band have either some sort of formal training in music, or are just exceptionally gifted composers.  In terms of music alone, I like this CD so much that I saved it to my hard drive so that I could keep it close.  But wait, that’s not all.  I’ve been saving the best for last.  Wetwork have the coolest vocalist.  Anybody remember Leather from Chastain?  Well Wetwork has her death metal equivalent.  I don’t know her name, but she is awesome.  On the spoken parts (Latin magical incantations, for instance) she sounds wicked, on the guttural death metal parts, she crushes.  Arch Enemy should be jealous.  This girl rocks!  If you don’t check out any other death metal album this year, make sure you check out Wetwork’s Synod.  You will not regret it.

 

I can’t end this page of reviews without saying how much I enjoy Opeth’s latest masterpiece, Ghost Reveries.  I am not on Roadrunner’s promo list, thus I had to buy it.  As usual it was worth every penny.  I think it is more like Still Life than the last three albums have been, but it is yet different and in a way their most mature release.  At the same time, can anyone find fault with Orchid or Mourningrise?  NO!  These guys can do no wrong in my opinion. 

 

NEW LINKS: 

Holy Steel Webzine at www.holysteel.com.

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