2006 Update 1

(with lots of stuff from 2005 that I didn’t finish until now)

 

This Update:  Absu, Biolich, Brazen Abbot, Bronx Casket Co., Casus Belli, Cryonic Temple, Destruction, Detonation, Down Factor, Epica, Eternal Reign, Excalion, From the Inside, Gaia Epicus, Ghost Machinery, Godiva, Green Carnation, Headrush, He Who Corrupts, Khold, Meshugga Beach Party, Pagan’s Mind, Skullshifter, SCUM, Jeff Scott Soto, Sunn 0))), Supermercado, Texas is on Fire, TNT, Vile, and Wizard.

 

This update is late.  My apologies to everyone who has been waiting for so long on these reviews.  I reached the end of a very challenging semester in grad school—and survived!  But this means, of course, that studies came before reviews.  Also, it is very hard to concentrate on writing good quality reviews when studying at the intensity of an M.A. program at a prestigious university.  The good news is that for my class on apocalyptic literature I wrote paper (thirty-six pages) entitled, “Light versus Dark:  The Apocalyptic Framework of Heavy Metal.”  My professor (Ph.D, Harvard) said it should be published in some form (meaning that corrections, improvements, and probably some cutting needs to take place).  It is being looked over by a couple other scholars in the field of apocalyptic literature.  So my first actual published work may be a combination of metal and religious studies.  I think this makes the delay on these reviews worthwhile.  (additional comments at the bottom of the page).

 

My oldest son, Criticalnate, has a metal oriented “my space” site.  Check it out at:  www.myspace.com/nathanamous.  Among other things, it has Opeth fan art he made.  I think you’ll be impressed.

 

ABSU “Mythological Occult Metal” 2 discs. Osmose/The End

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

     This two disc collection serves several useful functions.  One, it serves to remind us just how prolific this band has been thus far.  Second, it allows one to witness the changing of this band from a primitive black metal outfit to a complex black/death metal force.  Third—and this is best for the fans—it pulls together a lot of unreleased and non-album material of the band onto one release.  Very cool.  Fourth, it gives a broad spectrum of the band’s work for those who have never heard them.  It is amazing to get to go back and hear what this band was doing. 

     Disc one (49.6 mins) contains 11 tracks of rarities, alternate versions and three 7” e.p.’s:  “The Temples of Offal,” “And Shineth Unto the Cold Cometh,” and “Hallstattian Swords.”  These alone make the collection worthwhile.  But disc two (49.3 mins) makes this collection a real treasure.  It contains 10 tracks of covers, live tracks, and two unreleased tracks (“Book of Splendor,” and “Tasseomancy”).  Let me tell you, when they did their cover of Destruction’s “Bestial Invasion”—any band that can play that song, no matter how primitive the recording apparatus (as here), deserves respect.  They also did “Swing of the Axe” by Possessed and two Mayhem songs “Deathcrush” with “Silvester Anfang,” and Iron Maiden’sTransylvania.”  Talk about diversity!  The four live tracks are “The Winter Zephyr,” “Highland Tyrant Attack,” “The Thrice is Greatest to Ninnigal,” and “The Coming of War.”  This is not some attempt to throw together some leftover songs for additional sales, it is a very worthwhile CD to add to your collection.

 

BIOLICH “The Space Between Home and Today(6 tracks.  25.5 mins).  PARAGON RECORDS

Rating:  Country of origin:  USA.  Release date:  available now.

     Words are hard to come by for describing this CD (it took me a while).  Usually when I hear a band for the first time I listen for comparisons.  But by the time I got through the 25.5 minutes of this CD I had quite a strange list of impressions:  Cannibal Corpse, Mortician, Tormentor—that is, the wackier stuff on Recipe Ferrum like “Cara Mia”—and others who escape me at the moment.  In other words, what I have described so far sounds like grindcore and tongue-in-cheek goth/metal—well, the tongue-in-cheek part is right, I don’t think Biolich have any goth really.  But then there is the ambient minimalist tune “Ikon Sumo” which is totally unexpected (where did that come from?)   And more, most of their songs, while brutal and grinding, also have a very progressive side—progressive like bands on Sensory Records (Circus Maximus, Zero Hour, etc.)   I never thought I would hear such a thing as progressive grind core,but I think this qualifies.  It is totally strange, totally unexpected, and totally unique.

 

BRAZEN ABBOT “A Decade of Brazen Abbot DVD” (12 tracks plus commentary, interviews).  FRONTIERS/LOCOMOTIVE.

Rating:  9.   Country of origin: Bulgaria/Finland.    Release date: available now.

     To begin with, this is probably the best DVD I have seen in terms of arrangement.  More than an hour’s worth of concert material has been augmented with an extensive interview with founder/guitarist Nikolo Kotzev.  He details the history of Brazen Abbot in a very clear and concise manner—his English is impeccable.  He is very complimentary about his band mates and collaborators, but very modest about himself (though we do learn that he has a master’s degree in violin performance).  No worries, the other band members and collaborators heap many compliments on him as a person and a musician.  All this love, however, does not water down the dramatic flair of BA’s music. 

     The concert footage mostly features music from the third album, Guilty as Sin, but do not to neglect to include their classic, “Road to Hell.”  The shows were all recorded in Bulgaria, Kotzev’s home country.  Watching the various shows (some indoor, some outdoor), was like reliving those moments when the Berlin Wall came down.  To see the excited crowds, hungry for music was shall I say, inspiring?  Interviewees include longtime collaborator, Goran Edman (Malmsteen), guest vocalists Joe Lynn Turner (Rainbow, Deep Purple, Malmsteen), Jorn Lind (Ark, Masterplan), and Glenn Hughes.  This DVD also features television interviews and appearances.       Finally, the production of this video is top quality.  I don’t think you could expect any better from a better known band with a bigger budget.

 

BRAZEN ABBOT “My Resurrection”  (12 tracks.  62.5 mons).  FRONTIERS/LOCOMOTIVE.

Rating:  9.   Country of origin: Bulgaria/Finland.    Release date: available now.

     Some time after returning from the first ever Brazen Abbot tour in Bulgaria, Nikolo Kotzev sat back down with his favorite collaborators— and some new ones —to hammer out a fourth BA studio album.  The enthusiasm of the tour must have stayed with him because this album is a powder keg of classic rock/metal songs.  Commercial and radio friendly as always, to be sure, but the songs here are impeccably written and performed (I would argue it is the best BA album by far).  Along with the usual suspects Goran Edman, Joe Lynn Turner, Kotzev teams up with Tony Harnell (TNT, Starbreaker) and Erik Martensson (Eclipse), and also makes use of an orchestra from his native Bulgaria.  From the opening track, “My Resurrection,” to the closer, “Shades of Grey,  BA sounds like the work of veterans who know what they are doing, and enjoy doing it.  The highlight for me, though, is the bluesy, “The Shadows.”  Usually this kind of music is too commercial for me, but I have to say, that I really enjoy listening to this album.

 

BRONX CASKET CO.  Hellectric  (12 tracks.  1 hr.)  CANDLELIGHT RECORDS USA.

Rating:  8.   Country of originUSA.    Release datedunno.

     If you are in the habit of enjoying Tim Burton movies and reruns of the Addams Family, chances are you already enjoy listening to this band too.  If not, now is your chance to get a listen.  Founded by Overkill’s DD Verni and Tim Mallare, vocalized by Jack Frost (Savatage’s Poets and Madmen), and complimented with Myke Hideous of The Misfits, BCC are a dark rock/metal/gothic band that remind me of a kind of mix between Type O Negative, Danzig, The Cult and Jack Frost (Germany, no relation to the vocalist as far as I know).  I’m sure there are better comparisons, but I am not sure what they are. 

     For the most part the music has a serious sound, but the band obviously has a funny side.  The first indication of this for me was the song “Motorcrypt.”  I kept thinking how much that song reminded me of the theme to the Addams Family.  Certainly the chord progression is similar.  Then at the very end the organ played the melody to the Addams Family theme.  Then there is their 9 minute gothic rendering of “Free Bird.”  The southern classic has never sounded so gloomy, especially where the harmony has been rendered in a dissonant fashion.  Some of the song titles like are also comical, e.g., “Mortician’s Lullaby.”  It is an acoustic piece with a pair of female vocalists.  Other than this, though, the songs are songs, and not so much humorous as atmospheric.  In fact, atmosphere is an important element in this band’s music.  Song titles like “Little Dead Girl,” “Dream of Angels,” which contains the cool line, “I sleep with demons but I dream of angels,” and “Can’t Stop the Rain” are great songs which convey that gloomy atmosphere.  Their combination of heavy guitars, Jack’s vocals, and creepy harpsichord keyboards make BCC’s music a dark and lovely addition to my collection of vampiric music.

 

CASUS BELLI “In the Name of Rose” (11 tracks)  LIMB MUSIC PRODUCTS

Rating:  8.   Country of originGermany.    Release date: ?

    Here is another good find by Limb Music Products.  A German (I think) power metal band that adds some polish to that typically German speed.  They play their music like they are driving the Autobahn at top speed.  The opening track, “I’m Your Master” has a lot of the classic Accept structure (“Fast As A Shark”), i.e., speed, melody, and power.  It continues with “Vengeance is My Law,” another white-knuckler.  But once you think that this band doesn’t have a “cruising speed,” track 3, “Holy Gates (In the Name of Rose),” reveals a moderate paced side of the band with musical finesse.  “Diamond Crown” heats things up again only to yield to the much slower, but still powerful “Edge of a Knife.”  And so it goes.  The album is a very satisfying blend of tempos and riffs until the end, the lovely mello instrumental, “Whispering.”  Beyond this, the band has some very interesting lyrics (which I could make out despite the absence of a lyric sheet).  And they seem to have a rather positive religious tone, though I may only be imagining it.  Either way, while this album does not necessarily get the highest rating, it is both very exciting to listen to and memorable.

 

CRYONIC TEMPLE  “In Thy Power”  (11 tracks.  55.5 mins).  LIMB MUSIC PRODUCTS

Rating:  7.5.   Country of origin: German?    Release date: May 30, 2005.

     Once again, speed is a factor.  This is, I believe, Cryonic Temple’s second album.  It is, at least, my second one.  I enjoyed the previous one.  And I find that CT have not lost any of their edge or intensity since then.  For me, In Thy Power has a lot of Gamma Ray and Iron Savior influence.  The same elements are there:  crunch, speed, melody, soaring (but gritty) vocals singing anthems and melodies, and dual guitar solos.  The album has some very positive sounding lyrics:  religious or at least semi/pseudo religious.  “When Hell Freezes Over,” is a high powered critique of religious wrangling in our world today, while “In Thy Power” is a song of allegiance—to whom I am not sure, it may just be lyrics.  “Travelers in Time” has an interesting line, “we are travelers in time, man made machines, now machine makes man.”  Other songs simply have fist-pumping metal themes.  But track 9 has found a new topic for fist-pumping metal themes, “Shark Attack,” which has a classic Judas Priest Screaming For Vengeance/Defenders of the Faith sound.  Despite this, I wouldn’t overly accuse the band of originality, but as far as hero worship goes (especially Iron Savior, in my opinion), they have risen to the task once again.  In Thy Power is exciting if it is anything.

 

DARK FUNERALAttera Totus Sanctus”  (8 tracks.  42.8).  CANDLELIGHT USA.

Rating:  8.   Country of originSweden.    Release date: ?

     After seeing the release of their exceptionally well produced live album earlier in 2005, Dark Funeral ends the year with their much anticipated studio release, Attera Totus Sanctus.  As may be expected, this album is a blistering black metal tome.  The album begins with four non-stop blizzards:  “King Anti-Christ,” “666 Voices Inside,” “Attera Totus Sanctus,” and “Godhate.”  But then the band gives us a moment to (sort of) relax with the mid-paced “Atrum Regina,” a sorrowful dirge which reminds me of Antestor.  But this is quickly followed by three more blindingly fast songs, “Angel Flesh Impaled,” “Feed on the Mortals,” and “Final Ritual.”  So what do we have here?  We have the expected Dark Funeral black metal wall-of-sound, an intense and furious ¾ hour of music.  (The word “uncompromising” has already been used by other reviewers).  You know what to expect here really, because Dark Funeral have been remarkably consistent in their recordings: they are fast, heavier than many, and EVIL.  Long time fans will be very satisfied.

 

DESTRUCTION “Inventor of Evil”  (12 tracks.  50.4 mins).  CANDLELIGHT RECORDS USA

Rating: 6.5.   Country of originGermany.    Release date: Nov. 1.

     I am old enough to remember Destruction from the 1980’s.  Back then they had a distinct sound which I grew to love.  But like other old timers, I’ve had a bit of a hard time appreciating the new music the band has been making since Schmier’s return to the band five years ago.  The new Destruction just doesn’t sound anything like the old Destruction.  (I suppose bands can get in a catch 22 where they get criticized for either changing or not changing.  This is always subjective).  For the most part I felt like Mike and Schmier were consciously going for a more modern, death metal sound, and I didn’t like it. 

     Inventor of Evil changes that somewhat.  For the first time since Schmier rejoined the band does Destruction sound somewhat like their former selves; not that Inventor of Evil is a complete return to the sound of Eternal Devastation or Release from Agony, but they have finally found a way to fuse the old with the new.  It is clear they intended to conjure up some of their old sound in some places.  “Calm Before the Storm,” for instance, conjures up memories of “Reject Emotion.”  Perhaps “Dealer of Hostility” could have been on Infernal Overkill if it were played faster.  “Twist of Fate” borders on an old Destruction sound.  And the final song, “Memories of Nothingness,” a light instrumental brings “Final Judgment” to mind.  Nevertheless this is new Destruction.  And new Destruction is a different animal.  Their music is more death than thrash—obviously influenced by producer Peter Tagtgren—and cliché.  Songs like “Alliance of Hellhounds,” despite the guest appearances of Messiah Marcolin and other notables, is just silly. 

     No one can fault a band for changing their style—and perhaps this is preferable to stagnation.  But when it all comes down to a final analysis, it is all about the gut reaction:  “How do I feel about it?”  Well, I like it better than the last three albums considerably.  And there are some good riffs here.  But I’m sorry, I’ll always be partial to Eternal Devastation, Mad Butcher, Release from Agony.  I’m old.  What can I say?

 

DETONATION  “Portals to Uphobia  (10 tracks.  43.8 mins.).  OSMOSE PRODUCTIONS/THE END

Rating:  8.5.   Country of origin:  The Netherlands.    Release date:  August 9.

          Portals to Uphobia is a classy melodic, but full-on death metal album with a pre-Gothenburg sound (again, think At the Gates).  I do not have Detonation’s first album, so I don’t know how to compare it to this one, but I will say that I haven’t heard a band that reminds me of At the Gates as much as they do.  Speed is not always an issue, however.  It is there, but Detonation clearly knows the value of variety.  Koen Romeijn and Mike Ferguson are a wonderful team of guitarists.  While their style is reminiscent of At the Gates, they show a lot of originality both in riffs and solos.  Also, they pause from the aural carnage in the middle of the CD (“Lost Euphoria part III”) to dazzle us with some Spanish guitar.   CDs like this are a pleasure because, yes, they are brutal, but they have a real sense of musicality as well. 

 

DIVINE EMPIRE  “Method of Execution”  (16 tracks.  58.1 mins.).  CRASH MUSIC.

Rating:  9.5.   Country of origin:  USA.    Release date:  August 9.

     Typically I am a bit skeptical about death metal bands.  Though it is one of the most popular sub-genres of heavy metal, it is not always advisable to be creative.  This album is the exception—an exceptional exception!  I don’t know if I have ever used the terms “epic” and “death metal” in the same sentence, but I will now.  I wasn’t prepared for how much I would enjoy this album, but they have taken the Florida death metal sound to a completely new level of excellence.  Not only do you have the tight, brutal riffing and the deep, guttural vocals, etc., but you also have well-defined melodies and a number of interesting surprises.  The best surprise is track 6, “Prelude to the Storm,” a chamber orchestra piece complete with cello, acoustic guitar, and violin.  Totally unexpected, but really cool.  Also interesting are the black metal elements the band has incorporated into parts of the album.  All this plus Divine Empire’s trademark aggression (and talent).  Method of Execution may go down as the best brutal death metal release of 2005.  It gets my vote. 

 

DOWN FACTOR  “Murder the World”  (10 tracks.  43.3 mins).  SCOURGE RECORDS.

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

     I think these guys have taken an intelligent approach to reawakening the famed Bay Area thrash sound.  They mix death metal with a thrashy groove for some energetic and aggressive music.  Their playing is extremely tight and their riffs are razor sharp.  And occasionally, like on the title song, “Murder the World,” they achieve that unbelievably fast and chaotic thrash style that Destruction made famous in their early career. 

     A title like “Murder the World” may cause some to react negatively, but the title (and song) is about tyrants and despots, I assume, like no one in particular, though Hitler and Stalin come readily to my mind.  Practically all of their songs have politically/socially oriented lyrics decrying deception and blind obedience!  I think fans of Nevermore would really take a liking to this band both musically and lyrically, though DF may actually be a bit heavier.  Speaking of which, Steve Smyth (recent addition to Nevermore) makes a guest appearance on this album.  Fans of Pro-Pain will also enjoy Down Factor’s in-your-face style.  “The Blood of the Patriots” parts 1 and 2 will definitely resonate well with those who appreciated Pro-Pain’s recent effort, Prophets of Doom.  A strong release from a new band.

 

EPICA  “Consign to Oblivion”  (11 tracks.  52.5 mins).  TRANSMISSION/THE END RECORDS.

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

     Not long ago I was overjoyed to receive Epica’s CD (last update).  Now I am listening rapturously to their third full-length—and it does not disappoint.  I think Epica may have hit upon the best combination of metal, opera, and soprano vocals of any band out there.  Like I said about her performance on 2 Metter Sessies (see last update), Simone Simmons has one of the most beautiful mezzo-soprano voices out there.  On that last release her performance of “Memories” from Cats was a demonstration of a professionally trained voice which transcends the metal genre (I think Andrew Lloyd Weber would be pleased).  Here she continues to sing with poise, beauty, and charisma.  Nowhere is this more obvious than on the ballad/duet “Trois Vierges” with Thomas Khan (Kamelot).  Not only did this song make me think of the Phantom of the Opera, but also my wife who has a formal musical education.  The rest of the band is awesome, as are the songs, but Simone is this band’s ace-in-the-hole.  She is a true star.  However, Mark Jansen and his co-musical creators have to feel proud of the music they have recorded here.  And thanks once again to Sasha Paeth for his production expertise (Aina, Rhapsody, etc.). 

    Consign to Oblivion has the musical depth and creative spark of genius that Broadway composers possess—but it’s metal!  And it is awesome.   It is one of those CD’s you proudly pull out and play for those unbelievers who say that “anyone can play metal.  It’s just a bunch of screaming!”  No it isn’t.  This is majestic and refined.  Consign to Oblivion is a real joy to listen to.  I cannot imagine anyone not being inspired by this CD. 

 

ETERNAL REIGN  “Forbidden Path”  (11 tracks.  48.1 mins).  LIMB MUSIC PRODUCTS.

Rating:  5.   Country of originGermany?    Release date: February 21, 2005.

     This is basically commercial metal like a lot of British and American bands in the 1980s.  It goes verse-chorus, verse-chorus, solo, chorus, and end.  Nothing special, in my opinion.  But I am very sure there are others who would disagree with me.

 

EXCALION  “Primal Exhale”  (9 songs.  50.6 mins).  SOUND RIOT RECORDS.

Rating:  9.   Country of originFinland.    Release date: July 22.

     This is my favorite of the Sound Riot releases.  Excalion are from Finland and bear some resemblance to Stratovarius.  Stratovarius is always a good band to be compared to, but I would have to say that Excalion are less commercial and have more of an edge to their music.  They are melodic, of course, and vocalist Jarmo Pakkonen has a very Stratovarius-ish voice, but Excalion are not always about melodies and commercialism.  I would say that youth has a lot to do with it as well.  Whereas Stratovarius is an older and established band, Excalion are young and energetic.  But they do possess a real maturity in their lyric writing and presentation (see especially “Heart & Home”).  I think part of the reason for this is that though this is their first album, though band has been together for five years.  An album that is five years in the making that is definitely worth listening to.  These guys have, in my opinion, a very well-rounded sound.  I will be excited to hear their next album.

 

FROM THE INSIDE “s/t” (11 tracks.  47.7 mins).  FRONTIERS/LOCOMOTIVE

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

     The pet project of Danny Vaughn (Waysted, Tyketto), From the Inside is like an updated version of bands like Journey, Survivor, and Whitesnake.  While it doesn’t really qualify as “metal” by our standards, it certainly fits into the category of excellent power pop.  No one can deny that the typical radio rock of today is inferior in terms of musicianship and quality compared to the glory days of 80’s rock that is exemplified here.  This fact means that as far as the U.S. is concerned, such music is no longer mainstream.  This lack of domestic appreciation for good melodic rock meant that in the past Vaughn’s work would be underappreciated.  But it also meant (means) that Frontiers Records in Europe would ask him to give it another shot.  Thus From the Inside was conceived and brought to fruition.  And what a shot he has given it.  This album has a lot to recommend it:  great guitar hooks, solid rhythm section (drums and bass), and keyboards that are present but not overpowering.  However, the highlight is Vaughn’s great voice and thoughtful lyrics.  “Blessing in Disguise,” for instance, has a rightful place in rock music history.  Let’s hope it gets that place.

 

GAIA EPICUS  “Symphony of Glory”  (10 tracks.  52.9 mins).  SOUND RIOT

Rating:  6.5.   Country of originNorway.    Release date: July 29.

     Norway’s answer to Hammerfall and Freedom Call is Gaia Epicus.  This is their second album since their formation in 1992.  Other band comparisons that come to mind would be early Nocturnal Rites, and Seventh Avenue.  Their style is upbeat and positive, high speed melodic power metal with blazing guitar solos, catchy riffs, and sing-able choruses.  From start to finish this album is pure heavy metal straight and simple.  It is a well-attested formula, and like most power metal bands, they do it well.  Just don’t expect any  surprises. 

 

GHOST MACHINERY  “Haunted Remains”  (13 tracks.  63 mins).  SOUND RIOT.

Rating:  8.   Country of originFinland.    Release date: available now.

     Lead man, Pete Ahonen (vocals, guitars), may already be familiar to some of you from his other band, Burning Point (Limb Music Products).  Apparently there is too much neo-classical power metal “burning” within this man for one band.  So he teamed up with Tapsa Pelkonen (bass) and Jussi Onero (drums, keyboards) of Wildcard.  They came up with a cool name, Ghost Machinery, and thirteen rock solid metallic anthems.  It goes without saying that Burning Point is a good comparison for this band, but this is not completely the case.  First, these songs were not exactly BP songs, and second, Pelkonen and Onero bring a different approach to the genre.  Thus Ghost Machinery is not a clone of Burning Point.  What most impresses me about this CD is how steady the music is.  I wouldn’t call it laid back, there are blazing guitar solos and galloping drums after all, but there is just something wholistic about the music.  Maybe this is because the band’s music gives a bit of a nod to the glory days of classic metal.  Songs like “Dreamworld” evoke comparisons to Dokken and Whitesnake, albeit with a decidedly Finnish sound.  But overall the music is up-tempo, commercial, and well-conceived.

 

GODIVA “Call Me Under 666” (11 songs.  47.4 mins.).  LIMB MUSIC PRODUCTS

Rating:  7.5.   Country of originGermany?    Release date: May 23.

     Godiva sound to me like a modern version of Krokus.  From the sound of things they are a German power metal band with the requisite balance between speed and commercialism.  They bear a strong resemblance to other similar bands like Accept, and Judas Priest, but mostly like Krokus.  And with song titles like “When Lightning Strikes,” “Hellraiser,” and “Maneater,” well, the comparison seems very appropriate.  Also, if you hear “My Fate” you will probably agree that Krokus and Accept are major influences for this band.  The guitars have a nice edge and the guitarist(s) show some affinities with Wolf Hoffman.  The vocalist (name?) has a Marc Storace meets Udo Dirkschneider type voice.  Finally, this band has personality.  “Call Me Under 666” is clever.  Overall it is a fun album to listen to, it pays tribute to a classic metal style, and does it all rather nicely.

 

GREEN CARNATION  “The Acoustic Verses” (7 tracks.  43.5 mins.).  SUBLIFE/THE END RECORDS.

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

     Some bands are just plain talented.  No matter what they do, it is good.  Green Carnation is definitely one of those bands.  While some bands make acoustic versions of their heavy songs, but these songs were written specifically for this acoustic release.  Each one is a gem, but the highlight is the tune, “The Burden is Mine Alone,” written by Stein Roger.  I would not be surprised to hear this song on the radio because it is an example of exemplary song writing.  And though it is acoustic, it has all the angst and psychological elements we have come to expect since Blessing In Disguise came out.  The CD opener, “Sweet Leaf” demonstrates Tchort’s songwriting acumen as well.  This is not the Black Sabbath tune you might have thought it was (from Masters of Reality), but has that trademark Green Carnation sound.  Vocally, Kjetil Nordhus displays dexterity on this song which rivals Bono of U2.  And there is a “Child’s Play Part III” (left over?) from The Quiet Offspring which came out earlier this year. 

     Though Green Carnation began as one of Tchort’s many outlets of musical expression, it has evolved into a very powerful and meaningful project.  Rather than following any trends or trying to repeat previous successes, they have forged their own path quite successfully. This band, if it continues in its own footsteps, has the potential to rival some of the biggest bands out there.  I’m thinking Opeth and Porcupine Tree, for instance.  And, I think it is impressive that this band has been able to make five albums that are musically different from one another while maintaining such a unified atmosphere.  A lot of bands cannot do this.  Finally, a lot of people are going to be tempted to compare this CD to Opeth’s Damnation, but I do not think this is a proper comparison.  Damnation is what it is: Opeth’s complex, jazzy styled progressive music without the death metal parts.  It is a truly great album by a truly great band.  But The Acoustic Verses by Green Carnation is great—perhaps equally great—for other reasons.  One of those reasons is that the band is simply composed of six (or so) highly talented musicians with a great sense of what makes for excellent music.  They have not followed in anyone’s footsteps—not even Opeth’s.

 

Interview with Green Carnation

 

HEADRUSH  Headrush  (12 tracks.  50.6 mins).  FRONTIER/LOCOMOTIVE

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

      Headrush consists of two well-known Italian artists:  Alex De Rosso who has played for the likes of Dokken, and Roberto Tiranti who sings for Labyrinth.  Together with Dave Fini on drums and Mauro Catellani on bass these guys have put together a very listenable commercial heavy rock album.  It can be deceptive at first.  The commerciality of the music balances the aggressiveness.  De Rosso’s flair for chunky riffs is very enjoyable.  I can understand why Don Dokken recruited him.  But despite his excellent chops, De Rosso never lets the guitar overpower the song.  And Tiranti’s vocals are soulful and crisp, providing a pleasant and passionate complement to the music.  Though this is their first album together, it is obvious that these guys are veterans and have a clear idea of what makes for good commercial rock/metal: good melodies, lyrics about life, and dynamics.

 

HE WHO CORRUPTS  “He Who Corrupts”  (5 tracks.  7.9 mins + 2 videos).  EUGENICS RECORD LABEL

Rating:  4.   Country of originIllinois, USA.    Release date: already available.

     I’ve been “sitting” on this disc for a while.  I have been at a loss for how to describe it.  In less than eight minutes this newcomer band blasts through five songs.  They sound insane.   The music is death metal which takes the Mortician approach to length of composition (average song length is about 1.5 mins), but not in lyrical content.  They have strange song titles like “Your Momma on the Rocks,” and their lyrics are totally loony with the sort of adolescent sexual vocabulary that would please Beavis and Butthead.

 

KHOLD  Krek” (10 tracks.  34 minutes).  CANDLELIGHT USA.

Rating:  8.   Country of originNorway.    Release date: already available.

     Khold continues to keep their black metal at mid-tempo, but they manage to do it without exhausting their creativity.  I mean, there really isn’t much more to say about it than that for me.  I have always like their emphasis on power rather than speed.  The music is very enjoyable, not primitive or sloppy.  The vocals are the right combination of grit and coherence.  So why should I want them to change things?  I will say, however, that Krek has the best guitar riffs the band has conceived of to date.

 

MESHUGGA BEACH PARTY  “Twenty Songs of the Chosen Beach Surfers”  (20 tracks.  40 mins).  JEWISH MUSIC GROUP.

Rating:  7.5.   Country of originUSA.    Release date: already available.

     I am quite familiar with the surf music that this CD is inspired by (Surfaris, Ventures, Dick Dale, early Beach Boys instrumentals, etc.).   Also, I am currently working on a masters degree in Jewish studies.  So I was pleasantly surprised to find this disc in my mailbox.  I thought someone had maybe made the connection …

     Apparently there is a mensch from New York named Mel Waldorf who grew up on surf music and has aspired to play some of the traditional and religious Jewish music in this style.  So here is the analysis:  if you are Jewish and know these tunes (“Hava Nagila,” “Shalom Alechem,” “Kol Nidre” [כל נדרי] and others), you will probably smile a lot as you listen to them played in surf music style.  I’m sure it will make for some light-hearted moments, especially on the holidays (חגים).  But for those who are not Jews and/or not familiar with these songs, if you enjoy surf music, it will be like getting a new album (like back in the 60’s when you were young and cool!)  No doubt this CD is a labor of love times two (Jewish tradition and surf music) for Waldorf, and he does a fine job adapting them to the surf style.  Some may think it a really strange combination, but actually, it sounds quite natural.

 

PAGAN’S MIND  “Enigmatic Calling”  (11 songs.  1 hr.).  LIMB MUSIC PRODUCTS.

Rating:  9.   Country of originSweden.    Release date: May 9.

     This band has some serious mojo!  From the get-go I was hooked on their complex prog-metal sound because it has balls.  I put them up there with Into Eternity because of their energy-inducing riffs, and emotion-invoking melodies.  The difference is that Into Eternity has a death metal side, and Pagan’s Mind does not.  I would really like to know how people can write music this complicated and this interesting.  There are so many facets to this music I hardly know how to describe it.  Sometimes I think the best review I can give a band is to say that I like them.  Were I to simply describe Pagan’s Mind’s music for you, you might say they sound like a dozen other bands.  Descriptions don’t always account for that spark of genius or creativity which makes a band stand out among their peers.  Let me just end by saying that it is surely one of the best albums of the year.  The only problem I see with this album is that it may be too good (if that is possible).  

 

SKULLSHIFTER  “Here in Hell”  (3 tracks.  15.6 mins).  DEMO.

Rating:  7.   Country of originNew Jersey, USA.    Release date: available now.

     Here in Hell sounds to me like a combination of Pantera and Pro-Pain, maybe with a touch of Tourniquet.  These three tunes are composed of thick, thrashy rhythms and commanding vocals.  What I hear is potential.  I think they have the right idea, but I would like to see the band develop a little more.  It is worth noting that the E.P. (or demo) was mixed by Simon Efemey of Paradise Lost and Love Like Blood fame.  I’m not sure what the connection is to this band, but the crisp production sounds like what you might expect from a producer like Andy Sneap or Devin Townsend.  Then again, maybe Efemey has mixed other heavy duty bands like this one.  In any event, he does a masterful job with this one.  Finally, the professional looking packaging lends the impression that this band wants to be taken seriously.  Check them out at:  www.skullshifter.com.

 

SCUM  “Gospels for the Sick”  (10 songs.  41.6 mins).  CANDLELIGHT USA

Rating:  n/a   Country of originNorway.    Release datedunno.                          

     Lots of people will be interested in SCUM because of its line up:  Casey Chaos (Amen), Samoth and Faust of Emperor, Cosmocrator (Mindgrinder), and Happy Tom (Turbonegro).  It also features guest appearances by Nocturno Culto (Darkthrone), Mortiis, and Knut Schreider (Turbonegro/Euroboys).  But frankly, I cannot imagine what caused these guys to come together to make a punk record.  Of course you know these guys by their reputation, they are not shabby musicians.  But this just isn’t my kind of music.  Those of you who like punk along with death metal will probably enjoy this CD a lot.  And it does have its death/black and thrash moments.  But for the most part it is punk.

 

JEFF SCOTT SOTO “Lost in Translation”  (13 tracks.  53.5 mins).  FRONTIER/LOCOMOTIVE

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

     Famous as a vocalist for Yngwe Malmsteen, Eyes, Takara, and Kuni, as well as vocal performances for Queen and others, Jeff Scott Soto is no stranger to fans of melodic rock.  This is his third solo album.  He wrote all of the tracks, sometimes collaborating with Neal Schon of Journey, and at other times collaborating with Gary Schutt (band member), Soto demonstrates that he is more than just a good vocalist.  He is an good songwriter as well.  This is not surprising considering the notables he has worked with.  Lost in Translation is a 13 song example of this talent.  Already recognized in Europe, he and his label hopes that America will warm up to his commercial approach to big rock.  Among the tracks of this album is a song called “If This is the End” (Quicktime video included).  It has the potential to be a top 10 single.  But for the most part Jeff and band rock pretty hard and lay down some good licks.

 

SUNN 0))) “Black One”  (7 tracks.  1.1 hrs).  SOUTHERN LORD.

Rating:  ?   Country of originUSA.    Release date:  available now.

     I’ve always had trouble quite knowing what to say about this band and their music.  It is what it is: understated, under produced sludge with some creepy vibes.  I know they get most of their press in the metal mags, and that people will often refer to them as doom, but obscurantist and creepy is a better set of descriptive terms in my opinion.  I mean, it is interesting to listen to—kind of like music for the “Deadites” in Army of Darkness—but I wonder how this band can actually tour?  And I do believe they are touring.  I think their motto should be, “pure ambient evil!”

 

SUPERMERCADO  “Scary Baby”  (11 tracks.  42.2 mins).  DARK STAR RECORDS.

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

     This is a hyperactive band with two vocalists, Matt Mercado of Mindbomb, Pivotman and Erotic Universe fame, and hip-hop rhymer Cliff “Killa Kat” Hunt.  They come across as a cross between Kidd Rock and David Lee Roth.  The music is very commercial, but heavy, and very upbeat.  It is obviously going for the crossover hard rock/hip hop crowd that Kidd Rock appeals to (just check out “Bitch @$$”).  This accounts for the chuncky guitars, funky bass, programmed sounds, rappable drum beats, and party atmosphere.  The label must have put some serious money into this album because the production is thick.  Songs include “Scary Baby,” “Canon Ball Dream,” “Turn it On” and “Supermercado” with its Elvis-esque vocals.  The fact that in his earlier career Matt Mercado’s band, Mindbomb, toured with the likes of Kiss and Halford and had tracks featured in films like Cliffhanger and Kalifornia says something about the potential of his new band to turn some heads.

 

TEXAS IS ON FIRE  “Shine, Set, Repeat”  (10 tracks.  ).  CRASH MUSIC

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

     If the name strikes you as being unusual, then rest assured that the whole CD is totally unlike anything you have ever heard.  These guys have a totally unique take on death metal from their own name to the song titles (e.g., “This Man’s Gotta Get a New Suit,” “Face it Girl, Prince Charming isn’t Coming,” and “This is Not a Boating Accident” to name a few).  Each song is a dizzying combination of chunky rhythms and screamed vocals.  I could do without the screaming, but the music is very different and very interesting.  They are totally unique as far as I am concerned.

 

TNT “All The Way to the Sun”  (12 tracks.  45 mins).  MAYHEM.

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

     I admit that I have not kept up with TNT over the years.  I remember them as a sort of big hair, glam rock band back in the 80’s.  But apparently Tony Harnell and company have not proven to be the fly-by-night, jump-on-the-bandwagon types that I thought.  But here we are twenty years later and TNT is still around, still making hard rock.  Rather than fade into 1980’s obscurity and being condemned to retirement as the subject of a VH-1 type documentary, these guys have stayed the course and stuck to their guns.  (Earlier in 2005 I was quite impressed with Harnell’s other project, Starbreaker).  So you know that if you purchase this disc you are in for some spunky hard rock featuring Harnell’s classic rock voice and Ronni Le Tekro’s flashy guitar riffs.  I would say that neither have lost their edge.  The title song, “All the Way to the Sun” is unforgettable, and the album features a rock version of “What a Wonderful World.”  This is actually my first TNT album, so I can’t say whether it is better or worse from their other recent albums.  But I can say that I remember their videos from MTV, and I know Starbreaker (see above).  And I would have to say that Harnell could probably beat up Bon Jovi! 

 

VILE  The New Age of Chaos”  (9 tracks.  29.9 mins).  UNIQUE LEADER RECORDS.

Rating:  9.   Country of originFlorida, USA.    Release date: October 18.

     From the first listen it became obvious that Vile are a very tight and competent death metal band in the Floridian vein.  The excellent production allows the listener to distinguish between guitar, bass, and drums.  The music the sort of unrelenting death metal assault one expects from Florida’s scene, with pulverizing double-bass blast beats ever present.  So what makes this album special?  It has to be the exceptional guitar work of Colin Davis.  His approach to playing death metal is similar to the way some play black metal.  He does churn out some heavy death metal riffs, but a lot of his playing is a single-note style which is too heavy to be called “melodic,” and makes me think of the way some black metal guitarists play really fast on one string at a time.  The difference is that a) while black metal guitarists tend to have a real shrill, treble oriented sound, Davis’ is very low end like death metal.  And 2) Davis doesn’t just play fast, his notes have a discernable pattern.  They sound really good.  I would not be surprised to find out that he has been taking some ideas from Blasphemer of Mayhem, because not only does he exhibit a complex approach to guitar, but he even plays full six-string chords at times.  The band as a whole also brings Mayhem to mind when the bass, drums, and guitars together play some ultra-tight militaristic sound riffs.  I think Unique Leader has an exceptional band on their hands here.

 

WIZARD  Magic Circle  (12 tracks.  59.1 mins).  LIMB MUSIC PRODUCTS.

Rating:  6.   Country of originGermany.    Release date: June 27, 2005.

     It’s been a while since we’ve heard from these guys—2001, I think.  Wizard are all about heavy metal attitude in its classic sense:  fast tempo German speed metal; lyrics about fire, blood, death, war, magic and sex; clean vocals and screaming; wailing guitar solos; and of course, the concluding tear-jerker ballad, “Don’t Say Goodbye.”  If Germany has its own version of “good ‘ol boys,” the Wizard would definitely fit in that category.  (Maybe they should call themselves the “Dukes of Hamburg”).  They sound like a cross between Manowar, Motorhead, and the Scorpions, all with a German accent. 

 

MY DOOM

Also, reviewers sometimes get burned out.  We need a break from listening to music in order to critique it, and just listen for pleasure.  So, I invested some cash in some doom CD’s that looked really promising (doom is my absolute favorite genre, but I get next to nothing in that area to review.)  I picked up the two most recent My Dying Bride albums and found them to be solid as always.  Songs of Darkness, Words of Light being the best of the two.  I thought it time to check out Pantheist since everyone raves about them.  Well, their recent album, Amartia (Greek, amartia, pronounced “ha-martia” due to a rough breathing mark on the alpha), starts out really strong and is well over an hour in length.  The song titles, based upon the seven deadly sins, and the iconic imagery, might interest my Greek Orthodox and Roman Catholic friends, but I think the band’s reputation is a bit overstated.  Though the album starts out strong, it gets repetitive and a bit predictable.  It is one thing to layer vocals and instruments into a wall of doomy sound, it is another to make music that is engaging, creative, and more than three chords.  Then I decided to check out some other of the doom bands from Finland and found two real treasures.  One is Swallowed by the Sun.  The vocals are too death/grunt for my taste, but the music is somber and melodic, but very, very heavy.  And the cover of Candlemass “Solitude” makes the CD priceless.  Among my favorites is the E.P. by Forest of Shadows.  This is the best new doom release I have heard in a long time.  Very well done; it is heavy, emotional, and has a variety of sounds.  Close to it, and maybe its equal, is Fallen’s “A Tragedy’s Bitter End.”  Fallen are from Norway, btw.  All great stuff.  Finally, from America, I got the Disembowelment two disc retrospective from Relapse.  Their combination of slow grindcore and doom, along with the obscure black metal type dungeon vocals is an atmospheric delight.  They remind me of Divine Eve and Dusk.  Dusk, btw, are one of my favorite bands, and they have one other release that came out recently, a split with Aphotic (whom I believe is made up of former members of Dusk).  This is also highly recommended. 

 

NEW LINKS: 

Check out Domestic Waste from Poland:  http://www.domesticwaste.metal.pl/index2.php?page=download

 

1