CRITICAL UPDATE 3, 2006

 

Between a rigorous study schedule, computer crashes, new computers and such, I have had a buttload of delays and destractions to getting these reviews on the internet.  My apologies to all who have been waiting.  As a result many of these reviews are short but from the heart.  As always I hope quality makes up for any of my deficiencies.  Thanks to my son, criticalnate, I now have a myspace mirror site which has some interesting things not available here.  You can find it at www.myspace.com/criticalmetal.  Finally, I have three copies of Green Carnation’s The Acoustic Verses to give away. Send an e-mail to criticaltom@juno.com . The first three will receive the CD.

 

Reminder: my rating system is totally arbitrary. An album is given a number between 1-10 based on my emotional and somewhat intellectual response to the music.

 

BANDS REVIEWS: THE ABOMINABLE IRON SLOTH, AGALLOCH, BAL SAGOTH, BEYOND FEAR, BLACK CRUCIFIXION, TOMMY BOLIN, DISSECTION, EDDIE LEEWAY’S HAUNTED HARDCORE, ELVENKING, ENFORSAKEN, ENOCHIAN CRESCENT, ENSLAVED, FLOTSAM AND JETSAM, GIANT SQUID, GORGOROTH, IHSAHN, JOTUNSPOR, JUNGLE ROT, LOUDNESS, MANNGARD, METAL CHURCH, MONSTER MAGNET, OBLOMOV, OF GRAVES AND GODS, PHARAOH, PLACE OF SKULLS, THE QUILL, SADUS, SAHG, SEVEN WITCHES, SHE SAID DESTROY, SINISTER, SPEED, STARKWEATHER, THINE EYES BLEED concert review, UPON INFLICTION, VOIVOD, WOLVERINE, YYRKOON.

REVIEWS

 

THE ABOMINABLE IRON SLOTH s/t” (9 tracks. 26.7 minutes). GOODFELLOW RECORDS.

Rating:  7.  Country of originUSARelease date:  available now.

Aside from the strange song titles and the funny name, The Abominable Iron Sloth have some chunky grooves that are bound to please a cross-section of stoner, doom, and hardcore fans. On the one hand their heavy as mud, sludgy riffs don’t drag, they push like Crowbar. Nevertheless, there is a wall-of-sound atmosphere to their music which causes me to think of Spaceboy and Monster Magnet. The vocals are what makes them sound hardcore (kind of like Leechmilk and similar bands). It is a pretty interesting album for several reasons, including the fact that (1) it is different from many, (2) it is doom/sludge and yet driving and powerful, and (3) incredibly strange songs like “Parasite Hilton and other Flaws Inherent to Wealth”.

 

AGALLOCH Ashes Against the Grain” (60 mins). THE END RECORDS.

Rating:  8.5.  Country of originUSARelease date: .

I always get excited when a new Agalloch CD arrives. I will never forget what a powerful experience it was when I first heard Pale Folklore. It was so fresh, so different, off the beaten path, dark, atmospheric, and so on. I started telling everybody about them. The same was true when Of Stone, Wind, and Pillor and then The Mantle came out. All great stuff. Over the four year interval since their last release I began to worry that there would not be another—and that would be a real tragedy! But alas, they are back with another wonderful album.

If I were to try and describe their sound I would first have to say that it is both familiar and unique. Then I would say that if you can remember the mood of the first three Opeth albums (Orchid, Mourningrise, My Arms, Your Hearse), Amorphis Tales from a Thousand Lakes, mixed with Viking metal like Vintersorg, and some obscure minimalistic noise, you would have a general idea of this band. The overall mood is bleak and dramatic in an inspiring way. I do not think I am overly stating the case that when you hear their music you may be able to imagine cold, snowy landscapes. I think they should call their style “bleak metal.”

Ashes Against the Grain is, in my opinion, a very successful continuation of Agalloch’s previous work. It is not a repeat, nor is it a huge step in a different direction. It is the result of four years of work. Unlike bands who churn out new albums every 12 months, this band takes their time. So like a fine wine this album has been fermenting until just the right time. I wish them a lot of success, but I hope we can keep them to ourselves because this is one band that is definitely too good for the mainstream.

 

BAL SAGOTH The Chthonic Chronicles” (12 tracks. 60 mins.) CANDLELIGHT USA.

Rating:  7.  Country of originU.K.  Release date:  available now.

Bal Sagoth are fun to listen to because they are, to me, a combination of Therion’s majestic sound (though keyboards take the place of orchestras), triumphalistic black metal chaos similar to Emperor or Dimmu Borgir, and epic fantasy metal like Battlelore (complete with narration). I don’t have all of their albums, but the ones I have are very exciting to listen to. The Chthonic Chronicles, like earlier BS albums, draw the listener in to a story. The music carries you along. If you lay back and close your eyes you can see trolls and fairies, demons, wizards, and great battle scenes. The downside is that the songs can begin to sound too much alike. But with song titles like “Six Score and Ten Oblations to a Malefic Avatar” how can you go wrong? If you have never heard Bal Sagoth, you do not know how metal can be both heavy and fun at the same time.

 

BEYOND FEAR DTO” (12 tracks. 47.33 mins). SPV

Rating:  7.5.  Country of originUSARelease date:  .

All I need to say is that Beyond Fear is the new band fronted by Tim “Ripper” Owens. To me, he has one of the most powerful voices in heavy metal. That is why he was able to rise out of relative obscurity to take over Rob Halford’s spot in Judas Priest (a fact that is very underappreciated). But you know that already, don’t you? How about Winter’s Bane? That was also a great album full of original material from Ripper’s pre-Priest era. And what about Iced Earth’s The Glorious Burden? Wasn’t Ripper’s vocal delivery on that album just what Iced Earth needed? So you can imagine my excitement about receiving this new album. Well, as far as vocals go, Rippers new band and new album totally kill. He sounds as good as ever. In terms of sound, the band cranks. Both of these elements get high scores. But in terms of songwriting, Beyond Fear is not as strong as I had hoped. Don’t get me wrong, there are some excellent riffs and some really interesting lyrics as well. But what is less impressive is the fact that a few songs on this album were obviously written to demonstrate Ripper’s ability to write and perform on a level with Judas Priest. Songs like “Scream Machine” and “The Faith” are examples of this. While they sound totally Priest-like in name and in sound, I think that overall Ripper is above this. He is an intelligent, honest, and straight-forward person. And when he writes songs about things he cares about (e.g., “And … You will Die”, “Dreams Come True”, etc.), he writes really well. Finally, don’t take this review as negative, Beyond Fear is a great listen, but I personally would like for Ripper to leave Judas Priest to the past and focus on his own style.

 

Click here for the BEYOND FEAR INTERVIEW

 

BLACK CRUCIFIXION Faustian Dreams” (9 tracks. 35.5 mins). PARAGON RECS

Rating:  8.  Country of originFinlandRelease date:  available now.

Irony. Though Black Crucifixion should probably be labeled a gothic band in the vein of Type O Negative and Moonspell, this new album sounds like a more legitimate bid at the early Celtic Frost sound than the new release by Celtic Frost. Unlike CF’s lackluster 2006 release (“monotonous theist”), Faustian Dreams hearkens back to the days of To Megatherion and especially Into the Pandemonium, this is especially so in vocalist Forn’s imitation of Tom G. Warrior’s moaning vocal style (as heard on Pandemonium). The influence of early Frost on this band’s new gothic direction makes for a very interesting listen. The more I hear it the better I like it.

 

TOMMY BOLIN  “Whips and Roses I”  (10 tracks.  78 mins).  SPV.

Rating:  7.5.  Country of originUSARelease date:  June 27.

          Okay, so I don’t know everything.  I had never heard of Tommy Bolin.  Only being moderately acquainted with Deep Purple, I didn’t know he replaced Richie Blackmore in 1975.  Apparently his funky American style did not sit well with die hard Purple fans, thus his stint in the band was brief.  But at the same time he had also produced a solo album and maintained a solo career.  He produced another solo album, toured, and died of a drug overdose.  The story is so typically 1970’s.  And so is his style.  Back in those days guitar effects were minimal and musicians had to depend more on musicianship than tricks, and like a lot of 1970’s guitar heroes, Tommy Bolin was a consummate musician as is demonstrated on this CD.  Thanks to SPV this 1970s guitar meister who collaborated with such legends as David Coverdale and Glenn Hughes will not completely disappear from memory.  With songs like “Fandango,” “Wild Dogs,” “Savannah Woman,” and others, fans of classic guitar rock have some new old music to enjoy.  As to his style, people who like Satriani and Vai’s funkier moments will totally “dig it man”.

 

DISSECTIONReinkaws” (11 tracks. 43 mins). THE END RECORDS.

Rating:  7.  Country of originSwedenRelease date:  Available now.

This band is legendary, you know. Hailed as among the founders of the Gothenburg scene, but also troubled with inner band strife and incarceration. This new album was supposed to mark the triumphant return of this highly praised and highly criticized band after an 11 year absence. But alas, with the conclusion of the 2006 tour Dissection will be disbanded. Reinkaws is musically a bit surprising, but not in a bad way. The music has lost any Gothenburg sound and has a colder, spacey sound which compliments the lyrical content, which is both astral and satanic. But like a number of other reviewers I have to question whether one should praise or support the music of a convicted murderer, especially when the lyrical content espouses murder and hatred. One might play it off as fantasy except for the fact that Jon Nödtveidt, who basically is Dissection, is, as I have already pointed out, a convicted murderer. Maybe he really believes his own lyrics.

 

ELVENKING The Winter Wake” (11 tracks. 51.6 mins). CANDLELIGHT USA

Rating:  7.5.  Country of originGermanyRelease date:  Available now.

This is my first time to hear Elvenking. Normally I expect to hear this kind of music from Napalm Records or Limb Music Products. But with Elvenking Candlelight gets into epic fantasy metal. Fans of Battlelore and Rhapsody who do not know this band should give them a listen. The Winter Wake is basically a metal opera that leans on the power metal side, though there are choral moments and orchestrated parts. Avantasia comes to mind as another point of comparison. In addition to the traditional power metal instrumentation (guitars, drums, bass, light keyboards), the most stand out additional instrument is the violin. It carries most of the melodies and often doubles the guitars. And then there is “On the Morning Dew”, a ballad with Blind Guardian like qualities. All in all it is a solid album, but I think typical of the genre.

 

ENFORSAKEN Sinner’s Intuition” (8 tracks. 38.8 mins). CRASH MUSIC.

Rating:  9.5.  Country of originUSARelease date:  Available now.

Okay, you know that certain labels have a sound associated with them. When you say “death metal” and “Crash Music” in the same sentence you have a particular sound in mind—or at least I do. And, I must add, that there is a certain level of quality you come to expect from this label. Well, as far as I am concerned, Enforsaken are at the top of the list. They have “the sound” but they also have a lot to distinguish them. First, they do have an uncompromising brutality characteristic of their genre. This is expected. But above and beyond that, they have some excellent musicianship uncharacteristic of their genre. What I mean can be understood via a question: when you listen to a brutal death metal album, can you distinguish the bass guitar from the six strings? Usually not. Here there is a clearly defined bass which operates like a bass guitar and not a shadow of the six stringers (folks, this is musically correct). Kudos to Eric Kava. Next, are the vocals. While Steven Sagala gives us a gruff death metal growl about 95% of the time, he also sings in some spots. Also, while being gruff, he is understandable. Another plus. Drummer Dan Swanson does not limit himself to double-bass and cymbal work, he shows himself at home on the skins (meaning that he could play another genre of metal as well). And finally, Guitarists Joe DeGroot and Steve Stell clearly know how to play punishing death metal riffs and also excellent diverse solos. This band is a prince among death metal albums. They clearly go for the heavier stuff, but also temper it with a real understanding of musicality. They even add a touch of thoughtfulness to their lyrics, though they are absolutely death metal type lyrics. This is definitely one of the top death metal albums of the year.

 

ENOCHIAN CRESCENT The Black Church Psalmbook (9 tracks. 37.2 mins.).

Rating:  8.  Country of originFinlandRelease date:  Available now.

The Black Church Psalmbook could rightly be subtitled “Church Boys Gone Bad” because it seems rather clear to me that at least some of the members are quite familiar with church from the lyrics and arrangement of this CD. For instance, the nine songs are divided in a liturgical pattern: Songs 1-3 under the heading “I. Our Life in Wormwood Christ”; songs 4-6 under “II. Our Life in His Kingdom”; and 7-9, “Our Life in Servitude”. The three-fold structure with three subpoints—in this case, songs—should not be lost on the reader. I could say a lot more but this example will suffice. What it reveals is that Enochian Crescent have purposefully crafted their latest album in a manner similar to the black mass. Usually it is hard to take bands with evil lyrics seriously, but usually a band has not worked so hard to create a “worship program” so thoroughly antithetical to Christian worship. I don’t mean to overanalyze, but it seems to me that this warrants an interview. Hopefully I will be able to arrange one.

Musically this album is great. Enochian Crescent’s style is a cross between mid-paced black metal (no keyboards), some traditional heavy metal touches, and death metal. They have been compared to …And Oceans by some, I would assume more due to their weird words and song titles than musical style. They conjure up comparisons to Gorgoroth, Vreid, Impaled Nazarene, Agalloch, old Bathory, and occasionally classic Celtic Frost. Musically there isn’t a dull moment on this CD, and it all holds together well. It is both primitive and polished.

 

ENSLAVEDRuun” (8 tracks. 46 mins.) CANDLELIGHT USA.

Rating:  9.  Country of originNorwayRelease date:  05/02/06.

Ever progressing, ever morphing, Enslaved has to be one of the most successful bands at maintaining their essence while progressing. With Ruun Enslaved sound ever more progressive while maintaining a decidedly Norwegian (dare I say “black metal”) sound. Imagine how Enslaved would sound like playing Rush and Voivod (especially Angel Rat) covers and you will get a feel for this stunning album. Of course the sound is not too different to that of Below the Lights and the award winning Isa.

It may seem like Enslaved have become the latest “bandwagon” band, the one that everyone is supposed to say nice things about in order to sound important. But the truth is, this band has been out there for a long time doing their thing, not bowing to the trends. Now that the Dimmu Borgir’s and Mayhem’s have kind of lost their adolescent intrigue, people are now starting to warm up to Enslaved’s more “grown-up” sound. I thought Frost was a cool album, Mardraum intriguing, but with these last three Enslaved have become absolutely engrossing.

 

Click here for the ENSLAVED INTERVIEW

 

EVENT HORIZON “Naked on the Black Floor (9 tracks. 43 mins.). CRUZ DEL SUR.

Rating:  7.5.  Country of originItalyRelease date:  available now.

Event Horizon is an Italian power metal band with a contemporary edge. They can be compared to number of acts signed by Limb Music Products (e.g., Gothic Knights). Catchy riffs and tenor male vocals are the basis of this band. They have, however, some electronic under girding which is not omnipresent, but rather fades in and out like In Flames has been using since Clayman came out.

 

FLOTSAM AND JETSAM Live in Japan” DVD. CRASH MUSIC.

Rating:  7.5.  Country of originUSARelease date:  available now.

Flotsam and Jetsam have managed to stake out a lengthy career as America’s lesser known thrash masters. If you know this band you have an idea of what a “greatest hits” collection this concert DVD is. If not, it is at least a great introduction to the band. The sound and video quality is excellent and the band is on top of their game. Songs include “No Place for Disgrace”, “Escape from Within”, “Hammerhead”, and “Doomsday for the Deceiver” as well as the music video for “Straight to Hell”.

 

GIANT SQUID Metridium Fields” (8 tracks. 1 hr). THE END RECORDS.

Rating:  9.5.  Country of originUSARelease date:  August 22.

Let me introduce to you what may get my vote for best album of 2006. Metridium Fields is simply unbelievable. Founded by a husband-wife team Aaron and Aurielle Gregory (both play guitars and sing), the musicality of this band is a rare treat, but definitely worthy of the same label that houses other genius bands like Virgin Black and Sculptured. When listening to this band one is tempted to compare them to bands like Madder Mortem, Sculptured, Autumn Tears, and—believe it or not—System of a Down. What a combination, eh? You’d better believe it. They can be heavy and harsh and they can be moody and bluesy. The mythological and nautical themes may also call to mind Mastodon. Needless to say, I think very highly of this disc and hope you will to.

 

GORGOROTH Ad Majorem Sathanas Gloriam (8 tracks. 31.56 mins). CANDLELIGHT USA.

Rating:  7.5.  Country of originNorwayRelease date:  July 25.

The newest from Gorgoroth is classic Gorgoroth: a harsh Norwegian soundtrack packed with satanic and Nietzschean themes. Over the years this band has taken their sound from rather average black metal and refined it into something brutal and devastating. This, their newest and arguably tightest album, displays a brutality and heaviness only equaled by elite black metal bands like Immortal, Marduk, and Dark Funeral. There isn’t really much more to say. If you know their music you will be quite pleased with Ad Majorem Sathanas Gloriam. If you don’t know their music—beware! It is chilling.

 

IHSAHN  “The Adversary”  (9 tracks.  50 mins).  CANDLELIGHT USA

Rating:  6.5.  Country of originNorwayRelease date:  Available now.

          I found myself having very mixed reactions to this CD.  The reasons are many and complex.  Where to begin?  First of all, it is an improvement in my opinion over Prometheus: the Discipline of Fire and Demise, the final Emperor album.  Second, it exhibits Ihsahn’s talent for complex layered music.  Third, it expands his range with some occasionally softer, more often prog-metal stylings.  But overall I found myself wanting to like it more than I actually did.  I have seen some low ratings on this album which I imagine are motivated by the disappointment of Emperor fans hoping for another Anthems … or IX Equilibrium.  Well, it ain’t gonna happen.  I believe that era is over.  And I think that this is the reason Emperor is no more (they had become a Ihsahn project with Samoth and Trym serving as studio musicians).  And Ihsahn could only reproduce the same formulas he had created on IX Equilibrium but they became repetitive and overly complex.  As for this new direction, I welcome Ihsahn’s foray into newer territory with the hope that in time he will create something which I will find more enjoyable.  This album is, in my opinion, a step in that direction, but I do not consider him to have arrived at it yet.  This doesn’t mean that the album doesn’t have some interesting moments—it does, especially the song “And He Shall Walk in Empty Space.” 

 

JOTUNSPOR Gleipnirs Smeder (7 tracks 35.2 mins). CANDLELIGHT USA.

Rating:  8.  Country of originNorwayRelease date:  July 25.

Jotunspor touches on the “ethnic” in black metal. The name, title, and lyrics are all Norwegian and Old Norse. I suppose one could argue that the new wave of black metal was born in Norway therefore there is no need to use the term “ethnic”. However, the genre has become so broad that it will not do to simply refer to this as “black metal”. Jotunspor is for fans of what is Norwegian and black like Burzum. As already mentioned, the lyrics are in Norwegian and Old Norse, but also, the music is a combination of primitive black metal and dark ambient tunes. It is the work of two black metal notables, King Ov Hell (bassist for Gorgoroth), and Kvitrafn, former drummer for Gorgoroth. Vocals are tortured, dungeon screams, while the music is, for the most part, fast and shrill. But the band occasionally touches on Enslaved, especially on the title song.

 

JUNGLE ROT War Zone” (11 tracks. 31.9 mins.) CRASH MUSIC.

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

In my last update I voiced (in written form) my approval of Crash Music’s signing Jungle Rot and re-issuing their Darkness Foretold E.P. Now I am happy to preview their newest album, War Zone, their fifth official release and the second on Crash. What we find here is what Jungle Rot has become known for: traditional American death metal. In fact, everything about this CD is just what you would expect from music to lyrics to artwork. No surprises and no letdowns.

 

LOUDNESSRockshocks (16 tracks. 1 hr. 19 mins). CRASH MUSIC.

Rating:  7.  Country of originJapanRelease date:  available now.

If Britain has Judas Priest and Iron Maiden, and Germany Accept and Helloween, then Japan has Loudness, whose sound is a cross between power and classic metal. These guys have been around for a good long time and have had fluctuating success getting their music into the United States. Perhaps their most successful venture was in the mid-1980’s when Thunder in the East was released. The fist-pumping anthem, “Crazy Nights,” is to this day one of my favorites. But despite the success of that tune (which was later covered by Therion on The Crowning of Atlantis), Loudness’s music has not been that easy to get domestically until recently. Well, the band is not dead, but they aren’t willing to let some of their classics remain in obscurity for the uninformed, or dated for old fans. What they have done here is take thirteen of their greatest hits and re-record them, thus bringing them up-to-date. The CD also includes three bonus tracks. Best of all is Akira Takasaki’s rapid riffing which is reminiscent of George Lynch’s (Dokken, Lynch Mob) technique. My personal favorite is still “Crazy Nights”, but the entire CD is not to be missed.

 

MANNGARD “Circling Buzzards (). CANDLELIGHT USA.

Rating:  7.  Country of originNorwayRelease date:  Available now.

It is always interesting to note when a band has based their lyrical concept on some form of literature. In this case, William Faulkner. It would also be interesting to know how Faulkner would have reacted their interpretation. Oh well … So Manngard are a Norwegian death/hardcore band, a rarity. Also rare is the 12 string bass played by their bassist, though I am not sure if it was utilized throughout. There are elements of black metal as well (mostly in the vocals, occasionally in the riffing), you would expect such from Norway, but on the whole, the band doesn’t really fit the stereotypical Norwegian sound. I was prepared to not like this CD but actually found it interesting. The more I listened to it, the more I appreciated the excellent death style riffing and drumming and was mostly able to overlook the usually hardcore styled vocals.

 

METAL CHURCH  “A Light in the Dark”  (11 tracks.  60 mins).  SPV

Rating:  9.  Country of originUSARelease date:  June 27.

          I don’t think Metal Church has sounded better than they do here.  There aren’t really any surprises with the 10 new songs on this album, but I would have to say that they are as good as they get. When a band like Metal Church has been around for this long they can either become monotonous or they can try and capture new moments which recall the excitement of their earlier days. I definitely believe that to be the case here.

 

MONSTER MAGNET “25 Tab” (4 tracks. 56.2 mins). SPV USA

Rating:  5.  Country of originUSARelease date:  out now.

I believe this is a re-issue, but I am not sure. I find Monster Magnet’s music interesting, but when a song goes on for 32+ minutes like the title song here does with the same exact bass line, I begin to understand why people need to be “mellow” in order to listen to it. But I do appreciate the 70’s classic rock, Black Sabbath and Steppenwolf (spelling?) riffage. But I can also appreciate the fact that there are probably a lot of people out there who can appreciate this band more than I can. My disc only has four tracks and shows no sign of the listed bonus track “Spine of God (Live)”. I am not sure if that is because my disc is a promo, or maybe the song is not tracked.

 

MONSTER MAGNET “Spine of God” (4 tracks. 56.2 mins). SPV USA

Rating:  7.  Country of originUSARelease date:  out now.

Also a re-issue, I believe. Spine of God is more accessible than 25 Tab, calling to mind bands like Kyuss, Goatsnake, and Place of Skulls. MM’s 1970’s driven rock is, I think, a fair representation of that sound. One can imagine hippies, drugs, and motorcycles—or VW vans!—riding in the California desert while listening to this stuff. Fans of acid, trippy rock who still kneel at the alter of Hendrix and Cream will find it a worshipful experience.

 

OBLOMOV Mighty Cosmic Dances” (9 tracks. ). DEEPSEND RECORDS.

Rating:  9.  Country of originCzech RepublicRelease date:  Available now.

At least once a year I will receive a CD from an Eastern European band which totally excites me. This year it is Oblomov’s Mighty Cosmic Dances. As the CD title may suggest, there is the element of spacey keyboards, and also programmed drums, but the sound is intense, fast black metal. Bands like Aurora Borealis and early Arcturus are good points of comparison. Along with the use of spacey effects, the band also makes use of other “non-traditional” heavy metal instruments such as the saxophone (real) and synthesized sounds like bassoon and oboe. This gives the band another dimension and inspires comparisons with Japan’s Sigh. The space/metaphysical themes of the songs cause me to think of Vintersorg and Borknagar. Needless to say, any band which can inspire comparisons to the likes of Arcturus, Sigh, Vintersorg, and Borknagar are worth checking out.

 

PHARAOH “The Longest Night (10 tracks. 53 minutes). Cruz Del Sur.

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

The latest from Pharaoh reminds me a great deal of Iced Earth’s Night of the Stormrider album. It is a mixture of classic power metal, epic, and a little thrash (but not nearly as much as Iced Earth did). I would call it a blend of Iced Earth and Iron Maiden, though Swedish and German power metal bands are their nearest cousins. It has been about two or three years since their last release and it sounds to me like the band has spent the time upping the level of their songwriting.

 

PLACE OF SKULLS “The Black is Never Far (13 tracks. 45.9 mins). EXILE ON MAINSTREAM.

Rating:  8.5.  Country of originUSARelease date:  available now.

This CD has “classic” written all over it. I enjoyed Place of Skulls’ last release, Nailed, but The Black is Never Far has the band in top form. I can think of a dozen or so other bands that play this kind of music, but I cannot think of another album that I like as much. Now if you were to ask me what it is that makes this album so great I would have to say that it just is. I think the songs are just great. Are they different? Not really. But in the course of a band’s career, it will make some albums which are more likeable than others. Such is the case here. To me their music is best described as 70’s rock meets stoner doom. 70’s rock is great because bands just played guitar music. Many of those bands had an epic song here or there. Later metal bands have occasionally caught on to this. One good example is Amorphis My Kantele. And I think that is what I really like about this album. Yes, it is definitely more metal than 70’s rock, but the spirit and soul of 70’s epic rock pervades the album. I guess another way of thinking about it is that all the songs are filled with purpose, and none of them seem geared towards radio play.

But I think this album is exceptional also because of the fact that it is a concept album. Without lyrics I cannot put the whole thing together, but if song titles are any indication, then all is fairly clear. Song one is “Prisoner’s Creed” and the last song is called “Changed Heart.” In between are songs like “Darkest Hour”, “We the Unrighteous”, and “Lookin’ for a Reason”. The final song, by the way, quotes heavily from the New Testament book/letter of James, and thus “Changed Heart” is an appropriate title. While the album is called The Black is Never Far, clearly there is a light at the end of the tunnel. Victor Griffin and company have, in the final analysis, given us a grand expression of doom musically, and hope lyrically. And like I said, it has “classic” written all over it.

 

THE QUILL “In Triumph” (12 tracks. 51.75 mins). SPV USA.

Rating:  7.  Country of originSwedenRelease date:  out now.

If find it difficult to settle on how to describe bands like this. Is it stoner rock or classic rock? The boundary is a little hard to determine. What do you say about a band that might fit in a category somewhere between Cathedral and Guns N’ Roses and who could tour with the likes of Clutch or Queens of the Stoneage? I guess you could begin by saying that they have a broad appeal. The music is high energy, blues driven, and generally fast, but not what I would call heavy. It has a kind of live sound, meaning that the album sounds like the whole band recorded it at once rather than individually (I feel the same about Mastodon’s Leviathan album). The band look and the song topics call to mind 80’s metal and worship of Whitesnake and Hendrix. This is one of those bands that if you happen to like the bands I have compare them to, you will likely get into this album.

 

SADUS Out for Blood” (11 tracks. 55.6 mins). MASCOT/THE END RECORDS.

Rating:  8.  Country of originUSARelease date:  out now.

My first impression of Out for Blood was that Sadus were trying to out destruct Destruction. And I thought they had pretty much succeeded in doing so. I think this album is a great 80’s thrash album. Production-wise it sounds like the reconstituted Destruction—thrash with death production. But then again, we are talking about Sadus, an American thrash band with a twenty plus year history and plenty of critical acclaim of their own. So we can mention briefly their similarity to the European thrash bands like Destruction, Sodom, and Coroner on the one hand, and the Bay Area sounds of Testament and Slayer on the other. Still, Sadus are a band with their own unique fingerprint on the thrash genre and it is evident here once again. There are some great riffs on this album, and some very clever lyrics (especially “Sick”). I think overall I can say that the album is solid and displays the band’s creativity and energy though the genre is pretty well defined.

 

SAHG Sahg I” (10 tracks. 48.3 mins). CANDLELIGHT USA.

Rating:  9.  Country of originNorwayRelease date:  Available now.

Sahg is an exceptional new project featuring members of Gorgoroth, Manngard, and Audrey Horne. Sounds like a strange combination, but it works very well. Olav Iverson on guitar, vocals (Audrey Horne, Enslaved), Thomas Totthagen on guitar, King (formerly of Gorgoroth) on bass, and Kvitrafn (Gorgoroth) on drums. But whether you admire these bands or not, you cannot know what Sahg is like simply from knowing where these guys come from. This album is like nothing any of them have done. Sahg is a 70’s rock, semi-doomy, band which fans of Grand Magus, Place of Skulls, and Abdullah will greatly appreciate. For me, bands like this are either very interesting or boring. Sahg are definitely in the “interesting” category.

 

SEVEN WITCHES “Second War in Heaven (14 tracks. 57 mins). CRASH MUSIC.

SEVEN WITCHES City of Lost Souls (11 tracks. 50 mins). CRASH MUSIC.

Rating:  7.  Country of originUSARelease date:  available now.

This re-issue of Seven Witches’ first two albums are a must have for fans of 1980’s inspired American heavy metal. Aggressive but also commercial. Occasionally the band reaches even further back to the 1970s for a classic rock sound (e.g., “Nightmare (the Devil Inside)”). These albums have been a rare commodity until now. Crash Music is releasing these two albums to coincide with the release of their sixth album (Amped) released earlier this year by Candlelight USA. Still not sure? If you enjoy early Iced Earth (minus the galloping riffs), Metal Church, Krokus, Warrior and the like, you will enjoy this. Second War in Heaven includes 3 demo versions, and City of Lost Souls features an additional hidden track.

 

SHE SAID DESTROY “Time Like Vines” (10 tracks. 45 mins). CANDLELIGHT USA.

Rating:  7.  Country of originNorwayRelease date:  Available now.

I really like the technical guitar playing of this death metal album, it reminds me of a little known Australian band called Ethereal Scourge. But the deeply muffled, guttural vocals with largely indistinguishable lyrics and shrieks I don’t care for. The musicianship, in fact, is quite good in all respects and I would say this band will have a great fan base if they do not already. But the vocals belong in a B movie or a mall-core band.

 

SINISTER “Afterburner (8 tracks. 44.9 mins). CANDLELIGHT USA.

Rating:  8.  Country of origin: The NetherlandsRelease date:  available now.

Despite their break-up in 2003, this brutal death metal band from Holland must have just needed a break. Afterburner finds them reunited, reinvigorated, and punishing us once again. They sound fresh and energetic. It is quite a satisfying album. If there is any downside to this album it is the same thing that all brutal death metal albums have in common, non-stop brutality. On the other hand, unlike many brutal death metal albums, Sinister doesn’t cheat this listener on length. This full-length is really full-length and not an E.P. masquerading as a full-length. Two of their songs (“Presage of the Mindless” and “Flesh of the Servant”) clock in at over 7 and ½ minutes each.

 

SPEEEDPowertrip Pigs (11 tracks. 40.1 mins). CRASH MUSIC

Rating:  7.  Country of originUSARelease date:  available now.

Speed is New Jersey styled hard rock featuring Jack Frost on guitars. For fans of what Skid Row would sound like if they were a little bit heavier. They aren’t necessarily fast per se, but they are another incarnation of Frost’s aggressive commercial style. Obviously fans of Seven Witches will be interested, as will all who worship aggressive commercial American metal.

 

STARKWEATHER Croatoan (8 tracks. 54.1 mins.). CANDLELIGHT USA.

Rating:  8.  Country of originUSARelease date:  Available now.

This highly acclaimed and very hard to categorize band from Philly is often lumped in with hardcore which, I assume, is partially deserved. However, the band really defies simple categorization simply because they incorporate such a variety of sounds and techniques into their music. They could actually be classified in a number of other categories as well. The fact that they often play very slow, crushing music brings with it the temptation to throw out words like doom, but by this I mean doom in the Crowbar (once referred to as grindcore, btw) vein. And vocal-wise, while reasonably thought of as hardcore, the gruffer sections could fit black metal. There may be more than one vocalist—I tried in vain to locate such information on the internet—because the range of vocal styles range from folk (clean and weird) to shrill (often more so than hardcore, much like black metal). And of course, the diversity of vocal styles is commensurate with musical diversity, as I have already hinted. Some people will find the diversity unsettling, but I think that they are refreshingly different and the music is interesting. I tend to find hardcore boring, but this is not boring.

 

THINE EYES BLEED concert review. On Tuesday, June 27, criticalnate and I descended to the Hi-Fi Buys Coca Cola Amphitheatre in the Atlanta area for the Unholy Alliance tour. I heard that the band first put forth the idea of opening the tour as a joke but then actually got added to the bill. Be that truth or fiction, the band showed up ready to play. Of all the bands in attendance, none more obviously wanted to impress the crowd than Thine Eyes Bleed. Knowing of course that they would only be playing to about a fourth of the crowd that would eventually show up did not seem to bother the band at all. During their brief set—I believe it was 30 minutes—they managed to play about six songs. Two of them were new ones. The guys in the band deserve some credit because like I hinted already, they played to the crowd as if they were the headliners—remember that they didn’t even have a road crew. Of course we enjoyed Children of Bodom (good but redundant), Mastodon (a hometown favorite), and Slayer (some sloppy moments by Jeff Hanneman), but we appreciate TEB for representing the true underground.

 

UNEXPECT In a Flesh Aquarium” (10 tracks. 1 hr). THE END RECORDS.

Rating:  8.5.  Country of originUSARelease date:  available now.

We’ve all heard that there is a very fine line between insanity and genius. It could not be more true than here, for when you hear this music, you will think that the brains behind this music are either quite insane, or rather highly gifted. Is it opera, Broadway musical, or three-ring circus? Or how about a combination of all three. It features a chorus of voices: harsh male, chorus, and a quite beautiful operatic female lead. She sounds exactly like the soprano on Believer’s Dimensions album. In fact, the complexity of the music here is definitely reminiscent of Believer’s radical rhythms. Which subgenres of heavy metal are represented in their sound? Well, here’s my opinion: progressive, progressive death, black, acid, opera—think Spiral Architect meets Primus meets Mayhem (Blasphemer era) in terms of music, Asmegin musically and vocally, and perhaps Nightwish vocally. Perhaps it is best to describe this album as a heavy metal “Nightmare Before Christmas” kind of soundtrack.

 

UPON INFLICTION To Escape is to Suffer” (11 tracks. 35.9 mins). CRASH MUSIC.

Rating:  8.5.  Country of originUSARelease date:  Available now.

This is what I would call a text-book death metal CD. First are the crushing original riffs. Second is the crisp production. I am quite distressed about the fact that I have misplaced this disc, because I want to hear it again. It is definitely one of the best death metal CD’s coming from one of the premier death metal labels in the U.S.

VOIVOD Katorz (10 tracks. 45 mins). THE END RECORDS.

Rating:  9.  Country of originUSARelease date:  out now.

I hope that Voivod will continue on in some form, but it is with Katorz that an era comes to an end with the passing of guitarist Denis “Piggy” D’amour. Remarkably, his guitar parts for this album were put together with demos he and the band had made before entering the studio. You might not have figured that out if I hadn’t told you, because the band has done an incredible job of embellishing the material with their respective voice, bass, and drums. Don’t misunderstand, these are not rambling guitar riffs were are talking about, but completely written songs from pre-production demos. And these songs, according to the band, were conceived in the excitement which followed their last tour when the band felt energized and refreshed. It is hard to know if these songs would have been different if Piggy would have lived to re-record them in a studio with a producer. But hearing them in this form, I imagine that they could have sounded the same. The highlight of the CD is the advance release track “X-Stream” which features Voivod at their finest high speed groove. But also to be found on the album are the bands quirky, often strange, cosmic and punk influenced metal. It is a great album. And though I am sure he didn’t plan it this way, it is a great final chapter for Piggy. RIP.

 

VREID “Black Brigade (8 tracks. 42.2 mins). CANDLELIGHT USA.

Rating:  8.5.  Country of originNorwayRelease date:  Available now.

Even though one is tempted to compare Vreid to early Bathory because they have an excellent capacity for recreating Quorthon’s primitive sound (riffs and drum beats), this band does have a trademark sound all their own. They proved it last year with Kraft and have done it again with Pitch Black Brigade. Along with their fierce black metal anthems, the band also has found a way to do minimalistic electronic sounds which carry the same somber mood.

 

WOLVERINE Still” (9 tracks. 52 mins.) CANDLELIGHT USA.

Rating:  7.  Country of originSwedenRelease date:  Available now.

When The Window Purpose came out a few years ago I was entranced by this band. It is not often that a prog-metal band inspires me as much as that album did. The depth of emotion and musical power was quite exceptional in my opinion. Their next album, Cold Light of Monday, never made its way to me. With this album Wolverine has maintained the emotion I remember from TWP, but not quite the intensity. Still moves the band to more commercial waters. It reminds me a bit of the Gathering, only with male vocals. In other words, mood is very important. This is not to say that there aren’t moments of intensity, there are. But these moments are not as heavy as their earlier stuff in my opinion. Still it grows on you and is appropriate music for the more reflective moments in your day.

 

YYRKOON “Unhealthy Opera (13 tracks. 48.5 mins). OSMOSE/THE END

Rating:  9.  Country of originFranceRelease date:  available now.

I guess words like “powerful” and “brutal” can be a little overused, but what other words are adequate for describing Yyrkoon’s punishing death metal sound? It is as merciless as death metal can possibly be. All this is tempered with some very nice soloing. At times they remind me of Carcass, but they are more brutal and less commercial than later Carcass. Yyrkoon do have their occasional mellow side. Temple of Infinity”, for instance, is a somber, melodic instrumental which reminds me a bit of Alex Skolnik’s work on Testament’s The New Order album. This is followed, of course, by another blasting death metal crusher, “Abnormal Intrusion”. So, for the second year in a row (I don’t have their first three albums) Yyrkoon deliver a powerful and exciting death metal album which expertly blends brutality and musicality. This French band deserves some real recognition here in the U.S.

 

ZYKLON Disintegrate” (10 tracks. 45 mins.) CANDLELIGHT USA.

Rating:  8.  Country of originNorwayRelease date:  available now.

With their third release Zamoth and company remain consistently focused on brutally heavy, riff-oriented death metal. No fan of Zyklon will be negatively surprised or disappointed with what they find here. Zamoth, unlike some heavy metal musicians, has done his experimenting with other bands (e.g., Mindgrinder, SCUM, etc.) so that this band will always be what the fans have come to expect. Enjoyable, but I will say that Mindgrinder is my favorite Zamoth project. The only other thing to mention here is that I, like others, will voice my disapproval at the band’s choice of name. It is one thing to name a band after an instrument of death (e.g., Iron Maiden), it is another to take the name of a chemical used for the purpose of genocide. Regardless of the band’s intentions, it comes across as approving of the use of Zyklon B by the Nazis. The use of this name is in bad taste to say the least.

 

 

 

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