UPDATE 1 2007


Many of these reviews should have been put up a while ago.  I try to write really good reviews, but I am also a full-time grad student at a university that has been labeled “new ivy” which demands so much of my time and energy.  I am also a family man.  Juggling these responsibilities have been difficult.  Hopefully the results below are worth the wait.  I have now enlisted the help of my firstborn, Criticalnate, who is well into his teen years and also a metal aficionado in his own right.  He helped me with a few of the reviews below (he often has input anyway), and he totally wrote the Moonspell review.  He did a good job.  We can expect more from him in the future.


One note, I have attempted here to be even more critical with my reviews.  They are—like all other reviewers’—still inescapably idiosyncratic.  No matter how scientific we may try to be about our reviews, it always comes down to “loved it” or “hated it” (Guys on Film, In Living Color). 


Reviewed this time:  Ambition, Anderson Laine Readman Project, Autumn Black, Axel Rudi Pell, Bible of the Devil, Blanc Faces, Chain Collector, Clark, Dead Man in Reno, Destruction, Estradasphere, Eyes of Ligea, Hostility, Infernum, Insomnium, Keep of Kalessin, Kreator, Moonspell, My Dying Bride, Tony O’Hora, Place Vendome, xRepresentx, Saxon, Seventh Cross, Skyforger, Society 1, Soul’s Harbor, Stonegard, Suffocate Faster, Tenebre, Thy Disease, Time Requiem, Torchbearer, Tristania, Vader, Unleashed, Xashur.



AMBITION s/t  (12 tracks.  57.6 mins).  LOCOMOTIVE

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

          If 80/90’s rock is your thing … if bands like Mister Mister, Whitesnake, Kansas, Foreigner, and Toto make you wax nostalgic, then you will love this trip down memory lane.  Instigated by Frontiers Records president, Serafino Perugino, this album is a study in AOR.  It features the smooth rock crooning voice of Thom Griffin (Trillion) and features Fabrizio Grossi (Glenn Hughes, Starbreaker, etc) as producer with Joey Carbone as co-songwriter.  I can appreciate the professionalism of this album, its musicians, producers, and Griffin, but I must admit that the lyrics—being rather cliché—detract somewhat from the experience.


ANDERSEN LAINE READMAN PROJECT  Three” (10 tracks.  36.5 mins).  LOCOMOTIVE.

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

          Composed primarily of Royal Hunt keyboardist Andre Andersen and two vocalists, Paul Laine of Danger Danger and David Readman of Pink Cream 69, and of course augmented with Bjarke Hopen (guitar), Kenny Lubcke (background vocals), Kaj Laege (drums), the Andersen Laine Readman Project deliver 10 tracks of


AUTUMN BLACK  Beneath the Shadows” (12 tracks. 38.4 mins).  THROWDOWN RECORDS.

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

          Autumn Black joins the onslaught of modern metal bands who lean towards thrash and Swedish death metal stylings in the vein of In Flames minus keyboards.  They have a very tight, machine-gun style of riffing with blast beats at full gallop much of the time. The double-bass drums, in fact, are incredibly fast at times.   This aspect of the band is very enjoyable.  Vocally, however, my “old-fartiness” tends to dislike the constant screech of the hardcore styled “singing”.  Of course, like most modern metal bands Autumn Black also has melodic singing in most of the choruses.  I like a good death growl or raspy power metal vocals, but the hardcore screech is not aesthetically pleasing to me.  Other than that, I would say this is a decent debut album with some good songs. 


AXEL RUDI PELLMystica  (10 tracks.  58 mins).  SPV.

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

          Once again ARP and band deliver a nice combination of German power metal which highlights Pell’s shredding guitar solos.  You basically know what to expect.  It is good for what it is, and lots of people eat it up.  But I must express a little dissatisfaction with German power metal bands like this one for two reasons:  a tendency to be stuck in the 1980s and cliché lyrics.  There is no denying the talent of this band, but the formula is a little too familiar.


BIBLE OF THE DEVIL “The Diabolic Procession (9 tracks.  42.8 mins).  CRUZ DEL SUR.

Rating:  5.5.  Country of originUSARelease date:  Available now.

                                                  This band has a very retro feel.  They seem to be a combination of 80’s heavy metal and power metal.  Listening to this band takes me back to my teenage years when I could pick up a random heavy metal album at the store and it would sound something like this.  I didn’t know that this band was already established with a lengthy discography, but I can readily hear why they are popular in Europe but relatively unknown in the USA.  Despite my lackluster response to their music, I think the lyrical concept of the album is fantastic.  It takes the Children’s Crusade as a metaphor for the religio-political situation in the world today.  It demonstrates how religion can be used to lead blind, naïve “children” into acts of mindless enthusiasm.  Although insightful about the state of Western society today, I have to say that the music was just a bit too average 80’s for me.


BLANC FACES  s/t”  (12 tracks.  52.5 mins).  LOCOMOTIVE.

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

                                                  Blanc Faces is self-consciously a rock/metal album inspired by the 1980s.  Fans of Journey, Survivor, and especially Foreigner will love this band.  Vocalist Robbie Le Blanc has a White Snake, Van Halen (with Sammy Hagar), Richard Marx, and Eric Carmen feel.  His brother, Brian, sings background and plays bass.  This band has connections to Toto, Styx, Survivor, Michael Bolton, and the Blind Boys of Alabama in terms of studio work and opening slots at shows.  Their professionalism and talent would have earned them serious airplay in the 1980s, but today they are part of a niche market.  All that said, it’s great commercial music.


CHAIN COLLECTOR “The Masquerade” (10 tracks.  47 mins). SOUND RIOT.

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

                                                  Something close to “supergroup” is a good term to begin with for describing this band.  Chain Collector consists of Kjetil Nordhus of Green Carnation and Trail of Tears (vocals); Svenn Aksell Henriksen formerly of Apostasy and Dismal Euphony; Goran Bomann of Carpathian Forest, Opus Forgotten, and Neon God;  Anders Kobro whose long resume includes Carpathian Forest, In the Woods, Green Carnation, etc.; and Kjell Jacobsen also of Neon God.  It is as if you could take the top ten or twenty metal musicians in Norway and choose about five at random and you will get a group like Chain Collector, or any of the other bands mentioned above.  So you know they have quality, now what do they sound like?  Heavy but melodic.  Nordhus has a nice singing voice as we know from Green Carnation, but here he demonstrates his grittier side.  Actually he does both, but he gives a more guttural delivery on most of the songs than GC.  Heavy and melodic, but not in the oft imitated “Gothenburg” style.  Even when Nordus sings, it is not in the sing-a-long manner of the Swedish variety or modern metal sound.  The band plays fast but not blizzard speed.  And they are tight.  But that is no surprise. 


CLARK  Two of A Kind”  (11 tracks.  41.2 mins).  LOCOMOTIVE.

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

                                                  I actually enjoyed listening to this CD a lot, but it is not my usual fare.  It is very pop oriented and radio friendly.  It’s not even prog-rock, just rock.  But given that this band is from Sweden, you know that it is an exceptionally good band.  I would classify it as adult contemporary with an alternative edge.  It also contains some ballads, but not syrupy.  I would just say that they are a good, solid rock band with good musicianship, nice vocals, and thoughtful lyrics (e.g., “What If?” and “You Make Me Love this World”).  Their combination of soothing music and thought-provoking lyrics appeals to me.  Probably few of you readers have heard of another Swedish pop band named Edin-Adahl, but if you have, you can understand what I mean when I say that Clark could be a younger version.


DEAD MAN IN RENO  s/t” (10 tracks.  43.4 mins).  CANDLELIGHT USA.

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

                                                  Honestly, when I heard the vocals I immediately prejudged this band to be a Lamb of God, modern metal clone band.  I’m not sure why the style today is monotone screams versus the good ole screaming and wailing I grew up on, but it is (with the exception of a very short part in “The Devil Made Him Do it”.  Nevertheless, I found that the music of this band more than makes up for the tasteless vocals.  DMIR’s guitar work is an excellent combination of riffs and solo work, while the drumming is also excellent in my opinion.  It is easy to see why this band was signed and why Candlelight is really pushing this band.  Other than the vocals I could really enjoy this band.


DESTRUCTION  Thrash Anthems”  (15 tracks.  74 mins).  CANDLELIGHT USA

Rating:  9.  Country of originGermanyRelease date:  January 23, 2007.

          Destruction has been one of my favorite bands for a long time.  Even now the Mad Butcher E.P., Eternal Devastation, and Release From Agony make their way into my CD players several times a year (and yes, I do have the Sentence of Death E.P., and Infernal Overkill!).  So I really have a frame of reference when talking about this band.  I was really excited when Schmier rejoined the band in 1999.  But the first two resulting albums created a sense of cognitive dissonance for me.  Here we had a band whose work in 80’s thrash was unparalleled in my opinion (though many will argue that Coroner was equal to the task).  Their raw, highly treble oriented music dazzled the senses with super fast riffing and Schmier’s idiosyncratic squeals.  Now in the 21st century they had returned with a very death metal production.  Low end heaviness replaced the high end shrill.  Admittedly, Schmier’s vocals were better.  But overall the whole thing was different enough to make an old timer confused.  But with last year’s Inventor of Evil, Destruction seemed to strike a really good balance between the old and the new. 

Such is the case with this newest offering, Thrash Anthems, a collection of thirteen Destruction classics along with two new ones.  The newer production style of the band (Peter Tagtgren’s famous touch) is still there.  But now we get to hear it with the band’s older tunes.  It works well with most of them, though with some it altered the sound enough that more than once I actually had to think for a minute which song I was hearing.  But this is not all.  The band has actually changed some of these songs.  The most obvious is the new version of “Curse the Gods,” my all-time favorite.  They have actually slowed the song a bit—and I actually like it.  There is still, in my opinion, an effort by the band to sound more death metal, and this is really obvious on “Curse the Gods,” but they have not compromised in terms of riffing.  And again, Schmier’s vocals sound much better these days.  But really, the band’s biggest improvement is in the drumming department.  Back in when Destruction originally recorded these tunes they had a drummer who was not “a metal drummer” (Schmier told me this in an interview in 2000).  I never really noticed this then, but now you can really tell as the drums on these re-recordings are chock full of galloping double-bass.  Overall I think Destruction have preserved the essence of their original style while updating their sound.  With Inventor of Evil and Thrash Anthems I think I have been able to reconcile myself to this synthesis.  And if the future will bring us more new songs like “Profanity” and “Deposition (Your Heads Will Roll),” then I can once again feel excited about this band’s next release. 

Also included:  Reject Emotions, Invincible Force, Cracked Brain, Bestial Invasion, Tormentor, Unconscious Ruins, etc.


ESTRADASPHERE  Palace of Mirrors  (13 tracks.  58.5 mins).  THE END RECORDS.

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

                                                  There is very little that can be referred to as “metal” in this band’s music, but they are definitely on the right label.  Along with groups like Giant Squid, Unexpect, and Virgin Black, Estradasphere goes well beyond the regular confines of conventional “popular” music, demonstrating a more sophisticated approach to musical composition.  They do not simply layer instruments or overload the songs with diversity, they actually create coherent, appreciable songs that you can proudly play for anyone with any taste in music.  No one will dispute their musicality; there is something here for everybody.  Nevertheless, the skill the band demonstrates, plus their penchant for non-commercial musical structures, makes them best suited for a record label that either specializes in metal (especially prog. Metal) or modern jazz.  I am glad they made their way onto The End. 

                                                  As to describing the music, it is easiest to say, “all over the map.”  But my favorite song is “The Terrible Beautypower of Meow.”  It begins with soft violin music then evolves into a 1960s movie soundtrack with surf guitar.  Clearly there is some Brian Wilson/Beach Boys Pet Sounds influence here (I would bet money on it!).  In fact, to borrow one of Brian Wilson’s own terms, each of these tunes may be thought of as a “pocket symphony.”  I do not think that would be out of line.  Nevertheless, some of the sounds on this album, particularly the heavy drumming and electronic effects in such songs as “The Unfolding Pause on the Threshold,” are heavier and more modern than Wilson’s stuff, obviously.  Track 7, “Smuggled Mutation”, contains some solid heavy metal drumming and guitar work to accompany the rapid fiddle and upright bass playing.  It is not to be missed.  It sounds like a Verde opera from Hell.  Fans of the Danny Elfman soundtracks to movies like The Nightmare Before Christmas and The Corpse Bride will undoubtedly enjoy this.


EYES OF LIGEIA  A Fever Which Would Cling to Thee Forever” (7 tracks.  48.5 mins).  PARAGON RECORDS.

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

                                                 Appropriately the band name comes from Edgar Allen Poe.  This band’s music carries the atmosphere of 1960’s horror movies—especially the ones with twisted sickos and dungeons.  It is a combination of doom and black metal which sounds like it was recorded in a musty, rat infested dungeon.  Though elements of their music reminds of Burzum and Xashur on the one hand, and Agalloch and Aphotic on the other, I would have to say that they really don’t sound exactly like anyone.  The music is really interesting and atmospheric (imagine a brooding Vincent Price destroying the house of Usher).  Song titles include suggestive themes such as:  “A Strange and Fitful Presence,” “As the Ravens Descend from the Tower,” and the title song.  Whatever it is, it is way cool. 


HOSTILITY “Uncompromised  (12 tracks.  56.9 mins). VOLTAIC RECORDS

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

                                                  Though some will be tempted to lump Hostility in the modern metal category—and with some justification—I would rather think of them as an American death metal band.  And just when you think you have got them pegged, they do something really cool and unique.  You first notice it in the middle of song three, “Death as Leverage” when the band hits a modern fusion jazz guitar riff with Carcass-like heaviness.  This probably hints more at a progressive streak in the band’s musical orientation than an interest in jazz.  This observation is verified in later parts of the album when the band hits on some very odd timings which are, I think, reminiscent of bands like Believer.  The song titles and vocals lend to the hardcore, and thus, modern metal (= nu-metal + thrash) appellative.  I could deal with a bit less of the hardcore vocal style, however.  Whatever the category, though, Hostility are creative and interesting—and HEAVY!


INFERNUM  The Curse”  (7 tracks.  31.5 mins).  SOUND RIOT.

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

                                                  This short black metal release falls into the primitive sub-genre in my opinion.  Even so, they do have keyboards and occasional female vocals.  Their overall sound, though, recalls Darkthrone, Judas Iscariot, and a whole horde of other primitives.  Speed is not the key, atmosphere is.  The guitars create a black metal “wall-of-sound” while the real sense of movement comes from the early Bathory inspired drumming.  The keyboards, where they appear, create a sort of understated organ sound.  “Pagan” is a particularly memorable song, though the clean vocals—again, inspired by Bathory’s Viking epics—could be a lot better.  But the riff and slowness of the song shows that the band has creative potential.  And the song, “Epitaph” is a potential classic and should be included on a compilation CD somewhere.


INSOMNIUM  Above the Weeping World”  (10 tracks.  52.9 mins).  CANDLELIGHT USA

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

                                                  By now we are getting quite used to the “Gothenburg sound” which is more and more becoming the “Scandinavian Death Metal sound” by means of its expansion beyond Sweden into Finland and beyond.  Despite this I would still label it “Scandinavian” because this is where the sound originated and has its greatest number of adherents.  Insomnium’s blending of “the sound” with melody and doom led me to suspect that the band is from Finland before actually confirming it.  I was right.  Being a fan of doom and—though to a lesser degree—melodic death metal, I found myself enjoying the CD.  On the other hand, while the band is good and their music is enjoyable, I wonder if there something distinctive enough about their sound that I would know it was them were I to hear them on the radio?  Maybe.  Anyway, fans of Katatonia, Novembers Doom, Daylight Dies and so one will probably enjoy Insomnium as well.


KEEP OF KALESSIN “Armada” (10 tracks.  49.9 mins).  CANDLELIGHT USA

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

                                                  KoK have made a huge leap into excellence. With Armada they have changed from an average black metal band to a spectacular black metal band.  (I admit that I do not have their last release, an E.P., but I do have the first two albums).  Vocalist extraordinaire, Attila Cshir, has never sounded better in my opinion.  Though “originality” may still be an issue to some listeners, who could complain when the band has pulled off a stunning Emperor IX Equilibrium-like album?  But I would argue that the band does demonstrate some creativity in subtle ways with fresh sounding riffs, lots of energy, and a total black metal attitude.  In less subtle ways the guys show their creativity with


KREATOR  Enemy of God Revisited”  (DVD).  SPV

Rating:  10.  Country of originGermanyRelease date:  Available now.

                                                  I will just have to say that this is a superb DVD.  Even someone who does not care for Kreator would have to agree that this is so.  (Fortunately, I have enjoyed the band for quite some time, though their lack of diversity in subject matter can get tedious)  Kreator are a veteran band who have recently revitalized themselves with two fresh sounding releases, Violent Revolution and Enemy of God.  This DVD features a full set from Kreator’s 2005 Wacken show.  Among the songs played were:  Enemy of God, Pleasure to Kill, Violent Revolution, Extreme Aggressions, Terrible Certainty, Betrayer, and more.  I would have liked for Toxic Trace and Blind Faith to have been included, but even so, the show is very professionally done, and the band is very tight.  Having seen the band in concert the previous year (Violent Revolution tour), I can say that they have one of the clearest, crunchiest sounds of any metal band I have seen.  The DVD also features a set from a German television show where they play Reconquering the Throne, Renewal, and three others.  Also featured are five video clips which include Enemy of God and the making of Enemy of God.  Finally, the DVD contains a Dolby 5.1 surround version of the album.  All told, this one is a great deal. 


MOONSPELL  Memorial”  (14 tracks.  64 mins).  SPV USA.

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

Reviewer:  Criticalnate!

While not being very familiar with Moonspell’s material, I should say that “Memorial” is overall a very dramatic album, which appears to be expected of any Moonspell release. Unlike many other emotionally driven albums, this album has range. From the soft but eerie introduction “In Memoriam” and other such songs like “Sons of the Earth” and “Sanguine,” to crushing songs such as “Finisterra” and “Blood Tells,” plus tracks in between, this album is far from monotonous. Although the heavier guitar work doesn’t have quite the range that I believe it could.  All in all, this is a great album that certainly deserves much more than just a few listens.


MY DYING BRIDE  A Line of Deathless Kings”  (9 tracks.  61 mins).  PEACEVILLE.

Rating:  9.  Country of originU.K.  Release date:  October 30.

                                                  If The Light at the End of the World was My Dying Brides’s return to their rightful sound, they have done nothing since but to refine their art to perfection.  Case in point, A Line of Deathless Kings may prove to be their finest hour since Turn Loose the Swans.  By now, of course, they have settled into a more gothic doom sound like Angel and the Dark River rather than TLTS’s death/doom sound, but I do not consider any of their last four, this one included, to have become monotonous.  While this new album has that familiar MDB sound, it appears to me to be a bit heavier than the last two.  I also notice that producer Mags has drawn out some excellent vocal performances from Aaron and has done an excellent job with production and layering.  Also contributing to the freshness of this album is new drummer John Bennett.  I don’t know that much about drumming, but I can at least say that Bennett’s style is noticeably different.  Suffice it to say that the space between 2004’s Songs of Darkness, Words of Light has been well spent by the band.  Do not doubt believers, this album is gold.


TONY OHORA  Escape Into the Sun” (12 tracks.  54.7 mins).  FRONTIERS/LOCOMOTIVE.

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

                                                  This hard hitting commercial rock/metal has a very up-to-date sound but still reminds me a lot of Michael Sweet/Stryper and Dokken in terms of approach.  Ohora’s clear, dulcet-toned voice belts out some very passionate vocals atop some very aggressive and flashy guitar playing. 


PLACE VENDOME “s/t” (10 tracks.  45.8 mins).  FRONTIERS/LOCOMOTIVE

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

                                                  Place Vendome features Michael Kiske (Helloween, Aina, Avantasia) on vocals and members of Pink Cream 69 and Vandenplas on instruments.  The result is a very 80’s inspired rock-metal combination—more arena rock than metal.  Whitesnake comes to mind as a good band for comparison.  The songs are mostly about relationships (love songs), so I would call it “chick friendly” music. 


xREPRESENTx  The Truth at All Costs” (12 tracks.  24.9 mins).  1981 RECORDS.

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

                                                  No, the x’s before and after the name are not some encoding error on my part, it is actually part of their name/logo.  Whatever the purpose for the x’s, I voted to list them in the “R” category.  Anyway, not since Pro-Pain’s 2004 masterpiece, Prophets of Doom, have I heard such a concentrated and coherent musical critique of the “War on Terror”.  I like the route that many hardcore bands are taking lately.  Bands like xRepresentx are putting more thought into their lyrics and their musicianship than earlier hardcore bands.  The vocals are the usual gruff hardcore style, but unlike many in the field, Derek Ski’s vocals are understandable and convicting.  In fact, the more I think about it, xRepresentx could be a younger version of Pro-Pain.


SAXON  The Eagle Has Landed III” Live 2 disc set.  (15 songs 1.2 hrs/17 songs 1.1 hrs).  SPV.

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

                                                  Saxon are alive and well as this disc demonstrates.  This two disc set features 32 tracks of the band’s trademark NWOBHM sound from their tours in 2004 and 2005 around Europe, logging in at 2.3 hours.  When a live album from a band like this comes out it is most important, I think, to discuss the quality of the recording and the band’s tightness.  Fans already know the songs and non-fans wouldn’t have any idea.  So it is key to the success of a live album to be of good quality.  Being that this is a collection of recordings from a number of concerts, you can take my word that they have chosen the best takes.  Now you know that a genuine live recording will not have the same crunch as a studio recording in most cases, but when you have a good mix like the band has on practically all of these tracks, you can really get into the concert atmosphere.  No fan of the band will want to pass on this one. 


SEVENTH CROSS  Scorched by the Flames of Vengeance” (11 tracks. 40 mins).  CANDLELIGHT USA.

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

           I think it is good for Candlelight to give this modern metal band a chance, but I think that the band should have done better in one vital area: the vocals.  They are shrill and monotonous.  They might be hardcore, they might be black metal, it’s hard to say (I lean towards hardcore), but one thing is certain, there is absolutely no variation in tone or pitch.  This is enough to keep me from listening to the album.  On the other hand, the guitar work is solid and enjoyable.  I wouldn’t call this band “original”, but they definitely have potential musically.  With a different vocal style—or vocalist, sorry—I could like this band a lot more.  Fans of bands that range from Shadow’s Fall to Byzantine will probably like them.


SKYFORGERKauja pie Saules  (9 tracks.  40.1 mins).  PARAGON RECORDS.

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

                                                 This is what I think of when I heard terms like “Viking metal”, but I am not sure (pardon my ignorance) if Latvia qualifies as “Viking”. (I think the answer is no, but again, the Swedes did move eastward.  The name “Russia” comes from the Swedish “rus”.  Latvia is in northern Europe between Scandinavia to the West and Russia to the East.  Latvia, Lithuania, and Poland are close together).  What ever the case may be, it sounds a little like Bathory, and a lot like Immortal.  In a phrase: aggressive Northern European ethnic metal.  Along with the aggressive sounds is some choral chanting.  No doubt these are folk songs from Latvia. Also other ethnic instruments occasionally show up, like the bagpipe (I think) in “Kalejs Kala Debesis” and the pennywhistle, or some similar instrument in “Kauja Garozas Sila 1287”.  But most of all, I like the fact that the band reminds me a lot of Immortal.  In the final analysis, there is something familiar about their sound (Bathory/Immortal), yet they give it their own cultural flavor (Latvia).


SOCIETY 1 “The Years of Spiritual Dissent” (CD 30 tracks.  70 mins.  DVD ).  CRASH.

RatingnaCountry of originUSARelease date:  Available now.

                                                  This CD could not be more appropriately titled.  I imagine that the appeal of this band is raw, punk-ish attitude and its connections to the porn industry.  In terms of music qua music, I found it not interesting.  The DVD, however, is longer than usual.  It has lots of interviews, stage footage, and carousing.  If you like this band already, you will consider this release a real bargain. 


SOULS HARBOR  Writings on the Wall”  (10 tracks.  40 mins).  CRASH MUSIC.

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

                                                  Souls Harbor is a thoroughly modern (as in, the current trends) band that crosses the boundary between metal and alternative.    Aside from the comparisons to recent alterna-metal acts, I will say that I was quite impressed with the band’s excellent sense of musical structure and good riffs.  Often when a predominantly death metal label starts expanding in commercially more successful directions it makes me wonder if quick money is the motivation.  In this case I think Souls Harbor displays a better-than-average take on their genre and justify the signing.


STONEGARD “Arrows  (10 tracks.  35.3 mins).  CANDLELIGHT USA.

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

                                                  I’m sure that everyone who hears a band for the first time hears different things, especially when they hear a band like Stonegard.  I say this because my description of this band may seem a little strange or contradictory.  First, from the opening instrumental, “Ghost Circles”, and throughout, this band plays some chord-relishing, technical instrumental sections with an Opeth-like feel.  But as for the vocal parts of the song, the band leans towards doom/stoner rock with clean vocals and occasional pop sensibilities.  As odd as this combination may sound, they make it sound very natural.  Their ability to sound simultaneously heavy, metal, and semi-accessible to the rock world puts them in a league with Katatonia as far as I am concerned.  Whoever the vocalist is (I cannot find bios anywhere), he is a great singer with a raspy Cobain-like voice. You can tell by the good sounds here that this debut album was five years in the making and produced by Daniel Bergstrand. 


SUFFOCATE FASTER  Don’t Kill the Messenger” (11 tracks.  35.9 mins) x1981x RECORDS.

Ratingn/aCountry of originUSARelease date:  Available now.

                                                  I think fans of hardcore and modern metal with find this CD to be quite satisfying.  Fans of P.O.D. in particular may really get into this band’s hardcore meets commercial radio style.  You know, screamed verses with actual melodic singing on the choruses.  As a reviewer I try not to call anything “bad” just because I do not care for it.  Obviously this band has some talent or x1981x Records would not have signed them.  This one is definitely for the modern rock/metal crowd.


TENEBRE  Heart’s Blood”  (10 tracks.  40.9 mins).  CANDLELIGHT USA.

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

                                                  Gothic rock/metal is interesting and great mood music.  Tenebre’s Heart’s Blood is typical of the genre as far as I can tell.  Honesty compels me to say that I do not own a lot of music from this genre (Love Like Blood, Moonspell, certain Paradise Lost releases), but I will stand by this assessment.  The enthusiastic gothic fan hungry for new material will welcome this addition to their collection.  However, my assessment of this album would be more positive—not that it is terribly negative—if the music did not maintain such an even keel.  If some brutal death metal albums are just a long blur of noise, then this one is a long brood.  I need the emotional roller coaster that dynamics bring into the mix (pianissimo and fortissimo, not just mezzo-forte throughout).  The other thing that I dislike is the artificial baritone vocals.  They work most of the time, but there are moments where you can hear that lack of vocal training.


THY DISEASE “Rat Age (Sworn Kinds Final Verses)” (12 tracks. 38.9 mins). CRASH MUSIC.

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

                                                  Thy Disease come across as a cyber-influenced version of Vader.  Without knowing their country of origin, my son, Criticalnate, made the Vader connection.  So this observation seems pretty solid.  But because the band has a person who does loops and samples, it is easy to connect this band stylistically to other Euro-cyber groups like Sybreed, and maybe older Samael (this point is questionable).  The combination is interesting and desirable.  This is NOT death metal meets rave by any means. For the record, the album is solidly death metal, all cyber elements in no weaken or compromise this fact. Thy Disease have found a good balance (90% death, 10% cyber).


TIME REQUIEM “Optical Illusion  (8 tracks. 49.9 mins).  CANDLELIGHT USA.

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

          I always enjoy listening to Time Requiem, but I am not convinced that they have ever strayed from their standard formulas.  Bands like this have high technical standards and rank above average in musicality, but they also tend to repeat themselves.  I would love to be able to play just one of their songs on guitar, but I believe that their technical prowess—so admired by diehard prog-metal fans—keeps them within a creative box.  So they deserve high marks for musicianship, but for originality I would be a bit more reserved.


TORCHBEARER  Warnaments  (9 tracks.  34.5).  CANDLELIGHT USA

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

          Aside from the fact that I am trying to decide if the album title’s contraction of “war” and “ornaments” is clever or not, I can say that this album is a very solid death metal composition.  It borders, at times, on black metal in the vein of, say, Immortal, but not as fast.  What I like about Torchbearer, in fact, is that they make use of many different tempos, not to mention other facets of musicality like dynamics, keyboard flourishes at various points, and more.  Underlying it all, though, is a solid, riff-oriented death metal bedrock.  And the riffs are very well conceived.


TRISTANIA  Illumination”  (10 tracks.  48.3mins).  SPV

Rating:  .  Country of originNorwayRelease date:  2007.

          Tristania have been a favorite of mine since I heard Beyond the Veil.  And I especially enjoyed Widow’s Weeds when I acquired it because of its doomy atmosphere.  Since that time Tristania has been moving progressively towards gothic metal and Illumination is the most clearly gothic album they have produced thus far.  At first, then, I was a bit disappointed because, frankly, when bands “go gothic” they often become tepid.  Not so in this case. 


VADER  Impressions in Blood” (11 tracks.  37.1 mins.). CANDLELIGHT USA.

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

          Always great, never disappointing, one might ask if it is really necessary to review the latest from Vader.  If you know this band you love them—or at least you like them.  To me there is nothing cerebral about it.  I just pop the CD in and enjoy half-an-hour or so of kick-ass brutal death metal.  And this time is no different.  Impressions in Blood carry the Vader torch forward.  Of course there is nothing here to surprise you in terms of “new directions” or “progression”, but Vader is one of those few bands that can maintain our interest without such modifications.


UNLEASHEDMidvinterblot  (15 tracks.  46.5 mins).  SPV.

Rating:  8.5.  Country of originSwedenRelease date:  October 10, 2006.

          When a band like this has been around for such a long time comes out with a new album—especially one with 15 songs!—it would be understandable to be skeptical.  However, let me begin by saying that from the first 3 seconds this CD started until its end I was hooked.  We know that when the terms “Sweden” and “death metal” are joined together the result is usually “quality.”  And so it is here.  These guys haven’t lost it.  Midvinterblot is a solid, memorable, and killer listen. 


XASHUR “Subliminal Genocide” (11 tracks.  71.5 mins).  HYDRA HEAD RECORDS

Rating:  6.  Country of originUSARelease date:  Available now.

          Xashur has drawn quite a lot of praise for his work.  Certainly what he and others like him do is a sub-genre of black metal unto itself.  It is definitely non-commercial, creepy, atmospheric, and interesting.  But I am not convinced that it deserves quite the acclaim it has received.  Basically here is an artist (and I do regard him as that) who knows how to layer instruments in a studio to good (translate “dark”) effect.  However, if you listen carefully, you will notice that practically all the songs follow the same pattern whether they are clean or distorted:  chord a, chord b, chord a, chord b and so on.  He is to be commended for making interesting sounds, but not for diversity.