Critical Metal Update B Tear sheet.
This page is printable.
I guess it should be obvious from the sheer number of reviews on this page that I have been writing them for a long time. Many of the discs reviewed have been out for some time, others are more recent. I have yet MORE CD’s to review.
Reviews: Abigail Williams, Angel Corpse, Arch Enemy, Black Bonzo, Blood Tsunami, Blut Aus Nord, Carnal Forge, Celestia, Crionics, Cruachan, Demised, Depressed Mode, Einseferum, Ensepulchered, Entombed, Fall of the Leafe, Flagellation, Funeral (my personal favorite), Furze, Herasi, Iced Earth (2 releases), Illuminandi, Kamelot (2 releases), Kotipelto, Laethora, Lost Eden, Machinery, Magnum, Marduk, Martriden, Masterplan, Messiah’s Kiss, November’s Doom, Obituary, Obscurus Advocam, Omnium Gathering, Onslaught, Pro-Pain, Paganize, Saint, Saxon, Shining, Sigh, Super Geek League, Swallow the Sun, Terhen (another personal favorite), Throne of Katarsis, Toxic Bonkers, Transmission 0, Tuner Pole, Up From the Ashes DVD, Virgin Black (CD and concert), Wuthering Heights.
Check out this website: www.deathtotheworld.com.
Check out Six Gun Symphony’s band site: http://www.myspace.com/sixgunsymphonyband
ABIGAIL WILLIAMS “Legend” (5 tracks. 21:41). CANDLELIGHT USA.
Rating: 7. Country of origin: USA. Release date: January 23, 2007.
I had mixed feelings about this CD when I first got it. I think I hastened to judge this band as another modern metal band with pseudo-thrash riffs and alterna-rock choruses. Later I tried it again—and was probably in a more receptive mood. That time I found the CD to be more to my liking. First, I do not think that the modern metal characterization was accurate. There is some melody in the music, mostly in the form of keyboards, but this is lightly placed above a deadly guitar attack. There is definitely a lot of black metal influence in their music, but this southwestern band balances is out with that thrashy-meets-hardcore modern sound. Once I got a grip on it I found it to be enjoyable.
ANGEL CORPSE “of Lucifer and Lightning” (9 tracks. 36:32) OSMOSE/THE END.
Rating: 8. Country of origin: USA. Release date: Available now.
Another band that has successfully picked up where they left off is Angel Corpse. Their aggressive and technical, but raw sound has been sorely missed over the last ten years or so. Fans will be pleased not only that they are back together, but that this new album of theirs is another great death metal offering in their characteristically brutal style. Those not familiar with the band will want to know that they are somewhere in the ballpark with bands like Morbid Angel and Hate Eternal, that is, aggressive, bottom-heavy, riff-oriented, evil death metal. The hiatus seems to have done the band well as they here knock out nine blistering new tracks that kill from beginning to end. Don’t be surprised if you wind up breaking something while listening to this CD.
ARCH ENEMY “Black Earth” (12 tracks + 1 video. ). REGAIN RECORDS.
Rating: 9.5. Country of origin: Sweden. Release date: April 10, 2007.
This gem is not to be missed by anyone who considers himself/herself a true fan of death metal. After splitting with Carcass, guitarist Michael Amott joined forces with brother Chris, drummer Daniel Erlandson, and bassist/vocalist Johan Liiva to create one of the most brutally awesome death metal masterpieces ever to come from Sweden’s fertile scene. One listen to this disc and you will know why Carcass’ Swansong album could not measure up to Heartwork—the absence of Michael Amott’s killer riffs. In other words, by that time Amott had left Carcass to form AA. Carcass’s loss can be proven by comparing this release to the tepid Swansong. But since the release of Black Earth 10 years ago, it has only been available in North America as an import. Now, thanks to Regain Records, it will be released domestically. But wait! That’s not all. The disc comes with bonus tracks: “Losing Faith,” “The Ides of March,” and “Aces High.” On this last track, even though the death metal vocals may be a little out of place, the influence of NWOBHM—and especially Iron Maiden—becomes crystal clear. And finally, this disc also comes with a video track for “Bury Me an Angel.” Get it now or cry later!
BLACK BONZO “Sounds of the Apocalypse” (8 tracks. 54:06 ). LASER’S EDGE.
Rating: 10. Country of origin: Sweden. Release date: available now.
1970’s progressive rock (Kansas, Styx, Deep Purple, Queen) with a 1960’s protest atmosphere, Black Bonzo have combined great vocals and vintage prog-rock playing into an epic of critique. Guitarist Joakim Karlsson, for instance, must have studied Brian May a lot, and probably Jimmy Page too. Vocalist Magnus Lindgren also has a classic sound. In fact, I cannot communicate enough in words how convincingly vintage this album is. It is flawless. Add to this the deep, thought-provoking lyrics and excellent musicianship. I have probably listened to this CD 30 times already. This is probably the biggest endorsement I can give it.
BLOOD TSUNAMI “Thrash Metal” (8 tracks. 42:54). CANDLELIGHT USA.
Rating: 7. Country of origin: Norway. Release date: April 3, 2007.
If the title doesn’t clue you in, please allow me: Blood Tsunami revel in Carcass, Destruction and Kreator worship. This is not to claim that they are a clone band, for BT have plenty of creative energy evident in their music. But from the opening track, “Evil Unleashed,” musical affinities with the revamped Destruction will be fairly obvious, though I am more likely to associate this band with Kreator (check out “Rampage of Revenge”) and vocalist/guitarist Pete could easily pass himself off as Mille Petrozza. But as I said, there is enough creativity here not to stereotype the band (e.g., “Godbeater”)—and thankfully they are real thrash and NOT modern metal! Also of interest is the fact that the band, while new on the scene, does have a veteran on board, drummer Bard “Faust” Eithun, whose work is well-known with Zyklon and Emperor among others. Finally, while I would be tempted to give this band a higher rating because of their obvious thrash orientation, I did not feel as drawn to their music as I would have expected.
BLUT AUS NORD “MoRT” (8 tracks. 47:10). CANDLELIGHT USA.
Rating: 7. Country of origin: France. Release date: available now.
It is always my practice to try and understand an album as it was intended by the creators of the music. This is difficult, of course, because all my impressions are subjective—that is, subject to my own whims, likes and dislikes. And, since this is my first time to hear Blut Aus Nord, I cannot rightly say how this music compares to their previous releases. On the other hand, I think I like Blut Aus Nord because they do not sound like anyone really, though ambient black metal is a fairly well-established sub-genre by now. On the other hand, their sort of wall-of-sound, droning noise can get lost in the background if you are not actively listening, and the boundaries between the songs—if they even exist—are so blurred that you may not notice them. I like this kind of music when concentrating on something else, like doing research or reading a book. I do not like it for riding in the car. Think of it as mood music. It is definitely better done (by far) than Burzum, and has a real industrial connection. People who enjoy releases on the Cold Meat Industry label (Sweden) will really get into this.
CARNAL FORGE “Testify for My Victims” (12 tracks. 48:18). CANDLELIGHT USA.
Rating: 7.5. Country of origin: Sweden. Release date: May 22, 2007.
From the beginning CF sounded to me like a heavier version of just about any Gothenburg death metal band. From album to album the sound and the subject matter has remained pretty much the same: extreme Swedish death metal with themes of death and victimization. The one thing that is different here is that the guitar playing is a lot more interesting than previous albums in my opinion. It sounds like Jeff Loomis (Nevermore) came in and played solos for them. Not to say that the band’s previous work hasn’t been excellent, only that here the guitar work seems to be more diverse. All that said, CF are still pretty much the heavy duty death-mongers they have always been. Fans will be pleased.
CELESTIA “Apparitia – Sumptuous Spectre” (8 tracks. 43:13). PARAGON RECORDS.
Rating: 8. Country of origin: . Release date: available now.
This intriguing black metal CD hits you with an evil sound but some mystical song titles. The CD begins with “The Awakening of the Dormant Fiancee” and ends with “The Radiance of the Astral Code.” What these and the others songs are about lyrically is anyone’s guess since I do not have lyrics, but the titles are thought-provoking and suggest either magical and/or mystical pursuits. Whatever the case may be, the band demonstrates some strong skills in the art of cold, brutal riffage. The music is an unrelenting wall-of-black-metal with some great production and cavernous dungeon vocals. And I especially like the fact that you can distinguish the bass guitar from the other instruments. Despite the fact that this band was going for a primitive sound, it is clear that they have good production values. They do not simply abuse their instruments, but show the capacity to create different dark moods, including sorrow, melancholy, and fury. But, to be honest, there are still a few moments when the constant throbbing of the fast playing can get a bit monotonous. Still, it is an excellent album over all.
CRIONICS “Neuthrone” (11 tracks. 43:40). CANDLELIGHT USA.
Rating: 9. Country of origin: Poland. Release date: July 3, 2007.
Like Vader and Behemoth, Crionics are an extremely heavy, tight death metal band. Perhaps now, with their third album, Crionics will achieve a level of notoriety commensurate with Vader and Behemoth. They certainly deserve it. This album is, in short, a breath-taking example of uncompromising brutality. And though keyboards are not usually associated with this type of brutal death metal, they are used to great effect in Crionics’s music.
CRUACHAN “The Morrigan’s Call” (12 tracks. 46:39). CANDLELIGHT USA.
Rating: N/A. Country of origin: Ireland. Release date: available now.
I appreciate “ethnic” metal. I have encourage friends in Mexico to try and cultivate a distinctly Mexican sounding metal. I like Finntroll. But I just couldn’t get into Cruachan. I wanted to. I passed it on to Criticalnate for review, and he too could not get into it—and he is a bigger Finntroll fan than I. I also have an earlier Cruachan CD and had the same reaction. In short, it does not appeal to me. But I do not want to criticize it just because I do not care for it. Obviously this band has released a number of albums and have a following.
DEMISE “Torture Garden” (13 tracks. 55:51). CRASH MUSIC.
Rating: 6.5. Country of origin: Poland. Release date: available now.
I had a mixed reaction to this band at first: are they death metal or are they modern metal? It was hard to tell. The reality is that while many modern metal bands sound like death metal verses mixed with alternative rock choruses, Demise keep it just a bit “deathier” in the chorus department. I think metalheads younger than myself will really like this band. I enjoy listening to this disc, but I wouldn’t put it on my favorites list.
DEPRESSED MODE “Ghosts of Devotion” (9 tracks. 51:20). FIREBOX MUSIC.
Rating: 8. Country of origin: Finland. Release date: available now.
Finland continues to expand its proud tradition of creating gloomy, depressive music in the form of Depressed Mode. The name is obviously meant to be funny, but after listening to a few songs I thought to myself: Depressed Mode? More like “Doomy Borgir.” I think that this Dimmu Borgir comparison was inspired by the sort of twisted carnival sound of the keyboards by vocalist/keyboardist Ossy Salonen, founder of the band, and the female (soprano) vocals provided by Natalie Koskinen (also in Shape of Despair). On the third song, “Words of Silence,” her vocals, which counterbalance Salonen’s, sound almost like Vortex behind Shagrath. In terms of heaviness, tempo (really slow), and the male vocals, I think the best comparison might be Swallowed by the Sun. Comparisons aside, funeral doom bands are either really interesting or really boring. Rarely do we find middle ground. DP are definitely interesting. The title song, “Ghosts of Devotion” is a particularly funereal tune. Track 7, “Fallen Angel,” is, in contrast to the rest of the album, angelic sounding. It is followed by a very gothic sounding cover of Burzum’s “Dunkelheit.” I do not have the original, so I have no idea how to compare it with the Burzum version except to say that, given what I have heard of Burzum, it is probably astronomically better performed.
ENSEFIRUM “Victory Songs” (9 tracks). CANDLELIGHT USA.
Rating: 8. Country of origin: Finland. Release date: April 24, 2007.
Ensiferum strike me as a good balance of folk and power metal, though the vocal style may tempt some to throw in the term “black metal.” This is probably not necessary. They may be compared to fellow Finns as maybe a cross between Children of Bodom (power metal leanings with harsh vocals) and Finntroll (folk leanings), with Warmen as another band in their general milieu. The title “Victory Songs” and their overall Viking image suggest an affinity with Swedish bands like Unleashed and Amon Amarth. Victory Songs is a great listen, with a good balance of aggression and folk elements.
ENSEPULCHERED “The Night Our Rituals Blackened the Stars” (9 tracks). AUTOPSY KITCHEN RECORDS.
Rating: 7.5. Country of origin: USA. Release date: Available now.
I think Ensepulchered belong a sub-genre of black metal which includes the likes of early Burzum, Xashur, and Blut Aus Nord. Though drums, guitars, and dungeon vocals are present, it is the electronic side of the band (keyboards and drums) that really sets the tone of the music. And so I think that while this is clearly intended to be black metal, it should be sub-classified as something like “experimental, electronic black metal”. The songs do have structure, of course. But the overwhelming sense of doom and torture set to a B-movie type soundtrack and honestly lovely, but haunting keyboard melodies makes this release both unique and very engrossing. It’s not for everyone, but if you are into creepy atmosphere—say, a low-budget Arcturus—then you will really enjoy this CD.
ENTOMBED “Serpent Saints” (10 tracks. 41:31). CANDLELIGHT USA.
Rating: 7.5. Country of origin: Sweden. Release date: July 3, 2007.
I did not realize that it has been four years since the last mainstream Entombed release. As advertised, though, Serpent Saints is definitely Entombed’s best work since Wolverine Blues. Consider, however, that WB came out in 1993. This does not mean a return to form as SS is clearly more in the “death n’ roll” vein than even WB was. In other words, these guys have found themselves in a groove—which can also be a “rut” if they quality or inspiration suffers. This time it is a groove, and for the most part, a good groove. So what are we really saying? Well, from beginning to end SS is a good listen. All the elements are there, but even a highly popular confident band like Entombed can get monotonous. Subject matter is, as usual, sophomoric and provocative anti-Christian lyrics. If you are a big fan of the band, then SS will surely be one of your favorites. If you are not a fan of the band, SS will probably be one of the Entombed releases you will enjoy. Personally, I like it, but it is not Wolverine Blues, nor will they likely ever repeat that kind of release.
FALL OF THE LEAFE “Aerolithe” (11 tracks. 41:23). FIREBOX.
Rating: 8. Country of origin: Finland. Release date: Available now.
For a while now I have wanted to hear Fall of the Leafe. This is, I believe, their sixth album, but it is my first time to hear them. I usually have a hard time describing bands like this. I guess they are metal, especially since they do not utilize pop song structures. On the other hand, they are not heavy per se, though they do have heavy moments. They have real singing, and singer Tuomas Tuominen has a very pleasant voice. No doubt they are among the creators of the “vibe” in Finland right now that gave birth to bands with metal foundation but eclectic tastes such as Rainpaint. One way to describe the band, though, is to call them atmospheric and passionate. But I would say that they are kind of nu-rock, kind of alternative, and kind of progressive metal.
FLAGELLATION “Incinerate Disintegrate” (6 tracks. 20:32). LAST ENTERTAINMENT.
Rating: 8.5. Country of origin: Sweden. Release date: Available now.
Now why couldn’t Emperor go this route? Flagellation, as the name suggests, is obviously a death metal band, but there is a lot here reminiscent of Anthems to the Welkin at Dusk and IX Equilibrium, only more deathy. This band has a full range of sounds and capabilities, but they keep it focused on the brutality. Now you may ask, why use this as an opportunity to criticize Emperor? Well, because what brilliance Emperor achieved in the two above-mentioned albums, was lost in the baroque-ness of Prometheus and Ihsahn’s more recent album, Adversary. If Emperor would have stayed with their more deathy sound, though embellished with keyboards, real singing, and killer riffs, they might have sounded like this Flagellation E.P. The similarities are amazing, and yet like I said, Flagellation definitely keeps it focused on the death metal side, with occasional Destruction like guitar gymnastics, and eerie King Diamond inspired keyboard passages .
Flagellation are not really a newcomer band since they were originally formed in 1997, but this is their debut. And the members of the band are not newcomers either: Per Lindstrom (bassist for Machinery) does vocals, Teddy Moller (Loch Vostok, F.K.U.) does vocals/guitars, Daniel Cannerfelt (Anime Morte) also does guitars, Fredrik Klingwall (Loch Vostok, Machinery) does keyboards, Marcus Jonsson (Insision) plays drums, and Jacob Anderson (Plague Division) plays bass. So here you have a combination of veteran players and ten years of on-and-off collaboration. The result is very satisfying. Also of interest—especially to Criticalnate—is that Jonas Kjelgren of Scar Symmetry does guest vocals on “Threshold to Madness.”
FUNERAL “From These Wounds” (8 tracks. 1:04:56). CANDLELIGHT USA
Rating: 9.5. Country of origin: Norway. Release date: March 20, 2007.
Though I receive a lot of CD’s to review, I usually wind up buying doom metal CD’s. Doom metal is my favorite genre, and until recently, has not been part of my regular review material. About seven months ago I bought Firebox’s reissue of Funeral’s early albums and extra material entitled Tragedies/Tristesse. I was absolutely in love with their painfully slow, but grindingly heavy music highlighted by occasional melancholic female vocals and classical (nylon stringed) guitar moments (Ashen Mortality, Anathema’s Serenades, and Cathedral’s Forest of Equilibrium come to mind as excellent points of comparison). I was definitely willing to sink more cash into this band should anything else surface. Imagine, then, the rapturous joy I felt when this little jewel arrived to my house. If it had turned out to be more of the same I would be plenty satisfied. But as it turns out, it appears that the band has spent much time and reflection improving their already excellent style. From These Wounds is better than I could have hoped for.
I usually trust that my instincts have the ability to lead me to conclusions (feelings) that don’t always seem clear at the time. When I heard Cathedral’s Forest of Equilibrium album, Carcass’ Heartwork, and Emperor’s In the Nightside Eclipse, I felt that I was hearing something special. In those three cases I feel that time has born out my first impressions. Well, intuition can be wrong, but I feel the same way about this new album from Funeral. I think it is special. And it does not surprise me that a label such as Candlelight has picked them up. Even though doom metal is not the biggest moneymaker in the U.S., obviously Candlelight feel like this band deserves the chance. So do I.
Present on this new album are some fuller, lusher sounds. The sparse classical guitar and female intros have been replaced with orchestras (done with synthesizers, but convincingly) and operatic female vocals. The male vocals are fuller and harmonized at times. It sounds almost like Gregorian chant. This stylistic advancement reminds me a lot of Morgion’s Cloaked With Ages album, though Funeral is definitely heavier than Morgion, and also of Saturnus, especially on Martyre, some of November’s Doom’s more sublime moments, and some of Paradise Lost’s best moments (think Icon). Another contrast to their earlier material is that there is a lot more movement in the music. The riffing and production on this new album is chunkier than on the previous albums, and probably indicate that the band had a good recording budget and equipment. Nevertheless, budget and production are only half of the package, the other half is that the band has simply written a tremendous album which demonstrates a brilliant blending of the doom genre with a strong sense of musicality (= use of dynamics, technique, melody, harmony, etc.). I will be very surprised if this is not the doom metal buzz album of this year. It’s powerful, it’s doomy, and it is beautiful.
FURZE “UTD” (8 tracks. 44:05). CANDLELIGHT USA.
Rating: n/a. Country of origin: Norway. Release date: February 2, 2007.
From time to time a band will get signed to a label that has already garnered high praise. This incredibly bizarre black metal CD comes with a quote from Celtic Frost’s own Martin Ain. So one of the godfathers of the genre says that Furze is “a good example that it is still possible to create unique Black Metal!” Well, it is definitely unique, but it makes me wonder what Ain was smoking when he heard this album. I also have to say that I respect Candlelight Records, but this album makes me wonder if sometimes even really good labels have a sense of humor. Quite frankly, what the hell is this? Check out these “song” titles: “A Life About my Sabbath,” “Beneath the Wings of the Black Vomit Above,” and “Deep in the Pot of Fresh Antipodal Weave.” Yeah, see what I mean? The music makes about as much sense as the titles. This album is an oddity, a novelty, and quite possibly, a tragedy. It’s so bad the guys in Darkthrone should be jealous.
HERESI “Psalm II” (5 tracks. 28:28). HYDRA HEAD
Rating: 7. Country of origin: . Release date: available now.
This band combines the regular high speed, wall-of-sound black metal with a variety of other underground black metal elements. These include some well-placed death metal riff and experiments with that cold, algebraic guitar sound made famous by Blasphemer of Mayhem. Track 3 is a prime example. It starts out grindingly slow, but grim sounding. While short and not original sounding, it is good for what it is.
ICED EARTH “Overture of the Wicked” (4 tracks. 22:25). SPV USA.
Rating: 8. Country of origin: USA. Release date: June 5, 2007.
Here’s a four song e.p. that presages the epic return of Iced Earth’s “Wicked Saga” begun on the Something Wicked This Way Comes album. Thus it is titled, Overture of the Wicked. The full-length is due out later this year. Everything here is as expected: tight, crisp drumming and galloping guitars, and Ripper’s awesome vocals. It is well produced and recorded as we have come to expect from this band. It demonstrates once again that Iced Earth is a first rate metal band. Of course, you already know that if you are a fan of the band.
ICED EARTH “Framing Armageddon: Something Wicked Part 1” (19 tracks. 69:05). SPV USA.
Rating: 7. Country of origin: USA. Release date: September 11, 2007.
The E.P. leading up to this release, Overture of the Wicked, was quite enjoyable but was pretty much standard Iced Earth in my opinion. With this full-length, however, I was pleased to find that much of this album has a different feel and sound. There are some great, crunchy riffs as expected, and some emotional ballads. As usual, there is no shortage of drama. This is, after all the first Iced Earth epic in a long while, and the first full-length epic with Tim “Ripper” Owens on vocals. Calculate the time off from The Glorious Burden to the recording of this material, the return of Brent Smedley on drums, and the addition of Dennis Hayes (bass) and Troy Seelie (guitar). The sum is a fresh sounding, somewhat new, but recognizably Iced Earth album. Something I am always wary of is when a band has been around this long it often becomes the focus of only one or two members. In such situations many bands will become predictable and thin. This is not the case, as my comments have indicated. I believe the “new blood” and the scope of this project must have inspired Jon Schaffer’s creativity. For me, just as Glorious Burden was a welcome “rebirth” of the band in terms of sound and content, Framing Armageddon confirms that Schaffer can surround himself with some great musicians and revisit the band’s trademark “Something Wicked” topos with fresh ideas. I’m eager to hear part II.
ILLUMINANDI “Illumina Tenebras Meas” (5 tracks. 25:02). 2006 Demo.
Rating: 9. Country of origin: Poland. Release date: not yet available.
This is the second demo I have received from this very talented Polish band. Somebody better sign them soon because they are exceptional. Illuminandi is comprised of seven members which include violin, cello, two guitarists, bass, drums, clean male vocalist, and harsh male vocalist. Fans of old Tristania, Sins of Thy Beloved will be delighted to discover them. They also remind me at times of Undish, a gothic band from Poland, and a little of Virgin Black, on the song “The Betrayal,” but of course, Illuminandi are much heavier than both of those bands. In fact, while gothic elements are clearly present, it is probably more accurate to think of them as death metal with hints of gothic and doom. Comparisons to Antestor are not out of place. Even so, the early Tristania comparison is the strongest in my opinion.
In terms of songwriting skill, I would say that this band is ready for a recording contract. These five songs are well conceived and well executed. They are interesting and very exciting. Despite the fact that this is a demo, the recording quality is quite good and the band’s sense of their music exudes confidence. The only barrier that this band may encounter is the prejudice of some labels and fans of metal against positive, Christian lyrics. That would be a shame as this band is worthy of serious attention from the metal world. Do not be a fool, Illuminandi are the real thing.ORDER FROM NOKTERNAL HEMIZPHEAR,
KAMELOT “Live” (2 discs).
Rating: 10. Country of origin: USA. Release date: available now.
I really enjoyed watching these two discs. Kamelot are a great band and their live shows do not disappoint. This DVD is excellent in its production and layout. It seems like SPV really now how to make band DVD’s. Disc one is a lengthy concert filmed in Norway with great sound and awesome camera work. Disc two has a filmed tv appearance and a collection of their videos, including both versions of “March of Mephisto,” interviews and discography. I consider myself to be an admirer of the band, though at times I find their albums to be too similar. But here I find that they have chosen all the right tunes and have performed them in their usual professional manner. There is nothing I found disappointing or superfluous about this 2 DVD set. It’s a great deal.
KAMELOT “Ghost Opera” (11 tracks. 44:05). SPV USA
Rating: 8. Country of origin: USA. Release date: June 5, 2007.
In this update I get the pleasure of reviewing both Kamelot’s live CD and DVD as well as this new album. As always, Kamelot are a top-notch, professional, prog-metal band. Vocalist Khan has never sounded better and the music is well-done as always. Kamelot are one of those few bands that can appeal both to the heavier side (darker side) and to the lighter side of metal with respect. They also possess a level of gravitas that many bands lack. But the reason Ghost Opera gets only an 8 is that this band has basically remained within their comfort zone for the recording of this album. There is nothing unexpected or unusual about this album. Not that this is a bad thing. Quality is always appreciated. But to get the higher rating, something needs to surprise and wow me. Also, songs like “Anthem” sound like heavier versions of Disney soundtrack tunes. Great as this may be—and it is a sign of professional musicianship—these kinds of songs sound good at first and then get old. Still, though this review may sound negative, I enjoy this album like many of Kamelot’s earlier works.
KOTIPELTO “Serenity” (10 tracks. 45:29). CANDLELIGHT USA.
Rating: 7. Country of origin: Finland. Release date: available now.
To me Timo Kotipelto and Stratovarius have been a mixed bag. It is mostly good. The musicianship of his regular band and solo albums has always been excellent, and I have always appreciated his reflective, often philosophical lyrics. On the other hand, you always know what to expect from him: mildly progressive power metal. So I feel funny every time I write a review for either Stratovarius or Kotipelto. The only real downside is that often when he goes for the really high pitched singing he often strains the limits of his voice, sometimes sounding a bit flat. Anyway, Serenity is a nice, singable power/classical metal album from a very popular, well-established vocalist. It’s a safe investment.
LAETHORA “March of the Parasite” (10 tracks. 38:42). UNRULY SOUNDS/THE END.
Rating: 8. Country of origin: Sweden. Release date: available now.
Fans of Bloodbath who are impatient for a new release will want to check out Laethora. This is Swedish death metal in the heavier vein of Bloodbath, Hypocrisy, and Allegience (excellent side project by members of Marduk). Despite the comparisons, and the seemingly predictable genre, Laethora bring just enough innovation to keep their album distinctive. For me, the best unique quality about this band is how they occasionally play rather slowly, and almost melodically—you know, how some doom bands come near to playing death metal? Well, here is a death metal band that comes near to doom in that way. Songs like “The Scum of Us All” and “Facing Earth” are prime examples. But over all, brutality rules the day in grand Swedish style.
LOST EDEN “Cycle Repeats” (10 tracks. 35:01). CANDLELIGHT USA
Rating: 5. Country of origin: Japan. Release date: available now.
Review by Criticalnate.
thrash with hardcore influences that borrows from many mainstream bands
including In Flames, Trivium, At The Gates, and similar
cliché bands. Despite its monotony, it has few crunchy [enjoyable] parts, but
all of them are the same. IMO horribly annoying [read: monotonous] vocals,
although they will apply to mainstream listeners. There is one radio-friendly
acoustic track, which leads into the heavier half of the album, something most
bands do now. This album does not stand out as a genre-defining release, but
rather a maintainer of the sound.
MACHINERY “Degeneration” (9 tracks). LAST ENTERTAINMENT.
Rating: 8. Country of origin: Sweden. Release date: Available now.
This band’s combination of dramatic, passionate vocals and crunchy guitars will certainly please fans of Nevermore. Similarly, their sound is close to thrash and close to death, but also melodic and commercial enough to have a broader appeal. Despite the use of words like “melodic” and “commercial,” Machinery should not be taken for a Gothenburg clone band. Their style is not identifiably “Swedish” in any predictable way, though their professionalism and skill are certainly up to par with what we have come to expect from Sweden. I believe that while this band would like to be judged by their own merits, the similarities to Nevermore are too great to be passed over. In my mind this is a compliment to the band’s talent, but not creativity. I do not sense that Machinery has set out to imitate Nevermore, it only seems that the combination of elements has brought them within proximity of Nevermore’s sound.
MAGNUM “Princess Alice and the Broken Arrow” (11 tracks. 1:02:32). SPV USA.
Rating: 9. Country of origin: U.K. Release date: April 3, 2007.
No matter how many years I have been an avid fan of metal, it never ceases to amaze me that I receive new CD’s from time to time from bands with a long history I was not aware of. Here is another case in point. Princess Alice and the Broken Arrow turns out to be Magnum’s 13th album. The cover art is a delightful painting in the Grimm’s Fairytales/Blind Guardian/Tolkien-esque variety which caused me to suspect that Magnum might be a throw back to 80’s power metal of the German variety. Not so. In fact, the soberness and maturity of this band can be discerned right off with the opening track “When We Were Younger.” Obviously I cannot speak concerning the band’s earlier history, but here Magnum’s music is very much a blending of classic rock and progressive metal. I can imagine fans of Deep Purple and Whitesnake, even Meatloaf liking this band, but also bands like Saxon. As weird as it may sound, I find their music to be very mentally stimulating and relaxing at the same time. I think this is because the band sounds to me a lot like a 70’s rock band (e.g., “Thank You For the Day”). There are a couple ballads on this disc, “Inside Your Head” and “Desperate Times,” both good, but otherwise the CD is a rocker. The subject matter in the songs is not syrupy or cheesy love ballads or fist-pumping adolescent anthems, but rather songs about life from various perspectives. So the maturity of the lyrics nicely fits the maturity of the music. Magnum have turned out to be a very pleasant discovery for me.
MARDUK “Romans 5:12” (10 tracks. 55:30). REGAIN RECORDS.
Rating: 9. Country of origin: Sweden. Release date: April 24, 2007.
“Therefore, just as sin came into the world through one man, and death came through sin, and so death spread to all because all have sinned” (Romans 5:12, NRSV). Ever faithful to their evil image, Marduk never cease to amaze me at their ability to sound fresh and interesting. Here they give the added surprise of an album title (and song) based on a passage in the New Testament. As an ordained minister and also fan of Marduk, I find this amusing. I couldn’t help laughing when this CD arrived. The question is: how did they find this verse?
Musically, Marduk’s trend in recent years of mixing up the tempos has been a real sign of their musical “common sense.” That is, instead of being pure image, the band has labored successfully in creating diverse music which can still be cold, black/death metal. There still are no keyboards or orchestrated parts, but the use of slower tempos and melody—or rather, movement—in the guitar playing has kept the band fresh and interesting. Romans 5:12 is vocalist Mortuus’s third album with the band. He is, I think, the best vocalist the band has had. But the best thing to say is, I think that Romans 5:12 is as interesting and exciting an album as the band has produced—must be the results of Bible study!
MARTRIDEN “Martriden” (4 tracks. 25:42). CANDLELIGHT USA.
Rating: 9. Country of origin: Sweden. Release date: June 5, 2007.
Like Abigail Williams, Martriden are an American extreme metal band making their debut with an E.P. on Candlelight. What immediately comes to mind when hearing this band is how heavy and powerful they are. I think the promo sheet is dead on this time: fans of Opeth, Emperor, and Behemoth will really appreciate this band’s style. Like these bands, Martriden’s music can be described as death metal or black metal, and is best described as a combination of both. The super-tight bass drumming often sounds like a low flying chopper. The guitar work is solid and chunky, but not all the same. There are moments of quiet reflection, but for the most part, it is heavy duty. Keyboards lurk beneath the surface in spots in ways we remember from Emperor and Dimmu Borgir. So where are they from? Sweden? Norway? How about Montana! I hope this band has more of where this came from.
MASTERPLAN “MKII” (12 tracks. 52:24). CANDLELIGHT USA.
Rating: 8.5. Country of origin: Germany. Release date: March 20, 2007.
Featuring a number of well-known German classic/power/speed metal alumni, Masterplan leans more to the hard rock side. This, their fourth release, is rock solid. I do not know what MKII stands for, but it certainly sounds good. I think the addition of Riot vocalist, Mike DiMeo has really complimented the band’s sound. Fans of the band as well as fans of Whitesnake and Human Fortress will love this album. As expected, the excellent musicianship is complimented with excellent vocals and well-written lyrics. Track 6, “I’m Gonna Win” is a classic power ballad which I imagine will be a crowd favorite for years to come. But of course, the band rocks throughout this album.
MESSIAH’S KISS “” (11 tracks. 45.11). SPV USA
Rating: 8. Country of origin: Germany. Release date: March 13, 2007.
I was not familiar with Messiah’s Kiss previous to receiving this CD. This is actually their third CD. It consists of 11 songs of fist-pumping, power metal tunes straight out of the 80’s. The mark of producer Herman Frank, whose work on Accept’s Balls to the Wall album is still worth remembering, is evident in the crispy, mean-ass guitar tone. This band obviously reflect their influences of German power metal. They also bring to mind some of Judas Priest’s best riffs. While there is nothing really new to say about German power metal bands of this sort—lyrically or musically—I will say that their music is very contagious due to their energy and great sense of riffing.
NOVEMBER’S DOOM “The Novella Reservoir” (8 tracks. 45:58). THE END RECORDS.
Rating: 9.5. Country of origin: U.S.A. Release date:
My original review of this proud CD died in a hard drive crash. Now I have had the benefit of interviewing Paul Kuhr and listening to the CD many more times. Without doubt, November’s Doom has created a stronger death/doom album than Pale Haunt Departure. On Pale Haunt, the band oscillated back-and-forth between heavy and soft so much in the songs that it hindered my ability to enjoy the album. What makes The Novella Reservoir so great, aside from the fact that it is a November’s Doom creation, is the fact that the heavy songs are focused on being heavy, and the two quiet songs are focused on being quiet. From the opening of the album to its ending, TNR is predominately a death metal juggernaut with some of the bands best riff work. Songs like “Drown the Inland Mere” and “Dominate the Human Strain” are devastatingly heavy, probably as heavy as the band has ever been. The album is also noticeably less “doomy,” and in fact, Kuhr told me that ND is not a doom band and that we can expect more in this vein. But in the midst of this powerful CD is the fragile “Twilight Innocence,” a dreamy, Floydesque piece that is as powerful as it is beautiful. I think it is the best ballad the band has ever done. I have always regarded this band as one of the finest examples of American metallic capability. I would pit them against any European band in a contest. And even the least of their albums—Pale Haunt—is great by any standard.
OBITUARY “Executioner’s Return” (11 tracks. 40:45). CANDLELIGHT USA.
Rating: . Country of origin: USA. Release date: August 28, 2007.
Forming in the year that Metallica recorded Kill’em All, Obituary have stuck-to-their-guns over the years, preferring the dedicated death metal crowd to the fickle trendy crowd. So here they are once again, 23 years later, sounding as crisp as ever and being welcomed as heroes into the Candlelight Records fold. It is with much anticipation that this album is being released, and already many tours are shaping up. So how is Executioner’s Return? Is it worthy of the hype? Yes. It is classic Obituary, classic Florida death metal. In short, it sounds good!
OBSCURUS ADVOCAM “Verbia Daemonicus” (7 tracks. 42:14). BATTLE KOMMAND/SOUTHERN LORD.
Rating: 8.5. Country of origin: France. Release date: February 6, 2007.
While most French black metal bands I have heard tend to be weird (but interesting), Obscurus Advocam here come across as very talented. Primitive in nature, but very well produced, this French black metal beautifully mixes slow tempos, raw guitar sounds, distinguishable bass guitar, and real guitar solos with that wall-of-sound style that I like. The mixture of riffs keep the music interesting throughout. Fans of Antestor will love the mood of this album. The atmosphere is classic black metal, but at times with a sense of doom metal timing in songs like “Verbia Daemonicus.” “Starlight to Twilight” is somewhat reminiscent of early Arcturus. This is a very satisfying, well-executed album.
OCTAVIA SPERATI “Grace Submerged” (10 tracks. 37:57). Candlelight USA.
Rating: 8. Country of origin: Norway. Release date: May 22, 2007.
For whatever reason, Octavia Sperati’s first album did not grab my interest. This second album does. Grace Submerged exhibits both power and grace. It sounds to me like a combination of The Gathering (the beauty) mixed with Madder Mortem (the power). The songwriting is excellent, and the song, “Don’t Believe a Word” is definitely a classic. It is a morose ballad dripping with irony. It begins with, “don’t believe me if I tell you … ‘I love you.’” Most of the songs, though, are heavy and somewhat doomy, like you would expect from a cross between The Gathering and Madder Mortem. In other words, the songs are driving and aggressive, but with a touch of femininity in the vocals. However, the CD ends with a moody, ambient instrumental, which is a nice closer for this disc.
OMNIUM GATHERING “Stuck Here on Snake’s Way” (12 tracks. 44:25). CANDLELIGHT USA.
Rating: . Country of origin: Finland. Release date: April 3, 2007.
Here’s a band that comes at you from so many different angles it is hard to put your finger on them. My guess is that people who listen to this CD will hear many of their own favorite styles, even if two different people cannot decide what those styles are. Some will point to Gothenburg inspired band like Soilwork and Dark Tranquility, and due to the level of their brutality, Carnal Forge. Still others—like Criticalnate—will mention Mastodon. Let me give you the bottom line at the beginning this time: there is no doubt this band is talented and will attract a lot of attention to themselves. Still, these comparisons do not seem to cover all the bases with this band. Even so, perhaps the essence of this band is a cross between Carnal Forge and Mastodon with many additional influences.
ONSLAUGHT “Killing Peace” (9 tracks. 44:07 mins). CANDLELIGHT USA.
Rating: 9. Country of origin: U.K. Release date:
Old school thrash band returns sounding like young thrash band. Onslaught emerge from retirement with a heavy-duty does of the type of thrash we first went nuts over in 1984—the year I discovered thrash. Lyrically, Killing Peace seems to be a severe critique of Evangelical American warmongers who blinding accept W’s false pretexts for the Iraq war, not to mention evangelicalism in general. I point this out because some less critical minds may hear their lyrics as just mindless blasphemy typical of many metal bands. Their lyrics are, to be blunt, prophetic, pointed, and very intelligently written. There is enough hate here to fuel a CD to rival any of Kreator’s or Testament’s best. I’d say it is one of the best come back albums of recent memory.
PRO-PAIN “Age of Tyranny” (11 tracks. 39:30). CANDLELIGHT USA.
Rating: 7. Country of origin: USA. Release date: May 22, 2007.
Once again I must offer my thanks to Pro-Pain for saying all those things that need to be said. The album title says it all: we are living in an age of tyranny, an age where lies are openly promulgated, exposed, and yet believed. The current American regime is as despotic as Hitler or Stalin ever was, just not as free to oppress as they were. Remember, National Socialism (Nazism) was a right wing movement that promoted “traditional values” as their rallying cry. Like a minority of voices that spoke out against such tyrants, Pro-Pain continue to speak openly and candidly what many are thinking to themselves. For that, we owe them our thanks.
While I think the lyrics are top-notch and clever, musically Age of Tyranny is not as enjoyable as Prophets of Doom. I like it, of course, and there are a number of elements on this album not present on the previous one, but overall, it is not quite as good musically. The new elements include the actual singing on the chorus of the song, “All for King George” and the female singer on “Beyond the Pale.” Other than this, the music is typical, and solidly Pro-Pain.
PAGANIZE “Evilution Hour” (10 tracks. 59:54). CANDLELIGHT USA.
Rating: 8.5. Country of origin: Norway. Release date:
One of the selling points of Paganize will be the fact that Trym (of Emperor) is their drummer. But don’t let this mislead you, Paganize are a classic metal band, not black or death metal. Instead, Paganize sound to me like a band that grew up on Fates Warning, Mercyful Fate, and Queensryche. The music is best described as aggressive power metal with some excellent guitar hooks, progressive elements here and there, and high pitched tenor vocals—definitely going for the Geoff Tate sound.
SAINT “The Mark” (12 tracks. 50:06). ARMOR RECORDS.
Rating: 7.5. Country of origin: U.S.A. Release date: Available now.
In my teenage days Saint filled an important need: a Christian band with a credible metal sound. Twenty years ago they released their second album, Too Late for Living, then disappeared for more than a decade. In the early part of this century they reemerged and have produced an e.p. (The Perfect Life), a studio album (In the Battle), a rerecording of their original e.p. (Warriors of the Son), and now this new album, The Mark. As they have been doing for more than twenty years now, Saint once again offers us a Judas Priest inspired collection of tunes with apocalyptic themes drawn almost exclusively from the book of Revelation. Back on guitar is Dee Harrington (Too Late for Living, Warriors of the Sun re-make), Larry London on drums, Josh Kramer on vocals—and getting very spry for a guy his age!, and band founder, Richard Lynch on bass. In terms of music, this album has some of the band’s heaviest hooks since the John Mahan days. The contrast between Mahan and Dee Harrington is that Harrington had more finesse and was more of a shredder, while Mahan simply played some mean sounding riffs and solos. Here Harrington has provided us with both finesse and power. The tune, “Reaping the Flesh,” will especially please fans. The only down side to this album is that it is self-financed and thus did not have quite the budget a label release would have. Even so, Saint has once again produced a very credible sounding metal album with an uncompromising Christian message.
SAXON “The Inner Sanctum” (10 tracks. 44:32). SPV USA
Rating: 8.5. Country of origin: U.K. Release date: April 3, 2007.
Though Saxon have stayed true to their sound over the decades, one might expect some “maturing” in their sound, i.e., slowing down, writing ballads,etc. But I can say that they always manage to sneak in plenty of youthful vigor. The Inner Sanctum is trademark Saxon, and maybe one of the most enjoyable albums they have made. There are some songs here that really get the blood pumping, like “Need for Speed,” “Let Me Feel Your Power,” “If I Was You.” and “Atila the Hun,” this last one conjuring up comparisons to Kamelot. In a more traditional Saxon/Krokus/AC/DC vein are tunes like “I’ve Got to Rock to Stay Alive” and “Going Nowhere Fast,” it’s all good stuff. But they are mature—not in the “mellowing with age” sense, but in terms of songwriting. These guys know how to write good classic metal songs. You might expect that after all these years a band would either mellow or become lacrimose. Not so. The Inner Sanctum will rock you.
SHINING “V – Halmstad (Niklas Angaende Niklas)” (6 tracks. 42:37). OSMOSE/THE END RECORDS
Rating: 9. Country of origin: Sweden. Release date: available now.
My first reaction to this band was negative because the cover depicts a person with a gun in her mouth. It seemed like bleak, post-black metal shock art. I can live without that sort of imagery. But after listening to this CD I found that this band is not simply a violent black metal band. To the contrary, there are a few rather peaceful moments on this CD. But who is this band? I tried to find out some information and found very little. Their website is down and their myspace has little information. The best I could find was a few comments on the Osmose website and the blurbs on The End Records’ mailorder (The Omega). As it is, I have not heard of anyone in the band—that is, unless I just don’t know their real names as listed on the myspace site. But it appears that at some time earlier in their career Hellhammer may have been their drummer.
All that aside, my evaluation of this band is that they are an unusually talented bunch. In terms talent, though not necessarily style, I would lump them in a category with Green Carnation and Opeth. In terms of style I would have to say they touch on black, death and progressive metal, sounding like Mayhem, Tormentor (as in Recipe Ferrum), Green Carnation’s heavier/darker moments, and so on. The vocalist could pass for Attila Cshir and has the ability to sing as well as to sound like an escaped lunatic. The band does not simply make use of the traditional instruments of metal, they also use fretless bass and a cello. And as they blurb on the Omega mailorder says, they have the ability to interweave moments of power with moments of sublimity. I am glad to have discovered this band’s fifth album, though I should be embarrassed about not knowing about them previously and am eager to hear their earlier material.
SIGH “Hangman’s Hymn” (10 tracks. 44:19). THE END RECORDS.
Rating: 9. Country of origin: Japan. Release date: available now.
Now this is the Sigh album I—and maybe you too—have been waiting for. Sigh albums have always been interesting but weird. Overall they have been too “left field.” Imaginary Sonicscapes and Gallow’s Gallery had their intriguing moments, but the experimental and odd nature of their music could not hold my interest for long. I think it was just too idiosyncratic for my taste. Now I do not have the full range of albums from this band, so what I say only goes back to Scenario IV, but in a sense, even that is not necessary. What is important here is Hangman’s Hymn. This is truly a black metal album with some bite, even if it still sounds different from the usual fare. I think that with this album Sigh has found a way to make their uniqueness work for them while living up to the reputation they have earned since their early involvement with Euronymous’s infamous Deathlike Silence. The bottom line, though, is that while I found the other albums to be both interesting and, at times, aggravating, this one works for me.
SUPER GEEK LEAGUE “Peppermint Rainbows” (13 tracks. 48:33). SGL.com
Country of origin: US. Release date: available now.
Out of the blue I received this bizarre CD in the mail. It sounds like rock/punk/humor inspired, perhaps, by the likes of the Butthole Surfers, but their eclectic instrumentation and off-the-wall style seems representative of the recent trend from the West Coast in the form of bands like Estradosphere and Sleepy Time Gorilla Museum—well, maybe not THAT eclectic, but pointing in that direction, and with a touch of the B-52s. The band also claims inspiration from Frank Zappa, Cirque du Soleil, and Dr. Seuss. Further impressions include: The Talking Heads, Smash Mouth, and SNL’s The Ambiguously Gay Duo, though I wouldn’t accuse these guys of being “ambiguous,” as is evidenced by the artwork, and especially the lyrics to “Semen.” The song, “The Battle for Supremacy” is just plain funny, and perhaps has a deep message, as does “Strange Creatures Book I & II.” They also venture slightly into Marilyn Manson territory with “Jesus in Clown Shoes.” I’m not quite sure what this song is about—maybe nothing—but it definitely will appeal to MM fans, and offend others. Despite the comic art work, and a website offering fans the opportunity to create their own heroes, the content of this CD is adult in more than one way. One way, of course is the racy material, the other is the critique of society from the viewpoint of artist/creator, Floyd McFeely—yeah, the name fits, eh? In terms of the music, it is fun to listen to. Finally, about 10% of the sale this album will go to support the Special Olympics.
SWALLOW THE SUN “Hope” (8 tracks. 57:44). CANDLIGHT USA.
Rating: 9. Country of origin: Finland. Release date: March 20, 2007.
Like Funeral (above), Swallow the Sun is a band whose music I have paid money for (and would have continued to do so if not for my relationship with Candlelight USA!). I hadn’t yet gotten around to acquiring their second album, Ghosts of Loss, but I certainly enjoyed their first disc, The Morning Never Came. Obviously, though, I am missing a stage in the progression here, and so my comments will have to be understood in that light.
First, I like this album more than The Morning Never Came. As much as I liked the first album, it seemed to be too harsh, too death oriented. I was quite relieved to reach the end and hear their brilliant cover of Candlemass’ “Solitude” because it has a soft side. Hope varies between death/doom and, I guess you would call it reflective doom. You could say “more melodic”, but that would be inaccurate since even their heavier stuff is melodic. But on Hope the band moves between heavy and reflective modes so that the listener can feel the ebb and flow of the music. This more reflective mood is highlighted by an awesome track called “The Justice of Suffering” which features guest vocals by Jonas Renske of Katatonia. Renske’s vocals fit the music very well. Tomi Joutsen of Amorphis also makes a guest appearance, but I am not sure where, perhaps on “These Hours of Despair.” Actually, though, it may be that they do vocals throughout. It is really hard to be sure without more information.
TERHEN “Eyes Unfolded” (5 tracks. 53:52). FIREBOX.
Rating: 8. Country of origin: Finland? Release date: August 20, 2007.
It may be easiest to describe this band’s music as funeral doom (a favorite genre of mine), but that would not give the best impression. Yes, the music is slow and plodding, and the male vocals are gutteral, but the overall “feeling” of the music is surprisingly gentle. Don’t misunderstand, this is not some sort of Anathema album. It is heavy and doomy, but it over the top of all the slowness and heaviness is a brooding organ sound which gives the effect of a soothing wind. It reminds me somewhat of Saturnus’s first album: heavy but comforting. There are also sweet female vocals, and keyboardist Marianne Mieskolainen also provides some violin. Even so, the lyrics are melancholy as should be expected in this genre.
THRONE OF KATARSIS “An Eternal Dark Horizon” (5 tracks. 55:25). CANDLELIGHT USA.
Rating: 7. Country of origin: Norway. Release date: April 3, 2007.
A cursory glance will tell you that there is nothing unique about this band. They are from Norway. They play old school black metal. They wear black clothing, Venom t-shirts, bullet belts, spikes, etc. They are pictured with weapons and torches with black and white photography. And they have song titles like “Funeral Moonlight,” “Symbols of Winter,” “An Eternal Dark Horizon” and two in Norwegian, “Under Guds Hud,” and “Nattaander.” Whichever member (either Grimnisse or Vardalv) is pictured on the back cover, he looks a lot like Euronymous. And this is a clue for you. Mayhem’s De Mysteriis Dom Satanas has to be the inspiration for this band and this album. Even Grimniss’ vocals resemble Atilla’s. On the other hand, his guitar playing is quite good, better than most black metal bands, the production is crisp, and there are even acoustic guitars on this album. And what!!?? These songs are lengthy. Some over ten minutes long (five songs at nearly one hour in length). So maybe they are not so typical in at least some ways.
TOXIC BONKERS “Progress” (10 tracks. 35:11). SELFMADEGOD RECORDS.
Rating: 8.5. Country of origin: Poland. Release date: May 21, 2007.
I need not mention that Polish death metal bands are flat out brutal. This is expected and you will not go wrong to assume such here. Toxic Bonkers have ben around for a while—since 1993—but this is my first time to hear them. TB do not disappoint: they are heavy duty! Criticalnate says they sound like Vader, I agree to a point. They are brutally heavy, but I am more inclined to hear comparisons to early Sepultura (up to Chaos A.D.) and Morgoth (especially Cursed). In other words, this is prime, classic, brutal death metal. But just when you think you’ve got them figured out, the title track, “Progress,” challenges your assumptions. This is a slow moving tune, still death metal and brutal, but it makes me think of earlier Samael minus the keyboards. It has just enough of their influences to be discernable, but also enough of their own creativity, to have produced a very satisfying death metal CD.
TRANSMISSION 0 “Memory of a Dream” (10 tracks. 64:25). CANDLELIGHT USA.
Rating: 8. Country of origin: the Netherlands. Release date: April 24, 2007.
Think about all the bands you’ve heard from the Netherlands. What are some elements that we may associate with bands from that country? Heaviness is one, but there are also those dreamy, psychedelic instrumentals (think The Gathering). There are also some bands which lean towards doom. Well, all of these elements describe Transmission 0 in my opinion. They are definitely heavy and somewhat doomy, but they also employ many psychedelic sounds. But one may also compare this band to Madder Mortem somewhat.
TUNER POLE “Tuner Pole” (14 tracks. 60:01). UNSUNG RECORDS.
Rating: 9. Country of origin: USA. Release date: available now.
This progressive rock CD has a very cool, creepy vibe. Though the tear sheet that came with it compares it to TOOL, Peter Gabriel, NIN and others, I am more familiar with metal and would compare it to White Willow, the Gathering, and a touch of Madder Mortem here and there. On the other hand, the evolving musical structures in many of the songs remind me a lot of U2, a non-metal band I am very familiar with. And, I think fans of Ulver can find this CD like hearing a guitar and drums version of Ulver’s more recent material. Tuner Pole is a collaboration between Pat Mastelotto of King Crimson, whom I am familiar with, and Markus Reuter of Centrozoon, whom I am not familiar with, but am pleased to discover. It also features a long list of guest vocalists and musicians that evidently give this CD its diverse flavors and contribute to its technicality. Tuner Pole is an instantly likeable CD, but it has proven to be one that grows on you with every listen. I think with each listen I have discovered some nuance that had previously eluded me. It isn’t heavy for the most part, but you feel really smart while listening to it.
UP FROM THE ASHES “Up From the Ashes” (DVD). ROXX RECORDS/RETROACTIVE RECORDS
Rating: 7.5. Country of origin: USA. Release date: available now.
This DVD contains a combination several legendary Christian metal bands and some newcomers hoping to achieve some level of success. Among the veterans featured are Saint, Deliverance, Ultimatum, Once Dead (Vengeance Rising without Roger Martinez), Sweden’s Laudamus, and Neon Cross. Holy Soldier was listed, but I did not find any Holy Soldier material (but then again, there was the bonus material in the trivia section I haven’t gotten to yet). A number of new bands, hopeful of making their mark on the Christian metal scene are: Tower of Hundred, Tukkus, Terrestrial Harvest, Blissed, Demise, and more. Some of these bands show signs of developing talent, a few of them will probably not make it. What’s really nice is that they get their chance here to be seen and heard. Many fans of Christian metal will be absolutely thrilled to see Once Dead (remember, Vengeance Rising without fanatical, apostate vocalist, Roger Martinez) and Ultimatum on DVD for the first time. I enjoyed this, but for me, the real thrill was seeing Saint. I was disappointed when they broke up in the late 80’s and excited when they regrouped in the late 90’s. To see Dee Harrington shredding on the guitar, Richard Lynch throbbing along on his bass guitar, and Josh Kramer screeching out the vocals … well, it was a real pleasure. I have to admit, though, Josh seemed to be a little hoarse in a spot or two. Also pleasurable to me was to see Deliverance still around (despite two disbandings and reformings). I got to see Deliverance and chat with Jimmy Brown in ’93. Back then I thought he was the real deal, and even now I think so. Deliverance are not making the same sort of thrash that really drew me to them in the early 90’s, but I will say that nothing Jimmy Brown and band mates have done has ever been bad.
Up From the Ashes is a DVD to be had by all who love these bands as I do, but understand that Christian metal bands and labels do not have the capital that regular metal bands and labels have. This means that there is a noticeable difference in recording quality and venue (most videos were obviously shot in churches). However, producer Bill Bafford and all involved have made really good with the means at their disposal. The DVD is organized with menus, and as mentioned above, with trivia sections and so on. The appearance of many of these bands on this DVD may likely be the only exposure they get in this medium. Those interested should visit the website: www.roxxproductions.com.
VIRGIN BLACK “Requiem – Mezzo Forte” (7 tracks. 52:08 mins). THE END RECORDS.
Rating: 9.5. Country of origin: Australia. Release date: April 3, 2007.
I have never been able to “get it” with one listen. Listening to Virgin Black is a discipline. I can say this too, because I have been listening to them since shortly after their demo came out in 1995. Each album defies the listener’s sense of progression. The complexity of the music, the oddness of the timings, structures, even Rowan London’s awesomely haunting vocals confuse and alienate the casual listener, but reward the faithful listener. It takes time for the structure to sink in, for the listener to adjust. In other words, don’t listen to this disc just once—or even twice for that matter. Don’t play it in your car when you want a “pick-me-up” on the way to work or school. Listen to it when you are in a mood for the sublime (look this word up in a dictionary, it doesn’t mean what you think). If you take the time to really get to know Virgin Black’s music, you will be blessed.
Though the details are readily available, let me explain quickly what this is about. Virgin Black have spent the last two years or so composing not one, but three (!) albums. This one is the first one to be released, but it is actually the second album. They are aiming for the middle with this release. It combines the work of the Adelaide Symphony Orchestra with VB’s trademark dark avant-gothic sound. The first album, Requiem-Pianissimo, to be released later, will be softer (as the title suggests) and will be exclusively, I think, music performed by the orchestra. The third album, Requiem-Fortissimo, will be, according to the label, “a fierce statement of grief, and the band’s heaviest work to date.” Both sound very promising.
Being a combination of both ends of the spectrum—thus the title, Mezzo Forte—there is a lot of fluctuating between soft and heavy, finesse and aggression. Still, it sounds more like an opera than a metal album. The structure of the individual songs in relation to the whole is more akin to “classical” music than orchestrated metal. Thus, while we can all appreciate the orchestrated sophistication of a band like Therion, Virgin Black is the band that actually writes the symphony.
A few quick observations: Rowan London’s operatically trained voice sounds as strong as ever, and as early as track one, “Requiem, Kyrie,” he hits a magical high note in his singing that calls to mind opera greats like Michael Crawford. There are plenty more moments like this throughout, but he shares singing duties with a very beautiful sounding soprano. Samantha’s guitars are very present in key places, very melodic in some, and yet not overpowering the full instrumentation of choir and orchestra. We expect that Requiem-Fortissimo will show her more aggressive side.
Finally, I do not believe that this review as it stands will be the final word. Two other points are important to consider. One, how will this CD sound to me once I have become familiar with the other two? And, how will it sound to me a year from now? Whatever the answer to these questions may turn out to be, I expect that many, many more hours of listening pleasure are in store for me. To my friends in Virgin Black: bless you for this musical gift!
VIRGIN BLACK CONCERT REVIEW – June 29, 2007.
I, my son, Criticalnate, and my cousin Bo had the thrill of seeing Virgin Black in Atlanta. I was so happy to finally get to meet them (I’ve had a long-distance, e-mail relationship with the band since their demo days. When they recorded Somber Romantic I suggested they send a copy to The End Records. The rest is history). The tour plans got screwed up for them, but they made the best of it. We thought their performance was especially intense, but the irony was that the bad venue and poor equipment caused them a great bit of frustration. Somehow that frustration came across to us as intensity. At one point in the show Rowan stepped around the microphone to the edge of the stage and began singing at the top of his lungs. We were very impressed because we could hear him very clearly. We found out later that he was trying to let the soundboard person know that his mike was dead! But the biggest thrill for me (my son, and my cousin Bo) was that we got to sit down with Rowan and Samantha for over an hour and talk. It was like talking with old friends. Very enjoyable.
WUTHERING HEIGHTS “The Shadow Cabinet” & “Roaming Far from Home” (Disc 1: 10 tracks. /Disc 2: 7 tracks. 42:57). SENSORY
Rating: 8. Country of origin: Sweden. Release date:
Disc one is a great new album, disc two is a live disc from Prog-Power 2004 in Atlanta, GA. Both demonstrate Wuthering Heights’ continued commitment to prog-metal with a dramatic flair. If you have never heard this band, think of a Swedish version of Blind Guardian with moments that may be slightly reminiscent of In the Woods. And at other times they are just pure power.
Band’s name: THULIUM Location: London, UK
Biography: Boubou, started the project on his own in 2003. A year later, he moved to UK and co-founded “OutCaged” with Alistair Darby (UK) & Sven Mundorf (Germany). The band became a 5-piece and started to gig; unfortunately, OutCaged had to split after a few performances. Sven & Boubou, still good friends, then decided to go back into Boubou’s original project; Thulium. The band was complete in 2006 with Chris on Bass and Rob on Drums. Surprisingly, after a few gigs, Sven decided to move to different projects. Still he helped the band on finding and training the future lead guitarist, Dani, who replaced Sven in 2007. The band didn’t stop gigging in between the switch.
With members from France, Spain, Canada and UK, Thulium has become one of the most International bands on the planet. Thulium is actually gigging 2 to 3 times a week in London.
Rhythm Guitar / Lead Vocals
Dani - Lead Guitar
Chris - Bass
Rob - Drums
Influences: Foo fighters, Audioslave, Metallica… Official website: http://www.thuliumband.com Myspace website: http://www.myspace.com/thulium69