“Garden Of Relief”
(11 Tracks. 54:15. Naxos)
Available from Bishop Garden for $24 postage paid.
Very seldom do I get a commercial Metal release that I really like. The exceptions are groups like Seventh Avenue and Bishop Garden. Frankly, few commercial bands play with the same flair and alacrity as BG. And originality is another factor.
One of the first comparisons that flashed in my mind was Leviticus’ Knights Of Heaven album. However, I’m inclined to say that I like the BG CD better. There are no syrupy ballads here, although there are some quiet moments. The band plays very tight and there is not one bad or dull song on this CD. Really!
BG’s winning combination feature Fredrik Johansson on vocals. He has a raspy sound reminiscent of Peo Petersson, Sammy Hagar, and Bob Carlisle. On guitar is band contact Stefan Olsson who plays a very polished and compelling guitar. He seems at home with rhythm and lead. Drums are ably performed by Niclas Wilhelmsson and bass by Mathias Willhelmsson. They are the bedrock for the flashy guitars and vocals. Finally, the keyboards are done by Mattias Cederlund who is actually leaving to join Veni Domine. BG is a band for those of you who are dissatisfied with bands like Petra and Guardian. (I recommended this to RadRockers).
(12 tracks. 52:42. Juke Box Media)
available from Juke Box Media
Though their album cover, track listing, and name suggest Death Metal, the Dead Pharisees are anything but. This quartet from the frozen reaches of Alaska more closely resembles a cross between the Crucified and MXPX. The album fluctuates between some high-speed Thrash Punk that strongly reminds of Crucified’s self-titled album to some ska-like upbeat clean guitar licks on occasion. More often than not they play the "old school” Punk style than the MXPX/Green Day 90’s commercial “punk”. And they seem to steer away from the Hardcore sound of many of the Tooth and Nail bands. I challenge anyone to deny that they sound like early Crucified. Finally, from the artwork to the song titles, this album carries with it a polemical theme which rails against the corruption within the church, something we all need to work on.
(4 Tracks. 16:17. EP)
Available from Deuteronomium for $12 postage paid.
Undoubtedly many of you’ve already heard this fine disc. I expected to like it when I heard it but I wasn’t prepared for the level of skill and professionalism I found. Deuteronomium, in my opinion, is a band that is a serious Metal contender and I think it is a shame they are only compared to Christian bands. When you only listen to Christian Metal you only have a small pool of knowledge with which to work. Therefore, Deuteronomium get compared to Mortification and Tourniquet. This is unfortunate.
Deuteronomium is a classy Scandinavian style band. And like Manu said in the interview last issue, they jump around with their styles. However, it should be noted that there is a strong sense of uniformity with this EP. It doesn’t sound confused at all. The first song “Crosshope”, for instance, bears a strong resemblance to recent Entombed. Even the clarity of the production, the vocals, the drums--everything contends for the serious metallers attention. Other images that come to mind with the other songs are Schaliach, Extol on the Christian side and Amorphis on the secular side. All in all, though, the comparisons are only comparisons, this band is really good and I believe they’ll be quite successful.
“Street Corner Queen”
(12 Tracks. 54:58. Little Rose Prod)
available from Little Rose Productions $20 postage paid. See advertisement.
If any band in Scandinavia has the potential to imitate Mortification’s self-reliance it is Deuteronomium. Now they return with their first full-length release on their own label. No one can do this unless they have a lot of money or a lot of talent. With these guys it is talent.
Undoubtedly many will call this black metal, but I’m going to stick to my guns and call it Modern Classic Metal. I do believe, though, that it has black metal elements both vocally and musically as well as thrash. This is especially noticeable on the song “Spell of Hell” which you could fool someone into thinking is a track off of Emperor’s Anthems to the Welkin at Dusk (another incredible album). The two songs, which make a major exception to this, would be the songs, “Druglord” and the tag to “Human Nature”. The tag to “Human Nature” bleeds into a sort of jazzy/trip-hop/reggae thing. Funny as that sounds, it isn’t bad and adds a little humor to the disc while showing the band’s broad musical palette. The song “Druglord” sounds more hardcore to me, but the music fits the message. The rest of the songs, in my opinion, are a blasting barrage of some cool, raw classic metal playing. They are really energetic and I find myself wanting to slam myself into the walls. Once again, this music reminds of recent Entombed (just for comparison sake). Another thing about the music. I really like the leads on this album. I’m not sure who does what but the solos really go beyond fitting a scale into a mode. They have that extemporaneous feel that you get from an old Black Sabbath album. It seems there is more emotion than intellect that goes into their playing.
Lyrically this album covers everything from worldly sins to praise for God, i.e., “Northern Praise”. It is a well-rounded album and due for success.
“Anthems To The Welkin At Dusk”
(11 Tracks. 54:12. Century Black)
Despite that some of you readers react to a black metal band like Superman does to Kryptonite, and despite the fact some of you might cancel your subscriptions . . . I’m going to tell you about this incredible CD. This CD is probably going to go down in history as the definitive Norwegian Metal album. Already it has sold a phenomenal number of units and Emperor have begun to receive attention in guitar magazines—when was the last time a true heavy metal band received attention in a guitar mag?
In one word, this disc is powerful. The arrangements are fast, symphonic, aggressive, polished, etc. At times the music is pure metal aggression, at others, like the intro "Al avartr”, there is a fanfare/classical feel. Keyboards soar throughout adding an ethereal element (keyboards are what make a lot of black metal so full). Though the styles are somewhat different, I’d say this disc is to Norwegian Metal what Tiamat’s Clouds album is to Swedish Metal. Like Emperor or not, you cannot deny that this is a classic.
One other thing, at the end of this CD is Video data track.
(12 Tracks. 62:19. )
Available from RadRockers
Scandinavia has always been the best place for metal in my opinion (Australia would be second). There are just a ton of incredible bands from there. So, you know I would expect something good from a Norwegian band. Perhaps you heard Extol on the Northern Lights compilation from Rowe Productions. You know they are a good band. Perhaps, too, you are aware that Schaliach’s Ole Borud is now one of the guitarists in Extol. But can all this information prepare you for this incredible album? Probably not. You know, every now and then something too good to be true comes along (there are several of those in this issue). This album may very well surpass Groms’ Ascension and Schaliach’s Sonrise in greatness. The guitars on this album are unbelievable. The rhythms are fresh and contagious. Think Carcass’ Heartwork album. They crunch big time. But then the leads are lightening fast and melodic. Once again, think Heartwork. That’s not to say that Extol copied Carcass. This disc is as original as the aforementioned. I only mention it as a quality comparison. Sound wise, I say this album fits more in a category with Dimmu Borgir’s Enthrone Darkness Triumphant (which I do have). The vocals are sometimes a black metal sound and others a thrashy sound. And yet we find that the vocalist can actually sing in a melodic voice on one track (I don’t have the finished CD yet). Incredible. I won’t be putting Extol away for a very long time.
“Don’t Walk Dead”
(13 Tracks. 60:56. Rowe)
At first listen one might be tempted to label Metanoia a Death or Grind Metal band. That would be because of the heavy guttural vocals. Careful listening, though, would lend one the impression that perhaps Death Metal is too limiting. Death/Grind, for instance, is usually very low end and muddy. In my opinion, Metanoia’s music is more of a heavy groove with elements of Thrash. The mix is much more mid-range than low end. This was very evident on their first album. With this all said, I think this new album bears some very subtle and some not so subtle stylistic changes for Metanoia. This album, once you’ve listened to it a few times, is really cool. At first I was a little unsure. I think this is because I expected to hear a repeat of the first album. On this album Metanoia doesn’t become more commercial, nor do they go progressive, nor do they change effects, so it is hard to put a finger on the difference.
First of all, while the first album was full of riffs, hooks and solos, this album seems to be more rhythmic. In order to do this well a band has to be real tight—which they are. Another change is that there appears to be more instrumental layering here. Other less subtle changes are the diversity of vocals. On this disc Yowie does some real black metalish screeches. Other times, like the campfire-like balled, “Reflections”, he actually sings. Ever present still are the heavy guttural vocals that make Metanoia’s music sound heavier than it really is. All said and done, Don’t Walk Dead is worth the wait.
“Triumph of Mercy”
(9 Tracks. 42:30. Rowe)
Available from RadRockers
Back in June 1996 I interviewed Steve Rowe at a club in Atlanta. He said, “We've been doing albums every year for seven years so we'll probably have a longer gap before the next one.” I’m sure he didn’t have Leukemia in mind when he said this, however, with everything past and this album in hand, it all now seems like nothing more than a two-year interval. Of course, that’s easy for me to say . . .
We were all curious to say the least as to how this album would sound. Now, after hearing it for over a month I must say that you would never know that anything ever happened. Sure there is a variation in sound as Mort has been prone to do from album to album. But really, starting with Blood World they have maintained a fairly consistent sound. This disc is no exception. The main difference here is that the music might be slightly heavier than the last three. As true as this is, though, Mortification has so set themselves into a formula that I would say the differences are minimal. All things considered I’d say that is quite an accomplishment.
You might notice that over the years Mortification songs have undergone not just a shift in musical style but also in lyrical style. Whereas their earlier songs seemed to be pointed more outwardly exposing the world to the Gospel, it seems to me that their more recent music is pointed more at the Christian audience, to inspire, challenge, and chasten. I could be wrong but that is my impression. In any event consider this: while other bands have fallen with their labels or died from lack of commitment, nothing—and I mean nothing—seems to stop these guys from sharing the Gospel. Rock on!
(14 Tracks. 47:21. Pony Canyon)
available from Necromanicide
Necromanicide is on the same label in Asia that carries Yngwie Malmsteen, Narnia, Paradise Lost and others. Shouldn’t that tell you something? I haven’t felt like moshing this much since Deliverance put out What A Joke. With a sound that reminds of many of the best thrash bands of days gone by—Deliverance, Nuclear Assault, Testament, Death Angel—it is clear that Necromanicide should be at the front of the line in the retro Thrash revolution. Let me tell you, this disc is 47 minutes of great, solid Thrash. Since this is the 90’s Necromanicide also benefit from better recording and production standards.
The overall sound is very HEAVY and CRUNCHY. The production is crystal clear and it is obvious that these guys use different sounds with their guitars, sometimes polished, sometimes with pure unrestrained aggressiveness.
The cover art, their name, the album title etc. bring to mind recent Machine Head. Obviously these guys, living in a Moslem country where Christians are sometimes persecuted have decided to meet violence with a more potent weapon, the love of Christ. They make no bones about it in their lyrics. There is even a trilogy called “Ha-Meshiach” which means “the Messiah” in Hebrew.
Bottom line: this is a highly recommended heavy Thrash album. BTW, Necromanicide get their name from Mortification’s song of the same title.
(12 Tracks. 66:48. Treasure Hunt)
available from Seventh Avenue
Seventh Avenue’s last album, Tales of Tales, was really great. But, just as Tales was an improvement on its predecessor, so Southgate brings Seventh Avenue to new heights in quality. This is perhaps the best commercial speed metal album ever made by a Christian band. Frankly, it is better than lots of secular csm albums too. Some of this is due to a change in drummers. Mike Pfluger takes over and adds some incredible double bass technique. He is very talented. Another great addition is a second guitarist, Andi Gutjahr, who also plays in Lightmare. So, as you can imagine, this CD is hot! Once again, the playing is fast, accurate, and the guitars shred.
On this disc SA continue their tradition of singing about the woes of man, man’s dependence on God, and the beauty of Heaven. The artwork, once again, is an inspiring work which could be the cover of a fantasy novel but, as usual, has spiritual themes in it. Finally, it closes with another great anthemic ballad, “Goodbye” which makes one yearn for Heaven.
“Tears to Dust”
(10 Tracks. Rowe)
When I first began listening to this disc I was somewhat disappointed because I was expecting a technical Metal band. But, after getting over my initial disappointment and further listening, I came to appreciate what a fine Classic Metal album this is. It hearkens back to a sound similar to Stryper’s Soldiers Under Command and mid-career Guardian. The lyrics are straightforward and preach the Gospel.
All sources for these CD’s reviewed are available on my link page with the exception of Nordic Mission.