Tuesday, April 29, 2014

Mortalicum - Tears from the Grave

Okay, so what do you get when you take one part Sir Lord Baltimore, one part classic Black Sabbath and mix it with a combination of Trouble and Robin Trower...maybe throw in a touch of Mahogany Rush? Yeah, I know, right? What you get is Mortalicum, some of the best heavy/doom metal/hard rock I've heard since the long forgotten days of the 70s. Another reminder of the good old days is the fact that this is a power trio...although they did not start that way. Formed in 2006, this (as of 2013) trio of Swedes has released their third full length album, Tears from the Grave. These guys rely on good old fashioned proto-metal and hard rock riffs that just slay. The result is one of the finest albums of the genre.

One thing about this band is their use of heavy blues infested proto-metal riffs mixed with some damn fine guitar solos. This is considered doom in some respects due to those heavy riffs but that's only partially accurate because there are many more dimensions to this band. Coming right out of the gate is "The Endless Sacrifice" is a mid paced song which just slays from beginning to end with crushing riffs and massive solos. The vocals are in a mid range and not too flashy but compliment the song perfectly. "I Dream of Dying" slows it down a bit with some massive doom riffs that are heavy as fuck but do not take away that proto-metal sound. On this one, the band relies on more of a bluesy doom sound and the solos are just oozing with wah-wah effects while having so much soul and feeling. The middle of the song has this part that is a Robin Trower type bluesy solos with just bass and soft drums mixed in. If this doesn't have you breaking out your bong, I don't know what will! Seriously, this is just classy old school metal that doesn't sound dated but is a modern take on the music I grew up on.

The rest of the album is just as monstrous as those first two songs. The riffs don't stop coming and the melodies are just infectious. They mix it up a bit as a few of the songs are shorter numbers that just blast you and then they have epic monsters that are eight, nine, and even eleven minutes long. The title track is the elven minute track that is just epic and bluesy. I'm not a huge fan of long doom songs but since these guys don't just rely on doom riffs alone, this song has a lot going on and keeps your interest. The vocal melodies and the choruses are catchy and add to the dimensions of this album. Once again those solos make the songs. They combine that old school hard rock solo with modern metal elements thrown in to keep this from sounding dated or that they are trying too hard to be "retro." This isn't retro because they write songs that let you know that they feel this music, not just play it because it's cool to be retro. Songs like "I Am Sin" is the perfect example of music you can feel. Clocking in and eight minutes this epic monster rates high on the goose bump scale with it's killer Sabbath inspired riffs and epic melodies. This is doom at it's finest.

The shorter songs just crush you before you even know what the fuck hit you. Songs like "Spirits of the Dead" and "The Passage" are mid tempo songs that rely on those pounding riffs. The former has some Sabbath inspired riffs and then just under a minute in they throw in some fuckin' cowbell! Okay, I just flashed back to my teens for a second...MORE COWBELL!! Anyway, these songs are just more examples of this band's ability to write songs that take you away and make you remember everything you ever loved about metal music. This type of music can only work if the songwriting is top notch and this band can write songs and they can execute them with precision and class. Their influences are obvious but they have the ability to put their own identity to these songs. You may think of Sabbath or Trouble when you hear some of these songs but you never forget that these are Mortalicum songs.

I'm not the biggest doom fan in the world and it seems I'm more inclined towards the epic and classic doom. This band is the doom metal I love, if indeed they can be pigeonholed into one certain genre and, to me, they can't. If you like your doom with a touch of proto-metal and 70s rock then this is the album for you. And if you are an old fart, like me, this will suit you even better. Actually, if you enjoy metal at all, this album is essential.


Saturday, April 26, 2014

Alvenrad - Habitat

My love of folk metal started back when I first heard Moonsorrow. Since that time I have just embraced the genre with open arms. Lately, though, it seems that the genre has become saturated with bands that just don't bring that much to the table that hasn't already been brought by bands like Moonsorrow, Borknagar, Vintersorg, Finntroll, etc. Imagine my surprise when I discovered this Dutch trio calling themselves Alvenrad. This is the most refreshing thing that has happened to folk metal and heavy metal in general in a long time. Part Borknagar, part Jethro Tull, part classic prog rock, part traditional heavy metal, this band is just an all around enjoyable band.

This band actually plays some of the best metal riffs I've heard in a while, all the while adding some classic sounding keyboards that give it that 70s prog rock feeling. The vocals are mostly clean but do have some black metal vocals placed sparsely here and there as well as some female vocals. They sing in their native Dutch so I'm not sure what they are saying but I would give my paycheck that it has something to do with nature. The opener, "Woudakoestiek," is a diverse song with crushing riffs and catchy melodies but with some hooks as well. This is one of the songs that includes the black metal vocals. The main riff is what's truly catchy about this song. It's a fast number in places but very melodic as well. The keyboards are used perfectly here to give this that aforementioned 70s feel. The second song, "Zwatwildernis," is another song that uses that keyboard sound as well as catchy riffs. The melodies are so good you would want to actually learn Dutch so you can sing along. Then in the middle of the song, they change it up, slow it down and make it sound like something straight out of the 70s. That keyboard sound is prominent on "Foreest in Tweelicht" as well but adding a black metal element along with some absolutely godly solos. I've never heard anything like this before and I am really liking this. The production on this album is absolutely brilliant as each instrument shines on it's own. Nothing is overdone or drowned out by the other. It's clean and clear making this album that much more enjoyable.

"Verweven Klauwen" sounds like it's part Jethro Tull and part Lumsk with some Vintersorg metal throw in with some crushing solos. "O Patrones" has a main piano part that sounds a lot like "Till Fjalls" by Vintersorg without ripping it off by adding it's own twists to it. They really know how to mix it up and keep you interested. If you would have asked me years ago if this formula would have worked I would have thought you were crazy...but it fucking works! "1911" is the most black metal sounding track on the album starting off with some crushing tremolo riffs, blasts, and black metal vocals. They mix it up as well with some great solos and keyboard melodies that has this song. This is a complex number that has many parts that fit together to make it an epic song even if it falls just under four and a half minutes. There is so much diversity going on with these songs but they don't come off as pretentious or to proggy. Instead the parts fall into place to keep the flow of the songs intact. The title track is just that type of song and coming in at just under six and a half minutes is the longest song on the album. There are so many elements to this song but it doesn't make you feel like you can't keep up. And the album closer, "Ondermaans,"..FINALLY a good metal ballad. I was beginning to think that metal bands forgot how to write good ballads. Beautiful acoustic guitars with some flute thrown in and an awesome solo. These guys are just great songwriters.

So here we have a debut album that does not sound like a debut album. This band has a sound all it's own and they sound like they have been doing this for years. I'm really interested in seeing what's next for this band. This band has a magic that I've not seen in a very long time. The sky's the limit for this band.


Friday, April 25, 2014

Helstar - This Wicked Nest

Helstar is a band that has been around, in one form or another, since 1981. Vocalist extraordinaire, James Rivera, has one of the best voices in metal and their first four full lengths are metal classics that did not get the exposure that they deserved for whatever reason, which is criminal in my opinion. The 90s were even less kind to this band as their only release in the 90s was scorned by fans and critics alike. In 2001 James put together a Helstar (sort of) band that toured Europe and the USA and it seemed that a spark was ignited for the band again. In 2006 the band was reunited with the Remnants of War line up and they began to write music together once again releasing King of Hell in 2008 and Glory of Chaos in 2010.

So here we are in 2014 and the band's ninth full length album, This Wicked Nest. Now let me get this out of the way here, this is a different era of Helstar and if people were thinking that they were going to get repeats of Nosferatu over and over again, they might be disappointed. I do know that the new direction started with King of Hell alienated some fans of their older material and that's sad because what we have is a heavier and more straight forward band. This band still can write monstrous riffs and ridiculous technical solos of which there is no shortage on this album. This is an angry Helstar and it's that anger that makes this music that much better. Coming straight out of the shoot is the album opener and the song that was released as a teaser, "Fall of Dominion." This is a balls out riff fest with James' screams that are just blood curdling. This song is a straight ahead thrasher but still has good melodies. The chorus is catchy and James' voice sounds great on those choruses. The solos are insane as Larry Barragan and Rob Trevino are two of the best guitarists in the business. "Eternal Black" comes in and is another crusher with some killer riffs that seem a bit more technical in places and there is some parts that are reminiscent of the old days. This is a straight forward headbanger. James sounds evil on this song as his screams are a bit more gravely on this one.

The rest of the album is petty much the same with more fast pummeling riffs but with great melodies provided by Mr. Rivera. The title track is another song that just pounds you with modern thrash riffs and James' signature screams. The solos stand out again...because they just do! As I said before, this is a modern Helstar that was not satisfied remaking their classics over and over and it's very apparent that they wanted a more modern take on their brand of metal. It took me a few listens to really soak in what was actually going on here and as much as I love those classics, there has been many years between them and James has made a lot of music with a lot of different musicians of different styles. This album is a mix of everything that James has ever done. This album is proof that this band is not done yet and songs like "Soul's Cry," "It Has Risen," and "Defy The Swarm" show that they are not afraid to throw in the influences they picked up a long the way. James was flirting with a black metal shriek ten years ago and he has thrown even more of those types of vocals mixed in with his classic screams. These types of vocals actually fit with the aggressiveness of the songs and sheer brutality of the riffs.

I've been anticipating this release since it's announcement and I'm more than satisified. There were a couple of moments that didn't quite grab me. The instrumental, "Isla de las Muñecas" was okay but given that it was written by Larry Barragan and Jeff Loomis (ex Nevermore) I expected more. "Cursed" was a slower song that was almost Helstar doing doom metal and that song took the longest for me to really "get." Nonetheless, this is another solid release from a band that is considered legends in heavy metal and this album is another reason why.


Wednesday, April 23, 2014

Edguy - Space Police - Defenders of the Crown

I've been a fan of this band since 1998 after hearing Kingdom of Madness and loving it. I have followed this band's career closely and have seen them a few times...even going as far as seeing them twice in a matter of days back in 2004. I have followed the career of their frontman, band comedian, and all around main figure of the band, Tobias Sammet and his Avantasia metal opera series. I've not been too impressed with their most recent outputs. I don't hate them, I'm actually indifferent to these albums because their just wasn't enough to keep me interested. So now we have their brand new album, strangely titled Space Police - Defenders of the Crown and it seems they have found a working formula.

I'm sure that there is an underlying humorous meaning to the title given the fact that Tobias is a major jokester. This album did have some teasers released and these songs were quite good with a mixture of classic Edguy and some elements of their past three. The opener, "Sabre & Torch" is one of those teasers and is the perfect Edguy album opener. This song is a classic power metal song that's full of energy and melody with some kick ass riffing to get the ball rolling. Tobias' voice is in top form and he seems to be singing in a higher range on this one. The chorus with the backing vocals and melodies are catchy as fuck. This is already one of my all time favorite Edguy songs....it's that catchy. These guys really know how to write good power metal songs and there's no shortage on this album. "Defenders of the Crown" is another fast paced power metal song that's classic Edguy. Catchy, melodic and full of hooks this song is a heavy metal anthem for the millennium. "The Realms of Baba Yaga" is another of those rocking riff laden power metal songs that has a godly solo in there making this song that much better.  "Shadow Eaters" is another one of those songs that just kicks your ass with speed, melody and riffs-o-plenty. The slower mid section of the song leads to the solo and the solos on this album really shine.

There's also songs on here that touch more on the hard rock side that the band has been flirting with for the past few albums. "Space Police" is a perfect example of how the band mixes in that sound with even some heavy chug sounding riffs. The keyboards are used more in this song in an almost cheesy way. The chorus is really good on this song and you will find yourself singing along without even knowing it. This song could have come out any time in the 80s. "Love Tyger" is a fucking  hair metal song but for some reason Edguy pull it off. Some of the riffs remind me of something Lillian Axe put out back in the day and the chorus has more cheese than Wisconsin but it works because the song is just plain fun. And with keeping with Edguy humor, the same band that gave you "Lavatory Love Machine" brings you "Do Me Like a Caveman!" That Tobais, always the joker. This is actually a good song, though. It's actually the most non metal song on the album but it's written well and is catchy. Of course, there is the obligatory ballad, "Alone in Myself." It's not that it's that bad but it just seems that metal ballads are just not what they use to be. This is one of the better ones and it almost sounds like a modern Bon Jovi song. The keyboards actually make this song.

For the grand finale we have "The Eternal Wayfarer," which is a massive eight minute epic number. This song reminds me of a cross between "The Pharaoh" and "The Piper Never Dies" as it has the epic riffing and melodies. There's even some eastern sounding parts before the huge chorus that's just epic. The keyboards on this one are in the proto metal style that could have been done by Jon Lord and the solo is a crusher and they also have a counterpoint vocal part that screams Savatage. This is power metal meets arena rock and it's done with style and finesse. There's cheese here but only enough to be nostalgic. This is a fun album with great songwriting and musicianship that borders on perfect. The only downside is the cover of Falco cover "Rock Me Amadeus" which is a song I've hated since it came out so I can't hold that against the band. If you are an Edguy fan then you must have this album. If you are a fan of just plain fun heavy metal than this is a must have. Actually, if you have a pulse than you must have this album!


Sunday, April 20, 2014

Sanity's Rage - You Are What You Swallow

I remember when thrash was young and certain bands came along that added new dimensions to the genre. Once the 90s came, thrash bands seem to adopt more of a groove metal sound or they just went into other directions. But real thrash seem to fade away. Fast forward to 2012 and it seems that thrash is making a comeback. Sanity's Rage from Belgium have actually taken classic thrash and put a modern spin on it. They actually have been around since 2002 and their debut EP was released in 2006 and was rather well received by those who heard it. Their debut full length, You Are What You Swallow, sees a band really set into a formula that works well making for an enjoyable listen.

This band wears their influences on their sleeve as they can seem to, at any given time, remind me of several different thrash bands from yesteryear but still sound like themselves. The production is meaty and clean and is modern sounding but it seems to fit with the band's music. This band plays riff laden thrash that is just crushing. The opener, "The Madness Continues" opens up the album with some acoustics that seem to touch on Annihilator's "Crystal Ann." The title track kicks in and so do the riffs that are just monstrous while being able to keep melody in their music. The soloing on this album ranges from great to godly so if you like your thrash with good, well constructed solos then this is your band. The vocals are a bit on the Mille Petrozza side of thrash on some songs  but with enough of his own sound to not be. The true stars of this album is the riffing. "Aberration Mandatory" is just an example of how well this band can write fast paced songs with relentless riffing and incredible soloing. If this is the future of thrash, I'm fucking sold!

Keeping in the true thrash fashion, the lyrics on this album are mostly political and angry but not in a way that seems like they were trying to hard. They are believable. How can you not love a band that titles one of their songs "Thumbs up for the End of the World?" They also add just the right amount of groove to some of their songs to keep you interest and mix things up a bit on the album. "Product of Calamity" reminds me Kreator in the beginning and of Wratchchild America in the middle section as it grooves as well as crushes. But when they thrash they take no prisoners as their sound will remind you of German thrash while they throw in some Bay Area sounding stuff in there as well. The song lengths vary as some are in the three minute range but a few are over five minutes and one is as long as six minutes but they all seem to fit well together as the longer songs keep your attention while the shorter songs whip your ass quickly leaving you dazed and wondering what the fuck hit you! "The Wheels Keep Grinding" is that six minute song and is the example of how this band can be thrash but epic as well. This song is full of riffs as well as some complex time changes that it keeps you interested so they also do technical trash very well.

So here you have a thrash band that takes everything we ever loved about classic thrash and adds just a bit of a modern component to make this band interesting. I'm hoping that this band gets the recognition they deserve because I would like to hear more from this band.


Wednesday, April 16, 2014

Terrifier - Metal or Death EP

It seems like a lot of the bands that are playing 80s style metal, whether it be traditional, doom or thrash get lumped into the whole "retro" category. I think that retro is used to loosely. To me a band is retro if it goes out of it's way to sound like a throwback. Then there are some that are the real deal. British Columbia's Terrifier is that real deal. Actually formed in 2003 under the name of Skull Hammer they changed their name to Terrifier in 2012 and released this three song EP in July of 2013. These guys manage to kick the living shit outta me in just under twelve minutes with their riff laden thrash metal. These guys are no joke, this is head banging, fist banging, moshing thrash metal.

The EP kicks off with the title track and the riff fest begins. The song is fast and well written with a hint of being technical.  The riffs do not let up on this song as the vocals pummel you with their aggression. This reminds me of the 80s. The solos are amazing on this song being very technical. There are a lot of dual harmony leads that add some melody to this aggression. This song is simply a neck breaker. "Infernal Overdrive is another song that just pounds you with riffs and speed. There's some blasts in there that lead to some absolutely godly solos. Some of the riffs actually remind me of early Iced Earth triplets but used sparingly. The assault continues with the third and final song. "Wretched Damnation." This is another speedy thrash number with aggressive riffs and amazing solos. This is thrash done right.

This album is actually well produced with a more classic sound but with enough modern production to not sound dated. You can't go wrong with this band because they know how to write catchy thrash songs that are fuckin' good. I'm waiting to see what this band does next because with the right exposure they could go very far. The only thing wrong with this EP is that there wasn't more of it. This is a band to watch.


Digital Download Provided by Vlad Promotion

Anubis Gate - Horizons

I have almost given up on progressive metal because these days it just means something so much different than I remember. It seems that the definition has changed to polyrhythm wankery like some djent bands or just unusual time changes for the sake of unusual time changes. Prog-metal, to me, is melodic metal that teeters on the brink of prog rock bands like Yes, King Crimson, Rush, etc mixed with power metal. Bands like Dream Theater, (old) Symphony X, Fates Warning, Circus Maximus, etc. And it seems that a lot these truly prog-metal bands have let me down lately, save Fates Warning's latest. Never fear prog-metal fans, your savior has arrived in the form of Horizons, the new release from Denmark's Anubis Gate.

Okay, I need to admit my n00bness here because, and I'm not sure how, this band has slid under my radar for years now. They formed in 2001 and has released six full lengths in a decade and this is my first exposure to them. Yeah, I know, what rock have I been hiding under? I'm not sure but I'm happy I crawled out from under it because this album is one of the finest prog-metal albums I've heard in a long time. They have a sound reminiscent to Dream Theater in places minus the extreme wankery. I love wankery, actually, but there's a time and a place for it. The songs on this album are complex without being pretentious, melodic without being cheesy, and heavy in the places where it fits. The time changes are subtle and not so overt that they interrupt the flow of the songs. The riffs are solid and catchy and the leads are well placed but not overdone. The vocalist reminds me of a cross between James LaBrie and Jon Anderson of Yes in his much younger days.

The melodies are infectious and the riffs are epic and somewhat down tuned but not to the point where it seems like they are trying to be too heavy. The use their keyboards so well because they do not drive the songs but give them depth. The album opener, "Destined to Remember," is a prime example of the melodies and catchy songwriting displayed on this album. The vocalist does sound like Labrie on this one but has so much more depth and tone to his voice. As I said, there is no shortage of huge riffs on this album as on songs like "Hear My Call" and "Revolution Come Undone" where these riffs drive the songs and the melodies just pull you in. "Airways" reminds me of 90125 era Yes where they keys are hypnotic with a psychedelic feel but also containing some decent riffs. The vocals mostly remind me of Yes on this one. These are just a few examples of the complex elements of these songs but at the same they time contain melodies that keep it from being obnoxious.

As typical with the genre you some epic songs on here that are just musically huge and that reek with pure talent. I call them goose bump songs. "Breach of Faith" is one of those songs. It starts off simple enough with some light piano that leads into an almost U2 like clean guitar riff that mixes with the main riff of the song. The verse is heavy and melodic with vocals that are simply incredible. The chorus is catchy and the hooks in this song are just amazing, not to mention a solo that fucking godly. This is my favorite on the album just based on the goose bump factor alone. "Dream Within a Dream" is the other truly epic song on this album, clocking in at fourteen minutes this song will make you love this band. The melodies on this song are infectious and go from soft to heavy then to hypnotic. The song builds up to massive riffs in the middle where the hooks just grab you an do not let go.

This band is, without a doubt, the savior of prog-metal. I was about to give up on the genre due to releases that seem to be lacking or were just pretentious wankery. I'm on a mission to procure their entire back catalog because I feel like such a dork for missing out on this band to begin with! Get this album...NOW!!


Monday, April 14, 2014

Below - Across the Dark River

When it comes to doom metal, I seem to gravitate towards the epic/classic doom style that was created by Black Sabbath and perfected by bands like Candlemass and Solitude Aeturnus. There has been a lot of doom metal released lately that was not my cup of tea due to being too slow while trying to be epic but not pulling it off well. To my delight, I found Sweden's Below and their debut album Across the Dark River. It seems that Metal Blade Records was introduced to this band and immediately signed them as well as brought to the attention of Andy LaRocque who produced this debut in his Sonic Train Studios. The result is some epic doom that is really good and enjoyable.

This Swedish quintet has really done a good job to pay homage to their mentors with this album as this reminds me a lot of early Candlemass but this album also has hints of Chapter VI era Candlemass as well. Don't get me wrong, this is not a rip off band because they do have their own sound. The vocals on this album remind me a little bit of Urban Breed (Ex Tad Morose) although he does not have the same power...yet. The riffs are just crushing doom metal riffs with some tritone leads that give off the hint of an evil sound that should be present in epic doom. The solos go from really good to great depending on the song. The opener, "Trapped Under Ground," is a perfect example of the crushing epic doom riffing and soaring vocals. This song is over seven minutes, as there are only a couple of songs under six minutes, however, they do not drone on but keep you interested. The choruses are epic and recorded to add to the atmosphere.

Speaking of the production, this is produced really well with Andy LaRocque at the helm making sure that this band sound the way epic doom should sound. All instruments are present and clean in the mix while giving the album just enough doom atmosphere to be believable. "Bid You Farewell" is another song that has that epic chorus and crushing doom riffing. The solos in this song are one of the better ones. The songs do have a variety of tempos going from slow crushing doom to a speedier doom sound with double bass drumming providing the tempo without sacrificing the epic doom riffing. "Ghost of a Shepherd" is one of the speedier songs that just crush. The driving sound of the riffs along with the soaring vocals is what reminded me of the Chapter VI era Candlemass. This is one of the shorter songs but is no less epic than the longer songs. The first single, "Portal," is a slower pounding epic doom song with massive riffs and great melodies. The solo in the middle leads to some eerie keyboards that would not be out of place on later King Diamond albums. Could be the producer adding his two cents?

"The Whitechapel Murderer" is another crusher that opens with epic riffs and catchy melodies that draw you in. The closer and title track is probably one of the heaviest doom songs I've heard in some time. The riffs are heavy as fuck and the tempo is slow and pounding. The 45 and a half minutes of this album go by fast but the songs leave their mark. These tunes will stay inside your head making this an album you will revisit. The melody on this album adds to the epic sound and makes this album all the more enjoyable. This is another band that I will have my eye on because I can only see great things from this band. There really isn't a bad song on this album. The vocalist, Zeb (Sebastian Jansson), needs just a little more control in his voice and he could be metal's next great vocalist. I am very impressed by this band and this debut. Seems as though 2014 is shaping up to be a great year for metal!


Sunday, April 13, 2014

Skogen - I Döden

I first heard this band in 2012 with their album, Eld. I found that to be some enjoyable black metal. I actually think it is more along the lines of pagan metal. I'm not sure why this band is not on more people's minds than most of the more well known black metal bands. This Swedish trio actually know how to make epic black metal that is enjoyable and majestic. So now we have the band's follow up and fourth full length album entitled I Döden and this is more of the same from this talented band. I liked this band when I first heard them but have now become a full fledged fan as of this album. As I said, the music these guys play is majestic and beautiful and this album is no exception.

What stands out about this band is the way they use the keyboards. They are not upfront in the mix but they provide atmosphere. This is not symphonic black metal, this is atmospheric and epic. The riffs are solid tremolos and they use leads to provide beautiful melodies almost reminding me of Windir in places. The title track is a perfect example of what I'm talking about. They use your typical black metal vocals that are really good and not overly "evil" sounding because that is not what they are going for. They also use some clean vocals that provide even more atmosphere to their songs. The songs are epic as most are in the six or seven minute range but the way they write their songs they keep you interested. I actually put the headphones on when listening to this album because of the atmosphere of this album. "När himlen svartnar" is another example of that majestic sound they are going for. As in the title track, they use acoustic guitar parts to add to the atmosphere and epic nature of the song. Some parts of this song actually remind me of Ulver's Bergtatt.

This is not your blast beat black metal and the production is clean and clear but not over polished. The sound of this album actually makes this so much more enjoyable. As I said, this is not blast beat black metal but epic music that takes you on a journey. To pin point a particular song on here would not be something I could do because take one song away and the journey is incomplete. "Solarvore" is a slower song that has the riffs right up front with a bombastic epic sound that leads into an acoustic guitar passage. This is one of those songs that builds up to a crescendo which is part of the journey that this album takes you on. The clean vocals are hypnotizing and chanting and the keys just add another dimension. This is one of those bands whose music gives me goose bumps because of how I can feel the raw emotion in each song. "Griftenatt" is another of the slow to mid paced song that relies on the tremolos and lead riffs to continue this journey through nature.

"Sleep" is the last song on the album and the longest. Although much slower and not as complex and the rest of the album, the atmosphere between the chanted "throat singing" vocals and the cleans are truly mystifying and hypnotic and it gives the notion that this is a requiem of sorts. This band attracted my attention with their previous album but with this album, they have proven that they are one of those magical bands that know just how to make songs that are truly epic, beautiful and hypnotic. This is epic black/pagan metal done properly and these guys are right up there with Moonsorrow, Windir, etc. One of my favorite albums of the year, so far.


Sunday, April 6, 2014

Argus - Beyond the Martyrs

So here we have the album that I deemed to be the best metal album of 2013, Argus' third album Beyond the Martyrs, so I guess it's about time I give it a proper review. This band formed in 2005 and have released three albums. I just happen to discover them in the latter part of 2013 with this album and am I glad I did. This is true metal if ever there was. And I'm not talking about loin cloth Manowar true metal. I'm talking riffs, dual lead riffs, monster solos and melodies. They border on doom a bit but I would not call them a doom band. They just play good old heavy metal that would not have been out of place coming out along side of Maiden's self titled in '81.

This band knows how to write a song that just sucks you in. The opener is an epic number entitled "By Endurance We Conquer" and is just huge. The riffs are crushing right from the start and the dual lead riffs are just classic. "Butch" Balich is a monster of a vocalist not trying to hit every range known to man, but soaring and epic vocals that almost reminds me of Harry Conklin. This band ain't fuckin' around here. This song has some time changes and hooks that make the playing time of 6:33 just go by. Sometimes I repeat this song just because it seems to go by so fast. The guitar work is just godly. The solos are classy and melodic. They take me back to when heavy metal was new and fresh and even though this band surely is old school this is not a stale re-hash. This is timeless music. "No Peace Beyond the Line" is another riff fest using the lead riffs to provide the melodies then the huge riffs that take you into the verse are just crushing. Again, the solos are soaring and melodic and do not rely on just the technical use of scales but instead have feeling and soul. Check out the solos on the title track and album closer. This is an instrumental that shows just how good these guys are and the raw emotion that is in each and every song on this album.

It seems that every song on this album is epic with time changes and catchy melodies as well as being heavy. This band doesn't rely on being fast and furious but instead rely on their strengths as songwriters to create meticulously constructed songs. The intro lead riff on "The Hands of Time are Bleeding," for instance, has a strange rhythm to is but is precise in it's execution leading to a crushing doomy main riff. Again, the vocals are just perfect as they soar with such passion. "Trinity" starts off with doom riffs and could be a doom metal song as it's slower and the main riff is crushing. "The Coward's Path" has a classic Sabbath feel to it and is another doomy number. Mr. Iommi should have listened to this song before writing "13" because maybe then it wouldn't have been a snooze fest! This song is more Sabbath than Sabbath. In contrast to the doom, we have "Four Candles Burning" is faster with more dual lead riffs and a melody that just draws you in. I get lost listening to songs like this on the album. Even if this is one of the shorter songs on the album, it's epic nonetheless. If I were to point out a favorite song it would have to be "Cast Out All Raging Spirits" (can these guys come up with great song titles, or what?). This song is just massive with riffs, melodies, and solos...this is what metal should be.

I absolutely love every song on this album. There hasn't been an album that has been this good and this magical in a very long time. There is a reason that I called this the best metal album of 2013...because no other release could touch it.


Edge of Thorns - Insomnia

So I'm not sure how this band slid under may radar, forming in 1996 and although they did release some demos they not release their debut until 2004. This band plays a ballsy, riff laden power metal in the vein of Grave Digger and modern Accept. As a matter of fact, vocalist Dirk Schmitt sounds a lot like Chris Boltendahl with a hint of Mark Tornillo with that raspy but melodic metal voice. I was actually expecting something more progressive given they are named after one of Savatage's more progressive and less heavy albums. However, the result is some really enjoyable metal full of melodies, hooks, and riffs that make me glad I grabbed this album.

After a quick intro that sounds like an eerie kids voice that would not be out of place on a King Diamond album, the riffs begin with the first real song, "Dark Side of your Life." Right away you hear the guitar work and the vocals that tell you that this isn't your flowery euro-power metal. This is power metal with balls. The riffs are good and although they are not re-inventing the wheel here, they are making fine heavy metal. The guitar work on here is quite good with tasty solos that are melodic but technical. There's dual harmony solos as well that go well with the music. The production on this album is clean and modern sounding but not in a bad way. The instruments are mixed well together where no one thing drowns out the other. "Yearning Has Begun" has some nice riffs and melodies and the chorus is catchy. The soloing on this album is sometimes unconventional like the intro to the title track that sounds almost like something Steve Vai or Satriani would do. It's those solos along with the meaty riffs that make these songs catchy as fuck.

I also must say that the more I hear this album, I'm reminded of Chris Boltendahl. And speaking of vocals, "Metal Unity" sees Ralf Scheepers (Primal Fear) guesting on the chorus and he actually is not that bad on here. He fits the song well and actually doesn't sound too out of place with Dirk Schmitt. And the lead guitarist David Brixius is a fucking beast. The more I hear him play the more respect I have for him as he pummels you with crushing solos. Although he is a technical player he doesn't overdo it. Along side of him is Jani Nackel pumping out the riffs. It's not very often we see a female playing rhythm guitar in a traditional or power metal band but she can hold her own. The crunchy riffing on "A Caress of Souls" is a prime example of the massive guitar work on this album. This is an epic song clocking in at 7:20 as well as an anthemic song with it's melodies and hooks. "The 7 Sins of Arthur McGregor" is another epic type number that starts off very melodic but going into some furious riff work with a melodic anthemic chorus. This song also has some interesting time changes. "Death Dealer" is another song that has a killer opening riff and leads into massive hooks in the song. There is a lot going on in some of these songs that keep these songs very interesting.

The only songs on this album that did not entirely grab me was "The Watchmaker" and the closer "...Is This the Way It Ends" which saw the vocals go in a different direction which seemed to not be the strong point for this vocalist, especially the latter being a ballad that just didn't do it for me at all. However, this album as a whole is really good with well written songs and strong musicianship. I'm glad I picked this album up. This album has much more going for it than it seems on the surface and I'm instantly a fan.


Hatriot - Dawn of the New Centurion

Every metal head should know Steve "Zetro" Sousa who was the vocalist who put Exodus on the map back in the 80s. Who can forget his screaming vocals from "Toxic Waltz?" I actually saw him in Exodus back in '89 with Antrax and Helloween. Although I wasn't the biggest fan of Exodus, I always admired their aggression and ability to play textbook thrash. So let's fast forward to 2014 and here we have the second album by Hatriot, a band put together by Zetro that also contains his two sons, Cody on bass and Nick on the drums. Now some call this retro-thrash but how can you call this retro when the driving force behind this band was actually there "back in the day?" This is thrash and thrash done right!

It appears that Sousa's politics are showing on the opener "My Cold Dead Hands" using the infamous speech by actor/former NRA president Charlton Heston as the song's intro. Politics aside, this is angry fuckin' thrash. The riffs are monstrous and ballsy. The guitar work is worthy of much praise as the youngsters that Sousa recruited to play in his band are definitely a nod to the old school. The solos are actually done with technical brilliance as well as class to bring a touch of melody to this thrash metal onslaught. Sousa's vocals sound like '89 all over again. He hasn't lost a thing in his vocals, which is amazing since he sings with so much aggression while sounding like he's gargling on broken glass. This is a great way to open a thrash album, fast, angry and aggressive...and he ends the album the same way with the closer "Consolation for the Insane." And whoever pissed him off on "Your Worst Enemy" better watch his ass because Zetro is PISSED on this song and that makes for some killer thrash! This is another riff fest that forces you at gun point to bang your head. Once again, the solos are done so well.

Obviously growing up with Steve "Zetro" Sousa as your dad you already know what thrash metal is but it is also apparent that the remainder of youngsters that Sousa has found really know what true thrash metal is. As I said before, this is not retro anything, this is the real deal. Sousa's former band mates should take note here because this blows away anything Exodus has done recently. The musicianship of this band is to be commended as they are tight and everything is perfectly timed. The production is meaty and has HUGE balls, as thrash should be. Not every song is fast and furious but that takes nothing away from the aggression and the music itself. "Honor the Rise and Fall" is a mid paced thrasher that is not all speed and fury but kicks your teeth in nonetheless. More amazing guitar work and the Sousa brother's rhythm section is just perfect. Then there is "Superkillafragsadisticactsaresoatrocious"...what the fuck is that? However, this is another angry thrash song that is probably the weakest song on the album but is still just crushing even if the title is a bit odd. 

As with most trash songs, the lyrical content is very political and songs like "Silence in the House of the Lord" which touches on the topic of pedophile priests only make for good angry thrash. Steve is angry on this song as well and his vocals let you know he's pissed off. The riffs are crushing and the solos are simply amazing. This is a longer song, as is "The Fear Within" and the title track, all clocking in just over seven minutes. But given that the songs are so well written they do not become stale. They are epic thrash if there ever was such an animal, especially the title track. Once again, Sousa's vocals shine here. As long as he's been in (and out of) the game you would have thought he would have lost some of the youth in his voice but not here. He is in top form sounding like he did back in the 80s. He's here to kick your ass...plain and simple. The title track may be my favorite on the album. The song is just crushing and the solos are fucking godly.

So there may be a retro-thrash movement going on out there but this band isn't part of that. These boys were taught what thrash truly is by someone who was instrumental in the movement in it's heyday. I actually thought the first album was just a fluke and that they couldn't continue like this but now I believe that this band is in it for real and will continue to kick my ass for years to come. I'm excited to hear what comes next.


Friday, April 4, 2014

Disfigurement - Soul Rot (EP)

When it comes to the so called return of "old school" death metal there are few bands that are truly doing it old school. When I think old school I think of Death, early Morbid Angel, early Obituary, and of course the old school swede-death sound. There have been many times that I have been mislead when finding a band that SAYS they play old school death metal only to find that they really just play watered down death metal with non modern production. I want to hear riffs! I want to hear solos! Well, finally I have found a band that truly does take me back to those early days of death metal when they still had a tinge of thrash in the music and the riffs were massive and the solos killer...that band is Atlanta, Georgia's Disfigurement.

This EP was released in September of 2013 and is a 23 minute onslaught of riffs, solos and evil death growls. The opener, "Noxious Sensation", pummels you with excellent riffs, and classy solos that are tasty as well as technical. The drums are pounding with some blasts but they do not dominate the music making this truly old school. These guys really show their influences on this and all the songs on this EP. This is a neck breaker as the riffs just keep coming including some good tremolos. "Solitude" is another just crushing death metal song that makes me feel like I'm back in the early '90s again. The first solo has a an eastern feel to it and is just godly. These guys can play! The second solo is another piece of metal artistry. One of the best death metal songs I've heard, ever...coming from a bunch of fairly young guys! Makes my old metal heart feel good to know that there is a generation of people playing this music.

I'm sorry but modern death metal just does not contain riffs like these. The title track is just crushing with riffs including some classy tremolos that fit perfectly and this song even has a doomy part in there that contains some of the heaviest doom riffs I've ever heard. This song is epic and shows just how talented these guys are. "Entrance to Emptiness," and "Foul Light" are both just pounding death metal songs with some of the best riffs I've heard in along time from a death metal band. These guys could show some of their mentors a thing or two actually. I've been playing this shit out of this EP since I've got it and I'm not even close to getting tired of it. I hope this band gets the recognition they deserve because they will go far. They are tight and talented and I'm a major fan of this band already.

The only thing wrong with this EP is that there is not enough of it. I can't wait to hear a proper album from these guys. Every song written solidly and played with perfection. If you are like me and are sick to fuckin' death of hearing "old school death metal" only to find that it's anything but, these guys will give you hope. Neck braces not included.


Wednesday, April 2, 2014

Sinbreed - Shadows

Sinbreed is a band that formed in 2008 but has roots going back to 2000 when the band was called Neoshine. This is the band that current Blind Guardian drummer Frederik Ehmke has played for since before joining them. Marcus Siepen was also recruited in 2012 appearing on this, their sophomore release called Shadows. I must say that this is my first exposure to this German quintet and I must say that I'm quite impressed with the musicianship on this album. They play a euro-power metal that you would expect from a band that includes the aforementioned members. What we have here is actually a most enjoyable album loaded with riffs and melodies that are extremely catchy.

"Bleed" gets things going in your typical heavy metal opener way. This is a speedy number with catchy melodies and plenty of good riffing. The chorus is catchy and melodic and the vocalist is quite good. Imagine a wee bit of Jonny Lindqvist(Nocturnal Rites) mixed with a good bit of Danny Cecati (ex-Pegazus) with a Mark Tornillo rasp. This song is full of hooks and the guitar work is massive. We all know what Marcus Siepen is capable of but his partner in crime, Flo Laurin, is really good as well. This is a great album opener and sets the mood for the whole album. "Shadows" is a pummeling number with a massive main riff and soaring vocals. Once again the hooks pull you in and the chorus will have you singing along. This really isn't your typical euro-power metal. These guys write songs that have their own identity and makes for a really enjoyable listen.

I must take a minute to talk about the production. That really is the only drawback here because it's extremely overdone. The drums are triggered as fuck, the guitars are loud and the bass is non existent. I'm not one to be real anal about the modern production but this is a prime example of modern production doing more harm than good. I almost did not give this album a chance because of it. I'm glad I did give it a chance because the songs make up for it, big time. "Call To Arms" is a prime example because the melodies, the hooks and the riffs will make you not dwell so much on the production. Once again, these guys can write catchy songs that are all anthems in their own right. They rely on speedy riffs and melodies to pull you in. Another crusher is "Leaving The Road" with it's massive riffs and melodic chorus goes right into a beautiful solo. This is a song that kinda reminds me of Afterlife era Nocturnal Rites.

"Songs like Far Too Long," "Standing Tall," and "London Moon" are speedy rockers that do not deviate from the formula at all. I can't talk enough about the melodies in the choruses here. They are really good and really are the magic in these songs. The riffs are plentiful and even more epic soloing by these awesome guitarists. Then we have a song like "Black Death" is a mix of everything happening on this album. Speed, riffs, hooks, and melodies as well as some parts more galloping that speedy. This is a monster of a song and maybe my favorite on here. "Broken Wings" rounds out this opus with it's beautiful, acoustic intro leading into some epic, massive riffs. What I thought may have been a ballad turned out to be an epic anthem. What a way to round out a great album.

For an album I almost wrote off as not listenable, I'm glad I gave it another shot because this is a great album that grows on me with each listen. Yeah, the production still gets to me here and there but the songs win me over in the end. These guys got a great formula and I hope they can keep the momentum going.


Ranger - Knights of Darkness (EP)

It seems that there are a huge amount of young bands coming out now that give a huge nod to the old school in the music they create. Some of it is not that great but the majority of it that I've heard is actually really good. They may not be re-inventing the genre with new and innovative ideas but they are giving a fresh young spin on an old school metal. Finland's Ranger is one of those bands and I just happen to find them mentioned on Fenriz' Band of the Week Facebook page. Upon further investigation, I found their 2013 EP entitled Knights of Darkness and was pleasantly surprised at the sheer aggressiveness of this speed metal band's music. They remind me of old Exciter in a way and this EP did not disappoint in the slightest.

This is a short five song EP but starts off in the right direction with the song "Ranger." What we have are crushing speed metal riffs and solos. The vocals sound more like thrash style rasps and screams. The riffs really do make this song as they pummel you into submission by forcing you to bang your fuckin' head unmercifully. The solos are fast and massive. There is some melody here and there some dual leads but mostly this is speed and more speed....and not flower metal speed but pure speed metal. The lyrics are a tad cheesy but they work with this kind of music. "Touch of Death" starts of with some inhuman screams over top of huge riffs. This song is lightening fast and the solos are so good. The drummer is a beast as he just pounds the fuck outta the drums. Two songs in and I need a fuckin' neck brace!

After a rest for my neck and a shot of oxygen, I prepare to get my ass kicked again as the rest of the EP does not let up at all. You have "Steel Dawn" and "Supreme Evil" that continue the beating with their monster riffs and lightening fast solos. The vocalist could break glass with his screams. But these guys are not a one trick pony because the last song on the album, which is the title track, isn't the pummeling speed fest that made up the earlier songs. This song actually starts off anthemic with less speed but more emphasis on a crushing main riff. The soloing on this song is just godly as the song picks up speed as it goes along finally getting to break neck (literally) speed. Once again the singer's screams are earth shattering. Towards the end it slows down in an epic way as you are left drenched in sweat and your neck broken.

That was one hell of a ride! This album left me in traction. I must also mention the production here since it sounds really old school. It's clean production but not over polished. I'm tempted to say this is an analog production with no tricks or triggers. These guys are a band to be reckoned with. If you like your metal fast and furious then this is the band for you. This is another band I've my eye on because I want to hear much more from these guys. I want to hear a proper album by these guys...even if it kills my old ass!!


Tuesday, April 1, 2014

Visigoth - Final Spell (EP)

Fuckin' Bandcamp's the shit! That is where I found this Salt Lake City quintet that named themselves after a mighty Germanic tribe...how metal is that? And these guys are fucking true metal to the core. They released a demo in 2010 and then this EP in 2012 entitled Final Spell. This band appears to be the brainchild of Jake Rogers who is the epic black/folk metal band Gallowbraid. Well this guy is someone to watch out for in the future because both bands are of high quality. But with Visigoth it is true metal that takes me back to 83 listening to Metal Shop on the radio. I can't get enough of this. This is the second major discovery of a true metal band in two weeks and my old metal heart could never be happier.

These guys come right out of the shoot with the opener "Creature of Desire" and this song just rocks. The riffs are plenty and the vocals are excellent, especially the harmonies and the chorus is really catchy and melodic. It's nothing out of this world or innovative, just the heavy metal that I grew up on. The production is nice and clean without being too modern or sounding plastic. The solos are really good without being too technical or pretentious and the song if full of hooks. I know some will say that the songs are too long as all of the songs on this EP are over five minutes but for me that only adds to the beauty of it all. This is music where the songs can be long because there's always something going on and it's always good!

Sadly this is only a four song EP but they do not waste any time with keeping it going. The title track is more of the same as they continue the aural assault of huge riffs and massive solos. The vocalist sounds really old school with a solid range, nothing too earth shattering but it's good. He's got a clean voice and he gets the job done quite well. As I said before, the harmonies are really good. The last song "Call of the Road" is the same way, massive old school riffs and a melodic chorus that I'm still humming. There is a song on there called "Seven Golden Ships" that is probably the most modern sounding song on the album being tuned way down but it's not riffless chugging, there's plenty going on. The song is a bit slower but it has great hooks and the chorus is catchy. Halfway through it speeds up and that blazing solo is just godly.

The only really letdown of this EP is that it's too short. I can't wait to hear a proper album from these guys. I understand that these guys recently got signed to Metal Blade so we'll have to see what's next for this band. It seems that there is a huge crop of really old school bands out there, some good and some not so good. This is one of the better ones for sure. Hopefully with some recognition these guys could go far.