Welcome to Heavy Metal Spotlight! On here you can find reviews and features about metal bands both known to many, and known to few. Sharing my discoveries, or adding to the discussion about well known metal music is something I deeply enjoy, and I'm delighted that it reaches people who are interested from time to time. Don't forget to like the facebook page to keep up to date more easily with what I'm reviewing, to make suggestions about reviews, and the blog in general, and to annoy me as much as you please. If that doesn't float your boat, you can also suggest bands for me to take a look at in the slightly obsolete suggestions post which I'll keep, despite the facebook page.

Friday, 17 October 2014

#262 Midnight - No Mercy for Mayhem

I've been meaning to review the new Midnight record for quite a while now. Some years ago, I discovered Satanic Royalty, the band's d├ębut full-length; a record which has been consistently enjoyable to spin since I first heard it during one of those late-night Odyssey through YouTube in which were you end up isn't where you started, and you can't remember where you started anyway. I think I discovered Whipstriker that night too... regardless, I remembered Midnight first and foremost. More or less constantly since that discovery, I've kept a vaguely-vigilant eye on the arrival of a follow-up record. Earlier this year, I discovered, to my excitement, that a second-album, titled "No Mercy For Mayhem", had arrived.

"More of the same" isn't a stand-alone phrase. It is always a phrase which needs some qualification. Before I brand "No Mercy For Mayhem" as such, it's best to clarify what I mean. There are a few ways that it can work, as a term of critique. Sometimes, the context is "Thank fuck it's more of the same". Sometimes, it's more of an "oh for fuck' sake". As far as this record is concerned, being more of the same is a great plus; immediately making it feel welcome, and snugly slotting it into the band's back-catalogue. No Mercy for Mayhem feels like a continuation, a extension, and a worthy counterpart to Satanic Royalty. The similar art-style, song-style and general aesthetic-choices immediately make the listener feel at home, and re-assert that as a project, Midnight absolutely and unapologetically knows what it's doing, and where it's going, and I'm more than willing to wager that this is exactly the album most of us were hoping for. Indeed, the album fits expectations like a glove, immediately - short intro notwithstanding - unleashing a tidal wave (no bonus-track related pun intended) of gritty, nasty, but magnificent rocking goodness. Lots of bands have reaped the results of the "Motorhead but with more Satan" formula, but few - even the most renowned ones - can do it quite as well as Midnight do, and as the record demonstrates with ease, still do.

There are a lot of bands which combine the raw leanings of black-metal with a more speedy, rock and roll vibe - heck, that's what black-metal was before the Norwegians came along and had their fun. Midnight, it has to be said, sit amongst the cream-of-the-crop when it comes to doing it. Stand out features like the ear for twisted melody which this album has - quite possibly more-so than the bands previous work give Midnight a memorable and outright cool sound, in a non-contrived sense of the term; the wailing but fulfilling melodies in the title-track, for instance, have a real sneering swagger. It's the sort of music which you almost instinctively know is badass - with some genres, especially the more inaccessible manifestations of metal, it takes a while to learn how to appreciate it. Midnight on the other hand? You know it's good right from the onset; it sets you're rock-sensibilities all-a-tingling. It's fast and loud, the way it should be, and No Mercy For Mayhem offers us another serving of metal done properly. In the best possible way, Midnight could very comfortably be the house band in the Titty Twister from "Dusk 'til Dawn". If you're familiar with said movie, I'd go as far as saying the twist half-way through makes the above statement, if anything, more apt.

It's the little things in life. Often, album of the year lists are populated by large, scholarly albums; those big sixty-minute progressive genre-defining, pipe smoking ones. However, I can safely say that when it comes to looking back on 2014, the thirty-six minutes of cacophony on No Mercy... are going to have every bit as much pride of place as any other record. Some albums prove their point with scale, intricacy and complexity - Midnight do a better job than most with rock n' roll, grit, and a sprinkling of Satan.

This is an 8.5/10.

Midnight on Facebook
Midnight on Metal Archives

Monday, 6 October 2014

#361 Argus - Beyond the Martyrs

Argus are a good example of a band I listened to on testimony, expecting something quite different from what I got. They are, fortunately, also a band that, while unexpected, were still extremely good - a happy ending indeed. "Epic" heavy metal has a great multitude of cloaks with which it can enshroud itself, much in the way terms like "heavy" or "intense" can do very much the same thing. Argus represent an interesting take on the genre, one which has been going from strength to strength throughout their discography. Their third and, as I write this, most recent record "Beyond the Martyrs" is a heavy-metal experience up there with the best of them.

Beyond the Martyrs is a well executed example of a band having an epic sound without it being nauseatingly flamboyant. There are none of the overindulgence and pomposity of a genre like prog, or European-power-metal here; simply reverence to the old-school concept of epic and, for my money, proper way to do it - albeit without being a simple re-rendering of old cliches. Beyond the Martyrs ticks a great many of the abstract boxes of epic-metal; great melodies, memorable soaring vocal-lines, glimmering solos, and massive-chords. Stylistically, Argus sit somewhere on the line between a traditional and doom-laden metal sound - a style which is quite often apt to befit the term epic, and very much a style which Argus are clearly comfortable to use to its full potential, with a tempo to match. The record weaves very smoothly between slow sections which carry a hefty load of stored-energy, with chords being allowed to ring-out and bring all of their force to bear, and a plethora of victorious, striding sections which breathe triumph. At their slowest, Argus becomes a lumbering powerhouse, ready to spring into action - albeit not one which gives the impression of stalling-for-time... quite the opposite, in fact; the slow sections can often be the pay-off of the faster ones. That isn't to say that the band are one of two-extremes; the album in fact seems to avoid going especially close to high-tempos, and as opposed to an omission, this is unapologetic; the music doesn't need to go fast to do what it does best, and the striding, mid-tempo feast of riffs and melodies is easily enough to demonstrate that. Not only does the record contain songs which you remember after a single-listen, it contains songs which you know that you're going to remember while you listen to them for the first time.

Interestingly - especially for something aiming at an epic-sound, Beyond the Martyrs has quite a tidy, warm production; there's a lot of open space in the mix, as opposed to silences plugged by the decaying remnants of guitar reverb or general... noise, of some sort, as one might expect. This use of empty space in the riffs set Argus apart from a lot of their peers, and certainly gives the record a very distinctive sound. If I could better name what is going on, I would - but for now I urge the reader to listen for themselves. It is in this respect that Argus differed from my expectations - I've very seldom heard an "epic" sound succeeding as well as theirs does with production - heck, with a riff-style quite like this; the album, and the bands previous work, for that matter, feels very aerated, as opposed to cloyingly thick. It is here that I mislead myself when first approaching the music; I half-expected epic-doom, but it has to be remembered that Argus lean far more towards traditional metal than I had expected. It is an epic-sound born entirely of musicianship, transcendent of production, which in many other bands ends up as a tool with which to augment atmosphere. In this regard, Argus are epic in the manner more of a band like Dawnbringer or Pharaoh than in the manner of say, Atlantean Kodex. The record is extremely well-written, memorable, and sincere - not once does the album give the impression of winking-an-eye, or playing games; it's an earthy, honest and - if I hadn't made it clear - "epic" installation of heavy-metal.

I have put myself at quite some risk of spending the entire review discussing the concept of "epic". I hope some praise of the record has filtered through - and hopefully is present in the review both implicitly and explicitly. If more is needed, then I can safely say that Beyond the Martyrs is, itself a superb immersion into the concept of "epic" - and certainly does a better job with music than I can possibly do with words. Metal like this is fantastically enjoyable, sincere, and - at risk of sounding like an elitist (which considering I am an elitist, doesn't pose that much of a worry) - is utterly true. 

This is a 9/10.

Argus Official Site
Argus on Facebook
Argus on Metal Archives

Tuesday, 30 September 2014

#360 Nargaroth - Herbstleyd

For a while now, I've been aware of the fact that when it comes to black-metal - or at least, the blackened side of metal, I have typically been much more inclined toward the fusion genres and the oddities; the black-thrash, the first-wave black metal, the special cases; Rotting Christ, Blut Aus Nord, and so forth. Sometimes, however, I want to listen to some scathing nineties-style dark, ominous black metal; the kind which sends chills down your spine when you first discover it, mystified ever-so-shallowly by the controversy, the church-burning, and much more wholesomely by the larger-than-life evil sound. This craving has recently been driving me to explore more of the landscape of "traditional" black metal, if such a thing exists, and this leads me to one of my newer interests; the work of German band Nargaroth, the debut album of whom, Herbstleyd, I have been lending my ear to recently.

Admittedly, it has taken me longer than usual to decide what to think about Herbstleyd. The album is one of superb atmosphere but at times flawed execution, albeit as slowly dawned on me through several listens, flaws which are massively outweighed by the record's virtues. Following on in the hypnotic, grandiose style of the early Norwegian acts like Burzum, Nargaroth weave a rich, lush and enthralling sonic tapestry of triumphant tremolo riffing, repetitive but pleasant drum-beats, and simplistic synthesizers, all with the perfect degree of raw-production. Nargaroth are perhaps somewhat more inclined towards being dynamic, however, and the music on Herbstleyd strives at times towards a more agile style than the truly repetitive work of a record like Hvis Lyset Tar Oss. Getting into the flow of the album is at times tricky; the introduction has plentiful moments of splendor, but weighing in at around seven minutes long it is, frankly, almost offputingly excessive. Forgiving this, however, much of the rest of the record flows reasonably well from track to track, particularly the first half. Better indeed, than I had first thought, with a half-hearted first-listen nearly spoiling the album's chances to gain my appreciation. Fortunately, however, subsequent listens revealed the solidity of the record, and with misgivings having somewhat lessened, the excellent atmosphere spun by the tremolos and keys truly ooze from the speakers for appreciation far less blemished than it had, prima facie, appeared. It is, in fact, a very absorbing and pleasing album.

Here and there, of course, there are crude slips, some of which can't quite be ignored; a shortcoming of the drum machine here and there, particularly in the first track, where mistimed cymbal-hits come very close to ruining a section. Likewise scattered around the record are a fair few interludes which don't serve as much purpose as might have been hoped, giving the album, if anything, baggage as opposed to embellishment in some cases. Nonetheless, the main-course, the body and soul of the album, if you will, is intact. The black-metal sections (and indeed, more than a few of the better interludes) very much capture the beautiful, vast and dark feel which I love in black-metal. It offers both bleak, dreary and sorrowful sections - typically where key-use is restrained - with far more triumphant and melodious pieces with more predominant keyboards. These two sides of the record - or at least, the two sides of the black-metal on the record - are nonetheless well-reconciled, not disrupting its feeling of purpose. Often, contrasting atmospheres can create something of a meandering two-headed snake, and while at times the direction of Herbstleyd can seem slightly diffuse, for the most part the album very much knows what it is doing... certainly sufficiently to be thoroughly enjoyable to listen to - albeit in my case with a brief run-up to becoming accustomed to it.

As it happens, Nargaroth are a band that I've actually been aware of for quite some time; I'm not entirely certain what caused there to be such an elapse of time between being aware of them and actually listening to them, however. Indeed, this process took several years. Nonetheless, I once again encounter a band which makes me which I hadn't delayed exploring their music, and while the at times apparent indifference - at least, there appears to be such - towards the band by a lot of the black-metal community may have been an off-putting factor, it's certainly not something worth taking heed of; as far as the debut goes, I can safely say the music is great - imperfect, but nonetheless great.
This is an 8/10.

Nargaroth Official Site
Nargaroth on Facebook
Nargaroth on Metal Archives