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.

Tuesday, 22 April 2014

#339 - Bölzer - Aura

If there's one thing I know about Bölzer, it's that as of the last couple of months, they have been accelerating forth from the deep recesses of the underground like a comet of acclaim, soaring ever further towards to growing light of the slightly-less-underground part of the underground where a lot of the best metal resides. Either way, the band have begun the journey into the global spotlight of the metal community, and, if the amount of times I seem to hear about the band per week is to be regarded as any evidence, the spotlight into which they are emerging is a bright one indeed. Consequently, it's about time I had a listen...

Listening to the Aura, the quality of the bands work (and the EP thus far amounts to most of it) is quickly given some much needed sonic explanation. There's no doubt about it that Bölzer are doing something very stylistically interesting, and with plenty of talent, to boot. Cavernous but rich tone and production provides the vehicle for the rumbling, at times dissonant death metal tinged with more than a trace of black metal thrown in to add flavour. The death metal elements very much remind the listener of style of the of bands like Necros Christos, who make that extremely ritualistic, almost ritual-evoking death metal, with tracks as much akin to invocations as anything else - As a side note, I'd love to find out if that sound has a name, or simply exists for now as a collection of similar bands. For my money though, Bölzer do a somewhat more interesting job of it than most, injecting a more tangible element of atmosphere into the mix with their guitar tone, which combines a heaviness with an unsettling, almost eerie apocalyptic feel. Several people I've encountered have hailed this tone as being extremely original - bordering on messianic, which, if I'm quite frank, could be perfectly believable if one hasn't listened to Blut Aus Nord or Deathspell Omega - both of which Bölzer almost certainly derives a great deal of influence from, including - especially - the guitar tone, which is exceptionally reminiscent. This, however, is nothing to be ashamed of; Bölzer apply it extremely well, and, as the EP testifies, create something greatly enjoyable with it. 

The real glory of Aura, by my reckoning, lies in how well the band have managed to pull together the influences which are inherent within it; the old-school death metal angle blends surprisingly seamlessly into the dissonant, jarring elements of French experimental-black-metal sound with which they are coupled, giving the record an initially unusual but hugely listenable sonic character which genuinely exudes the spirit of innovation. The EP, especially the centrepiece of the sandwich; "Entranced by the Wolfshook" manages to have a punchy, memorable aspect which is usually reserved for the most conventional and "catchy" of death metal, but simultaneously manages to exceed that - I've seldom heard a song blend a novel sound with being so immediately graspable, and the EP is replete with riffs which not only soar, but remain in mind from the very first listen. The vocals add a further dimension of interest, bucking the death metal - or black metal - archetype by making extensive use of relatively clean vocals - not quite sung, per se, but delivered in an incantation like, almost narrative fashion, albeit swinging frequently into harsh vocals, giving the EP flexibility, variety and most of all contrasting sections, furthering its diversity as a sonic journey. The vocal delivery seems to very much compliment the atmosphere and implicit aim of Bölzer's music, evoking occult ritual and transcendent ineffability very suitably, and adding to the EP ability to present a thick, spiritual and arcane atmosphere. 

I feel no need to hide the fact that the EP has impressed me quite a bit - a little more than I thought it would, in fact - which is, as ever, a welcome surprise. It wouldn't surprise me if, five years perhaps down the road, Bölzer are one of the success stories of the underground in recent times - indeed - if a three song EP can capture such an audience as Aura has, then the band are a force to be reckoned with. 

Over-hyped, perhaps, but nonetheless excellent; 8.5/10. 


Saturday, 19 April 2014

#338 Revenge - Scum.Collapse.Eradication

Revenge, if I'm quite honest, are a band who I'm taking a thorough listen to today not because I have heard tell of them being good and am eager to listen to their work further, but because for every person to tell me that they're good, my nagging suspicion that they might not be, seems to grow. I'm not truly sure why - some bands just give me that reaction, especially ones as subject to extremely enthusiastic fans as Revenge. My first instinct, when looking at the artwork - skimming through the back-catalog a little, and so forth, was that we might be looking at a case of style-over-substance here. It therefore feels like my duty, in case they're actually really good, to listen to their material for a while, and dissolve my prejudices. If the prejudices reform, crystallized, when the mixture evaporates, so be it.

I have to be quite candid about the impressions I had of Revenge before I listened to their work with a bit more care. Often, I feel like I go too easy on bands, and that's because as a reviewer, I need to be self-aware that almost everything I say in my reviews is simply my opinion, and, unlike many, I don't have the delusion that my opinion amounts to fact. Nonetheless, all too often I feel like I dilute my opinion when it's one which I feel might be controversial. This time, however, before I look more properly at Revenge's music, I'll properly air my prejudices. I'm an elitist about metal... but I'm also an elitist about elitism. The impression I got was always that Revenge were a go-to band for elitists who wanted to like an elite band, but didn't want to do any of the real exploration or thinking involved in doing elitism properly. In short, for the metal-head motivated to attain trve-kvlt points easily, Revenge served the purpose of being My First War-Metal™, drawing in the style-over-substance elitist with their fun, stylized artwork. After listening to Scum.Collapse.Eradication, however, I've come to a realization - this is, once again, a case of a band who have a multitude of quite shit fans - through no fault of their own - and I've foolishly been taking it out on the band instead. It's not Revenge's fault that the more irritating among our elitist brethren flock to them - in fact, having listened more closely to the music, I can safely say that as music of its type goes, they have quite an enjoyable sound - into which, so this piece takes the form of a review as opposed to a rant about those who fellate the hippest, trendiest things the Grand Council of Elitist Prophets decree good, instead of thinking for themselves, I shall endeavor to do in the next paragraph.

Frenzied, primal, primitive and pounding - in four words, the work of Revenge in Scum.Collapse.Eradication is summarized quite nicely. Thirty-five minutes of the rumbling black/death metal of the sort pioneered by Blasphemy, but arguably with a bit more kick and thwack to it. Frenzied vocals release an indecipherable tirade over the prominent drums which mix competence and rage neatly into an eclectic package of very sporadic, often slightly unusual (but very effective) sounding blasting, with slower sections scattered between them, which is really where Revenge's thing lies open for appreciation - that is, the crushing guitar rhythms, like cave-men beating rocks together, show through, with their churning rage, like a brooding storm of bestial anger. The spastic solos aren't really my cup of tea, but I'd be wrong to say they're inappropriate for what Revenge set out to do, which is, in fact, very well executed indeed. The sheer crushing feel, combined with the fist-in-the-face riff-structures and chaotic percussion is the matter truly at the heart of the style, and there are few bands within it which can match what Revenge do with it - pound for pound, the band have one of the best guitar-tones within their niche, along with the most disgustingly evil production values possible. All in all, the record is one which has grown on me with subsequent listens, and I definitely enjoy it far more than I expected to initially - in fact, it's among the best war metal, death/black metal, bestial black metal... call it what you will... records which I've heard in a while. Revenge have impressed me considerably. Their fans, or a certain number thereof, remain subject to my skepticism until further notice. 

So there we have it - surprisingly reasonable - good - great, in fact. I think it stands as a testament to being self-aware and making yourself explore things which you have prejudices against that really marks the true enthusiast for metal - or for anything, of that matter. While the band may - perhaps arbitrarily - represent some of the things which are wrong with metal-elitism, the band themselves, both in terms of music and integrity, have truly earned my respect. 

This is a 7.5/10.


Wednesday, 16 April 2014

#337 Pan.Thy.Monium - Khaooohs

I've not reviewed anything especially progressive or bizarre in a while, which is, perhaps, a cause for lament. When it comes to the avant-garde dimension of metal, I must say my knowledge is somewhat lacking, and, for the most part, the exposure which I do get of all things progressive and bizarre can at times be off-putting. On the other hand, I'm not cynical enough to think that the entire body of progressive and avant-garde metal is made up of gratuitous wank. Most of it is, but that's not the point - the point is that it's about time I delved into the finer acts within the niche, such as the one which I stumbled upon the other day, and thoroughly enjoyed; Pan.Thy.Monium. While long gone, the band's work lives on, and their second album, Khaooohs, is one which offered me a very interesting listen.

From the first couple of minutes of listening - or, at least, when the intro track had faded away into the real meat and substance of the record - I could tell that Khaooohs was something special - a wonderfully crafted mixture of old-school death metal and coherent, smooth absurdity and innovation. A variety of instruments, are present, including saxophone and a variety of keys, which grant the record an extremely eclectic resume of sounds, all carried along in a crunchy and savory death-metal shell. The musical structures on the record evoke both chaos, as the title suggests, but likewise have a solidity and cohesion which many avant-garde acts forsake; the riffs are memorable, and their experimental accompaniments crown them beautifully, often with a truly luxurious, gorgeous atmosphere, enticing the listeners ears. The band never turn their back on one of the most important details; it's vital that, however experimental your persuasion might be, that your songs still feel coherent - every track on Khaooohs succeeds in this with gusto. The guitar work retains a fantastically sturdy, robust feel throughout the record, really propelling the music along and giving it a hearty dose of energy, especially in light of the exceptionally bouncy, somewhat up-beat riff-structures and drum-beats which the band deploy, giving the music a groovy, almost swinging feel which is somehow intrinsically enjoyable to hear.

I say it often - perhaps overusing it somewhat, but there are very few other bands with whom I can think to compare Pan.Thy.Monium's work to; less overtly insane than many in the avant-garde camp, but at the same time more out-there and experimental than the closest album I can bring to mind; Tales from the Thousand Lakes, by Amorphis. Perhaps that shines a light more on my lack of knowledge than anything else, but I doubt many people would disagree when I say that Pan.Thy.Monium very obviously plow their own furrow in terms of sheer originality and inherent talent. Writing complex and innovative music on its own is one thing, but writing it as well as Pan.Thy.Monium do is another thing entirely. The balance between the atmosphere, the experimentation and the genuinely crushing riff-work is wonderful to hear; the album may be one which is very experimental, but at no point does it forget that it's also a death metal record, highlighting the sheer elasticity and plasticity of metal, and death metal, as a genre fit for blending just about anything into, with some degree of success. Musically, I'm not really literate enough to nail precisely what it is that Pan.Thy.Monium are mixing with the death metal, but I can nonetheless testify that it sounds exceptional. The cover artwork, very aptly, summarizes what the album is all about; you can't tell what it is exactly, but it's awesome to behold.


I can't even remember how I discovered Pan.Thy.Monium, and that is unusual indeed, considering that it was earlier this week. Nonetheless, like a bolt from the blue, the Khaooohs album has rocketed to being one which I've thoroughly enjoyed, and indeed, recommended to a number of people already. This is, I can safely say, one of the best avant-garde metal albums I've ever encountered.

Let's dust-off the old 10/10 rating for this one. It deserves it.

Pan.Thy.Monium on Metal Archives