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, 15 August 2014

#356 Nunslaughter - Hell's Unholy Fire

Sometimes all you need to hear is a bands name, and you know you'll listen to them the moment you get the chance. It's safe to say that Nunslaughter are one such band. Last review, I went into some detail about what I like about death metal, and in many ways, this review is almost a sequel to that. You see, Nunslaughter are another band, albeit very different to Immolation, that really deliver the goods when it comes to death metal, although, as we shall see, the reasons are quite distinct. Today, I'm reviewing the album which introduced me to Nunslaughter's music - Hell's Unholy Fire.

Nunslaughter describe their music as "devil metal", and there really couldn't be a more fitting term. Memorable, demonic sounding riffs meet one another explosively through the slew of short, to-the-point tracks on "Hell's Unholy Fire", with crushing but swaggering guitar which truly does sound like the devil's work, aided by filthy d-beats and frenzied, psychotic blasting. It would be tempting to praise Nunslaughter for a "less is more" approach, but that would imply that this album is somehow less than others, and that it certainly isn't - Nunslaughter pack dozens of exceptionally memorable moments into their material, while still keeping the average song-length well below two minutes - there's easily as much content here as on any death-metal record, even if this one is about as straight-forward as they come, and straightforward in a non-critical sense; Nunslaughter have truly mastered the trade of creating some of the best straight-forward death metal around. While a record which spits almost twenty tracks at you in a mere thirty minutes can be a challenge to internalise, it's well-written to the point of providing you with at the very least a few instant favourites, from which to slowly conquer the rest of the record. Indeed, the whole thing doesn't have a bad song on it whatsoever - each one a barrage of decidedly bare-bones, no-nonsense hellish ordnance, with one of the most crushing but attitude-laden guitar tones I've heard in a long time; like the roar of rusting, smoke-belching petrol engines.

I've always had a thing, as I think I mentioned last time, for death metal which really does sound like evil, evil music, whether with eerie grandiose leanings, or, in the style of the earliest extreme metal, for instance Venom and Hellhammer, in which the low-fi, primitive structure creates an organic, intrinsic evil sound in the music. It is in the latter style which Nunslaughter delivers it's payload of Satan, and what a payload it is. The album - heck, all of the band's work - has that spark to it; it feels like music which people weren't supposed to listen to, let alone enjoy; the sort of thing you would find one day, and be slightly terrified by. In many ways, I think a lot of the best metal - particularly the best overtly underground metal -  is like that; it has a subtle "no, not for you" exuding from every sonic pore to all but the relative few who truly enjoy it, crave it, and seek it. Hell's Unholy Fire feels near the top of the ladder when it comes to riff-based death metal, and at a guess, of the totality of riffs which have really caught my attention in the last month or so, it might be safe to say at quite a proportion of them are from this album. There are few records which come even close to offering up such a face-ravaging bouquet of old-school goodness.

Nunslaughter are, as far as I'm concerned, one of the best bands which the underground has to offer, and their raucous, catchy death-metal is of a sort which deeply satisfies me to listen to. Raucous, spitting, snarling and teeth-grinding, but most of all, delivering riffs and song-structures which make you want to listen to them again and again.

This is a 9.5/10.

Nunslaughter on Facebook
Nunslaughter on Metal Archives

Friday, 8 August 2014

#355 Immolation - Dawn of Possession

When I first discovered extreme metal, I wasn't able to listen to bands like Immolation properly; they just seemed so, so heavy, to the point that I couldn't discern what was going on in the music. With what I suppose is a degree of foresight, I put them aside for the time being, deciding to re-visit them when I was better versed in death metal. On a whim, I decided to listen to Dawn of Possesion earlier this week, and it was immediately clear that my taste had matured enough to enjoy the album properly. Thus, the review begins...

As an album, Dawn of Possession bursts into life right off the bat. For me more specifically, the record's beginning, this time around, was also a burst of "Oh! Now I understand". Cacophonous, cavernous riffs seethe and rumble below a crisp surface of frantic but accomplished and intimidatingly tight drumming, and vocals delivered from the pits of hell. In short, all of the goodness which I would previously not have had the ear to really appreciate until these last few years. It might seem very obvious to praise the record on its leaning towards "old-school death metal" - after all, that is precisely what it is. However, records like this one go above and beyond the call - this is not any such album, but one which very legitimately stands as a pillar holding up the notion of what death-metal bands both then and now aspired to create. The churning, dry but deep guitar tone is one which is unmistakably associated with the genre, often emulated, and to my ear now, generally appreciated. I tend - or at least, tended - not to enjoy super dry, dusty production, but Dawn of Possession keeps a good middle-ground between being a sharp and blunt instrument; neither a knife nor a club, but a barbed-wire-baseball bat of unholy writhing. Combine this with the atmospheric leanings which the album indulges in, and what begins to be unearthed is a winning recipe for dark, oppressive death metal.

The lead sections on the record - or, at least, the sections where lead guitar is emphasised - are often the climactic moments of songs, and certainly, in the throes of some of the solos, the songs seem to capture what old-school death-metal - or as far as I'm concerned, death metal in general - is all about. Of course, the album also offers crushing, pulsating riffs which are extremely fun and powerful on a non-atmospheric level -  it's worth remembering that plenty of bands try to go too far the other way, and create songs which, while atmospheric, don't do especially much. Dawn of Possession doesn't fall for this, instead, the songs are very substantial. Notably, however, the record offers a maelstrom of depth which a lot of the more modern side of the genre simply cannot offer. The album is an assault, but an assault with the sort of subtlety that death-metal flourishes on; idiosyncrasies of playing and production which the extremely clean production which predominates a lot of death-metal nowadays irons out as opposed to promoting. Dawn of Possession is grimy, but also replete in that trademark Immolation majesty, with an almost grandiose leaning, and a wide but suffocating atmosphere, like being trapped in a storm - but a vast storm. The record remembers depth, but, likewise, the record can't be criticised for being so deep as to be void - a superb balance between texture and dynamic sound.

Immolation, for me, have been a lesson in patience - we begin listening to metal as mere musical children, and we can't reach the high cupboard to get the best cookies. As we listen to the music we love, we grow in height, until one day, music like this is within our grasp, and it feels extremely rewarding to hear the band with refreshed ears, and new insight. The band which I just couldn't get into years ago is now a solid favourite.

This is a 9/10.

Immolation Official Site
Immolation on Facebook
Immolation on Metal Archives

Friday, 1 August 2014

#354 Sanctuary - Refuge Denied

I like to start reviews with a few words how I discovered the band in question... But what is it to discover a band? I've known about Sanctuary for quite a while, even if I didn't quite know what they sounded like. I'd seen their logo on festival flyers, and heard tell of them plenty of times on the internet - indeed, for a couple of years, they've been one of those bands I simply know of.  On the other hand, I've not actually been listening to Sanctuary for very long - which is the moral of this story. As many bands as I know by name, the ones which could are the ones I've properly heard - note the gap between "heard" and "heard of". It can be easy to lose the will to explore the work of a band which you already know of, filling in the gap, but, as the Refuge Denied album taught me, that can be a mistake.

I'm a big fan of what I understand to be USPM, assuming that I'm not misusing the term. It has the sound which I associated with "heavy metal" when I was a child, and, even when listening to a fresh album I've never heard before, it feels nostalgic in addition to being greatly enjoyable. Refuge Denied, as it happens, is many of the things I enjoy about USPM. It's big, bold, brazen and shiny, but it is most certainly not over-the-top - it has a raucous but monolithic feel, clean as opposed to dirty, sharp as opposed to barbed. It's a record on which the basic requirements of metal are forged together with sufficient skill to create a grandiose, dynamic and complex album with a rich atmosphere and ability to absorb the listener with undulating, pulsating riffs. All the while, it does not need to call on extraneous elements to get the job done. It is, some might wager,  metal at its purest and in many instances most memorable form - heavy without being extreme for its time. Indeed, Refuge Denied was created at the apex of thrash metal in the US, and by my reckoning, draws on both the aesthetic and musical influences from the genre, without becoming entirely something of that genre - something Sanctuary share with Metal Church, another band which I deeply enjoy for similar reasons.

This blend gives the album a dynamic nature, with both plentiful swaggering, almost rocking sections in the vein of Judas Priest - which is, while I think about it, a very prominent influence indeed, by the sound of things - but also a capacity for energy, both in terms of swiftness and explosive sections, albeit in a contained, very tightly played manner. In many respects, the whole album is like that - paced and sensible, as opposed to frenzied. It doesn't feel like a record which has set out to prove anything by appealing to any extreme, but instead sits in the middle rather comfortably, which - almost ironically - gives it, and albums like it, a niche all of their own, and one which I'm especially partial to listening to. Refuge Denied has its character very much cemented into place by the production and tonal choices made - the guitar tone has a real roar and juiciness which works wonders for the songs, really giving them the touch magic - and reverb - which they deserve; the songs really ring out, and are given a glorious amount of oomph by the combination of solid guitar-work with full, rich riffs, and the passion and power of the vocals, which often serve to elevate the songs to the next level.

Above all, however, Refuge Denied is an album which manages to be very fun without being saccharine, and retaining a very agreeable balance between catchiness, sincerity - which the album certainly has - and enjoyment of the upbeat sections of the record. Ultimately, when I listen to an album like this, it takes me straight to the meaning of what good old fashioned heavy metal is all about.

This is an 8/10.

Sanctuary on Facebook
Sanctuary on Metal Archives