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.

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

Sunday, 13 April 2014

#336 Ondskapt - Arisen from the Ashes

Of the most extreme sub-genres, black metal was one of the first I encountered in a truly revelation like sense; listening to Gorgoroth and Burzum tracks for the first time in the small hours of some morning, years ago, with headphones on and lights off - one of the first things which struck me about the music was how exciting it felt, and to this day, I have always had a place in my heart for bands which succeed in creating a sound which returns me to that feeling of excitement and electricity. A lesson the black metal fan, or the fan of any sort of music, I expect, swiftly learn is that for every good or great band in the style, there are a dozen mediocre ones, laying below the surface. Of course, this makes discovering the truly excellent bands something which is even more rewarding. One of the bands to reward me in such a way most recently have been Sweden's Ondskapt.

Orthodox black metal is, I feel, one of those terms which nearly caught on for a while, and then everyone forgot. Regardless, it's a term which I seldom hear these days. When I did hear it, however, it tended to be directed towards the sort of black metal which Ondskapt specialise in; ritualistic, dark, and content to deliver an evil sermon without the excessive use of blast-beats, avoiding the woes which can often befall norsecore. All three of the above are characteristics I deeply appreciate in black-metal; often, bands can stifle the darkness within their craft through a sheer lack of flexibility. Records with constant, unrelenting blast-beats can make them difficult to appreciate, especially in an atmospheric dimension. Ondskapt, on the other hand, seem to excel at creating atmosphere, with a suffocating but rich guitar tone and loud, prominent vocals which deliver themselves like a ritual or sermon, echoing like the voice of the possessed, forth from the miasma of guitar-work. The resultant sound reaches a very enjoyable agreement between the rough, old-school feel, but whilst avoiding being indescernible; in fact, one of the great strengths of the record, and one which really releases the atmosphere held within, is the crisp and well-considered production job, which lets every nuance of the sound breathe, without sounding clinical; this includes percussion, which is punchy without being clicky, which, as my aversion to triggered-drum-sound grows, it very fortunate indeed.

Perhaps the key to the Ondskapt sound is the interweaving of the old with the innovative. Arise from the Ashes, and the rest of the band's work, for that matter, doesn't sound like a clone of anything, but also has a pleasingly salient dose of the recognisable things which make the genre itself great. Tangled, diabolical tremolos and leads meet with cavernous doses of atmosphere, in the way one might hope for, when listening to a black-metal album - but simultaneously they are leads and tremolos which you've never heard anything quite the same as before, and an atmosphere which is, to a great extent, it's very own flavour of cavernous. Likewise, when you zone-in enough to attend to the riffs, instead of digesting the tumbling, wide-eyed atmosphere alone, you come to hear that the riffs are exceptionally well-constructed and truly revel in being angular, sinister and steeped in evil, the way black metal guitar was meant to be played. The dexterous, spiders-footsteps guitar work certainly adds it's weight to the atmosphere, with the moments of organised chaos bringing forth images of the mind-capturing and delirious, liminal occult - of a darkness which few bands capture, but Ondskapt well and truly delivered, with each track an exploration of exceptional black metal, and between the vocals and the memorable musical structures churning below them, it is an easy record to lose oneself in, and emerge from the other side feeling decidedly different. 

As I said when I began this review - I'll always enjoy a black metal band who can bring back the excitement I felt when I was first discovering the genre. Ondskapt, without a doubt, succeed, and I heartily recommend them to anyone who enjoys the better side of black-metal. When it comes to their style, Ondskapt don't merely conform to expectations, but outright raise the bar, and that, so often, is the symptom of a great band.

This is an 9/10.

Ondskapt Official Site
Ondskapt on Facebook
Ondskapt on Metal Archives

Tuesday, 8 April 2014

#335 Skull Fist - Chasing the Dream

As far as the newer generation of traditional metal goes, Skull Fist are one of the bands I've been impressed by a lot in the past, and for that reason,  tend to keep an eye on. Throughout the last year or so, I've been paying an especially high level of attention as to when a new album was on its way. As it turns out, the new album appeared earlier this year; January, I think. By about February I had gotten around to buying it, and now - April - I've finally gotten around to reviewing it. I need to get back on the reviewing-wagon and take a look at more records, as I've been a noxious combination of busy and unmotivated for most of the year so far. To reclaim lost reviewing glory, I may as well start with "Chasing the Dream", the band's second full-length, and a rocket-ride through flamboyant, denim-drenched shenanigans.

Chasing the Dream is fun. As an elitist fuckhead when it comes to metal, there are times where I happen across a record which is so incredibly fun that I have to remind myself that it's okay - the fact it's fun and that I'm enjoying it doesn't make me a failure as an elitist. In fact, many of the best albums are extremely fun to listen to, and Chasing the Dream is no exception. The record is exceptionally catchy from start to finish, with anthem-like choruses, deeply infectious hooks and possessed with the sort of balls-out attitude which could easily have  landed an album like this pretty damn high in the charts if this had been about 1984, and not its less kind, elder by thirty years brother, 2014. Nonetheless, if where a record charts matters to your general enjoyment of it's musical content, there's every possibility that you're doing it wrong. Chasing the Dream certainly lives up to it's predecessor, Head of the Pack, delivering what, to my ears, is an equally energetic, lead-laden affront to all things sensible, which is around-about the territory in which traditional metal flourishes best; not deadly-serious, but equally veering away from being truly spasticated. Chasing the Dream certainly manages to find that middle-ground, and you get the strong sense that Skull Fist treat making slightly silly - if that's an acceptable term - music as deadly serious business. Indeed, the band certainly exhibit a great deal of song-writing care and inherent talent throughout the record, with an uncompromising lack of filler material - in fact, the record is so lean and juicy that there is scarce a throw-away second of music.

It is not merely in terms of musicianship and composition that the record successfully kicks ass, however - the production really hits the spot too, not least with the fantastic, echo-laden drum sound which I had long thought they just didn't make any more. Indeed, the explosive energy of the drums is extremely well captured throughout the album, creating a record which feels more driven and punchy. As ever, the vocals are probably one of the more divisive issues which Skull Fist have - as before, they sound unlike any other band I can bring to mind instantaneously, with an extremely high, somewhat produced sound - at times sounding almost auto-tuned, which - for sure - would be odd, but nonetheless sounds rich, creamy and smooth, regardless of how they got that way. Indeed, by all accounts the band put on a solid live show, so if the vocals are a little... produced... it seems forgivable. The lead tone, too, also suits terms such as rich and creamy in its description, and Skull Fist are definitely the sort of band who really know how to crown their songs with great lead work, with dexterous and charmingly show-offish style guitar work in almost every track, transmitting winking, eyebrow raising rock-and-roll swagger from every pour on the record's skin, and at the end of the day, there is absolutely no denying that's what the band do best - churn out fist-pumping, head-nodding traditional-come-speed metal with the utmost of exuberance.

Once again, I can safely say that the band have proved, to me at least, that they can concoct a truly wicked piece of good old heavy metal madness, and with just as much skill as their previous efforts - heck, perhaps even a bit more. Either way, I have no complaints about a band who are clearly doing what they love, and doing it damn well. Some may say that it's all been done before, but frankly... some things are always worth doing again.

This is an 8.5/10.

Skull Fist on Facebook
Skull Fist on Metal Archives