Sunday, 30 January 2011

#015 Mayhem - Deathcrush

In the dark Norwegian mists of 1987, something was stirring. This dark-presence manifested itself as an EP of the most gruesome, dark, and insanely heavy metal that the world had ever seen at that time, and heralded the beginning of an era. That EP was Deathcrush. Nothing quite like it had been seen before, and nothing quite like it has ever been seen since.

Deathcrush has a very interesting sound. few other black metal bands existed at the time to influence their style, and what emerged is quite unlike the black metal of today, with many of the features which black metal listeners are accustomed to lacking. Songs such as "Deathcrush" are intensely heavy, but somewhat lack the sinister and dark vibe which the band perfected later, in releases such as "De Mysteriis Dom Sathanas".
The lyrics also head in a far more gruesome, Death-metal like direction than black metal does nowadays, with songs like "Chainsaw Gutsfuck" needing little in the way of explanation.

The vocalist, "Maniac" delivers an impressive screaming delivery of vocal duties on most of the tracks, aside from "Witching Hour" and "Pure F**king Armageddon" on which another vocalist, "Messiah" handles the vocals.  Maniac was to later return to mayhem, following the suicide of  vocalist "Dead" some years later.

Deathcrush is a very pleasing EP to listen to, with each song being sufficiently different, but in the same overall style, as the others. If you have the right mindset, you can appreciate the amazement and shock which the record gave the world at the time. Deathcrush is truly a look back in time, and contains classic songs which every black metal fan should know.

As is traditional in Black-metal, the album is neither fantastically produced, neither does it have a fantastic number of tracks. My version is approximately a little over seventeen-minutes in length, and is comprised of 6 tracks. Those looking for smoothly produced, progressive, lengthy Black-metal will not find it here. what is found here is Black metal in it's juvenile state; Still to develop some of it's key features, and likely to be surpassed in future (In Mayhem's case by the follow up album, "De Mysteriis Dom Sathanas"), but the music is young, filled with energy, and not afraid to be loud and violent.

This album is a classic, and although it does not live up to it's follow-up, it's still easily deserving of 7/10.

Mayhem on Myspace


Friday, 28 January 2011

#014 Iron Fire - To the Grave

Most Power-metal originating from Europe is substantially different from it's American cousin, but the spirit of American Power-metal has evidently been taking trips abroad, as it is very much alive and well, in a band of unsung heroes of Power-metal; The Danish band "Iron Fire".

One of the more recent of their six albums, "To the Grave" epitomises Iron Fire's speedy, pleasingly crunchy guitar, and clean well controlled vocals. It deals with some very traditional Power-metal themes; Battle, Fantasy, and Heavy-Metal itself.

Iron Fire have an impressive back catalogue; There were four albums previous to this one, and they have released another since, However, they are very little known outside of Denmark. Listening to the album, I can utterly conclude that this should not be so. Songs such as "Hail to Odin" are high-speed power metal masterpieces, with excellent instrumentation and arrangement, the lead and rhythm guitar functioning in excellent unison, with impressive solos, which receive less emphasis within metal than they once did.

Although the drum-work is tight, and the vocals are very good, Guitar is certainly the dominating factor in the album, with an extremely crunchy, almost "munching" guitar sound, which I wager is one of the factors which will make or break the album to the listener.

Another make or break factor is the vocals. They are clean, high, and very well controlled, as has always been a staple in Power-Metal, however, they have a very whiny, slightly sneering edge in places, which takes a while to get used to. Truth be told, Iron Fire are a band which take a lot of getting used to in general, and it took me multiple listens of many songs to fully enjoy them. I urge anyone who is into power metal to give the band, and this album, a try.

Bare in mind that it's not the most straightforward band to become addicted to, but it is very rewarding to do so, if you ask me.

I give the album 9/10. It should be much better known.

Iron Fire on Myspace

Wednesday, 26 January 2011

#013 White Wizzard - Over the Top

White Wizzard are an extremely young band, but you wouldn't know that from their sound. A Traditional-metal vibe is what they blatantly aim for, and it is definitely what they have achieved in their debut full-length album "Over the Top"

There may be the occasional burst of double kick drumming, and they definitely maintain a slightly heavier sound than the bands they emulate, but it's beyond doubt that White Wizzard are one of the most "Oldschool" sounding bands I've heard which weren't around at the time the style was pioneered. The band cites many of the NWOBHM bands as influences, two of the ones I noticed most being Iron Maiden and Judas Priest, and, frankly, what better influences to have?

Most of the songs on this record are of a traditional length, shortish, generally between four and five minutes, with the exception of "Iron Goddess of Vengeance" and "White Wizzard" the self-titled album closer, which is longer and in places slower than most of the other songs, which are short, fast, technical, and fairly simply arranged, in other words, Traditional-metal staples.

I found myself enjoying the musical styles of this album greatly, and I am willing to wager most who are into "Good ole' fashioned" Metal will be. The musicianship is excellent, with rock solid drumming, and the extremely talented bass-work of John Leon, which works in harmony with skilled, although not mind-blowing, guitarists, to create a very lucid and tight sound.

However, I found this album's vocals to be less pleasing, and to seem less fitting with White Wizzard's style than the work on their earlier EP "High Speed GTO". Another issue is originality; although it is obvious that the band aspire towards a very traditional sound, It would have been nice if they had put their own twist on it a little. What they have created is definitely pleasing, and deserving of success, but it is also somewhat generic.

Despite this, it is an excellent album, and I don't hesitate to give it 7/10

White Wizzard on Myspace

Monday, 24 January 2011

#012 Root - The Temple in the Underworld

Root have been around for a long time. As long as most of the second wave of black metal, and longer than many. They have a very unique sound, which I would describe as a refined and tuneful interpretation of black metal, with what Encyclopedia Metallum describes as "Dark epic-metal" thrown in. Their third studio album, released back in the mists of 1992, is typical of this style.

I had the feeling I'd stumbled across something amazing the moment I put on a song from this album. That song was "Aposiopesis" A slow, heavy, but hypnotic song, with vocals like some sort of brutal lullaby. The vocals are certainly what sets the band apart from other Black-metal of the time, as these vocals are, often, substantially cleaner and more tuneful, which, in this case, suits the music perfectly.

But don't let the comparatively soft nature of some of the songs fool you. Root can also produce fast, technical, and extremely heavy works, for example the eight-minute epic "The Wall" which should by all rights be a black metal classic, with excellent playing, in Roots own unique style. As well as hitting all the right buttons in black metal, with it's length and rhythm styles, it also seems to have something of a groove to it, something comparatively rare in black metal, but Root carry it off well, creating an extremely listenable yet very heavy piece.

I have few criticisms of this record, however, one thing which is noticeable is the fairly simple arrangements of many of the tracks. this alone is no problem to me, as simplicity can be, and is, beautiful, however anyone looking for the immense degree of technical prowess present in many Black metal bands may find themselves a little disappointed.

This album was released in the same year as Burzum's eponymous Debut, and two years before Mayhem's "De-Mysteriis Dom Sathanas". It deserves equal fame and praise.

 8/10. easily.

Root on Myspace
Root on Metal-Archives

Sunday, 23 January 2011

#011 Wodensthrone - Loss

At first glance, there are somewhat few Black Metal bands on the British scene, however, delving deeper, some real treasures can be found. Granted, there are seldom to huge-discographied juggernauts that you could expect From Norway, Sweden, or even the United states, but there are many bands in the UK who are very much alive and well. Wodensthrone are one such band, with their first full-length album - "Loss".

Loss focuses on ancient pre-christian English folklore and paganism as a subject matter for their songs, as opposed to more traditional black-metal themes. Wodensthrone, along with similar bands, such as Winterfylleth, are carving out a niche for a brand-new style of black-metal, Christened by some as "English-Heritage black metal" It is my belief that this is a subgenre worth keeping an eye on.

The album itself is an interesting affair, with about half of the songs in excess of ten-minutes, and all of them thoroughly haunting, with the combination of beautiful keyboards, and atmospheric guitar work, creating a real sound of loneliness, and of the ancient, which would seem to tie in with Wodensthrone's musical aim. Songs such as "Fyrgenstréam", the albums short opener, which never fails to stir wonder, and some of the albums epics, such as "Black Moss" which is insanely heavy, but also haunting and mellowing, at the same time.

The downside, as I see it, is that if you have a short attention span, or not much time on your hands, you won't be able to get the most out of this album, with such long songs, it's often easy to become distracted at about the six-minute-mark, and frankly, these songs are songs which must be played in their entirety, for their true beauty and soul to be felt. Other than that, if, like me, you love the occasional Black-metal epic, I'd thoroughly recommend this album.

These are a band to watch. 9/10

Wodensthrone on Myspace
Wodensthrone on Amazon (USA)
Wodensthrone on Amazon (UK)

Saturday, 22 January 2011

#010 Iron Maiden - Virtual XI

It would have been better with Bruce Dickinson. That much is true.

However, It is foolish to underrate this album only on those grounds. Blaze-Bailey's vocals are Impressive, especially on his solo work, but it is true that his vocals were neither at their best, or best suited, to Iron maiden, especially considering that he has something of a Mark-Knopfler crossed with Roger Daltrey vocal sound going on, especially in songs such as "The Angel and the Gambler", which although an interesting vocal style, was definitely not an Iron Maiden vocal style.

If we brush the issue of vocals aside for a moment, looking a little bit deeper, there are some really impressive songs on the record, such as "The Clansman" which is an epic and stirring nine-minute masterpiece, or "When two worlds collide", which features some of Maiden's best lead guitar work. Lead guitar seems to be one of the albums major strengths, and I can't say I've heard anything quite like it before this album, or after, on any Iron Maiden releases.

Virtual XI may have been met with disappointment by many, but upon closer inspection, it shouldn't be cast aside so lightly, as it is filled with hidden gems, even if the vocals are not one of them.

It may not be quintessential Iron Maiden, and it's far from perfect. It is unlikely to be remembered as a classic, or a landmark album, but you know what? It's still pretty damn good.

I give it 7/10.

Iron Maiden - Official website
Iron Maiden - Myspace

Saturday, 15 January 2011

#009 Stormrider - Lucifer Rising

Stormrider are a somewhat young and rather obscure Blackened-Death metal band from Sweden, Leaning on the Blackened side of the genre. The band have two studio albums. This fact alone means nothing, however, It seems worth mentioning that they are giving both of these albums away as a free download, which I found very generous, as I would be more than willing to pay for music of the quality Stormrider produce.

Lucifer Rising is a well rounded record, that much is obvious from the very beginning. With songs which are almost entirely black metal (and good black metal, at that) to songs which are far more on the Death-metal side of the coin, each song is excellent in it's own right.

The musicianship of the band is obvious as well, especially the drumming. As a drummer, I can tell you that what stormrider's drummer achieves is pretty darn good, and very tight and energetic at that. This drumming paves the way for intense, energising riffage, with excellent lead, solos, tremolo picking abound, and many of the other tried and tested hallmarks of Black metal, which combines rather well with the death metal elements which are particularly notable in the structure and pattern of the riffs.

All in all, I'm content to say that Stormrider have produced some extremely interesting stuff on this album, and it's definately worth the money... oh, wait, it's completely free! (link below) The fact that the band does this gives me the impression that they are committed to their music, and I'd recommend it to anyone who likes metal which is on the extreme side.

I can't really think of many criticisms of this band, they are one of the bands I feel will either do something for you, or won't. Simple as that.

That considered, This album is being given a solid 8/10.

Stormrider on Myspace - Look here for links to download both albums for free!



Friday, 14 January 2011

#008 Toxic holocaust - An Overdose of Death

Toxic Holocaust are one of what a few years ago would have been referred to as one of the "new" Thrash bands. however, time flies, and Toxic Holocuast are growing their discography somewhat.

Playing traditional thrash metal, of a style somewhere between Venom, Bathory and Slayer, The band truly plays to it's strengths in "An Overdose of Death", with every song being a thousand mile-per-hour mosh-causing composition, even if some of them are incredibly short and sweet.

Although mostly active within the last decade, Toxic holocaust play very much quintessential thrash metal. Overdose is no exception, with songs such as "Future shock" and "Death from Above" having a strong tint of the Golden-age of thrash, in the 1980's, with chugging riffs, blistering speed, and comfortingly familiar arrangement. I'm certain, had the band formed fifteen years earlier, Some of the songs on the album would be regarded as thrash classics.

The  playing and production in the album is spot on with regards to encapsulating thrash at it's best, with raw sounding, but undisputably tight production values, although these would be nothing withoug the bands razor-sharp playing.

Short songs are often a thrash staple, and with Toxic holocaust, this is no exception. The longest song on the album is 4:50, while the shortest is a mere 0:59. I could imagine this being a bit of an issue for those who like more beefy songs, as many seem to be finished before they have got going.

Another slight problem, in my eyes at least, is the deficiency of solos. This is somewhat forgivable, as the band is a three-piece, however, a few solos certainly wouldn't go amiss, with some of the songs seeming to have perfect spots to put them in.

Thrash-junkie that I am, I give this album 8/10

Toxic Holocaust on Myspace
Toxic Holocaust on Amazon (UK)
Toxic Holocaust on Amazon (USA)

Monday, 10 January 2011

#007 Baroness - Blue Record

Wierd does not begin to cover it. Wrapped in luscious cover art, and a unique sound, Baroness are definately a band to watch. Described as Sludge metal/Progressive metal by various sources, It is certain that the band does not fit fully into either of these genres.

The "Blue Record" is Baroness' second full length album, and is bedecked in just as much progressive and unusual music. Songs like "The sweetest curse" typify the heavier side of Baroness' sound, while haunting tunes such as "Steel that sleeps the eye" are beautiful, and unusual, two of the foremost components of Baroness' style.

Baroness' style, from the psychedelic-like instrumentation, The unique styles, and the vocals ranging from a hearty bellow, to a soft, gentle lullaby, is one of the bands greatest strengths, meaning that It has something to offer many people.

One of my criticisms of Baroness is, oddly, also the strangeness. Many of their songs are excellent, but also seem to have large parts in which nothing particularly interesting is going on, although this is a lot less so than in the previous album ("Red album")

All in all, I give baroness a 7/10 Rating, although If I took cover art into account, that could easily add another point.

Baroness on Myspace
Baroness on Relapse Records