Sunday, 29 April 2012

#156 Type O Negative - October Rust

I've listened to Type O Negative for a while now, and I stand by the fact that I still don't quite get it. That's not to say I don't like it - In fact, of the bands I've gotten into this year, Type O Negative was one of the ones which felt the most right. My point is more that the band are one of the most unfathomably unique, interesting and surreal bands I've ever listened to, and my brain melts when I try to collaborate all of the elements of the band's sound in my head, but, I'm going to review October Rust anyway.

Most of the people with whom I've talked on the subject have directed me to this album in particular, and it's not a terrific leap to consider it a classic. In their position of uniqueness, I'm reluctant to put a genre tag on the band, but I'll venture to say that among the huge diversity there is a little doom-metal, and a great number of other things. A friend mentioned how much Black Sabbath influence is apparent in their style, and when one listens to what is going on behind the keyboard melodies, this is very true. Aside from that, however, there's not much labelling I can sensibly do. Throughout the album, the band create the immensely beautiful atmosphere which got me into them in the first place - A mixture of sensitive, serene but also intense emotion conjured by the deep, reverberating guitar, the diverse beauties conjured by the keyboard work, and of course, the glow of the unmistakable and lullaby-like voice of Peter Steele, a man sadly with us no longer. The tone of Steele's vocals have always been something which can be spotted from miles away, and certainly are one of the things which set the band apart from anything else which I've heard.

Each song on the record has a very unique character, with music ranging from extremely doomy and murky to those which are lighter, faster, but equally carry the distinct feel, the unique form of Type O Negative. There isn't any filler in the album, if, of course, you exclude things like "Bad Ground", which are cheeky jokes, examples of the band's sense of humour. This humour is one of the things which confuses my senses. The music is so beautiful, but the accompanying humour of the band rather juxtaposes the seriousness. Usually I'd find such a strange mixture off-putting, but in the case of Type O Negative, is just doesn't bother me - it feels like it's part of the bigger picture, integral to the band's identity. The whole album is something immensely powerful and hypnotic, and I certainly feel like I'm in a different place now than I was when I started listening to track one. That in itself is a very admirable quality for a band to posses, indeed, an admirable effect for their music to have - after all, that's precisely what music is supposed to do.

 I'm glad to have been able to write something about Type O Negative - the music is powerful, and quite intangible - I certainly had to pause and find ways to convey the feelings it gave me, and often language really wasn't sufficient. I will keep this outro paragraph brief, as ever, and conclude with an acclamation of October Rust, and a rest-in-peace to Peter Steele.

This is a 10/10, easily.

Type O Negative Official Site
Type O Negative on Myspace
Type O Negative on Facebook
Type O Negative on Metal Archives

Friday, 27 April 2012

#155 Witchaven - Terrorstorm

I've known about Witchaven for about a year or two now, and I finally bought their début full length, Terrorstorm, recently, which is something I've been meaning to do for a while. Witchaven are an underground band done right, a band who have rightfully earned their cult-following, with many fans both in the USA and indeed world-wide.

I'd consider Witchaven to be more on the thrash end of the spectrum than on the black-metal end, and the band certainly give this impression with their riffs and especially their lyrical themes - It's good to hear a thrash band who still sing about how, to put it bluntly, the world is a bit fucked. There are songs dealing with corruption, forced-labour, drugs, and terrorism. The use of samples really hammers these themes home, and helps to unambiguously declare what the songs are all about. The black-thrash element of their sound may not be as prominent as that of their peers - bands like Skeletonwitch, for example, but it still adds some vitriol to the proceedings, with a sharp, horned edge, in the same way as bands like Sodom are dark and evil-sounding, but perhaps not full-on black-thrash. I'd be lying, however, to say that black-metal influence was so dilute as to be vague and undetectable - There is plenty of tremolo-picking and other sure-signs of demonic possession, and some songs, "Empty Chasm" in particular, are practically the opposite way around to most of the bands material on this album - almost more black than thrash. Witchaven, I feel, might be something akin to the USA's answer to bands like Ketzer.

The band's crunchy riffs are very much the way thrash-metal riffs should be - speedy, angry, and most of all flowing - there aren't any awkward transitions through the album, and in this respect the songs are very much seamless. The vocals really burst out of the songs too, woven nicely into the rest of the music. Typically taking the form of a very rapid-fire rasp, which manages to be very memorable in how it's structured, these vocals really take the songs up into a different league. The combination of vocals and guitar really seem to give the music a feeling of rage which you can't help but get energy from, and while it's not the fastest thrash I've ever heard (although the tempo is certainly eye-opening in places),  it's got an insanely rabid energy to it, and if I were to see them live, I'd definitely fear for the well-being of my neck. It's hard to place exactly where this sound fits in the grand scheme of things. It's not quite modern, but not quite retro either - Witchaven seem to be doing thrash the tried and tested way, but also manage to keep it current, and add plenty of seasoning to the mix which keeps it damn interesting to listen to.

Some début albums have a certain feel to them - a sincerity and honesty which suggests they'll live up expectations - Witchaven's Terrorstorm is definitely an album of this type. There's no sense of showing-off, or any "look how great we are" sentiment, which most modern thrash bands seem to give-out to some extent. Instead, Witchaven are in the better position of simply being a thrash band who made a thrash album. And that album is good. The band hold a lot of promise.

I'm thinking an 8/10 for this.

Witchaven on Myspace
Witchaven on Facebook
Witchaven on Metal Archives

Wednesday, 25 April 2012

#154 Iron Fire - Voyage of the Damned

Danish power-metal outfit Iron Fire are a band who have been immensely consistent since their return to making albums in 2006, releasing works of a similar style both quickly and efficiently. Voyage of the Damned is the first album Iron Fire have released since I discovered the band (shortly after the release of Metalmorphosized) and seems to be a change to the traditional formula, not least in terms of theme.

If you're familiar with the past works of Iron Fire, you'll know that the band tended, almost exclusively, to make material about knights, castles, questing heroes, and the similar themes which power-metal specialises in. This album, it is immediately apparent, is somewhat different - for one thing, it's set in space. The sci-fi nature of Voyage of the Damned signifies more than just a change in lyrical theme, but also in the band's music. While a lot of the familiar Iron Fire sound remains, the album certainly leans towards a new direction. Keyboards and synthesizers are a lot more present in this album than in any of the band's previous releases, and add a spacey sound to many of the songs, in contrast to the riffs, which are crunchy and memorable, in much the same style as what the band have released previously. The prominent keyboard use has the effect of making the album a little bit less rough and tough, and imbues the album with a heightened atmosphere, which is almost immediately noticeable. For all of it's aesthetic differences, however, the sound seems a rather superficial evolution, and the band isn't particularly far-departed from what they've always done - the prominent keyboard, slightly lower tempo, and lyrical differences are more-or-less the only things which set this album apart from it's predecessors.

I wouldn't go as far as to say that this is necessarily a bad thing, and if you come to this album expecting an Iron Fire album, that's almost exactly what you'll get. If, however, you expect a complete re-boot of the band's sound, you might be asking for a little much - the album is unmistakably still Iron Fire, but I hasten to add, it's quite a good one. While consistent, there are definitely ups and downs in Iron Fire's back-catalogue, and I'd say that this is definitely an up. The songs are solidly written, more so than on Metalmorphosized, and perhaps even up there with To the Grave, my all-time favourite. One of my favourite song after a few listens was "The Final Odyssey" which is a melancholy, wickedly-catchy keyboard-and-vocal piece, with no guitar work - this seems to be a sign that the band do possess a will to be creative and inventive, and certainly adds an unexpected track to the album - perhaps the defining feature of progression. "Ten Years in Space" also show this progression, but manages to combine it nicely with the familiar Iron Fire sound, with good balance, the sci-fi twist drawing the listener in, and the trusty guitar work and distinct Martin Steene vocals keeping you interested, but at the same time conserving the band's tried-and-tested sound.

Overall, the album is darker, and certainly less cheesy - Space is, if you'll pardon the horrendous pun, the thematic and lyrical final frontier of power-metal, and Iron fire are exploring it in this album. I'm interested to see where the band will go from here, and while To the Grave, I feel, will always be my favourite, this album is undeniably very strong, and has moments of epicness, beauty, and some great riffs.

I'm giving this 7/10.

Iron Fire Official Site
Iron Fire on Facebook
Iron Fire on Metal Archives

Monday, 23 April 2012

#153 Antichrist - Forbidden World

It took me a long time to decide what to review today. I say decide - I couldn't think of anything to review. Eventually, I remembered Antichrist, a relatively new thrash band from Sweden, who I've been meaning to have a look at for quite some time, and while I worry that I review far too much thrash-metal and black-metal, I can't really think of any other bands to review. That and the fact that Antichrist are rather good.

There's a lot of new thrash out there at the moment, and when a genre undergoes such a resurgence, it's always a given that there is a certain amount of filler, mundanity and unoriginal sounds among the bands participating. Antichrist haven't done any of those things - In fact, what they've created is quite distinct and certainly manages to blend the enjoyable, tried and tested old with the interesting new. The band's sound would fit nicely into 80's thrash,  had they been around, and would have been a unique sound then. As it happens, the band weren't around in the 80's, but their sound is still quite distinct now. What the band make is a fast brand of thrash metal which hints upon black-thrash on many occasions. The band sound somewhere between Exodus and Slayer, but potentially beating both in terms of sheer technical song-writing - often with blistering solos and riffs which rip past at machine-gun speed, combined with rabid, wrathful vocals with a slight black-metal-meets-Paul-Baloff edge to them. Everything, essentially, which makes thrash what it is. The band aren't afraid to be diverse though, with a proportion of slower-tempo material which makes the listen more compelling, and the bands sound less prescribed and more likely to draw the listener in - there's no question that it's an album which you want to listen to.

The band often manage to be technically competent to the point of being somewhat scary - Not quite, perhaps, as outrageously mind-blowing in that department as bands like Vektor, but not far behind, and indeed wielding these technical abilities in tandem with an old school sound, which you really get the impression that they could take somewhere new. The speed of a lot of it is impressive in it's own right, but what the band manage to cram-into the songs without having to reduce the tempo is more impressive still, and the whole album is one hell of a roller-coaster ride. There's not much more to say, really - This is an album so solid that I have to write the word solid in italics. Not only is the music fresher than the re-hashed, generic thrash which so many bands are pumping out, but it manages to still hold a real old-school feeling without losing said freshness, and is faster in many places, and more atmospheric in others ("Minotaur" for instance, is positively epic-sounding) than just about anything I've heard from many other thrash-revival bands.

 I wasn't sure what to expect from this album, and I'm actually somewhat blown away at how much it exceeded my expectations - going by word of mouth, I'd been expecting an album which was just a cut above the rest of the thrash-revival. Not so. This album is a league above the majority of the thrash-revival.

I recommend this rather a lot. 9/10.

Antichrist Official Site (somewhat bare-bones)
Antichrist on Facebook
Antichrist on Metal Archives

Saturday, 21 April 2012

#152 Wyrd - Huldrafolk

Wyrd are a Finnish black-metal band of which I've heard a few songs over the years, but haven't until now gotten around to listening to an entire album thereof. Their sophomore album, "Huldrafolk", is the one which sticks in my mind as the album which I was first introduced to the band with, and as such, seems the place to start now, in terms of  listening and reviewing.

Wyrd's sound is rooted deeply in the forest which it's artwork portrays, with wide-open, hypnotic black-metal with a bouquet of folk mixed in. At the time that this album was made, Wyrd was a one man band, with Narqath recording literally all of the instruments himself, but the sheer musical diversity of the album really breaks down the one-man band stereotype. The drums are real, as of course, are the guitars and bass, but what really impresses me is that the variety of folk instruments used, if I'm not grievously mistaken, most of them are real, not provided by keyboards or synthesisers. While the rough production makes the folk instruments more ambivalent than they might be in a cleaner-produced record, they still sound fantastic in the tracks in which they are present, perhaps even more so for being a bit raw, giving them a charm which might otherwise sound plastic. They sound, for want of a better expression, earnestly and honestly used. It's very, very refreshing, for instance, to hear an accordion which natural, which isn't present in a gimmicky way.The folk-side of the music doesn't dominate the sound either - it balances well with the raw, hypnotic black-metal riffing which is taking place around it, and the album as a whole is as enjoyable for it's caustic heathen feel as for it's folk-imbued epicness.

The forested feel of the music is often emphasised in the softer sections of the album, where the shimmer of birdsong, or the sound of a woodland stream is often sampled, giving the album plenty of moments of tranquillity. In "Misanthropes Masterplan" halfway through the song, the music makes the switch from black-metal to ambient, with really creates an island of peace on the album, and adds even more variety. When it bursts back into black-metal, as intense as ever, the many-layers in the music feel even more apparent, with so much going on in the music that you have to really concentrate to focus on any single aspect individually. The albums range is staggering. Chants, at least half-a-dozen different instruments, ambient parts, samples, a sound which ranges from soft and beautiful to heavy and in many cases equally beautiful, and also range from predominantly black-metal, to being inclined quite towards folk. Somehow, all of this manages to conglomerate into one album with a unified feel, which is all the more rewarding to listen to for it's variety. The drums may not be perfect, and the production may be raw, but it still sounds great, because this is definitely an album on which the music is greater than a sum of it's instruments.

Wyrd seem somewhat underrated, which is a real shame - The band generates a unique atmosphere and Huldrafolk should, by all rights, be considered a modern-classic black-metal album. Wyrd is but one of many projects Narqath is involved in, and listening to this album has certainly urged me to listen to more, not only of Wyrd's material, but Narqath's projects in general.

This is a 10/10 album.

Wyrd Official Site
Wyrd on Metal Archives

Thursday, 19 April 2012

#151 Embers - Shadows

I've reviewed Embers before, and I can safely say that they're an interesting band. My attention now turns from the EP, which I reviewed last year, to their debut full-length album - Shadows, which was released in 2011.  Hopefully, my own journey through listening to metal has progressed enough since reviewing the EP for me to shine a new light upon the band's sound, and pick up on the bits I missed.

Taking Embers at a larger dosage than which is given in the EP certainly gives me more time to digest the sound which they produce - A well mixed combination of black-metal, doom-metal and crust punk. I'm not very good at distinguishing crust punk, so I'm taking Metal Archives' word for the last one. Whatever the precise pseudoscience behind the mix of genres, they're certainly in a pleasing ratio - The black and doom metal compliment each other very well, and the best of both is made apparent - the tremolos and lead parts have a strongly dark atmosphere, but one that is melancholy, as opposed to sinister. The kind of atmosphere which makes everything feel calm and slowed-down, but also carries with it a blistering intensity and epicness. The doom metal influenced material gives it a plodding, slightly more upbeat feel, and is also epic, but in a different way. The two "types" of epic atmosphere which the styles would create on their own combine interestingly, and are definitely a big factor in the band's uniqueness. The frosty-sounding keyboard, which reminds me of early Enslaved, runs through the whole thing, and adds a self-juxtaposing sweetness and a sorrow to all that it touches. Vocally,  the songs have quite a brutal edge, which you'd think might interfere with the beauty, but no - not at all. They add to the intensity, and do not detract from the atmosphere, in fact, clean vocals, I venture to say, might take something away from the band's sound.

The album has an organic feel, much like the EP - the production is a little better, a little cleaner, but it's still very real. The drums sound like drums should - that is, they sound like a guy with drumsticks is hitting them, which is much rarer in modern production than it by rights should be. Beyond that, I don't know a great deal about production, but the album certainly sounds right. The tone is top notch, and  everything which the band want you to hear is audible without having to mentally focus your hearing too much. The album is long, and is of the kind that you have to set-aside a little time for, otherwise it can prove a little unwieldy, but it manages at the same time to feel complete. It's certainly got a lot to it. Not a single track feels rushed, and all of them manage to be distinct and valuable in their own right, and yet still fit together and feel like a complete work. It's one of those albums which really is a journey.

I rather wish I'd listened to this album sooner - having reviewed the EP, I really took my time to return to listening to the band, and I'm glad I've gotten round to it now. They're doing a European tour fairly soon, as far as I know, and if you're anywhere near where they're visiting, I'd recommend it. To conclude, this really is a good example of how to make a well-constructed album, and has an outstandingly beautiful sound.

This is a 9/10.

Embers Official site
Embers on Bandcamp (The album is available for free - there's no excuse not to listen)
Embers on Myspace
Embers on Facebook
Embers on Metal Archives

Tuesday, 17 April 2012

Feature: Buried Treasure I - Thrash Metal

"Buried Treasure" is the somewhat cliche name ascribed to what I hope will become an occasional feature. The premise, ideally, will be to showcase a few bands from a genre that are somewhat lost in the mists of time, bands who made great albums and then split, and bands who simply aren't as known as they should be.

"Testament are really underrated". That's the sort of thing I used to say, and I'm sure Youtube comment boxes will testify is a widely held belief. In perspective, I'm not too sure. I definitely enjoy some Testament of an evening, but underrated? Perhaps not. What is underrated, however, is the collection of bands below. Bands which were easily on a par with the biggest thrash acts which survived through to the present day. But these bands, in many cases, prematurely split, or were often lost to the mists of time. Like most things in contemporary life, I've written a list of ten;

Toxik: Toxik last made an album in 1989, but reformed in 2007. The two albums that they did make are solid, undisputed cult-classics, and it's not hard to hear why. The material is an absoloute riff-fest with extreme virtuosity and technical competence, coupled with falsetto vocals which are as refined as any power-metal or speed-metal vocalist could hope to muster. It seems that this is a winning combination, as as Toxik are quite possibly one of the most renowned bands on this list.

Gammacide: Gammacide cultivated the "nuclear waste" image long before it became cliche. Combining wickedly crunchy riffing with angry vocals, the cheap looking album artwork really underplays the thrash-monster which is the band's only album - "Victims of Science". While the album stands alone, it's a genuinely well-conducted affair, and was, oddly, a very early discovery in my discovery of thrash. Gammacide are grimy, grim and radioactive thrash at it's best.

Rigor Mortis: Another outfit who have really earned their cult following, with speedy, crisp songs bedecked with clattering, powerful drums and enraged, explosive guitarwork. The first album is considered by many to be the finer of the two, but the band's work, albeit a small back-catalogue, is acclaimed in it's totality by many who listen it. Well-crafted and chaotic solos, and thundering, pounding riffs abound from a band which borders on the brutal in many places.

Anacrusis: Anacrusis are probably a close second of  the bands involved in the list in terms of number of albums, releasing four full-length albums before splitting, and a number of compilations and re-recordings after reforming. Starting out playing fairly conventional thrash, the band gradually entered the progressive realm with some seriously interesting and unique material as a result. The band have all four albums available to freely download on their website.

Exumer: Another band to score quite highly, in fact, probably the most highly of any on the list is Exumer. Playing a caustic, evil and frenzied Teutonic breed of thrash with screeching, almost black-metal style vocals, evil sounding guitar work and a dark aesthetic.  The band split up after two albums, but re-formed and have very recently released a third offering. I've not listened to it quite yet, but I will at some point, and I hope to be impressed.

Realm: Realm were released two albums before they split. Falsetto driven, with a hint of power-metal in places, and with a speed which ought to be the envy of many bands. Realm manage to be technical and at the same time modest, not making it the centre of attention. They certainly possessed a lot of kick, catchiness, and plenty of genuinely unique moments. I'd love to hear more bands which combine power and thrash metal in the ratio that Realm do, which, like the proverbial porridge, is just right.

Watchtower: Frequently gazed at in awe for their uncompromising technical ability and thinking-out-of-the-box style of playing, there's a bit of everything in Watchtower's music, and while the songs aren't the easiest to follow, they more than make up for it in mind-blowing uniqueness and skill. Every track has some kind of magnificent technical flourish just around the corner, and to this day, Watchtower seem to be one of the most unique bands in thrash.

Lääz Rockit:
A band who have a fairly large discography, you could think that they have no place on this list. Not so, say I. Lääz Rockit seem horrendously little-known for the amount they've done. The band launch an energetic Bay-area thrash attack with angry but varied vocals, which often explore the realm of the falsetto, and a quintessential Bay Area sound. The bands discography, it seems, is quite inconsistent, but there are plenty of gems waiting to be listened to.

Heathen: Another band which is quite well known (but certainly obscure enough to make the list) is Heathen. Quite possibly the most melodic band on the list, Heathen manage to combine thrash and speed metal in roughly equal measure, creating a brand of metal with a slightly epic feel. The vocals are very refined, the riffs memorable if a little subdued, and the lead work is well placed. By all accounts, after re-forming, the band made a comeback album which was actually good, and well recieved. More respect to 'em.

Assassin: Last, but perhaps not least, Assassin. Playing the most chaotic, low-fi and angry sounding thrash of the bunch, and their debut album's artwork is iconic and memorable in it's own right. Splitting up for the rather unfortunate reason that all of their equipment was stolen, Assassin have now reformed, and after a shakey start quality wise, there's a reasonable chance that a couple of decent post-reunion album could be done, building on the strength of "Breaking the Silence".

It's fairly obvious that there are plenty more thrash bands which could make this list, and I'm sure that everyone reading it could suggest a name or two. If you've read this far, you'll have noticed a recurring theme; a lot of the bands seem to be re-forming, and although some may forever gather dust, others are a testament to the fact that buried treasures need not stay buried forever.

Sunday, 15 April 2012

#150 Annihilator - Never, Neverland

Beyond the first three albums, I really don't know anything about Annihilator, but I do know that it was these three albums which cemented Annihilator's status as a well known thrash band. Never, Neverland is quite possible my favourite of the three, with Alice in Hell being a close second, and it took me a while to decide which one to review.

Annihilator's music has always only just qualified as thrash, and the first few albums hold this especially prominently. There is a lot more melody than what was going on in other thrash bands at the time, and the whole album is very much leaning towards speed-metal. There's little of the caustic aggression and frenzy which thrash brought to the table, and the sound is very refined and the songs soar, instead of rampaging, but that does not detract from the sound. Never, Neverland has a choice selection of fine riffs, which are memorable and almost immediately recognisable as Annihilator, such is the distinctness of their playing style. Annihilator plough through vocalists like a machine, and the vocals on this album are delivered by Coburn Pharr, whose performance is more melodic than that of "Randy Rampage" on Alice in Hell, but maintains a bit more anger than those on Set the World on Fire. The consequence of this is that Never, Neverland fits nicely into the middle-ground - the heavier parts are handled well, but the cleaner vocals, for example those on the album's magnificent title-track, also work nicely, with a melodic touch which helps the sinister atmosphere created to flow along nicely, in that track, and throughout the album, which courses through various moods from melancholy to sinister to uplifting.

The highlight of Annihilator, as can be expected, is the creative and unique guitar-work, which is what has allowed Jeff Waters to get away with  changing the band over the years to be a more "Jeff and the gang" affair than a conventionally organised band. There isn't a single song on the album which doesn't have something clever incorporated in it's guitar work, with riffs which sound fresh but oh-so-quintessential at the same time, and lead-work which is intricite, flawless, technically magnificent and most importantly, sounds very good. The lead-driven riff in the title-track, for instance, is one of the most memorable riffs I've ever heard, and it's quality certainly earns it it's catchiness. The lyrical themes are, as is often the case, surreal and somewhat bizarre - songs like "The Fun Palace" are twisted and psychological, whilst songs like "Road to Ruin" are more straight-forward, addressing drink-driving. "Kraf Dinner" is a song about macaroni cheese, which serves to remind us that thrash-metal isn't always a deadly-serious business. It's one of the heaviest songs on the album, to boot.

This is, undoubtedly, an album which I enjoy from start to finish, and it's the second of what many would consider Annihilator's classic albums. I can certainly hear it's "classic" appeal, in how well-rounded, filler-less and consistent it is from beginning to end. A true virtuosic thrash-metal extravaganza.

I'm giving this 8/10.

Annihilator Official Site
Annihilator on Myspace
Annihilator on Facebook
Annihilator on Metal Archives

Friday, 13 April 2012

#149 Inverloch - Dusk | Subside

Inverloch is a project spawned by two of the members of Disembowelment, an Australian death/doom band who had a mighty cult status, but split up long ago. First off, I've not listened to Disembowelment much, which certainly places me in the minority of people who have been paying attention the Inverloch's recent exploits, but nonetheless, my attention was grabbed by the band when I was handed a flier about their upcoming gig, and I decided to check out their EP.

With no frame of reference, I have to forsake comparing Inverloch's material to that of Disembowelment, but whatever the legacy it has to live up to, it sounds excellent in it's own right to me. The soft intro to the first track creates an atmosphere of beauty, before exploding into a death metal juggernaut, with a faster-tempo than I expected, and huge, levels of energy. The lower end is very well produced, and made my desk vibrate like nothing else which has passed through my speakers in a long time. The drums have a very nice tone, with an almost sinister rumble peeking out from behind the guitar and bass parts, but with crisp, fresh cymbals and a really enjoyable, reverb-filled snare sound, especially in the doomy parts. The other two tracks on the EP keep up the crushing feel, but are certainly more embracing of the doom-element, and, I'm told, sound more like Disembowelment did. The slower tempo gives the vocals a chance to sound incredibly guttural and dessicated, with the vocals at the start of "The Menin Road" utterly laying to waste most of the death/doom vocals I've listened to, and fit really well into the music, as crushing as the other instruments.

There are some really enjoyable moments of atmosphere among the heaviness, too, with sections which are not quite melancholy, but certainly have a slightly sad, dark feel to them. Towards the end of "Shadows of the Flame" for example, has a slow section with clean sounding lead-notes which are full to the brim with feeling, producing the beautiful, all-surrounding soundscape which I've come to associate with doom-metal in all of it's forms and hybridisations, no matter how brutal. After listening to the EP all the way through a couple of times, I could appreciate how complete it felt, too. The elements involved really work together well to build the overall feel. The vast-sounding atmospheric sections really blend well with the stone-crumbling power of the heavy sections to create something which simply works. The length of the EP isn't too short, either. All of the songs are reasonably long, and despite there only being three tracks, enough time elapses to get a good idea of the band's sound, as opposed to being merely presented with a tantalizing and ambiguous taster, which has certainly happened to me in the past.

Almost twenty years after Disembowelment split, Inverloch seem to demonstrate that the members involved certainly haven't lost anything to the time which has passed. A solid release, which seems to be turning heads in great numbers. I'm impressed, and look forward to seeing them live.

I'm giving this 8/10.

Inverloch on Facebook
Inverloch on Bandcamp
Inverloch on Metal Archives

Wednesday, 11 April 2012

#148 Teitanblood - Seven Chalices

Cryptic and diabolical in appearance, I initially assumed that Teitanblood would be a very traditional black-metal band. I was only half-right. The band play a black/death metal style which I'd venture borders on being bestial-black metal, or war metal, or whatever name people wish to ascribe to that niche. "Seven Chalices" is the bands debut full length, and is in no small part responsible for them being well known throughout the metal underground.

The thing I find with really raw black/death metal like this is that it somehow tends to sound more evil than it's conventional black-metal cousin. Teitanblood seems to be no exception, with murky and chaotic songs, which have a rumbling evil in every note, made even more unholy by their low production values, which leave some riffs as an occult wall-of-noise. The vocals are deep, not shrieked, slightly muffled and laced with echoes, in the style of bands like Von and Blasphemy. Unlike the two bands I just mentioned, however, Teitanblood bring with the style onto a larger scale - something that, as far as I know, hasn't been done before. The songs are longer, more ambitious, and, if you listen through the fuzz, somewhat more complex. They manage this, interestingly, without meddling with the essential form of the style they play, retaining a crude sounding, slightly awkward sounding but at the same time technical playing style, which is strongly, strangely, juxtaposed with the slightly grandiose leanings of a lot of the album. This odd combination, which on paper might sound a little odd, actually works really well, and I'd venture to say that it adds a lot to the band's appeal.

In songs like the partly album-eponymous track "Seven Chalices of Vomit and Blood" the band really step up a gear and demonstrate the more complex side of their playing, with furious drumming and riffs which go down a somewhat more intricate path. The "Interludes" between tracks are interesting injections of blasphemous atmosphere, and really up the darkness and distinctness of the album, and puts something between the brutal assaults. The songs themselves, too, have a lot of atmosphere, with their bestial evil augmented by samples, for instance the outro to "The Abomination of Desolation" in which the song slowly morphs into a chant. What the band are doing with their genre is really quite interesting, and I'm certainly drawn in by that. They seem to have the same certain je ne sais quoi which bands like Funeral Mist bring to conventional black-metal, a deep, true inorganic darkness. No woods at night, no mist, only black-ritual and blasphemy.

As little as I know about this murky, poorly-defined subgenre, I think I can tell that Teitanblood are a very interesting addition to it. It was a challenging listen, and you have to have open ears, and not be too distracted by the rest of the world, but certainly worthwhile.

This is an 8/10.

Teitanblood Official site (apparently...)
Teitanblood on Metal Archives

Monday, 9 April 2012

#147 Pilgrim - Misery Wizard

I very much like doom, even if it's not the subgenre I listen to most. In fact, I've not listened to any in a while, and as such, this album review should be nice and refreshing for me. Pilgram formed very recently - in 2010 to be exact, and the band have already released their debut full length album, in January, which is an impressively quick feat. The album has already gotten the band some attention worldwide, and I found out about them in Zero Tolerance magazine, where the catchy album title caught my eye.

Suffice to say, the band have much more to offer than just a catchy album title. The music is the epitome of well-made doom, with the low-tempo crushing riffs really hitting the doom-receptor in the brain at just the right angle. If you're one of those madmen who seem to own dictionaries with pictures in them, the entry for doom-metal might well have a picture of Pilgrim somewhere near it. The riffs are very Sabbath-esque, with similar tone and a similar playing style in places, and plenty of string bending and hammer-ons. I've not listened to enough Reverend Bizarre to verify, but the consensus seems to be that they sound a lot like that, too. I can compare Pilgrim until the cows come home, of course, but the band stand very strongly on their own merit. The songwriting really is top notch, and while it's a very much established style, that doesn't detract from the fact that Pilgrim play it well - the album feels extremely well rounded from start to finish, and even the artwork and name have a very good feel to them, a robustness which the whole thing seems to exude.

The vocals come in the form of mid-to-high-pitched, slightly crazed sounding variety, which works well in the more conventional songs, but also adopts  a very evocative and grandiose feel when the songs soar into the neighbourhood of near epic-doom, for instance the third track, "Quest", which has many an epic melody, without losing the earthy charm through being too sharp and airy, the middle-ground working very nicely in this instance. The balance of the album as a whole seems to be a testament to the middle-ground too, with a good ratio of crushing, tooth-rattling slow sections to slightly faster, deliciously traditional riffs. The essential fuzz which accompanies the guitars is quite crisp and fresh, which means the songs aren't overwhelmingly murky, which is often something which gets in the way of me enjoying doom records. In Misery Wizard, fortunately,  can hear everything, very clearly. It's good to be able to enjoy every single explosive note played, every strike of the ride-cymbal, and such like, and the production and overall tone of the album really allows for this. At six-tracks and almost an hour in length, it's immediately clear that the songs are chiefly long, but they definitely do enough to justify their length. Standing out from the  long songs, the four-and-a-half minute long "Adventurer" delivers a surprise injection of tempo into the second half of the album, I can imagine it being a real foot-stomper live, and is definitely the unexpected but not unwelcome number on the album.

I'm not sure what the doom-metal scene is like nowadays, but it can only benefit from having a promising  band like Pilgrim in it. Especially with a debut like this. No filler, no weak-songs, simply six tracks of magnificent doom straight from some arcane studio of musical alchemy.

I'm giving this 9/10.

Pilgrim on Myspace
Pilgrim on Facebook
Pilgrim on Bandcamp
Pilgrim on Metal Archives

Saturday, 7 April 2012

#146 Absu - Abzu

Absu are another band which I've been meaning to have a listen to for a long time, but nonetheless, I approached listening to to their most recent album, "Abzu", knowing only two things - that the band currently play black-thrash, and that I've often heard them compared to Skeletonwitch. Both of these things, it turns out, were fairly accurate.

I had to listen to the first track, "Earth Ripper" twice immediately, before moving on to the rest of the album, just for it's mindbogglingly catchy intro, which initially made me thing that someone had uploaded some power metal to Youtube instead by mistake. After realising this was not the case, my initial observation is that Absu are a lot more on the thrash side than I anticipated. I definitely see more of the foretold Skeletonwitch resemblance than I expected too, with a similar vocal-style, tempo and tone throughout the album. Absu, however, are a bit more black metal influenced than Skeletonwitch, and there's a bit more in terms of sinister atmosphere and outright blast-beat driven ferocity. A lot of the songs generate their atmosphere from diabolical tremolos, but there are thrash riffs thrown in, with a rough, crunchy tone which, while less atmospheric, gives the songs some punch. The band definitely manage to capture the best of both worlds with this, with songs which are dark, and, my interpretation influenced by the artwork, almost Lovecraftian in their atmosphere, but also hard-hitting and memorable, especially the first track, which has a riff I may never forget.

The vocals have plenty of black-metal savagery and atmosphere, and very effectively work with the rest of the music - the vocals are very well incorporated. While mostly black-metal in persuasion, the thrash side of the band is revealed in the occasional high-pitched scream which, while rare, crops up once or twice through the album and really adds a bit of kick. One of the things which I was most interested to see was how the band reconciled the fourteen-minute behemoth of a track at the end of the album with the fast, short tracks which comprise the rest of it. It's not every day a band can do this well, especially with one track taking up literally almost half of the length of the album, however, I'm glad Absu have managed to do it well. The track is divided into complementing sections, six in total, which nicely highlight Absu's playing style, starting with an all-out atmospheric black-metal showcase of an intro, followed by bursting into an uncompromising thrashing section which is probably one of the most head-banging sections on the album. After this come a few sections which fit somewhere in-between, including a melancholy and goosebumps-inducing soft piece, followed ultimately by a reprise of the tracks intro. The transitions between the tracks are simple and are often just a half-second of silence, but personally, this didn't bother me much - the songs still works as one cohesive piece.

 Black-thrash comes in various forms, varying from outrageously blasphemous to subtly arcane. Absu, with Abzu, have made a black-thrash album which is the latter. It's certainly "thinking-man's black-thrash", but sacrifices no energy in being so. The album ranges from ferocious to haunting, with plenty in-between, and feels like a solid, well rounded release.

This is an 8/10, I believe.

Absu Official Site
Absu on Myspace
Absu on Facebook
Absu on Metal Archives

Thursday, 5 April 2012

#145 Altar of Plagues - Mammal

I nearly went to see Altar of Plagues once, but I couldn't get into the venue for being under-eighteen at the time. I'm not dwelling on it. Honest. That's by the by though - "Mammal", going on album title alone, holds promise of something which is far from the traditional, occult strain of black-metal which I'm partial to, and the artwork further cements this likelihood. I wasn't mistaken.

At fifty minutes long, but also only four tracks in length, Altar of Plagues definitely preach from the book of long songs. I don't entirely understand the form of "post" black metal, but I'm beginning to develop an ear for it, and it's present here. The soundscapes on the album are melancholy, with hypnotic song length and indeed instrumentation - the guitars lean much more towards a vast, muted and sad sound, with well-executed repetition, as opposed to any kind of black-metal onslaught - at the points in which the guitars do become faster and angrier, the sound is still that of a void, and even at their most intense, the songs sound, for want of better phrased synaesthesia, wide and haunted by feeling. The guitar sounds distinctly fuzzy and crunchy in these instances, almost as if it's peaking a bit, but this works well in the musical context, and really adds to the atmosphere. Talking of which, atmosphere is certainly something which the band have in plentiful supply, and I've not heard an atmosphere quite like it anywhere else - It's not as epic-sounding as some other bands with a post-rock influence, and it's not as cold and misanthropic as others. It sits somewhere in the middle, with a surreal and almost urban-sound, even before one leads the cryptic, poetic lyrics. I've certainly heard the band described as "Urban black-metal" and although I can't explain it, my ears certainly agree. The music seem very human, and as odd as it may be to say, has an oddly anthropological feel to it. 

The bands appeal is certainly more down to the atmosphere and tone of their playing than from any degree of technical proficiency. The musicians are tight, and don't slip-up once in the entire album, but the playing isn't massively technically impressive. That, by no means, should be interpreted as me saying that it's bad. Far from it - but the enjoyable nature of the music is down to the atmosphere, tone and mood which the band conjure, and not due to any degree of flash musicianship. There is perhaps a little more going on the songs than could acceptably be called minimalistic, but its not far from it. This too, is not a bad thing - anyone who listens to this kind of thing knows the value of the music being hypnotic, and Altar of Plagues manage it really well. The songs have enough "action" to be scintillating, but also have parts which linger and let the listener wonder through a soundscape for a while. In a sense, I found myself not listening to the instruments as such, but to the atmosphere itself, and I hope I've not completely missed the point in doing so.

I've been meaning to listen to Alter of Plagues for an extremely long time, but this is just about the first time I've gotten around to doing it properly. I can safely say that the album is enjoyable - definitely the kind that need to be listened to, not simply played while you do something else. An engaging and somewhat mind-altering release.

I think this is a 7/10.

Altar of Plagues Official site
Altar of Plagues on Facebook
Altar of Plagues on Metal Archives

Tuesday, 3 April 2012

#144 Black Breath - Sentenced to Life

Once in a while, something which really pushes the boundaries comes along. Plenty of the bands I've listened to in life are "interesting", but it seems that Black Breath are a little beyond that. The bands mixture of death, thrash, crust, crossover and plenty of other stuff as well is altogether ensnaring to my ears. "Sentenced to Life" is still a newborn album, but is already being acclaimed by plenty of people, and judging by what I've heard through the speakers so far, so it should be.

"Crushing" immediately comes to mind from just about the moment the first song kicks in. The riffs are immense, made even stronger by an absolutely gigantic, satanically-possessed-buzzsaw guitar-tone which sounds like something between Hail of Bullets and a diesel locomotive. Beneath the guitar is a nicely audible bass which gives the song a very crisp, almost diabolical-sounding murkiness. In addition to crushing, the songs, without exception, are truly unrelenting, with the heavily crust/crossover influenced vocals pounding the song into a rhythmic and rabid hurricane with their almost percussive aggression and structure. I don't usually intentionally swear much in my reviews, but sometimes it's utterly necessary; Black Breath, in this album, take the listener and give them a fucking maelstrom of headbanging fury. It's not all about crushing riffs and vocal lines, however - there are some genuinely good solos and lead-parts, in a pretty good ratio to the monster-riffing. The band manage to demonstrate that they're technical quite proficiently, but more importantly, also sound good doing so.

I tend to find, perhaps through some incompetence of my listening-ability, that I usually make a divide between bands which make me appreciate their energy and speed, and bands which have a powerful atmosphere. Black Breath seem to do both. While being bone-crunching in all of the right ways, the band also sound dark, occult and altogether evil. The churning, ominous murkiness present throughout their album, along with sinister leads, and even sinister riffs and solos, really hammers home (pardon the artwork related pun) the blend of atmosphere and brutality which seems to have, and rightly so, attracted the attention of a lot of fans. It takes a good album to make me feel genuinely excited, and this one has done so. I throw around the phrase "unique" more than I strictly should, but I'm pretty certain I can get away with it here - What Black Breath are, and what they have conjured in this album, really is unique. It may be only about thirty-three minutes long, the songs may be short and swift, but this album packs the most punch of any album I've heard this year. Like Anaal Nathrakh but a little bit sedated. In a very, very good way.

I'm not sure what else to say. When I post reviews, I don't tend to urge people to listen to the bands in question. This time... do it. I cannot conceive of a reason, if you enjoy extreme metal, not to enjoy Black Breath. This might well end up being one of my favourite albums this year.

This is 10/10. Did you expect me to give it anything else?

Black Breath Official site
Black Breath on Myspace
Black Breath on Facebook
Black Breath on Metal Archives

Sunday, 1 April 2012

#143 Manilla Road - Open the Gates

"Unsung heroes" is a word which is thrown around a lot. I'm fairly confident that Manilla Road are a band deserving of the title, however. Releasing albums with a loving cult-following since their inception in 1977, and arguably dodged a cultural bullet by splitting up for most of the 1990s, Manilla Road are a band worthy of far wider reach than they receive. I'm never quite sure how to approach a band with such a loved discography, so I took the sophisticated step of picking "Open the Gates" because I liked the artwork.

What the USA contributed to traditional metal before the existence of thrash is something frequently overlooked, but it's safe to say that bands like Manilla Road were among the groups to contribute. I'm not entirely sure where "Open the Gates" fits in the bigger picture of the band's history, but as their fourth studio album, I'm confident that this shows the band on good form - young, energetic, but also well rounded and experienced. The bands overall sound seems to be more influenced less by punk, as British bands like Iron Maiden were, and more influenced by traditional rock, which is reasonably apparent throughout the album, especially in the drumming style, which is more complex and embellished than that encountered in a lot of the NWOBHM. That isn't to say that the album sticks into a very thin band of style - in fact, there's a lot going on; Parts which sound very rock and roll in their intensity and groove are juxtaposed with heavier sections. "Weavers of the Web" has a heavy, speed-metal style riff which is a cut above a lot of the album in terms of punch, while "Heavy Metal to the World" is practically thrash. In addition to this, a decent portion of the album also carries an epic vibe, especially the nine-minute long piece "The Ninth Wave", which is something almost akin to mid-tempo power-metal, not least in it's King Arthur based lyrics.

The albums vocals, as ever provided by Mark Shelton, the band's backbone, are varied, from a traditional rock style vocal to a more epic sounding singing voice, which is put to especially good effect in the more theatrical, grandiose songs. The variety in singing voice highlights the way the album as a whole is put together - every single song is a little different, and while they fit together well, they also don't overlap hugely when it comes to style; It's as if, at this stage, the band were happy to do a bit of everything; Epic songs and attitude-driven ones sharing the spotlight. This gives the album something of a motley feel, but doesn't detract from it's flow - the songs sufficiently share attributes to make transitions between songs of different persuasions non-jarring. I found myself enjoying the epic material, which has quite a unique, non-cheesy atmosphere, despite it being about what would later be the cliché power-metal subjects (Dragons and other fantasy) as much as the heavier music, which offers a memorable and energetic injection of rock and roll attitude. Of course, a good number of the songs, especially towards the end of the album, also combine the two a bit more readily, which is even better.

I always worry about reviewing bands which are cult-classics, for fear of missing the point. Manilla Road seems to be no exception. Despite enjoying the album from start to finish, I still ponder that perhaps I still don't quite get it. I can see many good points, and it's a thoroughly enjoyable, dare I say, masterpiece of a record, but I certainly can't claim to know it in the same sense as a die-hard fan of the band would.

Worries aside, this is an 8/10.

Manilla Road Official Site
Manilla Road on Myspace
Manilla Road on Metal Archives