Friday, 31 August 2012

#198 Children of Bodom - Follow the Reaper

I've never listened to Children of Bodom before. As I say with many of the bands I've never actually listened to before, I should probably do so, for my own good. Representing a massive gap in my knowledge, Children of Bodom were probably one such neglected band that I should have listened to quite soon, considering just how well known they are. Fortunately, as I write out this ponderous intro-paragraph, that's what I've been doing.

If you'd asked me not so very long ago what Children of Bodom sounded like, I'd have probably answered along the lines of "ehh... melodic-death metal kind of stuff?" As it turns out, I wasn't too far off. This album in particular seems to sit somewhere between melodic death metal and power metal, with fairly caustic, but at the same time tuneful, harsh vocals, a melodeath staple, and indeed quite a heavy guitar tone, but also sparkling, dancing keyboard playing, which gives the music a very melodic, uplifting and almost fairytale sound in places, which I'd imagine is where the power-metal element comes in. The synth itself has quite a classical feel in places, and is certainly indicative of quite a lot of dexterity on the keyboard player's part. At times, it also has something of a folk-influenced sound, which was an interesting twist upon what I was expecting. What emerges when these elements are combined is undeniably very accessible, and highly-polished, but certainly isn't bad - It's enjoyable and catchy, and is certainly honest-to-goodness metal. The synth tends to lead the music, with the guitar work taking a back-seat for the most part - not subdued so much as simply allowing the synth to vend all of the "catchy bits" for a good two-thirds of the time.

When the lead guitar does take it's place in the spotlight, it's very adequate, and at times impressive - there is a reasonable collection of both lead-sections and solos - modern sounding, with pristine production and smoothness, as if the very music itself was crafted from porcelain, but effective nonetheless - generally I enjoy guitar work with a bit of a rough-edge, and that goes for music in general too, when it comes to it, but I find the sharpness of this album quite unobtrusive, and enjoyable. The riffs, too, have a degree of substance, and there are a few which are very enjoyable in their own right, without relying on the syrupy synth coating which everything has - My knowledge of melodic death metal, and, for that matter, power metal, isn't quite up to scratch at times, so I often don't know what sounds "normal" for a genre, but the riffs in this album seem to bring into play traditional metal and thrash-influences, and do so often, with the former introducing some subtle, almost rock-like sections tucked in beneath the synth and lead-work, and the latter making itself felt when the songs thunder along, with power-chord driven, galloping riffs often somewhat reminiscent of modern thrash.

This is roughly what I was expecting, when I set out to listen to the band - but on the whole I've enjoyed it more than I suspected I might - I don't tend to be a melodic death metal fan, but this was a pleasant listen, and was certainly easier to listen to, and more memorable, than some of the things which I consider myself to love. If music could be bottled, this should be given to scene-kids, and labeled "The antidote to metalcore".

I'm giving this a 7/10.

Children of Bodom Official Site
Children of Bodom on Facebook
Children of Bodom on Myspace
Children of Bodom on Metal Archives

Wednesday, 29 August 2012

#197 Ketzer - Endzeit Metropolis

Ketzer are a promising German black-thrash band which I've been following for quite a while. When I heard that they were doing a new album, really got my attention. I told myself that I'd not review the album until I'd bought a copy. I've not been able to do so yet, so I've decided to just review the album anyway - about six months after it's release. Better late than never, perhaps.

I was very impressed when I first listened to "Satan's Boundaries Unchained", the band's first album. I'm pleased, to say the least, that this album seems to be equally inspired and well-made. The raw aggression of the first album, which was one of it's most prominent features, is definitely still present, but is refined - more grandiose and more ambitions - The first album is composed mainly of take-no-prisoners black-thrash belters, and while this album has many too, it's also got a touch more scale. It seems that now, the band aren't afraid to stand back from the neck-breaking tempo occasionally and embellish their music with atmosphere, which, personally, I think works really well, giving the sophomore album a sense of identity and development - You also really get the feeling from the tracks that the band have really found their sound on this album - it sounds in a way more confident for lack of a better word. It's often said that a band's second album can often be a problem-child, but the path which Ketzer have taken on Endzeit Metropolis has gone a long way to ensuring that it has as much identity and strength oozing from it as their first.

Endzeit Metropolis seems to be a darker record than the previous one, and at the very least an equally angry one, too; More enveloping, evil and in many places brooding - Songs like "The Fever's Tide" really harness the black-metal influence to great effect. I've always enjoyed tremolos, and Ketzer use them excellently, with evil, often innovative sounds conjured by their usage. I get the impression that the band have developed and improved on a technical level since their last album too, and while Satan's Boundaries was fast, and already impressively technical, this album is even more so. The production works well too - The drums sound like they have real substance, and on top of the drummers enjoyable style, the thickness of their sound really drives the music along nicely, and the strength of the percussion renders the album even more energetic sounding than it is in it's own right. The production overall is a little more polished than Satan's Boundaries, but in a good way - the edges are still rough, as they should be, but on the whole, the album sounds very coherent - well produced, well-written, and razor-sharp, the way black-thrash was meant to be.

Anyone who enjoys black-thrash will enjoy Ketzer's material - I can promise that. The band are hugely underrated, and on the strength of a release like this, their name should be on everyone's lips. I hope this review can count as me doing my part to make it so.

This is a 9/10. Listen to this band.

Ketzer Official Site
Ketzer on Facebook
Ketzer on Myspace
Ketzer on Metal Archives

Monday, 27 August 2012

#196 Sinister - Diabolical Summoning

When a death-metal band hails from The Netherlands, it's usually a fairly consistent assurance that they'll be pretty damn good at what they do. As such, it came to me as no surprise that Sinister have many albums which are regarded as firm classics. Having not listened to the band much before, I decided it'd be good for my musical health to listen to a few albums, starting, arbitrarily, with "Diabolical Summoning", which I shall also review.

The Diabolical Summoning album was released in the golden-age of death-metal, and the production is certainly a near-perfect hallmark of this, giving the album a very quintessential sound, albeit an improvement on that which many bands had at the time. In this album, the bass is prominent, the drums are profound but not clicky, and the guitars have that really enjoyable heavy-tone, with an almost occult murkiness very fitting of the albums themes. Of course, production pales in significance to the music to which it has been applied, and from the first track of the album, I was confident that I'd gotten a hold of some death-metal which doesn't disappoint. Fiercely energetic, with thunderous percussion, occasional blast-beats, and an all round sense of musical prowess, the album really is an intense affair. The vocals, too, are guttural at just about the right level for my enjoyment - not too crazed, but certainly not weak, either. The aspect which caught my attention the most, however, is the fact that this album is an absolute monster in the riff department, with meaty, memorable chunks of guitar-work sounding like the roar of infernal engines - Just the right degree of thrash, a slightly groovy feel at times, and ultimately, a guitar tone which really helps the riffs hit home.

I've heard a saying that a death-metal album is only "supposed" to last for about thirty-minutes. If this is true, this album certainly conforms to the standard - but it doesn't rush past all to quickly - it's definitely an album with enough going on within it musically to feel longer than it's literal length, which I think says something for it's quality - It's an album on which almost every song is solid-as-a-rock, which certainly adds to it - the artwork, completeness, everything, really work to make the album very close to the archetypal form of "album". Certainly, with a couple more listens, I could see an album like this becoming one of my favorite death-metal albums. Perhaps it doesn't have a strongly distinct style in-and-of itself, away from the death-metal norm of the time, but I'll certainly herald the album as an extremely well-written traditional death-metal piece - which is definitely what counts. In all honesty, I've not listened to many death-metal albums which felt quite so complete. I've not listened to a huge amount of death-metal at all, in fact, but even a newcomer to the genre like myself can see the promise of this record.

I think I really picked the right album to first discover Sinister with, on this one, and while I discover many, many bands simply by reviewing them, I get the feeling that I actually will continue listening to them on a committed level afterwards. I'm thoroughly impressed.

This is easily an 8/10.

Sinister on Facebook
Sinister on Myspace
Sinister on Metal Archives

Saturday, 25 August 2012

#195 A Forest of Stars - A Shadowplay for Yesterdays

A Forest of Stars are a band which I'd not listened to until I saw them opening for Wodensthrone a month or two ago. Never, since I started being able to go to gigs, have I seen a band which were so immediately vital to my continued musical happiness - I bought their latest album from a merchandise stand almost immediately. In this review, I'll attempt to shed light on why the band appealed to me so greatly.

I'm going to be entirely honest and not downplay the fact that I think this album is one of the best ack-metal albums I've heard all year, and that the band are one of the finest I've discovered this year. Of course, a prerequisite for a well-written review, I'm told, is a level of justification to such proclamations. I wouldn't know, having never written such a thing. What the band deliver in this album isn't quite the same as the very long-winded material of the albums which came before it, but is, as a postcard-flyer I was offered at the gig described it, the band's most accessible so far. I'd understand if this send worry through the bodies of many a fan, but judging by the way this album sounds, it was a good move - I enjoy the previous albums, but this one is the most memorable and indeed catchy, in places, and indeed, perhaps even more unique, which is saying something about a band such as this. It's difficult to explain the band's sound to someone who hasn't heard them before, but one word is vital; eclectic. the sophisticated lyrics and distinct, refined vocals clearly take influence from the Victorian era, and the band's stage presence itself, if you get the chance to see them live, is certainly very distinguished. On top of the conventional black-metal core of musicians, the band is also bedecked with synth and a violinist, deepening the music's atmosphere and greatly adding to it's uniqueness, especially the latter, with fantastic, haunting violin melodies often being at the core of a song or section.

The number of influences which the band bring to the fore is an ongoing source of amazement to me, especially because more of them ooze from the albums sonic-woodwork. Folk, of course, but also a bouquet of other things, many of which I can't even name, all of which work together to make the album a psychedelic kaleidoscope, and, above that, an opus which is genuinely beautiful - the atmosphere, the stirring musical notes, everything seems to fit into place wonderfully, certainly one of those albums which feels like a bona-fide musical journey - definitely one to simply sit and listen to and absorb the infinitesimally huge number of dimensions that the album has. It's quite a struggle to think of any bands with much true simarity to it - sometimes I detect a hint of the progressive-black-metal style of Enslaved, and it's true that the band share something of a sound with other British black-metal outfits, such as Wodensthrone and Fen, but with anything I can think of, the band have more apart and less in common to, A testament to their uniqueness. As such, the album may be a little bizarre to the first-time listener, but works perfectly. Perhaps black-metal as a whole relates to A Forest of Stars in the same way that rock looks at bands like Jethro Tull.

Concluding this review was trickier than I thought it might be. Essentially, I've said everything which needs to be said. As far as I'm concerned, this is a fantastic album, and one which, while it's only been out for a few months, I've already listened to it many, many times. I thoroughly recommend it.

A real contender to be on the Heavy Metal Spotlight album of the year list. 9/10.

A Forest of Stars Official Site
A Forest of Stars on Facebook
A Forest of Stars on Metal Archives

Wednesday, 22 August 2012

#194 Saxon - Denim and Leather

Despite what the URL might suggest, this is NOT a review of Wheels of Steel. Oops.

Saxon are one of those bands I've known about for a long time, but never really listened to properly, let alone reviewed. Now is as good a time as any to do something about that. Knowing to start, however, with a band with such an enormous back-catalogue of albums can be a problem. As I usually avoid this problem by doing, I picked one of their classic albums at random; Denim and Leather.

Both aesthetically and musically, I've often felt that Saxon are one of the bands who are most embedded in the rock n' roll world which the NWOBHM broke away from. From the denim and leather from which the album takes it's name, to the mellow, motorbike-cruising-down-the-highway style riffing which the band produce in this album, everything about it feels very catchy. Granted, in 1981, heavy-metal was, arguably, not quite as heavy as it would get in later years, but I'm certainly willing to postulate that both Judas Priest and especially Iron Maiden, two bands I constantly compare to Saxon, were already heavier, and further removed from traditional rock styles. I'm not, let's be clear on this, highlighting this in a negative light - It's not a bad thing, and it's certainly still an enjoyable album, with light, crispy sounding chord-based riffs, in the style of a much more engaging and variety laden AC/DC, and rolling, clear solos which have a real sense of beauty and soul in their smooth tones. I'd go as far as to say that the solos are one of the crowning features of the Denim and Leather album. The riffs are pretty high on the league-tables for "best aspects of the record" too. The cover art, however, didn't even turn up. It may be iconic to some, but I can't help but feel that Saxon's cover art in the early days was just a bit lazy.

The vocals, too, are really pleasant on this record. Melodic, more-so than some, but with a calm mid-range instead of the intense falsettos which were abound. This too, seems to hearken quite noticeably to rock n' roll, and many of the choruses have a really anthemic feel through the heavy use of backing vocals, especially in the title-track, which is really worthy of singing along to. Inclusive of all of the musical aspects, in fact, the album really is one of the most catchy NWOBHM albums I've listened to, certainly exceeding my expectations. Looking at the band's discography, I misinterpreted the bands huge output as being perhaps rushed, mass-produced, as it were, but I can see that this isn't the case - The band just had a hell-of-a work-ethic, like Motörhead. The album seems well-put together, and the song-writing can't be faulted - perhaps not as "progressive" towards building the NWOBHM into something distinct, as some bands, but certainly rock n' roll, on the heavy side, done well. Some of the riffs, such as those in "Princess of the Night" certainly have a sound which is strongly associated with traditional-metal.

I'm glad I decided to have a look at Saxon, undoubtedly a band who deserve their share of praise, and I'd certainly advise anyone who doesn't listen to them to do so. They may be among the underdogs of the metal-scene, but the fact that they've been making albums since 1979, and aren't stopping, really is a testament to their dedication.

This is a 7/10.

Saxon Official Site
Saxon on Myspace
Saxon on Facebook
Saxon on Metal Archives

Monday, 20 August 2012

#193 Solstheim - II

Solstheim are a black-metal outfit from Scotland, and, as chance would have it, I was getting quite tempted to review their début EP before I offered to do so in response to a Facebook post. It's a small world, although the fact that I'm at roughly the same end of the same country as them maybe detracts from the wonder slightly. Nonetheless, I took a look at the EP, not entirely certain what to expect, other than some form of black-metal.

An intro-track off an ambient style, I find, is often an indication that an EP has been assembled with a degree of care and consideration. The one on this EP seems quite well done, and certainly sets the rest of the material up to be dark and frosty, which, following on from the intro neatly, it is. The rest of the EP is heavily, but not excessively, symphonic - I'd compare it to Enslaved or Emperor, but it seems to sit fairly neatly in the middle, with the icy grandiose feel of the latter but blended with the occasional chunky, -early-mid-era Enslaved style riff. This has the effect of making the guitar a lot less "wall of sound" in character than a lot of black metal of a similar vein, because while there are often tremolos and held chords making the guitar primarily a source of tone to go with the synth, the EP also has plenty of crunchy and rhythmic riff-work. Some of it doesn't quite sound like typical black-metal at all,  for instance, at one point I heard a thrashy, triplet based riff which reminded me a bit of Iced Earth. I don't find this, however, to be a bad thing; the injections of differing style and influence infuse the EP with a great sense of variety, and what's more, it really makes the songs memorable - It's nice to see a band who remember that black-metal doesn't have to be a wall of incessand blast-beats, and that other things are, in fact, allowed.

The low, Nordic sounding synth-work gives the album a very crushing, austere feel, remorseless, and perhaps a little less "twiddly", for want of a better word, than the style of synth which bands like Emperor use. Solstheim certainly have a sound which is lower and more visceral. The vocals, in addition to the synth are particularly angry and malignant, imbued with a sense of rage, perhaps even madness,  which definitely counts further towards the malign atmosphere. To be considerably more concise, the dark, brooding hills on the EP's artwork really embody what the music sounds like. The rough edges of the music in the production department actually improve the EP for me - I've always preferred symphonic black-metal to be a little bit raw, with bands like Gehenna being an example. Solstheim seem to get a fine balance between being clear and crisp enough to keep the grandiose edge, but also being raw enough to have charm, and not seem overly plastic-sounding or overproduced.

This is certainly a well-formed, solid EP, and I'm actually quite interested to see what the band do next. It's nice to hear non-flowery symphonic black-metal, and I'm not afraid to say that Solstheim do it well. I'll be dowloading this on Bandcamp, and I suggest that you do the same.

Impressive, 8/10.

Solstheim on Bandcamp
Solstheim on Facebook
Solstheim on Myspace
Solstheim were, eventually, rightfully accepted onto Metal Archives. I believe after a considerable amount of swearing.

Saturday, 18 August 2012

#192 Devin Townsend - Ziltoid The Omniscient

I don't really know where to begin when it comes to reviewing Devin Townsend's material. Other than knowing that Ziltoid the Omniscient is one of his albums, and the one I've heard the most bits of. Of course, I listened to the whole thing before I reviewed it, which is especially important considering that it's a concept album. A really fucking wierd, cult-classic concept album, in the vein of pulp comic-books of bygone days.

It's difficult to describe the sound which the album has; Sort of industrial, progressive, symphonic and electronic. Perhaps there's a hint of djent in there too, but obviously there isn't too much of it involved, because if there was a lot, I'd probably find the album incredibly tedious to listen to. I get the impression that the musical prodigy that is Devin Townsend approaches his albums with the creative ways of a child - not afraid to colour a tree in purple if there's no green, and not afraid to go outside the lines, and the Ziltoid album certainly seems to admirably showcase this somewhat; The album is somewhat manic, with a clashing blend of humour and an epic-feel which work together well at times, and at others, I sometimes feel get in the way of one another. Most of the songs make use of epic synth, which often really elevates the tone, creating a fairly vast soundscape with an airiness and scale which really harkens to ambient and electronic music, which is, perhaps, where the slightly cheesy feel which makes itself apparent from time to time comes from too. At the same time, the deliberately clichéd and tongue-in-cheek storyline keeps coming in and reminding me of it's existence, which makes it very hard to decide whether I want to listen to the album as an epic-piece, or as a humorous-piece, because I'm struggling to do both at once, simply because I feel very serious when listening to epic songs, and the epic songs herein are not too serious.

I certainly admire the album's catchiness and anthemic structure, and I'd certainly allow crisp-production fanboys to ejaculate unpersecuted all over the albums neat, not-a-hair-out-of-place production, if they put some newspaper down first. The fact is, I'm not a huge fan of overproduction, but I also believe that sometime it just works. This is one such album, and I'll concede that the smooth production is probably good for it. The programmed drums are, at times, exceptionally clicky, and it sounds like someone is playing with a flip-book in the corner, but even this isn't too much of a problem - it's what I expected to hear, and the albums sound is certainly unapologetically un-organic. It ties in well with the whole sci-fi thing which the album has, all things considered. One thing which is best addressed is the elephant in the room - the fact that the album is a concept album. It's quite an interesting tale - that of a tyrannical alien being and his search for "the perfect cup of coffee", and the in-your-face bizarreness of this normally wouldn't do anything for me, but, and this is a major but, the way it's done in the album does have something of a redeeming charm, and I definitely find myself enjoying it somewhat, albeit not as invested in the story as I could be.

I sound a little harsh in my review, perhaps excessively so, because when it comes down to it, I do enjoy the album, and it really does carry the banner of Devin Townsend's uniqueness as an artist quite well. While I can't claim to be a die-hard fan, like the chosen-ones, I certainly enjoy this album once in a while. One thing is certain - this album is exactly as Devin Townsend wanted it to be, and whatsmore, it's impressive.

This is a 7/10. If I fully "got" it, I'd probably give it more.

Devin Townsend Official Site
Devin Townsend on Facebook
Devin Townsend on Metal Archives

Thursday, 16 August 2012

#191 Dalla Nebbia - Thy Pale Form...

"Dalla Nebbia", I believe, comes from the Italian for "By Fog". The two-member atmospheric black-metal project from the USA ardently, and rightly, claim to be "...a far-cry from the corpse paint and spiked gauntlets of the Scandinavian orthodoxy...". The band seem quite correct in this assertion, which makes for an interesting EP to listen to.

From looking at the cover art, to the first few seconds of music, it's almost immediately apparent that Dalla Nebbia's EP is going to be something a bit different, perhaps also, a bit unconventional. It is. Only three tracks, maybe, but three long tracks, which are filled to the brim with variety and generally forward-thinking musicianship. Much like the mist, the band have a wispy thin, ethereal atmosphere, very suiting of their name,  with a typically high pitch and floating, disembodied feel. The music occasionally does dip into a more rumbling and riff-driven path, for example in the final track "Shade of Memory", there occurs the occasional deeper, heavier guitar sound, interestingly utilised in a bouncy, but somehow still very black-metal sounding riff. It's fairly clear that this isn't, however, the mainstay of the band's sound - The EP is certainly a ride in a hot-air-balloon, and not a wild chase through the woods. The band blend many of the styles of atmosphere which black metal can have - being at times epic, psychedelic, upbeat and yet simultaneously mournful. It's interesting too, that the atmosphere definitely becomes more palpable and enjoyable with a couple of listens, and where before the lack of lower-end could be a little deterring, and make the music feel like it lacks substance, in the second listen, I began to get the feeling that the high-pitch is mostly just another facet of the atmosphere.

The well-deployed synth really compliments and uplifts the guitar parts, and there are some really great moments throughout the EP in which the two elements come together nigh-on-perfectly. There are some places too, in which it sounds a little bizarre - There's a short, prog-esque section of keyboard in "The Apex of Human Sorrow" which whizzed past my ears to the sound of my inner monologue going "hang on... what was that? It's quite a fun, out-of-the-blue little hook, and certainly made me pay even more attention to the music, in case such little devices were used again. It's certainly an aspect of the band which I enjoyed, that is, the sheer variety of influences within the music - more than I could name, and more than I know the names of. It really does a good job of keeping the EP exciting and engaging, and definitely gifts the band's sound with a level of uniqueness which adds to it.

I must say, this is an EP which really impressed me. More so than I was expecting to, and consequently, I have to say I recommend it to anyone who likes atmospheric black metal. There are some really tasty soundscapes in this EP, and it's a free download on Bandcamp, to boot.

I'm giving this a 9/10.

Dalla Nebbia on Bandcamp
Dalla Nebbia on Myspace
Dalla Nebbia on Metal Archives

Tuesday, 14 August 2012

#190 Anthrax - Persistence of Time

It's always nice to have an internal monologue. When it come to writing reviews, mine frequently interrogates me as to why there are so many bands which I really aught to have reviewed by now. Anthrax is one such band, especially considering that thrash is one of my favourite sub-genres of metal, and I try to review an especially broad range of such bands. I've chosen "Persistence of Time" as an album to review because it's not one of the band's biggest, but still very much amounts to part of the band's classic era - a healthy balance.

What the Persistence of Time album offers the listener is a more polished and complex incarnation of the band than could be seen on some of the previous albums. Don't get me wrong, the band have always been aware and alert, but it's particularly apparent on albums like this. Fortunately, the music isn't so busy being fancy and moulding the conventions of thrash metal that it forgets to be just that, thrash. This album has as much energy and thrash metal grit than anything which the band had done previously, rendering the sound which emerges rather enjoyable, with the thundering, memorable riffs which the band are masters of, and refreshingly melodic and catchy vocals, arguably among the most tuneful in thrash, really rendering the album an altogether less caustic affair than the average thrash album, but nonetheless keeping an uncompromising power and tumbling sound, over an engaging range of tempos. Having never listened to the whole album in a sitting before, I really didn't know what to expect next, each time a song ended, and I think there's something very enjoyable about it. While unified and solid sounding, the album seems to manage to encompass a really good range of tempos, styles and musical directions.

The melodic side of thrash metal is, I'd expect, somewhat less explored territory than the more extreme side. Anthrax, however, certainly explore that side; Where before I might have taken the album a little bit for granted, with this mindset, listening to the album becomes very interesting indeed, revealing it for the innovative, and actually quite unique thing which it is. Without losing sight of it's thrash identity, the album manages to have quite a traditional-metal, perhaps also punk-infused sound in places, which gives it a real flair and rock n' roll feel, at least, the kind of music in which people wear sunglasses indoors. It makes the album rather grand, big, and anthemic compared to the relatively small feel which a lot of thrash possesses. A band like Slayer are akin to a small, extremely angry rodent (that isn't to say they don't sound excellent, however.) Anthrax, on the other hand, in this album particularly, are more along the lines of a large, melodic whale. It's also something of a testament to how diverse thrash had become by the end of the eighties, which occurred to me when I thought of the hundreds of thrash albums which sound nothing like this, but are still connected.

You often get people who think that Anthrax' position in the big-four of thrash metal is rather precarious. If we Ignore the fact that it doesn't work like that, I still find myself disagreeing. With albums like this, the band have every right to be there, and if you ask many people, this isn't even their best one.

This is an 8/10 album.

Anthrax Official Site
Anthrax on Myspace
Anthrax on Facebook
Anthrax on Metal Archives

Sunday, 12 August 2012

#189 Wishdoom - Helepolis

There are plenty of ways to discover new bands, and one which everyone is probably familiar with is when bands which you've not heard before appear in the "recommended videos" section on Youtube. I'm one to go on the occasional spree of such discoveries, and, as I'm sure you have already guessed, heavy/doom metal outfit Wishdoom is one such band. I've always loved ancient-Greece, which, as one of bands primary lyrical theme, drew me in immediately.

You've got to be a bit elastic with the term "doom" when referring to the style which Wishdoom play - while indeed, there are plenty of sections which are certainly slower than traditional metal, the band don't quite have the grumbling, geologically slow pace which many of their fellow doom bands do. The music has a very generous spoon-full of said traditional metal, much akin to, but even more so than, epic-doom bands like Solstice. At many points, especially in terms of the operatic, relatively high-pitch vocals, I can definitely detect a slight power-metal edge to the music, which invigorates the epic feel, but, despite my fears, manages not to make the music cheesy. In fact, the album manages to have quite an honest, organic feel, with nice solid guitars and no-nonsense, modestly produced drumming. The guitars, especially, manage to have plenty of melody, with lead-work laid thickly, but at no point lose-sight of the all-important riff, and Wishdoom certainly manage those - tasty, old-school chunks of chord-driven energy, which are rough, tough and memorable, but carry with them the essential beauty which epic-doom metal needs, which is further accentuated by the lead work, which also carries a pleasant realness to it. I find that often, too much lead work can make a band sound a little too over the top, but this band manage to get the balance about right.

The album also incorporates the occasional flavour of synth, which I though might spoil it, but, I'm happy to say, for me, atleast, didn't. Much like the other sources of atmosphere within the album, the band have used synth modestly, and most of all sensibly. The fact that it doesn't saturate every note of every song is a gift - making it all the more enjoyable, and indeed conducive to the atmosphere of the music, when it is used. The shortness of the songs (by doom-metal standards, anyway) is quite noticeable in places, and it's certain that none of the songs become tediously repetitive or long - on the other hand, the album doesn't have any definite "anthem" tracks. This is tolerable, considering that there doesn't seem to be any filler either, but I'd be hard pressed to pick a song which is the "leading" song on the album. Maybe, however, this is a good thing - and the album is certainly a very consistent, and smooth-flowing album. The energy which the album carries with it is also quite notable, with song like "Crystal World" really demonstrating the force which the band can bring to the fore - the energetic drumming, and mid-tempo intensity which the band unleash was definitely enough to get my head nodding while I sat typing.

I can safely say that this was a very enjoyable album to listen to - a great blend of epic and straight-forward heavy metal, and definitely a bastion for everything which is good about both. I was initially a little apprehensive, but Helepolis turned out to be a damn impressive album.I'm giving this a 8/10.

Wishdoom on Myspace
Wishdoom on Facebook
Wishdoom on Metal Archives

Friday, 10 August 2012

#188 Panopticon - Kentucky

Panopticon are an American black-metal outfit which are, on the back of their latest release; Kentucky, really making waves and turning heads. Combining elements of American, for want of a better word, traditional music with black metal, in an extremely tasteful way, it's safe to say that the band is doing something quite fresh, in terms of the bouquet of things which can be combined with black-metal.

It's a shame, really, that I don't know anything about the kind American music which the album incorporates. For simplicities sake, I'll refer to it as American folk music, if the reader will pardon my ignorance. Before hearing all of the positive hype about the album, I'd perhaps have been a little sceptical of the combination of styles involved, but having listened, I can quite happily report that the combination works well, and that the hype is entirely justified; Perhaps to some austere spirit of black-metal, the combination "shouldn't" work, but it does. It simply does. The songs keep a wide-open, epic feel which folk laced black metal often has, but the style of folk in question takes the bands sound to very interesting, perhaps uncharted places. The music feels mellow, honey-coated, slightly, and possesses a wistful, nostalgic feel, with a lot of earthy, no-nonsense beauty. In many ways, it's not really a supernatural album, of course; It's wonderfully engrained in life, and you can really feel it in the sound-waves. I'd almost be tempted to describe the album as upbeat, and while many of the songs themselves aren't about happy things, there is something to this; I discovered the band by reading Zero Tolerance magazine (I recommend it), where the man behind the album was interviewed. The part which sticks in my head the most was a fragment of a quote by him. "...I'm not a grim dude - I'm a father, a husband, a brewer, a nice guy [...]". Listening to the album, I feel that this attitude is certainly extremely apparent in the music, and indeed enjoyable.

The sections which are entirely devoid of black metal are a brave manoeuvre, but in many cases share an equal beauty - It's true of the whole album that it sounds something akin to the warm sun upon ones face, but this is especially true of the "acoustic" sections, which have a definite rustic, comfortable charm. The album contains many spoken word samples, mainly of miners and that pertaining to them, a theme very prominent throughout. These samples certainly bolster the atmosphere further, particularly the American feeling which the album has to it - not the superficial America, but the real America, and all of the charm and musical richness thereof. All in all, the album is a fascinating piece of work, and one which certainly stands strong, in that I could quite happily listen to again and again. The lead guitar parts, in particular, have a wholesome, sometimes slightly mournful tone to them, and really drew me hypnotically in while I was listening. "Black Soot and Red Blood, towards the end, is exceedingly good examples of this.

I knew that I'd have to have a proper listen to this album as soon as I'd become aware of it's existence, and I'm glad I did - It's an excellent opus, both fascinating and enthralling in the soundscapes it creates, and all things considered, it's a really rewarding and pleasant listen.

Excellent stuff, 9/10.

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Tuesday, 7 August 2012

#187 Cattle Decapitation - Monolith of Inhumanity

We're bastards. For almost as long as we've been around, Mankind has been prone to killing one another, and having a fairly catastrophic disregard for our environment and the lives of the creatures which we share it with. Along came deathgrind outfit Cattle Decapitation to tell us all about it. Lyrically, a band extremely strongly opposed to the human race, their latest, widely acclaimed album, Monolith of Inhumanity sticks to this theme, with lyrics ranging from horrible things happening to humans to the horrible things humans do.

The first word which came to mind when I listened to the album was "modern". This isn't a bad thing, of course, but there isn't a single thing about this album which is "old-school", at least, that I can hear. This is the first Cattle Decapitation album I've listened to, so I can't justly compare it to their past efforts, but it's certainly a solid album in it's own right: Furiously energetic, manic and dark, while at the same time typically quite memorable, helped along by the diverse vocals, which really instil a lot of character, and set the songs, and sections within songs, apart from one another effectively, and certainly draw the listener in - this worked for me, and I spent the whole hoping that the next song would have some of that awesome mid-range shriek vocal, which, frankly, I found to be a little bit under-used throughout the whole thing, although that probably serves to make it all the more precious when it does come up. In terms of the other aspects of the bands sound, the album is unrelenting, with terrifyingly rabid and speedy blast-beats and a generally incredible energy level in the drumming department, and an all-round technical proficiency, both with the drums, and everything else. As I said, all of this sounds rather modern, both in terms of tone and indeed the jumpy and tech-death influenced songwriting.

The production is modern too, the album initially sounding quite standard-issue in this respect, with the tone and clean, crisp production which I'd expect from something like this - The drums especially, have a real sharpness, and while unobtrusive, do have a little bit of a plastic feel to the point that I felt I'd better check if they were programmed. It's probably for the best though - the sheer speed and thickness of the drumming probably demands it to preserve it from dissolving into a rumble. It's certainly forgiveable, and all in all, I'm not actually that bothered about clicky drums in a context like this, where they work quite well. In addition, while the production may be modern and digital, it would be wrong to say that it detracts too much from the album - the music certainly retains it's atmosphere, which ranges from dark and smothering to sections which have an almost epic feel, albeit still one which is lashed to the themes of the album. All in all, the atmosphere really works well with the albums themes and lyrics, most of which are visceral and gory, but manage at the same time to be thoughtful and original, which helps separate the band out from the crowd of similar artists. What the band create is a bleak, agonised slaughter of human flesh, and it's a damn impressive album to listen to.

I felt, due to the sizeable positive response that the album was getting, I simply had to check it out. It was definitely worth it, and the album is certainly a solid, well-written opus. If you like music with heaviness and an intensity like a sonic-strobe light, this album is definitely for you.

I'm giving this a 7/10. I can safely say I'm impressed.

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Sunday, 5 August 2012

#186 Impetigo - Horror of the Zombies

"Sure thing man, I'll look them up tomorrow" is something I have said countless times in my life, about countless bands. Sometimes I mean it. Sometimes I mean it, and remember the band's name the next day. Impetigo are such a band. Hailed as "gore gods", the death-metal/grindcore band from the USA, to this day still has a strong cult-following. Hence, I've decided to take a look at one of their albums - "Horror of the Zombies" to see what I've been missing.

Listening to the band, what I got wasn't quite what I expected, in two ways - it was more musically straight-forward, particularly. Having read somewhere that the band incorporated grindcore elements into their music, I was expecting something a little more rabid. Instead, what I was greeted with was a very riff-driven affair, with crushing, booming riffs which really cruise along, and flow really well - the songs are smooth, as opposed to manic and rough. This isn't a bad thing at all - I'll listen to, and enjoy, most kinds of metal, and it's really interesting to hear the band's genuinely interesting take on heaviness, a style which, I must say, I've not heard much before. The riff-based, bare-bones style which the band play is very enjoyable to listen to, with the pulsating, visceral and murderous feel of the guitar, both in what is played, and the tone in which it is played, having a real catchiness, or, certainly, a memorable nature which makes the album feel an immediate hit with me. The music isn't hugely heavy by death-metal standards today, at-least, not in the same way, but even now, after twenty years, the songs still have the strength of a murky, thundering locomotive. I don't tend to listen to gore based metal, but with Impetigo, it just seems to work with me - the perfect amount of tongue-in-cheek humour, balanced with a diversity of themes, linked, overarching, by gore, yes, but not so similar to one another as to be uninteresting.

In the vocal department, I think it's safe to say that the band do the word "guttural" full justice - the vocals have a very honest, earthy growl to them, as opposed to many of the death metal bands I hear, in which while a more caustic, the vocals also sound more forced, and often, less suited to the band's nature - Impetigo's vocals, with a deep, slightly twisted and sinister edge, really suit the band's gory nature perfectly. The samples, taken often from interviews with people involved in gruesome acts, really adds to the albums gory feel, and sets the scene on many of the songs really effectively. Whether the samples are acted-out or genuine, I don't know, but what is certain is that Impetigo were really ahead of their time with their use - It's something which every gory or brutal death-metal band in the world, practically, is doing nowadays. The production, which, as always, I'll mention a little, is quite rough, and rather quiet, on the whole. Some of the conventional heaviness is lost, I'd expect, by the quite muted, restraining feel of the production. At the same time, on the other hand, it doesn't make the music any less enjoyable - the prominent vocals, probably the loudest element in the mix - is really effective, and makes the music punchy, while the murky guitar sound compliments the gory nature of the band.

I always enjoy reviewing bands which I wouldn't necessarily listen too much if I didn't feel like reviewing a healthy variety of things, and it's safe to say that that's why I reviewed Impetigo. However, I can also say that it's been a damn enjoyable, complete-feeling album to listen to. I fully understand why it's considered a classic, and what's more, I entirely agree.

Fantastic, or indeed, goretastic. 9/10.

Impetigo Official Site
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Friday, 3 August 2012

#185 Fen - The Malediction Fields

It's taken me far, far too long to get around to listening to Fen, I can safely say that. Fen are an English band, and produce, like many of the bands which emerged at around the same time, a blend of atmospheric black-metal and post-rock. I still haven't quite grasped what post-rock is all about, but I'm definitely coming to believe that it tends to sound good in a black-metal context, and Fen has done nothing to dissuade me of this belief.

Pleasingly, Fen's sound is mined from the same seam of atmosphere as the bands which I know of in the style - Wodensthrone, Altar of Plagues, and the like. The album certainly sounds, perhaps not entirely, but close to, what I anticipated it to before listening; Long songs, with a sizeable amount of tasteful synth, and black-metal influences which leave the sound-scape vast, epic, but also caustic in many places. "Ancient Sorrow", the title of the band's EP, which precedes this album, is a phrase which really sums up the band's sound - Deep, timeless, and very cosmic in it's echoing, beautiful atmosphere. It is, in fact, a phrase I have loved for far longer than I was aware it was connected to Fen - It's my user-name on Metal Archives. The mournful, hazy clean-vocals which crop-up occasionally in the music, I didn't expect, but in retrospect, I should have; They fit the music perfectly, and really add some diversity to it, as does the bands penchant for using a wider-variety of instrument sounds than their peers, with piano, among other things, making the occasional appearance, effectively woven into the music. It's quite clear that Fen are quite an eclectic band in this sense, and aren't afraid to really let the post-rock and other non-metal influences they no-doubt hold take over, perhaps more so than many bands.

The highlight, and almost undoubtedly dominant feature of the band is, definitely, the atmosphere, both the syrupy, sepia-tinted slower sections, and the rush of elating energy which is delivered by the faster, heavier sections, not quite dark sounding, but not light sounding either, either way, music like this leaves me with my head nodding from side-to-side, and the feeling that I've experienced something greater, something transcendent. One of my favourite things about this style of black-metal is, indeed, the almost spiritual atmosphere, and the band handle it well, managing to blend mellow sections and the more energetic, but equally thoughtful black-metal sections. This is helped in no small part, I expect, by more-than-adequate musicianship and tastefully thorough production, which is, at the same time, left lovingly raw and natural feeling. The songs, and album as a whole, certainly run smoothly, indicative of what certainly sounds to me like good songwriting. The album itself firmly sounds like an album; complete, solid, and possessing an identity which is more than the sum of the songs on it. The Malediction Fields certainly does that - it's definitely an album which is worth listening to all the way through, as a single entity, too, perhaps consequently.

I feel a bit of a bastard for taking about two years to get around to listening to Fen, especially considering how much I've enjoyed listening to this album. The album is as much of an epic, atmospheric journey as any I've listened to in a long while, and I can safely say that it's been excellent.

I'm going to give this 8/10.

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Wednesday, 1 August 2012

#184 Testament - Dark Roots of Earth

Depending on who you ask, the album previous to this - The Formation of Damnation, is either an excellent thrash album, or fairly unexciting. Personally, I'm quite a big fan of the album, and my interest was grabbed as soon as a follow-up was announced, and now, here it is. The question on everyone's mind, is, of course, is it any good? Once again, it depends on who you ask. I'll take the fact that you're reading this to be equivalent to asking me. Well, let me tell you.

After listening a couple of times, it was certainly clear to me that the album has a strong character of it's own. It's not The Formation part-two, or indeed, part-two of any of the band's previous albums. It certainly sounds like Testament though, which is always a good sign, obvious as that observation might be. As one can expect from Testament, the album is filled with impressive leads, with the familiar clear, mournful tone, the trademark of Alex Skolnick. The album also delivers the band's energy, which only seems to grow with the years, with riffs full to the brim with energy whether they reach the blistering speed, or swaggering mid-tempo which dominates the album. Of course, Chuck Billy's trademark roar, which runs through the band's back-catalogue, an iron rod of consistency, is reassuringly present, in this album, sounding as good as they ever did, both at the ferocious end of the spectrum, and in more mellow sections, for instance in Man Kills Mankind, where the melodic and catchy vocal lines remind me of The Ritual, namely songs like Electric Crown. The album as a whole has a bit of an old-school Testament flavour, and I certainly get the occasional taste of earlier works like Practice What You Preach, more so than I got from The Formation, which was recognised as the band returning to their thrash roots. Dark Roots of Earth, perhaps appropriately, continues to work with these roots, perhaps even more so.

On the whole, the album seems to be a little more melodic than the previous one, which is also true of The Formation of Damnation. What this suggests to me is that the death-metal influence which was strongly present in the bands mid-era material is lessening somewhat. I'm not too worried by this, personally - I enjoy both the band's heavy and more melodic material, and this album certainly has enough heaviness to hit the right buttons. While, as is thrash's persuasion, the album for the most part consistently energetic and ass-kicking, as opposed to having a wide-open epic feel, there are certainly some atmospheric elements within the thrash, something which Testament really demolish the opposition at - their music has always had a strong atmosphere above and beyond "normal" for thrash, and this album is no exception, with songs like "Throne of Thorns" being deep, in addition to thrash-tastic. As with the previous couple of albums, the production is notably good, with crisp, but natural sounding, drums and guitar tone with a real feeling of substance. I really can't fault the production at all, and to be honest, I can't find much about the album which I can reasonably criticise - Initially, I though that the songs weren't going to be as memorable as those on The Formation, but as it turns out, I rapidly changed my mind on that.

I think, with time, and when, of course, this album settles into my head fully, it'll certainly be up there with some of my favourites by the band. I can already say, confidently, that as far as I'm concerned, this is most certainly a worthy follow-up to The Formation of Damnation.

It's a 9/10 - I'm impressed.

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