Sunday, 30 September 2012

#210 Skullview - Metalkill the World

Admirably, Skullview, having formed in the mid-nineties, are one of those bands who were intent on making traditional-metal at a time when very few bands were. Today, however, I'm not going to look at their late-nineties works, but instead at what is currently their newest album, 2010's "Metalkill the World". The choice was mainly random, although I'll admit that the albums name did hold some influence over the choice.

Skullview have a very orthodox approach to traditional metal, with a musical persuasion, and indeed production values, which would have had me thinking that the album was a product of the eighties, and not two years ago. The whole album has a rough, tough feel which I was beginning to think bands just didn't make anymore, until this band in particular came along and demonstrated otherwise. Leaning on the anthemic, epic side of the equation, with fist pumping choruses and massive hooks,  but at the same time holding a ballsy, fun,  rock n' roll feel, old-school is probably one of the first and foremost terms which the album can be described. Often, that phrase, old-school, can go hand in hand with unoriginal, but not in this case. The band are certainly not derivative - Skullview also posses more uniqueness than one might expect - their style feels quite distinct. At the very least, it's quite safe to say that the band don't sound overtly like a clone of any older bands which I can bring to mind. One of the foremost things to set the band apart from the crowd is the sheer virtiol which their music has; Yes, they play traditional metal, but the amount of acid in the sound is fairly noticeable immediately, especially the melodic but at the same time very enraged and passionate vocals.

The albums tone in general is also very rough, but undoubtedly in a good way, with the minimal production making the music infinitely more earthy and honest than most of the heavily-produced traditional metal acts of today. The guitars have a real feeling of crunchiness, while the drums sound incredibly solid and percussive, as drums should. This solid, no nonsense aspect of the music is probably the element of the bands sound which catches my attention the most, and it's certainly well-done; whatever the tempo or style of the song in question. This is probably just as well, considering that the band explore all of the tempos at which traditional metal has been tried and tested, everything from swift, energetic belters to swaggering behemoths in which every chord feels massive. Everything in the album feels very right, and most of all very metal. Like Manowar, Skullview aren't afraid, as the title suggested, to use metal as a lyrical theme. Maybe not as catchily as Manowar do, but Skullview manage to make it much less cheesy and gimmicky - at times this album actually made me sit up and get the "fuck-yeah, metal" feeling which I'm sure all of the readers will be vaguely familiar. Frankly, what more can I ask of an album than for that.

I can safely say that this is an album I'll be listening to again in future, and indeed one that I'd recommend to anyone who likes good old traditional metal; Skullview seem to be quite little known, and, having listened to this album, there's really no reason that this should be the case.

I'm giving this a 7/10.

Skullview Official Site
Skullview on Facebook
Skullview on Myspace
Skullview on Metal Archives

Friday, 28 September 2012

#209 Leeches of Lore - Frenzy, Ecstasy

It can never be an objective fact, but Leeches of Lore may well be the single best band on the planet. Any band which opens an album with a track called "Afghanistan Banana Stand" has a similar chance. I wouldn't mistake the band for a joke-band, however, and their third studio album, Frenzy, Ecstasy, which will be followed by a hiatus, demonstrates that, first and foremost, making musical lunacy is, in fact, serious business. 

If you've never listened to the band before, you may not know what to expect. This is a fairly reasonable state of mind to be in; Leeches of Lore manage, regardless of what you expect them to sound like, to sound completely unlike it. Purportedly a speed/thrash metal outfit, the band incorporate such an enormous number of diverse and interesting influences that they keep to this label in the way that a box marked "apples", which contains two apples and fourteen bananas are stored can be considered to be an apple box. In a good way. One of the most notable influences the band have is a country and western feel; perhaps I use the terms wrongly, but upon listening, you'll probably work out what I mean; Songs like "L'evoluzione dei Microbi" make this immediately apparent, with a sun-baked, high noon feel, even incorporating some brass instrumentation amid the fairly restrained use of heavy guitar and other such metal elements. On the other side of the coin, there are sludge-metal style elements, reeling psychedelia, acoustic guitar in varying styles, and atmospheric sections, all of which, while overtly desperate from one another, still somehow work together in a relatively cohesive album, which, I can safely say, takes someone with a much greater knowledge of quantum mechanics than myself. Some, I feel, may well suspect the band of taking enormous amounts of drugs during the song writing process.

At this point, it's probably well worth mentioning that the sheer variety and weirdness of the album isn't superficial or gimmicky; when I listen to the album, I get a very strong sense that the music simply works, not so much a collection of different sounds, but an alloy; somehow drawn into one single overall style, which is, for obvious reasons, unmistakable, considering that no other band I've ever so much of heard of have made music quite the same as this. The sounds aren't so much sporadic and crazy as clever, which, pleasingly, seems to be juxtaposed with the fact that at the same time, it sounds very, very natural and unpretentious. It takes a few listens to get used to, but then, with me quite suddenly, it all seems to come together and sound right, like a Rubik's cube being suddenly, unexpectedly completed. An undoubtedly strange, surreal and mind-expanding musical journey, but oddly one which flows very smoothly; many albums can be like rivers, but the river that is this album flows akin to non-euclidean spaghetti. In the best possible way. I've not done as much description as I sometimes do in reviews, for two reasons; one is that the band is hard to describe in the first place. Two, is that it'll make you more tempted to take a listen yourselves, which I think would be a good idea.

I'm not sure what to say in conclusion. Leeches of Lore are one of those bands which will almost definitely make an impression on the listener, and while they're going on hiatus, we've got three albums to listen to until they come back.

This is 9/10 material - unique and fascinating.

Leeches of Lore on Bandcamp
Leeches of Lore on Facebook
Leeches of Lore on Metal Archives

Wednesday, 26 September 2012

#208 Wilds Forlorn - We, the Damned

I'm glad I keep a piece of paper with a multitude of band-names to potentially review in future written on it, otherwise, I'd probably, and unfortunately, have forgotten about Wilds Forlorn in the maelstrom of names which float around my head. Wilds Forlorn was the name which felt best to peruse whilst I was wondering what to review today, and considering I've been in the mood for black-metal for a while, it seems rather apt.

Like so many black-metal outfits, Wilds Forlorn is the work of one person. In the case of this project, however, there's certainly a sense of cohesiveness and tight-musicianship which is less common on the one-man-black-metal circuit. The music as a whole is well-produced, with an extremely high degree of professionalism and attention for detail, which is admirable, and certainly fits the music's take on atmospheric, epic black-metal well. The clean guitar tone gives you the feeling that the notes are made not from the jagged rock of the more caustic variations of black-metal, but instead from smooth glass; that's not to say that there isn't a degree of roughness, but the whole album has a very effervescent feel, and the majestic, soaring, and grandiose air which I'd expect from atmospheric black-metal. In creating this atmosphere, the synth works well, used sensibly, not excessively, which has always been one of those things I often say; the best kind of synth is subtle synth, and for the most part, We The Damned is an album in which the synth is subtle to an enjoyable, but not inaccessible, degree. While I'm talking about keys, I find the heavy use of piano interludes to be quite refreshing, and certainly imbue the record with it's own flavour and direction. Yes, piano interludes have been done before, by many bands, but there's always room for a few more bands to do so.

One of the things which jumped out at me about the release, aside from the amazing-looking artwork, was the occasional, and not unwelcome, break which the songs took from the traditional "wall-of-noise" style which a lot of atmospheric bands utilize. Here and there throughout We the Damned, there are sections with a bit more jump to them, and while the album does use a lot of sustained sounds, there are a few punchy sections which whip around a bit more; Towards the end of "Traces", for instance, there is a riff which is positively bouncy and energetic. To juxtapose, another thing which made me sit up was the stirring and dark spoken word at the end of the title track, accompanied by minimal instruments, and the sound of rain, it took the album to the darkest, but perhaps also most beautiful place it had yet went to. The fact that only instrumental work came after it gave it a real feeling of finality, and certainly gave the album a dark but serene ending. I'm not sure if the album has an underlying story per se, but it certainly feels narrative, with the album slowly descending into darker, more momentous tragedy, far darker, in fact, than I initially anticipated, and, what's more, an interesting musical stream to be washed along.

I wasn't sure what I was going to get when I listened to this album; frankly, in the months since writing it on the list, I'd actually forgotten what the project sounded like. I was reminded today, that it's a damn splendid album.

Impressive - 8/10.

Wilds Forlorn on Bandcamp
Wilds Forlorn on Blogger
Wilds Forlorn on Myspace
Wilds Forlorn on Metal Archives

Monday, 24 September 2012

#207 Winterfylleth - The Threnody of Triumph

Winterfylleth are regarded by many as one of the bands that rejuvenated the British black-metal scene, or, at least, as one of the founding members of the loosely defined "English Heritage" black-metal movement. Whatever you think of them, I'm sure it's not just me who has been waiting with a sense of interest to see what form their third studio album, "The Threnody of Triumph" would take.

Album number-three, I find, is always an interesting place for a band to be; and, indeed, probably an equally interesting place for the fans and onlookers upon the band's chosen path. By album three, changes in the bands direction, especially gradual ones, start to become apparent in earnest. When it comes to evolution of sound, like the moss over the cracked gray stones of a ruined fort, Winterfylleth are in no hurry. That's not to say that the band aren't evolving, simply that they're taking a relaxed, ponderous approach to it; The album doesn't sound overtly, massively, different to it's predecessor, and only a slight magnitude different from the debut. The Threnody is, more so than an evolution, a refinement on the existing Winterfylleth recipe, with the songs more carefully written and well thought through; The increased beauty, atmosphere and identity which is resultant is quite noticeable, and suggests to me that while it's not too far removed from the previous albums, the band really managed to hit the nail on the head this time - I'd perhaps even venture to suggest, without meaning to belittle their previous efforts, that this is what the band have been aiming at all this time. The smooth flow and enjoyable songs are certainly a change from the unsure, diffused identity of Ghost of Heritage, or the unaccessible feel of The Mercian Sphere.

There are a few indications of the subtle changes of the band's sound - and probably a few which I've missed, at that. The atmosphere seems thicker and more absorbing. While the band have always played a similar style to Wodensthrone (or the other way round), My first observation upon listening, literally before all others, was that this album sounds particularly akin to that peer, although, I must add, I don't consider this a bad thing, especially considering the implications to the music; Compared to the previous works of Winterfylleth, the whole album seems more reverb-laden, tremolo-heavy and atmospheric, ascending in beauty, whilst fortunately losing the obtrusive chunkiness which was particularly apparent on The Mercian Sphere, which rendered the whole album a little bit tricky. It's also good to see the band departing perhaps a little further from the conventions of standard black-metal, which, of all of the bands who are associated with the "English heritage" style, Winterfylleth seemed initially to be sticking to most. As an album, this one seems to really captures, and does justice to, the things which the band set out to do; the atmosphere, feel and folk-laced embellishments of the music is really exemplified well, in an album which, to my ears, is very probably the best they've conjured yet.

It's always nice to hear a band who are good at what they do, but even better to hear a band who are continuing to improve upon it; becoming better at what they do. I thing this may well be the case with Winterfylleth; While the first two albums caught my attention, and I enjoyed them, I think The Threnody of Triumph has won me over as a genuine fan.

I'm going to give this an 8/10.

Winterfylleth on Facebook
Winterfylleth on Myspace
Winterfylleth on Metal Archives

Saturday, 22 September 2012

#206 Steve Harris - British Lion

Solo projects tend to be a risky venture. While I intend to be impartial, I may as well make it clear from the onset that I'm almost always skeptical of them. Granted, I've heard plenty of good side-projects in my time, but I definitely still lean on the side of guilty until proven innocent with regards to them. On trial today is Steve Harris, or, of course, Iron Maiden fame, and his solo album, "British Lion".

What is immediately made apparent, mostly by the Velvet Revolver style opening riff of the album, is "A", that this isn't going to sound like Iron Maiden, and "B", this is leaning on the rock side of the equation, not a metal-record in the broadest sense. The reception of the stream of the album, available on the oh-so-frequently-not-about-Metal Hammer web-page has, at least in the online watering-holes I frequent, been met with rather a lot of dismay and criticism. I'm very uncertain what to hold as a personal view, but I'll say what I can. I admire the album greatly as quite evidently being exactly what Steve Harris wanted it to be, and not trying to please anyone, or at the very least, not trying to please Iron Maiden fans, in other words, defying the popuation of a small country. Iron Maiden fans on Facebook, incidentally, outnumbering the population of Scotland. However, while the music may not be metal, and definitely not be Maiden, there's still an overt sense of Steve Harris about it  - Solid, intricate and well-written bass-lines permeate the whole record, adding a fairly unique, slightly progressive character to what, otherwise, is fairly honest, mince-and-tatties hard-rock, which, incidentally, is bedecked in more wah than the average Kirk Hammet solo, albeit with the crucial exception of actually sounding vaguely effective.

While the album is undoubtedly far removed from the average and considerably metallic expectations, there's definitely a solidity to it; The songs are quite well written, certainly sufficiently to rise them above the level of being simply a throw-away album. At the same time, of course, the album's character is jarring, odd, and a little bit peculiar; It's not what I expected Steve Harris to do, and I doubt it's quite what you expected either - certainly, I'll be honest and say it's not the kind of thing I'd check out at all if it wasn't by a musician I knew. Typically modern sounding, catchy hard rock - a strong hint of metal, yes,  manifesting itself in the style of the riffs and arrangements, and indeed a (perhaps subtler) hint of Maiden in places, for instance in the melodies and in Steve's unmistakable bass-lines, but nonetheless, the album definitely isn't what I would have expected, had I actually remembered it was being made at all before yesterday. Much like many side/solo projects created by huge names, I'll be honest and say that I have no idea who the other band members are, but I'll also venture that respect is probably due to them; The vocalist has talent, with a melodic, but decidedly not-metal take on his role, (most of the time, anyway; there are some intense moments, I grant you) and perfectly competent musicians providing guitar, keyboards and what appears to be a team of three different drummers who worked on the various tracks. Apparently the bassist was in quite a big band, but I'm not sure.

 It's really not too bad. Really. I can't imagine everyone is going to like it, especially the fans more grounded in the overtly metal side of things, or indeed those expecting something which sounded very akin to maiden. I'll be honest - I probably won't listen to it again, and all in all, it wasn't particularly exciting, but when all is said and done, I felt no revulsion or disdain for it. As I said, It's really not that bad. 

Well, I'll be giving this a 6/10.

British Lion Official Site
British Lion on Facebook
Steve Harris on Metal Archives

Thursday, 20 September 2012

#205 Artch - Another Return

A long time ago, when I was only just getting into metal, I somehow stumbled upon Artch. Not a well known band for the metal novice by any means, in fact, a rather little-known and doubtless underrated Norwegian power/speed metal act who released two albums in the late eighties and early nineties before vanishing into obscurity. Before you ask, I have no idea how someone who at the time only knew half a dozen metal bands managed find Artch, but frankly, I'm grateful. Another Return is the bands first album, and is considered quite a cult classic.

Tenuous an observation as it may be, this album reminded me, and still does, somewhat, of Ride the Lightning. It's not just because the artwork is the same shades of blue, either. While the songs are more on the speed-metal side, lacking the more intense thrash sections, the guitar tone bears a real similarity to said album, which, might I say, is almost certainly a good thing, whether is is a deliberate artistic decision or not. Another Return has a really honest crunch and toughness to it's guitar work, with solid, earthy riffs and a delicious reverb which has the effect of making heavy-metal guitar sound that little touch better. The songs typically have a mid-tempo fist pumping feel, with nice crisp chords with some real bite, and a fairly noteworthy catchiness; It's safe to say that most of the songs on the album don't take too long to sink in. The album, in fact, spends by far the most of it's time in the aforementioned mid-tempo region, but fortunately, this doesn't mean it leans towards being insipid; more that the band really manage to showcase just how much you can achieve without playing at breakneck speeds. While the tempo goes up occasionally, and indeed sounds good in doing so, I'll definitely submit that Another Return really takes the mid-tempo and gets the best out of it, While it was released in the late eighties, the album still has that decades distinct flavor, with a real sense of rock n' roll attitude, before it became cliched.

There's almost, I'll tentatively speculate, a hint of glam in the mixture, or, at least, themes in common with it, and something of a sense of the cruising, epic, and just-a-little-bit cheesy feel to it. Not cheesy enough to be bad, but enough to be very fun to listen to, but simultaneously, retain an earnest metal roar - A good balance, I'd say. Artch, while little-known, are certainly a name which you do hear from time to time, and I think this album is probably the reason for that. It's hard to describe, but there are albums, and there are albums. Another return is, as first albums can quite often be, an album which feels very complete and carefully considered; The album flows well, and the songs are, for the most part, very good. The juxtaposition between the darker, heavier material, and the rock n' roll, ballsy,  probably-on-the-Vice-City-soundtrack style material is quite noticeable in places, and puts a few bumps in the albums smooth flow, but other than that, both kinds of song in their own right are enjoyable and are quite indicative of a band who've put effort into writing them. They even manage to fit a few metal ballads into the selection without sounding too derivative or generic, which, as anyone who'se heard how similar generic metal ballads tend to sound, is quite a feat.

It's easy to look at a band who vanished into obscurity and say "I think they'd have been huge if they'd made more albums". The truth is, it's easy for a reason, that being that quite often, it's true. Maybe not with every band, but I think albums like this certainly fit into the phrase.

A cult-classic. 8/10.

Artch Official Site
Artch on Metal Archives

Monday, 17 September 2012

#204 Sodom - Agent Orange

I sometimes wish I'd had the foresight to make some kind of "Iconic thrash-bands I've neglected to review before" strand, but as it is, it'll have to simply be a loose theme. If you're a regular reader, you may know of my propensity to inadvertently neglect albums by very well-renowned thrash acts of the eighties. So anyway, Sodom!

Sodom are a particularly spiky and ferocious thrash brand, certainly much more so than the minimum standards imposed by the spontaneously imagined grand council of thrash-metal. Indeed, the band are also about as close to empirical evidence as one can get that Teutonic thrash typically has a bit of an edge over it's American counterpart. Many consider the band's earliest material to have something of a black-metal feel to it, and while the band were, by the time Agent Orange was released, a thrash band through and through, the band's sound does leave me wondering if the acrid, caustic black-metal traces ever actually left. While the band pack as many meaty riffs into the album as any good thrash band, they also excel at the faster, more chaotic riffs, maniacal, with an almost percussive nature, and a bitter, burning and ravaging feel, much like the chemical of the album's title. This album, especially, seems to get the balance between swaggering, hard-as-nails chord based riffs and faster, wilder guitar work about right, with enjoyable hooks, but also sections which are armed with enough tempo, energy and white-knuckle madness to blow your boots off.

The atmosphere which thrash-metal creates is very suited to the themes of war most of the time, but it's safe to say that Sodom are a band who do it particularly well; While not all of their songs relate to the theme, it's certainly a thematic place which their music suits dwelling in, with the chaos, attitude, and indeed the aesthetic of the albums artwork really nails the theme excellently, but with a hefty spoonful of thrash-metal's own over-the-top flavor. I'll go as far as to propose that the album quite effectively captures the spirit of thrash itself, with a level of energy which really makes you want to whirl your head around, and riffs which are sufficiently hooky and memorable to demand the listeners full attention. Another of the things which really appealed to me about the album was the sheer variety which it held; there are songs which are attitude filled, almost punk-influenced, and wicked sounding, but also heartfelt tracks, and quintessential thrash tracks with guitar work which literally soars; with such an arsenal in play, it's little wonder that Agent Orange is a solid thrash-classic.

I've not actually listened to a huge amount of Sodom before now, so perhaps it would be a little hypocritical of me to tell anyone who hasn't listened to them before to do so. As I always say, just because it's hypocritical doesn't mean it's not right; It's a thrash classic.

9/10. A tasty piece of thrash.

Sodom Official Site
Sodom on Facebook
Sodom on Myspace
Sodom on Metal Archives

Saturday, 15 September 2012

#203 Nerrus Kor - Frenzied, Savage, Inhumane

It's no secret, as far as I know, that Scotland has quite a big death-metal scene at the moment; perhaps not of legendary levels, but certainly enough to be noticed, with bands like Cerebral Bore proving to be some of the most popular up-and-coming acts in modern death-metal. There is more to the scene than merely it's most popular exports, however. Bands like Nerrus Kor represent the fabric of the scene, and with the physical release of an EP imminent, there's never been a better time to take a listen.

As one of the most popular genres of extreme metal, it's not unusual for generic death-metal bands to be a dime-a-dozen. Nerrus Kor, however, manage to step over and avoid the mundanity trap nicely, and manage to produce death-metal which is old-school, but at the same time isn't too derivative, unimaginative or bland; While the first thing I noticed was a similarity with the abrasive and roaring style of Vader, and such like bands, it's also safe to say that Nerrus Kor have plenty of merit on their own, certainly not "a generic death-metal band". The dual vocal approach, while not uncommon, came across as quite novel; certainly giving the music some character and variety, swinging between powerful growls and higher, slightly black-metal influenced shrieks, all of this driven by rock-solid riffs, with a sense of groove, but also a powerful, flesh-tearing wall-of-noise feel which gives the band's sound an undeniable intensity and fury, and a thick drum sound, and clearly talented drummer, which renders the percussion more akin to a merciless barrage than a rhythm-provider, although, it must be said, it does a good job of that too. In fact, the title of the EP itself has strong connotations of  the sound which the album has; Frenzied, Savage, and Inhumane. I always enjoy it when albums sound the way that their titles suggest.

Of the local (by which I mean roughly the whole of Scotland) death-metal bands I've listened to, I wouldn't be surprised if Nerrus Kor were one of the most crushingly energetic. Once again akin to Vader, the music feels immensely, explosively physical, as well as simply heavy; the thick, solid clunks of the drums sound just plain powerful, and the whole soundscape which the band conjure has a really kinetic, movement-based feel to it; the riffs seem to oscillate, pulsate and practically reek of the beauty, spilled beer and slightly maniacal warrior-spirit of a pit. The tempos often dance chaotically, but at the same time manage to be memorable, with a rigid and sound structure; blast-beats arise manically before subsiding into a familiar riff, making for quite a multi-dimensional sound, but also one which manages to sound cohesive and tangible. To top things off,  the EP manages to feel somewhat longer than it's literal running-length; almost certainly through being scintillating, not mundane; certainly, if the band keep up output of this caliber, I won't be surprised if they attain international recognition.

 I wasn't too sure what I was going to get when I was asked to have a listen to this; I'd certainly heard of the band, but I hadn't gone so far to check them out; At present, I would look at my past self, and look to all of you, and conclude by saying "Listen to Nerrus Kor. They won't disappoint."

This is 8/10.

Nerrus Kor on Facebook
Nerrus Kor on Myspace
Nerrus Kor on Metal Archives

Wednesday, 12 September 2012

#202 Asphyx - Last One on Earth

Usually, or, as far as I know, when bands have a doom-metal influence, they play whatever genre they mainly play, but a little slower, and well, doomy. Whenever death-metal comes in to contact with doom, this rule breaks; what you get instead seems to be death metal with slow bits and bits which remain equally and uncompromisingly fast; a much evenly less mixed creature than many hybrids. Asphyx, I hasten to add, are one such example.

I'd been meaning to listen to Asphyx for ages, being a massive fan of van Drunen's work in Hail of Bullets, it shouldn't have taken me as long as it did. I'm glad I did; Asphyx, like Bolt Thrower and Benediction, have a great feel of pure European solidity in their music, that is, a feel which American death-metal, with the exception of a few bands, tends not to have. I can't really think of a different way to describe it, but considering that most death-metal fans are less new to the genre than myself, I hope you get what I mean. Last one On Earth tends to be regarded as one of the band's finest works, and consequently, it was the first album I listened to. While I'm far more familiar with Hail of Bullets, van Drunen's shrieking vocals were instantly recognizable in their anger and wailing sound; high-pitch and differing from the stereotypical growl, but none-the-less very brutal and powerful, giving many of the band's songs, especially faster ones, like this album's thousand-mile-an-hour storm "Serenade in Lead" a rabid feel, as the intense vocals lead the music to rip out of the speakers, wrapped in the enveloping, murkily heavy guitar tone, which really suits the death-metal style, and carries a rock-solid feel, albeit with a level of clarity which makes the riffs distinct and the intricacies visible.

The album nicely showcases the relationship between death and doom metal, with tracks which are slow, tracks which are fast, and, more typically, ones which combine the two; The swaggering, crushing doom of, aptly, "The Krusher" bursts into an all-out oldschool death-metal assault as the song progresses; the tone and feel of the music successfully remains the same throughout the tempos, which I consider to be a sign of good song-writing; not only making the album flow well, but making sure that it's character is enjoyably consistent. Another thing which it seems to demonstrate is that tempo is certainly not a factor which isn't overtly invested in heaviness; both the slow and fast sections of the music are crushing, which certainly goes a long way to explain why juxtaposed bands like Sunn O))) and Anaal Nathrakh are both considered very heavy. Anyway, this review is not to examine the concept of heaviness. I digress. Death metal quite often flies right past me, and isn't memorable to me, but Asphyx' material certainly sticks in my head nicely; The hooks, riffs and all of the embellishments in-between are very addictive and most of all, memorable, which is perhaps a symptom of the European approach to death metal; My top five death metal bands are, at a given time, predominantly almost entirely from Europe. 

 Asphyx, I'll definitely say, should be required-listening for anyone who enjoys oldschool death-metal, and beyond; listening to this album in it's memorable, solid and excellently written persuasion, I practically wish I'd been introduced to the genre with it; it might have sped up the process of me getting into death-metal quite a bit.

A classic, 9/10,

Asphyx Official Site
Asphyx on Facebook
Asphyx on Myspace
Asphyx on Metal Archives

Sunday, 9 September 2012

Feature: 50 Greatest Metal Songs of this Millenium

Pedantry comes with the job, when one, like myself, is a bastard. When applied to metal, the mixture of pedantry and mild elitism becomes a deadly concoction, the end result of which is thus; I take great annoyance at top-xyz-of-metal lists when they have very little metal in them. Unfortunately, that seems to encompass many of them, and because of my unjustified and some-might-say immature frustration at them, it has come to this; I'm going to have to write one myself. Like all such lists, nobody will agree with it, everyone will know better than me, and several bands which ought to be on it won't be. Such is the nature of the online list. Fortunately, this not being YouTube, I might survive to tell the tale. Without further ado, I'll begin the highly clause-laden "List of bands which I know of that I think are quite good, since the turn of the millennium. 

#50: Falkenbach - Farewell: Falkenbach, a primarily one-man folk metal project from Germany existed long before the turn of the millenium, but the song "Farewell" sticks in my head strongly for it's honest but epic beauty, and catchy but gloriously beautiful folk-melodies, incorporating various styles and folk-instruments very effectively. Of all the songs in the list, this one has some of the most sincere a stirring beauty.

#49: Testament - More Than Meets the Eye: The anthemic single from The Formation of Damnation, to many, this song heralded the band's return to thrash metal, with Chuck Billy's roar, and a memorable and massively heavy mid-tempo swagger cementing the track quickly as a favorite among fans of the band, with a quality which makes it a belter of a song to sing along to, and one which stays in the mind for hours.

#48: Akercocke - Axiom: Unpronounceable and hard-to-categorize British progressive-extreme-metal act Ackercocke are arguably one of the most forward thinking and inventive bands of the last decade, and the song Axiom, from their last album, is one of their best known; combining countless influences and styles to weave what can only be described as an entirely new kind of darkness.

#47: Type O Negative - I Don't Wanna Be Me: While "Life is Killing Me" was one of Type O's more commercial sounding albums, this song is still infectiously catchy and memorable, but in-keeping with the bands darkness and negativity. One of the bands most upbeat yet simultaneously dark songs; perhaps not the most beautiful, but certainly one of the most fun and scintilating to listen to. 

#46: Lamb of God - Laid to Rest: Regarded by me (and probably a few other people) as Lamb of God's best album, Ashes to the Wake was lead into battle by Laid to Rest; Vicious, caustic, and filled with technically competent and badass-attitude grooves. songs like this represented thecream of the crop of the band's sound, which they would go on to emulate with slightly less success, I feel, than this track.

 #45: King Diamond - Broken Glass: Releasing a sequel to one of your classic albums, entitled "Abigail II" is a brave maneuver by anyone, and with a legacy like that of King Diamond, a lot is resting on it. Fortunately, songs like Broken Glass, in King Diamond's trademark spooky traditional metal style, are extremely solid, memorable and really live up to the albums predecessor. This song represents a risky gamble which truly paid off.

 #44: Evile - Thrasher: Thrash, as we well know, has been done before, rather a lot, and is now being done again. While they didn't kickstart the thrash-revival, Evile certainly brought it to a larger audience. Thrasher is certainly a quintessential thrash-song-about-thrash for the new generation, bringing the bands high-speed, aggressive brand of the genre into play. The rest, as they say, is history.

#43: Sunn O))) - Big Church: I ommited the bracketed part of the song name. Sunn O))) fans know why. Drone-doom may be removed from conventional metal, but that doesn't stop it annihilating the structural integrity of buildings when it reaches optimal volume. Big Church is, I feel, one of the band's greatest achievements, and all things considered, quite a fast song, with a real feel of structure, but still managing to retain drone's vicious thickness.

#42: Venom - Pandemonium: Another comeback album, by many people's standards, Venom's Resurrection is a parade of well written and surprisingly tightly played material, but Pandemonium sticks out in my head as one of the albums most catchy and thoroughly enjoyable arrangements, with a memorable hooky riff, and anthemic chorus. A different Venom to the one that made the classics, but a very solid song regardless.

#41: Alestorm - Keelhauled: Love them or loath them or feel something in between, Alestorm are adept at making cheesy, catchy and most of all drinking worthy pirate ditties. Keelhauled is one of their best known songs, and very much typifies the band's style to a tee - drunken, Scottish and thoroughly toungue-in-cheek.

#40: Ghost - Ritual: Ghost are a band who took the metal world by surprise with their occult rock n' roll approach to the traditional-metal style. Amid the speculation as to who these anonymous musicians were, one song stuck out a little further than the others; the tumbling tune that is Ritual, with perhaps the most catchy and yet simultaneously blasphemous chorus so far this century.

#39: Bathory - Mother Earth Father Thunder: A definite personal favorite of mine, with over one million views on YouTube, there's a good possibility that not only do a large number of people feel the same, but that this is one of Bathory's most listened to songs. The majestic power and passion of the Viking anthem truly justifies it's place on the list, and it is easily my favorite post-millennium Bathory song, and indeed, solo.

 #38: Iron Maiden - The Thin Line Between Love and Hate: Not only a triumphant showcase of the newly returned Dickinson's vocals, but also one of Iron Maiden's most beautiful songs, this is certainly the jewel in the crown which Brave New World was given. Combining the slow, progressive path the band had taken with the faster sections which the band's mainstay had always been, in a well-forged work.

#37: Warbringer - Living Weapon: Warbringer are without a doubt one of the most popular bands within the thrash-revival, not least for the level of originality which their brand of explosive thrash has, and which many of their peers don't. Living Weapon is the immense roar which heralds the start of the band's third full-length album, and assures that the band are as good as they've ever been.

#36: Celtic Frost - A Dying God Coming Into Human Flesh: A product of the band's all too short reformation, A Dying God Coming Into Human Flesh presents a crisper, smoother, somewhat Gothic Celtic Frost to the burr and rumble of much of their older material. The song itself is haunting, doomy, and rather surreal, mind-bending and experimental, but almost certainly in a productive way.

#35: Gojira - To Sirius: Among the heroes of the progressive metal world, Gojira have a massive following, and it's almost certainly warranted. To Sirius is an epic track with an uncompromisingly vast soundscape and fascinating tone. While the band are to an extent rooted in groove-metal, in songs like this they stretch it to it's very limits of imagination and innovation, creating something which is undeniably unique.

 #34: Iced Earth - Dracula: Dracula is a song which highlights both the band's ability to produce ballads, and Jon Schaffer's abilities as a rhythm guitarist. The song encompasses both the heavy and light aspects of the band's sound, and is a fan favourite and quite possibly one of the band's most renowned songs, capturing the band at what many consider to be at their peak.

#33: Toxic Holocaust - Nuke the Cross: Blasphemous, anti-Christian, and dark, but also full of speed, aggression and a good quantity of piss and vinegar, Toxic Holocaust's Nuke The Cross is a significant highlight of their punk meets thrash meets the Devil style, and is fairly close to the definition of "a belter". Memorable, energetic and filled with attitude.

#32: Opeth - Ghost of Perdition: There's a reasonable possibility that Opeth are the single biggest band to emerge to renown on this list, and while that might not get them to the #1 spot, One must respect their ingenious songwriting, and unique aesthetic; Ghost of Perdition blends brutality with distinct guitar grooves, infinitely intricate and memorable bridges, and moments of extreme beauty.

#31: Darkthrone - Too Old, Too Cold: It was with songs like this that Darkthrone made clear their departure from playing black metal, and moving in a heavily punk influenced direction. Epitomizing it well, Too Old Too Cold rushes into catchy, power-chord laden and ballsy punk, with the distinct Darkthrone sound intact, ableit in a different form to the band's pure black-metal work. 

#30: Root - Revenge of Hell: Eternally underrated, Root are the stalwarts of the first-wave of black-metal, diligently making albums consistently over the years. Revenge of Hell is from their latest opus, and well describes the band's ever present crushing tone, unconventional approach to darkness, and unique vocals, with the booming voice of "Big Boss" demonstrating both great power and more subtle murmurs.

 #29: Devin Townsend - By Your Command: Ziltoid the Omniscient is an album full of juxtaposition; one one side, psychedelic and bizarre humour, and on the other, truly epic-sounding songs such as this one, bedecked in ingenious synth work, progressive touches, and a generally fascinating sonic world to explore. Only Devin could craft something quite like this.

#28: Skeletonwitch - Sacrifice to the Slaughter God: Skeletonwitch are a band who push the boundaries of black-thrash into very interesting places, and their songs are almost always instantly recognizable for it's intensity, thoughtful songwriting and unique intricacies. Sacrifice to the Slaughter God is from their second (considered by many to be their first "proper") album, which has the status of a classic already.

#27: Sabaton - Primo Victoria: There's a decent chance that Primo Victoria is thee sing-along power metal track of this genaration, and it's easy to see why; Catchy synth, a simplistic fist-pumping riff, and gruff, memorable vocal hooks ensure that this song is one of the most catchy things to ever come out of speakers.

#26: Yob - Quantum Mystic: One of the heaviest doom songs on the list, Yob's Quantum Mystic is a tumbling, surreal journey through the mind in the medium of sound. The songs simplicity is one of it's strengths, with a collossal riff running almost the whole way through it, shaking the walls and floorboards with it's murky, psychoactive roar as it plunges and soars.

#25: Amon Amarth - The Pursuit of Vikings: Another catchy one, Amon Amarth's The Pursuit of Vikings is a testament to the fact that just about everyone loves Vikings; the nordic melodic death metal outfit a huge hit with metal fans, especially with epic but still heavy works like this song, with viking melodies and hooks bolstering the strength of already enjoyable riff-work.

 #24: Leviathan - At the Door of the Tenth Sub Level of Suicide: One of the longest songs on the list, Leviathan's fifteen minute monster is as close to empirical proof that the USA can make decent black metal as anyone's likely to get. Depressive, twisted and evil, this song takes a different approach to black metal, with a suffocating darkness subtly different to that of it's Scandinavian counterparts.

#23: Slough Feg - Sky Chariots: Rugged, no nonsense traditional metal, blessed upon a sturdy cult-following has always been Slough Feg's way; In other words, they're fiendishly underrated, and extremely good, and songs like Sky Chariots makes this very relevant. An honest, earthbound tone, gifted songwriting, and incredible cohesiveness really set songs like this apart from the crowd.

#22: Blut Aus Nord - Our Blessed Frozen Cells: Blut Aus Nord are among the great innovators in black metal, creating many albums regarded as classics. I chose Our Blessed Frozen Cells as a song because, at the time I first heard it, it was easily one of the darkest things I'd listened to. Creepy, vast and thoroughly threatening, but with beauty amidst it. The song, to me, really emphasises the qualities which black metal was intended to have.

#21: Pharaoh - By The Night Sky: Pharaoh may well be one of the best power-metal acts to come out of the USA in many years; Progressive, earthy and strong, without a hint of cheesiness of flowery stylings. By the Night Sky is one of the bands long, epic tracks, and manages to fulfil it's purpose excellently - beautiful lead work, rough buy melodic vocals, and memorable sections really render this a delightfully tasty piece of power metal pie.

#20: Heaven and Hell - Bible Black: Released only a year before his death, The Devil You Know album really shows that Dio had a true gift of vocals until the very end, and Bible Black illustrates this nicely, with Dio's passion meeting Iommi's rock-solid guitar playing in what would be the very last instance of that wonderful duo working together.

#19: Vektor - Tetrastuctural Minds: Perhaps you wouldn't have expected such a young band to make it all the way to #19. If this is the case, you've not listened to Vektor. Unique, ultra technical thrash metal with a sci-fi aesthetic, and a truly impressive skill as musicians, creating songs like Tetrastructural Minds, a whirlwind of face-melting guitar and technical tastiness.

#18: Primordial - Empire Falls: Irish black-metal outfit Primordial have had several of their albums heralded as classics, and it's easy to see why - Songs like this, with a brooding guitar feel, Celtic twists and turns, and deeply heartfelt vocal bellow have a truly honest appeal and a rugged beauty which is difficult not to be awed by.

#17: Alcest - Autre Temps: Alcest have a profound talent for creating golden atmospheric loveliness, and, to no surprise, that's what they do in this song; Mellow and serene, it comes as no shock that many consider Alcest to make some of the most beautiful music in the world. Songs like Autre Temps thoroughly explain why.

#16: Agalloch - Falling Snow: Agalloch are among the leaders of the charge when it comes to the whole "post black metal" thing, creating atmospheric, folk-laced songs which a black-metal edge and a multitude of creative innovations; fascinating melodies and gorgeous soundscapes, all slightly bizarre, but also thoroughly enjoyable.

#15: Orphaned Land - Birth of the Three:  Orphaned land, anyone should concede, are a big deal, both in reputation and songwriting. Songs like Birth of the Three, even to someone not invested in it's religious themes, can greatly enjoy it's epic, progressive and middle-eastern folk influences, which blend together to create a solid track with some truly fantastic moments.

#14: Autopsy - Macabre Eternal: Macabre Eternal is the title track of the grimy extravaganza which is Autopsy's return. Rough, angry and ugly, Macabre Eternal is a vicious slab of death-metal done correctly, with infections riffs, crunchy tone, and an altogether teeth-grinding intensity and murkiness.

#13: Watain - Malfeitor: While their ego's seem to be bigger than their band sometimes, there's no question that they've made some great songs; Melfeitor is my personal favourite, with wicked and almost beautiful lead work, and an angry, riff-laden core making for a real Juggernaut of a black-metal song, which is energetic, memorable, and probably unintentionally, quite fun.

#12: Jag Panzer - Mechanised Warfare: When it comes down to it, before they split-up, Jag Panzer were probably one of the finest USPM bands in circulation. Mechanised Warfare, certainly, has all of the desirable qualities for it's genre; tough riffs, high, talented vocals, and a complete lack of the frilly daintiness associated with the genre's European cousin.

#11: Overkill - Ironbound: Of all the 80's thrash bands who remain active, I'm probably the most impressed by Overkill, who, as of their last two albums, are probably in the running for legendary comeback status. Iron Bound, my choice as specific song, is in places terrifyingly fast, beautifully produced, and truly grasping the quintessence of good thrash, all the while accompanied by the wicked voice of Bobby Blitz, perhaps one of my favorite thrash vocalists.

And now, the top ten. Thank you for reading this far; it took fucking ages to write.

#10: Immolation - Majesty and Decay: As the track's name suggests, Majesty and Decay possesses an uncharacteristically majestic soaring riff, and a real sense of carved-in-stone age in it's atmosphere, creating a song which, as well as being energetic and brutal, has a real atmosphere to it, which is something which more death metal bands should do, and something which Immolation handled excellently on the record. 

#9: Anaal Nathrakh - More Fire Than Blood: "Dude, they're the heaviest band in the world" said someone to me once. Perhaps not. But it's a certainty that band's don't get much more rabid, enraged and face-meltingly insane than the mighty Nathrakh. Black metal and grindcore mixed into this song creates an atmosphere of oppressive lunacy and even beauty, through gnashing verses and soaring clean-vocal choruses.  

#8: Mastodon - Blood and Thunder: The massive rumble of Mastodon may have petered into something a little more progressive of late, but numbers like Blood and Thunder prove to us that the band at one time crafted hunks of sludgy progressive groove metal (or something) which as very very heavy, memorable, and intense. 

#7: Grand Magus - Savage Tales: Some songs are truly anthems. Like this one. Upon listening to a wonderful hunk of honest, no nonsense traditional metal like this, I feel immensely proud to be a part of the heavy-metal world. Catchy, powerful and elating, this song comes very close to capturing what I love about metal. "It's a lonely path to walk, but an honour to defend".

#6: Reverend Bizarre - Doom Over The World: So anyway, speaking of anthems... Doom Over the World is probably doom-metal's flagship song - certainly one which feels quintessential to the core; Anthemic, powerful, fun, and extremely catchy, it may not be the most serious song, by the most deadly-serious band, but it's fantastic.

#5: Burzum - Glemselens Elv: Unexpected perhaps, but in my humble opinion (as the person who makes the list) Glemselens Elv is one of the finest songs Varg has created since his release from prison. Murky, hypnotic and possessing a strange beauty, it has the feel of a Burzum classic oozing from every note played.

#4: Hail of Bullets - Red Wolves of Stalin: With a roaring guitar sound reminiscent of the detonations of artillery and the rumble of soviet tanks, Hail of Bullets is one of those death metal bands who can encapsulate war perfectly - the twisted wreckage, the firefights, and the brutal intensity of it is all savagely brought out in this song.

#3: Electric Wizard - Funeralopolis: Funeralopolis is the stoner-doom songs to end all stoner-doom songs. Weaving, hazy notes at specific frequencies stimulate the brain to synthesize it's own THC, and develop the urge to join some kind of Coven. The intoxicating power of the riffs is so greatly hypnotic that it urged me to place it a good twenty places higher than I initially planned to. And do you know what? It deserves to be up here with the anthems. It is one. 

#2: Bolt Thrower - When Cannons Fade: The final song from what is, almost certainly, Bolt Throwers final album is a strong as any they've made. And when the rumbling death-metal cannon does fade to nothing, you can look back at what you just listened to, and be awed to have just listened to one of the most consistent and tight death metal acts on the face of the earth. 

 So. you've made it this far, and stuck at it. Here's what you've all been waiting for, or, more likely, have a passing interest in. The #1. The song I consider to be the best of the millennium so far.  

  #1: Enslaved - Ethica Odini: When I charge across the field of Vígríðr, sword in hand, Einherjar around me, to meet my death at Ragnarok, I want this song to play. The sweeping epicness and beauty of the songs intro soars so majestically, and the clean vocals are so haunting. Only Enslaved could compose something like this; a truly breathtaking piece of progressive black-metal, and one which truly deserves it's place at the top of this list, at the bottom of the page.

I don't care if you call me a fanboy.

Well. That's it, the list which you won't agree with. I'm sorry that your favorite bands weren't on it, but as we know, Heavy Metal Spotlight is not a democracy. One thing we can perhaps agree on, I hope, is that it's a refreshing change to have such a list with no fucking slipknot in it. 

Thank you for reading my blog, and well done for surviving. 

Friday, 7 September 2012

#201 Altar of Oblivion - Grand Gesture of Defiance

I discovered Danish outfit Altar of Oblivion a few months ago as I quested on a search for epic doom metal. The band were, might I add, one of the discoveries I was more pleased with, and I noted that they were releasing a new album - good news indeed. The album, of recently, can be streamed in full on Bandcamp, and while I'll be getting a physical copy when I can, I've decided have a listen to it now, and see how it compares to their debut.

One of the first things to catch my attention with the first album, and indeed, with this one, are the distinctive riffs - ranging quite a lot in tempo, from the traditional doom trudge to a faster manifestation, more akin to traditional-metal, which, I've come to note, seems to be something which epic-doom bands tend to do. The songs are extremely rhythmic, especially the opening track, which has the steady pulse of a mighty hammer crashing into an anvil. This makes it, and many of the similar tracks on the album, rather memorable and very punchy and hard-hitting; The songs definitely lend themselves to head-nodding, with the rock-hard guitar and thunderous, uncompromisingly solid, powerful drumming really pushing the songs along in a mighty swagger. While the album is very, very short, especially for a doom-metal record, a mere thirty-five minutes long, it really manages to pack a lot of top quality music into that time, and it's fairly clear that despite it's shortness, plenty of effort has gone into it's construction - The songs all stand up for themselves as well-written, and most importantly, excellent sounding, works, with expansive soundscapes, superbly panoramic production values, and a sense of very honest epicness, the kind which epic doom has mastered over the years. I'd venture to say that there's not a single filler track in the album, including the two-minute acoustic one, which based on it's length alone, looked like it might be until I actually heard it. The albums content certainly atones for it's shortness.

Two of the things which really set the album apart from the other epic-doom bands of today is the music's flow, and it's tone; The songs don't hesitate or pause, and the production really captures the solid tone which the band use - the instruments are captured in all of their glory without losing any of their earthly feel. One of the highlights of the album, and the band in general, is the vocals; extremely powerful, mid-range vocals deliver some devastatingly memorable vocal hooks and brooding choruses, fitting wonderfully with the nature of doom metal. Fitting somewhere between Peter Steele and Hansi Kürsch, but also unique in their own right, I'm certainly impressed with the vocal delivery, which works well in all of the album's sonic environments - from the striding glory of the opening track to the melancholy of the last. Like the last album, the band make use of a tastefully refined amount of synth - not too much, as to make the sound flowery, but enough to imbue it with a little extra atmosphere; In this case, the band seem to have gotten the balance rather well, which pleases me greatly - too often I hear bands who are simply using synth badly; as a lick of paint to cover up inadequacies. Altar of Oblivion, however, do it properly.

All things considered, this album is definitely a worthy follow up to Sinews of Anguish, and while it's a shorter album by a good twenty minutes, It's still got the same strength and atmosphere; It's as good as I hoped it would be.

This is an 8/10.

Shadow Kingdom Records on Bandcamp
Altar of Oblivion Official Site
Altar of Oblivion on Facebook
Altar of Oblivion on Myspace
Altar of Oblivion on Metal Archives

Tuesday, 4 September 2012

#200 Black Sabbath : Triple Review

I needed to do something a bit special for the 200th review on this blog, and for a while, I wasn't sure. my 100th review was of Bathory's Nordland album, one of my all time favourites - but this time I decided I should look at the bigger picture - what could I review to mark the 200th review? One band which I had neglected until now seemed glaringly obvious; The founding fathers of heavy-metal themselves, Black Sabbath.

With a band who have, many a time, formed such a monolith of musical might, it's often difficult to pick an album which really feels the most worthy as a classic. To this end, I've decided, for the first time on Heavy Metal Spotlight, to review three albums in one. Paranoid is probably the band's most widely known single, and perhaps by proxy, their most well known album, and as such, it was a must; in fact, it was almost the album which I chose to review alone. But Black Sabbath are far more than a one trick pony, and other albums must be considered. Heaven and Hell is hailed by many as the bands rejuvenation. A third album, I felt should also be included in the mix - the less known Tyr, with vocalist Tony Martin at the helm. While the band have had more than three vocalists, reviewing an album with Ozzy, Dio and Tony Martin felt very appropriate. The release dates also bore a pattern; 1970, 1980, and 1990, respectively. Without further ado, let's begin. I think I'll do this in chronological order, starting with 1970's Paranoid.

Like the band's debut, the opening track greets the listener with a sustain-filled barrage, this time in the form of War Pigs, still heavy today, let alone over forty years ago. It's no surprise, upon listening to the record, that people consider Iommi to be the master of riffs, with master-crafted, memorable, and at the time, truly astonishingly unique, guitar work, from the dark, intoxicating work on songs like the opening track, which make the band's blues-rock heritage very apparent, to the rough, fast-paced work on songs like Paranoid, a forefather to many a metal song after it. It's without a doubt that this band, and especially this album, is a vital puzzle-piece in metal's musical heritage.

The uniqueness of the Paranoid album certainly reserves it a special, revered place in music - It's worth pondering that, at one time, this was the heaviest album in the world - many, you will find, still think so. Paranoid is, without a doubt, early metal at it's best, but that isn't to say that the album is without surprises - the mellow, psychedelic jam-like track "Planet Caravan", complete with hand drums, really shows that the band have never been constrained to one dimension. The album's influence is immense, or course; it's easy to see why doom metal especially, can track it's roots back to albums like this, with the slower, heavier songs on the record wearing a truly apocalyptic mantle, with the haunted wail of Ozzy perhaps not matching the outright talent of Dio, but fitting the music in his own way, and certainly laying down what, to nine-out-of-ten people, is the only era of Black Sabbath they are likely to hear. Paranoid is certainly one hell of a solid album, to the point that even the filler, the title-track, written over the course of only a couple of hours, went down as an iconic song, and without a doubt, is still the Black Sabbath song you're most likely to encounter anywhere. One might think that as such, this album would be thee album to review, but no; monumental as it may be, there's more to the story; a chapter called Heaven and Hell.

Ten years on, and with Ronnie James Dio having recently taken up vocal duties, Black Sabbath was quite a different band. This album doesn't start out with a cacophonous single chord, but instead explodes in a comparatively high-tempo riff, that of "Neon Knights". The concentrated rage and passion of Dio's voice granted the band a definite rejuvenation in the vocal department, and allowed them to explore it more intricately, with songs like "Children of the Sea" probably not having been possible in the same way with Ozzy. All in all, in fact, the Sabbath of 1980 was a much more grandiose, and a bit less blues-influenced creature than it was a decade earlier.

It's easy to assume that the changing climate in metal, which had, by this point, become a thing, was responsible for this, but it's worth knowing that even in 1980, Sabbath were quite close to the head of the charge - Heaven and Hell was certainly released before many of the "essential" albums of the early eighties - a fortnight before Iron Maiden's self titled debut, for instance. It's not to say that these bands didn't influence one another, but Black Sabbath have, in my view, been quite self contained. The anthemic, virtuosic, and even keyboard-including turn which Heaven and Hell took the band in certainly seems to fit well with what the NWOBHM was just starting to do, and it's a safe bet to say that this album fits in better with traditional metal than that band's back-catalogue up to that point, leaving the earthy sound for the most part behind, and ascending somewhat, with more focus on overt atmosphere and lead-guitar, with Iommi dwelling less in the monstrous riffs of the past, and more in lead work and an more technical sound. Personally, I find Heaven and Hell not only to be one of Sabbath's best formed albums, but also a real showcase of Dio's vocal talent - perhaps even the apex of his abilities.

The casual black-sabbath listener, not particularly invested in the band, is probably making a mistake to ignore the Dio years. It's probably more forgivable if they haven't listened to much of the Tony Martin material, although it's certainly a shame for anyone who enjoys the music to miss out on it. Tyr is one such album, and was released a further ten years after Heaven and Hell. Changing the trend once again, by starting gracefully with clean guitar, then crescendos into a synth-heavy epic track, it's clear from the onset that once again a different entity entirely. My knowledge of Black Sabbath's less known material isn't quite what I'd like it to be, and Tyr was certainly an album which took me by surprise.

In a way, Tyr is even more rooted in traditional-metal than Heaven and Hell, with even more prominent synth in places, especially tracks like Anno Mundi, and a tempo which at times renders it positively speedy. In this album, Tony Martin's vocals are, in my opinion, easily as good as Dio's were, albeit very similar. Of the three albums I'm looking at today, Tyr is probably the most epic, with a sound which combines a lot of synth with a traditional metal feel, perhaps with a hint of what might be considered epic-doom in the slower material. This album, of the three, also sounds most removed from the "Quintessential" Black-sabbath sound - the guitars are less gloomy, lighter, and once again, atmosphere is emphasized over the humble riff; Powerful solos, modern production, and very mythical themes really make the album sound like a completely different band to the Sabbath who released tracks like Electric Funeral. The vast, fantastical soundscapes are vastly removed from the bands traditional murk, but are refreshing, as opposed to hugely uncharacteristic. A surprise to the casual listener, like myself, but at the same time a fascinating development,managing to be very epic sounding without being too cheesy. It lacks grit, perhaps, but it makes up for it in rousing fist-pumping glory. The fact that this was released in 1990, when a lot of the interest in traditional heavy-metal was dissolving away is impressive, and indicative of an incarnation of the band which was content to do it's own thing - something which can't happen if any of the Osbournes are allowed anywhere near it.

Ultimately, Black Sabbath are a band of many dimensions, and many incarnations, with a back catalogue richer than almost any other band of the genre. It's only fitting that review #200 is about them, and only fitting that it is of such length. I wouldn't deify the band - hell, they've made some real fuck-ups in their time, and have been screwed over, and screwed each other, plenty of times, but at the end of the day, I have a great respect for them, and a great love of their music.

A swift recovery to Tony Iommi, and hopefully a reunion not fraught with too many more cock-ups.

I will refrain from actually giving any of these albums a rating.

Black Sabbath Official Site
Black Sabbath on Facebook
Black Sabbath on Metal Archives

Sunday, 2 September 2012

#199 Natur - Head of Death

I've seen this album in shops, and online, for a while now, but on the other hand, I've not heard much about it from anyone; in fact, it seems to have been a little bit overlooked - To that end, I had a listen to it, to see if there was a reason for this. The cover gave little indication as to what style the band would be, although something suggested to me it might be black-metal. Probably the inverted cross in the band-logo. It turned out, however, to be a dark, uncompromising speed-metal album, and a good one at that.

While speed metal they may be, Natur seem to be dark and sinister enough in the sounds they create to certaily warrant the inverted cross and morbid imagery on this album's artwork - Most of the music in the album is touched by darkness, either in the way they sound, or what the lyrics are about. That isn't to say the music is too overtly removed from energetic, rocking genre which they fit into. Tough, ballsy guitar work and melodic but attitude laden vocals are the hallmarks of the album, and really pitch an old-school vibe through the speakers. The addictive rhythm-guitar tone is low, crunchy and really gives the album a thick sense of heaviness and energy, and the impressively catchy lead-work which overlays it really caries a soaring feel, with a deep, almost overtly beautiful tone, and a very honest, down to earth style, which I admire - the lead guitar is being used to create great melodies, and not messing around trying to be technical. The latter phrase, in fact, is probably a fairly good general statement about the band's style as a whole - no-nonsense, honest, and in your face heavy metal, the way they made it in the good old days. Not quite bare-bones, perhaps, but very true to a live sound, and incredibly organic - You really get the feel of a band who work in the way bands are supposed to.

The vocals are enjoyable too - catchy, with some great vocal-hooks, but not over-the-top at any point - quintessentially speed-metal, with little of the pomposity and operatic stylings which work well in power metal, but frankly, need to be had a break from once in a while. Natur provide said break very nicely, with very competent, but pleasingly rugged vocals being delivered throughout the album. The production is something I almost always mention in every review, probably much to the boredom of anyone who actually reads them, but I find the production of this album particularly enjoyable - There clearly hasn't been any excessive post-production fiddling - instead everything sounds very true to the way it would sound coming out of the amps, or the drum-kit, or the vocalist. The drum sound, especially, sounds very notably "correct", which is always enjoyable, in a world of drums which are so produced they may as well be sequenced. The album as a whole really doesn't prescribe to any idea of "modernness", but at the same time, it doesn't feel re-hashed, or derivative of older bands - Certainly, they've influenced it, but Natur, to me at least, really stands out on it's own. Retro? perhaps a little, but certainly rejuvenated, and not a pale imitation of anything.

It does seem that this band is a little underrated, and I'll certainly be doing my bit to mention them when appropriate. I'm very impressed by the album myself, and will certainly be listening to it in future some more. A promising debut full-length, if ever I saw one.

I'm giving this 8/10.

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