Saturday, 21 December 2013

#320 Heavy Load - Death or Glory

Yes, that is a Norseman fighting with a polar bear, and that, my friends, is what heavy metal is all about. I haven't delved much into the early Swedish metal world - such scenes are the kind which I usually suddenly get an incentive to discover, as opposed to gradually coming to know. However, a friend of mine put some Heavy Load on last night, and since that point, I've had the feeling that I probably should, with all due haste, do some discovering. As well as being a part of the early Swedish scene, Heavy Load can safely be said to be my main incentive to discover more about said scene. 

Instead of a detailed, intricate description of the nuances of early 1980s traditional metal, I think I can roughly summarise it in one phrase; this is metal from the days in which metal was very excited about itself. Death or Glory is no exception, bursting with energy, ferociously catchy and memorable, and filled to the brim with that lovely, buttery lead guitar style which bands just don't seem to make any more, for the most part. If this was made today, it would perhaps be considered exceptionally over the top, almost to a farcical degree in the wrong hands, particularly the epic sections and solos with a sense of grandiosity. However, the spirit of the time is thoroughly soaked into the very fabric of this record, in such a way as to reassure the listener that this is all right; this is from 1982, don't panic. Records like this are every bit as solid as the more renowned albums of their time, and indeed, there is every reason to consider Death or Glory itself to be a classic - it certainly has that spark, that special magic - heavy metal magic. I've occasionally remarked that the best kind of album is a mixture of the unknown and the familiar; you can just about follow where the songs are going, but they likewise surprise you. The best kinds of album, indeed, introduces you to new expectations, and new ideas about what sort of melodies, sections and riffs really make metal, or any genre, what it is - working not within a style, but with a style, to cover new ground - for its time, we can all be damn certain that Death or Glory did just that, and rather a lot of it, at that.

I've been listening to a lot of extreme metal lately, and when you're in that position, it's often far too easy to forget just how good the oldest of the old-school is; as soon as the first riff of this record kicks in, you really feel the heavy metal energy flowing through you - past your eyes flash images of roaring guitars, screaming crowds, fast cars, denim, leather, long hair - precisely the things which rock n' roll, and by extension, heavy metal, always have been about, and always will be. It's rough, uncouth, and probably ought to wash it's hair slightly more often, but by God it sounds great - every chorus is worth singing along to, and every riff makes you nod your head, not only to the rhythm, but in agreement to an unspoken question. Is this good? Damn right it is. The production certainly has the feeling of a time-capsule; transporting the listener back to '82, but not in such a way as to make the record feel outdated. When a connoisseur drinks a fine wine of such an age, they do not consider it to be a wine which is dated, the instead consider it to be a fine vintage, and I can safely say, and I dare say without any opposition, that Heavy Load create an album of a very fine vintage indeed on this one - there has never been a time when Death or Glory did not sound great - then, now, or in decades to come. It is what was right with heavy metal, and what will always be right about it, encapsulated in about forty minutes.

I now have a strong urge to find something denim and sporadically play guitar, but I shall conclude by stating that that sort of outcome is what a record like Death or Glory is supposed to have and, quite frankly, if you don't find an album like this one exceptionally fun, exciting and inspiring, then heavy metal might not be for you.

This is a 8.5/10.

Heavy Load on Facebook
Heavy Load on Metal Archives

Saturday, 14 December 2013

#319 Sarcofago - I.N.R.I.

If you are a false don't entry. The nuclear drums will crush your brain, because you'll be burned and died. 

If you're unfamiliar with Sarcofago's work, the chances are you'll still have heard this phrase batted around enthusiastically throughout the metal community. The landmark album I.N.R.I, however, is where it all began for those infamous words, and, perhaps more importantly, where one of the mighty cornerstones of extreme music in the 1980s. 1987 was a year in which Mayhem gave us Deathcrush, Bathory gave us Under the Sign of the Black Mark, and chronologically sandwiched somewhere between the two, came I.N.R.I. All in all, I can imagine it may well have been quite a good summer.

Sarcofago have an admirably down-to-earth formula when it comes to I.N.R.I; they simply push the blasphemous and extreme edges of thrash as far towards its natural limits as possible, and for my money, do and damn good job of it. The album is both for it's time, and to this day one of the most venomous, chaotic and vitriolic records out there, with a crudeness and rawness which set the scene for a vast amount of nasty music to come. Perhaps representing the middle-ground of the mighty first-wave-black-metal records of 1987 (if indeed it can be considered part of that), I.N.R.I. lacks the huge grandiosity of Bathory, while remaining less murky, and considerably more competently played than Mayhem's work of that year. As opposed to being an album explained in terms of what it lacks, however, it is very much one which brings it's own evil to the table - I.N.R.I is filthy and vile, and not even a little bit sorry about it; riffs which sound like Hellhammer dipped in something corrosive are accompanied by frantic but neat blasting and the pounding of nuclear drums. The vocals, too, epitomise the aspiring extremity to which metal was headed at the time - rasping, aggressive and at times augmented by backing vocals so demonic and rumbling that if you were to take this album to church and have it confiscated, the preacher would probably exorcise it before he threw it away.

It's with records like I.N.R.I. that you really begin to see black-metal being born as a style; you can feel from the onset that the album is, simply put, moving beyond the edges of the map with regards to thrash, and, like similar artists of the day, the part of the strange, uncharted land they landed on was the embryonic ooze from which later black-metal would emerge, along with black-thrash, and all sorts of other evil denizens of the underground. To this day, countless bands forsake the more "refined" Scandinavian black-metal sound in order to pay homage to the predecessors of that sound - bands like Sarcofago. I digress from the album in question, but hopefully the exposition is welcome, as opposed to tedious. Either way, I.N.R.I. is, I think it can safely be said, one of the most significant extreme metal albums of the eighties - perhaps not genre-pioneering in a strict sense, but hugely important. If you've ever watched a film which has become iconic in terms of the sheer number of quotes and references which float around discourse, all the while realising "oh, that's where that is from", you may well experience a similar feeling when first experiencing I.N.R.I. As someone who came upon Sarcofago having listened to quite a lot of extreme metal first, I expect a lot of the monumental impact of the record is splattered against the shield of desensitization to extremity which most metalheads build up, but nonetheless, the record truly does feel adventurous - if I'd been into metal in 1987... if I'd been alive in 1987, you can be damn sure that I.N.R.I would be the record which I hid under the floorboards in case my parents saw it, and only listened to very quietly while everyone was asleep. There's something special about metal which puts you in that mindset, and I can promise you that Sarcofago deliver that feeling by the truckload.

Are Sarcofago overlooked? I'm not certain - I expect fewer copies of I.N.R.I. are in existence than, say, Deathcrush or the seminal works of Bathory, Celtic Frost or perhaps even Hellhammer, but as soon as the music on the record explodes forth from wherever it's playing from, it comes with the assurance that Sarcofago are every bit as deadly, every bit as wild, and perhaps every bit as significant. Those who appreciate at all, appreciate Sarcofago.

If you are false, don't entry. 9/10.

Sarcofago on Metal Archives

Tuesday, 10 December 2013

#318 Mgla - With Hearts Toward None

I've been in the mood for black metal for the last few months, and judging by how cold it is outside, it's probably the perfect time of year for it. Today's listening specifically is the relatively underground work of Polish band Mgla. I can't remember how I originally came to hear of the band, but for a long time they were on my mental list of "I should listen to them at some point". As with many such entries on the list, when I properly investigated the band a few days ago, they moved from that list right onto the "I should have listened to them a lot sooner" list. Let me tell you why...

Black metal varies wildly in legitimacy - perhaps as much as the very multitude of forms and mantles black metal takes upon itself these days. Granted, all music is made to be heard, but in such a way, all cigarette lighters are made to light cigarettes - but there is a vast gulf between the well-maintained Zippo and the disposable plastic lighter you found on the stairs, and as much as both serve a purpose, there are many reasons to prefer the former for it's sheer legitimacy.When it comes to legitimacy, Mgla seem to set at the very high end of the spectrum; from the first tremolo of the record right through to the conclusion, you get the feeling that your sonically contending with the real deal, for want of a better phrase. For me, at least, I can testify to the band really managing to capture and induce in me that excitement which you feel when you first discover black-metal, and hear that first Mayhem or Burzum song, which has you running around the room with excitement about this new, dark and almost secret thing you've stumbled upon. The atmosphere on With Hearts Toward None is thick, dark and almost luxuriantly scathing; layers of tremolo, generously placed, and a thick, velvet fuzz cocooning but not muffling the whole affair, while the drums below are vicious and crisp, propelling along this fuzz-laden shadow of sound like a cruel coach-master driving satanic horses. The result is something epic, flowing and with black-metal's most desirable vast scale.

The combination of elements which Mgla's music possesses is a very rewarding and pleasent one to listen to; the rich atmosphere combines superbly with the tremolos which stand perfectly astride the bridge between hypnotic and dynamic, resulting in something which has in equal measure the ability to draw you into the music, out of yourself, and at the same time impress you with delicious and unique tremolo structures which really set the band apart from other artists of the same type. The whole record carries an incredible, sermon-like majesty, not only in terms of the snowy, regal atmosphere, but also the vocals, which carry an incredible, echoing presence - victorious, proud, sinister and deeply atmospheric; the whole record feels drenched - steeped - in the occult, in darkness, and in a layer of unforgiving frost. There was a word which I heard once or twice in regards to Mgla's music, and that word was "ritualistic". It was an apt description indeed, and one which summarises the record well; there is a feeling of crescendo, otherness and liminality throughout the whole work - a feverish enthralment and juxtaposition; the vastness of the cosmos, and the darkness of men's souls, entwined in a shimmering, shining maelstrom of wide-eyed fascination. It might be an old cliché, and often something which every black metal band proclaims about their work, but With Hearts Toward None truly does feel like a ritual.

It's been quite a while since I listened to a black metal album which left me feeling quite so spellbound and excited; after hearing With Hearts Toward None, I have stumbled upon a band who truly sent me back to the place of great anticipation and awe which the classics of the genre sometimes sent me to, and few albums can do that. This one is something special.

This is a 9/10.

Mgla Official Site
Mgla on Facebook
Mgla on Metal Archives

Thursday, 5 December 2013

#317 Hail of Bullets - III: The Rommel Chronicles

As far as I'm aware, Hail of Bullets don't really think of themselves as a "supergroup", and neither do they consider themselves a "side-project". In fact, they very much seem to like their work to be taken for what it is, and not compared to other bands, which is, frankly, only common courtesy on the part of the listener and reviewer. Fortunately for this point of view then, I discovered Hail of Bullets before any of the other bands which the members are involved in, and while my taste has broadened since that time, you can count on a new Hail of Bullets album to get me excited. What sits before me is precisely that - their 2013 record III: The Rommel Chronicles, and now, the time has come to see if I can say anything about it.

I've listened to the last two Hail of Bullets albums fairly thoroughly by this point, considering that "On Divine Winds" was literally the first death-metal record I bought. As always in such instances, when album number-three comes along, it always takes a little while to settle in and feel "part of the family" of the bands discography. Nonetheless, what the album itself offers is, straight away, as clear as day. It offers a third helping of the Hail of Bullets we know and love; old-school, intense and at times extremely evocative death metal. The band seem to have mined a very rich seam of creativity on this record, and it certainly has a little extra punch with regards to song-writing when compared to its predecessor, On Divine Winds. The tracks are a little bit more dynamic, with more inventive and distinctive twists and turns - more lead work, more atmosphere, and more well-deployed solos. Yes indeed, The Rommel Chronicles is a damn solid album. It doesn't always rush for the throat in the way that predominated a lot of the previous work, but it certainly doesn't refrain from doing so either; there is a good blend of churning, atmospheric mid-tempo and roaring, rushing death-metal glory, thundering like a division of armour at full-speed ahead. The drumming on this record feels a little more punchy and produced than the last two albums - or at least, more prominent in the mix - and it certainly helps to propel the songs along viciously through both the slower and faster parts. While usually I'd find such a drum sound a little bit too clinical, it seems to work reasonably well in this instance, as does the albums relatively modern production as a whole.

The crowning feature, perhaps, of the album is the aforesaid atmosphere which it brings; both Of Frost And War as well as On Divine Winds had an exceptional atmosphere, really representing the carnage and twisted metal of warfare, but this album takes similar elements; crushing tone and clever lead-work, to turn this same atmosphere up to eleven. Of the three, this album certainly feels the most steeped in feeling - the lead work on tracks like the opener - Swoop of the Falcon - really carry a tortured, warlike shriek in the lead guitars, and a savage rasp in the rhythm - for my money, the most course and grainy the band have sounded to date. The near-trademark Hail of Bullets tone is, clearly, undergoing a process of evolution - to my ear, with even more attention to detail when it comes to weaving an air of carnage and devastation to the music, but also sorrow and desolation, on top of the usual gunpowder and flaming debris. All of Hail of Bullets' albums so far are concept albums about the second world war, and this one is no exception in so far as it doesn't have an especially happy ending for anyone involved - to avoid a history lesson, I won't give an exposition of Rommell. On top of the atmosphere, the solos are fantastic - extremely agile and genuinely enjoyable on their own musical merit - some albums manage to pack solos which are legitimately fun to listen to, making you imagine the work which goes into making it happen, and appreciating their dexterity - and this album has a lot of those - proving concisely that anyone who thinks adept solos have no place in death metal is entirely wrong.

As you could no doubt tell, and should have expected in the first place, Hail of Bullets once again live up to their reputation as deliverers of fantastic old-school death metal, and in a world where a lot of death-metal has become generic, uninspired and unexciting, I can safely say I'm glad that there are bands out there flying the flag high, crushing the non-believers under iron tank-tracks. This is true death metal, ya bastards!

This is an 8.5/10.

Hail of Bullets Official Site
Hail of Bullets on Facebook
Hail of Bullets on Metal Archives

Wednesday, 27 November 2013

#316 Skeletonwitch - Serpents Unleashed

Perhaps it's the time that I grew into metal, but bands like Skeletonwitch still seem like young upstarts  - the new kids in town - to me, and this indelible impression often casts a fog over the fact that they've been in the business of metal for over a decade now, and have a number of albums which befit such an age. With age comes wisdom, however, and if you want a lesson in what a consistent and hard working band are like, then Skeletonwitch are a steadfast tutor indeed, and their latest lesson, entitled "Serpents Unleashed" certainly continues the iron rod of consistency running through the band's output over the years.

Something I have always valued when it comes to albums is tasteful artwork, and I don't think it superficial to often be attracted to - or repelled from - a record because of the way it looks. Good artwork shows that the band not only care, but are proud of their work. Skeletonwitch are very much a band of that sort; for the last four albums, beginning with Beyond the Permafrost, the records have sat superbly with one another upon the proverbial shelf - they look, in short, like a set, with crisp, fresh and visually stimulating artwork; their records are as fun to look at, and that is something which genuinely makes me not only want to listen to the records more, but really shows that the band themselves are willing to make the best visual impression with their work that they can - something which, as my ears report to me, the band also bear in mind whilst crafting their music. The formula of the record is consistent; in the same way that Bolt Thrower had a run from Warmaster through to Mercenary, or arguably longer, of records which were fairly similar, but subtly grew and expanded, each one with merits, so too do Skeletonwitch. The songs on Serpents Unleashed certainly wouldn't shock or astonish people if it was revealed that they were written anything up to half a decade ago, they certainly don't feel stale either. When it comes to Skeletonwitch, more of the same - even more specifically, more of what you expect - is not a bad thing; You know as well as I do how annoying it is when they change the recipe of those sandwiches you always get in the store, without prior warning.It's not so much that the band keep making the same album again - it's simply that they've managed to sustain a vicious five album long charge without hitting the wall yet. 

So what is in this Skeletonwitch sandwich which keeps us coming back to it? Like the previous works, Serpents Unleashed has the blend of balls-out ferocity combined with subtlety which not only makes it doubly listenable, but also succeeds in making it exciting, and in many respects quite innovative; certainly there are bands who blend the two - there have been for decades - but no band sounds quite the way Skeletonwitch do. When the band are going all out, full-steam-ahead, there's the sort of thrashing, scathing blast of music which could strip the wood from a tree like a Gatling-gun, but at the same thing, subtle lead work, tremolos which are genuinely epic - even beautiful - and unexpected structures make the listening experience one which is more than just concerned with heaviness. The band have always had a knack for bringing elements which you wouldn't expect, let along expect to work in a blackened-thrash context, and that's what makes them so thoroughly special; big, old-school solos, riffs with an slightly traditional-metal edge, and all sorts of other goodies lie within the hearing of the listener who is adventurous enough to fully open their ears to what is going on. All of these elements, might I add, are united under a solid production-job which really manages to let the harshness of the bands music roar, the subtleties glimmer, and the whole thing pack a mighty punch without sounding too clinical; a sure success in my book.


So there we have it, and all that's left is for me to wrap up this thoroughly fourth-wall breaking and potentially redundant end paragraph; but nonetheless, something in terms of a conclusion is needed. Serpents Unleashed is, it is quite plain to see, the continuation of a band who have yet to miss a single beat - a band who started the charge a decade ago, and haven't lost an ounce of momentum. Momentum isn't measured in ounces, but even if it was, this album is top-notch. 

This is an 8/10.


Friday, 22 November 2013

#315 Metal Church - Self Titled

As much as I like to cultivate the impression that I somehow have my "finger-on-the-pulse" of the most recent and hubbub-inciting records out there, I, and hopefully many like me, can find just as much enjoyment in the classics of old - the records which are not only older than me, but undoubtedly kick more ass, too. Sometimes, especially at a busy time of year like this, I forget to take my eyes away from new releases and remember the fantastic landmarks of the past, the sound of which still reverberates through the halls today. That was, until earlier today, I took a trip to a certain church. A certain Metal Church, and was absolved of such sins.

Everyone has the sound which they thought metal had before they got into metal. If everyone is like me, however, they have only faint memories of what they thought that sound was. Supposing I was to dive into my memories and find those thoughts, however, I suspect I would find something a lot like Metal Church; long haired, screaming gentlemen in denim and leather, wearing sunglasses indoors, to the sound of deafening electric-guitars, shrieking but melodic vocals, and slightly alarmed parents. It is to that description that I would appeal if someone were to ask me "What are Metal Church like?" We're all fetishists for rigorous genre-labelling 'round these parts, but Metal Church offer more of a challenge than some bands; I'd describe them as speed metal, but I doubt that would stand up in a court of law - likewise, they are neither quite explosive enough for full-blown thrash, or gentle enough to be considered a purely traditional-metal affair either. Ultimately, I retreat to my previous saying; Sunglasses indoors. The bands work is, however, definitely not a lonely island in a sea of styles; quite the opposite in fact. More akin to a busy and flourishing intersection, the band's self-titled début album brings everything there is to love to the table; energetic, head-banging riffs, with catchy-hook after catchy-hook, propelled forwards by vicious and razor-sharp vocals which ride the line between scathing and melodic perfectly, while snarling and shredding their way through infinitely memorable choruses, such as the great showcase on "Hitman".

Metal Church is the sort of album - the sort of band - that while listening, you can really imagine the band swaggering confidently and energetically around a stage somewhere, with a blaring-backline and vigorous crowd. It's always a plus when an album manages to capture this sort of natural, undaunted-by-the-studio feel and the band's true, enthusiastic energy for you to enjoy in your dingy, adolescent bedroom while pretending that your hairbrush is a microphone. The blend of rocking and stomping with the added energy and fire of thrash really is a winning formula, and a shockingly addictive mixture. Every chorus, every solo, and every riff feels like it belongs, and indeed thrives in its place, it's the kind of album - a classic by my reckoning - that doesn't waste a moment of it's running time, and that really shows through in just how often I've been listening to it. It's quite unusual for me to have an album dominate my listening these days, let alone a band, but Metal Church's eponymous effort does precisely that, with its crackling electricity and maniacal, frantic edge, both of which make the style, as it indeed was at the time, sound like the work of some mad, innovative genius - it has the roguish, wild-eyed charm which truly epitomises not just metal, but rock n' roll as a whole. The record is easily one of the catchiest and most earnestly energetic in my collection, and while bands have played faster and played heavier, nobody have played quite what Metal Church can play, and the and are all the more precious a gem in metal for it.

Metal is a constant, and I'm damn glad of it, but we are so often reminded that, in those age-old words; there's no school like the old-school". It's albums like this, I can safely say, which give that statement it's weight and power, and for good reason. Metal Church is a fantastic début by a band who, I can happily say, continued to deliver the goods. 

This is a 9/10.

Metal Church Official Site
Metal Church on Facebook
Metal Church on Metal Archives

Saturday, 16 November 2013

#314 Dalla Nebbia - The Cusp of the Void

I've been meaning to review "The Cusp of the Void" - the new album by US black-metal innovators Dalla Nebbia, for quite some time. Presumably since the moment I realised it had been released, which seems to have been back in mid-October. Late to the party I shall admit to being, but simultaneously the bands previous EP "Thy Pale Form" gave me easily enough of a taste of their potential to know that this was a party that I needed to get around to. Tonight, I plan on submersing myself in Dalla Nebbia's music; if I can, trying to spew forth a few meaningful sentences about it for you to read and, if I'm to be optimistic, enjoy reading.

To those who haven't heard the band's music before, Dalla Nebbia can be best described in their own words; "Dalla Nebbia is a far-cry from the corpse paint and spiked gauntlets of the Scandinavian orthodoxy... ". Correct they are indeed, to say such things. If my remit as a reviewer were simply to say what bands were not, however, despite a few amusing scenarios, I suspect I wouldn't be doing a very good job. So, I must ask myself - ask what my ears tell me about the music - what are Dalla Nebbia? There are a lot of words which fly around at my fingertips; the music Dalla Nebbia create is intricate, unorthadox, innovative... but now, on this album more than ever before, Dalla Nebbia feel musically fascinating. Like every listener, I suffer from a certain disability; I have not listened to every band in the world, but of what I've heard of the music out there, Dalla Nebbia's work sounds like none of it. While obscure, Dalla Nebbia sound like nothing I've heard before, and certainly deserve a place among the poster-children of black-metal's sheer ability to experiment, innovate, and create new, chimerical wonders. Sonically, The Cusp of the Void certainly sounds like it's on the cusp of something legitimately creative and fresh; every pulsating piece of guitar work, or unexpected swirl into the unexplored feels legitimately rewarding to listen to, and, as I say many times over, truly represents the influence of progressive music upon the genre; it sounds like it has progressed towards somewhere, something new and exciting.

As it stands, I'm never too good at hearing what instruments are actually doing, but one thing I can definitely hear is that Dalla Nebbia do things a bit differently; their interpretation of black metal is like a hazy, mournful summer-dance; writhing, undulating and shimmering, with a heavy emphasis on lead-guitar work, in terms of both relatively high-pitched, wailing riffs, and solos which genuinely exude the sort of atmosphere which so few bands tap-into the potential of. Sweeping statements about the record are difficult however, as every track feels a little different from the others - truly diverse and difficult to generalise - and perhaps that's a good thing indeed, for despite it's diversity, the album also flows very well through its course, and thus the diversity is not arbitrary, but legitimately welcome. Every flourish of experimentation feels like a fresh idea in the mind of one of the main songwriters, and the album certainly keeps bombarding you with dynamic and sonically interesting ideas throughout its course, without ever simply sinking into the musical equivalent of thinking-out-loud, which some of the more experimental bands within metal seem to risk on a daily basis. Of course, The Cusp of the Void is composed of tracks from the band's Demo and EP, so it is only natural to compare these new renditions - my verdict? The fact that the band is a full four-piece certainly gives the material a fuller sound - perhaps even a new lease of life, and with thicker production, the tracks have become the songs they were born to be; they seem fuller and more alive.


Dalla Nebbia's full length début is, without a doubt, an extremely interesting and solid piece of black-metal craftsmanship, and one which definitely furthers my interest to hear more from the band - while it is composed of songs which have been heard from them before in one form or other, it is nonetheless splendid to hear them again, rejuvenated. Hopefully interest in the band's work will grow, and their sound will flourish, because as well as being novel and exciting, Dalla Nebbia's music deserves to be heard.

This is an 8/10 with ease.

Dalla Nebbia on Bandcamp
Dalla Nebbia on Facebook
Dalla Nebbia on Metal Archives

Monday, 11 November 2013

#313 Mammoth Grinder - Underworlds

I'm not sure whether a Mammoth Grinder is an exceptionally large grinder of some sort, or a thing which is capable of grinding mammoths, but of either of these, Mammoth Grinder's music is a certain sonic equivalent. Heck, for all I know, it might be the sound or a mammoth grinding other things - all I know for certain is that the name is the sonic counterpart of something enormous, and the band has unleashed a third record this year, to which I now turn my attention.

It is perhaps the highest praise I can give, given how superb the artwork is, to say that the music is easily as good as it. Mammoth Grinder take, nowadays, a no nonsense and thoroughly rapid fire approach to punk-steeped death metal. Underworlds is akin to having ten short, to the point tracks catapulted at you by a firing-squad of ferocious d-beat enthusiasts. If you're not familiar with my personal preference as a reviewer, I assure you that I, for one, fucking adore d-beats, and fortunately, along with all of those other tasty, fist-pounding percussion styles associated with great old-school death metal, it seems Mammoth Grinder love them too. Underworlds isn't about excessive or gratuitous technicality or complexity - no - their music is, as plain as the light of day, composed of grooving, crushing, skull-fracturing old-school steak-pie flavoured rage - enough, I dare say, to make bands like Entombed and Autopsy very proud indeed, particularly the former, whose influence is very apparent on the record, but simultaneously not overwhelming in the way that so many bands simply mimic them down to the very effects pedals. Mammoth Grinder are, instead, from the onset their own masters, and not a clone-band of any sort, combining the glorious crunch of old-school death metal with a touch of hardcore ferocity and bite to weave what I can only describe as a paradigm case of what extreme metal should be all about - energetic, crushing, and thoroughly onomatopoeic with regards the interweaving of their name and sound.

Like the excitement you feel when you first listen to a really solid Entombed or Bolt Thrower record, Mammoth Grinder really offer a window into the unique emotion of "the riffs, the riffs..." which only top-notch albums can provide. Cliché as it may be to use the word, the riffs legitimately are slabs of heavy goodness; combining the a crushing sound with the sort of swagger which is extremely rewarding and stimulating to listen to, all the while without sinking to the level of simply being a Swedish-style death metal clone. The riff work, which really predominates the record musically, is certainly the kind which even some really good death metal albums don't manage to reach, such is the level of craftsmanship. Indeed, the whole album, artwork included, really has that feel - there are albums which really claim a certain legitimacy for how well put together the whole package is, from musicianship to artwork right through to production, and Underworlds really does seem to boast all of them, which certainly gives the album a gift of solidity and presence; this is not just another old school death metal album, it is, in fact, one which is well worth taking seriously. Sure, it's only twenty-eight minutes long, but in that time, it manages to rampage headlong through ten tracks which all sound complete - indeed, the album itself feels very complete, and while it whirls past before you've managed to finish your beer, that might be the best way for it; good things come in small packages, and if this album were to be standing at a bus-stop, it would definitely be making the other death metal albums standing around feel awkward for being overly long and more intricate than they need to be.

The mammoth itself may be extinct, but Mammoth Grinder go one hell of a long way to proving that good, old-fashioned bludgeoning no-nonsense death metal is far from extinct. If you have any love for death metal at all, and twenty-eight spare minutes, you literally cannot go wrong by lending your ear to the subtle strumming of Mammoth Grinder.

This is an 8.5/10.

Mammoth Grinder Official Site
Mammoth Grinder on Bandcamp
Mammoth Grinder on Facebook
Mammoth Grinder on Metal Archives

Friday, 8 November 2013

#312 Warbringer - IV: Empires Collapse

As soon as everyone saw the cover artwork, everyone seemed doubly curious - perhaps even anxious, to see what Empires Collapse, the fourth record by Warbringer, was going to sound like. The band professed to have decided to do something a little different for the visuals, and I was curious, as I'm sure many were, to see if the same ethic had been applied to the band's trademark thick, modern thrash. Had it also undergone some innovation and stylistic wandering? A few days ago, a package came in the mail which answered these questions thoroughly.

While I'm certain that metal is still full of undiscovered surprises, by this point, we've worked out that when it comes to the evolution of a band, there are roughly two directions in which they can go; they can become more extreme, or they can become less extreme. You can imagine my surprise and interest to discover that, somehow, Warbringer has done both. In Empires Collapse, you immediately get the impression that the band have cast aside any nonsense with which they might have been preoccupied, and made the switch to leaner, meaner version of what they do. Like the artwork, Empires Collapse doesn't deal in the superfluous - it deals only in tight, efficient thrash. The result is damn crushing at times; fiercely percussive and ferocious, with gnashing and rhythmic pounding riffs and bridge sections which remorselessly beat you into submission, with everything from low-tempo borderline-breakdowns to unrelenting blasting. Warbringer have, as it is almost impossible not to these days, heard the call of extreme metal and given it a comfortable home within their sound. While it was beginning to raise its head in Worlds Torn Asunder, on this record it truly comes together, both compositionally and sonically at fruition, with the harsher, more vicious edge of the bands sound really coming to the fore. The result is something legitimately explosive, darting between swift, conventional thrash sections, and slower parts which really explore what the mid-tempo can do, with churning, rumbling sections propelled forward by vicious ride-cymbal battering, and head-whirling.

At the other end of the spectrum, the band are also leaning towards a slightly rock n' roll edge - catchiness has certainly risen somewhat since the last record, and in general, there are certainly traces of metal's pre-thrash edge embedded within this album, particularly in terms of the solos, which really do what solos have, in these times, moderately forgotten to do; that is, to really weave and swagger around, decorating the song with something which, for thrash's purposes, sounds distinctly badass. Indeed, the odd juxtaposition of the record is that Warbringer are experimenting more and sounding darker, whilst also sounding more fun. In terms of the riffs, too, there's certainly a degree of experimentation - perhaps not covering ground which is new in it's own right, but definitely ground which is  brave for a band who made their name making what was, initially, fairly retro thrash. While Warbringer have almost never felt generic, they certainly seem to have really come out of their shell on this album, and are much more content to play merrily with tempo, outside influences, and most of all, atmosphere - of the bands in the thrash revival, Warbringer conjure some of the thickest and most tangible atmosphere in their music, with a crushing tone which carries more than simply energy, but also feeling; a really distinct impression of explosive ferocity, extremity and swagger which the music brings to the fore, but the guitars aren't afraid to leave a little dismay or fear, either - the band capture thrash's violence extremely well, but also manage to be twisted, joyous, and even mysterious - and all the better for the production job which this record has, which, modern as it is, really suits being so.


It's obvious that these days, especially in a genre like thrash, which has stagnated itself nearly into oblivion not once but twice, that bands who wish to stay on top have to either be very good at making thrash, or very innovative with the sort of thrash they make. I think it's safe to say that on Empires Collapse, Warbringer have tried their hand and succeeded to an extent at both; while the record is still a good old fashioned sledgehammer blow, it's a sonically interesting one too.

Warbringer are still weapons-grade; 7.5/10.

Warbringer Official Site
Warbringer on Facebook
Warbringer on Metal Archives

Monday, 4 November 2013

Live Review #007: Rotting Christ w/ Twilight of the Gods, Negură Bunget and Krysantemia

I don't review every single live show I see - in fact - writing about it afterwards is definitely the exception more than the rule. However, some shows, I think, are sufficiently interesting to warrant a little writing, and this seemed to be one of them. Ill as I was, with suitably exaggerated unrelenting cough, sore throat and blocked nose ov doom, there are some metal shows which, no matter how ill I feel, I would drag myself to without any doubt. One such show for me turned out to be Rotting Christ, and their formidable opening acts. On Friday the 1st of November, there certainly wasn't going to be any virus which could stand between me and the show. I ran out of cough-mixture before heading out, and turned, instead, to brandy and paracetamol, great rock and roll life-on-the-edge maestro that I am. I catapulted myself out of the door and shambled, determined, towards the train-station to get to Glasgow, and the venue therein which would later witness one of my favourite bands of all time, weaving what turned out to be, perhaps, one of my favourite live-shows of all time.

Already, as the poster illustrates, the line-up for this particular show was very much the sort which would grab the attention of just about anyone with a proper interest in metal - a line-up indeed which very justifiably resulted in the Audio in Glasgow - something of a mainstay metal venue of late - being packed almost to the back, and, from what I heard, very close to sold-out; quite an achievement for today's scene, and indeed, very impressive to witness. First on were the band denoted on the gig-poster simply as "Support"; an Italian band called Krysantemia, who were touring with Rotting Christ for a couple of dates. The crowd hadn't quite swelled to their full extend by this point in the evening, and while there was a reasonable amount of head-nodding and mildly interested enthusiasm for their accessible and modern metal set, nobody was really pretending that they were the band that any of the crowd had turned up to see. In other words, Krysantemia did do a good job as an opening band in creating a bouncy, head-nodding atmosphere for the crowd whilst they file in and buy their beers, but at the same time, when your sat below a line-up as formidable as this, you've got a tough time impressing the crowd, particularly with such a modern, groove-metal influenced approach which rubs much of the crowd - chiefly rather more purist - the wrong way. It's technically proficient, and would probably stand well in a more suitable environment, but sadly, this night, the band felt like just another opening act.

Second up were atmospheric folk-black-metal outfit Negură Bunget, from Romania. The band steadily built up interest in their imminent arrival during their lengthy set-up with the sheer number of instruments which the band brought on-stage; Huge horns, flutes, brass instruments and elaborate percussion all was placed upon the stage, and for every instrument so placed, there was a renewed feel of promise that this set was going to be at worst interesting, and at best, fantastic. Of even more interest to the crowd, without doubt, however, was the superb use which the band then proceeded to put these instruments. Negură Bunget were, in a word, superb - perhaps among the best live bands I've seen in a long time, with an enthralling, captivating black-metal performance which was dynamic enough to remain interesting throughout, but also hypnotic and absorbing. The extra-thorough sound-checks which the band embarked on certainly paid off, too, as every folk instrument - and instrument in general - was perfectly audible and clear; minutes into the first track, which slowly but surely came to life, I felt truly lifted out of myself by the music, in a way which few live bands have ever done, especially in the relatively uncomfortable surroundings of a live show. Negură Bunget were easily the most elaborate and musically diverse acts of the evening. 

In the wake of Negură Bunget came super-group Twilight of the Gods, who aren't a Bathory tribute band any more, apparently to the disappointment of a proportion of the audience. Indeed, the crowd seemed a little bit divided by the band, with a small but vocal proportion seemingly displeased by the whole affair, and in many ways, it can be seen why. Twilight of the Gods play rocking, old-school heavy metal in the vein of bands like Judas Priest and Manowar - albeit with a touch of the epic thrown in - but contain members of acts like Primordial and Aura Noir, which, I'll venture, many among the crowd would have very much preferred to see in Twilight of the Gods' stead. Of course, it's infinitely foolish to criticise a band for not being a different band; As frontman Alan Averill said during the band's set "This is about Twilight of the Gods, not the other bands we're in" - and granted, while there were some groans from the crowd which could not be ignored, at the end of the day, the man is right. Perhaps the rip-roaring, balls-to-the-wall chorus-driven antics of the band didn't quite fit between Negură Bunget and Rotting Christ, but the band played a set which was enjoyable in its own right, with memorable and fun music. Twilight of the Gods style touches both upon merriment and genuine epic conviction, whilst also breaking free of the plastic, mass-produced new-traditional-metal sound. Perhaps to many, the band didn't quite live up to the sum of its parts, but as far as I'm concerned, it still sounded damn good.

Rotting Christ are a band I've been a big fan of for quite some time, and in light of the fact that Bathory never played live, and Type O Negative have ceased to be, are among the bands very near the top of my list of bands I've always wanted to see live. Happily, I was not disappointed. Of course, Rotting Christ have an extremely thick, intricate sound, and it's not really possible to tour with an entire Hellenic choir and assortment of folk musicians. Naturally, as a consequence of this, the band make very overt and extensive use of backing-tracks. Fortunately for us, and them, the band seem to use the backing tracks very well, without sounding clumsy. Certainly, the tracks used are verbatim the synth and folk elements used on the albums, but nonetheless didn't detract from the truly live elements of the performance.

To me, one of the most rewarding facets of a live show is hearing a slightly different rendition of songs you already know very well, and Rotting Christ, for me, are the sort of band which allowed me to really appreciate this. The set-list deployed by the band was very solid, as far as I was concerned; In this case predominantly material from Kata Ton Daimona Eaytoy, their newest - in general, in fact, easily the majority of the band's set consisted of material from the aforementioned newest, and the album previous to it, Aealo - which, being my favourite two  records by the band, suited me rather well. Perhaps not quite so pleasing for the fan of the band's old-school material, but nonetheless, the setlist was solid, with everything from Non Servaim to a cover of Societas Satanas by Thou Art Lord - one of frontman Sakis Tolis other bands, and the crowd seemed to enjoy every moment of it. All in all, the band offered everything I hoped they would - solid as a rock, retaining the thick, rich atmosphere, and to top it off, performing in front of a crowd who brought a huge amount of atmosphere with them; it was a full show, and, along with Rotting Christ's music, I was also immersed in the triumphant, roaring enthusiasm of hundreds of metal fans. Words can't really capture that, but in my mind, while Greece can be credited with exporting many things over the years; Philosophy, technology, and a myriad of innovations... Rotting Christ must be up on that list quite highly.

Rotting Christ on Facebook
Rotting Christ on Metal Archives
Twilight of the Gods on Facebook
Twilight of the Gods on Metal Archives
Negura Bunget on Facebook
Negura Bunget on Metal Archives
Krysantemia on Facebook
Krysantemia on Metal Archives

Sunday, 27 October 2013

#311 Thrall - Aokigahara Jukai

In their past two records, Australia's Thrall have proven themselves to be among the most grim and scathing black-metal acts in the southern hemisphere. I have fond memories of bringing their first CD - Away from the Haunts of Men - with me when I left home to go to university, as a reminder of the music collection I had to temporarily leave behind. Suffice to say, that may illustrate that I'm rather a fan of the band's work, and have been looking forward to this, the band's third album, since it was being vaguely hinted at some months ago - hopefully, the spirit of desolate misanthropy continues to run strong through the music.

All bands - or all good bands - have features, properties if you will, inherent in their music which you always hope will be carried forwards as new material is conjured. For Thrall, there were several properties of this sort; the bands scathing but earthy darkness, and their propensity to make diverse black-metal, exploring many influences on the music's journey. As I sit and listen to Aokigahara Jukai - a record named after the "Suicide Forest" in Japan - a smile creeps over my face, for as dark as the music is, I'm glad that the band have managed to retain the things which I hoped they would. Indeed, there is every chance that these things have been expanded upon. The tone is thicker, more suffocating; at their heaviest, the guitars sound hungry; the sound of the earth desiring to slowly devour one's corpse, the synaesthetic sound the emptiness around you. The jarring guitar work in a higher pitch is present too, like dark vines or creepers, strangling and trapping in a claustrophobic grave. Aokigahara Jukai is every bit as dark as Thralls previous work, and, to boot, every bit as dark and morbid as its subject matter. The bands artwork, as ever, stands as a mission statement; once again the record sounds the way it looks. Thrall's magic has never been to create images of violent destruction, or of occult darkness - no - as ever, the band weave an image of extinction and slow-creeping decay, making use of both conventional black-metal sections, and a wide variety of others, each effectively deployed.

The cold desolation is especially well exuded by the doom-influenced sections, which deliver a crushing, but slow demise. Each Thrall record, including this one, certainly knew how to use the lower tempos and vicious feedback well, to trap the listener in an agonising web, from which they must hang, wide eyed and nervous. that's not to say, however, that the record is predominantly a slow one. It is, instead, loaded with dynamic changes and eclectic sections; on top of the doom influence, you've got to contend with some sections which can almost be considered black n' roll - all the more impressive for the fact that, despite that style's frequently "fun" nature, Thrall succeed in making it bleak. Tough, primal rhythms, often with quite simplistic drum patterns forge the record onwards with a frantic, almost panic stricken feel, complimented by crushing riffs or the accustomed blood-curdling tremolos, with enough lower-end to kill you in your sleep. It's sometimes difficult to explain what Thrall's atmosphere most suggests to the ears, but I can best describe it as a darkness, perhaps a melancholy at times - but one too great for mere human concern. Once again, Thrall have created the music not of Man's suffering per se, but of his conspicuous, dead, absence. The monstrous, suffocating weight which Thrall press down with is captured particularly well on this record, both the subtle tangled vines, and the thick, engulfing sections, which capture the essence of a scream which echoes far, but finds no ears to hear it. If a tree falls in the woods... no. If a man falls in the woods, and there's nobody to hear him... does it sound like Thrall?

It's always nice to have an album live up to expectations, and I think I can say with some confidence that this album has. What Thrall create is distinct, unique, and thoroughly enjoyable. Perhaps not the music for a happy psychedelic experience in the woods, but nonetheless, powerful and vicious black-metal, and perhaps something beyond that too. For the third album in a row, they have created it well.

This is an 8.5/10.

Thrall Official Site
Thrall on Bandcamp
Thrall on Facebook
Thrall on Metal Archives

Tuesday, 22 October 2013

#310 Toxic Holocaust - Chemistry of Conciousness

I've been aware of Toxic Holocaust for slightly longer than I've been able to consider myself a fan, but like most bands who slowly creep into your listening, it was, in the end, a very rewarding process. One of the first things I'm always ready to assert about the band is that Toxic Holocaust are not quite the same branch of the tree as the thrash-revival which has coincided the band's life-span so far. Toxic Holocaust have always been something a bit different - and now it's time to investigate whether the bands new record "Chemistry of Conciousness" continues this pattern.

As I said above, Toxic Holocaust always stood out - they were always the black sheep of modern thrash. A sheep blackened by black-metal, and saturated in the toxic sludge of crossover, hardcore and punk. Toxic Holocaust represent the ever-willingness of thrash to flirt with the darker, more acrid and bitter side of metal. Of course, the question is, does Chemistry of Conciousness, which is released later this month, carry the banner high? Perhaps some suspected that "The Yellowgoat Sessions" from earlier this year would in some way have drained Joel Grind - the ever at-the-helm mainstay of the band - of his old-school impulses by giving him the breathing room to spew some filthy, first-wave black-metal style material onto vinyl in a nice quiet room somewhere. As it turns out however, Chemistry of Conciousness is not the clean, straight-forward record which some suspected - indeed, it's probably a lot more filthy, tangled and generally deliciously toxic than its predecessor Conjure and Command, which while solid, memorable, and still decidedly old-school, definitely came the closest to a conventional thrash record in the bands back catalogue. While still a thrash record at heart, as all of Toxic Holocausts works are, Chemistry of Conciousness steps up the d-beats, the black-metal influenced riffs, and the rolling, tumbling guitar work and redoubles the savagery. In a word, the things which far too many thrash bands do far too little of.

If the essence of Chemistry of Conciousness can be distilled into a few phrases, one of them would certainly be intense. Another, without much doubt in my mind, would be savage. The album rushes at you like a wild dog, faster than you can quite deal with, and with more bite than you expected. The guitar tone alone is the sort of thing which makes the rafters of the building quake - it sounds like a glacier moshing its way through a valley at a thousand miles an hour. In fact, it's the sort of guitar tone which makes your speakers a little bit worried. It's mixed loud, but not in the plastic, modern way that so many modern thrash bands opt for - the tone doesn't sound phoned-in, it sounds like the sort of thing cultivated over years, making use of the right hardware. The whole album, whilst of course varied in tempo, really knows how to give the feeling of a band going flat out, with manic but tight playing on tracks like "Silence" really upping the energy, and placing it on the shelf beside the crushing tone. It's quite rare for thrash to manage to be crushing at all - intense, yes, but crushing? Crushing is a bit more of a feat. It can safely be said, however, that Toxic Holocaust have managed to conjure a crushing edge on this album that I've not seen replicated in many placed before. All in all, the whole record is a traditional Toxic Holocaust sonic beating, with a hefty dose of everything which made me enjoy the band to begin with, rejuvenated, and ready for war. Implicit in the return of the old logo, perhaps, is the return to greater extremity and underground ethos.

Once again, we are met with a new Toxic Holocaust record. Since discovering the band properly, I've always had faith in Joel Grind and company, and their ability to make consistently good records, but Chemistry of Conciousness is definitely one which goes above and beyond, shrugging off interference and circling the wagons to conjure a record which, above all else, is Toxic Holocaust to it's very core.

This is an 7.5/10.

and thus, I'm introducing decimal points into my reviewing - I'm incredibly tired with only having ten numbers to work with, and the time for .5s has come. 
Toxic Holocaust Official Site
Toxic Holocaust on Facebook
Toxic Holocaust on Bandcamp
Toxic Holocaust on Metal Archives

Friday, 18 October 2013

#309 Pest - The Crowning Horror

Everyone has that underground band which, somehow they stumbled upon while they were barely into metal properly at all yet, let along conciously exploring the avenues down which such bands hide. Everyone, I'll venture, also has no recollection of how they stumbled upon said band, either. For me, one such band has been Sweden's Pest, a black metal outfit who very much avoid flirting with the mainstream, but who, for the first times since I discovered them, have released a record. Ample reason, I suspect, to take a listen right now.

The first, and most noticeable change in Pest's sound between records is, by far the huge swerve towards the old-school which the band have taken. Of course, records like Rest in Morbid Darkness, the one before this, were very old-school black-metal, but in The Crowning Horror, Pest transport the concept of old-school to new heights. It's not so much a devolution to a first-wave black metal style, even - it's... beyond that. While black-metal elements are still present, with a traditional dark atmosphere and adept, unsettling lead guitar, there is a thick, to my ears perhaps unique, blend of rock and early metal. I heard somewhere that the album was being likened to a black-metal Judas Priest, and I can certainly see where that particular article was coming from - there is something very early eighties - perhaps even seventies, intertwined into what I'm tempted to describe as black n' roll. The record is stuffed with catchy riffs which, while retaining black-metal character, also have a lot of breathing room, and an extremely soft, dry tone in places, reminiscent of Ghost's work on Opus Eponymous, with a subtle, muted playing style which offers a less intense but undoubtedly enjoyable approach to the conventional darkness of black-metal, balancing the very muted sections with some slightly-more intense parts in the vein of old-school, full-on black metal Pest, striking an interesting balance of development as a band, whilst still retaining, the familiar, comfortable features too.

The Crowning Horror is the sort of record which it takes a few listens - perhaps more - to work out what way is best to listen to it. It's certain that trying to listen to it fully as a black-metal record will be a difficult task; how would you digest the softer sections? But at the same time, if you tried to listen to it as just a rock n roll album, you'd probably have trouble dealing with all of the blood. Ultimately, the record must be listened to, challenging as it may be, as a synthesis of styles, and a very different synthesis from the way in which other black-metal bands such as Darkthrone, who were quite clearly a big influence on Pest's black-metal work, adopted more old-school edges. Instead of heavily punk orientated influences, Pest seem to have opted for plain old heavy metal, and the album is definitely all the more absorbing to listen to while one marvels at the interesting consequences of combining these two ingredients. Perhaps most notable is how thoroughly the atmosphere of the album is delivered by tremolo and eerie, screeching lead-guitar and solos, as opposed to  simply having distorted guitars assault the listener as a wall of noise, which the band have opted out of. Instead, Pest have opted for subtlety, trading blast-beats for Mercyful Fate style occult shenanigans, encapsulated by a coming-together of genuinely dark, but equally quite fun material. Adventurous perhaps, for a band who have played conventional black-metal for so long, but nonetheless, extremely successfully done.

I'd been wondering for some time not only if Pest were going to create a follow up to Rest In Morbid Darkness, but what sort of form the record was going to take. Suffice to say, as I sit and listen to The Crowning Horror, I'm impressed to quite an extent, not only by the music itself, but by who made it. I'd expected a new Pest album of the quintessential black-metal variety, and this divergence from that expectation is not only welcome, but refreshingly exciting.

This is an 8/10.

Pest Official Site
Pest on Metal Archives

Friday, 11 October 2013

#308 Death Angel - The Dream Calls for Blood

I've been a follower of Death Angel for quite some time now, albeit, in my career as a thrash-enthusiast, it took me a bit longer then it perhaps should have to become acquainted with their San Francisco thrash goodness. Indeed, I've reviewed the band before - a year or so a go I took a look at their first record, the classic "The Ultraviolence" in the run-up to seeing the band live. This month, however, marks the first time since I became a fan that the band have released a new record, and as such, it feels only natural to give it a listen.

With any thrash band from the eighties still in the business of making material, I'm never quite sure what to anticipate, no matter how confident I am in the band's ability to not fuck it up. For every Overkill and Testament proudly flying the flag high, there will be a Metallica or a Megadeth making a musical offering so decidedly tasteless that you really have to take a minute to wonder who... who did they make that record for? Where do Death Angel fit into this uncertain picture, you ask? I think, with confidence, I can say that the band are flying the flag high; as soon as the first track on the record - Left For Dead - rushes at you jaws agape and full-steam ahead, you know fair well that the band aren't going to distance themselves from the thrash they were born to create. The Dream Calls for Blood is a record which flies along like a locomotive, uncompromising, sharp clawed and excitingly energetic. It does what thrash is, by god, supposed to do - it hurtles ferociously, without losing sight of melody and order - it is intense, but in traditional Death Angel fashion, it isn't afraid to show off a little. Death Angel were never a generic thrash band, and every riff, every solo in this record really reassures you that the band know that - hack, it feels stronger than ever. The tempo is perhaps most striking, and it doesn't take much listening to conclude that this might be, by a good margin, one of the most consistently fast albums the band have created, perhaps since The Ultraviolence. The scything, shredding riffs really are just something else - more youthful, destructive and old-school than, I dare say, most of the band's peers.

Of course, the record has modern production, but that's very much the given with thrash records these days, regardless of who makes them. Fortunately, the cleanliness of the production-work doesn't spoil the music at all, and it would definitely be exaggerating to consider the record plastic at all. The drums, usually the area which modern production most notoriously meddles with, sound fine, with their ferocity and energy well captured indeed. From a musical standpoint, too, the percussion feels like it's reached an exceptional peak on this album; the drums alone have a lot going on to make them enjoyable to listen to, before even considering the amount of other instrumentation which join it in the recipe. In typical Death Angel fashion, the music is as intricate as it is explosive; I don't truly know the ins-and-outs of song-writing, but you can absolutely tell that the songs on the record weren't simply glued together, but were made with considerable care - engineered and distilled with precision to pack one hell of a punch. As you can no doubt tell, I'm very impressed by the album, and from start to finish, the whole work managed to reassure me that it was as solid as they come. I've derived a good dose of enjoyment from most of Death Angel's post-reformation work, but this time around, touring for the anniversary of The Ultraviolence last year seems to have re-awoken something within the band, because there is no doubt in my mind that this is the most thrash record Death Angel have made in a long while.

It's always a cheering, reassuring state of affairs when a veteran band create something with real substance years, decades even, after it all began. The Dream Calls for Blood is certainly an example of this, and has every chance of going down the same path of recognition as records like Overkill's Ironbound, or Judas Priest's Painkiller, where people listened, paused for a second, and then said "Yup, they have still got it".

This is a solid 8/10.

Death Angel Official Site
Death Angel on Facebook
Death Angel on Metal Archives

Monday, 7 October 2013

#307 Atlantean Kodex - The White Goddess

It's amazing how quickly time passes. I listened to the first Atlantean Kodex album "The Golden Bough" before I was at university. I can hardly remember what my head was like back then, but one thing which has run through it like an iron rod, ever-present, has been metal. It is with great pleasure that I now return to Atlantean Kodex, to listen to their second full length offering, three years on. When I first discovered doom-metal, it was epic-doom which drew me the most, and among the first bands I discovered in that niche was Atlantean Kodex. Consider me excited.

It's very natural, I suppose, to compare this record to the previous one. The Golden Bough was without a doubt a very enjoyable record - one which definitely had a great spark about it, but at the same time, it did drag a little bit. Not by much, granted, but it was certainly a little bit challenging to listen to at times. The White Goddess, by comparison, feels, in a word, mature. Compositionally, there are no sudden stops, no riffs crammed into place slightly haphazardly; instead, the music glides along smoothly. Taking three years to compose this record has certainly made a record which feels like three years of work, which is extensively pleasing to the ear. The music feels more dynamic, too, with a stroll through more varied tempos, and more exciting bouquets of style and atmosphere, with the song-writing feeling extremely solid throughout. The record is a little shorter than it's predecessor, but not less substantial; it is lean, as opposed to starved, and certainly manages to pack a lot of punch into it's relatively modest hour of run time. While only five of the tracks are full-blown songs, the intros and vignettes in between manage to be reasonable atmosphere-boosters, as opposed to needless luggage in sonic form, which was certainly a fear which I have swiftly been alleviated of. Three main observations from listening to the musicianship on this record are thus; the riffs are compositionally very interesting, the vocals are much more lucid and present - really making themselves felt, and thirdly, the lead guitar really carries a lot with it now; shimmering solos, right through to subtle but vital lead-work during the body of the song.

There is no doubt in my mind that The White Goddess is an epic doom record which really knows how epic doom should be crafted; the thunderous music is vast in scale, ambitious, and truly glorious with regards to atmosphere; the riffs leave shock-waves like cavalry charges and waves hitting the shore, while the softer sections build excitement, and absorb you into the music's world of wonderment. The thick, almost ever-present ambience in the background; choral vocals, keys, and the like, stir the album up into thick, Bathory-like crescendos and brooding, beautiful lows, whilst the vocals soar, over the top of the mix, and really propel the music in a way they perhaps didn't quite manage to on the first record. In other words, as good as The Golden Bough was, this record feels like Atlantean Kodex reaching their true potential to tell a story - to make a journey. Clichéd as it might sound, this record is one which takes the listener on a hefty journey, from the burst of brass in the intro track, right through to the slow, fading piano at the end of the album, it draws the listener in, and good lord, it's a superb album to be drawn into. There is a certain aura which accompanies a record which is extremely solid - crafted with care, dedication and countless weeks of effort, and The White Goddess exudes that aura without the shadow of a doubt - every second of the record promises that there is plenty of wondrous music still to come, and until the very last second, it's testimony stands up.

It's always nice, whilst writing a review, to contemplate that metal might have a future classic, or, at the very least, a renowned record, on its hands. The impressions I've been getting whilst listening to The White Goddess suggest to me that it's very likely to be one or the other of the two - and either way, it's a damn solid record. And so I conclude with this short paragraph, for a long record. One which is well worth listening to. 

This is a 9/10.

Atlantean Kodex Official Site
Atlantean Kodex on Facebook
Atlantean Kodex on Metal Archives

Thursday, 3 October 2013

That's not Metal! #004 Steve Von Till - A Grave is a Grim Horse

I was reminded a few days ago, and quite rightly, that I haven't done a "That's not Metal!" feature in quite a while. The obvious thing to do, of course, is to take steps to fix this great omission of late, and so here we are. "That's not Metal!" can, of course, in many metal-circles, be somewhat pejorative, but as much as this feature sometimes give me the opportunity to review something of poor quality, it likewise gives me the chance to review something exceptionally enjoyable which doesn't quite fit under the metal banner. As an acoustic record, A Grave is a Grim Horse, by Steve Von Till, is one of those albums.

Steve Von Till is perhaps most widely known for his work in Neurosis, but I initially found out about his work on the side, and moved on to Neurosis after that. A Grave is a Grim Horse, one of his solo-efforts, is a record which I've been listening to a lot of late; perhaps more than any single metal record in my collection, and there's good reason for this; sometimes, you just need something different, and an album such as this is a fantastic messenger of such difference. From start to finish, the album is a dark, brooding and beautiful acoustic journey, both mellow and surprisingly intense for what it is. With music which is a little bit less dynamic - music which takes a step back from the edge, you always get the feeling that the mood oozes from every not that little bit more sweetly, and here, just about every track, though diverse in mood and tone, are utterly steeped in atmosphere; tracks like "The Spider Song" and "Willow Tree" stand out to me especially for their poignant delivery of emotion and beauty - albeit the best of a damn good selection - I don't think there's a single track which could be taken out of the mix. The rich, echoing guitar tone and abundance of soft, weeping slide-guitar perfectly enriches its instrument's slow, steady story-telling, where notes are dropped gently into the music, cradled tenderly and then let go. The subtle additions of synth definitely contribute also to raising the record to the level of an atmospheric journey. A journey, might I add, through various moods; sorrowful, wistful and at times a little more upbeat, but at the same time bitter-sweet and subdued - not music of celebration, but of contemplation.

The album stands, perhaps, as a rejection of gratuitous musicianship, and instead truly showcases what can be done with a few elements mixed, tastefully and with what must be an excellent ear for the atmosphere and subtlety - the songs have the feel of songs which could be played on nothing but a guitar, perhaps whilst sat in the shade, and not lose much of their shine. It is this subtlety perhaps, which truly describes the atmosphere on the record - earth-bound, but extremely deep,  profound, and moving. The simple guitar and vocals approach certainly doesn't weave songs which are energetic per se, but the slow, winding music is perhaps the most relaxing music I've listened to in a long time, albeit without simultaneously being too much. The crooning vocals may lull and relax the listener, but at the same time, they don't go so far as to ruin everything by giving you a mug of hot-chocolate and telling you everything is going to be fine; in fact, a lot of the record is dark - even unsettling. All of it, however, is laced with a sort of fatalistic feel; the final track, "Gravity" is almost dirge like, and has the lyric "What's done is done" - in those four words, Steve Von Till himself explains the wistful atmosphere of the record far better than I have attempted to in several paragraphs. It is a record of songs to sooth you after misfortune has happened, not songs to wallow in during the misfortune, and in that recipe, the album encapsulates both darkness, and light. It is, perhaps, hopeful, it its own way. It's the sort of album which walks up the hill, and down the other side, and as far as I'm concerned, they're among the best kind of albums.

For a long time, I went through a phase of my favourite albums for the most part only being metal ones - it is indescribably refreshing when something like this comes along and shakes things up a little. Spawned from the metal scene though it is, I can certainly listen to it and remark "That's not metal!"... and it sounds damn good.

This is a 9/10.

Steve Von Till Official Site
Steve Von Till on Metal Archives

Monday, 30 September 2013

#306 Lifelover - Erotik

I hadn't ever thought of exploring Lifelover's music until well after the band had ended - indeed, I only first listened to their work a few weeks ago when someone recommended I do so immediately. Upon listening to this very album - Erotik, I realised that I'd stumbled upon something both profoundly sorrowful and depressive, but also something unbelievably beautiful. While I have yet to listen to the rest of the band's work, I can safely say I shall do my best to find some words to tell of what meets the listener when this album passes by.

On the whole, I'm not a huge fan of album covers which are simply photographs, unless they work extremely well. In the case of this album, however, the artwork depicts the albums feel perfectly - it shows the world, illuminated but blurred, as it might appear through a tear drop in your eye. It's dark, utterly urban, and most fitting of all, paints a picture of sorrow and darkness; perhaps not exclusively depression, as Lifelover were a much more diverse band than that lyrically, but nonetheless the artwork conducts the personal, introverted darkness which the bands music curls around - the record is not going to have happy songs to any extent, and it makes that deadly clear from the very beginning. Musically too, the record is quite a diverse one, both in the story that it's music tells, and the way in which it tells it. Stylistically, it smoothly blends a very rock orientated edge with the harsher beast of depressive, melancholic black-metal, and a dash of other things too, in varying quantity, most frequently punctuated by spoken word and melancholic keys. While I don't understand the spoken word or samples, as I'm one of those bastards who only speaks English, the feeling which they carry has reached out of the album completely intact, and weave a picture of sardonic, tragic and bitter darkness and at times deeply crushing sorrow. This sorrow is largely delivered in two mediums; the softer side of the record exudes helplessness and lethargic turmoil, while the more intense, black-metal influenced material spews forth self-destructive, scathing and hateful wrath and aggressive, tense, and at times decidedly fucked-up sorrow. It's always worth bearing in mind when listening to proper depressive music like this, that the people who made it aren't filled with angst, but often genuinely come from a very dark place, and in this record, that is very tangible.

The great juxtaposition of the record is how the act of listening to it occurs; at times it feels a very, very challenging record to listen to, and one which demands all of my attention and more, whilst at other times, it feels very smooth and sonically-edible - the music bends along it's course from malevolent to benevolent - without fail unpredictably, but always loaded with the nature of, fundamentally, being a very rewarding listen. The album certainly has the ability to pluck you from where you sit and transport you into... well, not a place exactly, but the music takes you away. The maze of rough, at times almost discordant guitar work seeps through you, and it's rough beauty mixes with its unpolished edges to create an atmosphere which genuinely feels a little bit oppressive, but at the same time almost serene; very very truly conveying the sort of feelings and atmosphere which the records creators were aiming for, I'm sure. The production values of the record, as I've established, compliment this atmosphere superbly, with the rough-edges very much adding to, as opposed to subtracting from, the sound - much like, for instance, the roughest work of bands like Burzum, Lifelover carry a fascinating tone which is seldom replicated - the nuanced, rough and at times precariously produced guitar work certainly gives the music it's static-laced tendrils, which drag the listener away into the soundscape, especially during the moments of thickly laid guitar, which feel akin to swimming in dark, mood-filled honey, before being plunged into an ambient section, gasping for air.

Ultimately, I found Erotik very hard to review - perhaps one of the hardest records in the last hundred or so, just for the sheer loss of words at how to describe what it is. I'd always recommend listening to the things I review yourselves, but I do so especially much in this instance. At the same time as being difficult, however, there are few records which have felt quite as rewarding and exciting to listen to; let this review mark the fact I've discovered something new, and something very, very beautiful, something which ended before its time. Rest in Peace B.

This is a 8/10.

Lifelover on Facebook
Lifelover on Metal Archives