Wednesday, 31 July 2013

#292 Amorphis - The Karelian Isthmus

Amorphis are one of those bands who have radically diverged, musically speaking, from where they initially stood, but have a highly praised status among many metal fans, those who enjoy them for their old material, new material, or indeed, both. I haven't listened to any of the band's newer material yet, although I can guarantee that I will, so in the meantime, this review is going to examine the bands full length début; The Karelian Isthmus.

Released in 1992, The Karelian Isthmus is pretty damn old-school both in terms of it's literal age, and it's composition; heavy but soaring death metal, aged in oak casks for 21 years. However, the touch of the unique almost immediately radiates from the record, and while this would be more and more present in the bands career, even at this formative stage, you can listen to the album and hear a certain freshness to the record which might not have radiated in quite the same way from the bands contemporaries in the genre. Certainly, at that point in death metal's development, there wasn't a very high prevalence of "the same old shit", with many bands playing a single style to death, but even by the luxuriously creative standards of that time, Amorphis come across as more inventive and even ingenious than most. The riffs, perhaps the part of death metal I most live for, are splendid and various. Thoroughly gritty, fast paced rampages are coupled with, perhaps more prevalently, grooving, undulating sections. It is the latter of these which often really grab the you by the balls and throws you around, reinforced further perhaps by their contrast with the hasty guitar work in the faster sections. The closest comparable style which immediately comes to mind is the similar mature mid-tempo work of Bolt Thrower, who had started doing the same sort of thing at roughly the same time, in their third record Warmaster. Like Bolt Thrower, many of the tracks on The Karelian Isthmus carry a massive amount of power, but without having to call upon extremes of tempo; the rumbling, crushing riffs swagger and take a moment to look you in the eye - a massive force which doesn't feel the need to hurry; it does it's job at its own pace.

The factor which really sets the album apart, on top of spellbinding song-writing, is the huge injection of atmosphere which Amorphis give death metal as a genre; throughout the album are intricately laid sections of atmosphere, often born from the cleverly placed lead guitar work, sporadic synth use, and from the guitar tone itself. Even the rhythm tone is surprisingly versatile, creating stomping riffs one second, but then suddenly evoking a far more epic air, without skipping a beat. The result is an album which feels genuinely vast and windswept, with a depth and texture which few death metal bands strive for, let alone possess. The record demonstrates too, with one fell swoop, that you can make an extremely impressive and innovative album without undue self-indulgence; the musicianship is fantastically tight and on-the-dot, with technical elements thrown in with plenty of forethought for what they will bring to the song, as opposed to gratuitously. In this respect, a less is more approach really sweetens the album, bring the riffs out really pleasently, and helping emphasise the notes and chords, as opposed to shouting "look at me, I'm playing very fast" - a trap which too many bands fall into: Not Amorphis however. The drums are also a solid example of this, with sturdy, down-to-earth drum work sounding amazing both from a compositional standpoint, and in terms of production, where they really do sit right in the middle of the percussive Goldilocks zone, without any undue fucking about. The drums certainly really caught my attention, and helped to draw it to the flow of the record as a whole, whilst giving it a backbone, performing the task which drums are always given with great talent indeed.

The last few months for me have marked an increase in my efforts to discover bands I haven't experienced before. Amorphis, for the last few weeks, have proven to be one of my favourites, and having enjoyed "Tales From the Thousand Lakes" extensively, it's fantastic to discover that the previous album - in other words, this one that I'm reviewing - is every bit as good, and I thoroughly recommend Amorphis if you haven't given them a try before.

This is 9/10.

Amorphis Official Site
Amorphis on Facebook
Amorphis on Metal Archives

Saturday, 27 July 2013

#291 Helheim - Jormundgand

Sometimes, you discover bands in interesting ways; through friends, through going to live shows despite never having heard the bands playing before. The way in which I discovered Helheim, however, is a little bit less adventurous; every now and again, I go on Metal Archives and click the random band button a few dozen times until a band catches my eye. Fortunately, I didn't keep clicking, and instead decided to see how this particular band sounded. The conclusion I've reached is that I've stumbled upon one of the more underrated Norwegian black metal bands.

Jormundgand is the band's first full-length album, and the artwork very much caught my attention for the old-school air it exudes; that quintessential style of early-to-mid nineties black-metal, before the clichés were in place, and bands were still being inventive; sure, it's a photograph of the full moon, but it's done in it's own unique style, and as you look at it, it whispers to you, promising to be a great record, in the same way that records like Summoning's Minas Morgul, or Bathory's Under The Sign of the Black Mark - records in which the artwork speaks volumes about the music within. Musically, Jormundgand is an album which is like it's artwork; comfortably recognisable as old-school black metal, but with an enjoyable twist or two in the recipe. As the title track, which also opens the album, bursts into life, scathing, and extremely harsh rush of tremolo rush out to meet you. Blast-beats and absolutely insane vocals accompany them; as if someone took conventional black metal vocals, and then added an extra level of passion and energy to them. The resulting shrieks are initially jarring, but slowly it dawns on you that they really fit with the atmosphere which many of the songs are aiming at; the frostbitten, harsh wind howling around the edges of homes, biting into the flesh and clothes of those unlucky enough to brave the blizzard. The samples of thunder which sporadically appear in the opening track certainly reinforce this image, and along with the aesthetic of the artwork, really sets the stormy, brooding and malign tone which the record holds, and unifying it pleasantly - the album absolutely feels like a complete package, which makes it much more rewarding to listen to.

Of course, one of the most noticible features to the record, and indeed, the band in general, is the Viking metal edge which bedecks most of the songs; even the most scathing and ferocious tracks wear a cloak of Nordic elegance and atmosphere, made manifest in clean vocals and tremolos which are more grandiose and soaring than the rest. Indeed, there are tracks such as Didr Ok Dordr Liggr Helvegr which trade out many of the black metal elements in exchange for northern female vocal melodies. Indeed, whilst subtle, almost every riff on the record feels slightly more Viking than most black-metal riffs out there, and while diabolical and dark, the record is also steeped with majesty; the thick guitar-work carries the majesty of falling snow and more than a touch of the poetic mystique of Norse mythology. Jormundgand, for the most part, is one of those records which doesn't leave many gaps between the riffs, instead opting for the wall of noise approach, although, fortunately, not creating something over-saturated with noise; there's plenty of synth to keep the sound stimulating, and the record still has plenty of dynamic structuring to boast; none of the songs drag, and as a whole, the album really flies past very smoothly and enjoyable; despite being chiefly composed of "long" songs of the over-eight-minute range; ultimately, the song-writing skill of the band has resulted in a greatly enjoyable record - one in which each track earns its length.

When I decide what to review on here, I often aim to focus on the underrated bands within any given genre, and this is a prime example. Helheim aren't a band whose name I've heard being passed around any of my peers who are into black-metal, but frankly, it should be. The band don't seem to have the widespread recognition they deserve, and with albums of this quality level, their material should be up there with that of their better known contemporaries. This record is an absolute gem.

A very enjoyable 8/10.

Helheim Official Site
Helheim on Facebook
Helheim on Metal Archives 

Tuesday, 23 July 2013

#290 Entombed - Left Hand Path

Last week, I experienced a Deicide album for the first time. But an even more grievous omission lies ahead of me; Saying that you've never listened to what is purportedly one of the best death metal albums ever made is a bit like saying you've been missing out on oxygen; purportedly one of the best gasses for breathing. And so, without further ado, I feel that it is vitally important to spend some time today familiarising myself with the mighty, nay, monolithic creation that is Entombed's début, Left Hand Path. Destiny awaits.

It's fairly immediately plain that Entombed are rightfully the figureheads of old-school death metal; I was genuinely excited to put this album on, such was the hype and general solid-gold praise which accompanies it, and it quite quickly becomes evident that Left Hand Path is an album which does a very good job of living up to the hype which it has built over the last two decades. The album seems to pack a tasty serving of everything you could possibly want in a death metal record; grimy, surging riffs loaded to the brim with energy immediately burst into life, with a near perfect gritty production which allows the fierce riffing to ooze and ruggedly crunch its way out of your speakers, with that now-famous "Entombed-tome" saturating it with heaviness and energy. This is without a doubt a death metal record which really makes your body and mind feel primed for primal fist-pumping and throwing yourself around, nodding your head all the while. The drums are particularly tastefully captured, with a one heck of a punch conveyed on the record, without sounding over-the-top in terms of processing. The vocals, too, sound great; a proper, scathing, ass-kicking onslaught of harsh vocals in the traditional early death-metal style, which, of course, Entombed have done no small part in the carving thereof. The whole album really has a tangible solidity and mighty air - the sort of album which doesn't let you ignore how well written and delicious the riffs, and indeed atmospheric elements, are. I mention atmosphere because Left Hand Path is definitely not a sterile record; the tone of the record really spins an atmospheric web of deathly, ghastly feeling, perhaps that of some esoteric monolith, foreboding before you, many fathoms deep in hell. 

Not being very literate in the magical ways of rhythm guitar, I can't really put into words what is so damn good about the riffs Left Hand Path contains; in brief however, imagine the song on any given album which has that riff, or that song. The one you've listened to six times before the second time you listen to the whole album twice. Left Hand Path is an album made of those songs; master crafted in forges with most death metal bands could only dream of. The sheer variety of styles engaged in definitely elevates the album to the position of the best damn musical fruit salad you've ever clapped eyes on; everything from crushing, doomy sections which curdle the blood and crush the bones, punk sections through which you appreciatively sip your beer, and downright thrashy sections which propel you across the room and through a brick wall, Tom and Jerry style; all of these styles and more colliding to create something truly well-seasoned and dynamic - nothing I have listened to before compares in terms of being a sheer case-study in good death-metal song-writing. It's the sort of album which ends leaving you with a feeling of "well... that's that. Death metal is finished... Entombed just did it all". Left Hand Path is, ultimately, a  death metal record which really masterfully exhibits a veritable ton of the features which I enjoy about death metal, and which typify the genre in general... and that's just the first track.

 As I'm sure you can tell by my warm, pleased tone and ridiculous grin, you can probably tell that I'm not in the least bit disappointed. Left Hand Path is, immediately, and without much doubt entered into my top ten death-metal albums, and with damn good reason; from the beginning to the end, the record carries itself and presents itself as one of the best of the best, and the reputation which it has is backed up thoroughly by every chord, drum beat and vocal. Fantastic stuff.

This is a 10/10. My evening is better for having finally listened to Entombed.

Entombed on Facebook
Entombed on Metal Archives

Friday, 19 July 2013

#289 Deicide - Legion

Believe it or not, I've not listened to Decide very much at all, and despite them being one of the obvious death-metal choices in terms of bands to explore when on the cusp of the genre, I somehow managed to miss them while I was discovering death-metal in the first place. As I always say, glaring omissions in my listening experience are best fixed promptly and thoroughly, so today, I've given the band's second record; Legion, a spin or two.

Legion is very much an example of what I prefer death-metal to sound like; that is, thrash which has been to the gym. Thrashy death metal tends to press the right buttons for me, especially in terms of the riffs, which nine times out of ten, I'll remember better than an equivalent death-metal band in which the guitar-work is overly brutal or technical. That's not to say that Deicide aren't a bit of both, but at the same time, they don't take either attribute to an over the top level. Compositionally, the tracks on Legion certainly pack quite a punch, with very nimble playing, darting back and forth between sections. At the same time, however, this manic energy comes across as a very natural, and not in the slightest forced. The drums, particularly, are delightfully tight and produced in such a way as to really capture the essence of the thunderous, at times unrelenting double kick, which goes through dozens of tempo-changes without shedding any of it's energy. Vocally, Legion also represents Deicide at its most energetic, with Glen Benton's varied and rapid-fire vocals being razor sharp and especially crazed-sounding, which is the persuasion which suits death metal the best. The vocals certainly fit very neatly into the atmosphere which the music propagates, creating something with that old-school dry sound, but also a depth and thickness above and beyond the norm, with the vocals riding at just the right level. Even the generally more-neglected instruments in terms of production are very well catered for in the mix, with a very audible bass, for the most part.

After a few minutes, it's definitely apparent that Deicide are a lot less primitive than the death-metal I typically listen to; there are certainly no d-beats on parade here, instead, the song structure is very angular, in the traditional early-nineties manner. Generally, I find such bands a little more challenging to listen to, but there's no doubt that on Legion, the tight, square approach to death metal is executed in it's finest form; proving that there isn't a single style of metal I won't enjoy provided it's well-made. Albums like Legion represent the very bespoke end of the death-metal quality spectrum, and as an album, it certainly lends itself more to my enjoyment than most of the USA's death metal bands did when I first encountered them - either a sign of quality, or a sign that I'm starting to know the intricacies of death metal which I enjoy most. In this scenario, most likely both. There's certainly a notable shortage of detractors from the record, and nobody seems to hold the view that Legion isn't a very solid record indeed, most probably a pinnacle in an up-and-down discography. The machine-gun approach to the music; that is it's sheer speed and limited duration really emphasise the extremity of the genre in ways which some albums fail to; The opening track, "Satan Spawn, the Caco-Demon" for instance, feels like some sort of lesson in intensity and blasphemy, and must have been even more noteworthy at the time, before a thousand other bands had pushed the envelope of risqué and down right alarming to a whole new level. Perhaps the ultimate statement of this review is going to be that the record feels like a prime specimen of its class; and in a way which can't quite describes, really exudes how exciting death metal can be.

Once again, it's been pleasant to set a few hours aside today for some horizon-broadening exercises, and certainly made more rewarding by the realisation that Deicide, and Legion in particular, was well worth bothering to listen to. One of the great things about writing reviews is that I manage to get myself to listen to new and interesting things, which otherwise I may not have, and once again, it has proven worthwhile.

Damn solid death-metal; 8/10.

Deicide on Metal Archives

Tuesday, 16 July 2013

#288 Tank - Honour and Blood

When it comes to the NWOBHM, there are two ways in which to go about it; you can listen to Iron Maiden, or you can do it properly. A great stepping stone on my journey towards doing it properly is Tank - perhaps among the unsung heroes of the movement - both mighty songwriters and innovators, writing material which can safely be described like their namesake - amongst the heavy armour of the NWOBHM movement. One of my favourite salvoes from this heavy artillery is the bands fourth album; Honour and Blood.

The thing I love about Tank, and this record particularly, is the rough-edged, no-nonsense edge which the band have. Granted, it's not quite as against the grain as Venom, but nonetheless, Tank have the kind of grit which I tend to love wherever and whenever I encounter it. Honour and Blood is perhaps one of the albums which best illustrates this, perhaps exemplified by the course, barking but very melodic vocal approach on the more aggressive tracks like "The War Drags Ever On" and the title track "Honour and Blood", both of which are exceptionally catchy, and together are the songs which I discovered the band through. This vocal approach is more pronounced than it was on the bands earlier albums, and really gives the record an interesting, gruff character; it's safe to say perhaps, that coupled with the name, the roaring vocal approach further conjoins the bands stylistic and musical themes, that of course being warfare, at least predominantly. It's important to note that Tank aren't a "concept band" with regards to theme, and Honour and Blood has it's fair share of themes; War, of course, but also more personal issues, which come through in the softer songs on the record. The playing style in places, and the approach of encompassing both aggressive tracks and ballads very seamlessly, but less frequently mixing the two elements within one song itself, is reminiscent of bands like Diamond Head, who had their peak somewhat earlier in the NWOBHM, and influenced many of the bands who would follow, including Tank, who seem to have inherited the fantastic riffs and well-written ballads which really make use of the residual rock n' roll which was certainly still running in the veins of metal at the time.

Also like Diamond Head, Tank are very proficient at making use of empty space in their riffs; realising, perhaps crucially, that the guitars don't have to be making sound all of the time. While so many bands were changing notes and chords, Tank seem to have realised that you can get just as much of an effect from going from a chord to nothing at all. Tracks like "When All Hell Freezes Over" certainly show this in action. Meanwhile, along with the rhythm guitar, there is some fantastic melody in the mixture, delivered by the lead guitar; When you hear the intro to the title-track, for instance, you instantly know that it's going to be a good one; it's rough and tough, but at the same time, it sounds thoroughly beautiful and elating - even epic, at times. Along with the solos, the lead sections in general do a fantastic job of giving the album some real rock 'n roll swagger - the band solo like they mean it; no pretentiousness, simply great lead-guitar work packed with feeling, the way solos should be done. Honour and Blood is, in general, an album which practically breathes rock 'n roll, in terms of song-writing, tone and especially variety, which the album has plenty of everything from the rocking, bluesy, solo-laden slabs of slightly cheesy 80's material, right through to far more underground, angry sounding and atmospheric material which really foreshadows some of the fantastic things which speed-metal were beginning to conjure in the early-to-mid decade. This variety is all the more tasteful for the fact that it seems to be compatable, all working together to illustrate that the NWOBHM was a true golden age; not only was every concievable style welcome into the mixture, but it all somehow worked, too. Without a doubt, Honour and Blood works fantastically.

At the end of the day, Tank are a fantastic emblem of the fact that the best known bands don't always equate to being the best. Perhaps a little less known than some of the names in the NWOBHM, Tank nonetheless bring superb material to the table in spades, and you can hear it oozing from every track on this record - Honour and Blood is a very rewarding and memorable listen, and I thoroughly recommend it to anyone who hasn't heard it before coming here.

A 9/10.

Tank Official Site
Tank on Facebook
Tank on Metal Archives

Saturday, 13 July 2013

#287 White Wizzard - The Devil's Cut

The wind sweeps back my hair, as my mysterious, time-travelling, and oddly unquestioned open-top convertible filled with hookers and cocaine rushes along a evening-lit desert highway in the early 80s. I espy a legendary fast-food business; the great heavy-metal drive-through. As the raucous car pulls up to the ordering window, the usual crackly, intercom voice addresses me; "What will you be ordering today?". "Well, I say, you know the number-666?". "Oh, the Iron Maiden?" the voice replies. "Yes", I say... "I was just wondering if you had something a bit like it, but with extra cheese?" "I think we can do that, sir". The engine purrs as I drive round to be served, receiving a small package; nestled amongst the fries is the new White Wizzard album.

...It's quite tasty too. White Wizzard might be a bit infamous for instability, but their new record "The Devil's Cut" does a good job of demonstrating that Jon Leon still has what it takes; that is, good ideas for catchy traditional metal, which whoever is currently under his aegis can deliver with gusto. Sure, it still sounds very, very Iron Maiden - something which the opening track certainly hammers home; nodding it's head to the trademark 'Maiden riffing style. Of course, what you've got to remember is that the band never claimed to be a fresh, avant-garde affair - no, their statement of intent was to bring old-school metal back to the ears of people who love it. Now that they don't have that guy who wore a Trivium shirt any more, they can do it without a slight dusting of irony, too. Either way, I digress from the true aim of this review, that is, to review The Devil's Cut, as opposed to waving some kind of metal-purist agenda around. From the off, I can safely say that this record has been the most enjoyable musically that I've heard from the band, and it really shows the band's character; Wyatt "self styled nickname" Anderson may have been seen by some fans as the trademark vocalist of the act, but the band's current vocalist delivers a splendid show, virtuosic, but at the same time gritty and gnarly to a nice extent - an interesting blend of Dio and Halford as far as influences go, but with a sufficiently different feel to both, so as to make him interesting. Gritty, in fact, is one of the things which White Wizzard always needed a little more of, and on this record, it's finally tangible enough; everything from the guitar tone to the drum-production has a little more roughness than it used to, and that is a very welcome addition.

For the first time in a long while, too, the record sounds like it was made by a whole band; granted, this is probably because the previous record literally wasn't, but nonetheless, the musicianship, tightness and complexity of the record is a monumental step up from Flying Tigers in terms of sheer fluidity - there is about twice as much lead work, and everything really exudes the feeling of a well oiled machine. This could well be the first album the band have released which really feels down to earth and wholesome - indeed, it sounds like there's a degree of synergy in this line-up that perhaps the previous ones did not have. Indeed, one of the most pronounced aspects of the music on this one is just how fun it is - this album is probably the catchiest new album I've heard in a few months, and sure, I've been picking up a few records which were released at the time which this record wants to sound like it's from, which feel a bit more earnest, but this one is pretty solid as it goes, especially these days. Sure, the band sometimes feel a little more contrived stylistically than some of the traditional bands who play nowadays, but at the same time, White Wizzard do a great job of creating the soundtrack for swaggering, whiskey fuelled antics. Swaggering really being the correct word, as I think it's safe to say that the thing White Wizzard really do make their own in terms of musical output is the rocking, bluesy elements, something which is so liable to be completely ostracised from typical metal playing, but find a really welcome place within the band's sound, suiting what they try to convey perfectly. This time around, I think I'm going to step out and say that said output is the best yet.

And so there we go, as it turns out, I'm rather impressed by this record, and genuinely happy for the band; this time, they've hit the nail on the head, struck the balance right, and put some top-notch effort into the song writing process. For all my doubts, now that I've listened a few times, I can safely say it has paid off. Even if you've already written off the band's previous work, as some may have, this one is worth a try. I think I like White Wizzard again. 

This is an 8/10.

White Wizzard Official Site
White Wizzard on Facebook
White Wizzard on Metal Archives

Monday, 8 July 2013

Metal Marathons #002: Anaal Nathrakh

Good afternoon, and welcome to the second ever Heavy Metal Spotlight Metal Marathon! The weather outside is warm, benign and generally idyllic. The sun seeps down, gently onto the warm pavement, and the plants grow green and prosperous. Perhaps a little too idyllic, in fact. But oh? What's that noise? It sounds like the end of the world, the sound of a billion souls being drowned in the tangible corruption of man. Could it be... Anaal Nathrakh? The antidote to all of this loveliness,  the fine work of Mick Kennedy and Dave Hunt, who create music which, on the sunniest of days, never fails to remind us that we're all a bunch of bastards, leaving only a sad, melting ice cream, mixing with the all too human grit of the pavement to remind us that things were, for a brief moment, comfortable. If you want a picture of the next eight records I'm going to listen to, imagine a boot stamping on that ice cream forever.

The first time you hear Anaal Nathrakh, you're struck by the fact that there's really no other band quite like them; their work has a character which feels very unique in the metal world, and has yet to be truly copied with any great success; the sheer diversity of influences which the band take on board, then alchemically regurgitate as a hideous but at the same time atmospheric and at times even beautiful concoction is always impressive indeed. In other words, easily reason enough to listen to all of their albums in a row. Just now.

The Codex Necro, like every single album to come after is, is something of an unrelenting sonic mauling; it's the musical equivalent of an alien race, disgusted by humanity, sending down a giant cybernetic Nietzsche to crush us, followed by a swift orbital bombardment. The Codex Necro isn't an album which proves itself with speed, but instead relies on it's sheer bleakness and black-metal leanings, perhaps the most pronounced of the bands discography, to create a scathing portrait. Some of the most crushing sections, in fact, are the more mid-paced ones, the "fucking hell" moments, something which all of the band's work possess, are certainly at their most scathing and grim in this record.

For the sake of my keyboard, I'll only write the lengthy title once; "When Fire Rains Down from the Sky, Mankind Will Reap as It Has Sown" is an EP which really sets the scene with its name; more apocalyptic, atmospheric destruction in a variety of tempos. The guitar tone is a little less raw, and perhaps a little dryer than The Codex Necro, giving the record a more dessicated feel; sort of as if one had only eaten half of the previous record and then left it in the cupboard for a little while. The EP feels a little bit faster paced and you can see hints of the more "classic" Anaal Nathrakh recipe coming into place - the vocal diversity, bolstered by Attilla Csihar's guest appearance, is particularly present.  

 Domine Non Es Dignus is one of the albums in the band's discography which feels distinctly transitional; an interesting hybrid of the raw, black-metal beginnings, with more than a few hints of the shape of things to come, especially foreshadowed by the occasional lofty, clean chorus, which has been something of a staple since perhaps Hell is empty... onwards. The album also keeps to a somewhat higher tempo than those previous to it, and begins to experiment with breakdowns and various other more grindcore orientated elements. While perhaps the record sits on a slightly awkward fence stylistically, I nonetheless find it a highly enjoyable one, representing Anaal Nathrakh at it's most turbulent. 

There's really no widely agreed "classic" Anaal Nathrakh era, but for my money, it starts with this album; Eschaton. The tempo and overall grinding swagger of the formula is certainly turned up to eleven, and for the most part has stayed there since, but don't be fooled, Eschaton is every bit as dripping with darkness and cynicism as anything the band had created previously. It was this album which really brought the massive choruses - among my favourite things that Anaal Nathrakh do, to the front, with both beautiful and terrifying clean vocals and frequently profound lyrical content; What once was holiest has bled to death under our knives - who will wipe this blood off us?

 Probably still my favourite Anaal Nathrakh album, Hell is Empty and All the Devils are Here takes what was good about Eschaton, refines it, arms it, paints it grey, and sends it to war. Tracks like "The Final Absolution" perfectly illustrate what, for me, is the optimal blend of crushing, powerful riff work with epic and eerie choruses, which descend again and again into the familiar maniacal, unearthly shrieking between. One the other hand, tracks like Lama Sabachtani show that the band don't use clean vocals as a crutch, and never have, instead turning the hostility and ferocity up as far as it can be pushed, creating a true leviathan of black-metal grindcore madness.

Of all of the bands albums, In the Constellation of the Black Widow is perhaps the most intense; the tempo is, for the most part, utterly unrelenting, and the vicious, spiky atmosphere fuelled by a hefty amount of agile guitar work really envelopes the listener with it's barbs; the album feels like an apex of insanity and intensity, but also harbours a lot of the stand-out melody of the bands career. While rapid fire and poisonous in character, there are certainly shining moments of beauty; the instrumentation and production on the record create an extraordinarily lush atmosphere for the listener's ears to explore. This the first Anaal Nathrakh album I listened to, and one which made a fantastic first impression indeed.

There seems to be a persuasion among Anaal Nathrakh fans that this album is something of the weak link in the chain. Nonetheless it's an album which I enjoy, no doubt about that, but there are a few points I can agree with; Passion is quite a polite and tidy compared to the few previous to it; a little bit too neat and simplified, in some places, spread a bit more thinly than the thick atmosphere of In The Constellation... This aside, however, there is quite a lot to enjoy about passion, even considering it's mild flirtations with deathcore and the occasional sugar-coated track; ultimately, tracks like "Drug Fucking Abomination" successfully make the rapid-fire appeal of the band stretch to seven minutes.

As enjoyable as Passion was, there's no doubt whatsoever that Vanitas is a step up in quality - a comeback, if you will. The top notch production job really brings the cacophanous depth and hungry, world-devouring guitar tone to the fore, and the result is probably the Anaal Nathrakh albums with the sharpest teeth and heaviest songs in quite some time; balancing it out, however, Vanitas has a likewise solid atmosphere, both in terms of eerieness, and the by now accustomed fantastic choruses, stepped up in terms of grit and passion, no pun intended, despite being more utilised in Passion, the choruses on this one are much more wholesome and heartfelt.

So, once again, we have reached the end of a metal marathon; compared to the first one, where I took two sessions to make it through all of Darkthrone's material, this journey has been altogether more brief, but nonetheless, it's been one hell of a journey, through what could well be one of the most intense bands active in metal today. If you've read this far, and shared my journey, I thank you; and if you've not checked out Anaal Nathrakh before, and want to, I hope I've painted something of a picture for you to use as reference.

That, and if you ever see them live, enjoy the fun post-gig activity of finding parts of yourself which have been scattered tastefully around the venue.

Anaal Nathrakh on Facebook
Anaal Nathrakh on Metal Archives

Thursday, 4 July 2013

#286 Evile - Skull

Evile are often one of the first thrash-revival bands the aspiring metalhead is likely to encounter, although many, admittedly including myself, have sometimes pondered the reasons for this; how did Evile become such a monolithic name among many of their peers? For the moment, I'm merely going to pass upon this question, and instead do what I'm supposed to be doing today; reviewing their fourth and latest album; Skull.

There are a few things I enjoy about Evile above and beyond their music: First off, their consistency, particularly with regards to artwork and stylistic choices; all of the bands albums feel pleasingly together, as if they were plausibly in the same set - something which was always very charming and enjoyable to behold in thrash records the first time around. If you line-up the first five Slayer albums, for instance, they real feel like they belong together. Evile manage to hold this feeling of solidity, which many of their peers don't quite achieve. Secondly, in an age where Metallica are almost certainly well past it as far as good song-writing is concerned - indeed, about twenty years past it - Evile are a fantastic substitute; listening to any Evile album, including, perhaps even especially Skull manages to capture the energy and chunky, riff driven approach that Metallica took, and bottle it up for the younger generations, myself included, who never had the opportunity to buy a Metallica album the day it came out and actually discover it to be good. That's not to say, however, that Evile's sound just a clone. At one time, it was perhaps derivative -  a complaint levelled at them fairly often, but not a complaint which I hold myself; especially with the last few albums. Evile has evolved into a more interesting creature. This album features the now familiar catchy, slightly groove-laden hooks, and melodic, memorable vocals, often built, like so much lego, into genuinely enjoyable choruses, which have their own character, feeling, gradually, less and less lifted from classic thrash; Skull is yet another culmination in the enjoyable journey of watching Evile aquire their own identity.

One of the places where the band slip back into full-blown Metallica mode comes in when they launch into a ballad, with eerily Hetfield vocals; nevertheless, the ballad track on this record - Tomb - sounds, at least musically, a bit removed from being purely derivative, and heck, even if the vocals do sound exactly like James Hetfield, at least they sound like a good James Hetfield. Indeed, it may be for the "wrong" reasons, but another of the factors I've enjoyed while listening to Skull, and Five Serpents Teeth before it, is that Evile are one of the few thrash-revival acts to flirt with the mainstream in any overt way - that is, with ballads and overt catchiness. The end result is that Evile are one of only a few bands playing the school of thrash with that sound, instead of being as fierce as possible, there's a certain laid-back feel in places. Reassuringly, the band also demonstrate that they don't have any plans to write a black album any time soon - instead they flirt with the mainstream without any evident intentions to actually fuck it. As always, the more aggressive, thousand-mile-an-hour chugging which we should be very much accustomed with by album four is of course, present as always; often subsiding into groove-sections, which range haphazardly from fun right through to insipid. When the band go full-throttle however, the sheer thrashing, neck-wrecking speed of the riffs are impressive indeed, akin to the sound you would get if someone gave Master of Puppets some new running shoes, and actually produced it well, for that matter.Likewise, the rumbling, percussive power of their riffs goes quite a way to excusing the relative lack of guitar melody; something which many thrash-revival acts have forgotten about.

Ultimately, no, this won't be my favourite album of the year, but I can safely say, once again; Evile have made a solid record, and one which is precisely the sort of record that fans will be after; sure, people who are only slightly invested in the band might call it boring or repetitive, but I can only imagine that for Evile fans, this is another tasty dose of what they enjoy about the band.

A 7/10.

Evile Official Site
Evile on Facebook
Evile on Metal Archives

Monday, 1 July 2013

#285 Fathomhell - Non Piatatem Erit

Hopefully, I'm back to a full and reasonable level of productivity when it comes to writing reviews now, and what better way to demonstrate this than to get around to reviewing one of the albums by one of the several bands who have asked me to review their material. This evening I'm reviwing Spain's Fathomhell, a black metal outfit, and their début EP, Non Pietatem Erit.

With two of the tracks being only around a minute a piece, the EP isn't quite as long as I thought it was going to be, going by the number of tracks. Nonetheless, Non Pietatem Erit does manage, and proudly, at that, to give the listener a good taste of what the band do, and it's immediately quite plain that Fathomhell are a no-nonsense black-metal band; tremolos, pounding drum-beats and more than a hint of cold, frostbitten majesty seep through, captured just as well in the warmth of Spain as in the cold of some northern European winter - it just goes to show that it where you come from doesn't have to have any influence on the kind of music you make. In terms of style, Fathomhell certainly go in for the well-trodden traditions in their black-metal path; tremolos, blasting, and the usual accoutrements - instead of sounding derivative or boring, however, these most traditional of techniques are well deployed by the band, to create a very respectable collection of tracks, demonstrating perhaps, that the first way of doing something, in this case the traditional black-metal sound, can often be the best way of doing it. As far as black-metal production styles go, Fathomhell sit somewhere in the middle; on the fence between rough and clean - certainly, everything is quite politely, tidily produced, but below the crisp guitar sound and rigid drums, there still rests the all important crackle and fuzz, the sonic rasp which gives black metal it's dark, unforgiving character.

One of the things which stands out somewhat in the EP is the effective use of solos; sure, black metal, like any other metal genre, has its fair share, but in Non Pietatem Erit, there are plenty to go around, and not simply tremolo based, either; there are solos which genuinely do a good job of decorating the songs, and indeed capturing a dark, bleak atmosphere which, I think it's safe to say, some bands really miss the mark on, and layer the hacking, dark edge with something a little bit too merry or conventional. Fathomhell, on the other hand, have solos, for instance the one in "Illusions of Death" which really carry on the scary, jarring feel of the music, instead of feeling a little bit out of place. You really get the impression that the band go about composition and song-writing in a sensible and well-measured way. Perhaps an even greater indication of it is just how well the programmed drums are done is that they sound exceptionally appropriate and natural, to the point that I assumed that the drums were real for the first couple of listens to the EP. You can really appreciate the care to which the band have gone to ensure that the recordings are of an EP standard, and not merely a demo of some persuasion, which leads me on to another really plus of the record; its tangible air of proffessionalism - it sounds, from the very first few seconds, right up to the moment it ends, a very professional, proper, work - many black-metal bands carry with them a slight feeling of amateurism, which this band have managed to avoid; the craftsmanship is very much top notch.

There can be two instances of the same thing, with different levels of quality; well made hammers are the same thing as poorly made ones, for instance, but they are separated by quality. If you follow my analogy, what I'm trying to explain is that while the band haven't crafted something new or ground-breaking in terms of style, they have made a very solid instance of an already established something. Ultimately, this is a conventional black-metal album, but one which is crafted very well.

A solid 7/10 work.

Fathomhell on Bandcamp
Fathomhell on Facebook
Fathomhell on Metal Archives