Wednesday, 29 January 2014

#326 Hazzard's Cure - The Ugly

I don't review EPs especially often, and, quite frankly, I suppose I could do with some practice. Another thing I've really been neglecting to do is review things which people have been asking me to for, well, a while. Output may not be quite as lightning quick as it has been in the past, but standards must remain. Therefore, in the name of not being useless, and in hitting two birds with one stone, today I'm endeavoring to have a listen to "The Ugly", the relatively new to download and not quite out yet physically EP by San Francisco outfit Hazzard's Cure.

When I reviewed the band's full length, as far as I remember, I was copiously impressed by their ability to create music which was a real mixture of everything, and, while revisiting the self-titled in preparation to listen to the new EP, I certainly felt excited once again by it's ability to be so many things at once; blackened, stoner-infused and with a slew of other things on top like a heavy-metal chef's-special, the self-titled will certainly be an interesting challenge to build upon, which, though it might not be a best-case scenario, is almost inescapably how subsequent works by any artist are judged. The Ugly is, first things first, a little bit more black metal in it's direction, but sort of politely so - the sound remains quite warm, comfortable and sweet, despite the marked increase in tremolos and other such black-metal accouterments. If black metal bands were pools of water, the one used on The Ugly would certainly be one I would vaguely trust to be drinkable, and I mean this utterly as a compliment, not a criticism. The production is wide-open, creating a feeling of both vastness and intimacy - the instruments have a clarity which draws them all apart in the mix, and leaves them each, individually bare for appreciation, but simultaneously gives the band a pleasantly frantic, clattering sound (particularly the earnest, organic drum-sound) which has a distinctly crust-punk, Amebix-meets-black-metal feel.

Indeed, it is worth remembering from the word go that Hazzard's Cure still aren't in the business of icy, pine-tree sprouting grimness, but instead remain dedicated to their quest to use black-metal as a vehicle for an altogether different sort of sound, which has already been well proven to incorporate a lot of things. This is perhaps illustrated that, for being an EP of well under twenty-minutes, The Ugly certainly manages to throw one heck of a lot at the listener; fast, rumbling black-metal sections collide headlong with swaggering sludgy sections coated in filth and Eyehategod style bile and spit, or slightly less jagged, brain-warming stoner-like sections, which themselves mix in the massive sonic melting pot with almost traditional sounding sections, which emphasise themselves well with the bass-heavy production, which really lets the bass lines warble freely and prominently - at one point on the EP, I'm fairly certain there's even an epic solo section of some persuasion. This is all united nicely under vocals which sit on the fence between roaring, singing and shrieking - dipping their toes in whichever is appropriate for that moment in the song, and at no point failing to evoke the ravings of some ragged, slightly crazed prophet of the apocalypse, in the best possible way. As I think I have remarked before, equally impressive is how well all of the styles which Hazzard's Cure taps into blend together into one homogeneous thing; the record feels natural and smooth, as opposed to overtly spastic and glued-together, which is certainly something many would naturally suspect such a mish-mash of genres would result in - not this band, however - pulling off ridiculously eclectic without dipping into the ridiculous itself.

Once again, I can safely consider myself rather impressed by Hazzard's Cure's work, and shall, once again, renew my intentions to keep an eye on what they produce in future - if it remains as consistently good as this, then I can safely say there's a good chance I'll love it, and, already, I'm beginning to have my suspicious that the band are rather underrated already. For what it's worth, hopefully this review reaches someone who will enjoy their music too.

This is an 8.5/10, easily.

Hazzard's Cure on Bandcamp
Hazzards Cure on Facebook
Hazzards Cure on Metal Archives

Saturday, 25 January 2014

#325 Volbeat - Guitar Gangsters & Cadillac Blood

"I've been a fan for a long time - I remember when there were only 1000 people at their shows". This  YouTube comment represents the gem of silliness, a diamond in the cognitive rough, and the great catalyst which made me write this review. A few days ago, I decided to listen to Danish something of others Volbeat, to see what all the fuss was about, and in so doing, I inevitably took a hefty dose of - as all YouTube videos exude -  comment-section wanker-radiation. There's something inside me; most likely the massive elitist fuckhead part, which really took aversion to the comment - it amuses me that the commenter believed that "only a thousand" is some sort of benchmark for hipster-grade obscure knowledge of the bands roots. Personally, the vast majority of shows I've ever been to have had under a hundred people present, and I still wasn't someone who could claim to have discovered the band "before they were cool". The truth is, while Volbeat seem to be the flavour of the month, most metal bands just aren't cool, and never will be. However, I digress. My point is that the comment sent me into a barbarian, hammer wielding poser-crushing mindset, and I had every plan to spin a Volbeat album a couple of times, and then ride at it with burning torches and sow its fields with salt. Unfortunately, it quickly emerged that Volbeat... well... weren't exactly shit.

That isn't to say that I now consider Volbeat to be top-tier excellence, or anything remotely near - but it certainly seems that I'm continuing my streak of visiting albums I expect to dislike but which turn out to be, at least, reasonable. Volbeat seem to be the sort of thing which would have been spawned had the members of Metallica been listening to a lot of power metal whilst creating Load and Reload - it's an interesting coming together of soaring vocal lines with butch, groovy and bluesy riffs. The resultant creature is fiercely catchy, to the point of rendering you powerless to resist. A sort of metal version of Nickelback; Despite their protests, most people can, will, and will guiltily enjoy singing along to after a few. So too, with Volbeat - they're the sort of metal which is perfect for people who read Kerrang. Not to belittle their trade - Volbeat that is (I belittle Kerrang on a fairly regular basis), - indeed, catchy rock n' roll is a very honourable calling indeed - but it's certainly a very sweet, nicely made, and with enough nods to hard-rock to really fill arenas, stadiums and huge venues... heck, maybe a thousand people is very few in this context. The Guitar Gansters record - the only one of theirs I've listened to - is certainly quite produced, and mind-blowingly accessible, but, as someone with a soft-spot for glam, there is certainly something to be said about setting aside prejudices against commercial sound (which is certainly present), and instead allowing yourself, for a little while at least, to sell out a little bit and have fun.

Fun is, I'd venture, the best word to describe the record - it's a ruckus - a smiling rumpus of rock n' roll. You don't need to work very hard to enjoy it, but never mind. The stand-out feature of the record is most likely the vocals, which are, much like the rest of the record, very much of the guilty-pleasure variety. They sound like they've had something post-production-wise done to them; not auto-tune, but certainly the feeling of having been through the digestive system of a computer. This sound, however, renders the vocals warm, and sort of sonically indulgent. This becomes especially prominent considering the sheer number of choruses which the band manage to weave in such a way as to perfectly become inescapable. Just about every song has, at the very least, a part which will become embedded in your head for hours, whether you want it to or not. The singing voice of Micheal Poulsen is, without a doubt, fantastically rich, and impressively emotive, in a sort of mainstream but rather enjoyable way, albeit with a somewhat more impressive range than your average vocalist.  Indeed, as a sort of summary of Volbeat, while I'm sure a lot of their fans are "the kids who listen to any old shit", this is the best thing they've latched onto in a bloody long time, and good on Volbeat for managing it. It's definitely not the sort of thing I would listen to every day, but the band do seem, pleasingly, to be quite a respectable institution.

At the end of the day, I can't claim to be astounded on any sort of significant level by the bands work; it's certainly well made and catchy, but it's not what I tend to look like, and thus, of course, from my subjective point of view, it doesn't quite hit the spot. Somehow, nonetheless,  Volbeats music - or this record at least -  is very solid, despite not being quite the flavour I tend to go for, and I can certainly appreciate why it is so liked, even if the band show the signs of imminently joining the "annoying fanbase" hall of fame.

 I think we'll call this a 6/10.

Volbeat Official Site
Volbeat on Facebook
Volbeat on Metal Archives

Monday, 20 January 2014

#324 - Cradle of Filth - Nymphetamine

Before this morning, I'd never listened to more than the few Cradle of Filth songs which took it upon themselves to be background music at various parties, metal bars, or the backs of school busses, issuing from mobile phones with the headphones taken out, as we sent songs to each other with infrared. This morning, however, while pondering what to review, the name darted surreptitiously across my mind - I haven't heard much praise for the band, and while I'm willing to heed the warnings of low-quality, perhaps actually listening and seeing for myself is the answer - it is, doubtless, vital to explore just to be certain.

First things first, Nymphetamine is really fucking long, so pack sandwiches. The album clocks in at around an-hour-and-fifteen, which really adds-up when, in the name of scientific rigour, I listened to it three or four times this afternoon. Perhaps the saving grace of this copious length is that, while far from the best thing I've listened to today, the record is far from the grievous offence to my senses that I was expecting it to be, which relegates the band into the land of "acceptable bands who have a number of irritating fans" as opposed to the realm of outright hideousness. Indeed, while it ferociously rams adolescence and angst up your backside, Nympetamine is far from sonically nauseating. Watered down, bubblegum centred teeny-bopper extremity though it may be, when these factors are brushed aside, the album is catchy and relatively well composed. Sure, the band don't set out to make the most vicious black metal (which is just as well, because by this record, there is next to none left in the recipe) and as such, interpreting them as such is foolish indeed, which, sadly, is precisely what happened. Cradle of Filth are certainly a victim as much as a cause; their music usurped by spotty youths everywhere for the grand game of "my band is heavier than your band" one-upmanship competitions by fifteen year olds who listen to "black metal" but don't enjoy...actual... black metal. Perhaps this is the market which Cradle's music is aimed at, but it's certainly not right to write-off the band on this basis.

That said, the record still wasn't one I plan on sticking any gold stars or ribbons on to - it has it's sonic shortcomings, in additional to biased ad-hominems directed toward their fanbase. The synth, for instance, lacks the sort of subtlety which symphonic black-metal sorely needs, giving the record the same thing which European power metal suffers from; that is, being sonic-syrup, and damn does that hurt my teeth. The keys trade in a lot of their potential atmosphere and evocation-potential in the name of simply being more audible, or, as is often the case, more over the top, the lesson of which is runs to the tune of "being more plinky-plonky does not equal being more grandiose" - indeed, there are places on the record which simply sound like someone allowed a horde of lemmings to scramble over the keyboards. This overt synth, unrelenting perhaps to too great an extent, as far as my ears tell me, might be a mistake, although if you know me, you'll also know that I don't especially enjoy bands like Emperor, who do use symphonic elements more subtly and suitably. Aside from this, and the clinical drums (albeit once again less nightmarish than I anticipated), the records production is very much acceptable for what it is - to call upon it to be darker, grainier and more "black metal" would certainly be considering it unacceptable for what it is not.

I have, it seems, failed in my quest to do "one of those" reviews, in which I sarcastically decimate a poor album, but Cradle of Filth have exceeded all expectations, and this, looking at review scores, seems to be one of their poorer records. Granted, I didn't have a great time listening to it, but neither do I suddenly have the urge to vomit down the toilet, and that, defying my expectations, is high praise indeed. The band are tolerable, even if some of the fans aren't - and we've all met some.

This is a 5.5/10.

Cradle of Filth Official Site
Cradle of Filth on Facebook
Cradle of Filth on Metal Archives

Wednesday, 15 January 2014

#323 Lizzy Borden - Visual Lies

The 1980s, I'm sure we can agree, did some very interesting things to rock and metal - some of them dreadful, some of them wonderful. Whether you consider Lizzy Borden among the former or the latter is entirely up to you, but myself? I'm frankly unashamed to deeply enjoy this sort of borderline hair-metal through which I can vicariously live the spirit of the 1980s - and not as a guilty pleasure, either - metal like this is may not be within my listening habits quite as often as the more extreme side of the coin, but nonetheless, I enjoy it easily as much, when the time is right.

The first thing to bear in mind with a "near-glam" release like this one is that, simply being catchy does not in any way mean it's a "watered down" version of something which would otherwise be a bit more ferocious - some riffs, after all, like the ones on Visual Lies, were born to cruise, not to race along. Pompous, mid-tempo riffs are one of the things which glam did a superb job of - warm, refreshing sonic scenery, coasting along as you nod your head to it. Lizzy Borden combines this with a dash of the properness of more legitimate metal - indeed, it's immediately quite notable that the band aren't generic glam, or in the slightest bit plastic. Sure, there's a bit of the swagger, the catchiness, and even the cheese present, but at the same time, Lizzy Borden are much more sonically interesting than that - both in terms of musicianship and composition. There is, simply put, a lot more going on in this record than any straight-up glam record I can bring to mind. The vocals are probably the most tangible, to my ear, reminder of this - far above the acceptable standard, to the point of nailing that old-school heavy metal virtuoso feel, giving the record a helping of moments which, beyond simply catchy, often journey into the land of being genuinely epic - the last track, "Visions" serving as a thorough demonstration of this fact, hitting lofty highs, while retaining a solid grittiness which is always welcome.

Naturally, perhaps, catchiness is still the most profound element of the music. You find yourself being able to sing along to the choruses from the second listen, with ease, and while many of said choruses are quite accessible and simple, they are, as the saying goes, simple but effective - just about every song has one, but at the same time the recipe doesn't get tired. Some might argue that it's a bit repetitive, and to some extent, perhaps this is true - but it's practically what I'd want an album of this sort to be. Sometimes, predictability makes an album a great one, and not capriciousness, and this is certainly one such record. Visual Lies, for the most part, is the sort of album on which you can chart the path of any given song relatively easily - indeed, you tend to see precisely where the tracks are going. The consequence of this is not mundanity, but a sort of rewarding addition to it's sheer inherant catchiness - piled on top comes a sort of comforting closure - moments of "oooh, I knew it was going to do that" when a song obeys our expectations. The monstrous choruses arrive precisely when we expect them to, and the riffs in-between are likewise intuitive. However, this is neatly balanced with the above-mentioned top-notch composition and musicianship, which creates a record which, while outrageously catchy, is also exceedingly interesting to listen to, as opposed to bland. A great compromise indeed.

And there we have it - some of the finest pomposity and cruising goodness which the 1980s had to offer - a far cry from some traditional metal, I grant you, but also a far cry from the pale imitations of metal which have forever sprung up in its wake - Lizzy Borden is legitimate, and God damn if it isn't some of the catchiest metal I've heard in months.

This is a 7.5/10.

Lizzy Borden Official Site
Lizzy Borden on Facebook
Lizzy Borden on Metal Archives

Friday, 10 January 2014

#322 Nifelheim - Devil's Force

Black thrash is, without a doubt, one of my favourite sub-genres of metal, and one which I've dedicated a lot of time to exploring, and, more importantly, enjoying. Slotting somewhere into the great blackened jigsaw of the genre are Sweden's Nifelheim, a band who, in the last few months, I've really begun to appreciate. As with most such bands, the time has inevitably come for me to dedicate an afternoon to trying to review it fluently, whilst no doubt merely treading verbal water before drowning. 

Perhaps it becomes true of any genre which you come to know very well, but to me, when it comes to black-thrash, one of it's most stimulating facets is its sheer diversity; from drooling, spitting punk-fused grime, right through to tight, razor-sharp, lead heavy black-metal-centred evil. The genre spans an extremely wide range of influences, and this is one of the things I very much take away from listening to Devil's Force, which happens to be Nifelheim's second, and so far only album I've listened to thoroughly enough to competently (or nearly competently) review. The album speaks of this variety, making bows to both of the styles I gave some exposition above. Nifelheim are equally adept in bringing forth attitude-laden, sneering sections, whilst constantly remaining threatening and dangerous with their black-metal sections which contain a very real portion of the father-genre's atmosphere and devilish ferocity. Nothing about the entire album is laid-back even in the slightest - it is, in fact, entirely full-steam ahead, like a demon unchained. From the very first burst of energy, the record makes it very plain that there will be no mercy, and no survivors. The curling, intricate riffs caked in rough, snarling production make the album manic, unforgiving, and chaotic in the way that, like a fox among hens, the music rampages like a bloodthirsty demon among nuns.

There's certainly a gulf between black-thrash which is simply "dirty", and black-thrash which is legitimately steeped in black-metal. Nifelheim have a certain shadow of legitimate evil to them by coming from the second of these two camps, lording over music which can easily be referred to as truly nekro black thrash, like a dragon over a hoard treasure. The album - and the band as a whole, is easily equipped with the dark music to back it up; the guitars sound truly malignant and evil, and the reverb and echo laden vocals practically strip flesh from bone in a rabid frenzy, while the music weaves a weapon which is cruel and barbed, more than simply forceful and aggressive - and it is here in which the genius of the record lies. So often, a black-thrash record can be aggressive, but less often does it manage to capture evil music perfectly. On this record, however, the dark, nocturnal feel is very much intact, which certainly renders the album a little bit more hair-raising and exciting in the true sense of the word, when compared to a number of other black-thrash bands out there. Also to be praised is the frantic energy of the record, which is certainly top of its class - truly akin to a whirlwind of destruction, without devolving into an incomprehensible soup; a solid compromise between force, atmosphere, and technicality.

Maybe it's because I'm drawn to dark things, but there will always be a special place in my heart for music which could truly be a sound-track to Lucifer rising from the pit, and you can be absolutely certain that Nifelheim are the sort of band who could headline the main-stage in Hell. This record is the unholiest of the unholy, and all the better for it!

This is a 9/10.

Nifelheim Official Site
Nifelheim on Facebook
Nifelheim on Metal Archives

Wednesday, 8 January 2014

#321 Kreator - Pleasure to Kill

Kreator were first mentioned to me many years ago by a friend who introduced them as "the band which makes Slayer obsolete". Opinions probably rather differ on how acceptable this analysis is, but one thing is certain - it's more than enough incentive to listen to some Kreator. Perhaps foolishly of me, I ended up distracted by one thing or another, and actually only finally got around to listening to the entirety of the bands seminal work "Pleasure to Kill" a few days ago. Now, several listens later, I think I'm ready to dive into one of my "Jesus Christ, how many hugely influential bands have I missed out on" style reviews.

Pleasure to Kill is certainly a lesson in the more unforgiving aspects of Teutonic thrash. As thrash records go, heck, as records in general go, this one is quite a battering onslaught. Prima facie, a large proportion of the album appears to consist of bludgeoning thrash beats at roughly the highest tempo they can reach without being bona-fide blasting - what I'd refer to as a thrash-beat, although I'm not sure if they have a proper name. Consequently, the record is, from the moment the intro is trampled by the main body of the music, one which is extreme to this day, and exceptionally extreme for 1986 - I can safely say that I had no idea that the album would be as intense as this. Granted there are few rests between tearing, brain-demolishing sections, but when there are, they tend to be just as crushing and add a few much needed hooks, for after all, if the whole album was fast-drums and blitzkrieg-bumblebee style riffs, it might lose it's second crowning feature - those hooks. Pleasure to Kill, it must be stressed, has more to it than a primal, primitive assault on the senses - it's fast, sure - the way thrash was meant to be served, but likewise, the guitars and scathing vocals deliver many a noteworthy moment which can really crown a song. The vocals, particularly, tend to have rapid fire but discernible and hypnotically rhythmic style with emphasis placed well on certain words or phrases to really hammer the vocals into the listeners conciousness.

The production of the record complements the extremity well, with the dry, bass-heavy sound coming through which other bands - notably Sadus and Slayer - used as well. Normally, dry production bores me to tears for it's relative lack of reverb and juiciness, but in this instance, at the most extreme horizon of thrash, it works rather well. Alongside Kreator, both the above mentioned bands are interesting cases; the three - on certain albums at least - took thrash as far towards madness as it could go before it became some sort of death-metal, and while by this point the seeds for death metal had already been sewn among those influenced by the more rabid side of thrash, there's no doubt in my mind that records like Pleasure to Kill provided a nourishing soil for these seeds to sustain themselves on. Sure, this strain of thrash sometimes runs into itself a little, or it does when I listen to it, but all in all, there's a good chance that that's mostly my own preferences within thrash doing to talking. It says something about Kreator's skill with composition and musicianship that the record appeals to me as much as it does. Pleasure to Kill really challenges the typical thrash fan, and is all the better for it; you can't count on instantly accessible lead work, or on cruising riffs between the fast sections - instead, you've got to really let down your guard and let the extremity batter you a bit - that's what the modus operandi of records like this is! You're not meant to remember every riff after only a few listens - you're just meant to remember the fact that it made the contents of your brain fall out all over the carpet. You remember the heaviness and the ferocity first - the exact structure comes later.

Does Kreator render Slayer obsolete to me? It's a very silly question to ask, really - the two aren't vying for some prize, and are perfectly capable of both being listened to. If I could only pick one to listen to however - well, for starters I can't claim to know either band as well as I should, but if each album is an argument for listening to a band, Pleasure to Kill is a very strong case, and as odd as basing anything on an imaginary scenario where I'd have to choose between the two, at least it provides a good, if convoluted, explanation of how good Pleasure to Kill is.

8/10, I reckon.

Kreator Official Site
Kreator on Facebook
Kreator on Metal Archives

Thursday, 2 January 2014

The 2013 End of the Year List

Welcome, ladies and gentlemen, to the Heavy Metal Spotlight end-of-year list, which, once again, has a completely different format to last year, which itself was a bit different to the one previous. Perhaps we'll stick to this format next time - perhaps not.

As much as I like to try, I never quite manage to get my feelers around every single metal album of a given year by the time it comes to the Heavy Metal Spotlight album of the year, and the last two years have thoroughly educated me to this fact. To this day, I continuously stumble upon records from 2011 and 2012 which I would, without a doubt, have placed in my top-ten, but too late. This, of course, is the flaw with the album of the year; not only can a year never be summarised by a single album, just as metal itself cannot be, but on top of this, I just can't listen to all of the albums - it is, in fact, impossible to really construct an album of the year short-list which can account for everyone's taste. The solution? I'm not going to try, haphazardly - perhaps even condescendingly - to cater to everyone's taste; instead, I'm going to offer a more personal list of the albums which have really hit my ears hard, delivering the music I love, with fantastic gusto, originality, power, finesse, or a terrific blend of all of these things. And so, as another year of metal - and not a bad year, if you ask me - has passed, it's time to take a look at the records which knocked me sideways, before I can get on with the business or enjoying them forever, and looking forwards to what next year has to bring... I hear Vader are doing something.

And without further ado, in no particular order;

Master - The Witchhunt: I own a Master hoodie - the sleeve reads "Underground Survivor". It is, I would suggest, something of an understatement - with records like The Witchhunt, Speckmann and company certainly demonstrate their ability to perpetuate an ongoing, consistent and utterly crushing death metal. The band don't survive. They thrive. No two Master albums are identical, but a consistency is spread through the band's discography stronger than almost any other death metal act I can bring to mind - and I've been listening to more death metal this year than ever before. Bolt Thrower will always feel like the benchmark for integrity, but Master aren't far behind.

Atlantean Kodex - The White Goddess: It's wonderful to see a band which was charging forward with some momentum already, truly begin to grow wings and soar. Soaring is a damn appropriate term for what Atlantean Kodex are doing; with this record, the band has really moved towards the very helm of the epic doom genre, gloriously. There's something very satisfying in seeing a band you have followed for a long time grow to be something of a phenomena, and that is precisely what this record caused the band to do - suddenly, the band took its place on end-of-year lists, and had their name on the lips of anyone with even a passing interest in epic metal.

Mammoth Grinder - Underworlds: Old school death metal is, nine times out of ten, my favourite, and Mammoth Grinder fit the bill exceptionally well with their latest record, Underworlds, which thunders through in under half-an-hour, leaving destruction, grime, and spent D-beat casings in it's path. Mammoth Grinder represents the real millstone edge of the genre at it's most impolite, loud and roaring, while retaining riffs and structures which are, as opposed to being gratuitously so, only as primitive as they need to be. Hammers have not changed for centuries, and that's because they're already perfect for their job; applying force.

Toxic Holocaust - Chemistry of Conciousness: When you're going for thrash, Toxic Holocaust stand as testimony to the fact that you should trust the guy in the Bathory shirt, and not the Metallica one. Gritty, ferocious and thoroughly legitimate, Chemistry of Conciousness shows that Toxic Holocaust is an outfit which is maturing well, and while they aren't new kids on the block, by any means, the band's sound still oozes with Joel Grind's ever-reliable venom, spit and respect for the underground. Chemistry of Conciousness is refreshingly different from the rampaging pizza-thrash of our time, and isn't afraid to show it, while still delivering the goods which thrash is loved for.
Skeletonwitch - Serpents Unleashed:  The real award for "thrash not like other thrash" is probably the property of Skeletonwitch this year. A true amalgam of diverse influences, Skeletonwitch are both unconventional and unique - unapologetically so. Serpents Unleashed is another milestone along a consistent and ever-impressive road which the band seem to be travelling with no end in sight, and the record is every bit as good as those before it - showing that the best albums need not be the exception, but ones which affirm the rule - which, in this case, is that Skeletonwitch are truly a force to be reckoned with. It should come as no surprise that the band which have done no wrong yet, still haven't.

Solstice - Death's Crown is Victory: As much as I enjoy them, I tend not to factor EPs into lists like this - however - for Solstice, one of my favourite bands ever, I would make the exception, albeit only for an excellent EP indeed. Fortunately, that is precisely what the band did. Monolithically slow in terms of releasing albums though the band may be, this EP certainly proves that when they do create material, there are no bands within the epic doom genre which can hold much of a candle to their work. Is this the vanguard for a larger record soon to come? Hopefully. Nobody seems certain, but one thing is such - it doesn't need to be, to be a fantastic collection of music in it's own right.

Cultes Des Ghoules - Henbane: As an album which contains a track entitled "Vintage Black Magic", Henbane by Cultes Des Ghoules describes itself far better than possibly I can. Henbane forsakes the tried, tested and at times tired roads which many black-metal bands propel themselves down these days, and instead creates a rich, earthy sound from primitive and narcotic ingredients. Henbane is raw, deeply atmospheric, and ritualistic in a way which makes you feel like you're in the presence of legitimately dark, forbidden music, and I've always felt that black metal of this sort should be able to do that.

Rotting Christ - Kata Ton Daimona Eaytoy: Rotting Christ were one of the bands which 2013 brought to me in general; not just a new album, but an appreciation of their discography at large. Kata Ton Daimona Eaytoy, however, was definitely one of the albums which showed me what the band had to offer - and the offering in question was good. The atmosphere is intricate, elaborate and extremely grandiose and, in the genuine sense, epic - the songs are stirring, beautiful, and exceptionally atmospheric, with a extra generous helping of multicultural folk elements which make the album as diverse as it is glorious.

Satan - Life Sentence: One of the most fantastically old-school records of the year, Life Sentence is Satan's first album in well over twenty years, but sonically, the band have not skipped a beat - this album sounds like it could have been released two years after the last one, and not twenty, but - perhaps more importantly - it sounds amazing today; the fantastically memorable traditional metal, complimented by natural production which will never age is a winning combination, and there is little doubt in my mind that Life Sentence is among the finest traditional metal records of the year, if not over an even larger time-period than that.

Hail of Bullets - III: The Rommel Chronicles: Hail of Bullets can always be counted on to deliver, and for the third consecutive time, they have. Perhaps more viciously and energetically than ever before. The album follows the accustomed old-school Bolt Thrower style death metal approach which we have come to know and love from Hail of Bullets, and it does the job especially well, with devastating riffs, memorable songs, and a superb bouquet of tempos and stylistic influences. A step up from the second album, The Rommel Chronicles is, as far as my ears seem to reckon, easily on a par with the best work the band have ever done, with some songs destined to become Hail of Bullets classics.

Summoning - Old Mornings Dawn: Another example of a band who have always been good, managing to continue to do so comes in the form of Old Mornings Dawn. Summoning's first record in seven years, this record is perhaps one of the most long-anticipated records on the list - and by god Summoning managed to live up to the hype which escalated around the albums imminent arrival. Old Morning's dawn has everything which a Summoning album should have - mystical synth work dominates the majestic, legitimately epic soundscapes which the band weave from the very fabric of middle-earth itself, once again to great effect.

Cathedral - The Last Spire: Cathedral may be ending their time, but The Last Spire represents the band truly going out on a high note - and a damn low tempo. Crushing HM-2 laden doom-riffs writhe and rumble through the record, with deeply memorable hooks and a rafter-rattling tone. A doom record of this calibre is a fitting end to one of the bands who truly made doom a household name, and while the genre has become many-tentacled in the time Cathedral have been around, this album stands as a testament to the fact that Cathedral were, are, and always will be one of the best doom bands out there, whether they are active or not.

Darkthrone - The Underground Resistance: Darkthrone have gradually been making the move from black metal through crust-punk right along to old-school metal. The music on The Underground Resistance is memorable, and a truly worthy homage to the early-eighties speed, thrash and traditional metal from which it draws its influence. Equally noteworthy, however, is the uncompromising attitude which Darkthrone have exhibited on these records - truly aiming at the heart and soul of the metal which they clearly love, while still carrying the essence of Darkthrone itself, as well, instead of forsaking it completely as the direction changes. 

Paths - Death of the Sky God: Perhaps more akin to a demo than a studio-album, Death of the Sky God, and I Turn My Body From the Sun are still both extremely interesting one-man excursions into psychedelic, hypnotic black metal which lends the listener a truly mind-altering,mystical journey through soundscapes characterised by transcendent synth and resolutely scathing black-metal undercurrents, which allows the music to remain dark for all of it's beauty. I can bring to mind no black-metal record which sounds especially similar to this one, leading me to think that, while a recognisable formula, Paths also has a unique indeed.

Caladan Brood - Echoes of Battle: I was unsure whether to include Caladan Brood on the same list as Summoning, in the name of variety. Caladan Brood are clearly huge fans of Summoning, and it shows in the recipe of their album - huge, grandiose, and either a superb homage to, or blatant clone of, Summoning, depending on who you ask. Whichever of the two it is, the fact that I've listened to this record more than the new Summoning record certainly seems to suggest that it deserves a place on this list. Echoes of Battle is easily one of the most prestigious d├ębuts of the entire year, and has succeeded in causing quite some rumpus in the underground.

Happy new year! I have every intention of carrying on reviewing material in the coming year, hopefully with some new content on its way by the end of the week!