Friday, August 30, 2019

review: Illusions of Grandeur

Illusions of Grandeur
The Songs of the Siren
Pavement Entertainment
30 August 2019
Ladies and gentlemen! And children of all ages!
Welcome to the opera house of heavy metal!
Tonight we have the pleasure of bringing to the stage the performance of Illusions of Grandeur. On this night Illusions of Grandeur will do a presentation for you that will impress and entertain you. They will take you to the highest of highs and the lowest of lows. Trust and betrayal, love and disenchantment, frustration and redemption, and all the human emotions will be experienced on this night.
Now, friends, the musicianship is perfectionist, ha! This music is filled with drama and expressed in the form of loud heavy metal, ah, yes, and your heart will live the drama of Illusions of Grandeur and your ears will remind you tomorrow morning of the volume of this theatre. They have many tales to tell you, and we can’t wait for you to hear how this drama will unfold in your imagination as you give meaning to what you see with your inner eye and what you hear with your ears.
The singing is prototypical heavy metal with lots of high notes and ear-piercing screams. It’s not going to be mellow and smooth but rather intense and exciting. The wallpaper might start to peel off tonight, friends, ha! The voice sings to tell you the stories that will guide you through the drama of theatrical progressive heavy metal.
Well, now that you know who tonight’s performers are, you may have some trepidation. Friends, do not panic! Do not worry! These musicians know what they are doing and they will make sure to easy your troubled mind. You will experience joy, fury, sadness, and all the emotions that a human being could ever hope for, but enjoy this wonderful ride into progressive dramatic music and everything that it will reveal to you tonight. Ready or not, aha ha ha, you are going to remember this ride!
Well, let’s begin!

review: Ice Vinland

Ice Vinland
Asgard Steel
Pure Steel Records
30th August 2019
The tribe of Ice Vinland has experienced some serious scourges in their midst and they have almost been wiped out quite a few times, but they always find a way to rebuild their ship and reload with supplies of meat, beer, and lots of cheese for the journeys ahead. Ice Vinland first sailed out in an excursion in 1998, but it wasn’t until 2007 when they sailed again. Then trouble struck once more. Their ship sank and some tribesmen were lost at sea. This is their third excursion. This new excursion is from 2018 but this narration tells the tale as told in 2019 by the merchants of Pure Steel Records based on the mainland of Germania, north of the imperial city of Rome.
This third saga lasts 56 minutes and it contains nine stories of how the heathen gods have brought misery to their lives and how these Vikings continue to feast on meat and massive quantities of cheese to survive in the hostile world of the Canadian frozen tundra where the three pagan demigods Justin Bieber, Drake and Shawn Mendes rule the land’s airwaves with an iron hand of success, wealth and fame of epic proportions.
No matter. The ships of Ice Vinland “beat on, boats against the current, borne back ceaselessly into the past,” as the tale goes. These Vikings are addicted to songs that sound victorious, and make other barbarian heathens happy with the merriment that comes from thinking about the big, wild and totally tubular adventures of the ancient dudes.
If these Canadian modern-day pirates of the music scene lived in the Old Continent they would have amassed gold and glory by the buckets. Bucket, bucket. The men on board would be recompensed handsomely because the board man gets paid. Unfortunately for history, posterity and the universe, they sail the seas of lands far away and they need much bigger ships to conquer Europe, but they are not discouraged, only emboldened to continue their quest to bring the Viking power metal to all the generations of Canadians that will be born now, in the future or in the past in the infinite history of the land of ice and snow.
Finally, cranky-pants anti-power metal naysayers must not enter this ship. You enter, you walk the plank. Anti-power metal cynics who reject the power of the power chord, the glory of glorious metal and the true of trueness of heavy metal traditions, with bear skins, swords, furry hats and boots, and the mighty cheese, they dare not raise their flags near this vessel. All fun-loving power metal fanatics who possess at least one eye patch or pirate hat are welcome into this ship. Ahoy, matey Viking pirates of metal, ahoy! Greetings to all, and may the metal force be with you on your journey through the oceans of cheese with Ice Vinland.

review: Warcrab

Damned in Endless Night
Transcending Obscurity Records
30 August 2019
Warcrab is a nifty kind of proposition for sludge zealots. The Brits are slow because it’s slow doom sludge and all, but they spice up their music, perhaps due to their own weariness of the monotonous direction of contemporary extreme doom and sludge. If that is not how they feel, then it’s pure coincidence that in 2019 they return with their third album, with an abundance of surprises and fun additions to the heaviness. The most likely explanation is that they do want to keep things fresh and interesting for themselves, and maybe for the longtime fans of the genre.
Signaling their difference right from the kickoff, they begin with a big slab of melody as the introduction to the album. It’s very melodic in a sad way, and it’s also a fun little puzzle trying to figure out what influences you can detect. We think we know which ones they are, and you will find some others, too. Nevertheless, just in case there are any questions, concerns or doubts, yes, this album has a boatful of crawling, sprawling heaviness. No worries there. The sludge is remains.
On the other hand, they have several items to consider as selling points for their particular brand of their doom sludge product. First, the band features three guitarists, which is definitely something a bit different, given that lots of drone/doom/sludge is just one guitar, and sometimes there is not even a guitar, just bass and drums. While it is true that it is not super clear in the songs that you can hear a ton of guitar layers, there is always a sense that there are plural guitars working to create the rhythms and the melodies. Bands with the three guitarists are always kind of disappointing, whether it is Iron Maiden or Warcrab, because they are not able to break through and make the three guitars audible consistently throughout the songs (bands with two drummers are also disappointing because they don’t have the imagination to use the drummers differently and harmoniously in the songs, and instead we usually get two drummers playing the exact same thing; so boring). However, Warcrab does show melodies working on top of the rhythms, that’s a very positive trait for them. It’s way better than the usual doom gloom monotonous heaviness.
Another positive characteristic is their use of variety in the tempos. While they may be violating some doom rules by picking up the tempos in their songs, the rule breaking sure makes things more interesting for listeners. Sometimes the death metal vibes come through and it’s awesome to hear them shake things up that way.
Some other things to know are: the vocals are in the style of black metal or sludge, depending how you want to see it. It’s not really a low growl, but a painful, slow screech scream. Also, the band seems to get a kick out of throwing little cues for people to figure out. There are a few places where the band seems to do small tributes to their favorite bands; sometimes it is subtle, sometimes it is very clear. Fun stuff. Overall, the album shows a strong effort to do sludge that offers something a bit more varied that people are used to hearing.

Thursday, August 29, 2019

review: The Holeum

The Holeum
Sublime Emptiness
August 23rd, 2019
Lifeforce Records
Unless the listener is a huge post-rock/post-metal fanatic, this album will be a contrast from the usual power-chord music. There are moments in which the music sounds familiar, like in overall heaviness of the guitar at some points. However, a large portion of it seems made not to rev up the listener, but rather to make the listener think. What does this band want the listener to think about? Nothingness, emptiness, look at your shoes and stare into the space, the meaning of life, the stars in the sky, the Earth in space, philosophy, and things like that. The Holeum asks not, “Are you ready to rock, Cleveland?!” The Holeum is more like, “Are you ready to think about how black holes supposedly have such gravitational acceleration to deform space-time and not allow even light to escape it, Cleveland?!”
The Holeum is a band from Spain, and this is the follow-up to 2016's debut. You can tell that at least some of the members do like metal in a serious way; that comes across in the music. However, you will not find the usual tropes: violence, murder, assault, “cool” alcoholics, rock stars, devil worshipping, zombies, braggadocio, politics, the environment, the metal lifestyle, relationships, war, partying, and all those things.
The Holeum is a band of adults that seek to make heavy music and want to make it beautiful, and a little bit bizarre, too, but not too much. The album artwork is not anything of the usual topics. Their lyrics are meant to be philosophical. They come don’t across as bragging, posing, brutal and stuff, although the lyrics might seem pretentious. Thus, it’s pretension in a different form by band seeking other ways to do lyrics and image, but they don’t come across as self-important or trying to be cool, either, like some post-metal bands try to do by seeming more profound than other humans by acting like, “I am so much better than you, human, because I, in my so profound being, feel more feelings than you feel, metal fan.”
If you have not given post-metal bands a chance before, or if you want to hear a band that is trying to do metal music in a different way, then this band could be interesting. Maybe the fact that they are not a bunch of twenty-year-olds worried about their public persona or maybe because they (or at least some of them) are in their forties, more or less, the music comes off as less ego-centric, less look-at-me and it’s simply heavy music, from doom sources, and adding the more atmospheric or thoughtful aspects of post-rock/metal.
The music has the heaviness of doom, but they keep it controlled and they are not trying to be heavy for its own sake. They like to keep things heavy but mellow, if that makes sense. They have some sections with space jazz saxophone. They have lots of chill but unmelodic guitar, perfect for shoe gazing or passing out during an afternoon nap on the bus or at the beach or at the neighbor’s barbecue by the pool on a Saturday evening. It’s not “Scream for me, Long Beach!”; it’s more like, “Chill out for me, Long Beach!” is the rallying cry of the post-metal band The Holeum. Sleep well, Cleveland. Sleep well, Alicante. Good night, Spain. Good night, red ballon. Good night, pair of socks. Good night, two kittens. Good night, moon.

review: Imperial Cult

Imperial Cult
Spasm of Light
August 23nd, 2019
Sentient Ruin Laboratories
Imperial Cult alleges that they recorded this 34-minute single-track album in one take. It is fast black metal for pretty much the whole time, with a noticeable moment of quiet of a few minutes starting at the 17-minute mark, and another slow segment at the end, in the last few minutes. Anyway, here’s the thing, Skip. Just press play and listen to hypnosis-inducing fast black metal. The music just goes round and round in circles, and the vocals are far-off desperate screams spiraling. The genre’s fanatics, those that seek it out because they cannot get enough of it, are going to have to look into this recording or miss out on hearing a single-track hypnotic black metal monolith that can be captivating when you are ready for the music to play on, on and on, and let it go where it may.
As for the lyrics and ideology, this review has no information. The vocals are distant screams, but the topic is unknown to this review. The project is supposedly based in Holland, but this review is unable to tell you the politics, if any, of the project. The official information says, "The three members involved in the project are key figures in the Dutch extreme/experimental underground, and are active in bands like Turia, Nusquama, Cryptae, Lubbert Das, Horrid Apparition, Dead Neanderthals, Solar Temple, Heavy Natural, Iskandr, Celestial Bodies, and DungeönHammer as well as tied in with the label Haeresis Noviomagi." On the other hand, a cursory glance through Metal Archives reveals who the members of this project are and it’s not difficult to find pictures of them, either.
This review does not pretend to give a correct definition of hypnosis, but simply works with the popular idea of repetition and suggestion to induce a state similar to sleep or an altered state in general. Imperial Cult is like that. Very repetitive on purpose in order to create a state of relaxation by comforting the mind of the listener, if the listener is willing to allow the music to take that direction. Are they playing the same exact notes for 34 minutes? Of course not, but it is not attempting to be progressive, either. Repetition is key here for the purposes of achieving the effect of fast music that seems to stand still in trance, once the ears lock in on the circular patterns at work.
This album is for those devoted black metal fans that like to go beyond the black metal of the "major" metal record companies.

Wednesday, August 28, 2019

review: Sertraline

From Both Our Hands
July 5th, 2019
Hypnotic Dirge Records
1.Hounds of Avarice 05:54
2.The Knowledge of Trees 06:02
3.Entwined 07:17
total time 19:13
In only 19 minutes, three songs, the band manages to impress. The first song “The Hounds of Avarice” is loaded with melancholy and it feels more like an instrumental, due to the sparse vocals; at the end it switches to a blasting black metal segment. The speed part seems out of place because it broke the melancholy for no good reason, other than to glimpse fast black metal. This first track seems like it is two songs held together by a single time frame. Either way, it’s good, sounds good. The second song “The Knowledge of Trees” goes to the black metal, the atmospheric, melancholic type that jumps into blasting speed, all the while carrying the melancholic sound. The recording seems like the band wanted the sound of real drums (this review cannot confirm this information) and real instruments in general. It’s a solid, do-it-yourself black metal recording. “Entwined” closes it out. The last song summarizes the band’s take on black metal that bends melodies towards melancholy. This song is an illustration of the consistent use of melancholy with the black metal, and as a consequence the music is DIY gritty, but still shows a bit of elegance in the execution. It is not polished and fancy, as you would achieve with a bigger budget, but it is surprisingly smooth on the ears, including the vocals, which do not seem overly harsh on the ears despite being extreme. This is all probably due to the band’s experience in their craft, given that, according to Metal Archives, some of the members of this band used to be in Where She Wept (now defunct), which began in 1999 and did four albums and four EPs, amongst other works. This is Sertraline’s second EP, and the question to which all of this is leading is: Is there a full-length album in the works? Anyway, this EP by the New York State band is an attractive listen for fans of DIY U.S. atmospheric black metal.

Tuesday, August 27, 2019

review: Helvetets Port

Helvetets Port
From Life to Death
High Roller Records
Helvetets Port, says Metal Archives, was silent for ten years, more or less. Their previous album is from 2009, and they did an EP in 2010.
Helvetets Port is a Swedish band that looks to the past in order to find its purpose towards the future. This year is 2019, but by the sounds of it they have no interest in trying to play contemporary styles of European and American metal that may be popular, and instead they have in mind the year 1979, and also 1980, 1982, but probably no later than 1982, and to think of 1983 might be too late for their tastes. Their heavy metal is that 1979 spirit between the new sound that had been forming in the previous few years that was heavy, but the bands did not make the songs sound the same. It was hard rock and progressive rock, without feeling like there was a huge contradiction in playing both.
The band has mostly songs in English, but they do some in Swedish. Their sound is traditional heavy metal the oldie goldie style with a progressive side. Fans will notice the love of the 1979-1982 New Wave of British Heavy Metal and of the classics in general. Given the style of the band, there is probably one old 1970s/1980s band that Helvetets Port tips its hat to and they don’t have to look far because the band is right there in their home country: Heavy Load, the Swedish band whose debut is from 1978 (recorded in 1977).
This album is 57 minutes, and it takes time to understand what the band is doing. At first you might think it is just traditional heavy metal, but as you listen more closely the peculiarities of the band will be clearer. The old proggy segments, the vibe of old heavy metal, these things will come to the forefront. Then it’s when their mixing of 1970s and early 1980s will show more as their style. The album is long because they were baking it for close to ten years. We’ll be hearing from Helvetets Port in another decade.

review: Scimitar

Shadows of Man
23 August 2019
The British Columbia-based Canadian band Scimitar appeared on the horizon more than years ago, but it wasn’t made official until 2009 when they greeted the scene with a debut self-titled EP. From that beginning they had a pretty good idea of what they wanted. The EP showed the basic idea of Scimitar and that concept in 2019 remains intact. Their folk-themed extreme metal nowadays is serious business, even though the album is independent and they’re doing their thing all by themselves, apparently. The previous album is the debut from 2010. In between the two albums they did two singles (2013, 2014) and those songs appear on the album, but aside from those singles, it looks like it has been ten years since the debut album.
The album lasts 53 minutes according to iTunes (49, according to Metal Archives), but at this rate it’s not like there is going to be a new album any time soon. In 2019 Scimitar presents a wide variety of moods. It is one overall sound, but the songs are varied in tempo. The sound is gruff/aggressive low growling, and some higher growling in some parts. The centerpiece of the guitar riffs is a melodic, marching type of crunch that is fixated on extending the sense of catchy instrumental themes; they believe in juicing the melodies out of a moment before moving on to the next one. The rhythm section makes all of the above possible. These songs depend on a rhythm section that supports as a foundation for laying down the melodies and the chugging. The melodies are reminiscent of Medieval/Renaissance-like vibes, like melodies from old songs that have come down to the present from centuries ago, possibly from old folk songs popular in Western Europe in Medieval/Enlightenment times. The result is a melodic extreme metal with strong folk directions, and in some songs you will hear some melodies that come from a clean-sounding, plucked-string instrument that enhances the sense of folk music.
Scimitar is not so much a genre as it is the idea of folk themes and melodies joined to extreme metal. “The Shadows of Man II: Cataclysm” leans in a big way towards black metal, with some proggy/folky clean melodies in the middle before coming back to the extreme metal. “To Cultivate with Spears” is an uptempo melodic death metal song of an African legend/myth/history of war and violence, as the other songs are. “Knights Collapse” seems like the story of an English invading army in crisis in France. The vocals on this latter song are gruff and the song itself is melodic extreme metal, of course, but if you listen closely you might notice that the vocals patterns seem different. Do you know why? Because the vocalist is doing something like extreme metal folk growl-rapping.
Fans of melodic death metal with lots melodies, and in this case the melodies are of the folky/proggy variety, would find this Canadian band a worthwhile investigation. It has taken them years to get their affairs in order and this is the result. The album does take time to absorb. The first few listens might only give the feeling that you are scratching the surface. Later on, the tracks will begin to sound like real songs with hooks. The lack of immediate impact may discourage some listeners, but more discerning and patient audiences will get a lot more out of this album. Enjoy the album, friend, and Scimitar will be coming around to rock again in another ten years.

Saturday, August 24, 2019

review: Pathology

Reborn to Kill
Pavement Entertainment
9 August 2019
Pathology has established their tradition that they do not allow many years to go without releasing an album. From 2006 to 2019 they have ten albums; they released an album a year in 2008, 2009, 2010, 2011, 2012, 2013 and 2014. Unfortunately, that great run has come to an end, and now they are releasing an album every two years, which is very sad because once you get used to an album every year, then nothing can ever take away the heartache of having to wait two years to smile again when you see another album of undead-zombie-themed artwork and the brutally illegible Pathology logo splattered on the album cover. The most depressing time was from 2014 to 2017 when it took three years between albums. The world might as well have ended, and no amount of Kleenex could comfort the zombie tears rolling down our skinless faces. It’s a cruel new world, but at least Pathology does not take as long as Boston, Def Leppard, Bolt Thrower (RIP) and Guns ‘n Roses to make a new album.
But enough of the sob stories. Pathology is back. Let’s dig up this grave and open this casket and discover what pleasurably aromatic treasures lie within. The album cover is zombies. Check. The drumming is blasting. Check. The riffs are sick. Check. The vocals are guttural and indecipherable. Check. Alright, then, that’s it. Done. That’s the tweet.
Right? Not quite! The band in the past has put a lot of zombies on the album covers. Pathology must continue to have brutal album covers because it’s how they roll, and they don’t want to give people a heart attack by changing up the tradition and have the fans going, “Oh, no! This is it! This is the big one, I’m having a heart attack, I’m coming to join you, Elizabeth!”
Yet, the polished production shows a band working in a good bit of variety into the 33 minutes of blasting guttural death metal. “The Druid’s Gavel” is not a blasting song, and the track is Pathology tipping the hat to the more traditional, classic-style death metal with some catchy riffs. “Stone Axe Dismemberment” (best song title of 2019?!) has blasting, midtempo and breakdown parts all in one. This is Pathology being Pathology, and it’s another catchy song, but the 16-second guitar solo is very melodic. “Empathy Ends” is a midtempo instrumental that is melodic. You’d be surprised at the small, interesting details that the band is doing to keep the brutality going after all these albums.
Unfortunately, the band seems to be consciously restraining the songs, as if they are afraid of having real guitar solos, as opposed to the licks and quick boosts of guitar that they currently use. The same is true for the vocals, which fit the description of brutal and guttural death metal, but the brutality therein lacks things like: serious commitment to the pig squeals, gut-wrenching screams, more guttural craziness, more wildness, and other vocals elements. Pathology continues to deliver some of the catchiest and most effective brutal death metal albums out there. This one is no different, but the album sounds like the band is standing, looking at an open door right in front of them, a door that allows the band to walk into some new, wilder territory of brutality, but they have not made up their minds if they will walk through the door. They are looking at each other, saying, “Should we do this? Are people going to accept Pathology if we add some new things?”
Another success for the band, but will they let the whole cat out of the bag? We see that the cat is showing its face, we hear its meow, we see the cat, we see the cat, bring out the whole animal! We are not afraid of the seeing the whole cat, and neither should Pathology, who are adding melody to slam-brutal-guttural death metal in fresh ways already. Could this be a sign of something bigger, braver coming down the pipeline from Pathology?!

review: Book of Wyrms

Book of Wyrms
Twin Earth Records/Stoner Witch Records
23 August 2019
Don’t throw away your happy pills, friend. You will still be needing them. The North Carolina, USA band takes the 1970s hard-blues sound of heavy rock, and maintains the pace steady as downer rock doom with a clear psychedelic or space rock overall spirit. The result is slow, doom-and-gloom songs as the fundamental style. Despite the above scary description, the music is not extreme metal, and way more accessible than the super slow doom, sludge and drone of today’s doom at the most extreme end of the spectrum. Book of Wyrms has everything that old hippies would have liked, a fan of the Zep/Sabbath/Purple/Heep/Doors/IronButterflyJeffersonAirplane psychedelic music would be at home with this bluesy slow heavy spacey rock
The band prefers to milk the melodies for all that they are worth. In practical terms, it means, relax and don’t be in a hurry to hear fast or uptempo music because this is all about keeping things simple and intelligible as a comfortable pace of slow motion to let the listener hear the grooves and winding ways of the guitar slowly churning out vibrations. Logically, in this style the band allows the rhythm section to be heard loud and clear. The trippy synthesizer work is important on this recording in order to have the space rock feeling. The singing voice comes across as too thin. Perhaps it is too low in the mix. Maybe the problem lies elsewhere. Overall, however, die-hard fans of oldie heavy rock and space rock are the intended audience. Think 1967, 1968, 1969, 1970, and maybe 1971, but probably no later than 1972, for the groovy times of peace, love and protest.

review: Astralium

Land of Eternal Dreams
Rockshots Records (EU), Spiritual Beast (JP)
23 August 2019
Throw away your happy pills, friend. You won’t need them anymore. The Italians are coming! The Italians are coming to bring joy to the peoples of this world and the next one. Just look to your imagination to find the meaning of the album artwork and title. Astralium was formed with the purpose of making joy, cheer and happiness into songs. Astralium unfolds in soprano/high melodic singing and some contrasting vocals of the male voice sailing on the angelic glory of sugar, spice and everything nice of symphonic power metal filled to the brim with outrageously naughty and shameless ear-friendly songs to tantalize the vulnerable souls with the irritatingly irresistible heavenly pop metal. Astralium—with the confidence of Babe Ruth calling the shot pointing to the centerfield bleachers—wants desperately to tear down the walls of any listener near this music, and the band is so confident that they will need exactly one listen to convince.
The death.
The angels.
The heavens.
Ways of infinity.
The fate of the soul.
The meaning of dreams.
The purpose of life on Earth.
Questions of immortality.
Searching harmony.
Manifest doubt.
Find hope.
That’s the subject matter of the album. Their minds are set on another world, and they seek the sensation of grandiosity in elegant and luxurious songs. This debut album has been years in the making and it shows a huge effort to impress fans of genre. The sound is very polished and the band seeks the lush and fancy production that sounds like a metal band backed up by a symphony. It’s that type of contemporary production for fans that enjoy the super sweet keyboard-laden, pop-oriented heavy rock.
Here in the United States this style seems to have less success than in Europe. American reviewers often mention this type of music with sarcasm or irony or some pejorative attitude. However, it looks like Nightwish and other bands like that do tour the U.S. and seem to come back for more touring. Of course, this album involves a lot of studio magic and they probably don’t have the money (yet?!) to pay philharmonic orchestras. However, for fans of big symphonic power metal with soprano singing, songs with the big bounce of the super symphonic poppy sound, this album might go down a storm. The fans will be doing air keyboards and conducting imaginary orchestras.

Friday, August 23, 2019

review: Dialith

Extinction Six
August 16th, 2019
The prospect of listening to an hour-long album may not be too enticing, particularly if the band in question is an unknown factor. Many independent bands these days are making these long albums with the attitude, “Well, we may never make another album again so we might as well make this one a big bang celebration of one and done as we say goodbye to this cruel, cruel world!!!” Sometimes it seems that bands get together and work for years to make an album only to disappear exactly when they are just getting warmed up. Yet, this Connecticut, USA symphonic power metal band claims that they are not a one-and-done deal and that they have more songs in the works.
Whatever doubts and misgivings there are, fans of the subgenre should be convinced by the third listen, if not the second. The effectiveness of the music is such that the music makes sense very quickly. What a relief! Nobody wants to hear an hour of music that drags. Luckily, despite the differing moods and songs, they keep the pedal to the metal and consistently keep up the tempo. Do they want to rock? Yes! The next question is the matter of skill. The rhythm section makes sure to keep the energy up as a style for the band. The keyboards are present and audible in a measured way. The singing, as is often the case in this particular subgenre, is melodic and high in the general style of soprano. There is no screaming nor growling, nor female/male combination; only high melodic singing. The songs feature the big riffs and hooks that fans of this style want. The songs are made with the intention to make you feel good about being a fan of heavy metal music. You like power metal and the band means business in giving it to you. If you want to feel happy, this is a vehicle, a good vehicle, for doing that: power chords, solos, keyboards, fun tempos, and angelic singing. You probably won’t dare to sing along, but feel free to try it anyway when there is no one else around to hear you attempt to sing like a soprano. Do it. Because, why not?! We won’t tell anyone. It will be our secret.
The album is too long for one sitting. While some people do enjoy long albums, the band seems to hope that appreciative fans will take the time to tackle the album over several days. It all depends on how a person listens to music. On the other hand, it could have been a much better business decision to release the music as two albums. It’s easier for consumption, better for the discography, for keeping the band’s name active, for marketing, for the wallet of the band, and for expectations (now every album they make must be super long or risk accusations of “running out of juice” or “not as good as the debut” or some other ridiculous thing). To conclude, the album is a very impressive American new entry into the subgenre. It will be interesting for fans of guitar-driven heavy/power metal with soprano singing and keyboards, but with the keyboards as secondary to the guitar, and not vice versa.

Monday, August 19, 2019

review: Sacred Reich

Sacred Reich
Metal Blade Records
23 August 2019
In 1963 the American rock band The Beach Boys achieve big time success in the United States with the marvelous single “Surfin’ USA,” which is also the name of the album. On the album the band showcases the beautiful vocal melodies that is their trademark. The lyrics are a celebration of good times; the myth of California as the land of fantasy, prosperity and happiness; and it is a wholesome hymn to the United States as the land of milk, honey and money.
In 1988 the second-wave American thrash band Sacred Reich respond to such a myth with “Surf Nicaragua,” a song about U.S. government intervention and fueling of the civil war aimed at overturning the revolution in the Central American nation. Instead of happiness, beaches, money and good times, the Arizona thrashers show murder, poverty, violence and war. To hammer their message, they also cover Black Sabbath’s “War Pigs,” a classic song against war. Sacred Reich and Black Sabbath reject the war of their times and use their music to speak on what they see around them. Since the thrash band’s debut album in 1987 they had managed to do two seemingly contradictory objectives: play really fast, really loud and abrasive extreme music of the time; and establish themselves as metal music social commentary. They were going to give thrash to the people, but they were also going to give thrash fans some food for thought.
The band’s 1991 album The American Way continued the lyrical approach of commentary on politics, government, corporations, and other institutions of power. As was happening in mainstream metal at that time, the heavier, simplistic groove-oriented chugging was taking over, and the The American Way was no different. The music was heavy, but it was no longer pure thrash. In truth, the album was a change, but it was not a weak nor light album. The album still had some thrash, but it had more groove. The difference was noticeable, but the fact remains that the album was successful for them, and many fans liked the new element of heaviness and simplicity added to the thrash foundation.
In 1993 and in 1996 they had two more albums, but something was wrong. The groove metal formula had gotten stale. All that one has to do is listen to the 1993 song “Just Like That,” (even the song title lacks creativity) to hear a band that has hit a wall. Instead of music that was fast and lean with sharp thrash, they sounded like frustrated, angry liberals whining about anonymous enemies, as if they were fighting with such unimportant people like reviewers, interviewers, critics, and other cynics. They were tired and sounded tired and the music sounded tiring. Those albums have some songs that sound good, that show that the band wanted to make good songs, and other tracks that sound like a band bored with its job. Those albums are inconsistent, with material that seems like it is filler. Despite activities in the intervening years, there was no new studio album and they seemed like a nostalgia act whenever they played live.
Now in 2019 they have finally made the album that their fans should want. In the eight songs and 31 minutes, the band has finally figured out how to thrash again for real. It seems like the fog has finally lifted. They sound lean again. It also looks like the band’s older members are in better health, like they feel better, and the music seems to reflect that better state of mind.
The new album finds them once and for all putting the pieces together. They can and do thrash. They also take the best elements of the 1990s, and revamp their groove metal. It is not a pure thrash album. This is not 1986 anymore for them, and they are not going to sound like the young thrash maniacs of the Draining You of Life demo from that year. However, they have learned to balance thrash and groove a lot better. In addition, in their old age they are throwing little bits of 1970s classic/heavy rock energy in some of the soloing, some of the grooves, in the guitar, in the drumming and that can be heard in some of the music.
The album is short, as all Sacred Reich albums have always been. Leave the people wanting more. Exactly.

Saturday, August 17, 2019

review: Dead Kosmonaut

Dead Kosmonaut
High Roller Records
Well, this is weird. Really, just about the weirdest piece of information that you might hear all year. Unless you are already in the know, like probably some fans and musicians in Sweden are, because they have known the information for a while now (or some German fans who have seen the band live already), these Swedes might surprise quite a few people. The music is traditional progressive, with both a 1970s vibe of musical freedom and the classics of 1980s heavy metal, all kind of coexisting for the sound that is Dead Kosmonaut. You might feel like some segments remind you of Pink Floyd, while others might make you think of Iron Maiden/Thin Lizzy.
That’s not the weird part.
The weird part is the singer. Notice that it says “singer,” not the more general “vocalist.” It was necessary to double and triple check this information about the identity of the singer. The promo information received by this publication says that the singer is none other than the infamous leather-spikes-bulletbelted maniac primarily known for being the outlandish screamer for the old-school extreme metal band Nifelheim (He has done other vocal work, all which has been screaming and raging like a lunatic of black/death/thrash metal). Yet only now we are finding out that he can sing and sing well? What kind of madness is this?! The music gives the guitar lots of room to breathe and work the melodies. Fans of bluesy, progressive melodic guitar should take special notice of this band. It is perhaps the biggest and most important selling point, given the quality of the guitar playing. Of course, then there’s the singing! Good stuff.
Anyway, this 24-minute EP will be of interest to those fans that want classic rock of the 1970s and classic metal of the 1980s in their contemporary prog. The EP is three songs of 4-5 minutes and a fourth one that lasts 10 minutes. All the songs have a feel of freedom, but the last song takes the grandiose freedom of the heavy metal progressive blues to another level. An enticing EP for the fans of oldie but goodie contemporary prog.

review: Picture

Pure Steel Records
August 16th, 2019
The overall sound of Picture is 1970s/1980-1981 heavy metal in which the classic rock of the giants/pioneers that came before them can be heard. They are Dutch band formed in the late 1970s and issued their debut self-titled album in 1980, followed it up with Heavy Metal Ears in 1981, and more albums for a total of seven full-lengths in the 1980s. Even though they have not been around as an active band for 40 years, they did form all those years ago and have been rocking, on and off, for a long time. This new album finds the elder statesmen of Dutch metal music in very good form. The production sounds good, the music is classic-rock heavy metal, the guitar work sounds good, the songs rock and the singing is appealing as the voice of an older gentleman who carries a tune very well in a lower-midrange voice, and without any irritating attempts to do impossible things like glass-shattering screams or trying to be contemporary (like growling and stuff).
To what extent do Dutch fans of traditional oldie but goodie heavy metal care about Picture? Unfortunately for the band, their previous album, according to Metal Archives, is from ten years ago! That’s way too much time to be gone. Whatever the reasons, here’s hoping they are able to be more active now and don’t let the fans forget that they know how to rock. The entire album sounds like every song is meant to be on it. Not having a studio album in ten years should mean that these ten songs are going rock, and they do. The whole work flows so well with some songs recalling bits and pieces of Led Zeppelin and Deep Purple and all those classic bands, a bit of that hard-blues rock, with plenty of 1980s-style shredding and melodic guitars, some rocking anthems, and some faster tunes, too.
Should American fans check into this band? All over in this country there are some stations that play classic rock from the 1970s, and some stadium metal like Ozzy Osbourne and Judas Priest, and some hard rock in general. Well, that’s the general audience that would enjoy Picture.

review: Overt Enemy

Overt Enemy
August 9th, 2019
By day they are mild mannered Texan Americans who will tip their hats to you and say, “Howdy,” and “How y’all doing?,” and show you Southern hospitality in a most awesome way as the great people of Texas tend to do, but by night they are a thrash band who want you in the pit, sweaty and sore. They have another identity besides being Overt Enemy because they are a Slayer tribute band, too. This EP is 23 minutes, four originals and a cover of Slayer’s horror-movie themed “At Dawn They Sleep” from the 1980s. Overt Enemy is a thrasher’s band. Fans of traditional thrash who like to keep up with new and DIY bands fighting and elbowing their way to people’s attention will be the most obvious demographic. Of course, for Slayer fans the similarities between the two vocalists and overall style of the band may also be a point of interest. The drumming stays on message and the guitars stay on uptempo and fast riffs throughout, without meandering into other styles nor looking over the fence at other genres. It’s songs for getting a physical reaction out of thrash fans, essentially. The band had an EP in 2018 and this is their second. They are as enthusiastic about thrash as ever. It’s early in the game, let’s see where future Overt Enemy recordings go after this one in the thrash zone.

review: Atlas Pain

Atlas Pain
Tales of a Pathfinder
Scarlet Records
19 April 2019
The introduction to the album is very inviting and wholly fits the purpose it is supposed to have. The mood of anticipation is awesome, the opera house introduction, along with the clapping, and the speaking voice, which sounds like a bombastic circus master hyping up, it’s all good stuff. Then the first song opens and it is a most memorable first song, about as perfect for fans to raise fists, bang heads, play air or real guitar, and growl along as there is in 2019. This first song, “The Moving Empire,” reveals the band’s classy and fancy mix of European-style melodic extreme metal with fast, uptempo riffs, sometimes sounding like melodic death metal, sometimes like power metal, filled with symphonic keyboards featuring a great abundance of melodies, and a classy, well-done growl (that is similar to black metal) to top off the band’s style. Atlas Pain is shameless in its quest to create the perfect melodic extreme metal album. The listener may feel like this is something along the lines of epic symphonic folk power extreme metal. They prefer to keep the music uptempo of various speeds. There is speed, but there is lots of variety to capture the feel of grandiose songs. At the same time, the album is generally uptempo, and not a slow, nor a midtempo work.
Here are some interesting details to observe. The band does not do the growl/sing thing, although in places they have male choruses that are a clear voice, somewhere in the low-midrange spectrum. The black metal-style growl is rather gorgeous, and when it is backed up by said melodic male choruses (which, of course, are reminiscent of a church choir or a symphony, which is sort of the same idea, anyway) it’s so fun. Towards the end of “The Great Run,” they show a hint of techno dance music by allowing a very brief segment that completely isolates the techno dance vibe, a fun jest for the fans. Europeans just can’t help themselves; it seems that even the most metal Europeans cannot quit their addiction to techno. “Kia Kaha” may remind you of epic folk metal from Finland (you know who!). The mellow outro, while not bad, is a bit too quiet, the volume is too low. It seems to be missing that special effort that it took to put the intro together. Overall, the band has worked hard to give the audience the sensation of stories about time travel and the adventures of going to various times and places in history and mythology, and put it all to songs that fans of can understand as their own musical language in terms of “story metal.”

review: Repent

Condemned to Fail
High Roller Records
August 16th, 2019
Love-it-all zealous fanatics of thrash can make a bee line for the mosh pit instigated by Repent. The German band began in 1992 and this is their fourth album, five years since the third one. The album is fueled by a wide variety of the same basic emotion of ire, irritation, frustration, fury, anger, wrath, indignation and everything else that would be shoved into this boiling blender of exasperation. As an album dedicated to translating a racket into a rendezvous at the pit, it pushes all the buttons necessary for ignition. The drumming is fast, but stays at a pace to keep people moshing. Never too fast for the pit, never too slow to cool down, this workout in friendly violent fun does not end until the album itself ends. The guitars seem obsessed with getting people off their seats and start a pit at the show or at the office or in the halls of the local grocery store or wherever the moshers find themselves hooked up to this matrix of thrashorama.
Do you know who doesn’t want fancy and happy melodies to be part of this experience? Repent, that’s who. The riffs are packed with a thick, relentless beat that pauses only between songs. There is an angry groove to it all to help people distinguish what is happening, but this never even attempts to make things safe, comfortable and acceptable for casual fans. The album is something that true thrash fanatical raging maniacs—you know, that dude at every show, that dude wearing that old Slayer shirt who begins bumping into people because he wants, he needs, that pit to get going already—will take an interest in. The band sometimes gets negative reviews because they are “only” a thrash band and are not very melodic, because they play thrash like it is their religion. If someone wants a sugary type of thrash, then, yes, avoid Repent, but a person wants on-point, meat-and-potatoes thrash that does not try to be all things to people, then check out this back-to-basics, fundamentalist thrash with the stubborn attitude of the early days of the genre, but with a contemporary, brutal chunky sound, and very abrasive, throaty vocals. The band is not melodic and they are proud of it; they offer a small olive branch to fans by way of the shredding solos, but that’s about it. Fans of unmelodic and mosh pit thrash should consider the work of this veteran act dedicated to giving it to you raw, pure and angry in the basic, anti-fancy way.

Friday, August 16, 2019

review: Gallows Pole

Gallows Pole
This Is Rock
Pure Rock Records
30th August 2019
Gallows Pole is a long-standing heavy rock band from Austria. Metal Archives shows that they originally formed in 1973 (maybe they took their name from the 1970 Led Zeppelin song?) and have had periods of inactivity. They have a bunch of albums, and this is the 2019 version of the band. Reliable for a style reminiscent of the heavy rock of the middle and late 1980s, with a guitar tone in the same general area as stadium rock/metal bands of that time. The music is midtempo as a general rule, very friendly to the ear, especially for fans of radio rock that would like that clearer guitar style that is not super overdriven and extremely distorted. The listener hears what is happening on the guitar and things never go crazy and fast, just a comfortable, chill heavy rock pace. The same is true for the drumming. The band prefers simple, direct rhythms that go big on the beat, persistently on the beat, always on the beat, and never goes into crazy, show-off fills or drum solos. Of course, the songs are traditional with the structure of verses and choruses. The singing is melodic, and without screaming type of singing, but rather midrange male voices. There seems to be a couple of male voices or tones. In addition, on this album the band has female vocals, and now Gallows Pole has a cool, new dimension to the songs. It would be good for them to keep this combination of singing continuing on future albums.
This music in the U.S. would be appreciated by the older fans of rock, all those classic rock bands. Gallows Pole sounds like 1980s heavy rock, but in the riffs and other things, listeners will notice a bit of 1970s. For instance, on the song “You Got Me” they have handclapping, or in the song “Daylight,” particularly the beginning, sounds reminiscent of Led Zeppelin’s “Black Dog,” with a contemporary sound. Another instance is the song “Point of No Return” which has a main riff a bit reminiscent of Black Sabbath’s “Megalomania” at 3:20 when the older song’s cowbell signals the change of tempo. A perspective to understand Gallows Pole would be to consider the way some New Wave British Heavy Metal bands sound today, especially the ones that have slowed down their heavy metal to a midtempo-style of heavy rock in which the classic rock that inspired them is now manifesting a lot more.

review: Killswitch Engage

Killswitch Engage
Metal Blade Records
16 August 2019
The continued success of the band rests on the intelligent decisions that they have made in the two decades of activity, in addition to their hard work and a will to succeed and do what it takes to persevere. After some 20 years as a band, and now eight studio albums, they continue finding ways to make creative works in their niche. Characterized by very catchy thrashy guitar work in 2019, the album is full of fun, uptempo and cheerful melodies. The other side of the guitar coin is the chugging heaviness that encourages movement from the audience, whether live in concert or not. The guitar work and its efficiency is one of the most attractive points. They have a very clear plan to ensure that every song gives the listener chugging heaviness and melodies simultaneously. The approach is to write concise songs that do not overstay their welcome. The vocals at all times go back and forth between extreme and singing. The extreme end consists of screaming and growling, and the singing fits the more melodic segments. This style of dual vocals is a big reason why the band has experienced success and they are not about to do something crazy by destroying what got them this far in this first place.
Given the no-nonsense style of songwriting, in 2019 there are some particular things that will be interesting to fans of the extreme/melodic combination. “Unleashed,” the first song, is a midtempo track that goes for some deep chugging while allowing the melodic singing to take the big chunk of the time. That is followed by “The Signal Fire” a fist-raising headbanging tune that throws down as hard as the band can. “I Am Broken Too” is probably the album’s most melodic and ear-friendly song. The fans are going to demand this one in concert. People might not leave the venue unless the band plays it. It’s that type of song. Another thing to notice is that they showcase the melodic singing quite a bit on the album, and the production team finds ways to develop and to push the songs towards melody as much possible and maybe do it more than ever, as a way to keep things interesting and fresh for the band themselves. Twenty years in, and one of the most important bands in shaping the sound of post-2000 U.S. popular melodic extreme metal remains very faithful and reliable. The years have made them consummate experts at the style that they had a hand in raising to the level of success that it has.

review: Superterrestrial

The Void That Exists
16 August 2019
The music is do-it-yourself black metal with driving guitars. The recording features a contemporary drum sound that could be drum programming or it could be sound replacement technology. The vocals are in the very traditional screechy style. The one element that adds a bit of a different side is the use of keyboards. It doesn’t seem to be used a whole lot in the songs and if it is, then it is not very audible, generally speaking. However, it is used sparsely in some slower segments of the songs, for some atmospheric moments. Overall, the songs should be interesting to die-hard fans of DIY black metal projects that usually are ignored by the metal press, big, medium or tiny. The songs have a good energy as black metal and the people behind this project show knowledge of what they are doing. This is not experimental music, and is easily recognizable as black metal.
One last point of attention for the devoted black metal fanatic to consider is the vocals. In addition to being very screechy, they are not very audible and are kept very low in the sound mix. At times they seem barely audible at all. Thus, there are two issues for the fans to weigh. The first is the style of the vocals and whether it is appealing or not. The second one is the low volume of the vocals and whether this is acceptable or not.

Thursday, August 15, 2019

review: Sophist

Betrothal to the Stone: Conception of Mephisto
16 August 2019
With this Canadian duo it is difficult to tell whether they are simply full of hatred for their own existence and bodies, whether they hate themselves for being height challenged or for being overweight; or whether they are full of hatred for the human race as they know it in their lives and work, as nurses, waiters, social workers, pet detectives, grasshopper communication network managers, Canadians, or something similar. What is not difficult to tell is that their hatred of themselves and/or the human species/Canadians has been translated into the most unpleasant and hideous cacophony of drum-programmed blasting growling uproar.
While during the day at work at the factory, they might enjoy lots of beautiful melodies of all-Canadian legendary icons like Justin Bieber, Shawn Mendes, Avril Lavigne, PSY, BTS, Ricky Martin, Olga Teresa Tañón Ortíz, or the national treasure that is Cèlīnê Dïõn, in their free time while they record their music in the bedroom at grandma’s house they prefer to get down and dirty with the extreme sounds of animal-like monster screams, growls and yells, and the wondrous simplicity of playing one or two chords really, really fast over and over again until they strike the right balance between the blasting chaotic tumult of ugliness, on one hand, and the blasting chaotic tumult of ugliness, on the other. Exquisite DIY homemade hideousness.

review: Phobia

Generation Coward
Willowtip Records
August 9th, 2019
California’s Phobia was formed in 1990 and ever since then they have been finding ways to turn their obnoxious racket more toxic. They have kept up a regular schedule of releases (EPs, splits, albums) without generally allowing more than a couple of years going by. This is 2019’s entry into their infamous-illustrious discography. When listening to this 16-minute EP it is recommended to let it play continuously as one unit of blasting speed, with brief pauses in between. Don’t bother with questions about individual songs. The band’s wise decision to keep the pauses super brief between songs means that it flows well as one big exercise in blasting, growling mosh pit catharsis. Maybe do not drive while listening to this EP, just in case you end up trying to keep up with the band. The American band’s angry punk lyrics have not changed, only the music has gotten tighter and more professional, which at this point sounds as metal (sharp) as it gets, but in this EP they have not abandoned the punk ethic of short, direct songs (no guitar solos) ranting about some thing or other. They are an old grind band, and as such they are as angry about the politicians as they are against people/other punks that Phobia considers “PC fascists,” and internet warriors, and all of which is expressed in lyrics or through television show obscene excerpts in between some tracks. Phobia 2019 is still not suitable for sensitive people, and most other humans, but the grind freaks should be smiling wide with this EP.

Tuesday, August 13, 2019

review: Crypt Sermon

Crypt Sermon
The Ruins of Fading Light
Dark Descent Records
release: 13 September 2019
Crypt Sermon has spent lots of time in an effort to give to the customer serious quality in the hope that audiences will discern the difference. What the Pennsylvania, U.S. band does (if we ignore for now discussions about genres, styles and biographies) is to use two indispensable devices for the production of tremendously melancholic melodies that have the objective of affecting listeners in emotional ways. The first tool utilized for their purpose is the guitar. Throughout each of the seven songs (out of ten tracks), one can detect the meticulous attention paid in the crafting of guitar melodies that evoke a sense of contemplation, dejection, wonder, soul searching, doubt, and other emotions along those lines, but all the while keeping the guitar, as already mentioned, melodic and joyful in its own way. The second skill in question is the singing. This matter is more difficult, given that more people are capable of playing guitar well than they are able to sing well and channel melancholy into the voice. This singing fits the music very well; it has the tone of a soul beaten down by the failures in life, but not weak and frail, rather resolute in the quest of living.
Crypt Sermon is traditional, classic-style polished epic doom metal, following the gold standard of the genre, namely, 1980s Candlemass (Sweden), who established the hallmarks of melancholy, elegance, grace, melody and uniquely soul-dolorous singing, with a sense of religiosities working as inspiration for the spirit of the music. Crypt Sermon seeks to continue and expand on that gold standard. The American band’s album is highly memorable and will have to be a priority for the fans of the style to keep on their lists for purchase consideration.
Crypt Sermon seems strange for various reasons. In addition to being on the label Dark Descent Records, a U.S.-American company known primarily for growling extreme music, often very old-school-minded death metal, where 1990s-loving death metal bands come to find a home, the personnel of Crypt Sermon seems to come from death, black and thrash bands. Put it all together and what do you get? Not the expected product, for sure.
In order to do the review it was necessary to read the lyrics because they have a song called “Christ Is Dead” and another track called “Enslave the Heathens.” The first one seems like it would be the typical amateur gimmicky anti-Christian nonsense; the type that yell and scream about committing blasphemy and deicide without saying anything much besides trying to get attention by regurgitating the so-called rebellious anti-religious tropes. Surprisingly, the lyrics are not that, although clearly the title is still gimmicky and very “metal.” The other track also has a gimmicky title in “Enslave the Heathens,” but it is an instrumental short piece; no lyrics. Fortunately, the band does not do the usual faux whining about how Christians doing “one thousand years of oppression” against the supposedly awesome life of the human-sacrificing, kidnapping, town-burning, slave-taking, robbing Vikings, before Christians arrived to the lay the foundations for the supposed modern living hell of theocratic oppression that is Sweden or Norway or Western Europe, or the USA. In actuality, Crypt Sermon has thoughtful lyrics that allow the readers to make up their own minds because listeners, thankfully, are not passive fools. While not as elegant and graceful as the lyrics of Candlemass’ “Samarithan” or “Mourners Lament,” the American band’s lyrics show effort and a desire to have good expression, which is only going to be better on future albums.
The riffs are doom but not super slow. The sound is friendly to the ear. The singing is smooth and also pleasing to the ear. There are a few tiny traces of anger in the singing in some places, a somewhat angry scream here, a hint of a growl there. Luckily, they make sure keep the singing melodic all the way throughout, maintaining the elegance and melancholy of the music intact. All in all, this album side steps any major missteps that could have happened. If we are talking about polished melancholic traditional doom with singing, this album in 2019 would have to be in the top tier.

Sunday, August 4, 2019

Massacre At The Opera in Everett, WA on August 10th

Massacre At The Opera, Burn Through Life, Bleed The Stone, Method13
Saturday, August 10, 2019 at Tony Vs Garage
1716 Hewitt Ave, Everett, Washington 98201

Saturday, August 3, 2019

doom in Everett, WA state on Friday, August 9th, 2019

Barbarian Wasteland (CD Release, SwampheavY, Grim Earth
Doors 8 pm Show 9 pm $10 cover 21+ only
Tony Vs Garage; 1716 Hewitt Ave, Everett, Washington 98201