This podcast marks the end of the month of June. Significant? Yes. Now that the year is officially half over, it's time to start putting together some lists of our favorite releases of the year. Not yet, grasshopper. Next week, we will explore the top 10 albums of the year so far. For now, the final week concludes with some great work. Absent/Minded gave a strong performance, even if they sound like a hundred other bands. But Olde Growth and Moss Of Moonlight did things that on paper would be tough. Sirenia is back with yet another new singer, only this time it may be for good. The week ended with a scary doom feast at the hands of Demon Lung. Don't listen before bed, kids.
Sunday, June 30, 2013
Saturday, June 29, 2013
Another week, and another round of reader submitted questions to answer. Please, keep them coming! This week, questions about our favorite unknown bands that we've found, the status of The Sampler, more thoughts on Spotify, and more.
As always, send your questions to our Facebook page, or shoot us an e-mail with your question to firstname.lastname@example.org!
As always, send your questions to our Facebook page, or shoot us an e-mail with your question to email@example.com!
Friday, June 28, 2013
It was in July of 2012 that Metal Hammer conducted an interview with Las Vegas based doom quartet Demon Lung, catching up on the band and their debut EP, "Pareidolia." Drummer Jeremy Brenton talked of his love of Iron Maiden in his early metal years, something you wouldn't necessarily have guessed given the borderline Satanic tones on the bands new album, "The Hundredth Name." But like many young acts, influences don't always add up to what you get. And thankfully, this doom four piece, with their love of the cassette medium and infatuation with the occult, didn't go in the soaring power metal route. On their new album, they've constructed eight tracks that could be the soundtrack to any horror movie. They aren't like the almost cheesy films of the seventies, though. Their sound is like a streamlined remake of a classic, but without all of the Hollywood bells and whistles. They manage to bridge the gap between the original and the sequel with great ease. It might be hard to understand what that means now, but one listen to the album, and it all makes sense.
As the screaming feedback builds from silence, so to does "Blinding Of The Witch" creep up your spine into your brain stem. What seems chaotic is cold and calculated, each crawling chord like taking a step further into the dark basement, unsure of what lurks there. So when you are hit squarely on the bridge of the nose with a swirling groove, it may come as a shock. But it is the vocals of frontwoman Shanda Fredrick that bring the most fiendish date to the party, her voice coming to you from what sounds like the fabled "other side." While the band provides the score for the horror movie, Fredrick gives the ambiance, her voice creating moods well beyond the basic happy and sad. On "The Devil's Wind," it's almost as if the backing band, with squealing harmonics and the light crashing of cymbals, is being commanded by some otherworldly force. As Fredrick sings, "I will slaughter them in time," the air around you feels still and stale. Guitarist Phil Burns and bassist Patrick Warren are a devastating pair, synced up to one another through verse and chorus in a way that prevents you from ever turning away. Standing as a monument to great production in modern doom, "Eyes Of Zamiel" boasts a sound that manages to be both crisp and haunting. Each kick drum beat blasts through your speaker with a finely tuned emphasis. Yet, at the same time, Fredrick's voice sounds brilliantly distant, something that only strengthens the grave tone of the album. How they manage to complete the balancing act between melody and overwhelming sadness is beyond me.
Quite possibly the most disturbing track on the album, "A Decade Twice Over A Day" is the stuff that nightmares are made of. Between bending strings of Burns and the light plucked bass strings of Warren, you are taken to a future past, transported back in time. But none of the instrumental would hold up to the task with the precise drumming of Brenton who, with the use of only a set of drum sticks and a reasonably large kit, fills out the bulk of the foundation. It is through the combination of ominous riffs and an unconventional voice that you can feel completely surrounded by whatever it is the band has planned for you. That becomes most apparent in the opening stages of "Heathen Child," where ritual sacrifice or blood letting could easily be kept. If you've managed to be unaffected thus far, the middle portion here will convince you of the dark powers you are now witness to. Rolling double kicks and evil tinged guitars ring out, all the while coated with the ghostly lyrics and voice of Fredrick. The simply whine of a fading guitar in the outro chills you to your bones. In a more uptempo piece, "Hex Mark" sees the speed of the band increase, without sacrificing any of the groove. Clocking in at just over four minutes, this is by far the shortest track on the album, but by no means an uninspired one. In fact, some of the most detailed drum work resides here, with Brenton filling out the mix with an array of cymbal taps and booming kick snares combos.
It's bizarre to say, but the way the album is constructed, you can feel the sound coming full circle, particularly as "Hallowed Ground" comes into view. This doesn't mean the band have run out of steam here, because that couldn't be farther from the truth. But much like a horror movie, you can sense that the final killing scene is afoot, and the scene is being set beautifully. Fredrick wails and croons, her voice rising and falling over a bed of healthy distorted riffs. The distant whispers she lets out at time are just plain terrifying. They hash out the traditional doom style to perfection in the later stages of the track, nailing down the tempo, the feel, and the arc of some of the greatest acts in this genre. And whether you think the final thirty seconds represents repeated stabbings of the victim, burying the body, or simply an intense chase, it does a tremendous job setting up the acoustic opening to the finale, "Incantation (The Hundredth Name)." Every downstroke, every squealing guitar harmonic drives one more nail into the coffin, the snare sound acting as the hammer. There is an atmospheric element at play here, largely in part to Fredrick and her airy vocal track. It would be difficult to find an example of pure doom better than the last minute here, culminating in a quiet, soothing acoustic outro.
You would be hard pressed to find four individuals who sound more perfectly matched than the members of Demon Lung. Fredrick, Brenton, Warren and Burns have a cohesion and comfort with one another than simply boggles the mind. And more importantly, it shows in their music. These eight songs aren't cobbled together or forced through a sieve; Instead, they seem to be planned, orchestrated, executed and perfected over time. Perhaps the hot desert winds of Las Vegas helped to round out the edges, and smooth over the rough spots. More likely, though, you've stumbled on a band who have a clear and unbreakable vision for themselves and their art. Whatever the case may be, "The Hundredth Name" may soon be viewed as the seminal doom album of this generation. Blasphemous, perhaps. But after eight tracks and nearly an hours worth of haunting riffs and vocals from a place that I dare not go, it makes sense. I'm not sure about the other ninety nine, but one listen to "The Hundredth Name," and I'll be checking under my bed and in the closet for things that go bump in the night.
Official Site - http://www.demonlungband.com/
Facebook - http://www.facebook.com/demonlungband
Thursday, June 27, 2013
It would seem that there are two different types of bands out there; those who claim to do something different, and those that actually do it. We've all heard bands say they will reinvent their respective genre on a new album, blurring the lines between something, and something else. but rarely does their music alone achieve that. The Pacific Northwest, for all of it's Bigfoot hunters and rain soaked seasons, is still a largely untapped environment for metal of any real substance. So when reading the bio of Washington state's Moss Of Moonlight, it almost seems like a foreign land, some three thousand miles away. And with the current Cascadian independence movement, which would form an independent nation consisting of Washington, Oregon, and British Columbia, it could become foreign soil. But with their music, this two piece deliver to you, in song, their home land. And through a fusion of blackened folk, Anglo Saxon chants, and nearly cinematic melodies, "Winterwheel" is a vision put to music.
There is no time to be wasted here, as "Gaet" launches into an intoxicating gallop very quickly, and very forcefully. There is a sweeping melodic quality here, one that catches you up almost immediately. It's the way they fuse the tenets of black and folk metal that makes it so easy to give in to, but it is the variety and versatility that keeps you there. When frontman Cavan Wagner's deep growls give way to the soothing, hypnotic vocals of drummer Jenn Grunigen, there is a stark contrast between pain and beauty. The two styles play off of one another, right down to the chanting bridge sections. But by no means does the vocal prowess give you license to sleep on the instrumental, which is as crisp and rich as the sizzle of the cymbals that cascades throughout. Their balance, the level ground that is formed between guitars and drums, keeps you focused on all of the small details coming in and out of the mix. It's the smallest touches that make the album not only unique, but also memorable. The light vocal harmony that begins "Eole" will not soon be forgotten, nor will the chills that resulted. The duo's ability to allow the track to grow is most impressive, never forcing a square peg into the proverbial round hole. Instead, they evolve and change like a painting being done before your eyes. From syncopated and precisely timed drum beats, to rising and falling guitar riffs, you have a well rounded bevy of carefully placed and supported pieces at play.
Even more interesting is how each song stands apart from the rest, as a ringing jaw harp permeates the opening to "Catte." The music fades, and Grunigen croons in her most haunting voice, a combination of airy honesty and eerie reality. Offset by the entry of some truly scary growls, the swaying melodies are unrivaled in modern metal, let alone a blackened sub-sect that too often relies on oversold depth to pad out a less than clean mix. The depth of sound created here is very real, and altogether tangible. Not only do you find yourself in the center of this howling wind, but you get caught up in the myriad of sounds and structures at play. It is a reminder that there is no room form one dimensional efforts in the new modern age of metal. And as the low chants open "Hraefne," the shortest track on the album, you are once again transported to a different place entirely. Grunigen sings sweetly as Wagner backs her, all over the faintest of tapping drums. Even without the full arsenal of guitars, bass, drums and raging distortion, the duo manage to captivate you in every conceivable way. The six minute run time, which is dwarfed by the other three tracks you've survived thus far, is concise and utilized perfectly, bending and swaying in the winds and chanting vocals. Beyond that, though, is an exceptional handle on lyrical content, one that simply must be appreciated.
I struggle to find another effort that holds as much potential as "Winterwheel," and delivers on every hope. Grunigen and Wagner have made a promise with both their previous works and their description of this one; the fact that they not only met, but exceeded those expectations is a victory of epic proportions. Moss Of Moonlight isn't yet a household name, at least not in any of the homes I've visited recently, but beautifully built and maintained albums like this one seem to indicate that they deserve to be. Many will see their description as blackened folk and assume they've heard it all before. But after forty some odd minutes of nature inspired works, it would be nearly impossible to say any of it sounded familiar. The combination of light and dark, white and black, high and low is unique, and truly refreshing. It does something, artistically, that allows you to see the music without any sort of hallucinogenic drugs. When it's all said and done, and the last notes have faded, you will feel as though you've seen their vision of Cascadia, even from the comfort of your own home.
Official Site - http://www.mossofmoonlight.com/
Facebook - http://www.facebook.com/MossofMoonlight
Wednesday, June 26, 2013
Usually when a band switches lead singers on pretty much every album, it’s hard to keep up with the direction that they’re going. With each new singer, they bring their own flair to the band that changes the sound and the vibe. One band, however, that goes against that is Sirenia. They have had three different singers on their first three albums. They were all very good, especially “At Sixes and Sevens,” but what they lacked was a cohesive flow between records. That problem was solved when they recruited Aylin on vocals. Her first album was “The 13th Floor” and then continued on to make “The Enigma of Life.” She is the only female vocalist to be on more than one Sirenia album. With “The Enigma of Life,” the band had really come together to make something extraordinary. Aylin’s vocals were a perfect fit for the band. Now two years after “The Enigma of Life,” Sirenia delivers “Perils of the Deep Blue.” I’m just going to cut the fat here and say that this is one hell of an album.
The opening track, “Ducere Me In Lucem,” gives the listener a complete introduction to the magic, mystery, and atmosphere that this album offers. Right from the second track, “Seven Widows Weep,” it’s evident that this album is much darker, moodier and overall heavier than their past two albums. “Seven Widows Weep” is an excellent song that’s only downfall is that it’s completely overshadowed by the rest of the album. "My Destiny Coming To Pass" is probably the best song on the album. It’s beautifully written and the melody in the chorus is the best they’ve ever done. Morten Veland’s vocals also give the song a nice touch that makes it feel complete. “Ditt Endelikt” and “Cold Caress” are two of the softer songs, but are catchy, very well written and flow very well with the rest of the album. “Darkling” is one of the heaviest songs they’ve ever written and is a true testament of their abilities. The guitars and bass have a texture and a fullness to them that has to be heard to be believed. From the crunch of the guitars to the epic choir, this song is a real winner. On their 12 minute opus, “Stille Kom Døden,” Aylin really steals the show with her vocal performance. Never has she sounded to effortlessly incredible and engrossing. Veland’s growls give the song a “beauty and the beast” contrast that no band, besides Epica, does better. “The Funeral March” is another great song that is led by keyboards and choirs, which are absolutely breathtaking. The closing track “A Blizzard is Storming” ties everything up nicely and hopefully it’s foreshadowing what the next album will sound like.
The amount of passion put into this album is second to none. Sirenia didn’t just go into the studio to create another album; they went into the studio to push the envelope for everything they stand for. Every little detail was planned out perfectly to make their most cohesive and fulfilling album. From the crunchy fullness of the guitars to the larger than life choirs, “Perils of the Deep Blue” delivers on all fronts. I’ve always thought of Sirenia as a great band that stayed consistent. Now they’ve become an astounding band that just made a modern metal masterpiece. “Perils of the Deep Blue” just raised the bar for symphonic metal.
- Brian DuBois
Official Site - http://www.mortenveland.com/sirenia/
Facebook - https://www.facebook.com/sirenia
Tuesday, June 25, 2013
We've all heard someone say that less is more. Contradictory? Yes. Cliche? Absolutely. But as the size of metal bands has grown, has the quality been able to justify it? Bands like Slipknot employee upwards of nine members. But I would challenge both casual and dedicated listeners alike to conclude that three drummers are better than one, or that you need three guitarists to play anything in their catalog. I digress. For every band that has grown beyond their need, you have those who have stayed small, and sound big. Boston, Massachusetts based Olde Growth have no need to go beyond their original and constant two members; they get plenty out of a small package. However, this isn't the same as other two piece acts we've seen. This one, believe it or not, is simply bass and drums. And while bands like Horse Latitudes have tried the "guitar free" zone to little musical coherence, these two have taken the formula to places we didn't expect. And much like the owl that graces the cover of their new EP, the mix of sounds on the four tracks you get here might have you saying, "bass and drums? O RLY?"
There is no mistaking the strong bass sound on the opening to "Brother Of The Moon," but the way string master Stephen manipulates that sound is what becomes interesting. Forgoing the guitar altogether, he occupies both registers with his bass, playing rhythm and lead in impressive harmony. The result is a psychedelic rock anthem, his voice crying and trembling over it all. It seems bizarre to call a track like this smooth; it isn't going to woo a woman to your bed. But it flows nicely, hitting all the key points in what seems like a blink of an eye. A far more driving affair, "Warrior Child," reinforces all of the established tones, but with a focus on the contrast between the melodic and shouted vocal lines. Drummer Ryan keeps himself plenty busy in the meantime, adding in a flurry of rolls and fills whenever the opportunity presents itself. But you've only just begun here, with "Tears Of Blood" emerging as one of the most nauseatingly catchy tracks of the year thus far. You've got a great mix of old and new school here, combining the best of times passed, and yet to come. Hazy in delivery, thanks to the stripped down recording, and a fuzzy in distortion, this is one to repeat. And while the same goes for "Edge Of The Sea," it has a large set of shoes to fill. The grooves are more precise here, both instrumentally and vocally, with the bass work bordering on ludicrous. It is the big, screaming finish that will stand out in your mind.
Without reading a bio, or a one sheet press release, you could easily be fooled into thinking this was a four piece band, with one or more guitarists, bassist, drummer, and vocalist. And by no means would you look stupid for thinking it. What Olde Growth have done is maximize their talents, and recorded an EP that is, actually, far bigger than the pieces. On the surface that might not sound like an achievement, really. But in the current "bigger is better" landscape of music and society, it says a lot that they have somehow gotten the same result with fewer moving parts. Is that all that makes them worth hearing? Absolutely not. There is a real attention to melody, harmony, and structure on the EP that makes it as pleasing to the ear as any psychedelic inspired metal album you'll find this year. They've bridged the gap between past, present and future in a very organic, logical way. And they didn't need eleven drummers, six keyboardists or nine backup singers to do it. No guitars, no problem.
Bandcamp - http://oldegrowth.bandcamp.com/
Facebook - http://www.facebook.com/oldegrowth
Monday, June 24, 2013
They are Absent/Minded, though they are far from absent minded. This German four piece have no mental defects, and no lack of directional focus in their music, despite what their name suggests. Qite the opposite, in fact. Having started the move away from the death/doom style of earlier efforts, and into a more streamlined and organic sludge output, Bamberg's own native sons have given in to the ways of evolution. By no means have they abandoned the horse that brought them to the party; you can still hear some of that early fervor sprinkled liberally throughout everything they do. But this isn't a sequel to 2011's "Pulsar." This is the next logical progression for a band that isn't content to sit back and let the world move them. On their new full length, they may fall short of reinventing themselves, but they do put a fresh coat of dark, oily paint on the familiar sound of German post metal. And while the results of "Earthtone" may be mixed, they are never dull.
As the light tapping of drums on "To Unsnare" gives way to an expansive wave of distortion, there is a very distinct mixture of styles that emerges. With the heavy grooves of sludge being at the forefront, it might seem all too easy to ignore everything happening behind it. Rather than coming off as one dimensional and flat, they create a fairly good depth, thanks in part to the subtle bass work. There are small interlude breaks scattered through the track, which both help and hinder its development. On one hand, you have a great black and white contrast. But on the other, they seem to chime in at times when momentum is at a premium. Luckily, a well played riff can be the perfect set-up for what comes next. While the opening to "Ghosttower" harkens back to some of the glory days of Tool, the deeply growled vocals would be enough for Maynard James Keenan to cower in a corner. The chorus is simplified, but not in a bad way; it maintains a level of heaviness without overreaching. Whether the track is more hit than miss is hard to say, with the final minute embodying everything the band has at their disposal, in both sound and intensity. And though it may seem that they've lost their direction on "Arktic," they have certainly found their groove. It flexes the doom muscles they though to have left behind, at times both evil and downtempo. Each down stroke is followed closely by a growing shockwave, building over the seven and a half minute time frame.
Like a small cut, that sound bleeds into the rest of the album, coloring each following track with a slight tinge of red. That isn't to say "The Lesser Evil" abandons the sludgy undertones the album demands; to the contrary, the injections of darting guitars and thunderous drum rolls reinforce it. This is a perfect example of the track length being justified by the weight of an instrumental, with seven minutes barely being enough to contain it all. On the flip side of that coin, comes the short "Greed Has Poisoned Mens Souls," comprised of a single sound byte as the centerpiece of a light guitar melody. Perhaps the conclusion to the spoken word piece, "liberty will never perish," comes as a set up to the almost spacey "Reborn." Whether the two are intended to go hand in hand is unclear, but intentionally or not, they seem like parts of the same whole. The vocals sound pained, exhausted, and drained. This is a bare bones effort, stripped down to the beams and delivered honestly and without fanfare. But it is the platform for the title track, "Earthtone," to stand on. Out of everything on the album, this may be the most balanced mix of the intended styles. What you get is one third doom metal, one third harsh sludge, and one third airy post metal atmospheres. It's a shaky concoction at times, wobbly in one direction or another, but it does stand as a beacon for what the direction could be going forward.
When the good outweighs the bad, an album is a success, no matter how you slice it. Absent/Minded have accomplished that here, with very little doubt. Their musicianship is top notch, and their concept of who they are and what they do well is crystal clear. That alone makes for an album worth hearing. The downside, though, is in the lack of separation between what they're doing, and some of the current bands who inhabit their genre. This isn't necessarily their fault; they are just doing what they know how to. But as the arena becomes more saturated, you often have to leave your comfort zone to find open spaces to grow. For it's part, "Earthtone" does give some indication as to where things could go from here, something that should help to create that needed distance between the band and the ground below. But now, it is all in their choice of direction. Full speed ahead, stand still, or throw it in reverse. The choice may seem like an easy one, but it could decide whether their career arc is on the rise, or already beyond the peak.
Official Site - http://aminded.com/
Facebook - http://www.facebook.com/aminded
Saturday, June 22, 2013
It is the first in what will hopefully be many reader generated segments. You submit your questions, we give you our answers. No punches pulled, no bullshit. Submit your queries via our Facebook page or e-mail us at firstname.lastname@example.org. This week, questions about our missing website, SorrowEternal.com, our promo catalog, and how we pick our targets to review.
Friday, June 21, 2013
Farbeit from me to say that Suidakra are the only German Celtic folk metal band, but they are certainly one of the best. Having built a career on crushing war tunes with native Celtic undertones, this four piece from Düsseldorf have turned their fair share of heads over the course of fifteen years. But it hasn't been a flat ride; the band have grown with each album, starting a constant uphill climb to top themselves with each subsequent release. For the last two years, we thought "Book Of Dowth" was going to be the "be all and end all" of the Suidakra albums, redefining them in profound ways. But that was all the way back in 2011, and this isn't the same band, spiritually or emotionally. They've changed once again, in the enxt step of their life cycle, infusing more strings, more classical arrangements into their sound than ever before. With Arkadius remaining at the helm, they have continued to advance in leaps and bounds. There is no stopping now. There is simply moving forward; and "Eternal Defiance" represents a monumental achievement in the evolution of sound.
You can find everything good and righteous about Suidakra in the opening track, "Storming The Walls." The clap of thunder sets into motion three plus minutes of horns, strings, and the sounds of battle, all surrounded by crunching, distorted guitars. The orchestral arrangements, written by the hands of band mainman Arkadius, redefine the term "epic," as it pertains to folk metal. But as the last thundering crash of cymbals cuts through, you are thrown head first into the meat of the album at large. With "Inner Sanctum," the band launches into their signature devastation, stomping and thrashing their way through verse and chorus. Drummer Lars pounds away at his kit, laying down a thick layer of double kicks and rolling toms. His percussion work becomes the foundation for everything that follows, from the screaming guitars to the literal screaming of the vocal lines. Despite very straightforward riffing, there are a lot of subtleties hidden in the layers beneath, both melodic and atmospheric. Those touches, however small they may seem, provide the album with stability, as is evident in "Beneath The Red Eagle." Here, the secondary instrumentation of keys, orchestral instruments, and synthesizers, lifts the standard trio even further. Throw in a great mix of clean male and female vocals, and you ahve a track that is as well rounded as anything in their back catalog. The drumming alone pushes the mastering job to the brink of collapse.
And if you can find a better suited name than "March Of Conquest," you might have found a better career choice. The crushing stomp of the track brings you into the scenery, allowing you to step along with the band in all of their distorted fury. But restraint is the key here; rather than delivering a death blow a mere four tracks in, they hold back and unleash another round of beautifully sung harmonies. By no means is this track a dainty lullaby, though, as Arkadius and fellow guitarist Jussi lay down a heavy wall of power riffs. With the addition of bagpipes to the opening of "Pair Dadeni," the bands Celtic undertones come to the fore. Unlike their contemporaries, this is not an invitation to dance; on the contrary, it helps to bolster the mix with a very unique combination of sounds, often entwined with the guitar lead. They remain in your face at all times, surgically precise and astonishingly heavy handed. But following the beatdown, it makes sense to sooth the wounds, as "The Mindsong" does beautifully. The acoustic guitars, delicately delivered piano keys, and female vocals are all you need for this brief respite. It also takes time to deliver some of the storytelling the band has been known for on album's past. There is contrast to be had here as well, as the light gives way to "Rage For Revenge," a track with another fitting title. The guitar speeds are pushed to the limit, coming down fast and furious. Both pacing and the structure here lend themselves well to being played in a live setting, surely inviting raised fists. This is also where you'll find the best guitar work on the album, both lead and rhythm.
The building volume in the opening to "Dragon's Head" may fool you into thinking this track is something other than the reality, but this is a blackened scream fest at its core, blooming right before your eyes. The pulse of the kick drums coming through your speakers is strong, echoed by the bass lines that Tim has so precisely crafted in the middle of it all. But this isn't a one trick pony, bending and changing before your eyes and ears from verse to bridge to chorus and back again. The pipes play a large role in making this one work, adding another layer of glue to hold it all together. It reminds us that all is not always what it seems, as there are many different aspects to take in. Never is this more apparent than on a song like "Defiant Dreams," which boasts one of the more overflowing instrumentals on the album. Not only have the drums, guitars, and bass gone to breakneck speeds, but the light synthesizer injections wind and whirl around the mix like the proverbial rope. The density of the vocals is incredible, carrying the weight of raw emotion, but in a polished way. The band go outside the box one last time for the album closer, the sonically pleasing "Damnatio Memoriae." There is a classical element to the guitars here, plucked and strummed together in a majestic fashion, that sets the table perfectly for a melodic vocal performance. More importantly, it creates the foundation for the album to close the way it opens, with a flurry of horns and orchestral movements.
Is it really possible to say a band has outdone themselves with the release of every album? Suidakra, more than 15 years into their reign as Celtic folk metal kings, only get stronger and stronger. perhaps it is their ability to evolve and change with the times; or maybe it is the fact that their creativity has not diminished, but grown, over the last two decades of work. Whatever the reason, all bands should hope to have the kind of prolific career we've seen grown before our eyes. All that said, "Eternal Defiance" is, indeed, another masterpiece in their catalog, another trophy on the mantle, and another crowning achievement in metal mastery. There are no weak spots, no stumbles, and not even a slip to be found, minus a mastering job that might leave some listeners with a throbbing headache when all is said and done. Fifteen years might have gotten Suidakra to this point, but "Eternal Defiance" will live on as their best effort to date... at least until the next one.
Official Site - http://www.suidakra.com/
Facebook - http://www.facebook.com/Official.SuidAkrA
Thursday, June 20, 2013
It's scary to think that a mere two years ago, black metal in all its forms was barely on my periphery. That is to say, I just didn't get it. But some 800 days and countless albums later, it's all started to come together. Granted, a large part of the assimilation process was thanks to the progressive thinking of Malnatt. But regardless of how you get from point A to point B, the greater appreciation you've accumulated is well worth the journey. It becomes easy, then, to appreciate the work of Henrik Bodin-Sköld, mastermind and centerpiece of Norrsköld, a project which he defines as "multimetal from the cold forests of Sweden." What that means may not be immediately clear, but after the six tracks that make up the debut "Blessings Of Winter" EP, you'll start to understand. Rooted in black metal, but with branches extending to a wealth of other subgenres and styles, this is an effort that ties together the past, present, and future of metal's most controversial and misunderstood genre.
Melody may not be the main focus, but there are a fair share of infectious ones scattered throughout the album, beginning with the opening shots on "Night Crystals." But they are a second tier factor here, buried beneath a wave of rapid fire drums and grating screams. The track is well arranged, always maintaining a balance between aggression and cohesive songwriting. The short acoustic break midway through does wonders to reset the counter and start the building anew. But it is the final minute that rings the most true, allowing the guitars and drums to lock together, and provide a booming outro. With a strong focus on percussion, there is never a shortage of crippling blast beats and thunderous kick drums, as you clearly hear on "Dreamless." Together with a very strong bass presence, you have an anchor that keeps the track grounded enough to blossom organically. Much like the previous track, a stunningly beautiful, quiet interlude separates the song into two halves of the same whole, unleashing a battery of melodic guitar riffs in the latter half. That said, it is the title track that leaves the most lasting impression. "Blessings Of Winter" is a moving, clean piece of work of winding guitars and a low key bass element. Layered and dazzling, it shows another side of what has been a straightforward black metal album thus far.
With that versatility now out in the open, "Dead meadows now expands on the theme. On one hand, you have a blaring, blackened opus, complete with a pounding drum sound that could result in severe brain trauma. On the other hand, though, you have a sweeping melodic masterpiece, with jazz elements at play. How the two come together is interesting, if not very rigid. The outro portion, which encompasses the last thirty seconds or so, is a beast of its own, standing apart from the body of the piece. While it is great to have a flow within each song, the way the songs come together is just as important. And "Solar Prominence" is a great example of how the end of one track can be the beginning of another. The two aren't directly connected, but there is a puzzle piece feel here, as if they were written to fit together. With the lack of a vocal track here, the weight shifts completely to the instrumental. Without stretching, it is safe to say they handle the burden with great skill and timing, laying down the best four minutes on the album. The finale takes a turn for the epic, in both length and scope. This is a "full circle" kind of effort, with "Where Death Smites" connecting all of the dots left vacant along the way, while retracing the steps they've made thus far. It's victory comes in the development from beginning to end, taking you up and down, side to side, and hitting every note along the way.
We've see the flood gates opened in the realm of black metal; bands are doing new and unique things every day. Norrsköld may not be the first black metal project you've heard to infuse a healthy dose of melody to the mix, but they are one of the best at doing it. They've managed to find a striking balance here, one that allows the music to stay heavy without losing its identity. What Bodin-Sköld has done is given enough of himself to make this project sound different from the others, even if the elements are the same. The use of session musicians can, in some cases, dilute the finished product, and move it away from the initial vision. But that isn't the case here, with all four guests adding another layer of power to the album as a whole. It's difficult to guess how he'll continue to evolve from here; EPs are always a good start, but dangerous to follow. But regardless of how the music changes, if it does at all, it is safe to say that "Blessings Of Winter" won't be the last time the name Norrsköld slips out of our mouths.
Facebook - http://www.facebook.com/Norrskold
Spotify - http://open.spotify.com/album/4KwdiIhJttZ9T42QLF9p5F
Wednesday, June 19, 2013
Listening to an Amon Amarth album is like being in a battle with the gods themselves. Since “Once Sent from the Golden Hall” was released in 1998, they have been crushing eardrums on an epic scale. Every album is an unforgettable journey unto itself. Nine albums later, they’re still doing their thing. Have they redefined the genre? No. Have they drastically changed their sound and gotten experimental? No. Instead they stood their ground and continued to make punishing albums again and again. Other bands tend to get stale when they don’t try something new. Amon Amarth doesn’t need to change. When someone picks up one of their albums, they know exactly what they’re getting and that’s all one needs. There is no exception with “Deceiver of the Gods.” It’s not the most groundbreaking album, but it’s a solid journey that needs to be taken.
With the new album, the main focus is Loki, who is the father of Fenrir and Hel, and is believed to be a deceitful god. The album starts with the title track which is one of the best tracks on the album. It’s fierce, unapologetic and so epic, only Amon Amarth can handle something like this. Johan Hegg’s vocals have never sounded better. He summoned his inner Viking to deliver growls that are second to none. The guitars are still melodic and the drums are still tight. “As Loke Falls” opens with a catchy lead guitar that eventually leads into the most epic chorus on the album. “Father of the Wolf” and “Shape Shifter” are a little heavier than the first two tracks, but still maintain the melodic flow. “Under Siege” starts with a riff that, well for a lack of better words, just sounds awesome. “Blood Eagle,” besides the great opening sound effects (a body being ripped apart), is the weakest point in the album. It’s not a bad song, the end of it is amazing, the main riff is just lacking. “Hel” is a standout track for the simple fact that it has Messiah Marcolin (ex-Candlemass) doing guest vocals. The two of them pull it off perfectly and it gives the song a whole other dimension. The album closes with “Warriors of the North” which is hands down the best track on the album. Running at a little over eight minutes, this is one hell of a song.
“Deceiver of the Gods” doesn’t tread any new water, but it doesn’t have to. It’s evident that Amon Amarth are fine being as they are: the kings of melodic Viking metal. The only weak point was “Blood Eagle,” but it’s overshadowed by every other track on the album making it virtually non-existent. While this album doesn’t quite reach the mind-blowing status of “With Oden on Our Side“ and ”Twilight Of The Thunder God,” but it blows “Surtur Rising” and the rest of the albums away. Anyone who is a fan of melodic death metal needs to listen to this. Amon Amarth doesn’t disappoint. It’s a solid album that’s among the best this year has to offer so far.
- Brian DuBois
Official Site - http://amonamarth.com/
Facebook - http://www.facebook.com/OfficialAmonAmarth
Tuesday, June 18, 2013
What is it about a band that draws you in? Is it the vocals? Lyrics? Virtuosic guitars? Drums that can pound you into oblivion? Slick production work, chock full of auto-tune and vocal pitch correction? None of the above? Or is it come combination of all of those things, balanced delicately with one another? The choice is yours to make, but the answer is clear every week when the American Billboard sales are released. Most value nothing, really. And if you are looking for vapid, nonsensical pop hits, the four piece known as Within The Fall have nothing to offer you. Instead, they have fused death and doom metal into one monstrous output, bringing down the hammer of the Gods with each and every composition. That take all of the good traits listed above, and find a way to bring them together in a fractured harmony. A harmony that allows melody and morose to coexist, and give light to the dark. But without the aid of some structurally sound production, parts of their writing might not get the attention they deserve. But "Through The Shadows" does all it can, musically, to offset what it lacks, sonically.
Despite a relatively low volume threshold, "Into the Arms of Grief" comes out swinging. The massive chugging portions are brutally heavy, but not without reason. It becomes a signature, in a way, throughout the album as a whole. And though there are melodic passages, tagged with some extremely deft guitar work, it is the bass heavy growls of frontman Joakim Rudemyr that set the tone time and again. The real challenge that presents itself is making all of the separate pieces fit together in a coherent and well tuned mix. It is a recurring issue scattered here and there on the EP, though it never manages to cripple an otherwise solid effort. Case in point, the track "Leaving." The drum sound is huge, as it should be, but is lost in the other waveforms around it. Perhaps it is less of a leveling issue as it is a left to right mix. It's the kick drum that comes through clearest, providing that pounding beat that is the foundation for the rest of the track. In these more uptempo, thrashing moments, drummer Markus Norlén shines brightest. But when the tempo changes, as it does around the four minute mark, the guitar work takes over in a profound and versatile way. Guitarists Mike Wennerstrand and David Andersson have a keen sense of melody to go along with a penchant for extreme distortion.
The most balanced effort comes on "Shadows & Dust," a nearly seven minute opus that seems to find a middle ground between the atmospheric melodies and honest heaviness. The whispered lyrics are reminiscent of some Swallow The Sun efforts, creating a fairly forward mood. It is also here that you find the most straightforward instrumental, leaning heavily on the traditions of great doom metal from years past. Rudemyr sees his growls become even stronger when paired with a sweeping guitar melody, a stunning contrast of light and dark that could only be improved with additional clarity in the recording process. The mix, as it stands, will test the limits of your sound system of choice, pushing it to the brink of distortion. But the building of the track times throughout is no accident; the finale clocks in at a staggering eight minutes, making "The Burial" an intimidating but rewarding undertaking. Rudemyr whispers his way through the opening over a barely simmering layer of guitars and drums. As he breaks out in full melodic croon, you see another wrinkle added to the overall sound. But the first sonic shockwave, nearly halfway through the track, is enough to blow you back into your seat. This is the band at their best, in both sound and structure. They even find that narrow line between heavy and emotional, with the lyrics wrought with personal flare.
Despite all of the imperfections of the recording, Within The Fall have done enough to make believers out of the most skeptical of listeners. There is a stripped down honesty to the music, with the band refusing to dress it up and cover it with a thick layer of makeup to make it beautiful. Instead, they give it to you exactly as is, which is both their greatest strength and the area the stand to improve the most. With a focus on more smooth production work, in both recording and mixing, they stand to gain an entire new level of clarity and quality. All of the piece are there, and they all fit together nicely; but with the sometimes hazy, murky mix, it's difficult to see the forest for the trees. That said, it's obvious after multiple listens that this four piece has the sound, the substance, and the vision to grow in leaps and bounds. And while potential isn't always a guarantee of success, it is one of the main ingredients for a young metal band. As this journey begins, "Through The Shadows" is the first of many efforts, that will certainly bring the band out of the dark, and into the light.
Bandcamp - http://withinthefall.bandcamp.com/
Facebook - http://www.facebook.com/WithinTheFall
Monday, June 17, 2013
Collaborative albums aren't always a good idea. Supergroups come and go, usually with more fanfare at the start than at the end. It is so often the case that these efforts features artists who are just too similar, too like minded, to make something that reaches outside their collective box. If the project sounds like your main band, what is the purpose? But when Bruce Soord, instrumental powerhouse and mastermind of The Pineapple Thief, and Jonas Renkse, whose voice has captivated rabid Katatonia fans the world over, announced that they would be coming together on one effort, no one could have seen it coming. "Wisdom Of Crowds," as the album came to be known, is the result of an intense writing process by Soord, who saw the album through from beginning to end. But it was the voice that he coveted, the voice he had to have on the album, that Renkse could provide. And on this debut, the duo go outside their norms, away from the regular, manufactured supergroup mentality, and create something that is bizarrely entertaining and equally mind blowing.
It is Soord that provides the ambient energy of the album, starting immediately in the break beat laden "Pleasure." The use of backing electronics, both in beat and melody form, do wonders for momentum this early in an album. But it isn't all soothing breaks, with the crying and bass and guitars weaving in and out of the main structure. Renkse adds a layer of gloomy flow to the mix, his voice floating just above the rest, as he does in so many of the down tempo Katatonia offerings. That his voice locks up instantly with Soord's eclectic instrumentation is not necessarily surprising as much as it is a wonder of modern metal. But things take unexpected twists and turns throughout the disc, beginning with the avant flare of the title track, "Wisdom Of Crowds." They've stepped completely off the beaten path, gone away from what you expected all along. The beats are strong, and the background injections, sometimes sounding like flute and other times sounding like accordion, are strangely satisfying. Soord allows his every whim to cascade down on you, waves of guitars raining down in the bridge. All the while, Renkse delivers lyrics that are simplistic and thought provoking at the same time. It may be the verse sections of "Radio Star" that takes his vocal prowess furthest out of his comfort zone, with the track sounding like a more melodically charged and polished Nine Inch Nails industrial rock style. But he finds his groove again in the chorus, over a gentle sea of pianos, broken up by a tremendous thunder of a beat. Coat it all in a layer of blissful distortion and climbing synthesizers, and you have a track that stands out as a highlight of the year.
With another one hundred and eighty degree flip, Soord reverts to beautifully played acoustic guitars and sweeping orchestration on "Frozen North," the closest thing to a ballad that you will find here. Solemn and quiet, it has the ability to lull you into sleepy trance before a massive explosion sends you flying backwards from your speakers. It's a mystery how the two halves fit together, yet they would now seem less impactful if they were separated in any way. And yet when the third of the multiple personalities of the track emerges in the breakdown, it seems all too perfect. The outro alone boasts power of unmentionable proportions. What this duo lacks in conventional delivery, they more than make up for in far reaching appeal. The techno dance beat that opens "The Light" is as far from center as you could get, allowing Renkse's voice to send his own unique brand of chills through you. But as a massive bass drop comes in - and it does with ferocity - the entire mood of the track changes quickly. Soord interjects with a guitar solo that isn't quite blues, not quite jazz, but anything but predictable. The path the album takes is, perhaps it's most mind boggling accomplishment, as "Stacked Naked" mirrors the lyrics it dishes out. "I'm going, going astray," Renkse croons, matched first with a summer party beat, and followed by a raucous, bass heavy thunderclap. The tempo is fast and furious, with every wave of musical accompaniment rattling everything it touches, from speakers to your forehead.
Much like his career work, Renkse is a master of mood and emotion, something evident in the beautifully penned "Pretend," a track that Soord has outdone himself on. It stands as a monument to the versatility that Jonas brings to the table, though, as his voice stacks up beautifully when paired with light, acoustic guitars or broad sweeping chaos. There is something familiar on tap, woven into the fabric of the track itself. It brings to mind of Jeff Martin, and The Tea Party, in both sound and tone. And as Renkse delivers a blockbuster line - "If anyone should ask how the story goes, just pretend we're almost there. Just pretend." - it all seems right. If one songs stands out as the most matched track on the album, it must be "Centre Of Gravity," which does have the sound of one of the well constructed Katatonia remixes of the last few years. The soundscapes created in the latter half of the track are incredibly detailed and balanced, with layer of layer coming to rest on top of one another, without ever feeling muddled or forced. And despite the preconceived notions you may have, "Flows Through You" isn't the "gently into the night" outro. The script has been flipped again, with the entire track taking on an entirely different mood. There is a darkness there, one that turns borderline violent int he breakdown, blasting you with rapid fire beats and bass heavy thuds. But it all comes full circle, piano and vocals, at a soothing and wholly fitting conclusion.
How do you summarize something that is so far outside the realm of normal? This album, this collaboration between musicians who are stars in their own right, defies any expectations you may have had. It not only leaves you speechless, but it may also have you thinking it couldn't possibly be real. "Wisdom Of Crowds" pushes all of the boundaries of modern heavy metal, sometime beyond their own breaking points. Soord has crafted a masterpiece here, his command of instruments being the centerpiece of a whirlwind musical experience. But his vision, his desire to have Renkse's voice on the album may have been the decision that brought perfection into the mix. Their chemistry is undeniable, and the sonic waves that are formed are unbreakable. It's probably too early to see where this pairing will go from here, or if this is a one off collaboration. But should the opportunity arise for these two men to join forces again in the future, be it on stage or in a studio, the world of metal would be far better served if they accepted the challenge.
Official Site - http://www.kscopemusic.com/wisdomofcrowds/
Facebook - https://www.facebook.com/OfficialWisdomOfCrowds
Sunday, June 16, 2013
The best part of music is when it makes you think. And the best part of metal is that it has the power to make you think harder. The debut album by Aetherfallen, with a story that is both weighty and well written, is sure to command a few listens, like it or not. The same could be said for Deuil, who explore the stages of grief on their new EP. And while Kalmah and Chthonic continue to improve with age, they also both make you question the norm. One musically, and the other politically. But a true victory is bringing back the past, without sacrificing the future, as Sleestak take their classic TV moniker for a spin, on an album that unites future and past under the same banner.
Stay tuned for our special Saturday edition of the Sorrow Eternal podcast, where Darrell sits down to answer fan submitted questions!
Stay tuned for our special Saturday edition of the Sorrow Eternal podcast, where Darrell sits down to answer fan submitted questions!
Friday, June 14, 2013
The music industry is full of rebels without a cause; people who make music for the fame, the money, the women, or the drugs. To each their own, I suppose. But there are still those few who make music with a purpose, an underlying goal for themselves or their fans. Taiwanese metal act Chthonic have earned themselves an audience through their music, speaking their piece to fans around the world, and in front of the United Nations. Their desire is clear, albeit complicated: freedom for Taiwan. Controlled by the Chinese government, yet a world economic power, the tiny island of Taiwan is ready to make their case for a seat as a sovereign country. There are hurdles to be cleared, of course. And the members of Chthonic, on tours throughout the world have voiced their wishes to all who would hear them. But they are not political figures, they are musicians. And they best represent their country with their music, an unmatched combination of blackened death metal, and worldly influences. "Bú-Tik" sees the band arm themselves again, in telling more of the history of their home.
The intro track, ""Arising Armament," sets the scene as only Chthonic can; the blaring of a horn and thumping of drums welcome in a host of orchestral elements, provided by the nimble hands of keyboardist CJ Kao. By the time "Supreme Pain for the Tyrant" begins, you are already completely immersed in the album. Immediately, you can hear the amount of time and skill that has gone into the mixing and mastering of the album. Despite an overwhelming sea of drums, there is never a moment when it buries the other elements. Everything comes through, helping to push vocalist Freddy Lim and his combination of coarse screams and pummeling growls even higher in the mix. The guitar work is detailed and devastating, with equal parts chugging and shredding. It is the secondary instruments, whether it be ehru, clean guitar, or keyboards, that have always been the key to success here. And with "Sail into the Sunset's Fire," the band lets their sonic assault speak just as loudly as the lyrical content. Drummer Dani Wang, who could easily be considered one of the more talented drummers on the world metal scene, delivers a powerhouse performance that redefines the term "machine gun drums." The highlight, though, is the ability to be melodic and grave at the same time.
The track "Next Republic" begins with a beautifully sung opening, sampled from the works of Su Beng. With the pace often teetering on break neck speeds, it is a wonder how the band manages to stay so surgically precise with all of their instrumental work. Yet, they manage, as you spend time trying to find a single note out of place and fail. Guitarist Jesse Liu proves his mettle time and time again, darting up and down the fretboard in screaming solo sections. The use of native instrumentation does wonders here, with the intro to ""Rage of my Sword" giving you a mere moment to prepare for the onslaught of crushing percussion. Lim is at his vicious best in these moments, commanding the mic like the seasoned veteran he is. With backing screeches provided by bassist Doris Yeh, you have a two pronged attack that would be hard to top. Tied together with some great atmospheric keyboard work, the track stands out as a must hear for anyone unfamiliar with the band. Never suffering from a lack of intensity or energy, they launch directly into the thrashing "Between Silence and Death," a rolling thunder behind them. It's no coincidence that the most boisterous track is also the most catchy one, as you are treated to a track that would please fans of melodic death and black metal alike.
With the keyboards seeing the most impressive work, outside of the intro track, "Resurrection Pyre" sets an early tone that can not be extinguished. To call the drum work relentless is an understatement, as percussion fills every narrow gap throughout the song. It's the way all of these elements come together that keeps things so balanced and deadly. At no point do you have to struggle to pick out guitar or bass, as each separate instrumental adds something dynamic to the mix. When Lim unleashes a massive growl and scream to open "Set Fire to the Island," it is already too late to turn tail and run. You are dragged into the middle of a tornado of activity, all packed into a masterpiece that is less than four minutes long. The vocals even take a melodic turn, adding yet another dimension to the band's sparkling track record. The ripping guitar solo that follows is one for the ages, undoubtedly. The namesake of the album, "Defenders of Bú-Tik Palace" rises from the ashes of the previous track, anchored by a sweeping keyboard melody and unrivaled deathly vocals. This is Chthonic at their very best, executing all of the aspects of their sound with grace, precision, and a talent that goes beyond the sound on digital media. And with a closing track of beauty, like "Undying Rearmament," you get a glimpse into the genius and artistic integrity the band holds so dear.
This is yet another look at a band that can seemingly do no wrong. Good will aside, this album is yet another landmark in a career that has been as prolific as any in the last decade. No filler, no nonsense, and certainly no contrived, quasi-emotional drivel to be found. Instead, you have another ten tracks of pure, unbridled energy, unleashed on every unsuspecting listener who wasn't quite sure what they were getting themselves into. Chthonic have always used their music to retell legends and history of their country in the most brutal of art forms. But to use their musical notoriety in the world to fight and rally for the independence of Taiwan is a venture that deserves all of the credit and admiration we can muster. They continue to blur the lines between genres, and between the political and musical world. But their albums are more than that. They've managed to be powerful on both sides of that fence with every release. The attention they've brought to the cause would be reason enough to continue, year after year, tour after tour. And in time, they will open enough eyes to get what they've sought all this time.
Official Site - http://chthonic.org/
Facebook - http://www.facebook.com/chthonictw
Thursday, June 13, 2013
What's in a name? No, seriously, what meaning can we derive from a band name, if any? For every band that seems like a virtual throwaway in that department (Jizzlobber), there are a treasure trove of bands that hold personal meaning in that moniker. So when a band chooses a throwback to mid-seventies television as their name, one must wonder where the inspiration came from. And then you hit play. Milwaukee, Wisconsin's Sleestak have found some sort of harmony between name and sound that is both pleasant and surprising. Taking their name from the insect/reptilian inhabitants of the Lost City in the short lived, but long remember TV series "Land Of The Lost," this three piece managed to capture so much of that green, scaly appearance in each and every note of their ten year career. With albums inspired by and about the Altrusians, the ancestors and descendants of the Sleestaks (it's complicated. Go watch the show and the time-loop might all make sense) their taste for the bizarre meets squarely with seventies psychedelic grooves on their new EP, "Book Of Hours."
When an opening track makes you feel like you are standing front row at a live gig, you have something special on your hands. And so, the intro track "Appeasing The Gods" begins. The booming drum sound pounds through your speakers with a variety of groove laden guitar riffs at its side. This is a foot stomping, head nodding two minute welcome into a world you might not be fully prepared for. That world, one of psychedelic haze, is brought into full view on "Seven Sorrows." Guitarist and vocalist Matt Schmitz gives you the first glimpse at his retro vocal style, one that may bring back memories of seventies psych-prog bands. Just as important as his voice, though, is the trail of insanely catchy guitar riffs he leaves in his wake. It becomes a non stop assault on your senses, sometimes feeling as though you've stumbled into a rainbow of sound and visual. That smokiness continues well into "Five Million Years To Earth," becoming a canvas for an interesting vocal turn. The tone may stay the same, but it is the lyrics that captivate you here, telling tale of travelers from a distant world, coming to over all that exists.
The rhythm section dominates in the best possible ways when necessary. During "Lone Wolf," bassist Dan Bell leaves his mark with an infusing of smooth, low end notes. His bass lines become the glue between the guitar and keyboard parts, holding them together with an unwavering melody. With Schmitz bending and flexing his way through riff after riff, the accompanying anchor is a must. If not, the jazzy groove that strikes just after the three minute mark might go in an entirely different direction. The one constant is always drummer Marcus Bartell, who not only keeps the time atomicly accurate, but adds a depth with each roll and fill. When the music has ended, it will be "Blacklight Communion" that stands apart from the rest. With its tremendous guitar work, and otherworldly vocal delivery that could recall the ghost of Jim Morrison himself, the band have hit a stride that might as well be a cocky strut. A tim e machine of a keyboard solo complete the effect. The EP is rounded out with an interesting reprise of "Lone Wolf." The music remains the same, but what the "Patriot Version" adds a revolutionary lyrical take on the song.
For the duration of five tracks, you feel as though you've been caught in a time warp. Could this really be a new piece of music, or have the ghosts of the seventies psychedelic titans come back to haunt us? But alas, it is the former. The recording and executon of this EP alone leave a lasting impression; they've captured the sound and feel of nearly three decades of change and evolution in every note. But the substance is just as important, and just as impressive. Schmitz, Bell, and Bartell aren't riding the wave of some cheesy gimmick that should have been discarded a decade ago; they are making it work in their favor. The music fits the concept, the concept fits the lyrics, and the lyrics fit the sound. It is a perfect circle of musical theory. Perhaps they, like their namesake, are merely the present stages of an evolutionary time loop. They are the descendants of seventies prog, while also being the ancestors of a 21st century prog movement that has yet to come to fruition. Insect/lizard men, dinosaurs, and decades old TV shows aside, "Book Of Hours" is a time machine I'd be happy to try.
Bandcamp - http://sleestak.bandcamp.com/
Facebook - https://www.facebook.com/sleestakofficial
Wednesday, June 12, 2013
Back in 1991, a good metal band by the name of Ancestor formed. They continued for the next seven years without recording an album until 1998, when they changed their name to Kalmah. With the release of Kalmah’s first album was released in 2000, they already had a good start with their unstoppable force of melodic death metal with a hint of folk. “Swamplord” had everything, from the overly melodic guitars to the demonic vocals, to make an instant classic. Still to this day, “Withering Away” is still considered a staple song in the genre. When they released their third album, “Swampsong”, they really hit their stride and reached a peak that hasn’t been reached until now. Not saying that the other albums were bad, because they weren’t. Kalmah has never put out a bad album in 13 years. They have tried different things and new sounds, but they always stayed true to the fans. With “Seventh Swamphony”, they have raised the bar for themselves again. They have never sounded this focused and this intent on taking over the entire genre. I may be getting ahead of myself here, but “Seventh Swamphony” is nothing short of a masterpiece.
When the album explodes with the title track, it’s evident that Kalmah wanted to go back to the style of “Swamplord” and “Swampsong”. It’s fast, furious and melodic as hell. “Deadfall” and “Pikemaster” get a little more symphonic. The new keyboard player, Veli Matti Kananen, breathes a new life into the band’s sound that makes them sound more grandiose. The track “Hollo” makes a departure from their other work by including clean vocals. When a band in the melodic death metal genre uses clean vocals, it’s hit or miss. In Kalmah’s case, they nail it. The only problem with “Hollo” is that it’s a little slower than it needs to be. Not that it’s a bad song (it’s not), it’s just sandwiched between the rest of the album which is a lot faster and hard-hitting. The next track, “Windlake Tale”, is a blazing inferno of symphonic mastery. “Wolves on the Throne” and “Black Marten’s Trace” keep up the momentum with their head banging riffs and great solos. The last track, “The Trapper”, is possibly the best on the album. It combines everything from the album and squishes it into a song that makes them sound like a more epic Amon Amarth.
“Seventh Swamphony” is every Kalmah album rolled into one. It’s got the speed from “Swamplord”, the symphonic element from “The Black Waltz” and the accessibility of “12 Gauge”. They have created something for the hardcore fans as well as newcomers. To create a perfect balance like that is a true test of a band which they have done impeccably. They’ve never been more symphonic, solid and impressive in years. It’s their best album since “Swampsong” and it should be a part of everyone’s metal collection. “Seventh Swamphony” is a breakthrough.
- Brian DuBois
Official Site - http://www.kalmah.com/
Facebook - http://www.facebook.com/kalmahofficial
Tuesday, June 11, 2013
What you look for in a band is your own prerogative. Sound, construction, production, look; it all factors in to which bands appeal to whom, and why. But sometimes you need a little more than that. You want to go deeper; you want something that is higher on meaning and lower on polish and preening. With their name taken from the French word for "mourning," Deuil have more to offer than just some distorted guitar riffs. They've hit on a concept that we've all had to live through, some more than others. The loss of a loved one, for whatever reason, at whatever stage of our lives, can be a crushing one, often followed by those steps of mourning. The band have picked up with the tail end of that process, touching on the two that are often the most difficult. And with their new EP, the thirty minute, emotionally driven "Acceptance/Rebuild," they take you through their own grieving process, with a musical accompaniment to boot.
With the twenty minute epic, "Acceptance," leading off, you are immediately immersed in a different sort of musical world. The song plays out like the ocean current, with a well defined ebb and flow. In some moments, you have a traditional doom metal atmosphere, dragging and crawling through segments at a deliberately slow pace. There is an inherent sadness to how the music is constructed, expressed through the combination of dark guitar melodies and low, rumbling bass lines. Sure, there are heavier moments, often predicated by grisly screaming vocals. But it is the former that does the lion's share of the work, keeping you all the while awash in shadow. Perhaps just as important is the recording process and resulting sound. Done in a live setting (i.e. the band's practice space), there is also an honesty to it all. The much shorter "Rebuild" is no less profound, though, and takes on an entirely different aesthetic. The tone of the drums has changed noticeably, and the drone elements have come to the fore. But unlike the stereotypical drone band, Deuil manage to create a real mood, real emotion in their instrumental. They also have a tight grip on contrast, as an explosion of distortion and crashing cymbals takes over the last three minutes of the track. That raw aggression is the proverbial icing on the cake.
I think our preconceived notions of what a style or genre is all about keep us away from discovering things that are new and different. Your previous experiences with music classified as drone notwithstanding, this might shed some much needed light, or perhaps darkness, on the word as it pertains to metal. The combination of doom, sludge and drone elements creates something far richer, and far more interesting than the repetitive tides you may have expected. And the true emotional investment this band has made on this effort, which you can plainly hear with each separate movement, might have made all the difference. Their ability to capture that sense of loss and longing is a special talent that is often cast aside in favor of brutal breakdowns, and nonsensical shredding. But they've avoided all the pitfalls here, and produced something that lives up to their own deep seeded feelings of mourning. While this release certainly isn't for everyone, it might hit you harder than you'd expect. Leave your baggage at the door, and let Deuil give you their own version of acceptance and rebuilding.
Bandcamp - http://deuil.bandcamp.com/
Facebook - http://www.facebook.com/wearedeuil
Monday, June 10, 2013
When Within Temptation released their last album, "The Unforgiving," in 2011, there was concern expressed by many in and around the metal scene. Can a story so deep really elevate the music? Can music of this style be the right vessel for the story to build upon? The band executed the album well, using each track to tell the story of Mother Maiden and her recruitment of lost souls. But the delicate foundations were high risk, as well as high reward. Aetherfallen, a one man project from Denver, Colorado has poured heart and soul into the writing of his "Revelation's Eternal" storyline. But the trasition from concept to album isn't always the smoothest one. On the album of the same name, Hailen G. gives us an audio-visual story of the end of the world, following the path of one man and his partner from beginning to end. With all of the right pieces in place, it would stand to reason that the album would be an emotional, sonic assault on your senses. But as you read along with the story and lyrics, is the album worthy of sharing the title? Or is this a case of a concept too large for metal?
With the story of the album on display from the onset, there is an immediate challenge presented. The balance has to be perfect for things to work, something that the intro track, "Listen," demonstrates. The screams of the people, the emergency broadcast system all play in the background. But the electronic beat and orchestral arrangements play the lead. What results is a clean segue into "I'll Wait For You," which boasts a blaring backbeat, and a mix that is, quite literally, full to bursting. There is a methodical approach to the building of the track, with both clean and growled vocals in the repertoire. The background symphonic elements, as quiet as they may be at times, are the keystone in this arch, holding up the song at the highest level. It stands as a strong opening, with things being full of substance as well as being accessible to the average listener. That theme runs through each track, including the electronic tinged "Save Your Lights." With an immeasurable number of tempo changes and a sea of blast beats, the only thing the track lacks is restraint. Flirting with seven minutes, it stands as a monument to excess, possibly overstaying its welcome. The much more focused "Momentus," though, embodies not only the style, but the spirit of the album. It's concise four minute framework and booming drum beat are more than enough to bring you back into line, soothed by the vocal melodies.
The sweeping orchestral elements of "Conception" are staggeringly beautiful, enough to tell a story all their own. The lack of restraint that flooded the previous long track is not an issue here, with a clear evolution from start to finish, playing out before your ears in each movement. For the first time, the guitars truly shine through the mix, both in rhythm and lead capacity. Their strength is what helps to ignite the blast that comes in the latter stages, crushing drum beats pulsing through your speakers. A clean outro, and dialogue runs directly into the intermission track, "Throughout The Chaos." The light synthesizers are merely a vessel for the speech, given by a man once thought to be crazy, who now seems more prophet than madman. The second half of the album, mood change and all, begins at that moment. As "Silens Veritas" begins, the pain of the characters held within this story can be felt in every lyrics, every melody. The track plays out like a power ballad, coated in spiritual meaning. It's shortcoming, though, is in the mixing and mastering, leaving the instrumental feeling like a brick of sound at times, with no clear division or depth. When the waves of sound come in, they are too crowded for their own good. But once again, there is redemption afoot, with "Chances" standing as the most intensely emotional track on the album. The sadness is now tangible, magnified by the use of keyboards throughout.
While the transition from track to track is nearly flawless over the entirety of the album, it is patly because of the similarity between the tracks themselves. As "Chances" ends and "I, Alone" begins, they seem like parts of the same song, broken up by a momentary pause. The vocal tone grows in strength, reaching to the height of range in the chorus, joining with a pained growl in the verse. That combination, which sees very few uses, is a dynamic one. A few thundering drum fills peek through as well, adding some much needed depth of sound to the song. Much like the title states, "Loving Whispers" is exactly that; soft piano and keyboard harmonies take over, and carry with them the deep pain the main character must now suffer, having lost so much. But the story goes on, as "Desertion (Shades of the Future)" becomes the final chapter. Having seen the arc run its course, there is a sense of finality in every drum stroke and guitar riff here, as if the instrumental has grown right along with the tale itself.
It is nearly impossible to absorb all of the information that comes along with this album, without having to sit down, and truly pour over the story multiple times. Aetherfallen is just a name for a project that has visions beyond the music itself. And therein lies the complication this album leaves us with. The story itself is one of depth, meaning, and emotional investment. But is this album, musically, able to convey all of that? There are times when the two intersect; when the music truly echoes all that is going on in the world of these two people as they struggle to survive. But there are also times when the two feel disjointed and disconnected, only linked by the assertion that they are one and the same. Without a doubt, Hailen has given everything imaginable to make this all work, and it is beyond me to see how the pieces all fit together. But "Revelation’s Eternal," after several listens, with each more in depth than the last, leaves me with a thought that may or may not be common. In this case, the story exists without the album, as written on the main lyric site. But does the album make an impact without the back story? How do you separate, or rejoin, the two for maximum success?
Bandcamp - http://aetherfallen.bandcamp.com/
Facebook - http://www.facebook.com/AEtherfallen
Sunday, June 9, 2013
Is the passing of the torch a real phenomena in metal, or are we just imagining things? It seems like the best bands of the last few years have started to fade, and new bands must step in to take their place every day. This week, Sleepwalkers proved that they have the talent and the power to be the top death/doom band in America, while Nymronaut gave us a thick blend of space rock and sludge on their new EP. Tristania may still have the same name, but it may be time to move on after their latest effort. Exthenia gave us a taste of some youth-infused guitar wizardry, while the return of a familiar face gave the new Northsong album a lift into a new stratosphere. Young to old and young again, I guess.
Friday, June 7, 2013
We love to talk one man bands. We are infatuated with the concept, and obsessed with the results. But it wasn't always this way. When we began this humble vampire blog in 2011, we had no idea what we would find along the way. It was two men, hundreds of miles apart, that changed the way we looked at how much is made. Dan Klyne, the lone member of Appalachian Winter, and Cortland Runyon, who makes the gears move on Northsong, gave us reason to believe that while one is the loneliest number, it is certainly not the weakest. Their respective works stand as testaments to their talents, yes, but also to their singular resolve. And over the last two years or so, our site has grown. And they, in turn, have grown faster than we could have imagined. Klyne reached new heights with his latest effort, "Ghosts of The Mountains." And with the release of a new full length album, Runyon looks to have done the same. But despite the name, 'The Final Journey" is anything but. With his inspiration working overtime, and his talents growing stronger by the day, Runyon and Northsong are far from finished with us.
It seems odd to say that the first installment of the "Final Journey" trio makes a solid opening track, but it does just that. Runyon creates a very deep mix, allowing the music to speak for itself. With an assist from Hvile I Kaos cellist extraordinaire Christopher Brown, the stunning melodies that fill the track are both a testament to the forward thinking and strong melodic sensibilities of a musician at his prime. The music bends and sways, beautifully atmospheric and refreshingly rich. There is a clear and distinct evolution in both sound and structure, as compared to the debut EP some two years ago. The connection between parts one and two is seamless, which is important if not easily overlooked. Momentum has already been built, which gives the second installment a head start. Runyon's vocals emerge for the first time, subtle at first, but moving into the low growls he has mastered. The constant presence of double kicks is the driving force here, bolstered by a sweeping, if not hidden symphonic layer. It's the smallest touches that do the most good here, with every minor tone change and pluck leaving a lasting impression. Running a risk with a spoken word segment, which can either aid or stunt the growth of a song, Runyon chooses wisely. The German speech, provided by Wilbur Salisbury, begins what may be a highlight of the album. The instrumentation is at full strength here, with ringing guitar chords laying down a thick layer of distortion on top of the biggest drum sound you've heard from the album yet. The main melody, presumably provided via keyboard, can only be dubbed enchanting. This makes for a dynamic contrast between beauty, and the beast of a harsh, blackened vocal. An aura of triumph leads a rousing outro.
For the first time, though, the mix becomes a weak point as "Yggdrasil" begins with a slightly flat sound. The opening trio of drums, guitar and vocals merge together into one solid chunk. While their strength is undeniable, it becomes difficult to separate the three. This is only a temporary hurdle, however, and as the track begins to shift and change, so does the soundscape. The difference might be immediately clear, but as "Northern Blood" fades in, the inadequacies of the previous track come with it. There is a clarity to the instrumental here, despite multiple layers. It's what Runyon does outside of the guitar, bass, and drum realm that makes it so profound, and this is no different. Rolling kick drums can only go so far without proper accompaniment, something they get in spades here. Between the melodic, chanting vocals, and the intricate symphonic elements, there is a lot to take in all at one time. The much shorter "Trolls" is a complete 180 flip, as you are thrown into a black metal scream fest, bringing the element of evil and treachery back to the fold. The screeching vocals make your skin crawl, and also give you a reminder as to the range you are witnessing.
It would seem fitting, of course, that the sound of flowing water would open "The River;" but it is what follows that will become the lasting sound of the track itself. The intro music is very clean, very crisply delivered. The drum beat is sure to get a head nod or ten out of each listener, and it is only the base for what comes after. Beautifully plucked strings and synthesizers form the body of the piece, creating a perfect flow. The spotlight in the latter part of the album shines brightly on "Mímisbrunnr," which may best embody Runyon's viking and folk metal roots. It also captures him at his musical best, delivering some of the strongest guitar work on the album. Not only do his riffs burst through, but his vocals match them stride for stride. The breakdown, of sorts, that surrounds the four minute mark sets the table expertly for the remaining outro. But it is the epic conclusion to the "Final Journey" saga that will be most talked about here. The track, which clocks in well over the twelve minute mark, has the evolution of an entire album captured within it's walls. Not to be lost in all of the instrumental wizardry, the lyrical content is both enjoyable and easily dissected. The deathly growls come full circle here, hitting their most powerful levels. What stands out most is the way Runyon doesn't just tell you about the adventure, but the way he takes you along with him. It becomes a sort of first person experience, which is difficult to come across.
When you've been fortunate enough to see someone rise from their beginnings into a full fledged star, everything they do resonates just that much stronger. By no means can we take any credit for "discovering" Cortland Runyon and his Northsong project. In fact, he found us nearly two years ago. But it has been incredible to watch the growth over that scant 730 days worth of time. The four songs on "Winter's Dominion" were better than good; they inspired us to bring together a release a sampler in late 2011 in hopes of garnering some attention for some bands who had so much to offer. But the changes that have occurred since then are remarkable, to say the least. There is a maturity on display here that only comes through sheer dedication and commitment to one's craft, something Runyon obviously has. And that isn't to say that "The Final Journey" will be the best thing we get from the Northsong name; it would be safe to say things will only continue to get better from here. But the amount of time, blood, sweat, and screams that went into this album are worthy of praise.
Bandcamp - http://northsong.bandcamp.com
Facebook - http://www.facebook.com/Northsong
Thursday, June 6, 2013
Sometimes, life just isn't fair. While many aspiring musicians wallow in the unfortunate talent-less pool, their counterparts go off and show that the metal scene is more like the movie "Twins" than we ever could have imagined. On one side, you get the runt; the Danny Devito, short, bald, fat, joke bands. On the other side, the model of musical perfection; talented, creative and brimming with ideas. We've all seen too many of the former, both locally and internationally. But it is the latter that keeps us coming back. And Exthenia, for their six months of existence, have already given us enough to show which side of the fence they are on. With one demo already released, this Finnish three piece must have their DNA twisted in just the right way to enable their first official release seem all too easy. The five songs on "Dominate The Wind" may lack the clean, crisp sound of a professional engineer, but the substance far outweighs the vessel, something they prove time and time again.
It doesn't take long for the title track to inject a little energy into your diet, as the guitar work comes fast and furious right from the onset. What "Dominate The Wind" lacks in slick production values and needless overdubs, it more than makes up for in pure skill. Lead guitarist Mikael Weckström blazes a sweep picking trail throughout the track, flanked on one side by a high speed drum attack, and on the other by an unpolished and brutally raw vocal line. The final twenty seconds are eye opening ones. The sheer amount of instrumentation to take in, particularly on "Falling Down," is incredible, with multiple layers of guitars and drums flooding the mix. The lead melodies alone would be enough to pad out the entire run time, but the way they lock up with the rhythm guitars, provided by vocalist Juho Raita, only strengthens their ability. The barely three minute offering eliminates the need for useless filler, and keeps things brief, concise, and powerful. With the longest track, "Eternal Spirit," clocking in just over four minutes, it seems the band have found a perfect formula for their message. And while the metallic crash of cymbals can be overbearing, sometimes drowning out the leads, they do redefine the term "heavy metal." Drummer Ville Lähteenmäki blasts his way through verse and chorus with a flurry of snares, toms, cymbals and furious double kicks. His work could easily constitute an hour workout session.
Their most polished effort, the shredding masterpiece of "Disappointment" shows off the band at their most focused, and perhaps most deadly. It is their seamless transition from verse to chorus, mid tempo to high, that comes off as being much more precisely planned and rehearsed. But it is the breakdown portion that will likely stand out here, with the band adopting a few scarce moments of pure melody, nailing down a guitar lead that sets off the final assault. Weckström, in all of his virtuosic talent, often brings to mind the incredible, albeit fictional, playing of one Skwisgaar Skwigelf. His tone, reminiscent of Skwigelf's real life musical double, Brendon Small, is larger than life. That album finishes with another exhibition in drumming domination, as Lähteenmäki powers his way through a series of earth rattling double kick segments, somehow refusing to waver under what must be a massive amount of exhaustion and lactic acid buildup. For his part, Raita delivers an outstanding vocal performance, if not slightly overshadowed in the mix. Cleaning up his place in the pecking order might, in fact, be the difference in their future efforts.
It seems absolutely crazy that, after just 6 slim months, Exthenia are at this high level of operation. They seem to have all of their proverbial ducks in a row, on this their first official release. They aren't trying to disguise themselves as anything other than what they are. This is melodic death metal, with an infusion of some major thrash riffs. No frills, no lacy borders or hidden Easter eggs. The straightforward, full speed ahead nature of the EP is part of what makes it so enjoyable, and so painstakingly good. Twenty minutes is absolutely a finite measure of time. But rarely has it felt so much shorter, so much more compact and compressed as it does here. Raita, Weckström, and Lähteenmäki don't have it down to an exact science yet; a date with a proven engineer and mastering firm might prove me wrong. But they've shown that the talent pool may be large, but it is certainly not divided up equally. From where they are standing, things are looking pretty damn good. From the other end? A lot of bands and aspiring musicians will be looking up at the giant-to-be.
Facebook - http://www.facebook.com/Exthenia
Youtube - http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=SzSeiw5YydM
Wednesday, June 5, 2013
If anyone is a fan of symphonic gothic metal, chances are they’ve at least heard of Tristania. While not as mainstream sounding as Within Temptation or Sirenia, they have definitely built a strong fan base. With the release of “Beyond the Veil” in 1999, Tristania made something that was hauntingly beautiful and completely unforgettable. It was almost the perfect album with it’s harsh male vocals complimented by lush soundscapes and gorgeous female vocals. They hit the proverbial high mark with that album, but everything after wasn’t bad either. “World of Glass,” “Ashes,” and “Illumination” all had their fair share of incredible songs. It’s when the band saw the departure of the lead vocalist, Vibeke Stene, that they started to falter. On “Rubicon” it was very clear they were going in a different direction than previous efforts. Mariangela Demurtas wasn’t trying to imitate Vibeke Stene in the least, and that change in vocal style really brought down the appeal of the band. The vocals went from operatic and grand sounding to an almost monotone sound that had no dynamics. “Rubicon” wasn’t a bad album per se, but it in no way stacked up to anything they’ve previously done. Now, three years later, they’ve released their new album “Darkest White.” Again they’ve missed the mark and created something that’s more woefully boring than anything they’ve ever done.
Right from the very start of the album with “Numbers,” the band sounds extremely bored. It’s all over the place, sounding like three different songs in one. It’s also one of the most repetitive on the album. Not a good way to start it off. The next track, “Darkest White,” has a chorus that almost sounds like Tristania of old. Too bad it’s stuck in the middle of ho-hum verses and repetitive riffs. The album trudges along the next four songs with the only thing standing out being the chorus on “Diagnosis.” It’s ethereal and enjoyable. Too bad the rest of the song isn’t like that. The album really hits an awkward stop with “Night on Earth.” The beginning riff sounds like something off of Tool’s “Lateralus” and then goes into something that sounds like it belongs on the radio. The song is so mind numbing, boring and out of place on an album that’s already full of out of place songs. The next track, “Cathedral” is one hell of a saving grace on the album. It’s a good song that’s catchy and has a great chorus. “Lavender” is sleep inducing and won’t be missed by the listener if it’s skipped. The album closes with “Cypher” and “Arteries” which are the two other good songs on the album. “Arteries” is probably the most dynamic song on the whole record and a good way to end it. It opens with a face smashing riff that leads into the best chorus on the album. If this is what they can achieve, why couldn’t the rest of the album be this good?
It’s hard to compare this album to “Beyond the Veil.” They are so incredibly different, that the band should have changed their name with the release of “Darkest White.” I don’t think a band should keep churning out the same album again and again; change is good if it’s done right. In this case, the new sound they were going for just came off lazy and very sporadic. Still, underneath all of this muddle and filler, there is still talent that can make another mind-blowing album. They have what it takes with the new members to create something extraordinary next time. As it is, “Darkest White” is just an unfocused, Frankenstein monster of an album with good parts sewn together here and there.
- Brian DuBois
Official Site - http://www.tristania.com/
Facebook - http://www.facebook.com/OfficialTristania