Tuesday, April 30, 2013

Dementia Senex - Heartworm (EP) (2013)

It all takes time. From inception to success, the growth process of a metal band can take years, if not an entire career. Formed in 2008, Cesena, Italy based Dementia Senex are in the very early stages of that life cycle. This five piece has all of the characteristics of a band in the prime, but without the layer of polish and shine that comes with experience. This isn't to say that they don't have any; they have, in their short time together, shared the stage with international acts Fleshgod Apocalypse and Fuck The Facts. yet five years later, they are still relegated to the Italian underground, waiting for their chance to poke their heads above water for some much needed exposure. As difficult as that can be, there is no better time than the present to make your first stab at the limelight. With their new EP, "Heartworm," they make a valiant attempt to put their stamp on the scene, but they still suffer from some of the inconsistencies that a band in it's teenage years are bound to have.  

A gruelingly slow pacing begins the first track, "Unscented Walls." The thunderous thud of the kick drums is notable, but it is the way the track changes and evolves over the course of nine minutes that is the real thing to watch. Mixed into this framework are periods of old school death metal, doom, and blackened thrash, without ever really defining themselves by any of the three. The lone constant is the vocals, with their low end growls commanding every ounce of attention they deserve. They are joined at every turn by a battery of percussion, sometimes overwhelming in intensity. But the production work, which is clean and balanced, allows for an occasional guitar melody to jump through, albeit sparingly. With so many tempo and tone changes, some are bound to stand out from others, with the second half of the track feeling more focused. By contrast, the much shorter "Kairos" may be much more one dimensional in scope, but it succeeds in its simplicity. Relentlessly heavy and diabolically crafted, it is a three minute punch in the gut. It is the closing track that remains the biggest head scratcher, though. The title track, "Heartworm," is a Dr Jekyll and Mr. Hyde experiment. A clean opening descends into a chaotic first verse. It would seem that rhyme and/or reason have been thrown to the wind here, with little in the way of cohesion. But the second half is another story altogether, displaying some of the most intricate and well delivered guitar work. It becomes indicative of the growth process, for better or worse.

Let's face it, it is a lot easier to hate something and dismiss it than it is to sit back, take it in, and learn to like it. For Dementia Senex, the first impression won't be their best. It may take time, patience, and a willingness to listen again before you find yourself enjoying the three tracks they've provided. By no means is this an indictment of what they've done; there is little wrong with the music itself, aside from some of the structural and identity glitches. For a band that is only five years into their existence, it would be ridiculous to expect that they would have themselves and their style completely figured out. That simply takes time. But what needs to happen, should this be a project that hopes to go beyond the underground scene and into the mainstream (or whatever passes for mainstream in the death metal realm), is a focus on narrowing down the menu, and nailing down the structural integrity within each song. And much like the name implies, "Heartworm" may take time to grow before it infects us as intended.


Facebook - http://www.facebook.com/dementiasenex
Bandcamp - http://thepathlesstraveledrecords.bandcamp.com/album/heartworm
Read more ...

Monday, April 29, 2013

Anciients - Heart Of Oak (2013)

With so many major labels, independent labels, imprints labels, and web labels, it is damn near impossible to keep track of all of the signings, releases, and movement in the modern age. But there are always a few that you watch more closely than others, hoping to find something you may have missed. And while the "major" metal labels, like Nuclear Blast, Metal Blade, and Century Media have done wonders for our catalogs and collections, it is Season of Mist that have provided some of the biggest surprises. When they announced the signing of Vancouver based quartet Anciients in late 2012, it warranted further investigation. Described as "forging together smoldering apocalyptic riffs, classic hard rock influences and unforgettable vocal melodies," it was no wonder why they had been given the opportunity to share the stage with major acts from Pig Destroyer to 3 Inches Of Blood. With the release of their debut album, "Heart Of Oak," we finally get to hear what caught the ear of a label based thousands of miles away.

With a somewhat airy opening, there is an immediate contrast of styles on "Raise The Sun;" The clean riffs and echoing bass strings set the mood, backed soon thereafter by an explosive set of drums and winding distorted guitars. As the first shot fired, it becomes the framework for the album to come, embodying a multitude of styles and sonic textures that return time and again. Most notably, the ever shifting vocals become a focal point throughout. For every clean passage, there is one of grit and darker substance. You find yourself immediately drawn in, and thanks to followups like "Overthrone," constantly immersed in the music itself. While classifying a musical endeavor as "daring" may seem out of bounds, it works here, with the band bucking the structural confines of modern metal and meandering through guitar passages at will. There are clear influences on display here, but none that cloud the unique vision of the track. Musicianship is key, with the dynamic vocal shifts forming the icing on the proverbial cake. It is "Falling In Line," however, that provides the first glimpse of pure progressive elements, both in form and function. With each wailing guitar riff and flowing bass line, you find more to dissect and repeat. Clocking in at a massive eight minutes, you would be hard pressed to find a single second wasted or contrived. A combination of surgically precise solo work and staggeringly powerful rhythm work, the track is a testament to the writing process.

But "The Longest River" is exactly that; at over nine minutes, this is the epic the album deserves, and the one it needs right now. Everything falls into place so precisely, so delicately, that it stands to wonder how they managed to fit so much into such a tight space. One part prog rock, one part stoner metal, and two parts heavy handed sonic assault, you are treated to something completely bombastic and wholly unique. With each crashing cymbal and booming kick drum, you get one more reason to let your head move to the beat; each flowing melody coaxes a nod of approval. Even more impressive, though, is the pairing of such a massive undertaking with a beautifully crafted acoustic interlude, like the minute long "One Foot In The Light." Classical in construction and folksy in delivery, it is a track that, while short, will certainly garner some interest. And bookending the experience, the booming "Giants" allows the thundering low end to shine brightly through the mix. It is here that the band finds a breathtaking balance in sound and fury, one that is elevated by a mixing and mastering job for the ages. The way the layers are put together works well, letting them all stand side by side rather than on top of one another, and results in something far bigger than you would otherwise get.

It is hard to call the opening to "Faith and Oath" a work of beauty, but in the scale of the greater album, it is exactly that. What you have, seven songs into this disc is the evolution of sound yet again. In those first fleeting seconds, you have pure black metal riffs, high speed and high reward. This is the same band, but doing something outside of the proverbial box the first few songs may have built around them. You get a taste of death metal vocals, with dense growls partnered with darting guitar work. For as much intensity as is engrained into the music, there is always a touch of class and style oozing through. Whether it is the bluesy solo that ends this track, or the swaying bass line that inhabits "Flood And Fire," there is always more at play than the norm. This last trio of songs shows a dynamic musicianship element, with more solo work, more melodic infusion, and more of the "how did they pull this off" kind of talent. It remains a viable question, wondering how they balanced this many moving parts without a trip or stumble. And when the sound of a pained scream gives way to the horn of a train, you can be sure you have wandered into unfamiliar territory. if this were to fall anywhere else on the album, "For Lisa" would be a headscratcher. but as a finale, it stands alone. It defies description, and deserves to be heard a thousand times over.

While running the risk of packing too many cliches into one closing paragraph, sometimes it is safer to be who you are, rather than trying to be something you aren't. Luckily, the four beings that make up Anciients are exactly what their music paints them to be: eclectic, creative, and talented. Somewhere between the first and last notes of the album, they take you on a wild ride down the musical rabbit hole. They aren't falling, mind you; this is a clearly orchestrated and organized effort to go far and wide in the metal spectrum, touching on so many different styles and sounds without ever sounding forced or crass. How they manage to make all of this work is anybodies guess. On paper, this mix of contrasting styles may seem like a trainwreck waiting to happen. But in reality, it is a marvel of modern ingenuity and design. At the end of the day, it is what it is, you are what you are, and the truth of the matter is you gotta kill 'em and let God sort 'em out. But all bullshit aside, "Heart of Oak" is a win, through and through.


Official Site - http://www.anciients.com/
Bandcamp - http://anciientriffs.bandcamp.com/
Facebook - http://www.facebook.com/ANCIIENTS
Read more ...

Sunday, April 28, 2013

The Podcast: Episode 80 (Day time soap opera)

If only I didn't need to have a day job to pay the bills. I would love nothing more than to sit here, write reviews and talk metal all damn day. Fuck. But in the last two weeks, we have had a full slate of reviews, and it is time to catch up on some of the best. Ghost (add the B.C. if you're naughty) gave us a reason to change our opinion. Though their recently released sex toy box set may change it back. Hvile I Kaos took cello metal to a new arena. Heaven Shall Burn has a fair amount of Brian's spit on their collective dicks, while Shining just didn't have enough to warrant their black-jazz moniker this time around. A new Amorphis album took time to grow before cementing itself in our brains, and a new disc from The Old Wind literally blew us away. God damn, it's been a great 2013.

Read more ...

Friday, April 26, 2013

The Old Wind - Feast On Your Gone (2013)

The latest signing to German label Pelagic Records, The Old Wind aren't exactly the most well known band coming out of Sweden today. But this five piece from the north, which features in its ranks members of the international collective known as The Ocean, are certainly prepared to make waves wherever their sound can be heard. A terrifying blend of modern post metal and thunderous sludge standards, you won't receive any coddling or warm, fuzzy interludes. In fact, with the distortion levels pushed to the limits of modern metal production, and a mix that is full to bursting with massive percussion and guitars, you might leave the experience slightly battered. On the six tracks that makes up the new album "Feast On Your Gone," this Swedish metal juggernaut give you every reason to listen, and every reason to be afraid; very afraid.

Very little could be as haunting or terrifying as the whisper of a child, exactly the effect felt in the first seconds of "In Field." With each crushing blow raining down on you, the band bruise after bruise. The combination of those maddening riffs, and an piercing screaming vocal, it would not be out of your reach to file a complaint for sonic assault. There is an interesting cohesion to the mix, with each piece striking a solid balance, though they often seem out of touch with one another. This is about ferocity rather than subtlety, and the band executes it to a "t". With all that said, it is a much different atmosphere in "I'm Dead," which brings out a dose of melody that seemed conspicuously absent before. Don't expect a shift in the vocal part of the equation, because you will be sorely disappointed. But underneath that coarse cry is a wealth of instrumental prowess, now finding a perfect middle ground for solid kicks and distortion. The result is a smoother execution, including a more downtempo breakdown section, one that introduces a much more atmospheric tone. Despite being only eleven seconds shorter than the previous track, this one flies by, coming to an end all too quickly. There is a separation on "Raveneye," one that takes a blooming whole, and returns it to vocal and instrumental. The former, which by now appears to be a static delivery, may be the leader of the pack, but it is the latter that drives this beast forward. With blistering blast beats and a host of ever expanding riffs, the backing band provides every bit of power the track needs to bring you to your knees.

The track which bears the name of the band, "The Old Wind," is the mammoth track on the album, clocking in at over seven minutes. but is also the most diverse and thought through one. You would hard pressed to find a more masterfully produced and delivered instrumental than the one found here, firing off kick after kick into your ears, and allowing the entire background to be covered in the metallic sizzle of cymbals. It is worth noting that the mix here is fine tuned to the point of near flawlessness, even though it doesn't equal a balanced approach. The low end outnumbers the mid and high, allowing the bass work to come through nicely. With that tone being set, "Spears Of A Thousand" keeps the ball rolling. It is odd that there is such a defined melody without a singular melodic element at work. The pace has slowed, and the guitars have slid back into a dense chugging delivery, with the lead guitar playing a simple, clean part. Maybe it is this stripped down approach that makes the track some easy to listen to, and wholly memorable. The vocals, in particular, are plowing ahead at full force, something that seemed to be lacking earlier. It isn't that they've changed; they remain the same monotone scream as before, but with a extra level. The closing track, "Reign," takes the sum of the instrumentals, and amplifies it to the tenth power. With much less voice to lay over the top, it is all about each single strum of the strings, every individual swing of the drum sticks. And the resulting track is one that might be enough to put this album over the top.

There is an interesting dynamic at play on this album, one that is hard to explain and even harder to replicate. The Old Wind have taken every opportunity to bring the proverbial hammer down on your head, and yet they never quite finish the job. Instead, they string you along, injecting just enough sensible undertone to keep you listening without fear of being bloodied. There isn't necessarily any sort of focus on being subtle, but it plays out that way time and again. Whether it is a small guitar part, or the way the bass carries through a track, there is a lot more going on than may first meet the ear. If you are looking for sweeping epics and massive melodic passages, you are way out of your comfort zone here. But if you can prepare yourself for a wave of multidimensional destruction and pain, you may have stumbled into something unknowingly awesome. As The Old Wind blows in from the north of Sweden, there is only devastation left in their path.


Facebook - http://www.facebook.com/Theoldwind
Label - http://pelagic-records.com/
Read more ...

Thursday, April 25, 2013

Herder - Doomed (EP) (2013)

How many band members is too many? Yes, the nine members that comprise the Slipknot lineup is truly excessive. But when you have six members, including three guitarists, you have to be able to deliver something head and shoulders above the main line. Enter Herder, a six piece band from the Netherlands, with an attitude as raw as the music they make. With three musicians all holding six strings in  their hands, they start to look more like Doug's Big Band than a thrashing stoner band. Worse than that, though, is the unfortunate choice of recording methods. While it is unclear if the studio they employed was built around tin cans and chicken wire, the final product as anything but professional in sound. Coated in a thick, impossible to get through layer of rattle and hum, "Doomed" may very well be a prom queen dressed in shit and vomit.

Throw caution to the wind, and subtlety to birds. As "Stab" begins, all of your hopes for something light and airy can be discarded, thanks to a distortion heavy mix of guitars and drums. Despite what the mix delivers, there is a fair amount of musicianship on display here, with some expertly played guitar riffs floating somewhere amongst the haze and feedback. The lead riff is catchy in its bending simplicity, despite being coated in an immeasurable number of distorted layers. The drumming remains responsible for the stomping back beat and little else, while an unrefined scream sits atop it all. The same applies to the second rack on the disc, the barely two minute "Slither." While the instrumental work here is far more defined than the previous track, the mix does little to help bolster the sound. Instead, it comes off sounding cluttered and overfull. The true shame of it is that when you break things down bit by bit, there are a lot of elements at play, and even more worthy pieces left unheard. The overall sound may be considered indicative of the style, but it fails to deliver a clean piece of work.

We've talked about it before; even talked it to death. Raw, refined, or a little of both, there is something to be said about production work that helps to elevate the music for which it is designed. A truly great band will manage to take whatever funds they have, and turn it into a must hear record, regardless of the recording process; even home studios have improved to the point of near professional quality. But when the recording process overwhelms the music itself, it can be a dangerous game to play. Whether it is too raw, and too touched up, it can take everything the band has worked for and throw it all to the dogs. For Herder, it is the lack of polish of any kind on the mix that takes what could be a solid EP, and drops in squarely into the "hard to swallow" pile. Sure, there are some highlights. But with the thick layer of feedback, distortion, and carelessness, it will take some real attention to detail to hear them.


Official Site - http://www.herderisharder.com
Facebook - http://www.facebook.com/herderisharder
Read more ...

Wednesday, April 24, 2013

Visions Of Atlantis - Ethera (2013)

Since they were founded in 2000, Visions of Atlantis have been a force to be reckoned with. Sporting both female and male lead vocals, they offered a variety most symphonic metal bands didn’t have. Their first album “Eternal Endless Infinity” was an incredible debut effort. Nicole Bogner’s (RIP) voice was beautiful and it’s what made the album stand out above the rest in 2002. Even though they’ve changed both vocalists through the years, they kept their symphonic and epic sound across all of their albums. In 2011 they hit their peak when they released “Delta,” which was a mash up of everything that made them good. Maxi Nil and Mario Plank’s voices blended perfectly to create a sound unlike any band that year. “Delta” had a much more “poppy” sound than previous efforts, but it worked in their favor. Now two years have passed and they have released their fifth album, “Ethera.” Does it live up to their exceptional track record of past albums? The answer is quite simply, no.

On “Ethera” they threw out all of the magic and mystery of previous efforts and replaced them with some of  the most generic and boring song-writing in a long time. The four chord guitar work and the uninspired vocal melodies make things very drab. Almost all of the symphonic elements are gone. The album opens with the lackluster “The Ark” which has one of the worst choruses this year. Following “The Ark” is “Machinage” which surprisingly sounds like a song off of “Delta” and is one of the best tracks on the album. After a great song, they lose all focus and hit a downward spiral until the near end of the album. On “Avatara” they try to be heavier than before but it fails on so many levels. The song doesn’t go anywhere. It just sits there and simmers without anything to pull the listener in. The keyboard on "Avatara" tries to impersonate James Hetfield, which continues through the rest of the album. It sounds like a completely singer all together. “Tlaloc’s Grace” is deceiving. It starts off with symphonic prowess and a great sounding duet that sounds like Visions of Atlantis of old. But when it’s time for the song to pick up, it falls apart. The combination of the bad melody in the chorus and the James Hetfield lyrics, make it enough to change the track. The only other notable track on this album is “Bestiality vs. Integrity.” It’s quite possibly the worst song title I’ve ever heard; I don’t know why they would name a song that, but it’s the best song on the album oddly enough. It’s what they should sound like. Peaceful piano, smooth singing, a great solo and a soaring chorus. It’s too bad the rest of the album wasn’t of this caliber.

I’m a huge fan of Visions of Atlantis, and however much I may love them, I just can’t give this album a good score. “Ethera” tries to do so many things differently that aren’t in its favor. While it has its moments, the bad definitely outweighs the good. I didn’t expect them to top “Delta,” but I expected them to continue along the same path. Maybe they needed to spend more time working on the album to give it the extra power it  needed. Instead we just have a lackluster effort from an amazing band.


- Brian DuBois

Facebook - http://www.facebook.com/visionsofatlantisofficial
Myspace - http://www.myspace.com/visionsofatlantisofficial
Read more ...

Tuesday, April 23, 2013

Amaranth - I Have The Right To Remain Silent (EP) (2013)

When Danila Nikodinovskog created Amaranth in 1999, it was during a difficult time for his home nation of Serbia. The NATO bombardment was underway, and tensions were high. But when he sat down to record the tracks "Silent" and "Spleen" in 2001, it was as a solo artist, an acoustic guitarist and composer. Now, some twelve years later, the duo of tracks, with the addition of one another, is being released to the masses by the Serbian Metal Portal. Now having taken the shape of a full band, joined by guitarist Marko Tomašević, bassist Tomica Tomašević, and drummer Matija Dagović, Amaranth is more than just a pipe dream in a war torn state. Nikodinovskog has evolved as a writer and musician since the inital recording process took place. But these three tracks still have the ability to embody everything he was feeling more than a decade ago. Thanks to the wonders of the internet and online distribution, "I Have The Right To Remain Silent" is ripe for the taking.

The behemoth of the album leads things off, with the 14 minute "Silent" fading into view. It's the first wave of acoustic guitars that gives the track its overall beauty. The first movement is a piece of impressive work combined with melodic sensibility. Rather than trading off light and dark, they let the two mingle together in profound ways, with the clean guitar work forming the backbone. But it is the vocals that make the track complete, with their sullen tone and emotional presence. The track builds, brick by brick, finally hitting a high just short of the half way mark. With their ability to dial it back at times, the band is able to control the flow of the track, right down to the light touches of synths. But all of that restraint and control is merely a front to unleash a wave of battering drums and uptempo delivery. While it is short lived, that burst of energy is enough to fuel the rest of the album. If one of the three tracks had to define what it is this band is doing, "Spleen" would be it. What you have packed into this eight minute framework is what "acoustic doom" would sound like in your mind. They combine the pacing and tempo of doom, but subtract that sometimes overbearing use of distortion and blasting drum beats. It takes the somber nature of the beast and turns it almost bitter sweet, with acoustic guitars and clean vocals dominating the mix. It is the structure of "Zivite Li" that makes it a fitting closer; psychedelic passages are the bookends to a darker middle section, striking a balance that is difficult to achieve. The subtle beauty of the guitar work replaces any need for wild solos or bizarre time signatures. Instead, you have broad, sweeping soundscapes that are a credit to the writing process, as well as the talent at hand.

Taken at face value, this would seem to be a marriage of opposites that just wouldn't work. Acoustic guitars? Doom metal? But much like As Autumn Calls showed us nearly two years ago, you can not only make it work, but make it sound incredibly profound. Amaranth may have recorded these tracks a decade ago, but they sound as refreshing as they did then. By keeping with their theme, melancholic doom, they have created an EP that might never sound dated or old. Stop and think about that for just a minute; an album that will sound as good ten years from now as it does today. Not only is that a rare feat, but it is a damn impressive one. No matter how many years pass, nothing will be able to take away the beauty and emotional investment that is engrained into every note of this EP. Maybe that doesn't seem like a whole lot to rely on right now. But come 2023, when you pull out this disc, blow the dust away and play it in your store of the art music machine, it is going to mean a lot.


Facebook - http://www.facebook.com/pages/Amaranth/134656756605355
Myspace - http://www.myspace.com/amaranthserbia
Read more ...

Monday, April 22, 2013

Amorphis - Circle (2013)

The mark of a truly great band is a signature sound; a constant tone or structure that allows you to separate them from all others. While many, perhaps most, bands struggle to define themselves in such a clear manner, Finnish veterans Amorphis have mastered it. Each and every track over the last eight years and five albums - since vocalist Tomi Joutsen became the frontman - has boasted a similar sound; an undeniable element that lets you know beyond the shadow of a doubt within the first measure that you are listening to Amorphis. There is never any doubt of confusion to be had. The riffs, the keyboards, the drums, the bass, the vocals. They all come together in a way that is hard enough to establish, and seemingly impossible to duplicate. And while other bands have come and gone, this six piece has adapted and changed to stay alive. This is not to say they've sold out their ideals to stay viable; but they have grown together, and grown apart. With nearly twenty five years bearing this name, it stands to reason that "Circle" continues a long line of greatness, without ever losing sight of where it all began.

Within the first few seconds of "Shades Of Gray," thanks to a series of dense chugging exercises, you are well aware that you have landed smack in the middle of an Amorphis classic. Vocalist Tomi Joutsen growls his way through the opening verse, over a sea of massive guitars and airy keyboards. But that stark contrast between his raspy screams and his clean vocals remain key here, giving glimpses at both sides of the coin in close succession. Never short on infectious melodies, lead guitarist Esa Holopainen delivers a sizable dose throughout, but most notably in the bridge. His work stands out from many other guitarists in the genre, thanks to the structure and tone of songs like "Mission." While the drum beats seem stripped down to the point of simplification, Holopainen crafts some masterful melodies that keep the momentum rising. This is bolstered by the pulsing bass line, a driving force that allows for a strictly clean vocal delivery to be both enjoyable and effective. And there is no more indicative track than "The Wanderer," a track that bridges the gap between the last three albums in one fell swoop. Hidden under the growl-free vocal lines is a sweeping soundscape that would be a challenge for the most experiences producer or engineer to balance. Yet it comes through with balance and clarity, and a booming drum sound that might be the hammer on the head of the nail.

The slightly more whimsical opening to "Narrowpath" breathes a puff of folk inspirations into the album, without swaying too far from center. It is the rhythm section, consisting of bassist Niclas Etelävuori and drummer Jan Rechberger, shine brightly here, forming a foundation that is as rock solid as any in modern melodic metal. But the combination of two guitars and a darting, perfectly produced keyboard proves to be a force. Without knowing it, you have gone through three straight tracks that were melody heavy, going away from the heavy growls and dense guitars you may have expected. And while "Hopeless Days" takes care of one of those two necessities, Joutsen remains focused on the sublime, his booming voice carrying for seconds after each word. But this is more than just a soothing, crooning vocal performance. The instrumental comes unchained, each member delivering a memorable chunk. Dual guitars, with Holopainen backed by Tomi Koivusaari, form a growing wall of sound, anchoring keyboardist Santeri Kallio in his flowing, sometimes oddly timed progressions. There seems to be a common thread between this track and the next, "Nightbird's Song." Though there are similarities in the melody aspect, the vocals return with a grinding vengeance. Joutsen breaks out the signature growl that has converted many a bystander into a dedicated fan. He isn't alone; a wicked guitar lead, high speed and higher energy, accompanies him throughout.

Oddly enough, it might be "Into The Abyss" that provides the most memorable moments, and some of the most definitive Amorphis moments, on the album. Buried in the seventh slot on the album, it might not garner the attention it deserves, but the drumming alone should be enough to open to some eyes and ears. Rechberger lays down a tremendous beat here, which becomes the base for everything else to stand on. A contrasting guitar battle ensues, and Joutsen wails his way through one of his most powerful performances to date. And his intensity is matched, every step of the way, by his comrades. Rather than fade through the final third of the album, things continue to grow, as is evident in the opening to "Enchanted By The Moon," which sees a great combination of booming kick drums and flowing guitar melodies. That mood changes quickly and often, as a devastating set of growls gives way to smooth crooning from verse to chorus. The breakdown portion here is astonishing, slow and deliberate, flanked by a great keyboard presence. And much like the opening track was an immediately recognizable Amorphis effort, the closing track echoes that sentiment. Lyrically, "A New Day" is exactly what the title suggests; the sun will rise again, as Joutsen sings, and a new day will indeed come. Whetehr or not this is a symbolic tone or not remains to be seen. But it could be said that this is a nod to the past, while acknowledging that the future is here now. The beauty of the bridge section can't be denied, and moves to a well defined end.

It is always impressive to watch a band grow and develop over a long and successful career. But for Amorphis,  the growth over nearly a quarter of a century in existence has been remarkable. Members have changed, styles have evolved, and the name has become synonymous with everything good in modern metal. They've found themselves in a comfortable groove; a safe place that they have carved out for themselves in the eight years since Joutsen took the mic. Yet they haven't sat back to rest on their laurels. They continue to move forward without ever letting go of what came before. Despite the somewhat significant name, "Circle" is not the end of a long journey, coming home. It marks the beginning, once again, for the next stage in the band's history. They give you everything you've come to expect, and a whole lot more, without selling themselves out for a bigger piece of the pie. It seems impossible to imagine not getting a new Amorphis album every two years; and with albums this strong, hopefully we have many more to come before it's over.


Official Site - http://www.amorphis.net/
Facebook - http://www.facebook.com/amorphis
Read more ...

Friday, April 19, 2013

Tervingi - Gotensaga (2013)

There has always been something about the German language that has been intimidating, especially to those living in the Western hemisphere. Compliments sound like threats, and threats sound like verbal abuse in the worst way. There simply hasn't been a model we could use to understand and appreciate the language. But music transcends language, and even culture itself. It is no secret that Germany has long been a hotbed of metal activity, but never before has a band like Tervingi managed to come into our frame of vision. One part folk, one part thrash, one part symphonic, one part operatic, it is a unique mixture of styles and talents. With a charismatic and gifted vocalist at the mic, it might even be the perfect way uncultured clods like myself to remove the stigma of the German language. With beautiful vocal melodies that range from lullaby to tenor opera, it's no wonder that "Gotensaga" has begun to collect praise from all over the globe.

Taking the cinematic approach to the intro track, "Aufbruch zur grossen Wanderung," the band puts on a symphonic display of horns and strings that is sure to peak your interest. Part harrowing majesty, part fluttering whimsy, it paints an epic picture of what is to come; and the stretch of that portrait grows with every note. Because while the hammer drops, musically, on "Der Goten Eid," there is still something classical about the overall arc of the track. Hidden beneath layers of double kick drums and grating distorted guitars are the vocals, tride and true. Whether it is the lead, in a deep German drawl, or the gang chants of the chorus, they help to offset the unbridled aggression of the instrumental. In fact, the combination of those two elements results in a catchy folk melody that ties the outro together. With the tempo slowing down early on, "Die Seherin" is a good display of versatility. The addition of a heavenly female vocal to the mix creates a beautiful contrast, something furthered by the piano and bass duet that cascades through the later portion. The pedal rarely leaves the metal, however, as former Belphegor drummer Tomasz "Nefastus" Janiszewski smashes and crashes his way through the kit time and time again. But perhaps the most intoxicating melody on the album comes on "Toechter schnellen Wassers," where even the deep male vocal will elicit a sway of the head. The string accompaniment to another female passage fits all too well, giving the entire tale a nearly operatic covering. A softly sung lullaby ties up the loose ends in a neat little bow.

A thunderous gallop is the backbone for "Der Hoerner Ruf," a high tempo, higher energy affair where distortion and atmospherics form a sizable wall of sound and fury. While this may be the most stripped down and simplistic track on the album, it serves its purpose as a momentum builder, complete with some slick guitar work. The solo is interesting, as it seems to embody more of the power metal style than the melodic death/folk one being used throughout. The barely three minute "Reka" follows, once again giving you plenty of fodder for your humming pleasure. It is in this short spurt that you realize just how clean the mix is, with crystal clarity between layers. With an uptempo instrumental, and an upbeat lead vocal, there are challenges to overcome in the production, and the band passes with flying colors. "Der Abschied" takes a step back from that sonic assault to remind us that there are more in depth compositions at our feet. Strings, flutes and that rumbling voice of Johann Frey form the entire base of the track, joined later by a ripping guitar solo. Horns and keys can be heard in the middle section, layered over sizzling cymbals, arranged beautifully by keyboardist Julian Pešek. What stood out as a personal favorite was the mixed bag of tricks known as "Alewars Schmiede." The keyboard work comes forward in the mix, joining with the guitars and bass, rather than supporting them. The percussion work is dangerously aggressive, though being careful not to cross the line into overbearing. Frey delivers what may be his most powerful performance, booming over the top and setting the stage for the appearance of gang vocal passages.

The sounds of battle open "Witirichs Recken," quickly followed by the sounds of triumph. The ability to further their story through the use of guitar riffs and syncopated drumming is incredible, but the layered vocals are even moreso. But keeping the consistent melody in the vocals, it allows the instrumental to do amazing things, particularly the synthesizers. And while Frey may give memorable vocal performances, he also does wonders as a guitarist, along with Aria Keramati Noori. Don't be too distracted by the opening guitar riffs on "Stadt aus Asche," for it is the bass work of Todd Goldfinger that should garner some praise. His string shake and rattle underneath, giving a rousing kick in the ass to the entire mix. The result is a near flawless musical production, firing on all cylinders for the entire four minutes. You are treated to not only some rich melodies, but some of the most deft guitar work on the album. To enjoy it, however, you may need to pull yourself out from under the heavy hands of Janiszewski, who delivers destruction unlike any other. It could be said that the beauty of "Epilog" can't be measured in riffs and beats, but rather in the amount of time it sticks with you. To simplify the track would be a travesty, but it walks the fine line between ballad and down tempo march. Frey unleashes his voice in ways that didn't see much light on the previous ten tracks. But the true star here is Pešek, whose stunning arrangements and orchestrations help to elevate the track into a different level.

There isn't much of a thought needed when decided whether this collection of songs is worthy of multiple, perhaps hundreds of, listens; it certainly is. With Google and Bing offering free translations that are often incorrect or jumbled, it might almost seem worth it to simply enjoy the delivery, and admit defeat on the meaning. But, should you choose to delve deeper into the passages on "Gotensaga," you will find even more to like about Tervingi and the album they've created. The story begins to unfold in front of you in ways that would otherwise have been lost. If the time presents itself, pull out the Rosetta Stone, throw on your headset and microphone and take the time to learn a little German. Or use some form of translation software to help you along. The stories told through Frey's bass heavy voice and the surgically precise instrumentals are worth the time, and are there for the taking.


Official Site - http://tervingi.de/home/
Facebook - http://www.facebook.com/Tervingi
Read more ...

Thursday, April 18, 2013

Shining - One One One (2013)

If the name Jorgen Munkeby has slipped out of your mouth at this stage of your metal journey, you aren't putting your back into it. Known widely as being a major player in the jazz metal fusion trend that seems to be flooding the scene, his work can be heard on a plethora of discs, from the last albums by Ihsahn, to his own Shining project. Founded in 1999, this Norwegian jazz five piece began as a humble jazz quartet, with all of their works dwelling in the acoustic world. But as the years have passed, they ahve ventured into the more extreme, adopting tenets of industrial and black metal, as well as prog themes. Coming to a head with 2010's "Blackjazz," the band have now carved out a niche as one of the most innovative extreme metal bands, infusing Munkeby's signature saxophone sound in tower distorted riffs. On their new album, "One One One," they look beyond the term blackjazz, towards a future much more diverse and much much heavier.

With a pulsing dream beat opening the first official single on the album "I Won't Forget," you are immediately dragged into the middle of a sonic storm. There is an industrial feel to the backbeat, thanks mainly to the blinding distortion. Munkeby dazzles in every facet of his game, delivering a bruising, technologically sound vocal. Rather than rest on these pseudo-industrial backings, the band explodes into full thrash mode in the chorus, with Munkeby screaming the track name in a raspy cry. But the true gift is when he punctuates a massive breakdown with a saxophone solo that is as wild as you could imagine. Much like his work with Ihsahn, the sax blends in to the instrumental, but stands out even to the casual observer. In the more downtempo works, like "The One Inside" allow bassist Tor Egil Kreken to inject a little low end groove to the party, complementing the blasting kicks from Torstein Lofthus. As a unit, this rhythm section operates like few others can, rattling everything in the room. The full group effort that comes in around two and half minutes could stand as a monument to the style itself. Not enough mention is made of drum tone and how it elevates a band. "My Dying Drive" stands as a prime example of how the signature sound of a drummer can shape a song, and take it further. It forms the foundation for all of the electronic elements at play, including the effects tinged vocal line. While the screams here may feel dated, they somehow manage to fit, largely thanks to the devastating instrument they rest on.

Songs like "Off The Hook" seem odd at their inception, but there is a very unique sound that the band possesses that helps to smooth out the rough edges. Munkeby plays a major role in that, especially since his fingerprints are all over the way the track is constructed. Sharing duties with Håkon Sagen, they build massive guitar grooves that are coated in a thick layer of synthesizers and snare drums. And while the title may be fitting, "Blackjazz Rebels" doesn't necessarily deliver in all the ways you would hope. yes, the main guitar riff is catchy as hell, and leaves your head in a perpetual state of banging. But you spend the better part of three and a half minutes waiting for that signature segment that will blow the roof of, and it doesn't come. The saxophone is mysteriously absent here, in the one place it would seem to fit best. What you have instead is a fairly straightforward industrial metal track with little left or right movement. This isn't to say it fails, but it doesn't reach the heights it aspires to. But where it fails, "How Your Story Ends" immediately delivers. Munkeby launches the track with a squealing and screeching piece of work, one that sets the tone for the entire piece. The beats come fast and furious here, a dizzying array of fills and rolls, punctuated each time by the resounding thud of the kick. Just as the saxophone set the tone early, it is the sax and keyboard work that does so late, mirroring the main riff.

Machine gun snares welcome you to "The Hurting Game," their blinding speed and surgical precision impressive in and of itself. This track will stand out as the mosh pit pleaser, with the staggeringly fast pace and subsequent breakdown. While Sagen and Lofthus command the main part of the interlude, it is Munkeby's screeching background that holds it all together. While his instrumental work shines here, his voice seems strained in delivering one grating scream after another. But if his vocal chords were put to the test already, the repetitive opening to "Walk Away," which sees him screaming "walk away" over and over again, will be his true test. The backing instrumental gets more intricate and dizzying as time goes on, with swirling guitar riffs, thundering bass lines, and an apocalypse of percussion joining together in a single crushing unit. It is oddly up to the breakdown to offer a reprieve from the seemingly non stop blows. For as heavy as it seemed at the time, "Paint The Sky Black" makes some of the earlier tracks look like child's play. The intensity levels are through the roof by now, and the drums are simply relentless. Atmospheric keyboards are the only buffer between you and the sonic beatdown you've been launched into. It's punch after punch, until you are bloodied and bruised by each and every pounding beat. If this were a heavyweight bout, the fight would be stopped to protect your health.

How much is enough? How big a vein of jazz inspiration does an album need to stay true to its purpose? While everything on "One One One" is executed with pinpoint accuracy and undeniable strength, it seems like there should be more to it than meets the eye. Save for a few well placed and expertly played solos, the album was lacking a luster that might make it stand out from the competition. As an industrial metal disc, this is certainly at the head of the class, thanks to some well crafted melodies and uber precise musicianship. But for a group that has already broken down the jazz metal barriers, it is just too tame; it is too safe. And while I struggle to have an answer for what would make the album an instant classic, like "Blackjazz" before it, the only thing that comes to mind is that we all have a fever, and the only cure is more saxophone.


Official Site - http://www.shining.no/
Facebook - http://www.facebook.com/shiningnorway
Read more ...

Wednesday, April 17, 2013

Heaven Shall Burn - Veto (2013)

Heaven Shall Burn, since their inception in 1996, has made a long and interesting career for themselves. Every album they release improves on the last one. In the death metal genre, it’s hard to take the band in a new direction while maintaining the sound everyone knows and loves. It’s a secret that Heaven Shall Burn learned from the get-go. The difference from “Asunder” to “Whatever It May Take” is astounding. “Antigone” brought a bigger and more melodic sound. “Deaf To Our Prayers,” “Iconoclast,” and “Invictus” were heavier, more melodic and overall more concise than the first three albums. Heaven Shall Burn hit a high point in their career with “Invictus” that, after three years, is topped. Enter “Veto,” Heaven Shall Burn’s crowning achievement.

When “Godiva” kicks on after the intro, it’s clear that this band wanted to ditch the heavier sound that dominated them for years, and create a much more melodic sound that carries through the entire album. From “Land of the Upright” all the way to “Beyond Redemption,” there is not one bad track. Every song feels like it serves a purpose and isn’t misplaced. Marcus Bischoff’s voice has never sounded this good and the guitars have never been so razor sharp. The cover track “Valhalla” is a treat for Blind Guardian fans. It does the song the justice on so many levels; kudos to Heaven Shall Burn for making such an incredible cover song. The most notable track is the last one, “Beyond Redemption.” It’s slower than anything else on the album, but it’s their most melodic and ambitious song to date. The atmosphere in the song is unlike anything they’ve ever done and it’s a perfect end to an amazing album.

Heaven Shall Burn is going to have a tough time trying to top “Veto.” Well, actually, I thought that about every other album they made. If they continue to put everything they have into each album, they’ll remain unstoppable. Other bands wish they could sound this refined and cohesive. With this new one, Heaven Shall Burn has created an album that sets out to redefine the genre and everything they’ve done thus far. “Veto” doesn’t just improve upon the band’s formula, it makes a new one.


- Brian DuBois

Official Site - http://www.heavenshallburn.com/
Facebook - http://www.facebook.com/officialheavenshallburn
Read more ...

Tuesday, April 16, 2013

Hvile I Kaos - EP (2013)

How do you describe that which defies description? A visit to the Bandcamp page of web based label Torn Flesh Records might lead you into a paradox of a stylistic nature. Acoustic black metal. Huh? cello driven melodic metal. Really? As hard as it is to put those opposites together in your mind, one click of the play button and you will realize that they aren't opposites at all. Thanks to Kakophonix, the lone members of Hvile I Kaos, the evil and grim darkness of black metal has been brought kicking and screaming into the 21st century. With nothing but a cello, recorded and layered together in beautiful yet frightening ways, he has modernized and evolves an art form with the single stroke of his bow. On the new EP, released digitally (for free) but the aforementioned Torn Flesh Records, you have not only a marriage of opposites gone right, but a glowing reminder that creativity and originality are not dead; not even in the state of Ohio.

While your mind may have tried to piece together exactly what Hvile I Kaos was trying to accomplish, it isn't until the first swooning notes of "The Dying Gasps of a Once-Proud Eagle" that you can truly understand. There is a mixture of tempos and tones used in the layering of cellos, with equal parts grit and melody forming a unique bond. You can hear the seeds of black metal throughout, with one cello mimicking the high speed, distorted guitars, though it is done with grace and beauty unlike the traditional. It is important to note, however, that there is a just amount of darkness spread over the course of this seven minute opus, even moreso in the way the sounds are stacked onto one another. The solo section in the final minute is as crisp and expertly delivered as any I've heard. In a masterful followup, mastermind Kakophonix offers a cover of the Dissection track "The Somberlain," one executed with such deft hands and overwhelming skill that it stands up to the original in profound ways. It becomes a sobering wail, a perfect storm of melody and morose. And unlike so much of the other string wielding members of the metal community, he manages to capture the mood and spirit of the original, while turning it into something all his own.

In what stood out as the most well rounded and accessible track on the EP, "Far Beyond Frostbitten" offers you the full range of emotion and musicianship. Without belaboring the point, the layering of the different pieces is done with such meticulous detail that it ceases to be separate pieces, but a massive whole. With each stroke through the low register notes, chills go up your spine to your brain stem. And yet somehow amongst all this beauty, you still have that element of bleak chaos. It is supplanted only by the finale, the nearly five minute "Wintertanz," as the one that will stick in your memory far beyond the days, weeks, or months the album stays in your rotation. Musicianship is at its highest here, with twirling riffs coming at you from different directions, all on top of the tapping of percussion, something that had been absent to this point. No, it isn't a booming drum kit, but merely a light pattering. The melodies are deeper and richer than you could imagine from a single man and his cello; not to mention far more intricate, taking on an almost folk element.

Hopefully, after this band crosses into your radar, you will be inclined to listen and digest all there is to hear on this latest EP. Some of you will mumble and spit about how this isn't true metal, and that it isn't brutal enough. And while that opinion will be shared by many, I wholeheartedly disagree. While we sometimes forget that metal isn't just about distorted guitars and drums, it is important to look deeper in search of more. Hvile I Kaos, the project name used by Kakophonix, embodies so much of what makes metal intoxicating and popular. To think that one man and a cello can put together something this majestic, yet somehow somber and dark, is astonishing. Even more impressive is that something like this could come from America, the home of the mentally numb and uninspired. If it makes it seem more plausible to envision a single man with long hair and a black trench coat, sitting on an adorned throne playing the cello, so be it.


Bandcamp - http://tornfleshrecords2.bandcamp.com/album/ep-2
Facebook - http://www.facebook.com/pages/Hvile-I-Kaos/214891198546547
Label Facebook - http://www.facebook.com/TornFleshRecordsNetlabel
Read more ...

Monday, April 15, 2013

Ghost - Infestissumam (2013)

The Nameless Ghouls of Swedish avant metal band Ghost, fronted by Papa Emeritus, aren't going to get their own signature guitar series, or appear on the cover of a Wheaties box. The enigmas, who routinely perform live in druid robes, are faceless musicians, playing the sort of bizarre, off the path metal that many gravitate towards for a change of pace. Having garnered unequaled amounts of attention in their opening role on the Mastodon/Opeth tandem tour in 2012, it seemed as though the clock was ticking down to the release of their second album, and follow-up to 2010's "Opus Eponymous." Sure enough, details began to emerge of a ten track album, with controversial artwork; so much so that several major distributors refused to print the album. With the publicity that controversy brings, and an Abba cover reportedly prepared, the wait for "Infestissumam" has finally come to an end. And your ears may never be the same.

The beautiful, powerful chanting of the title track, "Infestissumam," opens the album with a bang. The choir of voices are joined quickly by a crushing drum beat and rumbling low end. This isn't an intro or interlude, but a jump start. So by the time the first notes of "Per Aspera ad Inferi" are played, you have already reached maximum speed. The airy crooning in the verse is flanked on all sides by an intense instrumental. Guitar and bass are the driving force here, but each crack of the snare drum adds fuel to the flame. It is the versatility in the vocal lines that makes the track more rich, though the use of keys and synthesizers certainly adds depth to the mix. The true challenge here, though, is to remain seated, feet on the floor and hands at your sides during the massive outro. And while "Secular Haze" served as the first single for the album, it is anything but watered down radio filth. Instead, you get a song that is characteristically Ghost; both off center and eclectic. The instrumental has you believing you have been transported to a bizarre carnival, while the vocals remain delicately melodic and comforting. The bass work here is key, forming the backbone of the track at large. The same could be said for "Jiggalo Har Megiddo," which boasts a certain degree of funk that is both a surprise and a victory. It becomes an example of how psychedelia and metal match perfectly, in a fractured harmony of stomping drums and organ melodies.

But if being thrown off balance is your cup of tea, "Ghuleh/Zombie Queen" might be the track of the year. Piano, light drum taps and a hazy vocal harmony open things, moving quickly to a segment that could be treated like an unreleased Beatles b-side. Where it goes from here is yet another reminder that Ghost march to the beat of an entirely different drummer. The circus returns to town, baring a strong resemblance to late 70's prog and modern surf rock; at the same damn time. That unique style of chanting returns on "Year Zero," with a pulsing bass line doing the bulk of the lifting. You would be hard pressed to find a band that matches the intensity on display around the minute and a half mark, laying down an expansive and altogether packed mix. The power of the track itself is rivaled only by the conviction and strength with which it is delivered. And just when you think you are in for a final minute pummeling, it all cuts away, leaving a trail of static behind. Plucked strings, ones that could be used as the backdrop to a cartoon character tip toeing, set the wheels of "Body and Blood" into motion. There is a smoothness to the delivery here that leaves the track feeling like a rock opera waiting to happen. It still provides a fair deal of amazement when someone can sing so sweetly, with the lyrics so blood soaked.

By now, you would fully expect that there are no surprises to be had, and that you've heard it all. Yet as you digest "Idolatrine" in all it's glory, you may find your mind drifting to skipping through a flowery field, hand in hand with that special someone. The child like playfulness on display here is almost disgusting, but when paired with lyrics that call out secular religions, it is a match made in Hades. The 70's era love rock that you are bombarded with becomes a vessel for their message, spilling the word "simpletons" out trippingly. That progressive psychedelia that seems so strange comes back in full force on "Depth of Satan's Eyes," which seems to become a love song about finding the strong embrace of the devil. The melodies are at an infectious high by this point, with guitar, bass, drum, and keyboards coming together in lock step with one another, carrying you along on their serpentine patterns. In the pecking order of closing tracks, "Monstrance Clock" is certainly in the top tier. It manages to round out the album with a great deal of thought and care. Rather than give you a rousing "just kidding" and hit you with something conventional and dull, Ghost instead take their creative juices to the next level and then some. Not only will the song fill your brain matter for damn near forever, but it will make you question your musical choices.

I will readily admit that after my first experiences with Ghost and their taste for the theatrical, I wasn't sold on their musical prowess. It seemed to be the same old thing, dressed up in fancy costumes to look new. And perhaps the songs on 2010's "Opus Eponymous" did little to persuade me. But somewhere between tracks one and ten here, I found my opinion changing; not just of the band, but my opinion of my own opinion. There is something about this album that managed to bend the very fabric of my mind, and convince me that not only is "Infestissumam" a worthy album, but one that could become a regular in any metal fans rotation. They've gone out on a limb all their own, delivered a style that no modern metal band could recreate, and done it with a flashy physical appeal that makes them a live venue terror. The only reservation left to overcome is whether or not this will become a one-off venture into the weird and bizarre, or if this is the future of Ghost as a band. Either way, when this circus comes to town, I suggest you go.


Official Site - http://ghost-official.com/?cat=1
Facebook - http://www.facebook.com/thebandghost

Read more ...

Sunday, April 14, 2013

The Podcast: Episode 79 (Leaving on a jet plane...)

Oh, if we had a private jet to buzz us all over the world. This week, we had a set of reviews that amounted to a whirlwind tour, taking us to many exotic locations. Tengger Cavalry gave us more than enough reason to visit Beijing. Tatanka, with the release of their self titled EP, provided a necessary trip to Vancouver. The project that too many people thought was a joke, Gloryhammer, is anything but. The Pacific northwest deserves a stop, if only for the raw stylings of Mammoth Salmon. And our journey concludes in beautiful Scotland, where Cnoc An Tursa are bringing Scottish heritage back into modern metal. So many stops, so little jet ownership. One day...

Read more ...

Saturday, April 13, 2013

The Podcast: Episode 78 (From good to bad, and bad to good)

No matter how bad an album is, or how good, you can never make a firm decision on a band. They might be great now, but what if their next album sucks? They might have given you the worst album of 2010, but what if they give you the best of 2013? I have been proven wrong more times than I can remember, but some recent works deserved mention in a podcast all their own. The latest albums from The Howling Void, Stratovarius, Omnium Gatherum, and Ghost all made my view go topsy turvy. And that is why you can never assume.

Read more ...

Friday, April 12, 2013

Cnoc An Tursa - The Giants Of Auld (2013)

Irish. Italian. Polish. English. We are as diverse as the bands we review. And thus, it pains us when people identify themselves or their most miniscule traits by the heritage of their family. Eating pasta has nothing to do with being Italian. Drinking is not a singular Irish trait. Our cultural heritage is being diluted, rather than celebrated. For their part, Scottish metal four piece Cnoc An Tursa are doing the right thing, and bringing back an awareness of Scottish culture and heritage through the use of hard edged blackened metal. Much like their brethren in Falloch, this isn't a cookie cutter act claiming to be something they are not; you can find the national pride of Scotland engrained into every riff, every spoken word, and every synthesized instrument. With the ten eclectic tracks on their debut album, "The Giants Of Auld," the band not only proclaim that they are proud to be Scottish, but give outsiders both near and far a glimpse into the history of the nation known by Americans as the land of bagpipes and kilts.

With the majestic, almost hypnotic acoustic opening "The Piper O'Dundee," the band set a familiar stage for the album to come. But it is with a signature explosiveness that they launch the arc into motion, a grating scream signalling the start of "The Lion of Scotland." The driving force behind it all is the drums, played with speed and precision by Bryan Hamilton. His massive kick snare patterns and thundering fills do wonders for the mix. But even more than that, it creates a wide base for a plethora of sounds and instruments to stand upon. From the dueling guitar lines, which range from destructive to dance-worthy, to the more widespread use of keyboards, there is a much needed structure to how things rise and fall. With vocalist Alan Buchan unleashing the wrath of his raspy screams, you have a completed mix and a bulging piece of metal strength. And while he shares the guitar spotlight with fellow founding member Rene McDonald Hill, the heavy lifting he does in both roles on "Bannockburn" is extraordinary. The heavy distortion on the guitars somehow still leaves room for them to be atmospheric at times, bolstered by the airy synthesizer notes that ring out behind them. Moving at a breakneck speed, it seems to go by in a flash. throwing you head first into "Hail Land of My Fathers" with no more than a seconds notice. This may stand out from the rest of the album, but for reasons of higher quality; instead, it is the interesting merger of styles that may raise an eyebrow, as they walk the gap between melodic death and blackened folk with grace and gusto. The melodic leads become the neat little bow on an increasingly impressive gift.

And while the previous might be the most intriguing when all is said and done, it may very well be "Ettrick Forest in November" that occupies the role as most complete. Hitting on every ossible genre variation, you have a taste of all things heavy and melodic. The duo of Hill and Buchan on guitar does an incredible job of being both larger than life and perfectly subtle. If there is any downside to this display of melodic mastery, it is that it simply goes by too fast. It feels more like an appetizer than a main course, despite the four minute run time. But if it is indeed a mere bite, then "The Spellbound Knight" is the full meal. It embodies everything the band has to offer, and displays their keen grasp of all things melodic and pounding. Whether it is the guitar work, the keyboards, or the way the drums are pieced together, everything has a place and occupies it to perfection. "In Shadowland," however, steps away from that blooming subtlety and takes on a more ferocious approach. There is a stomping effect to the drums that is sure to start a mosh frenzy at any live event, despite tempo changes throughout. Buchan's vocal lines are devastating in their tone and delivery, adding a tremendous depth to the overall mix. It is also here that bassist David Anderson truly emerges for the first time, adding a sizable low end to the track.

By the time you've reached the final trio of tracks, beginning with "Winter - A Dirge," you have a band firing on all cylinders, both literally and figuratively. All of the pieces are working in perfect balance with one another. It is worth mentioning that while the keyboard element doesn't play a lead role often, if ever, it's role is far more important than you may assume. It becomes the glue in tracks like this one, holding together all of the pieces that may have otherwise drifted apart. The melody at the midway point serves as the perfect example. It also helps to make the track feel like the four and a half minute piece that it is, rather than a flash. It would be safe to say, then, that as much as the keyboards hold things together there, Buchan's screams do the same for "Culloden Moor." He undoubtedly takes center stage here, with his growling voice leading the charge in a wave of double kicks and distorted guitar riffs. Each resounding thud of the kick drum hits like a punch to your ribs; a punch that you welcome with no resistance. The synthesized flutes that bring the track to an end are enchanting on their own. So much so, in fact, that they close the album on a simply beautiful note. While you've been tossed and thrown about for half an hour, it is "Blar na h-Eaglaise Brice" that coddles you in the final moments. Serene and calming, it becomes the lullaby you may have been waiting for.

We, as modern people, love to talk (brag) about an ancestry. We identify ourselves by where our ancestors came from, regardless of how diluted it may be for our generation. It makes sense for bands of all races, religions, ethnicity and creed to do exactly the same, and celebrate their heritage through song. That is what Cnoc An Tursa do frighteningly well here, sharing their Scottish history with their listeners in each and every track. It isn't just music that SOUNDS Scottish in origin; it actually represents Scotland's rich heritage in lyric as well. the way they capture the modern and the ancient is what will make this album stand out from many others that will claim to be Celtic or the like. And it is this kind of album that could change or influence the way we view folk metal as a whole, bringing it away from concocted tales of armor and swords from those who represent it poorly, and back to a revival of cultures of yesteryear. And even though the name implies size and strength, you have no idea how big "The Giants Of Auld" really is. Until you listen.


Facebook - http://www.facebook.com/cnocantursa
Label Site - http://candlelightrecordsusa.com/site/artists/cnoc-an-tursa/
Read more ...

Thursday, April 11, 2013

Mammoth Salmon - Internet EP #2 (2013)

The use of the word "raw" throughout the modern metal scene has created an interesting dynamic. For some, it stands as a testament to the music world without fancy studios and labels spending thousands on the production of one track. For others, it becomes a negative aspect, as if being "raw" equates to being bad or lazy. Which side of the debate you fall on is completely dependent on perception. So as albums and EPs, like the latest from Portland based two piece Mammoth Salmon, find their way through the series of tubes and cats known as the internet, how they are received is as varied as how they are made. With three tracks of humming, buzzing, and feedback laden heavy rock, the dynamic duo of Paul Dudziak and Mitch Meidinger aren't about to inspire any tea parties or finger sandwiches; but their ability to play detailed songs with little to no refinement gives rise to the raw in all of us.

There may be an inherent sloppiness to the way "Nothing Follows" begins, but rest assured plenty follows. When all of the elements come together in unison, you get a bend that is perfectly imperfect. Multi-instrumentalist Dudziak wastes little time flexing his musical muscles, unleashing a wildly impressive guitar solo to offset the stripped down chord progressions. The vocals are a throwaway, though, adding little that the bending strings and rattling cymbals can't do on their own. "Green Lung" provides more in the way of static vocal lines, but does reinforce the musicianship constant. Despite the unpolished production work, Dudziak and drummer Meidinger hold their own in the mix. The trading off of slow chugging and uptempo beats is an interesting one, one that seems to work far better than you would think, given the groundwork. But it is the closing track, the seven minute "Magnetic Fields of Radiant Light" that becomes an exercise in lateral movement. After a minute and a half of clangy, metallic strings being strummed, a pure psychedelic doom song emerges, stronger than ever. Once again, the winding riffs laid down by Dudziak become somewhat mind altering, even in an untamed sea of distortion. They manage to be catchy without throwing off the balance of the track, one that could have been trimmed to a mere five minutes, if the two minutes of feedback that closes had been removed.

There are bound to be bands who use the "raw" mentality to hide the fact that they just aren't very good. Such is not the case with Mammoth Salmon, as Dudziak and Meindinger show time and again that they are more than capable of writing and performing with skill and vision. But because of the production values, however you would characterize them, there will be some, or many, who would simply dismiss their work in the first minute as being amateur. To the contrary, I would estimate that their talent far outweighs the means they used to get it to your ears. With a more focused approach to the recording and mixing process, you might see the next wave of psychedelic stoner doom come through the streets of Portland. And when the Pro-Raw and Anti-Raw protestors fill either side of the street, you might be forced to choose a side. If this "Internet EP #2" is the only piece of information you had to go on, which side would you join?


Bandcamp - http://mammothsalmon.bandcamp.com/
Facebook - http://www.facebook.com/mammothsalmon
Read more ...

Wednesday, April 10, 2013

Gloryhammer - Tales From The Kingdom Of Fife (2013)

I’ve never been a very big fan of Alestorm. Mainly because I feel that most of their songs all sound the same. When I found out that Alestorm mastermind, Christopher Bowes, put together an epic power metal project I  was skeptical. From the start it looked like he was trying to achieve the “so corny it’s good” sound that power metal is known for with Gloryhammer. When done right it sounds incredible and when done wrong, it sounds like Dragon Guardian. When I was finally able to sit down and listen to Gloryhammer, it blew me away upon the first listen. “Tales from the Kingdom of Fife” is a concept album based in medieval Scotland with an alternate history. Christopher Bowes new project passes with flying colors. The album is symphonic, epic, amazing and it never lets up.

Gloryhammer’s album starts off with an epic, marching track “Anstruther’s Dark Prophecy,” that really gives the listener the direction Bowes wants to take this band. The second track, “The Unicorn Invasion of Dundee,” shows what this band is really capable of. It’s epic, catchy, cheesy and one of the best tracks on the album. “Angus Mcfife” continues the album along at a great pace, but is over shadowed by the next track. The fourth song, “Quest for the Hammer of the Glory”, is the best song on the album. The galloping beat of the track gives it an old school, 80’s vibe. It begs to be listened to over and over again. The album slows down with the ballad “Silent Tears of Frozen Princess.” While it’s a ballad, it doesn’t kill the mood or the flow of the album. The next two tracks “Amulet of Justice” and “Hail to Crail” pick the speed of the album back up and lead into the incredible instrumental “Beneath Cowdenbeath.” The album closes with it’s most epic, and longest track, “The Epic Rage of Furious Thunder.” Being over just ten minutes long, it’s a very fulfilling conclusion to the album.

I hope Christopher Bowes keeps the Gloryhammer name going, because he is on to something that could redefine the genre. I can’t remember the last time a power metal album came out that was this catchy and free of filler. There is not one part on the album that drags. “Tales from the Kingdom of Fife” has everything  a fan of epic power metal needs. Great vocals, blistering solos and the cheesiest lyrics since Rhapsody of Fire’s “Power of the Dragonflame.” It’s still early in the year but it’s going to be hard to top this one.  Christopher Bowes has, hands down, created the best side project since Avantasia. “Tales from the Kingdom of Fife” is one of this year’s best, bar none.


- Brian DuBois

Official Site - http://www.gloryhammer.com/
Facebook - http://www.facebook.com/gloryhammer
Read more ...

Tuesday, April 9, 2013

Tatanka - Tatanka (EP) (2013)

Strange as it is to say, we as Americans have gotten used to the idea of other countries doing what we do, only better. This leaves us in the weird middle ground: we don't innovate, and we don't create. We're just kind of here. It makes sense, then, that a Canadian band based in Vancouver could take on the name of one of the last great American icons, the buffalo. Under the moniker Tatanka, the Native American term for buffalo, this four piece have carved out a niche all their own with their blend of progressive and post metal elements. The resulting music is as unique as you could imagine, a style that few could copy and none could duplicate. On their new self titled EP, they deliver four tracks of robust organic metal that grows as naturally as the plains of the American Midwest. But unlike the majestic animal for whom they are named, this band will not be going quietly into the annuls of metal history.

With the clean, pastoral opening to "Wallace," the band achieves something important: they peak your interest early and often, while refusing to go quietly into the night. At the first drop of the hammer, you are greeted with a larger than life drum sound, each kick drum rattling your speakers. While the guitars lock down the main melody, the rhythm section drives the track forward. The combination of guitarists Dan Munro and Scott Clifford does wonders for the mix, each injecting a little something extra into each passage. Munro, pulling double duty on vocals, performs admirably, his voice having an imperfection to it that makes it not only endearing but enjoyable. No pitch correction, no auto-tune to be found. His voice, melodic and soothing, sits on top of the bed of distortion and percussion. But when his pipes go silent, the instrumental takes over, with a huge contribution from bassist Tyler Out, whose smooth lines are easily detectable and isolated. It is this focus that makes "Omnipotent Failure" a highlight. Drummer Alex Rybalko is the foundation for the entire mix, his constant percussive assertions becoming fuel for the fire. That flame ignites in full just before the two minute mark, a backdraft of darting guitar work and thunderous low end. Munro and Clifford complement each other well in their lead/rhythm roles, allowing so much to happen between them. The beautiful melodic passage in the latter half is stunning in its construction and execution.

It would be hard to fully summarize what it is that "Serpico" has to offer, but it is simple enough to say the band has achieved something of note on this eight minute behemoth. The bubbling simmer of the first half is enough to keep your head moving and your ears focused. But the way the track grow with each passing second is the most impressive part. It happens so naturally that you would never need to question the writing or recording process. The flow from passage to passage, movement to movement makes all the sense in the world, without ever being predictable or stale. The guitars, tangled up within one another, shift and change like the seasons. Munro's voice soars over the top of it all, with a smooth delivery that finds him at his best. You may find yourself getting lost in the sea of sound that is the last minute, and that would be perfectly acceptable. But with the evolution comes constant change, and the closing track, "Mamihlapinatapai," is no different. The band adopts a new style with Munro softly crooning over the light tapping of drums and cymbals and a soft guitar melody. But Rybalko takes some time to shine brightest with an amazing display of stick and foot work. His high speed tapping sets the gears in motion, with an atmospheric wave of guitars cutting through, padded out by Out and his flowing bass lines. The album comes full circle in the second half of the track, moving back into that beautifully constructed progressive metal realm. These are the moments when cohesion is key, and Tatanka have that in spades.

In an ideal world, we would be able to travel far and wide on whim to see whatever band we wanted. On the private Sorrow Eternal jet, which should be purchased sometime by the year 2113, it would be a whirlwind tour to catch as many shows as possible, featuring the best bands of yesterday, today, and tomorrow. After hearing the latest output by Tatanka, I can assure you Vancouver would be one of the first stops on our journey. They have taken on the name and the image of one of the most iconic American animals, one that graced the big screen in "Dances With Wolves," and did it a great service with the result. They manage to evolve and change, without ever straying too far from center. And the beauty of the album, as a whole, is that it manages to tie itself up in a neat little package when the last note fades away. And while I can't speak for the inspirations behind the writing and recording of this piece of metal art, I can assure you that these Canadians have outdone the Americans once again.


Bandcamp - http://tatankamusic.bandcamp.com/
Facebook - http://www.facebook.com/tatankaband
Read more ...

Monday, April 8, 2013

Tengger Cavalry - Black Steed (2013)

Folk metal, far too often, is constricted into a tiny cross section of the whole. The Finnish humppa and Celtic varieties float to the top, while many of the other styles get left out. When one of those alternatives makes its way to your ears, it often results in a revelation of sorts. By infusing their native instruments into a rousing blackened folk foundation, Tengger Cavalry are doing something that is far and beyond anything I've come across in the current folk scene. The Beijing four piece, headed by mastermind Nature Zhang, describes their unique style as Nomadic, or Mongolian Pagan folk. nd while that combination of words might not mean much to you now, by the time the album has wound down and ended, they will take on new meaning. For it is on "Black Steed" that melodic, detailed, epic folk metal becomes less of a dream, and more of a blooming reality.

The intro track, "沙场," is a beautifully orchestrated symphonic work, albeit painfully short. There is a majestic quality to it that deserves another minute or two to hash itself out in full. But as it fades and "千骑" begins, the mood changes completely. Immediately, the combination of ethnic instrumentation and traditional folk metal is demonstrated and perfected. Striking a balance of this nature is always a challenge, but one taken on with great care and skill. From the grating vocals of the verse, to the more epic expanses of the chorus, the band finds a middle ground in everything it does. What follows isn't just a lesson in folk inspired metal, but a show of some of the most deft and detailed guitar work you will find contained in the genre. And it is in their enthusiasm that you feel something special, as in the pounding gallop of "出征." The grunts of the vocals take charge of the early moments, while the beautiful string work comes in and out throughout the track. The way it is layered atop the sea of thundering drums and distorted guitars makes it stand out all the better. The solo section here highlights not only the skilled musicianship, but also the crystal clear production and mixing effort. The outro alone would be worthy of a head nod or twelve, with the paced slowed to a crawling finish.

To say that "黑骏" finds the band at their aggressive best is not only a true statement, but a telling one. Even in their harsher moments, they still find a place for melody and meaning. It proves time and again that the two styles, while contrasting, can coexist and boost one another. You would have to look far and wide to find a better example of modern folk metal than this. With all of the thunder and beauty thus far, it would seem hard to believe that the music could get any better. But on "战马," it does exactly that. It becomes difficult to pinpoint what it is about the song that makes it stand out so prominently from the rest, but the combination of native instrumentation and blaring guitar work seems to transport you to another time and place; it's as though you are sitting in the middle of an artsy martial arts film, like "Hero," that has been mashed together with the famed "Metal: A Headbanger's Journey." There are so many subtleties to enjoy, scattered throughout. The same could be said for "风雪中" and the massive thrashing sections. There is a continued show of versatility and depth to each movement, as well as the way the album flows together. With those magical strings talking over lead roles time and again, it changes the entire dynamic of the song. How successful the finale is depends more on your perception of what a closing track should be. The overwhelming beauty that is "故乡谣" defies description or summary. It isn't lacking punch, either, thanks to the booming of kick drums.

It is easy to find fault; it is much harder to find something that embodies perfection. Through repeated listens and intense scrutiny, it became a near impossibility to find something not to like in Tengger Cavalry, or the music these four like minded individuals make. They've managed to take the tenets of folk metal - the sounds, imagery, and story telling - and make them their own. Each sweeping string passage makes you see colors. No, not in a drug induced haze or alcohol fueled bender; but in a profound, almost mind altering sort of way. They incorporate a piece of their country's history into each and every movement, giving you, the listener, a taste of what traditional Chinese music sounds like with a modern metal twist. And though the album stands at only seven tracks, and may feel far shorter than it actually is, it delivers in ways that other folk metal albums fail to. This piece of work, this "Black Steed," is far deeper than you might think.


Facebook - http://www.facebook.com/pages/Tengger-Cavalry/169782743095255
Myspace - http://www.myspace.com/tenggercavalry
Read more ...

Sunday, April 7, 2013

The Podcast: Episode 77 (The Easter Bunny is a no good motherfuc....nevermind)

That dirty bastard known as the Easter Bunny brought me a little something extra in my basket this year; a head cold that crippled me for days! Better believe I'll have a surprise waiting for him next year. Wanted to catch up on the highlights of the last two weeks in reviews, with some pretty amazing albums. We touched on all facets of the metal world: the death/doom genre was reinvigorated by the work of Soliloquium, power thrash gained new life thanks to Windrunners, the metal opera got a new installment thanks to Tobias Sammet and Avantasia, Intronaut turned heads with a hazy brand of psychedelic sludge,  Myrkgrav told us a little bit about the history of Norway in true folk metal style, and Moradin proved that Canadians can do melodic black metal better than anyone.

Read more ...

Friday, April 5, 2013

WindRunners - Undead (2013)

It wouldn't be fair to hold the hold the sins of the labels and management against a band. When their caretakers have money on the line, they will do damn near anything to get their product into the hands of listeners around the world. Bonus content that no one wants, tour packages no one wants to see, or a laundry list of bands that this one sounds like, even when they don't. So it is often refreshing to stumbled onto something without any preconceived notion of what you've gotten yourself into. One look at the artwork for "Undead," the new studio album by Ukranian five piece WindRunners, and I found myself wondering what kind of music would be contained therein. Melodic death maybe? Old school thrash? I had to hit play, I couldn't resist. And I had the chance to hear something I hadn't expected, and certainly wasn't prepared for. Nine songs and some forty minutes later, I am prepared to preach the gospel of the new wave of power thrash.

Leading with the title track, it becomes very clear that this is no amateur effort. The production work is spot on, allowing each separate sound to come through with clarity and quality. There is an interesting dynamic at work as well, with a very modern arrangement coming together with a classic vocal line. The guitar work stands out from the rest, but is strengthened by the very, almost too subtle keyboard touches. With a faster tempo, the track flies by and, only after a breath, runs into the equally neck breaking single "Lifeless." This stands as an homage to the aforementioned classic metal style, complete with chanting gang vocals. You would be hard pressed to keep your head still or feet on the floor, most likely opting for an uptempo tapping. Thankfully, the synthesizers make their way into the foreground, giving added depth to the leads. It is in these moments, like the ones surrounding the three minute mark, where the band are at their best, leaving an intoxicating melody engrained in your head. The downside seems to come in the content itself, with could sound flat on repeated listens. But so much of that is stomped out, literally, by the track "First," which is assault and battery in musical form. I can't help but hear Megadeth here and there, as if WindRunners have channeled a younger, before Christ Mustaine for their own evil purposes. This is, in case I misled you, a great thing to behold. With vibrant musicianship and writing here, the band starts to show exactly why they should be pumping through speakers across the world.

And since variety is the spice of life, "Time" is a different animal entirely. The tempo is cut in half, relying on more dense chugging to hammer home the verse sections. It seems strange to find a song of this nature that still falls squarely into the classic power thrash realm, but it does exactly that. With the help of some memorable guitar work and the occasional high pitched wail, you are sure to be impressed and looking for more than one listen. With a blazing solo section, you might find yourself hooked. That same attitude carries over into the ballad, "Prisoned In Stone," thanks to a beautifully orchestrated clean guitar melody and accompanying bass work. But this isn't the downtrodden sort of tune the opening would lead you to believe. It erupts in a flurry of distortion and thunderous drums, only to be pulled back into a neoclassical interlude. Standing at nearly six minutes, the longest track on the album, there is not a single second left untouched, with each breath being packed full of guitar, bass, drum,s vocal and soothing keys. More importantly, though, is how the band comes roaring out of this softer break. The bombastic and altogether raging "Eternal" is just what the doctor ordered. As if their influences hadn't been worn openly enough on their sleeves to this point, a fair amount of Avantasia could be heard in the wailing vocal lines and squealing harmonics here. This isn't hero worship though; this is a modern spin on the classic formula.

So when a blazing track like "Evil Potion" comes into your frame, it all makes sense in sound and arc. With twirling guitar riffs dominating the mix, you are reminded again that this isn't a one off garage act, but musicians wit a tremendous amount of skill and vision. The fact that the songs are as catchy as they are good makes for a dangerous combination that I am more than willing to risk. And while you may be disappointed that "Cold As Ice" has nothing to do with the Vanilla Ice classic song and movie, you'll quickly shift gears into enjoying a punk inspired thrash track. Complete with galloping drums and those insanely catchy gang vocals, you find yourself awash in a sea of chugging guitars and darting bass lines that are sure to get your fist pumping. It is the keyboards that seal the deal here, often flying up the scales alongside the leads. It would seem only fitting that the closing track be one of the best, and "Goodbye My Darling" fits that bill to perfection. Equal parts slamming thrash masterpiece and winding power metal arrangement, the track is five minutes of raw power, harnessed and forced into digital form. The tone in the vocals, something I have managed to fail to mention to this point, might be one of the best selling points the band has at their disposal; just raspy enough to give rise to the grit of the album, but melodic enough to sing along to. With a solo that would make some of the all time greats blush, it becomes the best end you could find.

Bands, labels, and management will do whatever they have to do to get you to listen (read as: buy) their albums. They'll spam you, they'll flood the radio, or, worst of all, use the dread "Listen to these guys if you like.." and subsequently list ten unrelated bands from varying genres. This album by WindRunners, in all its unrestrained glory, fell into my lap without a breath from the band, the label, or the management. I had no expectations, other than ones that I form with my own eyes and ears. And in this case, that was all I needed. These nine tracks have a seemingly endless list of positives and few, if any, real negatives. It might not click right away; in fact, it may take several listens all the way through before you find yourself truly immersed in the music. But when you get to that point, it will all make sense. No amount of pushing or prodding could really capture your attention the way the album itself does. The best albums are the ones that surprise you, or even prove you wrong. And "Undead" did both.


Official Site - http://windrunners.com.ua/
Facebook - http://www.facebook.com/windrunnersband
Read more ...