Monday, December 31, 2012

An Autumn For Crippled Children - Only The Ocean Knows (2012)

So much can be made of the word "experimental" being tacked on to any subgenre of metal. It doesn't always make it new and exciting, nor is it indicative of what the band is trying to do. What it is, rather, is a way of something that they don't want to be like everyone else. An Autumn For Crippled Children, a melodic black metal band from the Netherlands, is a prime example of how experimentation and creativity can reap huge benefits. Rather than sit back and play generic songs day in and day out, this three pieces has refined their sound, and taken things in a different direction. On "Only The Ocean Knows," their third album in three years, they look to take another step out of the shadows, and into the light; both literally and figuratively.

The lead off track, "Past Tense," is the band at their best. They waste no time building an atmospheric haze around you, through the use of airy guitar chords and a bevy of percussion. The entire sound is bolstered by the fact that they have left the mix slightly rough around the edges, creating peaks and valleys in the production. There is a conflicting set of moods at play here, which only make the track more enjoyable. The air of happiness in the bass line is countered so sharply by the coarse vocals. Even the outro portion, strengthened by a sliding, high pitched guitars and a wild set of double kicks, is well conceived in its contrast. The foundation having been set, tracks like "Yes I Know…Love and Death…Always" are the perfectly evolution for the band, without leaving behind everything you know about their sound. The muddled recording does hurt at times, and the keyboard element that works so well here and there suffers as a result. But for every moment where things become too cloudy, they return to form almost as quickly. With softer moments built in to each piece, you have a constant give and take for light and dark.

Never short on style, tracks like "This Garden These Trees" remind us of how eclectic black metal and bands of that ilk can be. With a strong melody and wandering strings accompanying the always busy drum patterns, you have a marriage of beauty and beast that lingers. This is the delicate side of things, building something that is both imaginative and strong. The same themes run through the haunting intro to "In February," a slow, cold opening to a track that cold fit perfectly into a snow storm. It is the vocals that remain raw here, as the instrumental takes a decidedly more complex and rich tone. Whether it is the constant note that lingers behind it all, or the softly strummed clean chords, there is something deeper going on here. As a result, you get something that may sit atop their catalog. Completing a strong trio of songs, the title track is equally as impressive. Keyboards star here, setting a mood that may actually induce a sway out of you. In that signature light and shadow way, they manage to take an instrumental that might warrant a lighter or two, and pair it with a vocal that sounds as though it was retrieved from the pits of hell. This melodic take on black metal suits them well, especially with subtle electronic touches scattered in the latter stages.

If the weather outside of your window mirrors "The First Snow This Year," you should consider yourself lucky. It is staggering how perfectly the band has captured that event in sonic form. It is an effort that deserves a visual companion; one that is elevated by that element. It's as if you can separate the two pieces, vocal and musical, into two distinct elements of the storm. The light guitars and pattering of drums are the snowflakes, falling gently in the wind. The vocal, harsh and raspy, as the chilling wind that blows. With a much more clean approach, "Uncureable" is probably the most exciting track on the album for most metal fans. The tempo has increased, thanks to some intricate played drums, and the light and dark have come together to form a shaded area. It would be like taking the art rock styles of dredg, and infusing Burzum vocals into it all. For a more trippy effect, take the five minute finale, "The Rising Tide." With the synthesizers taking a more front and center role, their effect is felt early and often. Their power can be felt in each movement of the song, coating the entire mix with something more sublime than before.

Watching the evolution of a band over the course of their career is something more people should appreciate, rather than condemn. With this, their third album in three years, An Autumn For Crippled Children have taken the next logical step in their development. By adding in that extra layer of melody, whether through the use of electronics, keyboards, or just simple guitar notes, they have reinforced everything that makes them strong. This is the same band that we heard on "Lost" and "Everything," but with a sense of maturity and intelligence that has developed along with them. In a genre crowded with people doing the same old thing, it is nice to see a band stepping out of that mold and giving us all a taste of where they've been, and where they are going. I suppose "Only The Ocean Knows" is where we go from here.


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Sunday, December 30, 2012

Weekly Rant 12/30/12: Return of the podcast?

As we put the year 2012 to bed, it would seem an appropriate time to start anew. After nearly three months away from the mic, Darrell returns with a message about the year that has gone by, the year that lies ahead, and Sorrow Eternal as it stands before you today.

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Friday, December 28, 2012

Systems - Terrasomnium (EP) (2012)

Ideas for a band: take a bunch of buzz terms, ones that are edgy and increasingly popular, and throw them together to form a new genre that no one would expect. Then, put together a spacey, "progressive" piece of album artwork, to show that you are thinking beyond your peers, and doing something "out there" and unheard of. But here is the kicker... none of it makes any sense, musically or otherwise. So things go in the realm of Systems, a band that describes their sound as "technical non-diatonic progressive jazz metal," which means absolutely nothing, as far as the ear can tell. Instead, what you are subjected to is five tracks of sloppy djent with no logical beginning, middle, or end. It is hard to imagine "Terrasomnium" as anything more than a cruel joke.

The cruelest twist of all is what starts the album. The opening guitar work on "Eclipses of the Sun and Moon" leads you to believe you may be witnessing the second coming of Animals As Leaders, or another instrumental juggernaut. But very quickly, any technical prowess is vacated in favor of a mish mosh of double kick drums and wild screaming that are both unintelligible and flat. There is no cohesion between the layers, which leaves you thinking each band member is playing a different song entirely. When the vocals drop out and leave the bulk of the load to the guitars, there are flashes of a band with a vision. But for every ten seconds of well conceived instrumental, there are twice as many moments of expired riffs. The two minute track known as "Form Wave" is the biggest dud on the album, finding itself lost in a haze of recycled drum beats and screeching vocals that would even make raw black metal singers cringe. With limited use of stop/start dynamics, you are left more confused than entertained, as you have five or six different movements in a short span.

That same lack of direction haunts "Lucid Dreams," which openly explores the more metalcore based sounds and tones that so many would steer clear of. Far too often here there are moments of "look what I can do" guitar pieces that add nothing to the track. If anything, they cut the momentum in half each time. And for a song that lacks any sort of flow, that is a deadly game of cat and mouse. If by the opening drum fills on "Mystheria" you haven't managed to steady yourself enough to press the stop button, you may actually feel as though you are being rewarded, although briefly. For a period of thirty seconds, right around the one minute mark, you are shown the ability to actually hold a melody together. It is fleeting, however, with some dense chugging crushing any hope of an expanded mix. An as strong as that half minute was, the same time frame, cut from the end of the track, is equally damaging. As the closing track, the four minute title track, comes into frame, you can at least be happy that the end is near. And in the typical, and ever popular "full circle" fashion, you are treated to a series of tempo changes and wild double kick segments that remind you of where you started some 19 minutes ago. Little has changed in that time frame, except your patience. It ends where it began, with some impressive guitar work that simply goes nowhere.

It is perfectly fine to want to deviate from the norm and do your own thing. I think we can all fully support that idea. But the recent trend of throwing every genre tag imaginable onto a page and saying that you embody all of these things is just nonsensical. Systems have done exactly that, piecing together several words that, without the ability to back them up, mean nothing. If you take the music for what it is, you have a derivative of a derivative, a copy of a copy, a FLAC rip of a 192 kbps stream. What you find on "Terrasomnium" has nothing to do with being progressive or jazz, nor does it have any basis in being technical. Sometimes it is better to just be what you are, and say what you mean. This four piece might even see a better response if they label themselves accordingly: djentcore.


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Wednesday, December 26, 2012

Oakenshield - Legacy (2012)

Having taken four years to write, record and complete his latest album, Ben Corkhill exhibits tremendous amounts of patience in his music. Oakenshield, the moniker for his folk project, is as much about the journey as it is about the end point. So when it came time to piece together the follow up to the 2008 debut, "Gylfaginning," Corkhill was in no rush to get things done. The result is a positive step, a more massive sounding album, rich with synthesizers, flutes, horns, and strings. And by reducing the run time of the album from its predecessor, it feels more compact and full. But when you are the one and only member of a band with this sort of reach, the difficulties are many, and high risk. And while "Legacy" is an experience to be had, it may be a long one to get through.

What you may not expect, given the rash of generic folk bands flooding the market, is the sprawling soundscapes of "Northreyjar." Rich with symphonics and folk inspirations, this four minute intro is one you won't soon forget. In creates a stunning piece of scenery for the album, with horns and the tickles of bells gently ringing through your speakers. The same sense of delicacy is shared but not furthered on "Earl Thorfinn." The use of strings and whistles is excellent, but does leave the guitars feeling somewhat flat at times. There is a heavy reliance on synthesizers to keep the mix afloat, something they do well. The main vocal can come off as stilted, leaning towards a coarse speech more than a cohesive singing. But the true star is the instrumental, bolstered by a host of traditional instruments and chanting backing vocals. While the beats may be basic and lacking in lateral movement, they are executed at a high level. The outro portion is the perfect cross section of the track, giving you a clear sense of the talent at play.

Leaning more to the grandiose on the opening to "Jorvik," Corkhill takes a small step out of his comfort zone, successfully. Taken as parts, there is no one element that could carry the track. But as they come together, each layer becomes exponentially more powerful. Whether it is the light flutes or the multiple voices that chant behind it all, everything comes together in a raspy, distorted harmony. It is when all of these individual sounds are layered atop one another that the mix sounds complete, once again illustrated in the latter stages. If there is one track that stands apart from the rest, it is the more atmospheric "Mannin Veen," where the guitar work becomes more intricate, strengthening the entire production. With no vocal present, it allows every instrument to be heard in full glory, resulting in an overwhelmingly beautiful offering. Furthering that melodic sensibilities, a clean, acoustic guitar takes the reins on the intro to "Wen Heath," invited the others to join in the lighthearted tune. Having now found the balance between light and dark, the vocals rejoin the fray, this time finding a more stable place in the pecking order. It is the violin melody that rings triumphantly throughout the track, carrying the rest of the instruments on the flowing and fluttering notes.

With the addition of a clean vocal chorus on "Clontarf," Corkhill has now pushed himself to his limits, finding a home between the heavier segments and the dance inspiring interludes. There are some aggressive passages to be found here, most notably at the midway point where fun folk meets symphonic black metal in a head on collision. The contrast does wonders for the track as a whole, setting up a flute and whistle powered outro. But as the far reaching "Eternal As The Earth" fades in, you are left to wonder what else he has to offer. Having exhausted the same basic drum patterns throughout, it is left to the strings and winds to carve yet another melodic flourish to move things along. And while they prove to be capable time and time again, it begins to spread their impact thin across the next six minutes. And it seems to be a shame to save the best for last, something that is arguably the case here, as the nine minute epic "The Raven Banner" exhibits all of the strongest elements that Corkhill has up his sleeve. And even though you have heard all of these pieces scattered here and there, they come together in a more profound way. Yes, the run time may come to weigh on your mind about six minutes in, but the finish line is well worth the time of the race.

Perhaps more than any other subgenre of metal, folk relies most on the use of balance to keep the listener focused. And it is in this quest of an even mix that so many bands fail, leaning too much to one side or the other to keep their fans, or new listeners, happy. For Oakenshield, Ben Corkhill finds himself teetering on the brink of collapse at several keys moments, but manages to stave off disaster. At times, he relies on the violin and flute to pull too much of the weight, which reduces their impact in the long run. At other junctures, those touches are non existent, creating a stale mix, lacking energy. And while he always finds his way back to the path, he is one wrong turn away from "Legacy" getting lost in the forest.


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Tuesday, December 25, 2012

Playlist 12/25/12: We wish you a metal Christmas...

December 25, 2012

Do I really need to say more? No tracklist, no bullshit. For those of you who celebrate it, have a Merry Christmas. For those who don't celebrate it, ain't Tuesday grand?
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Monday, December 24, 2012

From Beyond - The Color Out Of Space (EP) (2012)

It seems so wrong that some of the best bands are also some of the most prolific. Not only do they take more than their fair share from the talent pool, but they manage to continually churn out new and excellent material every few months. When From Beyond released their first offering midway through this year, it quickly became a favorite of fans and critics alike. Only six months later, then, how is it that they have met, nay, exceeded expectations with their second release, the four track, thirty minute mind trip known as "The Color Out Of Space"? Is it possible that somewhere in a cave in Houston, these three individuals are spinning witches brew in a cauldron? Or is this merely a reason for us to eb thankful the world hasn't ended? Either way, mission accomplished.

Picking up right where their groove trip left off, the opening riff on "Hexagram" is enough to get the blood flowing. The down home, southern blues tones are omnipresent, giving the entire mix a special depth. It is in all of the small touches that the track finds its strength, though, with every light tapping of a cymbal ringing true to your ears. And as things progress, the slow paced, soulful vocal delivery gives way to a higher tempo instrumental, led by a tremendous bass line and some o the more intricately conceived fretwork the band has to offer. Without belaboring a point, it is hard to truly capture how important drummer Dick Beeman's contributions are to every track. His booming kick has a sound that simply elevates everything around it, something that is as plain as the nose on your face on "At Midnight (I'll Steal Your Soul)." With a catchy hook to solidify the track, the band can go off on tangents without ever straying completely from the path. As the track bend and sways, it evolves into a complex piece of psychedelia, anchored by a constant bass presence. The overall atmospheric quality here would stand on its own, but a sinister laugh to end the track will certainly stay with you for some time.

With an intro that sounds like the classic "big finish" of a live show, "The Dead Still Ride" is a huge departure from the previous two tracks, going for an upbeat assault on your senses. In the high energy three minutes, the band bring a smooth intensity to their sound, maintaining their restrained but unbridled passion for heavy grooves. But following such a short, sweet track is a monster lurking. The nearly fifteen minute title track is a massive undertaking in and of itself. With an opening drum beat that may have you thinking an "Iron Man" cover is emerging, this is the true psychedelic doom material you may have closely associated with this three piece. All of the tiny imperfections in the mix form a beautifully flawed mass, one that suits the band and the track to perfection. By no means in this an indictment of the musicianship, or suggesting in any way that the cloudiness of the production is masking anything; instead, it helps to spotlight exactly how detailed and minute some of the pieces can be. So much so, in fact, that when the track completely fades out and leaves Beeman and company to rebuild from scratch, you get a chance to fully appreciated every level, every layer of instrumentation and distortion. It's like seeing all the ingredients come together before you can eat the cake.

When the Mayan calendar predicted our doom on December 21, 2012, they couldn't possibly have known that they would be depriving us of the wonders of a new From Beyond EP. I would go as far as to say this disc may have staved off the end of the world with its profound psychedelic grooves and heavy, doomed inspired guitars. They stay true to those who came before, while still putting a progressive, modern spin on the formula. Every element is as important as the others, which creates a delicate balance each and every step of the way. Even more impressive, though, is the versatility on display here. With great musical talent, brilliant songwriting, and an ability to change and adapt, it would seem that From Beyond will be keeping the world spinning for a long time to come. Take that, Mayans.


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Sunday, December 23, 2012

Top 10 Albums of 2012

The best of the best. The cream of the crop. Narrowed down from the thousands of albums that came out this year, this list is a summation of the best that 2012 had to offer. Remember, it isn't all about having the best review score. This is based on pure enjoyment, how long the disc stayed in rotation, and the staying power each album possesses. From all over the globe, there are the ten best metal albums of 2012.

10. Dämmerfarben - Herbstpfad
It isn't common for a band to scar you with harsh blackened tones, then gently stroke your hair with soothing acoustics. But that is exactly what this German three piece does track in, and track out on their latest album, "Herbstpfad." In a mere fifteen months, they rounded out not only their lineup, but their sound. The imagery that springs out of your speakers will take you on a journey of your own, one that you won't soon forget. Somewhere along the way, stop for a second and enjoy it.

9. Thy Majestie - ShiHuangDi
When you launch a series of massive concept albums, there can be not a trace of fear in you. For founding guitarist Claudio DiPrima, the sprawling soundscapes have managed to capture the emotion and scope of history itself. This time tackling the tale of the first emperor of a united China, this Italian power metal outfit outdoes themselves once again. Rich symphonics and ethnic instrumentation heighten the experience and transport you to another time and place. This may very well be their best work yet.

8. Katatonia - Dead End Kings
It didn't happen on the first listen. Or even the second. But by the time you get through "Dead End Kings" a handful of times, something clicks. This isn't the Katatonia of 15 years ago, or even the same band you heard on the last few albums; instead, it is an evolution of a band that has the potential to go on for decades to come. By infusing an extra does of melody, as they do on "The One You Are Looking For Is Not Here," and allowing the thundering drums to lead the parade, they take another step toward metal immortality.

7. Elvenking - Era
If you had told us that an Elvenking album would be making our Top 10 list this year, we would have accused you of taking hardcore drugs, and then ridiculed you for days afterwards. But here we are, with "Era" proving that the godfathers of folk infused power metal still have their best days ahead of them. They returned to form, after the off the mark 2010 offering "Red Silent Tides," and delivered one of the most inspiring and accessible albums in their catalog. Not sold? Hit play on "The Loser" and relax.

6. Swallow The Sun - Emerald Forest And The Blackbird
You always know what you are going to get from Swallow The Sun. Or at least we always thought so. But on this new album, one of our favorite Finnish exports took a turn and delivered something wholly unexpected. Melodic, yet melancholic; Explosive, yet subtle. Every track is constructed on a bed of huge guitar sounds, and a drum tone that shakes you to your core. From the opening track to the fourth part of the "Horror" series, "Labyrinth Of London," this is an album that is not only one of the best of the year, but one of the best death/doom albums you may ever find.

5. Atoma - Skylight
We have long studied the marriage between metal and other sounds, and have discovered varying results along the way. But it wasn't until we first heard the tracks on "Skylight" that it truly became a match made in heaven. With the sparing use of growls, and a sweeping atmospheric element, frontman Ehsan Kalantarpour is key in forming the towering wall of sound that buzzes from your speaker of choice. An adventure to that begins with the albums artwork, and ends with clouded distortion is one that will surely stand the test of time.

4. Malnatt - Principia Discordia
Not to be confused with the Neo Nazi punk group from neighboring Milan, Bolognese avant black metal band Malnatt have put their stamp all over the global metal scene. Taking a subgenre and flipping it upside down with the use of accordion and poetry, this four piece is changing the way we perceive their work. Crystal clear production values may help to elevate the instrumentals, but it is the musicianship itself that makes "Principia Discordia" the revelation that it truly is. Humor and melody never sounded so good.

3. Baroness - Yellow & Green
Coming from a band not known for their intricacies, the double disc set known as "Yellow & Green" was a welcomed surprise this year. Stunning acoustic arrangements, perfectly constructed rhythms, and vocals that are as rich as they are honest, the men of Baroness opened the eyes of many. Whether you prefer "Take My Bones Away" more than you do "Board Up The House," does not matter. Two discs, one theme, all memorable. Prepare yourself; the "Baroness is my new favorite band" posts are coming.

2. Wintersun - Time I
Only Axl Rose can truly appreciate the length of the journey, he might not understand the final result. With this album eight years in the making, the members of Wintersun poured every ounce of themselves into the larger than life production of "Time I," resulting in one of the most epic and awe inspiring pieces in recent memory. They take the entire symphonic metal genre to a new level, creating orchestral pieces that would be just as well received in one of the worlds many opera houses as they would in an outdoor festival. With the rumored second part already finished, we may have only just begun.

1. Brendon Small's Galaktikon - Brendon Small's Galaktikon
For weeks before it's release, we heard all about the "high stakes intergalactic" thrill ride that would become Brendon Small's Galaktikon. We met this news with equal parts worry and hope. Sure, there was a distinct possibility that this would just be a derivative of Dethklok, Small's death metal pride and joy. After all, the band chemistry would be the same, as Bryan Beller and Gene Hoglan reprised their roles as Small's backing band. But instead, we got an album that was better than advertised, and even exceeded all expectation. Combining Hoglan's signature gallops with Beller's knack for smooth, rumbling bass lines, Small created something different; in place of the guttural growls of Nathan Explosion, you find clean, melodic vocal lines. By the time you are three tracks deep, particularly in the middle of "Prophecy Of The Laser Witch" and "Beastblade," you will be sold. Fans of Dethklok will enjoy everything they find here. But even more than that, Dethklok's detractors might just be won over with this display of creativity and manual dexterity.
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Friday, December 21, 2012

Pythia - The Serpent's Curse (2012)

It has become increasing more acceptable to dub something "symphonic" solely because there is a keyboard playing strings and horns involved. However, it doesn't have to begin and end there. The overall writing process can take that one element and turn it into something that closely resembles the true metal opera. Simply by adding in an established vocalist, like Emily Alice Ovenden of the famed and critically acclaimed Mediaeval Baebes, you begin to find a place all your own in that gray area between the theater and the arena. Throw in the talents of a guitar master like Ross "The Boss" White, and you establish credibility as more than just a mashup, but a full fledged idea. Walking the fine line that separates symphonic, melodic death, and power metal, Pythia does all the right things in creating their own unique blend of old and new. It makes sense for "The Serpent's Curse" to  captivate us all.

A strum of clean guitar strings opens the first, and longest track on the album, "Cry Of Our Nation." The cry of an electric guitar is joined by a tapping snare in what amounts to a long intro. But when the first wave of distortion comes barreling in, the sheer force may blow you backwards. The instrumental is powerful, finding a perfect harmony between synthesizers, guitars, bass and drums. Watching the wave form bounce with every booming kick drum is a show in its own. Frontwoman Emily Alice Ovenden does everything imaginable to match that unbridled intensity, belting out verse and chorus in her tremendously rich voice. Whether part of a boisterous mix, or simply crooning over light tones she hits all the right marks here, before the track fades back to where it came. That seem massive sound comes through on "Betray My Heart" as well. This is not a delicate affair, teetering on the brink of collapse. To the contrary, this is power incarnate. As the track progresses, it only gains strength, forming its roots in the percussion and deadly precise guitar work. Not lost in all of the dynamic musicianship is the lyrical content, laying out a storyline that is both enjoyable and wholly enchanting.

Clean riffs open "Kissing The Knife," but quickly evolves into something far greater. It is here than Ovenden is at her absolute best, delivering vocals that are beyond the typical operatic fare that inhabits most symphonic metal. The relentless barrage of drums keeps the track anchored, not allowing it to wander off into unnecessary directions. Even more than that, though, is the striking combination of keys and chords, one that bolsters an already impeccable mix. On "Just A Life," however, things go to another level entirely. Between the amazing speed metal riffs that border on dangerously fast and the thunderous gallop of drums, it is a wonder the entire studio didn't fall to the ground. There is a real talent in the symphonic elements, layered in such a way as to not disturb the main flow, but adding a flare that many bands miss. And while the early moments of "Dark Star" give the impression that a ballad is on top of you, it is simply not the case. Ovenden commands the room, with or without backing, and her voice is a instrument of its own. But as the band enters, you have another pulsing metal attack on your hands, complete with chugging, distorted guitars. The breakdown section here is one of the most impressive pieces on the album, tangling a an orchestras worth of sounds with a bass heavy guitar riff. The beautiful chanting that lays atop it all completes the picture, before it all cuts out leaving the entire structure to be rebuilt from the ground up.

if you thought you had taken the hardest punch the band has to offer, you will be ill prepared for the iron fist that "Long Live The King" packs in the opening. I'm not exactly sure what it is about the way everything comes together, but it does so in such a profound way that it makes it hard to believe this is all one track. Whether it is the electronic touches, or the depth of the guitars, there is an evenness to it all that makes it so much smoother than you would imagine. And with the constant being that female voice, it makes it all the more daring. The closest thing to a ballad would be "The Circle," but it still exceeds anything you would expect. The instrumental takes a step back, taking a little pressure off of the gas pedal, and allowing you to catch a short breath. By no means is this a soft affair, but rather one that sees Ovenden take a more important role. Her voice is the star here, setting the tone for the track at large, before a single guitar solo passage peaks in. It is scary how a single voice can go from haunting to whimsical, as hers does on "My Perfect Enemy." Softly whispered words send chills down your spine, while nursery rhyme styled ones make you smile soon after. It helps to further the mood that has been hammered down in the previous seven tracks. By the time the bridge fades in and the guitars and drums explode, you are under their spell. Subtle keyboard touches scattered throughout only heighten the experience.

In bold fashion, the shortest track on the album is also the most engrossing. The pacing alone would make "Heartless" memorable, but this is so much more than a tempo increase. Everything is moved to the next step, from guitars to drums to vocals. How they maintain the surgical precision is beyond me, with not a single note, kick, or snare falling even a microsecond out of pace. And it is here that the bond between classical and metal can be heard most, as a tender soprano voice meshes with a melodic death instrumental in perfect, if not brutal, harmony. It is the finale, however, that makes the album live up to its full potential. The guitar melodies in "Our Forgotten Land" are rich, especially when they share the spotlight with light symphonic tones. Keeping the string section within the confines of the track structure is the most important piece, and composer Richard Holland does that with grace and deft hand. Even the smallest tingle of a bell of chime in the background means so much to the overall sound of the track, something the band balances with such skill. And what better way to end an album of this magnitude than with a long, fading orchestral note.

The strict division between bands who consider themselves to be symphonic or operatic, and the bands who truly embody that sound and spirit couldn't be wider. Pythia fall into the latter, of course, bringing a large, proportionate chunk of the true classical style to life in each and every track. The arrangements make it possible to balance heavy and heavenly in a truly significant way. Some would say that there is too much weight to support, with metal outweighing the other elements too often and for too long. And while that may be the case, it works time and time again. And while the nature of the music on this album may be too aggressive for the more timid listener, or perhaps too dainty for the more brutal ones, it is safe to say that there is also a very sizable common ground to enjoy on "The Serpent's Curse."


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Thursday, December 20, 2012

A few words about the tragedy in Newtown...

Let me start by saying that this isn't a political rant. None of you care about what I think about gun control, mental illness, or violence; nor should you. You have your opinions, and I fully respect and encourage all of them. But what happened last Friday in the town of Newtown was one of the most heartbreaking events I have experienced in my lifetime.

For those of you who don't know, we are based in New York, north of New York City. We were close to the events of September 11, 2001. Our town, and the surrounding ones, were full of NYC firefighters and police, so we were all thrown into the middle of a terrible tragedy in American history. Even the things that transpired that day didn't crush me the way the Sandy Hook Elementary shootings did. Only an hour from our office, a school and community were changed forever. It would seem that an entire country, and probably a good portion of people around the world, were affected in some profound way by what took place.

This is a small operation, made up of a few dedicated people in our office (the attic of my house). The name of our site, Sorrow Eternal, has never seemed more appropriate. There aren't a lot of options for us to show our support for the victims, their families, and their community. So, we decided to do the best we could.

From now until February 1st, the money from every copy of The Sampler, Volume 1 that we sell will go to the United Way of Connecticut, in their efforts to help the people of Newtown. For every physical copy of the CD that sells, via our Bandcamp, all $6 with be donated. For every digital copy, all $5 will go to them. The album has tracks from some of the best new artists from across the globe, including: Sam Locke, Blizzard At Sea, Skogen, Project Masquerade, As Autumn Calls, Northsong, Astral Winter, Echoterra, An Autumn For Crippled Children, Ogen, Kromlek, and our good friend Dan Klyne and Appalachian Winter.

I know that we won't be able to make a huge difference, but I firmly believe that we, as a metal community, a brotherhood of people (mothers, fathers, sisters, brothers, sons, daughters) can be heard.

Head over to our Bandcamp site to hear the tracks, and get yourself a copy in some form. Or, feel free to contribute to the United Way and their efforts here.

Thank you for reading.

- Darrell

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Wednesday, December 19, 2012

Refusal - Grasp (Demo) (2012)

Formed in early 2008, Finnish death metal five piece Refusal may not be everyone's cup of tea. Throwing all euphemisms out the window, this is not a revolution in music. Instead, you get a two fisted slobberknocker that will leave you bloody, bruised, and ready to swing and punch your way back into the nearest mosh pit. "Grasp," the band's sixth demo in four years, continues down the path started by the many death bands before them. With production work that is far beyond what you would expect, you can near get your nose broken by a crystal clear mix. There aren't any surprises; "Grasp" is exactly what you think it is.

You can throw all hope for subtlety out the window within three seconds of the opening track, "Do Your Part." By the time the opening snare roll has passed, you are in the middle of an uncontrollable beatdown. The vocals are the definition of harsh, screaming ahead in a low, raspy growl that may convince your bowels to loosen every few seconds. The real star, however, is the instrumental. While there are times where it may feel like your average death/thrash moshfest, there is a competence in the writing process, giving you something that may stay with you for a while afterwards. The pummeling of the kick drums. whether doubled or just single, is as intense as you will find. The grunts of "Grip" launch of a four minute barrage of crushing riffs and purely abusive vocal lines. No, the riffs here aren't going to change your life or redefine metal, but it would be crass to say they are strong in their own right. The guitar work is the epitome of the death movement, keeping it faster than fast and heavier than heavy. There is no lateral movement, no desire to turn left or right; this is full steam ahead, right down your throat.

When a track clocks in at a meager one minute and forty one seconds, it is one of two things. Either you have stumbled onto a brief interlude, tying two tracks together; or you have "You Are Useless," an under two minute slugfest that is equal parts rage, rage, and rage. The tempo gets cranked up to eleven, and you are given the choice to ride or get the fuck out of the way. The same argument could be made for "Cleaning The Waste," except there is no second option. As the four minutes of chaos ticks away, the weight of the kick drum alone is enough to knock you senseless. Just shy of the two minute mark, there is a flurry of activity that makes no sense whatsoever, even when you dissect each elements. When you are moving along at these breakneck speeds, there is little room for error; or, in this case, little room for accuracy. There are times where it all seems to make sense, but they are few and far between.

How does one go about summarizing that which defies logic? Those who frequent the death metal world are sure to be pleased with one, or two, or all of these four tracks. Refusal are not a band that is big on variation or detail. Instead, you get exactly what you planned for; a bruising, punishing blend of chugging guitars, neverending drums, and vocals that, while devoid of all lyrical quality, are sure to haunt you for several nights after you have finished.That alone may be worth the price of admission. But for anyone looking for something a little deeper, this won't be the album you are looking for.


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Tuesday, December 18, 2012

Playlist 12/18/12: We sure do like us some guitar

December 18, 2012

What would modern metal be without some heavy, distorted guitars? It isn't all about solos and sweep picking, but they sure do their part to make this genre more explosive than any other. With some of the greats from thrash, and some of the most classic, genre defining riffs, this playlist reminds us that anything is possible with six strings and an amp.

The Tracklist:

Van Halen - Eruption
Yngwie Malmsteen - Arpeggios From Hell
Black Label Society - Speedball
Black Sabbath - Paranoid (Live)
Dream Theater - Overture 1928 (Scene Two)
Metallica - One
Opeth - Burden
Megadeth - Sleepwalker
Slayer - Disciple
Children Of Bodom - Needled 24/7

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Monday, December 17, 2012

Ashen - All We Will See (2012)

Symphonic metal newcomers Ashen are not as young as their discography appears. Formed in 2004 in northern Holland, this six piece have been around for the better part of eight years without so much as an official release. With a stroke of bad lucky, they won first prize in a "battle of the bands" contest, only to be abandoned by the promoter in the process. Focusing on their writing, alongside a host of live shows, the band dug themselves out of a rut in 2010, solidified their line up and decided the the time was near. On their first full length album, second only to their 2006 demo recording, the female fronted outfit look to show that their time was not wasted. The seven songs of "All We Will See" may be enough to give the listener hope, but they leave many questions unanswered.

There is a majestic nature to the keys that open "Grey," setting the tone for the track at large. But as vocalist Melanie van Hoof enters the first time, her voice lacks the initial staying power. It isn't in her ability to hit the right notes; she has that pretty well locked. But in the more standard singing parts, she lacks confidence in her talents, and it leaves her feeling timid. As she hits the more operatic segments, she shines, giving the needed dimension to the mix. For their part, the band does well to move things along, creating a wholly atmospheric quality through the use of symphonics. A quick barrage of guitar work, followed by some aggressive male screams, courtesy of guitarist Danny Bouman, rounds out the track. The title track, which happens to be the longest on the album, sees a tempo shift as the main highlight. With the speed turned up, van Hoof and Bouman trade vocal blows over a series of double kicks. Together, they spark a great deal of chemistry. Separate from one another, there is a stilted feel to their vocals, with Bouman's coming off as forced at times. Despite a somewhat flat mix, the instrumental is well played and well constructed. The overall precision is fairly incredible, with each piece relying so much on the others to come through. In particular, the last minute shows the pieces finding common ground, resulting in a memorable melody.

It may have taken three tracks, but van Hoof comes into her own on "Orphan," delivering a chilling performance in both standard and operatic styles. It plays out as the most complete track on the album, even incorporating Bouman's vocals in a significant way, without losing any of the thunder that the instrumental has to offer. The bridge segment does wonders, allowing the symphonic elements to come through unhindered, laying down a rich blend of piano and strings. They execute the tempo shifts well, and make ample room for the heavy guitars to end the song. The work of keyboardist Robert Blokdijk quickly becomes key, especially on songs like "Pavor Nocturnus," where the synthesized pieces become the keystone for an entire mix. The bad strikes a very delicate balance here, one that could crumble at any moment with too much, or not enough, of anything. The spoken word portion almost derails the entire operation, until a blast of extreme metal takes over and rights the ship. But in the more stripped down "Ivory Rose," the dual vocal attack becomes even more important. Both Bouman and van Hoof are at their best here, delivering powerful performances when paired together. The combination of scary and sublime elevates the track, even when the instrumental takes a back seat. A pulsing bass line occupies many of the quiet moments, which is a nice touch in a simple track.

An extended intro, flooded with tremendous depth of sound, opens "Save Me." The bass heavy symphonics prepare you for a blast of guitars of drums, one that simply does not live up to the buildup. van Hoof takes a step back here, her voice seemingly getting a little lost in the wind. She tries to force in extra accents to the verse, just missing the mark. Her aria is as perfect as ever, though the grutns of Bouman are a little off center this time around. Luckily, the best guitar work resides in the bridge here, at times sounding like "Humans Being" era Van Halen. This seems to be a shock to the system, as the outro finally sees the full band come together as one cohesive unit. It sets up the beautiful piano intro to "Insanity," a virtuosic piece in and of itself. This is the heavier side of the band, with the harsh male vocals taking the lead, as van Hoof plays second fiddle. The way the two voices comes together is key, especially at the minute and half mark, making you wish there had been more moments like it scattered throughout the album. The second half of the track gives you a taste of what the band is capable of, but didn't execute fully. There are more aggressive pieces, some incorporating all of the elements at their disposal into one larger than life mix. And though those moments are fleeting, they are present enough to leave hope for what comes next.

Taken as separate pieces, it would be hard to find something not to rave about on this album. The guitar work, bass work, drumming, keys, and vocals are all top notch in their our right. But the way they come together, or fail to at times, is what makes Ashen a band with a lot of work left to do. This isn't to say they are left to reinvent the wheel with their music, but Bouman, van Hoof and company have to find a stable ground to build their future albums on. They must use these seven tracks to find and highlight their strengths and weaknesses, and do more to take advantage of both. Whether it is the accessible vocals in the verse, the male grunts in the bridge and chorus, or the way the orchestral elements are integrated, it all needs a little coat of polish to make it all shine. Despite the album name, I suspect this isn't "All We Will See;" there will hopefully be a lot more to come.


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Sunday, December 16, 2012

Top 10 EPs of 2012

The use of the EP is as important for an established act as it is for an up and coming star. A shorter offering gives you a chance to give your listeners a taste of what is to come, or merely just show off what you have been working on, without the need for ten or twelve tracks. These ten short form offerings were the best that 2012 had to offer, and make the possibility of some great full lengths in 2013 seem all the more likely.

10. The Deadstation - Episode 01: Like Peering Into The Deepest Ocean Abyss.
Having already made our list of top new artists of the year, it is no surprise that this progressive metal band from outside of Boston makes another appearance here. With seven tracks that run the gauntlet from avant to heavy, this is a record that is sure to please some of the more finicky fans.

9. Pursuing The End - Withering
After the success of their debut full length, Italian symphonic metal newcomers Pursuing The End wasted no time getting back in the studio, but with a grandiose vision. Ramping up their use of orchestral instruments and layered vocals, the short form opera of "Withering" was a revelation for many, including us. If this is the start of something bigger, we may be looking at the future of the genre.

8. Kalidia - Dance Of The Four Winds
While the whole must be better than the sum of its pieces, a few extra strong links in the chain are always a plus. Frontwoman Nicoletta Rosellini has the voice of an angel, and elevates a band that is already playing at a high level. With barely two years under their belts, Kalidia have proven to be a major player in the Italian power metal scene.

7. Maelstrom - The Passage/Change Of Season
One man, one band. Ferdinando Valsecchi is a visionary more than he is a musician. With two EPs out this year, it made sense to lump them together and give credit where credit is due. Over both offerings, Valsecchi shows a command of all things melody and dark, with touches of light springing up throughout. Call it post rock, post metal, or instrumental atmospheric post whatever, this is beauty in musical form.

6. Unleash The Archers - Defy The Skies
Things can't always stay the same; sometimes music needs to evolve. Unleash The Archers have found a place at the top of the new wave of power metal, but bringing along the harsher elements of black and death metal for the ride. Frontwoman Brittney Slayes isn't playing the role of the delicate flower in a field of weeds. She is the queen of a new movement; one that would make Doro proud.

5. Arke - EP One
Want to know how good Arke is? Their "Shatner" EP made our mid-year best of list, despite being released two years prior. It makes perfect sense for their latest offering, the four song "EP One" to takes its rightful place on our year end list. With tremendous grooves, blaring distortion, and one of the best beards and guitarists in modern metal, care of Taz Dirania, your fist will go up and may never come down.

4. Fister - Violence/The Infernal Paramount
We spent all year repeating their mantra. "If it's too slow, you're too young." Whether it is the five song "Violence" EP, or the two song "The Infernal Paramount," the down tempo, high reward sludge three piece known as Fister is a force to be reckoned with. Their riffs pound you into the ground, and the sheer abuse of the vocals keeps your head ringing. And god damn, you would be hard pressed to find a doom/sludge band that sounds better on vinyl.

3. The Massacre Cave - The Ninth Wave
We spent a good portion of 2012 spreading the word of the best band from the island of Eigg. There is very little that we haven't said already, but it all bears repeating. Contagious guitar work, raw but well done vocals, and a rhythm section that can hang with the best of the them, the band with a landmark for a name gave us the biggest surprise of the year.

2. From Beyond - One Year
Balance. If there was one word that could be used to describe Houston's resident kings of gloom and psychedelic doom, it would be balance. Finding a home somewhere between classic Black Sabbath, and their own original style, this EP could be the release that helps to bridge the generation gap between metalheads of now and then. It doesn't matter if you are 60, 50, 40, 30, 20, or.... 10? Either way, you will love what you here on "One Year."

1. Blizzard At Sea - Individuation
You would be hard pressed to find any EP of this year or any other that would rival the latest output by Iowa City's Blizzard At Sea. Hell, you might not be able to find a full length this damn good. When asked to describe the difference between their debut and this follow up in one word, they busted an improv and chose "Progressive-ier." And while that may not be a word recognized by Webster, it fits perfectly. Crushing guitars, rumbling bass, surgically precise drums, and a staggering balance between gritty and clean vocals; it sounds like a sure fire recipe for success. Do yourself a favor, and get this one in your rotation.
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Friday, December 14, 2012

Intervals - In Time (EP) (2012)

Time is a funny thing, isn't it? Some bands take years to write and record new music, often leaving their fans in a seemingly endless purgatory of back catalog and YouTube videos. Others manage to churn out disc after disc of mediocre material, without ever stopping to realize they are alienating the people who pay for their work. If only there was a way to do both; keep the music fresh and evolving, without taking forever to make it happen. Just ask Intervals, an djent band from Canada. Only ten months after their debut EP, "The Space Between," hit the airwaves, the band are back with another attempt at instrumental glory. And despite the short span from disc to disc, Aaron Marshall and company are showing everyone that time is just a unit of measure, not a boundary. The five tracks of "In Time" are proof.

With a series of eerie effects, "Alchemy" builds from nothing into something. A wealth of electronic beats get progressively louder before launching into a full fledged metal assault. With two guitars, it allows the band ample opportunity to create texture with dense chugging, while also leaving room for some wild solo work, something they do with gusto. As an intro track, it works to perfection. As you move from one to the next, the longer and more intricate "Mata Hari," it is easier to detect the delicate level of balance the band are working with. Minus a vocalist, it puts extra pressure on the leads to carry through verse and chorus section. The versatility the band displays in accomplishing this here is extraordinary, showing great maturity in both the writing and execution. Sure, there are still moments where blitzes of chords and rattling drums seem to hinder the momentum created in the melodies, but it manages to even itself out by tracks end. As you move just past the three minute mark, there is a passage of true genius, bringing the heavy and sublime together in one small chunk. A deftly played solo takes you to the finish, tying you in knots along the way.

Unlike their previous effort, track length does not have an adverse affect on the writing process, something made very clear on "Tapestry." The guitar melody that dominates the first two minutes is as good, if not better, than any vocal would have been. Even the more basic chugging pieces are done to perfection, seeing the guitars lock in step with the kick drums and bass in a sledge hammer of sound and fury. Even electronic touch adds another dimension to it all, showing off the seemingly limitless ceiling. Through every moment of the five minute plus track, there is never a note or snare out of place. Taking on a far more assertive tempo, "Momento" is one step away from a power metal instrumental. It carries all of the atmospheric quality that more experienced bands search for, without compromising the perfectly fine tuned mix. each layer helps to elevate the one above it, while also supporting the one below it. Even the more simple segments come together in a beautiful harmony. For those unfamiliar or unsatisfied thus far, "Epiphany" may be exactly what the name implies. One part djent masterpiece, one part virtuosic metal, the track is the poster child for what this style could evolve into. Guitars take on the vocal role, as well as maintaining their grip on the lead melody. It is all so smooth, while still managing to give the impressive of being rough around the edges.

For a band who took a mere ten months between EPs, Intervals have taken a huge leap forward from one offering to the next. Each and every fault on the first EP was not only corrected, but perfected here. Rather than be content to wallow in the cesspool of mediocre djent bands from across the globe, they elected to separate themselves from the pack in a profound way.I am not sure if there is a story to be told in the titles of their discs, but it seems evident in listening to these five tracks that "In Time" is a warning to metal fans the world over. If you haven't yet been won over by the immense riffs and intricately constructed songs of Intervals, you will be... in time.


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Wednesday, December 12, 2012

Waylander - Kindred Spirits (2012)

Some twenty years after their formation, Celtic metal six piece Waylander have only a handful of releases to their credit. Having suffered internal strife numerous times over their lifespan, and seeing ten members come and go, the Northern Irish band have repeatedly taken years between album, resulting in a catalog that has only three full length efforts in it. But now, some four years after their Listenable Records debut in 2008, vocalist ArdChieftain O'Hagan and his blackened folk bandmates are ready to give it another go. With a host of metal tenets and traditional Celtic folk inspirations, "Kindred Spirits" is a mixed bag that may, or may not, hit home. But one thing is for sure; this band won't go quietly.

The flutes and pipes that open "Echoes Of The Sidhe" are a misdirection, one quickly squashed by a heavy handed verse section. Between the massive thumping of kick drums and the coarse vocals, you are assaulted by distortion and unrestrained aggression. It isn't until the track progresses that the guitar work becomes more intricate, laying down a melody, of sorts, behind a wall of chugging. it's the bridge section where the band shines brightest, combined the folk instrumentals with the thrash ones, forming a hybrid sound that mixes surprisingly well. Using the same basic formula, "Lamh Dearg" starts with softly strummed acoustics before descending into madness. It is the vocals here that seem out of place at times, with very little variation to how they are delivered. With a persistent drum pattern and bass line, the rhythm section does a bulk of the work, leaving the guitars to share the melody with the winds instruments. Their increased role does wonders for the overall sound, even lifting the blackened screams into the catchy range. Without a doubt the most complete piece, "Twin Fires Of Beltine" sees the band at their level best. They find the perfect balance between folk and thrash, maintaining a solid melody while also asserting more aggressive riffs. The stomp the starts each verse is excellent, as is the shared vocal duties of harsh and clean. A well executed bridge section, cutting from heavy to clean, highlights a strong effort.

What begins as an acoustic piece evolves and changes over the course of a minute, eventually landing itself squarely in the blackened death realm. "Of Fear And Fury" reveals itself to be one of the more straightforward tracks on the album, sacrificing twists and turns for crushing riffs and an ocean of double kick pedals. The light touches added in the outro are nice, but seem too few and far between. To the contrary, is the essence of folk metal. Stepping back from the rattling distortion, acoustic guitars and flutes set the stage for a rich piece of storytelling on "Grave Of Giants." It is in these chunks that the band can not only express themselves through their heritage, but can also showcase their versatility. In creates a contrast as you go into, and eventually out of, the beautiful side and back into the dark of "A Path Well Trodden." To describe the drumming as overbearing would be doing it a disservice, because it is as impressive as anything on the album. But it is ever present, pounding and pummeling you from every direction, often dominating the mix. This track, in particular, has an almost flawed bounty of cymbals. The constant rattling of metal loses its impact by the time you reach the bridge, and proceeds to crowd things and steal some of the thunder away from the guitars and vocal.

Taking a large stride into the world of melodic death, "Quest For Immortality" shares more in common with the likes of Insomnium than it does with other folk bands. The guitars riffs remain heavy, only taking short melodic bursts to separate verse from chorus and bridge. And while the vocals remain one dimensional, they do enough to carry the track from start to finish. The guitars, however, erupt in a flurry of wailing riffs and wild solos. When joined by a chanting choir, the track takes an unexpected, and wholly appreciated turn to the finish. What seems formulaic on "Erdath" may also be positive. A soft beginning explodes into a full on bloodbath. But this isn't a one trick pony this time around. The bridge section sees a dramatic change of pace, slowing down to a doom-like crawl, one that does just enough to shake things up. When you emerge from this slumber, the band is rejuvenated, plowing ahead in a sea of distortion and whistles. But it is the final, and title, track that seems to best define the band and their style. Through the six and half minutes of "Kindred Spirits," you are taken on a march of sorts. The vocals finally gain their power, telling us that we are all together as one. All the while, flutes and whistles accompany the aggressive stomp. rather than isolate and separate the pieces, they all come together in a broken harmony, eventually fading out in an acoustic strum.

With nine songs, most of which go six minutes or more, "Kindred Spirits" is ambitious, if not overreaching. Despite seeing their best and brightest moments come when they allow traditional and modern to meet, they far too often rely on one or the other the carry the load. This isn't to say the album falls flat; What it lacks in variety, it makes up for in strength of will. Waylander have seen their fair share of turmoil over the years, and many lesser bands would have waved the white flag long ago. But with these six members proudly displaying their colors, it is hard not to let yourself go and be overtaken by the music, however harsh it may be. And while the folk metal world will clearly not be shaken to the core by this record, Waylander have done their flag, their country, and their heritage proud.


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Tuesday, December 11, 2012

Playlist 12/11/12: Melodic death, of course

December 11, 2012

Death metal doesn't have to be all growling and guttural vocals. Sometimes, you can infuse a healthy does of melody to the mix, and take things to an entirely new place. Some of the best and most complete bands in the world subscribe to this theory, and it shows in the wave of new melodic death and folk bands that have emerged this year. Get yourself familiar with the sights and sounds with this playlist.

The TrackList:

Eluveitie - Thousandfold
Ensiferum - In My Sword I Trust
Lyceum - Armada
Insomnium - Where The Last Wave Broke
Dark Tranquility - The Grandest Accusation
Barren Earth - The Curse Of The Red River
Amorphis - Towards And Against
Brymir - Unconquerable
Dethklok - Burn The Earth
Novembre - Cobalt Of March
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Monday, December 10, 2012

Your Highness - Blue Devils (EP) (2012)

Years ago, Henry Rollins waxed poetic about the possibility of being invaded and "saved" by Belgians. It seems funny at the time, not knowing very much about Belgium. But as you breeze through the three tracks of "Blue Devils," the new EP by stoner five piece Your Highness, the idea may seem more and more enjoyable. Taking on southern American tones, and delving into the ways of the blues, the country that brought us Jean Claude Van Damme may have revealed itself to be a hotbed of metal styles. Sewn into the three tracks and nearly twenty minutes of hazy, bloodshot stoner sludge, there is not only an understanding of how to create catchy riffs and rhythms, but how to execute them without a ounce of irony or cliche.

Immediately upon hearing opening riff to "Low Country Exiles," you may feel something pulling you further into the distorted guitars path. As the unrelenting stomp begins, you can either move with it, or be crushed by it. A combination of stoner and sludge guitars, booming kicks and harsh vocals, there is no need to search for subtleties here. To their credit, the pedal to the metal pacing of the track leaves no room for error. Everything is laid down with reckless abandon, but played in a such a way that you would never question the talent at hand. As a bending, distorted chord fades, the bludgeoning of "Wrack And Ruin" is only a breath away. Without sounding complete off base, there is a down tempo groove to the track, one that is rooted so heavily in the percussion. As the vocals scream ahead with no regard for human life, the duel guitar action leaves you with a veritable fountain of memorable riffs to fill your head. A dynamic solo portion, fueled by the tenets of the blues, fills a solid minute of airtime, and fills it in the best possible way. This is another instance of a mix being cloudy and murky, and it coming off as a positive.

If you have somehow managed to ignore the southern drawl thus far, "Blue Devils" throws it right in your face. From the first bending guitar strings, right into the body of the verse, each and every strum, stick and stomp is reminiscent of bands gone by. Whether it be in the twirling of the leads, or the pure devastation of the pre chorus, there is something special woven into the fabric of the track. Never is it more evident than in the middle of the song, where an extended blues solo floats through your right speaker, while single notes come from the left. When the full band reenters, you are thrown head first into a full blown southern blues jam, one that might make the likes of the Allman Brothers and Lynyrd Skynyrd feel right at home. Whether it was the intention or a happy accident, the lasting impression is there, making it a victory if nothing else.

We all feel a connection to music for a variety of reasons. This is what makes music a subjective topic, as our likes and dislikes come from personal experience. Sometimes you can identify with an album for reasons no one else can explain. When the last note of "Blue Devils" faded away, there was only silence left. But something on these three tracks stands out from the sea of albums in my rotation right now. It isn't easy to pinpoint what makes Your Highness so good, and I certainly wouldn't begin to try. But despite being a straight forward sort of band, here is a lot of thinking left to do once the music is gone. Whether you have an attachment to southern rock, old school blues, or just a love of all things metal, this may be a great album to sit down and digest.


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Sunday, December 9, 2012

Top 5 New Artists of 2012

Every year is sure to produce its fair share of bands to watch. And while the veterans always make a play for your top albums, there may be an unfamiliar name or two that dominated your time. So, here are the five best new bands to cross the desks of Sorrow Eternal. Keep your ears open, because great things are coming.

5. The Deadstation
At first glance, the entire concept of The Deadstation might seem like a gimmick or a joke. A dystopian TV station, broadcasting episodes in the form of the band's EPs? It sounds out there, and it is. But behind the front is a band with immense talent. With so many of the world's best bands coming from outside our borders, it is always refreshing to see a band from the US making waves with big ideas, and even bigger instrumentals. On "Episode 01: Like Peering Into The Deepest Ocean Abyss." you find a band that is focused and ready to change the face of heavy music.

4. Winter Gate
As the global metal scene expands and evolves, it only makes sense that bands like Winter Gate have a chance to explode. Playing a style of progressive metal that is, indeed, old school, these four men from Jaipur, India have all of the talent and all of the tools to follow in the steps of the titans of the genre. When Justin made the Opeth comparison, we knew this band was something very special. And "Disillumination" was the proof.

3. The Massacre Cave
A small white envelope came in the mail. A single CD-R of "The Ninth Wave," shipped from across the Atlantic. But more than the disc came the sound of four Scottish lads who have a tight grip on melodic thrash. Every riff hit home, every vocal had an edge. Brothers Ben and Joe Cormack have the best band from the isle of Eigg, and one of the best coming out of the UK today.

2. Lyceum
We got lucky. When we received an e-mail from Concord, California based Lyceum, we didn't know what to expect. But after listening to their demo, a three song outing, it was clear that we had just been invited onto the ground floor of a rising star. With lyrics that defy the stereotypes of metalheads and a set of instrumentals that are as catchy as they are heavy, there is no doubt that this five piece will be making Album Of The Year contenders for a long time to come.

1. Atoma
One look at the artwork to "Skylight," and you can be assured that an epic journey awaits you. Combining electronic elements with the traditional tenets of a wealth of metal subgenres, Atoma have mastered every aspect of their sound. With an album that flirts with perfection released as their debut, where do you go from here?
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Friday, December 7, 2012

Therion - Les Fleurs Du Mal (2012)

It was 25 years ago that Therion was formed by Christofer Johnsson, then under the moniker of "Blitzkreig." After a career that has grown with each release, expanding on classical and opera influences along the way, a long period of silence is on the horizon. With work commencing in Johnsson's long developed opera, it may be years before Therion rises again. So it seemed only fitting to release one last gasp before they recede to the shadows. But when Nuclear Blast, the band's longtime label, dubbed "Les Fleurs Du Mal" as "too spectacular" to finance, it was up to the man himself to foot the bill. With a massive loan and an even more substantial emotional investment in what is to come, this may be Therion at their grandiose best, like it or not.

It takes no time at all to assert the influences on display here. As "Poupée de cire, poupée the son," the soaring, operatic female vocals float in the air above you, all the while accompanied by an aggressive lead riff. Rich symphonics are commonplace, but are no less powerful today. Instead, their strength has only increased over time, providing a foundation that is both stable and functional. But this isn't all raucous instrumentals, as "Une fleur dans le coeur" soon proves. Taking a softer, cleaner approach, the audio textures that emerge are sublime, adding touches of fluttering guitar leads without disturbing the delicate nature of the composition. Even when the male voices joins the higher octaves, it does nothing but enhance the mix. Together, the pair lift you up along with them. In comparison, the breathy female vocals on "Initials B.B" are sultry and intoxicating. I would be hard pressed to think of a time when French was spoken or delivered in a more beautiful fashion. Horns and strings create another dimension, an added depth of sound that is almost stupefying in its glory. The longest track on the album, the four and half minute "Mon amour, mon ami," is one that must be heard to be fully appreciated. Much like the recent work of Grey November, there is an intense focus on storytelling, as well as mood and emotion. Whether it is in the trading vocal passages, both male and female, or the use of church organs to complement the guitars, every layer is as important to the whole as the one above and below it.

A true take on the neoclassical style, "Polichinelle" is an impressive fusion of true operatic vocals and acrobatic guitar work. With a more accessible nature to the chorus, it may be easier to attract a new group of listeners to an otherwise flamboyant style. Often overlooked, the battery of drums that lifts up the mix is both thunderous and delicate. if there was ever a single track that could unite you with your grandparents in a love of music, "La Maritza" could be it. The vocal performance could only be described as stunning, with light touches of strings and horns highlighting each word and phrase. As the choir of voices comes together in the outro, you will surely be transported to another time and place. Adding an extra dose of virtuosic guitar work, "Soeur angelique" is one of the most balanced attacks on the album, creating an emotional surge that can be felt pouring through your speakers. Each buildup is like a tidal wave rising above the water, but then gently breaking over you. Heavily anchored in the percussion, "Dis moi poupée" sees multiple voices occupying equal time on the mic. The lower register steals the spotlight in the latter half, with deep male voices paving the way for a squealing guitar solo that brings the album to a new level.

Beautiful in its simplicity, "Lilith" is a perfect example of how well constructed and put together layers can result in something that is far more than the sum of its parts. Guitars enter, then leave, replaced by bass, which is then joined by strings. It is a seamless transition from one piece to the next, a tricky endeavor. That same balancing act is present in "En Alabama," but to a different degree. Rather than trading blows, all of the pieces come together here in a wall of sound a mile high and mile wide. The traditional bass, guitar, drums, and vocals are the main players here with only a supporting cast of symphonic elements. The closing riff is as catchy as you will find on an album of this scope, and sets the stage perfectly for the avant "Wahala manitou." Building from an accordion melody into a full fledged track, the band take the path less traveled, incorporating French culture into a song that very quickly goes from a medium pace to a ripping guitar exhibition. And just when you think you have it all figured out, "Je n’al besoin que de tendresse" proves just how wrong you were. A blazing anthem packed to the brim with drums and guitar work, the track only spans two minutes of time. Boasting a guitar lead that would make Andrew WK proud, this may be the one that stands out from the rest, both in its sound and delivery.

As if to once again highlight the beautiful contrast at play here, "La licorne d’or" takes an immediate leap back to the almost baroque tones you experiences earlier. The strings that dominate the verse and chorus are enchanting on their own, but even moreso with a soaring female voice attached to them.They work to elevate each other. In what is arguably the most powerful male performance on the album, "J’al le mal de toi" begins with a rich tenor and evolves into something completely captivating. The atmosphere created by the keys, strings, horns and percussion pulls you in, surrounding you with all of the pieces of the puzzle. You begin to experience the track from the inside out, watching it rise and fall around you. And though it ends abruptly, it ends appropriately. A reprise of the opening track, "Poupée de cire, poupée the son" reminds you have perfectly matched classical and metal music can be, with a pair of amazing voices coming together over a galloping backing band. And with the finale, the story and sound come full circle. In pure rock opera form, "Les sucettes" explodes from player, rich and smooth as can be.Without ever breaking a sweat, every element falls into place, a beautiful harmony between vocal and instrumental that few have ever achieved.

How bold must an album be to be labeled "too spectacular"? I suppose that only Therion would be to answer that, and I imagine they would be happy to. Far be it from me to weigh in, I can only conclude that this album may just be ahead of its time. It exudes confidence, quality and a daring take on the style the band helped to forge 25 years ago. The overwhelming beauty that coats each and every stanza is sure to resonate with fans of the band, as well as fans of classical music in all its forms. And it would seem that that is the real success story. When your music transcends the genre you helped create, you have achieved something special. If the compositions on "Les Fleurs Du Mal" are any indication, Therion will be taking us on many more journeys into the sublime and beyond. This spectacular voyage is only the beginning of the next chapter.


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Thursday, December 6, 2012

The Links

Long before Sorrow Eternal came into existence, we were metal fans. And as much as we love doing this site, our favorite site, there are a metric fuck ton of other sites that we think you would enjoy in your travel down the path of metal. Tonight, we unveil some of "The Links," in hopes that you will support them the same way you've supported us. Check their sites often, "Like" them on Facebook, and enjoy.

Metal Underground

Metal Injection

All Things Metal


Three Rooks Records

Bakerteam Records

Scarlet Records


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Wednesday, December 5, 2012

Hacktivist - Hacktivist (EP) (2012)

When the name Hacktivist made it's way across the tubes of the internet and into our path, there was a solid minute of silence, followed by a collective "seriously?" After all, how is it possible that in the year 2012, a band is still trying to forge the bond between hip hop and metal? Somewhere in the past, a much younger version of me is giddy with delight. But what we couldn't have predicted is the difference between the rap rock days of yore, and the new wave of artists. It may seem out of place in the modern map of all things metal, but with this self titled EP from the UK five piece with a penchant for industrial riffs and heavy beats, it all seems so familiar.

With the aptly titled "New Age" leading off, it takes less than twenty seconds to assert what you are about to experience on the album. Each crushing kick drum beat blows you back from your seat. There is no DJ scratching in earshot, but a multitude of percussion and slamming riffs. With roots in the melodic djent category, only the syncopated vocal style separates this from the plethora of like minded bands. But after that short bursting intro, the jump to "Unlike Us" gives you a lot to think about. Packed into a three minute frame, the track is anchored by a slapping bass line and flurries of double kicks and massive chugging guitars. While the merger of rap and metal seems to work well at times, there are moments tangled in this track where the vocals don't echo the intensity of the backing band. Fortunately, the multidimensional instrumental that lays behind is rich enough to carry the weight. It isn't all just fills and rolls; there are atmospheric elements int he guitars to tie it all together.

With an increasing track length on "Blades," the formula becomes slightly harder to balance. An infusion of clean signing vocals over those same tricky guitars is refreshing, but quickly negated by a Linkin Park-esque bait and switch. And while all is far from lost, the notion that harmony and rhymes can coexist is stretched to the breaking point. The track that follows, which shares it's name with both the band and the album, is truly a blast from the audio past. And it is here that things start to unravel. With a dash of Korn mixed throughout, the resulting three minutes of hybrid styles feels more like a recycled mess than a fresh take on an old style. By the time you have come to the finale, the nearly six minute "Cold Shoulders," you are left wondering which band you are going to get. With a more aggressive opening riff, flanked by a bit of accented flow, you get what might be the strongest offering yet. But the staggering lack of lateral movement is far from flattering. An ethereal bridge section does wonders for the mix, but it all comes too little, too late. The outro instrumental shows more promise, but ends before things get fully baked.

What was old, becomes new again. It is a fact of life.Nothing in the music world ever really goes away, it just lays dormant until someone chooses to wake the sleeping beast. It happened with disco, and it is now happening with hip hop. For all of the albums flaws, Hacktivist do, in fact, have a fairly well conceived concept on their hands. The guitars lay down a fairly consistent foundation for everything going on, something that was always lacking in the first wave of nu-metal bands. With a strong instrumental already signed, sealed, and delivered, it is only a matter of time before vocalists J Hurley and Ben Marvin find their voice, and bring balance to the force. I'm sure that the timing of all of this is a sign of the apocalypse. But not even Nostradamus could have predicted this one.


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Tuesday, December 4, 2012

Playlist 12/4/12: I've got your symphonic metal right here...

December 4, 2012

There have been some amazing developments over the history of the power metal genre. Most notably, the incorporation of symphonic elements has elevated the genre to new heights time and time again. By adding in the orchestral instrumentation, musicians have transcended metal music, and become composers, rather than just songwriters. Classical inspirations come full force, and what you are left with is an amazing marriage of styles. These are some of the best examples to get you started on your road to symphonic metal glory.

The Tracklist:

Wintersun - When Time Fades Away
Therion - Poupée de cire, poupée the son
Secret Sphere - Death From Above
Thy Majestie - Walls Of The Emperor
Wind Rose - Oath To Betray
Sound Storm - Blood Of Maiden
Luca Turilli's Rhapsody - Dark Fate Of Atlantis
Drakkar - When Lightning Strikes
Dakesis - After The Storm
Nightmare - Sunrise In Hell
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Monday, December 3, 2012

Kuolemanlaakso - Uljas uusi maailma (2012)

No place in the world brings about more imagery than Death Valley. Named for one of the hottest places on Earth, Finnish five piece Kuolemanlaakso embody so many of the traits that make their namesake so intimidating. With a sound that was derived from the classic Triptykon album "Eparistera Daimones," guitarist Laakso recruited bandmates that were not only high on talent, but like minded when it comes to creating metal from the darker side of the spectrum. With lyrics done completely in Finnish, who better to occupy the microphone than Swallow The Sun mainman Kotamäki? Borrowing themes from Eino Leino's poetry collection, "Helkavirsiä," the album exudes darkness and crushing sadness.

If the few moments that open "Minä Elän" aren't enough to bring a chill to your spine, you may be invincible. From softer, haunting tones to more abusive screeching guitars, the track takes a left turn as sharp as you could imagine. Kotamäki is in his element here, screaming ahead over a bevy of distorted guitars. His voice takes on the deeper growls, but focuses mainly on harsh blackened styles. But unlike his other projects, his is more of a supporting role here, taking a back seat to an instrumental that is as deep as it is heavy. The constant presence of double kicks and thunderous fills only elevates the mix to legendary status. The band brings the doom on "Kuun Lapset," at times bringing to mind the more modern work of My Dying Bride, but with a much heavier edge. Bringing together slow paced instrumentals with a background chant isn't an easy task to accomplish, but the glue that binds the two together is the main vocal line. It is in this devastating set of screeches and screams that the track finds a true star, making every chord and bass note seem all the more powerful. Even the interludes and tempo changes that come later are welcomed and well executed. The genius is in the refusal to give up momentum, with every new movement adding to the overall arc of the track itself.

To think the album couldn't get anymore eclectic would be a mistake, as the ethnically infused "Nostos & Algos" takes things into a new realm. A pounding at the hands of drummer Tiera leads the charge, flanked on either side by a grinding guitar riff that is both punishing and rewarding. With an added dose of effects tacked on to the vocals, each syllable is accented by an otherworldly sound. The final two minutes of the track create such an immense soundscape, that it becomes hard to pigeonhole the performance into one genre or style. They have fused so many elements of death and doom, but injected a healthy dose of catchy riffs. The short interlude, titled "Roihusydän" is the height of bizarre, featuring a combination of Finnish chanting and a set of drums that could be only identified as Native American. By the time the blackened scream cuts through it all, you find yourself preparing for anything. And pure evil is what follows. Howling guitars take over "Etsin," joined by the haunting sound of keyboards in a marriage of sonic ghosts that would make Satan himself smile. With the pacing coming down to a crawl, it allows every solitary note to ring for seconds after being plucked, driving your head downward with each blasting kick. An attempt at clean vocals is well received, adding a new dimension to an astonishing balanced mix. Hell is unreleased in the latter half, with crunching guitars coating the entire mix with a healthy dose of distortion.

There is no subtlety to be had in the brutal beginning to "Ikiuni," where the band trades in their slow, methodical attack for a more pummeling one. This is the unleashing of the beast, with high speed guitar riffs sitting atop a wall of massive percussion. All the while, Kotamäki rattles your ear canals with a variety of delivery styles, from blood curdling screams to guttural growls. But even more importantly, the use of sparing keyboard notes heightens the sound to new levels of contrast. Perhaps the scariest piece of work on the album, "Uljas Uusi Maailma" sees the band exercising some fairly interesting techniques and tones. The space age keys that fade in and out are a nice touch, especially when used to introduced some unearthly death metal screams. The combination of bending guitars strings and rhythmic chugging is incredible, and forms the perfect base for a titanic lead. Beginning with a far more down tempo, doom atmosphere, "Aurinko" could easily be inserted into any horror film and succeed in making you squirm in your dark living room. Even the quiet spoken word segments do so much to set the mood. But this isn't all about ambiance, as those same eerie tones give way some far more sinister. As the vocal track delves into the devilish, the melody provided by the guitars forms a beautiful contrast. Floating towards the end, there is an isolated piece of bass, keys and drums that may elicit a head nod or twelve, laying down an almost jazz like groove as the track fades.

What does it really mean to be "heavy"? It isn't all about how loud you can play, how low you can tune, or how hard you can scream. Sometimes being heavy is more of a combination of style and substance, something Kuolemanlaakso has in spades. There are times where the sheer weight of the instrumental is sure to elicit a positive response from the listener. But more importantly, there is a focus on creativity and originality that exceeds even the members other projects. And it is in this balance of elements that "Uljas uusi maailma" will find its target audience. This may not be the best doom album, or death album, or black album this year - there are far more straightforward ones - but it may be the best hybrid album you will find in this, or any other, calendar year.


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