Tuesday, February 28, 2012

Happy Leap Day!

Just a quick post to wish everybody a happy Leap Day. This really should be a special holiday.

Reviews and Corrections January-February

As some of you may have noticed, there has been a recent surge of album reviews on my blog. This is because I have decided to start dedicating more of my time to finding and reviewing new metal albums. While that will certainly not become the sole purpose of this blog (I still need a place to post whatever I feel like posting, after all) I do intend to start placing more emphasis on album reviews.

With that said, I've decided to start including a new regular feature which I am calling, as this post's title indicates, "Reviews and Corrections". At the end of each month, I'm going to make one of these posts. In each, I will do three things:

-First, I will give an alphabetical list (by band) of the albums I reviewed that month, their genres, and the grades I gave them. This will just serve as a quick and easy reference for somebody who is looking for new material but who doesn't want to take the time to read a bunch of full reviews.

-Second, I will list the previous month's reviews, and (now that they've had a little more time to settle in my mind) post any final grade corrections I would make if I were reviewing them again at the time of the new post.

-Third, I will give an explanation of my grading policy. This will be a copy/paste procedure from one moth to the next, so after this initial explanation, that part will really just there for people who are seeing one of these posts for the first time.

This will be the first such monthly post. I realize that this is a leap year, so tomorrow is the last day of February, but I've got a full schedule tomorrow so I'm just going to put this one up a day early.


Horde Thor - Roots (Viking/folk metal, Grade: B+)
Horn of the Rhino - Grengus (doom metal, Grade: B)
Hugin Munin - Ten Thousand Spears for Ten Thousand Gods (deathcore, Grade: C-)
Sphere - Homo Hereticus (death metal, B-)
Umbah - Enter the Dagobah Core (electronic/industrial metal, Grade: B+)
Uncle Acid and the Deadbeats - Blood Lust (stoner/doom metal, Grade: B+)
Viniir - The Story Chapter 1 (Viking metal, Grade: B)
Winds of Plague - Against the World (metalcore, Grade: F)
Woods of Ypres - Woods 5: Grey Skies and Electric Light (black/doom metal, Grade: A)

January Corrections:
The Mountain Goats - All Eternals Deck (indie folk, change from A to A-)
Valtyr - Verinen Saagat (Viking metal, change from A to A-)


[On Grades]

(A) means I loved this album. An album does not have to be absolutely perfect to get an "A" grade from me, but it does need to really stand out as something special.

(A-) means the album was excellent, and I really enjoyed it. There are just a few flaws which stop me from giving it the top grade.

(B+) means the album was very good. Usually this grade means it was an otherwise fantastic album with one major flaw that I couldn't get past, or it was very strong but lacked the real "it factor" impact of a great album.

(B) means it was a good, solid album.

(B-) means it was a good solid album, but I have a gripe of some kind with it.

(C+) means this was an okay album, nothing worth going out of your way to get.

(C) means the album was mediocre.

(C-) means the album was weak, but not offensively bad.

(D+) means the album was pretty bad, but it had some small redeeming factor.

(D) means the album was bad.

(D-) means the album was really bad.

(F) means the album was absolutely horrible and I hated it. I would play it on a loop to torture my enemies.

I am perfectly willing to give grades anywhere on the scale. There doesn't seem to be much point in having a scale if I won't use the whole thing. I don't believe in holding "A" in reserve for only all-time classic albums, because it's difficult (if not impossible) to initially tell whether a new album deserves such a high level of recognition. Instead, I prefer to think of it the way a teacher looks at grading a class. In every class (year) there will be "A" students (albums), and that doesn't have to mean that they produced the greatest thing I've ever heard. That said, I won't just give a top grade to every album I enjoy, either.

Additionally, you may have noticed that most of my grades fall in the above-average region. That isn't because I'm an overly kind judge. Rather, it's because I have to seek out and listen to the albums I review on my own, so an album has to seem interesting to me before I pick it up in the first place. Thus, I end up weeding out a lot of the crap I can tell I won't like before it ever gets to the review stage.

Monday, February 27, 2012

Metal Shirts

It's been a while, as I've mentioned recently, since I went to a metal show besides the periodic Skeletonwitch performances here in town. Additionally, I don't like collecting piles of shirts from the same band. As such, I haven't really collected any new band shirts recently. With that in mind, I decided to get one online. I've seen Suffocation live, but I didn't buy a shirt at the show, so I decided they'd be a good band choice. It arrived the other day, and (along with Korpiklaani and Obituary) it's already become one of my favorite band shirts. Here it is:

To those of you out there who accumulate band shirts, as I assume most metalheads do, which one is your favorite?

Sunday, February 26, 2012

Winds of Plague - Against the World

California outfit Winds of Plague released their 4th full-length album last year. I've never listened to them before this, and I was curious what exactly a "symphonic deathcore/ blackened death metal" band would sound like, so I decided to give them a try. I doubt I ever will again after being treated to this thing.

Where to start, where to start? This album is basically a total train wreck, but I've got to talk about something first, so let's do vocals. The vocal work on this record shifts back and forth between two basic styles: deathcore shouts and rapping. Neither are executed particularly well, but the shouting is at least generally tolerable. The rap end of things, though, prompts me to ask if the world really needs another Limp Bizkit. Of course that question is rhetorical, but there it is. Generally all the vocals fall into that angry jock "look how tough I am" vein that is presumably meant to seem macho or intimidating or something, but which most of us can agree is really just annoying.

Moving on to to the rest of the music doesn't improve things much. A pretty basic angry frat-boy formula is followed throughout. Occasional electronic club effects break in amidst the chugging power chords, and there are more than too many mosh-ready breakdowns scattered throughout each track. One slight point of musical peculiarity is the inclusion of keyboards, but that too is really just part of the same formula. You see, what they've got is that hot chick on the keyboards who really just plinks around a little bit while she looks sexy for the fans. Not that she's much worse of a musician than the rest of the band. The only real value any of the music here might serve is if someone were in the midst of some hardcore 'roid raging and they needed a soundtrack to smash their apartment by.

I try not to take shots at the people who listen to crap like this, because I don't believe in judging people based on their musical tastes. After all, I figure having bad taste is punishment enough. Spending a little time reading through the YouTube comments for the appallingly bad track "California" has, however, convinced me that this band has many followers who are as big of douchbags as the group themselves appear to be. Oh, and speaking of douchbaggery, did I mention that Metal Archives lists "straight edge" as one of their main lyrical themes? Yeah. That's not strictly important to the music itself, but it certainly doesn't help, either.

Grade: F
This is crap and it has no redeeming qualities. I would rather sit and listen to a couple of dogs bark at each other for 38 minutes.

Woods of Ypres - Woods 5: Grey Skies & Electric Light

Those of you who have been following my blog for a while may recall that Woods of Ypres are one of my favorite metal bands. Recently, they released their 4th full-length album (the "5" in the title also counts their debut EP). Sadly, this will be the band's final release, as the heart of the band, guitarist/writer/vocalist David Gold, was tragically killed in a car accident in December.

The songs here are slow and slightly depressive, much like their previous works. Beautiful piano and string segments augment the quiet, lonely feelings the music evokes so well. Woods have often been called black metal or melodic black metal, but over the years they have drifted further into a kind of doom metal that verges on Gothic at times. Gold's vocals have found a deep, slow, clean place that sounds very similar to the late Peter Steele of Type O Negative. The guitars generally maintain a very slow and open sound, leaving lots of room for the atmospheric instruments to wander freely through the songs like travelers strolling along meandering paths through an ancient forest. There are still harsh and heavy moments on this album, but they're just that: moments. Rarely do the aggressive vocals or riffs linger for long before slipping back beneath the surface and vanishing.

I have always found listening to Woods of Ypres to be a very emotional experience, as many of the songs are deeply somber and introspective. Mortality often plays a major role in their lyrics, and that is true again on this record. Listening to the album with the thought hanging over my head that the man whose voice I was hearing had just died himself, though, really brought this effect to a head. It gave the entire listening experience a feeling of haunting prescience, as though he were telling the listeners that he knew he would be dead by the time they heard his words. Maybe I'm just a little too emotionally sensitive, but there were points in the record where I was honestly on the brink of tears. I don't expect that this album will affect most people that way, but it did me.

Grade: A
Yes, I'm biased. Still, this is an early contender for my pick as album of the year for 2012.

Uncoming Releases

I just wanted to write a quick note about a pair of releases which are on their way soon, and about which I'm fairly excited.

The first is by Naglfar. The Swedish melodic black metal group were one of the earlier extreme metal bands I was exposed to, and I have a lit of fond memories of listening to their album Pariah while cruising around in Las Vegas with my best friend. Well tomorrow they have an EP coming out, as a lead-in to their new album Téras which is coming out in a month. This will be their first new album in five years, and I'm looking forward to hearing some new material from them.

The second is bigger news in the overall scheme of things, and that's the new Saint Vitus releases. People who keep up with metal news better than I do probably already knew about this. Evidently, enough of the various side-projects have been fallen apart that the members of the band have decided to get back together permanently and hit the studio. Their new EP comes out in late March, and the album drops in late April. This will be the first new material from Saint Vitus in 17 years. Frankly, I'm not expecting anything to extraordinary, considering the point these guys are at in their career. That said, I still intend to rush out and buy this as soon as it's released.

Obviously there are plenty of other things coming out this year, but those two are ones I just found out about and that I'm excited to hear.

Umbah - Enter the Dagobah Core

Umbah are a British project that plays a variety of avant-garde metal heavily infused with electronic elements. I was unable to get any concrete information on the evolution of the group's lineup, but it is currently a solo project. The band's output has been steady for some time, though, with 13th full-length albums since 1996. They released Enter the Dagobah Core, their newest effort, earlier this month.

Musically, this was a pretty big step outside the norm for me. I imagine it would be for the majority of metal fans. The use of a drum machine is nothing new to metal, especially with studio projects like this. On the other hand, the use of electronic beats, sound effects, and synths on this record is heavy enough to make it feel more like an electronic album than a metal album in many places. There were honestly parts of several songs where I felt like I was listening to a soundtrack from a mid 90s computer game, or possibly to the closing credits of a cyberpunk anime series. In other places, though, the music is driven by aggressive guitar riffs and furious drum beats. Flowery, progressive guitar work also crops up in places, though typically only as an interlude between other, larger segments of a song.

The vocals on this album are notable for their extreme variety. They range from darkly industrial spoken pieces drenched in effects, to smooth clean singing, to vicious bellowing growls and raspy screams. Often, these shifts will occur multiple times in the same track. This is actually quite representative of the album in general, with frequent and peculiar shifts scattered throughout its duration.

This is honestly a pretty hard album to put my finger on. It changes pace and direction so frequently that even pinning a specific style on it feels somewhat inappropriate, beyond the fact that it has electronic and metal aspects. At various points I heard dubstep "wub wubbing", harsh industrial noise, progressive guitar sections. Sparkling background synths and digital beats would give way to harsh black metal rasps and heavily distorted chord progressions, which themselves would be just as quickly replaced with punk rock shouting. There were moments when this sounded almost exactly like Static X, Slipknot, Devin Townsend, and Mr. Bungle to name just a few bands that sprung to mind as I listened to this.

Ultimately, this degree of variation proves to be a bit overwhelming to the senses. There are parts of this record that I absolutely love, but they are so intertwined with a massive, twisted jumble of ideas that no sooner do they begin to settle in than they vanish back into the nebulous mire of shifting sounds. There are really just too many ideas at work for a single record to effectively contain, so the overall effect is extremely schizophrenic. This makes accurately rating the album almost impossible. As I listened, I found myself going from "this is incredible, maybe the best album of the year" to "this is a bizarre piece of crap, and it deserves a horrible grade" quite literally within the space of a minute or two, and then two minutes later I would change back again. The entire experience reminds me of the saying that the line between genius and insanity is measured only by success. Right now, I'm still not certain just how successful this album really is.

Grade: B+
A complex album, it will probably take me a long time to figure out exactly how I feel about this thing. It might be brilliant, or it might be a disaster, but it's difficult to feel neutral about this record.

Sphere - Homo Hereticus

Sphere are a Polish death metal act who released their second full-length album "Homo Hereticus" earlier this month. I have not heard their debut, so this was my first experience with the band. Though not floored, I was not disappointed.

The first thing that struck me about this album is that, even without knowing their place of origin beforehand, it would have taken about 10 seconds to guess this band was from Poland. Many countries and regions have recognizable styles that emerge in their death metal scenes, and Poland definitely has one of its own. Clearly enhancing that effect for Sphere is the fact that their vocalist reminds me so much of Peter from Vader. The general style of their riff construction and their very tight drumming further enhance the feeling of similarity to Vader. This is not on its own an entirely bad thing, as there are certainly worse bands one could sound like. There are, however, a couple downsides. One is that Vader have remained, over the years, pretty active and consistent, so there is not a shortage of actual Vader material without having to resort to sound-alikes. The second, and frankly more significant, problem is that while they have a very similar sound, they don't do it as well. The vocals again are largely responsible for this. While they are very similar in tone and style, they fall well short of Peter's powerful delivery and meaty low end.

On the up-side, the riffs are strong and driving, and most songs catch the listener up quickly and easily with their excellent level of energy. The track-list is also quite solid throughout, though "Sadistfucktion" fell pretty flat in my opinion. The drumming is probably the album's musical highlight as it is fast, technical, and perfectly executed. The production is good and clear, quite clean but not over-polished.

Grade: B-
This album is actually quite enjoyable, but the grade goes down a bit because I can't shake the feeling that I'm listening to Vader Lite.

Saturday, February 25, 2012

Horn of the Rhino - Grengus

Spain's doomsters Horn of the Rhino (previously just known as Rhino) released their newest album "Grengus" earlier this month. I'm not familiar with their older material, so I went into this record without any kind of specific expectations. This review, therefore, will be of little or no value in helping established fans place this record in the context of band's full catalog.

The music here is generally slow, though several songs are more mid-paced. Churning guitar backed by plenty of bass forms the core of the music, the latter helping enormously to fill out the overall sound. The songs are built on a series of guitar riffs, and as is often the case with 3-piece bands, there isn't much extra fat to be found in the instrumentation department. The songs are stripped down and devoid of any keyboards or other flowery musical additions. The all-important riffs here are solid and they are certainly heavy. Unfortunately, however, they are not particularly inventive or varied. This stands in stark contrast with the vocal work. At first I found the vocalist to be slightly annoying. After a very short time he began to grow on me, though, and now I would probably call the vocals this album's greatest strength. Range and variety really work in the vocalist's favor on this record. The clean-but-edgy baritone on the title track and the vaguely John Tardy-esque bellows on tracks like "Awaken Horror of Tuul" reside in very different parts of the vocal spectrum, yet they are executed here with equal authority and effectiveness.

My biggest complaint about this album would definitely be the tendency for the guitar work to grow a little too redundant. I understand that such a trait is not uncommon in the doom world, but I feel like it would be easier to pull off such a high amount of repetition if the band tended to play at a slower pace. As it is, the lack of variation in the riffs can make the songs feel a little bland at times. Despite this setback, I still find the overall effect of the music to be quite enjoyable. On a side note, it took me several minutes to process what the album art actually depicts. Now that said processing has occurred, I can't look at the artwork anymore without being distracted by the giant dong right in the middle of the cover.

Grade: B
Musically it's solid, but it probably won't blow your mind.

Friday, February 24, 2012

Metal Quiz

Just for fun, I decided to put together a multiple-choice metal quiz. This is not a comprehensive test of "Metal IQ" or anything like that, it's just a bunch of random questions which I'm posting for general enjoyment. I'll link the answer key at the bottom, but try to answer all the questions before you look at that or do any other cheating. The object is to see how many you can get on your own, not to see how well you can work Google and the Metal Archives. And remember, a person could easily miss most of these and still know more about metal than I do, so don't worry about it if you score low.

For those of you who don't know if you want to take the time, here's a warm-up question. If you don't know the answer to this one, then the odds are good that you won't have much fun with this quiz.


Practice Question: Which Star Wars character became the namesake for a prominent Polish death metal band?

A) Luke Skywalker
B) Jabba the Hut
C) Darth Vader
D) Jar Jar Binks


I'll go ahead and post the answer at the bottom, but like I said, you will probably hate this quiz if you don't already know that one.

For those of you who decide to go ahead and do it, when you're finished, check your answers and leave a comment with how many you got right. Remember, this is just for fun. And don't cheat, because cheating is lame.

Thursday, February 23, 2012

Swedish Death Metal - Part 5

The 5th and final part of our tour through the first 25 years of Swedish death metal.

"Dead Rotten and Hungry" -by- Facebreaker -from- Dead, Rotten and Hungry
Formed in 1999, Facebreaker began releasing albums in 2004. They hearken back to the old days of straight-forward Swedish death metal, but their particular brand is infused with a newer and heavier edge. They sound similar in many respects to Bloodbath.

Swedish Death Metal - Part 4

Part 4.

"Tracks 1-7" -by- Edge of Sanity -from- Crimson II
As death metal surged forward, some bands chose to fuse it with elements from other sub-genres to create a wide variety of sounds and styles. Edge of Sanity had been doing this with progressive death since their earliest demos in 1989. They released their final album in 2003, giving an excellent demonstration of how death metal could be effectively blended with facets of the broader metal world.

Swedish Death Metal - Part 3

Part 3 of the musical tour.

"Victorious March" -by- Amon Amarth -from- Once Sent from the Golden Hall
Arguably the most popular metal band ever to emerge from Sweden is Amon Amarth. Combining heaviness with melody and stuffing the whole package full of Vikings, Amon Amarth successfully built on the best from Swedish death metal with their 1998 debut album.

Swedish Death Metal - Part 2

Part 2 of the musical tour through Swedish death metal.

"Necronomicon" -by- Hypocrisy -from- Obsculum Obscenum
Hypocrisy are a band that has managed to straddle the line between the old-school Swedish sound and the newer melodic death metal sound. Unsurprisingly, then, their best album came at a point in time right between those two styles' peaks.

Wednesday, February 22, 2012

Swedish Death Metal - Part 1

Swedish death metal essentially began in 1988. Nihilist, Grave, and Dismember released their first demos that year. Over the next few years, legions of others would join these few bands to help form one of the most popular and important subsets in the world of extreme metal: Swedish death metal. In this post, I will guide you through a brief auditory chronology of the first quarter century of Swedish death metal. I have selected one song to link from each of these first 25 years, starting in 1988 and ending here in 2012. Each song is by a different band, so hopefully this will introduce you to a few groups you haven't already heard. To avoid killing my blog with 25 videos linked in a single post, I will do this in a series with 5 parts.

If you haven't selected the post itself, please note that unlike most of my blog entries, these have a "read more" option under the video.

Anyway, without further ado, here we go!

"Into the Grave" -by- Grave -from- Sick Disgust Eternal (demo)
Before their 1991 album of the same name, Grave released the original version of this track on their first demo Sick Disgust Eternal. This was the third important demo in the emerging scene to be released that year. The first two were by Dismember and Nihilist respectively.

Maryland Deathfest

It's been a while since I've been to a metal show that wasn't Skeletonwitch coming back here to play at the Union, and as much as I enjoy those, they can't be my entire concert-going life. Basically, I've been getting a little antsy. So I started poking around online looking for interesting tours coming through here in the near future. So far I haven't turned up anything I'm interested in nearby, but I did happen across the website for the Maryland Deathfest.

I just learned that the acts on Sunday (May 27th) will be no less colossal a trio of bands than Suffocation, Saint Vitus, and Electric Wizard. I've never driven nearly that far for a concert before (Google Maps says it's about 6 1/2 hours to Baltimore from here) and $52 is a pretty steep price to pay for one ticket, especially since I'm sure after all the added crap it's more like $70. Plus, I'd have to find a motel room for at least one night and that much gas isn't cheap either. Still, I must admit that despite all that I'm sorely tempted to make the trip. Hopefully something more financially viable will turn up in Columbus before I let the sheer awesomeness of that lineup suck me into doing something stupidly expensive.

Monday, February 20, 2012

Infidel Amsterdam

For those who don't know, InfidelAmsterdam is probably the premiere death metal YouTuber. He frequently makes videos promoting new and unknown bands, so his channel is a good source of information if you're looking for new death metal. Additionally, he sometimes makes videos just expressing his opinions on various things, like the one below. Even though this particular video is nearly a year old and talks about a specific phenomenon which has passed, it is still relevant in principle and probably will be for the foreseeable future. I found it interesting and somewhat amusing, so if you happen to have 9 minutes to kill, I think it's worth taking a look at it.

Is Viking Metal Real?

Of all the numerous online metal debates I frequently encounter, perhaps the most perplexing to me is the common contention that Viking metal is not a real sub-genre. Below, I'll briefly cover my thoughts on a few of the various arguments I've heard in support of that claim.


"Viking metal is just ______ metal about Vikings."

The blank space in this one can be filled with any accepted metal sub-genre, but the most common ones are black and folk, though I've heard death metal inserted there too. I feel like I've said this a thousand times, and I'm sure I'll say it a thousand more but LYRICS DO NOT DEFINE GENRES. There is no genre or sub-genre of music which can be solely defined based on lyrical content. A good illustration is that Amon Amarth are a death metal band that sings about Vikings, while Moonsorrow are a Viking metal band that doesn't. Of course Vikings are a common theme in Viking metal (for obvious reasons), but there are also stylistic elements which separate Viking metal from those others. The pacing, musical composition, and general feel of Viking metal are entirely different from those found in the other sub-genres I've mentioned. Of course there are bands that blur the lines, but genre mixing artists have existed since about 30 seconds after the invention of genres. Just because it's hard to tell whether that old Enslaved album you're playing is black metal or Viking metal doesn't mean there's no difference between the two. Falkenbach still don't belong to the same sub-genre as Darkthrone. And for the record, they don't belong with Korpiklaani either.


"There is no such thing as Viking metal because Vikings didn't play metal. Their music was played on flutes and other similar instruments."

I'm sorry, but this is just a dumb argument. Surprisingly, though, I've heard it several times. Allow me to illustrate a basic problem, for those to whom it is not obvious. To do so, let's look at this statement by employing some parallels with other sub-genres, shall we?

-Vikings were barbarians. They did not play metal. Thus, there is no Viking metal.
-Black is a color. Colors cannot play metal. Thus, there is no black metal.
-Death is the end of life. That is not something with a tangible body, so it cannot play metal. Thus, there is no death metal.
-Thrash is an aggressive verb. Verbs cannot take action themselves, like playing metal. Thus, there is no thrash metal.

And so on and so forth. The fact that a musical genre or sub-genre is named after something that did not itself perform that type of music is no kind of argument against the existence of said genre or sub-genre.


"Bathory invented Viking metal, but they were the only band that played it."

Yes, I've heard this one. I think most of us can agree that to be a genre (or a sub-genre) there must be multiple bands or musicians performing a style of music. If there is only one band playing it, then it's not a sub-genre, it's just a unique band. And since you wouldn't attach a genre label to a single band's uniqueness in any other case, it doesn't work to do so here either. Yes, bands have tried to avoid being labeled by assigning themselves unique, made-up sub-genres. Alestorm call themselves "true Scottish pirate metal" and Verjnuarmu call themselves "Savo metal", for example. These are gimmicks, though, which are useless as real musical distinctions. At the point of making this statement, the speaker has basically already conceded that Viking metal is a real genre, and trying to then neutralize that by excluding everything except one band is just silly.


There are others, but these few spring readily to mind. If you couldn't tell (or if you didn't know already) I have a definite stance on this question. To be honest, other than the fear that there are too many sub-genres in metal, I don't even understand the point in making this argument. And if excessively narrow labeling is the concern, perhaps it would be better to go after "melodic symphonic blackened death metal" or something first.

Wednesday, February 15, 2012

Uncle Acid and the Deadbeats - Blood Lust

You like Black Sabbath. That statement must be a given, or you can stop reading this post right now.

The British three-piece Uncle Acid and the Deadbeats are relatively new to the metal world. They released their debut album in 2010, and in 2011 they released their second full-length, Blood Lust. Listening to them, the fact that they're from the UK couldn't be less surprising. Their newness, on the other hand, contrasts starkly with their sound.

Blood Lust sounds a good deal like a record that was lifted straight from 1972. The production and guitar tone are right, as is the general aesthetic of the cover art. The whole thing is fuzzy, groovy, and drugged out in a way that lands them somewhere between stoner and traditional doom. The riffs sound appropriate to that time when metal bands were still tied closely to blues-based rock. The vocalist generally seems to be channeling early Ozzy, though on one track he actually reminds me a lot of late-60s John Lennon. The drumming is, as one expects in this branch of the metal tree, competent but fairly straight-forward. Most of the guitar solos focus much more on tone and flow than on speed or technicality, making them very easy to enjoy. The closing track prominently features an organ, but otherwise the musical formula is kept pretty simple and stripped-down. No bells and whistles, just good riff-driven music. The only real complaints I have are that the vocalist's voice is occasionally a bit on the shrill side, and that I wish they had scaled back the organ in the final song.

Now, I began this review the way I did for two reasons. Firstly, because if you don't like Black Sabbath you must have either never listened to them, or you have terrible taste in music. If the former is true, then you have higher priorities to address than this album. If the latter is true, then I don't want to talk to you about music. Secondly, I started that way because Black Sabbath are one of the closer comparisons I can draw to this band in musical terms. The only other group this album makes me think of is Electric Wizard, though this is not as deep and crushingly heavy as the Wiz. So those are your points of reference. If you like early Black Sabbath and Electric Wizard, I can see no reason you wouldn't thoroughly enjoy this album. And if you don't like early Black Sabbath and Electric Wizard, get the fuck off my blog.

Grade: B+
Really good trad/stoner doom. Would easily have scored higher if the heavy organ use had not basically ruined the otherwise excellent closing track.

p.s. (2/17/2012) I've been reading THAT'S NOT METAL a lot recently, and I think it's rubbed off on me a bit. I'll blame any unusually hostile-sounding speech here on that. Besides, it's hard to convey a playful tone of voice in text.

Tuesday, February 14, 2012

Wizard's Beard - Subirse El Muerto

I have mentioned Wizard's Beard a few times in this blog. I included their debut album in my top 10 metal records of the year list, and to date that is the only album I've actually reviewed on the Metal Archives (I don't know why I've never reviewed any other albums on there, but I haven't).

Well a few months back, I was sent a preview track from their new album, but asked to keep it under my hat. That was pretty cool, and since the album dropped on Feb. 10th, I figure I can talk about it now.

Unfortunately, I haven't got a copy of the new album Four Tired Undertakers yet, so I can't do an album review. Based on the opening track, though, I certainly intend to pick it up when I get a chance. It's the same sludgey, hate-filled doom as they produced on Pure Filth. The riffs are heavy and groovy, the vocals are extremely hostile, and this time around the album has 7 tracks instead of just 5 with a run-time that's over 20 minutes longer than their previous release. That's great news, since my only real complaint about Pure Filth was that it was just too short. Subirse El Muerto isn't the equal of my favorite tracks from the debut, but it's very good stuff nonetheless.

I've had trouble trying to upload that track on here, so if I get that sorted out at some point I'll put it at the bottom of this post. Otherwise, I guess I won't.

Wednesday, February 8, 2012

Starcraft 2

I've been playing it a decent amount recently, and I'm really starting to get on board with the whole e-sports thing. I'm a pretty weak player (top 8 in my silver league division, which means I fall a tad short of the 40% mark amongst online players). Despite that, though, I still watch and thoroughly enjoy commentated pro games. Fortunately my best friend is nerdy enough to love this stuff too, so it's just another fun way for us to have geeky conversations.

I especially enjoy watching Zerg games, with my current favorite pro players to watch being DongRaeGu and NesTea.

Sunday, February 5, 2012

Super Bowl Prediction

Well, the biggest entertainment event of the year for us Americans is starting in just under 4 hours, so I might as well get in on the fun.

The Giants are hot at exactly the right time, and the Patriots' pass defense is dreadful. However, Tom Brady has demonstrated a tendency to play ridiculously well when he feels he has something to prove. Since the Giants are the only team a Brady-led Patriots team had lost to in the Super Bowl, I think he feels that way now. Besides, everybody is talking about how hot the Giants are, and I think it needs to be mentioned that the Patriots came into the playoffs with the league's longest winning streak. It should be a fairly high scoring game, since the passing game seems to be both teams' strongest suits at the moment.

I'm taking the Patriots 34-31.

On a personal note, I think Eli Manning is a douchebag. Thus, even though I'm not a Pats fan I'll be rooting for them anyway.

*POST-GAME ADDITION: Well that sucked. I'm going to go ahead and blame this on the Patriots receivers deciding that the 4th quarter of the Super Bowl is a good time to start dropping passes, but whatever. I hate the Giants, I hate Eli Manning, and I hate seeing teams with mediocre records win single-elimination championships (it's just so hard to look at a 9-7 team and honestly believe they're the best). So, in summation, I hate this.

Friday, February 3, 2012

Viking Grab Bag

As I've dug through material for the current series of reviews I'm doing, I've unfortunately had to rule out a few bands I would like to talk about but can't for one reason or another.

Dark Forest: It seems sort of natural for a Viking metal band to come from Canada. After all, the Vikings did land in Canada well before any other European exploration of the continent, and Canada is sort of the Scandinavia of the Western Hemisphere. Still, you don't encounter many Viking metal groups from our neighbors to the north. Of the few you do find, Dark Forest is arguably the best. Next month, they are releasing their first album in six years. Unfortunately, it's not next month yet, so I've only been able to find some pre-release samplings of the new material. From those early tidbits I have high hopes for this to be one of the best new releases in Viking metal this year.

MJØD: I don't actually know anything about this Viking metal group except that they come from Wisconsin, and that they released their very first recording a scant 3 days ago. I haven't been able to find it yet, but I just thought it was cool that I ran across a group that soon after they emerged.

Space Vikings: The mere fact that they hail from Athens, GA would be enough to catch my attention. That's because the Ohio and Georgia Athenses have bit of a rivalry, not only being college towns that share a name, but also trading places back and forth atop the Princeton Review's annual "Top Party Schools" list. That aside, this is a fun band, and they released their debut EP last year. Imagine a bunch of Vikings had a feast and then took a drunken joyride through outer space, battling aliens as they went. If you're like me, you have one question: what are they playing on the stereo? Well, probably Ke$ha or something stupid like that because Vikings don't know anything about good music, but they SHOULD be listening to this. I excluded them, however, because they are really much more of a melodic death metal band than a Viking metal band. I've already talked about one band that was misclassified, and I didn't want to do too many of those.

So there you have them. Three bands I wanted to talk about, but which I couldn't fit into the framework of my recent set of reviews.

Horde Thor - Roots

Another new Viking metal release from an unexpected place.

Formed in 2002, it took five years before this Colombian outfit released their first recorded demo. They now have one full length album, and last year they released their new EP "Roots".

This group is labeled in the Metal Archives as folk Viking metal, and I think that's an acceptable classification. There is no real presence of folk instrumentation to be found on this record, but they have the kind of bouncy, drunken, wild party feel of many Scandinavian folk metal groups. There are some occasional softer interludes, clean "drunken chorus" singing, and odd spoken lyrics sprinkled throughout the record, in addition to the instrumental intro. Mostly, though, the music here is very energetic and exuberant, as befits songs about trolls and battles and Viking gods.

The sound quality is good, very clear and easy to listen to without sounding too overproduced. The riffs are catchy and fun, if somewhat familiar sounding. The vocals are largely shouted, but they also feature death growls that come across in a similar fashion to the meatier sounding Viking metal groups like Svartsot. "Meaty" is actually a pretty good word to describe this EP in general. The bass is surprisingly prominent in the mix, and the vocalist's register is generally lower-than-average for a Viking metal group. This gives them a heavier sound than many Viking metal bands. It does cost them in the cold harshness department, though. This conjures very few images of Viking warriors striking out across the freezing northern wastes to do glorious battle. Rather, it brings to mind their victory celebration back home in a tavern as they drunkenly recount their exploits before the warmth of a roaring fire.

All in all, this is one of those bands that serves to blur the line between being Viking metal and folk metal. I'm actually inclined to come down a little more folk side in this instance, but not strongly enough to make a big issue out of it. Every one of the five actual songs on this EP is enjoyable, but my personal favorite is the closing bonus track, "Glorious Days in the Mountains".

Grade: B+
Fun, energetic, and enjoyable.

Thursday, February 2, 2012

Viniir - The Story Chapter 1

Another installment in my series on new Viking metal from unexpected places.

Last year, a two man Malaysian group called Viniir released their very first demo "The Story Chapter 1". It features just three songs and has a total run time of about 16 minutes.

For a debut demo, this release is surprisingly solid. The sound quality is a little rough and fuzzy, but in a way that really doesn't detract from the music. The songs are solidly composed and the performances are fairly tight. It sounds like it could easily have come from a more experienced band. The vocals have a good throaty rasp to them that suits the style well, and there are occasional deep chorus chants mixed in as well. Musically, the band sticks to metal instrumentation, leaving synths and folk instruments out of the mix. They do employ some sound bites for atmosphere, but these are used quite sparingly. The guitar riffs are solid, though a bit repetitive. The guitar tone is fairly typical of bands in this vein. And, again as usual in Viking metal, the drumming is good but not a central feature. The bass is basically inaudible, but that's pretty typical too.

By now, you've probably noticed that I'm using the word "typical" an awful lot. That's because it really is the most appropriate word I can think of to describe this release. Now to be fair, this is a true rookie effort. Neither of Viniir's members have never released anything else with this or any other metal band. Plus, they're in Malaysia, isolated from this music scene. I think those two things are key here, because this seems like a couple guys who like Viking metal and just wanted to make a Viking metal CD. They've succeeded in doing that, but without any real character of its own. Nothing separates this band from the pack yet, except their place of origin. They're new to this, though, so hopefully they can find a way to build on this foundation in the future and find their own voice.

Grade: B
Good, perfectly listenable, but basically unremarkable.

Wednesday, February 1, 2012

Hugin Munin - Ten Thousand Spears for Ten Thousand Gods

Building on my last review, and my current mood, I've decided to do a short series of reviews of recent Viking metal releases from unexpected sources.

Three months ago, Brazilian "Viking metal" band Hugin Munin released this album. They are calling it their first full-length, though their Metal Archives profile calls it their second, so evidently there is some disagreement there over what qualifies as an album. As my use of quotation marks probably indicates, there is also some disagreement HERE as to what qualifies as Viking metal. The logo certainly looks right. The album and EP titles include such solid bets as "Viking Brothers" and "Die For Odin". The Metal Archives entry agrees that this is a Viking metal band. The actual music, however, does nothing of the sort.

I checked this out, thinking to myself how cool it would be to find some good Viking metal from South America. To their credit, they didn't keep me in suspense very long. What I got, far from my expectations, was mediocre deathcore. I was shocked. Here I was, listening on as a poor man's Lamb of God belched from my speakers, trying to figure out how the hell this band got so badly mislabeled. Did their previous releases sound massively different? Were the genre-makers so caught up in lyrics that they ignored the music? Was I just not hearing the same thing everybody else heard? Sadly, I don't know the answer to the second or third questions. As for the first, after quickly checking out some material from their 2009 EP "Die For Odin", I can say that their sound has changed for the worse with surprising speed. Stylistically I'd be more inclined to lump that EP in with Amon Amarth as death metal about Vikings rather than Viking metal, but at least what little I heard of it actually sounded pretty good. Not great, but solid.

What brought about this change, I don't know. What I can say is that this release saw some halfway decent death metal riffs give way to power chords. In the vocals department, Johan Hegg became Randy Blythe. This new album even had generic, chugging, mosh-ready breakdowns. The energy level is decent, but that's about all I can say in this record's favor.

Grade: C-
This isn't actively obnoxious, but it has nothing of value to offer either.