Monday, October 29, 2012

Silent Leges Inter Arma

My newest guest review is up over on Full Metal Attorney. You can read it here.

Saturday, October 27, 2012

I Laughed

I just wanted to share something a friend linked on Facebook that made me laugh.

Friday, October 26, 2012

Halloween is Coming!

The big Halloween event in town is Saturday (tomorrow) and I've made some last minute changes of direction. As such, all my free time today and possibly tomorrow is going into getting my costume ready. As such, I probably won't post another review until Sunday or Monday.

Thursday, October 25, 2012

Grave - Endless Procession of Souls

Grave, one of the central pillars of the original Swedish death metal movement, have been cranking out records for over two decades. While Entombed have strayed from the path and Dismember have disbanded, Grave have stoutly carried on through the years. This summer saw their newest release, Endless Procession of Souls.

Anybody passingly familiar with Swedish death metal knows exactly what Grave sound like. If not from Grave themselves, then from one of the hundreds of clones wandering the metal world these days. Crunchy, compelling, monumentally heavy guitar riffs plow forward, backed by strong drumming and a beefy bottom end. The bellowed vocals are pretty standard fare, strong and aggressive but not particularly unique. Grave have always been a bit slower and doomier than their closest Swedish counterparts, and their music is often at its heaviest in the slowly churning sections of their songs where the low end can really come into play.

The reason why I've spent all my time so far just talking about how Grave sound in general is that if you understand all that then you understand exactly how this specific album sounds. It's a perfectly solid release, and I find it quite enjoyable. It doesn't break any new ground, though, so it's basically just another good solid Grave album that sounds just like you'd expect. When a band has been around this long, the only way for a new album to really stand out is either by doing something radically new, or by elevating the pre-existing formula to a new level. The latter has recently worked well for other classic acts like Unleashed and Vader, and like those bands Grave exists today as the vessel for its vocalist and sole original member. Unfortunately, unlike those bands, Grave's Ola Lindgren just wasn't able to tap into whatever mystical force has breathed renewed potency into Johnny Hedlund and Peter.

None of this is to say that there's anything bad or wrong in the new album. It's a strong, entertaining release that won't disappoint any fans and serves as another valid entry in the band's lengthy catalog of good death metal records. It just didn't make me sit up and take notice the way some other old masters have with their recent releases.

Grade: B+
Good, heavy, enjoyable Swedish death metal from one of the best established bands in the style.

Wednesday, October 24, 2012

Ex Deo - Caligvla

Ex Deo are a symphonic death metal band who are, personnel-wise, Kataklysm with a different bassist. Their lyrics and general aesthetic are based on Roman history, imagery, and mythology. This summer they released their second full-length album, Caligvla.

The band employ the relatively uncommon fusion of semi-melodic death metal and symphonic orchestration. This latter is generally in the form of strings, but some horns and choral singing work their way into the mix as well. Rather than switching back and forth in the course of each song, the metal and symphonic elements maintain a relatively even mix throughout most of the record. There is some ebb and flow, particularly given their tendency toward instrumental intro passages, but for the most part the two sides work in tandem rather than in alternation.

With this constant blending, the music gains a definite dramatic, epic quality. The guitar riffs often work as a split pair, with one doing more chugging, heavy work along with the bass to hold down the meaty bottom end, while the other plays higher and cleaner lead pieces over top of that mix. The drumming is good at maintaining effective pacing, but rarely ever slams away with brutal intensity. In does move at a sharp clip when it has to, and the rest of the time it has a strangely arena-rock-like quality. All this combined with clean production, perfectly intelligible vocals that walk the line between roaring and yelling, and the dramatic historical themes creates the peculiar end effect of a death metal album that almost plays more like power metal.

This vein of metal is very fertile ground that is explored by too few bands. It offers enough dynamic possibilities that the songs easily avoid the common death metal trap of becoming too redundant (an issue these gentlemen's main band has run up against all too often) and it doesn't particularly sound like any other band enough to feel derivative. Though there was one song I personally find annoying, "Divide Et Impera", and the instrumental final track doesn't really seem necessary, the overall album was very enjoyable and refreshingly different.

Grade: A-
Very enjoyable and unusual symphonic death metal that, despite being a side project, is presently more interesting than the members' main band.

Tuesday, October 23, 2012

A Forest of Stars - A Shadowplay for Yesterdays

A Forest of Stars are a British group who Metal Archives classify as "psychedelic black metal". I'm not totally sold on that label, but it's pretty close. Anyway, they formed in 2007 and have put out material at a steady clip since then. This summer saw the release of their third full-length, A Shadowplay of Yesterdays.

This is a strange record. The band certainly hold up in terms of creativity and variety, as the songs range from  harsh to mellow, long to short, and groovy to folksy. It keeps the record fresh, and the seemingly disparate elements all flow together smoothly enough that the album never sounds incoherent. Rather, it builds on itself and shifts and moves, constantly moving forward, be it by leaps and bounds or at a slow crawl.

The guitar work definitely plays a big role, as it covers bases ranging from hazy walls of white noise to acoustic Spanish pieces, stopping off on the way to tackle an occasional fuzzy 70s-style lead. The vocals are likewise quite flexible, with clean male and female pieces in addition to the harsher sections which come out in a surprisingly mellow sort of throaty rasp. Percussion includes not just varied drumming but also some splashes of bongo to add some flavor. Other non-metal instruments show up as well, most notably flute, violin, and keyboards. A tambourine makes a few appearances too, as do several other bits and pieces of accenting instrumentation. The bass isn't terribly pronounced, though it does take the lead at times, like on the early portions of "Prey Tell of the Church Fate".

While the shifts don't make the record lose a sense of cohesiveness, there is a definite sliding scale in terms of how well the work in isolation. Generally speaking, the band is at its best in the mellower segments, while the harsh aspects of their sound fall behind. I think this is because even when the band is in full black metal mode they don't really sound terribly powerful or hostile. The smooth, soft parts of their music, though, are interesting and often quite beautiful. Sometimes that beauty is in a spaced-out ambient way, other times it's smooth and jazzy, and still others it comes in the form of haunting folk melodies.

So why do I find this record strange? Well, two reasons come to mind. One is that this group is hard to really pin down. The entire time I was listening to this I kept radically reassessing not just how well I liked this album, but what kind of album it even was. The other reason it's strange is because it's one of those rare metal albums that I feel quite strongly would have been a better record if it completely discarded metal from its sound. As a funky, folk-jazz fusion group these guys would be immensely enjoyable, as those aspects of their music constantly sucked me in and kept me fascinated. It's the black metal segments that don't work well, breaking up the enjoyment of the rest of the record in a totally counter-intuitive way.

Grade: B
I want to like this more, because some of it is stunning. However, in an unusual twist, this is one band that should lose some of its metal-ness instead of adding more.

Monday, October 22, 2012

Carach Angren - Where the Corpses Sink Forever

Carach Angren are a symphonic black metal band from the Netherlands. Where the Corpses Sink Forever,    which came out in May, is their third full-length album. I happened upon it purely by chance, having never heard of the band before.

To explain what this album is, I feel I should first point out what it is not. It is not Dimmu Borgir, with obvious, superficial slabs of faux-classical orchestration and a clear aim to be the darkest thing on Total Request Live. Nor is it Emperor, with cold Norwegian hostility interspersed with atmospheric keyboards. No, this is something totally different.

Rather than pulling the symphonic side of their music from the vein of classical or romantic symphonies, this instead plays more like a ballet. That delicate, narrative sensibility never really leaves the music, even in the parts where black metal takes center stage. This is a concept album, going through a series of killings and hauntings, and the masterful composition pulls the whole thing together like the purely auditory equivalent of watching a sinister stage production.

The black metal aspects of this record, unsurprisingly, are not the purist's ideal. They are a part of the whole, intense and effective, but always augmented by swirling organs, violins, or some other aspect of the larger compositional framework. The vocal work is surprisingly articulate in its harsh forms, and clean vocals crop up periodically as well, allowing the listener to follow the lyrical themes of the record quite easily.

As far as those lyrics go, there is a bit of a tendency toward melodrama. The excessively dreary, suicide/murder/haunting/misery emphasis of the whole affair is admittedly a bit too goth for my taste. The music is so well constructed, though, that I can't help admiring the skill that went into composing these tracks.

Grade: B+
Unique, well written, and well executed symphonic black metal that is maybe just a tad too melodramatic.

Sunday, October 21, 2012

Witch Mountain - Cauldron of the Wild

Witch Mountain are a doom band based out of Portland, Oregon. The group released an album in 2001 before going on hold, and since returning they have produced two albums in the last two years. Their previous album finished second on my Top 10 list for 2011, so I was looking forward to seeing what Cauldron of the Wild,  released this summer, would bring to the table.

Witch Mountain's defining qualities are their ability to pull a deeply bluesy sound and attitude into their otherwise fairly traditional doom material, and the strong clean female vocals that manage to avoid sounding flowery or dainty. In both of those areas, this record succeeds. The band still has the same soulful swagger, and Uta Plotkin still belts out her lines with authority. Their core sound is essentially the same as it has been. And, with its longer running time, Cauldron of the Wild  seems on the surface to give more bang for the buck than its predecessor (though the 45 minutes of material are spread over just 6 tracks).

My problem with this record is the insidious and nebulous issue of inconsistent songwriting. It's often difficult to tell what exactly makes the riffs in a track fall flat, sometimes they just do and all one can really say about it is "this riff is boring" or something like that. Well, sadly that's about the best I can do by way of explaining the problem. Some of the tracks really click and sound great, but there are also a couple duds. And when your album only has 6 songs, a couple duds means basically a third of the record isn't particularly enjoyable.

All the surface aesthetics are in place. The deep, plodding bass and reserved drumming provide a solid platform for the semi-distorted psychedelic guitar leads, while Plotkin's vocals take center stage. But while on South of Salem  the formula worked over and over, on Cauldron of the Wild  the effect is more hit-and-miss.

Grade: B-
There were parts of this I absolutely loved, but too much of the record was just bland.

Saturday, October 20, 2012

Metal Covers I Wish Existed

Metallattorney posted a list of metal covers of Michael Jackson songs a couple weeks ago, and that got me thinking. What non-metal songs would make for great metal covers, and which bands would be ideal to do them? To that end, I present now a short list of metal covers that I wish existed.

Ken's Theme Song (from Street Fighter 2) by Edguy

Street Fighter 2 had some excellent, rousing, 8-bit musical compositions. Guile's Theme has even become a popular meme on YouTube, but personally I always liked Ken's the best. I've heard a metal-ish cover done before, and it sounded good enough to convince me that an experienced power metal band could really bring this song to life. I thought about other bands to actually do it, and I'm not sure why I settled on Edguy, but I think it's the combination of their musical chops and their way-less-than-serious image.

Beethoven's 5th Symphony by Electric Wizard

This could easily be a total disaster, given that Electric Wizard are hardly noteworthy for their complex or symphonic play. If it all clicked right, though, this could be the heaviest song in human history.

Before He Cheats by Witch Mountain

In spite of myself, I actually do kind of like this Carrie Underwood track. And due to it's lyrical nature, it would sound strange coming from a male singer. So for preserving the female voice, adding some bluesy soul to the mix, and pulling it firmly into the metal world to give it some extra teeth I think Witch Mountain are the perfect band.

Whiskey in the Jar by Primordial

This traditional tune was made into a modest rock hit by Thin Lizzy, and their version was later covered to great success by Metallica. So, technically, this has already been done as a metal song. But originally it's an old Irish folk song. To preserve the original flow and feel of the track, as played by bands like the Pogues and the Dubliners, while still making a distinctly metal version that can pull the best from the Metallica version, Primordial would be a fantastic group for the task. Given that there are many covers of this song, most of which I really enjoy, this particular cover would likely be my absolute favorite of the ones on this list.

Thursday, October 18, 2012

Wintersun Time I is Here

Though the earliest official European release date is tomorrow, and the album won't hit North American stores until the 22nd, the long awaited Time I  is here at last. As of yesterday, the band is streaming the new record for free from their official website. The album stream can be found here, and since I don't know how long they'll keep it up, I'd advise anybody interested in hearing the album prior to deciding on a purchase to check it out soon.

As for me, I don't think I'll write a full review of this album, since I feel like I've already mentioned it enough times. Besides, after hearing it I can guarantee that it will make my end-of-year "Top 25" list, so it's going to come up again in a couple months. Therefore, in my eyes I've given it plenty of attention. On top of that, anybody with an interest in Wintersun or anything resembling them is pretty much aware of this release already, and I'd prefer to focus my reviews on albums that haven't gotten quite so much hype and notoriety built up around them.

[Edit: It appears the band has now taken the stream down from their site.]

Wednesday, October 17, 2012

Põhjast - Thou Strong, Stern Death

Põhjast are a black/Viking metal group with members from Estonia and Germany. Early this year they released their first EP, followed by their full-length debut Thou Strong, Stern Death.

These guys are, more clearly and completely than any other band I have ever heard, throwbacks to Bathory  circa Blood Fire Death.  The production maintains a similar feel, though it is notably cleaner than on those early works (more similar to Bathory's final albums). The rough guitar riffs have almost exactly the same tone and the same distinctly thrash-based roots. The stylistic balance between black metal hostility, epic Viking metal passages, stark beauty, and primitive dirtiness is all in full form.

Perhaps most significantly, their vocalist sounds shockingly similar to Quorthon. This guy is a slightly stronger and more in-key singer, but his plaintive howls often come in a tone so like Quorthon's that I almost forget I'm listening to another band. This, and in fact all my claims in this post, are perhaps most fully evident on the wonderful closing track "The Three Brothers", though they certainly hold true elsewhere.

With all that said, obviously this band is not at all original in their style. That is the single, glaring fault one might find with this record, as it appears the band does not even pretend to forge their own path. However, as was true of the songs found in Bathory's great "Viking trilogy", these tracks are all clearly distinguishable from one another as separate compositions that folw well together, so good songwriting does play an distinct role in their music. The net effect, rather than purely rehashing an old classic, is that this feels like it could have been the third installment in the never-completed Nordland  series. Effectively, this band is giving me the opportunity to listen to new Bathory albums, which is a far greater service than any other clone out there can claim to be performing right now.

Grade: A-
New Bathory! I love this, and the aforementioned "The Three Brothers" is easily one of my favorite metal songs of the year, though the album does lose a partial grade for lacking an original voice.

Full Album on Band Site

Viter Review

My review of the new Viter album just went up on Full Metal Attorney today. Here is the full review.

Monday, October 15, 2012


Last month Enslaved released RIITIIR,  certainly one of the most anticipated metal albums of the year. I'm not going to write a real review of it, because I just can't seem to wrap my head around how exactly to do that. Instead, I'm just going to share some thoughts about the album and the band as they relate to me.

First of all, I'd like to get this off my chest: I don't get it. Any other extreme metal band that starts using extensive clean vocals or drifts from their original sound into prog territory is castigated as a sellout or is assumed to have lost their minds. Enslaved do exactly that, and suddenly they go from being a solidly well-respected band to being the greatest thing in the world in the eyes of the metal community.

Now don't get me wrong, it's not like I hate new Enslaved material. But I just don't understand the fuss either. Sometimes it feels like there was some massive metal conference where it was determined that Enslaved get a special exemption and everybody should praise them at all times, and my invitation was just lost in the mail. Now, I actually liked RIITIIR.  I certainly don't think it's incredible, though, and there's no way it's in the top 10 releases for this year (it may creep its way into the bottom edge of the top 25, depending on how these final months go). Likewise, when I heard Axioma Ethica Odini,  my reaction was "This is good. Not great, but good."

I keep coming back to their newer records and replaying them in the hopes that I'll suddenly discover what I've been missing. So many people who I consider to have good taste in metal love these releases that I feel like there must be something there that I just haven't noticed. It's like there's this majestic, beautiful land just on the other side of a wall, and if I keep hurling myself at that barrier with enough force then eventually I'll crash through. Then, so the imagined story goes, it will all come rushing in and in a sudden epiphany I'll finally understand what everybody else already seems to know.

So far, as this post's existence indicates, such a revelatory moment has not yet occurred. The band is very good, no question. They're creative and they continue to change and evolve. But when I hear RIITIIR  and then I sit down to listen to Frost,  I can't help thinking of the flak Opeth took for Heritage  and asking myself what the reason is for this apparent double-standard.

Friday, October 12, 2012


Exam time! I'm going to have midterms going on, so while I may get a review or two up, there's a good chance my output is going to be pretty low over the course of the next week or so. I'll get back to regular posting once again as soon as they're all done.

Thursday, October 11, 2012

More Guest Reviews on FMA

Over the past week I've had two new reviews posted on Full Metal Attorney. The Stagnant Waters one went up today, and the Insepulto one went up on the 5th. Here are the links to both.

Stagnant Waters


Wednesday, October 10, 2012

Dopethrone - III

Dopethrone are a Canadian stoner/doom group who released their third full-length, imaginatively titled III,  this summer.

Somewhere in the wild Canadian wilderness, Weedeater and Electric Wizard gave birth to a feral child. That's the only way I can account for the crushing awesomeness that is Dopethrone (plus the name makes it pretty obvious where the band pulls their influences from anyway). That description, though, really tells you exactly what these guys sound like. They have the bass-heavy, groove-laden, monolithic riffs of Electric Wizard. And their hostile, hateful vocals come in a hoarse snarl so similar to Dixie's that this guy could take over vocal duties for Weedeater tomorrow and nobody would know the difference.

Psychedelic leads drift their way across the surface and solid drumming provides a backbone, but above all this crushing slab of doom is an absolute riff monster. It's heavy as hell, slowly crawling inexorably forward and obliterating everything in its path. Beyond just that, it's stunningly catchy. The energetic opener "Hooked" couldn't possibly have a more appropriate title, because by the time it was finished I was on the line and I was definitely not going anywhere. One after another, the remaining tracks rolled past in all their colossal glory, the crush only letting up occasionally to make room for assorted sound-bytes about marijuana, violence, or the occult (another trait courtesy of their namesake).

Given that everything these guys do is pulled straight from the playbooks of a couple of better established bands, I can't in fairness give them any points for originality. What I can say, though, is that III  is a distinctly better record than the newest releases by either of those two bands. At just 5 tracks and 37 minutes, it could be longer, but for anybody who likes the Wizard as much as I do, this beast is just plain fantastic.

Grade: A-
Phenomenally catchy, heavy, and enjoyable. I only give it a less-than-perfect grade because it leans so heavily on its progenitors and because it was over before I'd had my fill.

Those Flashing Lights

So, tonight I got pulled over for speeding. That has never happened to me before, and stupidly enough it occurred about a block from my apartment at a spot where I already knew the police like to camp out to catch speeders coming off the interstate. I just got a warning, which may have been because I was polite and cooperative, but it was probably because writing somebody a speeding ticket for going 35 mph is a little ridiculous.

Tuesday, October 9, 2012

I Wish I'd Heard It Then

I was just reflecting, as I began really sorting things in early preparation for this year's top albums list, on how much better my picture of metal this year is than the one I had last year. I honestly don't know if this has just been a much better year, but what I do know is that I barely filled out my top 10 in 2011, and I'm already having to cut albums I really enjoyed just to get this year's list down to 25. And there are still a couple months to go before the year is over, with several big releases yet to come (not least of which are the long-awaited Wintersun follow-up as well as the first Neurosis album in five years). In large part this is because I'm just way more active in exploring new music this year, as I've easily listened to three or four times as many new albums as I did last year.

In reference to this post's title, I've noticed, as I've continually trolled for new listening material, that I've encountered a number of records that I really wish I'd heard last year. My end-of-year list would have been far stronger for their inclusion. Some, like Verinen Saagat  by Valtyr, got their moments of attention early this year before there were enough 2012 albums out for me to shift to exclusively reviewing those. Not long ago, though, I encountered possibly the most glaring example yet of an album I deeply wish I'd heard in time to include it on last year's list.

In April of last year, the Canadian prog/tech death metal outfit Beyond Creation released their full-length debut The Aura.  This record is, without exception, the best death metal release I've heard from the past two years. It's powerful and intense, it features dynamic and inventive shifts in tone and tempo that are more fluid and effective than any I've heard in any death metal album I can think of, and it has the single greatest use of bass I have ever encountered in any extreme metal release of any kind. In short, this album is insanely, impossibly good. It would have shot to the top of my list for last year if only I'd heard it in time. Since I've stopped reviewing albums from last year, and this obviously can't make my 2012 list, I really just wanted to give the record special mention rather than allow it to slip between the cracks, because frankly it's a release I think any serious death metal fan will be richer for hearing.

The YouTube video below contains the full album.

Hour of Penance - Sedition

Hour of Penance are a brutal technical death metal band from Italy. They released their fifth full-length, Sedition,  in March.

These guys have established a good track record over the past decade with a series of strong releases, and with new members on drums and vocals the band had the task of showing that they had not lost their edge with these personnel changes. The resulting record is absolutely crushing. All bands in this vein are heavy, but  Sedition  has a sense of flow and cohesion that actually heightens the the intensity. In a simple non-stop barrage the crushing riffs, manic leads, and inhumanly intense drumming might begin to lose its impact and just wash over the listener like white noise. But Hour of Penance don't do that. Instead they introduce traces of melody you can grab hold of like a drowning man clinging to a raft, and then they start pounding away once they're sure you aren't going anywhere. Brief windows appear where you can catch your breath, just enough to keep you going, then the battering continues. The formula really works well, because instead of merely turning on the meat grinder like many brutal bands do, this record grabs hold of you and actively drags you through it.

There three specific features that really stand out to me above the rest in this album. The first is the vocal work. It's not the ultra low guttural burping that many bands think they have to use in order to sound brutal. Instead it's fairly mid-range, but it comes at you with intensity. This is not a deliberate death growl focused on tone, it's a bellowing attack that comes with enough force that it becomes ragged purely as a by-product of its animal ferocity. The second feature is the lead guitar. There are actually some carefully paced and well crafted solos over top of the frothing sea of intensity which stand out as surprisingly melodic. These speak not only of the band's musical capabilities, they also serve the valuable function of keeping the listener engaged as closely as possible with the music. Finally, the drumming is a standout feature from a purely technical standpoint. Its speed and power are driving, battering, and relentless. It is the engine that keeps the brutal technical end of the music crashing forward while you are being lured in by the guitar leads.

I honestly don't listen to much in the brutal technical death metal range because it often feels to me like the bands are so worried about pummeling the listener that they forget to engage their audience's interest. In this case, though, I was pulled in as I was brutalized. As a result, this release stands as one of the best listening experiences I've had with this type of record in recent memory.

Grade: A-
Powerful and intense brutal technical death metal with just enough compositional structure to keep you engaged while it beats you to death. Also, the album artwork is pretty sweet.

Monday, October 8, 2012

Therion - Les Fleurs du mal

Therion stand beside Amorphis as one of those early death metal bands that decided somewhere along the way to just smash their way out of the box and go wherever they wanted to go, regardless of how people wanted to classify it. The Swedes are now a symphonic metal band, notable for their constant evolution and creative mastery. A couple weeks ago they released Les Fleurs du mal.

Hmm, an album of cover songs? That's not a terribly promising start, but it's been done before and it's not a guaranteed disaster. But a metal album exclusively covering French pop oldies? Yikes. I kind of wish I'd known that going into it, but alas, I had not been warned.

There are some upsides to this record. Therion fans can't possibly be particularly concerned with the group's metal-ness, so the fact that this hardly qualifies as metal shouldn't bother them. And as an expression of the band's creative tendencies, this stands up; Therion are willing to to take chances and try different things, nobody can fault them on that count. Additionally, these guys are polished masters of their craft at this point, so every flowery operatic note and delicate orchestral passage is executed to absolute perfection.

That's where my compliments come to an end, though. As I said before, this is really not even metal anymore. The band has, at least on this release, dropped even the pretense of performing metal. What it really is, honestly, is a bunch of old French pop tunes turned into a ballet soundtrack that happens to have some electric guitars playing quietly in the background of a few tracks. And while I commend Therion's willingness to step outside the box, I feel I have to point out that doing weird crap just for the hell of it isn't always a good decision.

Grade: C-
The band are talented and inventive, but I think in this case they've just invented something kind of stupid.

In Flames

If you read this blog often, then you know that I love In Flames. In fact, I generally grant them the title of my favorite band, though that is definitely weighted in favor of their early releases. As I was sitting here, I began reflecting for the millionth time on how much In Flames have changed over the years. As most metal fans can attest, the changes have largely been bad ones. It's funny, though, because I've known people who complain that new In Flames is bad while "their old stuff like Soundtrack to Your Escape was awesome" which of course horrifies me to hear, but that's as far back as their knowledge of the band goes. For more active metal fans, many people start at The Jester Race and move forward from there. Some people actually do go back as far as their full-length debut Lunar Strain, which is a totally different animal, and for them the changes seem even bigger. But even Lunar Strain was a polishing of their sound from the truly primordial days. The first recording In Flames ever released was a 3 song demo in 1993, and if you listened to a track from that, you'd never even guess it was the same band that produced the records from a few years later.

Well, to amuse myself, here's a walking tour of In Flames starting with that first recording and bringing us right up to date.

Sunday, October 7, 2012

Wrath of the Masters

I know I'm not the only one growing a bit tired of the recent old-school death metal and thrash revivals. In large part, that's because most young bands are not so much "reviving" the sounds as they are just flat-out ripping them off. As a result of this trend, it seems like lately the true masters of these sub-genres have stepped up to show all these young punks who the real bosses are. Sure Metallica and Morbid Angel let us all down, but they are not the only greats out there. For example, in death metal we got Vader's bone-crushing Welcome to the Morbid Reich  last year, while this year Unleashed cut the insane Odalheim.

Thrash, too, has seen several recent releases from these kinds of long-standing kings. Today, I take my hat off to three of them who have stepped up yet again this year and proven that they are still the baddest of the bad.


Overkill released The Electric Age  in March.


Kreator released Phantom Antichrist  in June.


Testament released Dark Roots of Earth  in July.


Saturday, October 6, 2012

High on Fire - De Vermis Mysteriis

High on Fire are a California-based stoner doom band. In April they released their 6th full-length studio album. I'm a casual fan of the band, but I'm not intimately familiar with their back catalog by any means.

With De Vermis Mysteriis, the group have presented us with a strong slab of husky, sludgey, doom with an often surprisingly aggressive tempo. The real core of the sound is in the churning guitar riffs, played with a meaty tone that really gives them a lot of weight as they crash forward through each successive track. The drumming is sharp and aggressive, often pounding along faster than usual for this type of music, and in the process they give a strong backbone to the assault. The angry, shouted vocals sound hateful and belligerent, and they suit the music perfectly. From the production to the writing to the performances, there's really nothing wrong with this album.

In spite of all that, the record isn't great. Or to be more precise, it didn't feel great to me. It's strange, because I can't honestly put my finger on a single real problem with the music, but for some reason it just didn't really have that big impact on me that a great record should have. Certain tracks really got my blood pumping, but the effect was not sustained throughout. I think it comes down to the fact that there's a difference between a strength and a lack-of-weakness. This album had no discernible weaknesses, but it didn't have any truly outstanding strengths that made it stand out as something special either.

Still, it really is a good record. It lacked that "it factor" that really captures the imagination, but it is a very solid release by a strong band. If you're a fan of High on Fire, there's no reason to believe you wouldn't like this.

Grade: B+
Good stoner doom that should please fans of the band and the sub-genre.

Unleashed - Odalheim

The Megadeth of Swedish death metal have returned with their 11th full-length album. Unleashed have been churning out Viking-themed death metal goodness for over two decades, and back in April Odalheim  became the newest addition to one of the great legacies in the genre.

Something I've always liked about Unleashed is that they don't sound like any other member of the Swedeath royal family. Rather than the chunky buzzsaw guitar, their riffs have always sounded sharp, cutting, and cold. It's like they somehow capture the frozen hostility of black metal without actually sounding anything like a black metal band. I don't know how to explain this phenomenon, but what I do know is that it's in full effect on Odalheim. This is the coldest sounding death metal record I think I've ever heard. The riffs rip through the winter landscape with a frenzied energy matched only by the blistering leads. Galloping drums propel every track forward relentlessly. And Hedlund's hateful bellows blast the listener with a ferocity most imitators can only dream of attaining.

Beyond the energy and aggression, though, is a level of practiced mastery. These guys have been doing this for so long that they know exactly what they're doing and exactly how to do it. On this record, rather than the re-hash of familiar territory that so many veteran records become, the band sound like they've put all those years of lessons to use in creating something even better than its predecessors. Basically this sounds like a culmination rather than a derivation. It's amazing to say this about a band that has been around for so long, but I honestly believe this is the best record Unleashed have ever released.

This band could sleep through an album and produce better material than 90% of the death metal bands out there. Instead, they really poured themselves into it and they have created a staggeringly brilliant record. Right now I'm torn between this and Gojira's wonderful L'Enfant Sauvage  for the title of best death metal album of the year.

Grade: A
Savage, cold, and powerful death metal done perfectly by one of the genre's true masters.

Thursday, October 4, 2012

About the Grades

Those of you who read my blog regularly will probably have noticed that I've had a string of "A" and "A-" grades recently. It probably feels like I've just been handing out good ratings to everything I talk about lately, and it might make those rating seem less valid. While I can't deny the possibility that I've been in a generous mood lately, I really don't believe I'm unjustified in giving these grades.

Recently, I have been very active in my quests for new material to review, but I've also been very picky about what makes the cut. Usually I use Metal Archives and Youtube in conjunction to sample songs from new albums to see if I want to pursue those records further, or if they just don't interest me. In the past month or so, I've written about roughly 20 releases in one form or another (many in just a single paragraph). In that same amount of time, I have considered and sampled at least a couple tracks from somewhere between 70 and 100 albums. With that volume of content under consideration, I'm simply not willing to pick one of these bands I've found on my own and sit through 45 full minutes of a release that I can tell within 5 minutes I won't particularly like, just so I can write a "C+" review about it.

Additionally, with the increased number of demos I've been receiving from Full Metal Attorney to review for his blog (which has yielded some very good material too), I've had plenty of opportunities to write more negative things about mediocre records and old school death metal clones. Therefore, instead of looking for things to write negative reviews about, I've dedicated my time on my own blog to picking out the real highlights of my own listening and holding them up for what glimmer of additional exposure I can give them.

And that, my friends, is why the grades on my reviews have been so high lately.

Nightmare - The Burden of God

It's pretty rare for a band to walk away for over a decade, come back, and not only release new material but actually become more prolific and more enjoyable upon their return. That is exactly what the French power metal masters Nightmare did, and earlier this year they released their sixth album since their return in 2001 (eighth overall).

The Burden of God  is a dark, ripping, gritty slab of power metal from a group of seasoned masters. After a soft but vaguely sinister instrumental number in the vein of an interlude from Phantom of the Opera, the curtains open and the band begins to play. And damn, can they play. I rarely find myself this enamored with a power metal record, but there's a heaviness to the crunching guitar rhythms, a grim determination to the lyrics, and haunting touches of darkness lurking around every corner. The vocalist plays a vital role in this, too. Most power metal singers soar to shimmering heights of purest beauty, where they can let loose their long, flowing locks of silken hair and step out onto the highest balconies of their delicate, glistening, white marble spires to gaze out across the golden city below, bathed in the radiant light of the sun. Bleck! This is metal, not the land of the sugarplum fairies. I want some dirt and sweat and blood, maybe a battleaxe on the side. That's what Joe Amore brings to the table. Yes, he has a powerful voice, and yes he can hit high notes. But he does it with a snarl. The gritty edge to his powerful voice reminds me of the late great Ronnie James Dio, and that's about the highest compliment you can give a metal singer.

So what we end up with is a masterfully crafted power metal album performed with expert precision, but carrying with it a darkly sinister feeling which is far too rare in the field. This knocks off Pharaoh's excellent Bury the Light  as my favorite power metal album to come out this year.

Grade: A-
Dark and masterful power metal with my new favorite vocalist in the sub-genre.

Monday, October 1, 2012

Sorathian Dawn - Sorathian Dawn

Sorathian Dawn are a blackened death metal band from Australia who released their self-titled debut album back in March of this year. Most of the band members are involved in Ouroboros, as well as a scattering of other active groups, so I don't really know if this is a one-off side project or a new main band for those involved.

What I can say is that I hope they continue with this group, because I really enjoy the sound they have captured. Sorathian Dawn walk that fine line between the meat of death metal and the sharpness of black metal, just as they flirt with melodic elements while still maintaining their speed and aggression. Dual guitar riffs gallop along at a brisk pace, with propulsive drumming and violent vocals that fill the whole record with an overwhelming sense of hostility. The band does allow for some tempo changes, but they never get mired down in the slower passages.

Thrown in with the aggressive assault is just enough melody to make the whole affair flow smoothly. This is a stripped-down melodic sensibility in the vein of old At the Gates or maybe Dissection, and like those bands it really finds the sweet spot.

I'd highly recommend this album, and I truly hope to see more material from this band in the future.

Grade: A-
Sharp, compelling blackened death metal with just a dash of melody.