the underground music magazine    

issue #65 Spring, 2009

 


Untitled Document Dear Maelstrom readers,

Happy birthday to us! February (yeah, we’re late on wishes for our own selves) marked our eighth year in existence.

Zine years must be like dog years, because we’re feelin’ oooooollld. Or maybe it’s more focus on our own bands, or trying to make money to stay afloat in whatever times we’re living in, or trying to have more of a life, or waning along with the record industry and the reduced amount of physical promos labels seem to be sending all the time. It’s actually perfect that we don’t review downloads... gives us more time to work on our own shit.

The issue at hand: 94 album reviews, and two interviews, with Nile drummer George Kollias and Pro-Pain frontman Gary Meskil.

And since it’s the anniversary issue, this means top lists from as many staff members who gave a shit enough to put them together. Apparently, a couple of them thought they’d make up for the flakes. Yikes!

- Roberto Martinelli

Roberto Martinelli’s top 10 + 1 of 2008

01. Nucleus Torn - Knell
02. Coldworld - Melancolie 2
03. Bohren Und Der Club of Gore - Dolores
04. Caina - Temporary Antennae
05. Nadja - Skin Turns to Glass
06. Wrath of the Weak - Alogon
07. At the Head of the Woods - Secrets Beyond Time and Space
08. Myndsnare - Conditioned: Human
09. Vader - XXV
10. Holy Moses - Agony of Death
11. Trancelike Void - Destroying Something Beautiful

Ignacio Coluccio’s thoughts on albums from 2008:

We had a fair deal of surprises this year, from Cynic and Textures to even Darkthrone's obviously not-best-of-material-but-decent-anyway. We also had about as many disappointments (My Bloody Valentine's lackluster live performances, the worth-one-listen Behemoth album, the overhyped to hell and back but still shitty Kanye West album...). There's a special place reserved for the inhumanly average but still surprising Death Magnetic, by Metallica.

On a personal note, every year my "best of" list gets weirder. While it's also easily over half Japanese, it's not really centered on any genre. To be honest, I wouldn't call it a "best of the year" list after the first seven as much as I'd call it a "most interesting albums of the year" one. I deliberately tried to take one or two I've been addicted to from every genre.

My top 7:

01. Miaou - All Around Us: I'm tempted to call it album of the year. Not because it's radically different from other post-rock, but because it's so carefully done. Everything fits, every single part is worthwhile, and it's so good that you'd be hard-pressed to find a better post rock album released, say, after 2005. And a better 2008 album, honestly. It's hard to find an album with melodies as catchy, songs as harmonically complex and at the same time easy to listen to. Addictive, too.


02.- Molina, Juana - Un Dia: As a famous actress here, Juana Molina releasing her first album came as a shock to many people. She stopped appearing in television shortly after that, and only got press for her subsequent album releases. Nowadays, she gets far more attention in the rest of the world than she does here. After all, Argentina's still an archaic country when it comes to music. Anyway, I got her first few albums expecting quirky folk, and little more. Honestly, I was blown away. While minimalistic and mainly atonal, every single thing about her records showed an inmense musical maturity. Loop pedals were used extensively and her music was weirdly alive because of it. It was, however, the perfect example of laid-back. Just what Joni Mitchell and Stockhausen would have recorded in 2008: acoustic IDM folk (not precisely what they now call "folktronica"), or something like that. You may like it or not, but she's one of the few artists that deserve to be listened to by everyone. Un Dia is a whole new world, like every single one of her albums, but it's more complex than anything she's done, and as clever. That, and seeing her live reminds you of how good experimental music can be when played live by actual musicians and not just a laptop.

03. 9MM Parabellum Bullet - Vampire: Their previous album was less than a year ago, how did they manage to release something as good as Vampire in so little time? However it was, Vampire is perfect, catchy and unique rock reliant on weird rhythms, strong songwriting and with a penchant for fast tempo changes everywhere. As far as rock goes, Vampire's album of the tear.

04. Of Montreal - Skeletal Lamping: Wait, what the fuck? Did anyone expect Skeletal Lamping at all? When I heard that they were releasing a new album, I thought it'd just be Of Montreal abusing their well-earned success for 40 minutes. I thought they'd suck until they eventually split up. Couldn't be more wrong. Skeletal Lamping is the surreal, sadistic and theatrical mutant brother of Hissing Fauna. It's no longer "indie baroque electropop," it's... avant-garde pop... something. Keyword something. But, whatever, pointless descriptions aside, Skeletal Lamping is a great album full of great ideas and quite out of the norm.

05. Zazen Boys - Zazen Boys 4: Also known as Mukai Shutoku's return to the Mukai Shutoku Acoustic & Electric project. First indie / punk / jrock / hip-hop, then David Byrne-influenced math rock / post-punk / hip-hop full of polymeters, crazy structures and, now, disco /dance / funk influences? I won't say that it isn't an acquired taste and that it's not far from the crazy indie of Number Girl, but Zazen Boys 4 is as strong an album as their other stuff. Which is a lot.

06. Sound Horizon - Moira: Moira is so epic that it puts everything else to shame. Virtually unknown outside Japan, Sound Horizon come to be the most theatrical band ever. The most theatrical folk / metal / opera/ rock / pop band ever, even. And Moira is Sound Horizon refined and perfected. Almost 80 minutes of genius, including vocal work by famous vocal actors and band trademark's Jimang, complete with a great metal opener and folk ballads all over it.

07. HZM - Pianohead: Atonal piano extraordinaire HZM has always been quirky. Pianohead, of course, is quirky as well, but for a different reason this time. It's a...jazz / jpop / instrumental hip-hop / urban album. By a jazz pianist. With a kind-of-dance song as the main single. And a Tropicalia / Brazilian theme-song. I'm not here to say it's this year's easiest album to listen to, but it's certainly his strongest yet. His quirkiness is shown more in its concentrated form here than it is in Pe'z, it's just that most fans of his jazz stuff won't like it. If you're at all into pop, jazz and / or instrumental hip-hop, however, grab Pianohead, if only for the holy-shit-awesome chord progressions and melodies, and the best track recorded this year, the opener.

Albums Ignacio Coluccio loved but couldn't, for the life of him, rank:

Crow's Claw - Crossfire Barrage: Another virtually unknown-outside- its-niche thing, Touhou music (and, actually, doujin arrangements in general) has always been a big hit or miss, mainly because of the huge amount of retarded electronica versions. If you know your videogame music, however, you surely know Touhou because, well, its music is just awesome and it has spawned thousands of bands playing it. Crow's Claw do touhou, and they do it metal style. Crossfire Barrage is full of melodic death riffs and some of the best melodies ever crafted for VGM.

Cubic Star Minimal Orchestra - Birthday: The name might sound kind of odd, but I honestly can't think of a better one for them. They are the musical equivalent of cubism, they do everything at the same time from many points of view, and they feel like a minimalistic electronica / jazz / postrock Orchestra with a spacy sound. And it's so good it almost feels like your birthday. See? Seriously, though, as underrated as they are, I've been listening to Birthday for months and I still haven't gotten tired.

Cynic - Traced in Air: Alright, this surprised me a lot. I'll never understand just why the first Cynic was so well liked. It bored me, the vocals were so unfitting that it was almost unbearable and, really, only that “Veil of Maya” song was actually good. Many years after it, Traced in Air managed to correct everything. Literally everything. Vocals now fit (even if they are in the same vein), songs are more compact technically and their riffs are now coherent. And by coherent, I mean earshatteringly great. I don't really know what happened but damn, Traced in Air is too good for me to even care.

Demetori - Sendaisoushi ~Offering to the Sukhavati: One of the best touhou-specialized metal band playing some instantly recognizable songs but with superb thrash / metalcore-ish arrangements.

Dir en Grey - Uroboros: I wasn't expecting this. Starting with Gauze, their sound was getting more extreme but also far more marketable. Sure, nu-ish metal has always been marketable but they were still original. Then, on Uroboros, they decided to make stuff epic. Doesn't matter if it's marketable (an almost 10-minute epic, going from ballad to death metal in just some minutes?), but they've never done something as good as this. While the songs themselves are very good, the vocals take the cake.

Emiliana Torrini - Me and Armini: Because of this year's absolute lack of new Joanna Newsom stuff, I just had to search for something at least a tiny bit similar to listen to. I like to think that Me and Armini is what Joanna Newsom would play if she were from Iceland, but it's different in some ways. Mainly, no harp and more modern instrumentation. Still, it's similarly cute-but-serious, innocent-but-well-developed folk.

Forefather - Steadfast: as far as newer metal goes, it's all about who's heavier, who's noisier or who can cram the most melodic breakdowns into each song. Steadfast's not really heavy, it's not noisy and it doesn't feature retarded breakdowns. It's a throwback to the good era of Viking (Windir and early Vintersorg, anyone?) but with a more modern sound, a more acceptable one if you wish, and a far more melody-based one. It's not Windir, but it's entertaining anyway.

Hanggai - Introducing Hanggai: As a complete stranger to Mongolian folk music, Hanggai's mix of a (to me) absolutely extraneous kind of music with a punk attitude reminded me of how much the world has to offer, music-wise. It's not just that it sounds different. Even at its core, it's something completely out of our Western mentality (though not as much as, say, African tribal music). Get it if you feel like realizing just how much broader music is.

Jesu & Battle of Mice - split: Jesu. Battle of Mice. Two songs each. Get it.

Leo Imai - Fix Neon: Almost-normal rock / pop album with some good artists as collaborators (Zazen Boys and Kenji Jammer). Weird vocals, but the guy can certainly compose some strong songs.

Los Campesions! - Hold on Now, Youngster...: Brilliant indie album by a quite hyped band that surprisingly lives up to it.

Made Out of Babies - The Ruiner: Not much to say besides telling you to go read my review of it if you want to know just why I loved The Ruiner's freaky rock /metal / something so much.

Mass of the Fermenting Dregs - Mass of the Fermenting Dregs: Shoegazing post-j-rock with particularly energetic vocals and interesting riffs far out of the norm, emphasizing the rock part.

Merzbow - Dolphin Sonar: Iconic Japanoise musician Merzbow doing laptop noise with beats (albeit much simpler than, say, his own Aqua Necromancer) and a fairly varied sound. I'd say he's getting much, much better at laptop noise.

Midori - Hello Everyone. Nice to meet you. We are MIDORI.: You know when someone says something is "crazy music"? They are wrong. That is, unless they mean the latest Midori. Hello Everyone is the craziest jazz rock album ever recorded. It's a savage mix of screaming banshee, sometimes out of tune vocals, Japanese traditional music and the least conventional rock songs I can think of, all in a jazz context.

Natsumen - ONExMORExSUMMERxSHIT!!!: Incredible mix of free jazz, experimental, post-rock with some catchy melodies thrown in for good measure. Really short, but it's Natsumen, who cares?

Nhhmbase - Hamon Cross: Rock bands nowadays tend to focus on sounding louder than everyone else. Just because of that, it's awesome to see a band that doesn't give a shit if you don't get a wall of sound but still manages to surprise you. Math-ish "music major" minimalistic post-rock, Nhhmbase managed to produce a fun and laid back album while at the same time using and abusing angular jazz melodies, really particular vocals and complex rhythms. (The weird part? It's mixed in mono)

Ocrilim - Annwn: If you read my review for it, then I don't think I have anything to add. Minimalistic Glenn Branca-ish music at its best.

Ostooandell - Music: One of the best j-indie releases of the year. Catchy shoegazer-ish pop-rock with some brilliant songs in there. It'd be much higher on the list but it's a really short album considering it has a filler 8-minute instrumental track. Do get it for the 20 or 25 minutes of fun music.

Parenthetical Girls - Entanglements: Surprisingly good opera pop (not operatic, thankfully), if I may call it so, with complex arrangements, while still being subtle. Good stuff.

Parts & Labor - Receivers: Great noisy indie-ish, postpunk-ish album with grandious choruses and huge songs.

Pe'z - Kurofune no Jazz: Samurai Meets the Enemy: Jazz standard albums aren't usually all too exciting. We've heard “Milestones” and “Autumn Leaves” way too many times done by boring, self-indulgent bands, and let's not even talk about My Funny Valentine or Soul Bossa Nova. The thing is, when the band playing them is Pe'z, you forget about it and realize just how good “Milestones” can sound when played by a band full of talent and energy. Pe'z is that, modern jazz with a natural talent for complex and catchy melodies, both composed and improvised. While Kurofune no Jazz isn't their strongest yet, it's an almost perfect standards album.

Pendulum - In Silico: Mainstream, yes, stadium rock, sure, same drum line for every single song, that one's true, too. Even so, In Silico is the catchiest stadium rock album ever. Maybe because it's deeply influenced by their previous drum 'n bass stuff, maybe because they love money, but they managed to turn their previous music into something that works outsides clubs.

sgt. - Stylus Fantasticus: Jazzy post-rock without many of the genre's cliches. They are not afraid to play noisy rock or even post-metal sometimes, so bonus points for them.

Skepticism - Alloy: It's Skepticism. I don't think I need to tell you why Alloy is such an awesome funeral doom release from one of the genre's finest. Incredible songs this time around, with a more down-to-earth sound and more traditional chord progressions but a deep sound and the perfect funeral doom atmosphere.

Textures - Silhouettes: Sure, it's melodic, it's not hard-hitting metal and it's definitely not like their other stuff. It is, however, original. We haven't had a delicate Meshuggah ever, but we do now. And, elitism aside, it's miles ahead of every Meshuggah clone, including newer Meshuggah itself. Except Coprofago, that is.

Samuel Jackson Five, The - Goodbye Melody Mountain: Indie pretentious jazzy math-post-rock with some serious stuff going on. Get it if you like actual melodies and complexity in your post rock and not just tremolo picking and orchestras.

Torche - Meanderthal: Torche's self-titled was one of the first albums I reviewed for Maelstrom. Back then it was a small band that only people really into (post?) metal knew. Now, Torche is well known, and for a reason. Pop-oriented upbeat sludgecore, downtuned Jesu-ish guitars, some damn good songs and certainly the same punch their self-titled had. Good stuff.

Versailles - Prince & Princess: Sure, old school visual kei is dead, we got it, but who wouldn't like it if modern visual kei were more like like Prince & Princess? Take X Japan's Art of Life and mix it with the same singer every new non-metalcore / nu-metal visual kei band has and you get a pretty awesome mix. Even if the vocalist is totally generic, the riffage is too great to ignore. Epecially if you like japanese metal.

Avi Shaked’s picks for 2008

Best reissues/archival releases:
01. Kansas – Two for the Show: One of the best live rock albums was finally given its deserved CD pressing. Not only was "Closet Chronicles" restored, but there's also a second CD packed with unreleased recordings of songs that weren't on the original 1978 release. Kansas in its most vibrant form!
02. Strapps – Live at the Rainbow 1977: A fierce and flamboyant live performance that sees the light of day some thirty years after it was captured on tape, and still manages to sound as if it was recorded today.
Best new releases:
01. Evergrey – Torn: The most direct and hard hitting metal release to come out in 2008.
02. Yitzhak Yedid Oud Bass Piano Trio – Suite in Five Movements: Celestial music that no mortal should miss. A culmination of openness and creativity.
03. Porcupine Tree – Nil Recurring: Porcupine Tree thrills again, with overflowing, intense yet sensitive set that complements and corresponds with its previous album (2007's Fear of a Blank Planet).
04. Zappa Plays Zappa – Zappa Plays Zappa DVD: The idea of Frank Zappa's son performing his father's music might seem suspicious at first, but this is in fact a masterfully filmed DVD, which captures a tight and refreshing performance by exciting musicians, including some of Zappa senior's band members.
05. Made out of Babies – The Ruiner: Kyuss meets Tool on this outstanding hardcore release, featuring the scariest vocal performance by Julie Christmas.
Other selected releases:
06. Judas Priest – Nostradamus: Old but wise, the mighty Priest delivers its surprising, dramatic attempt at rock opera.
07. Combat Astronomy – Dreams No Longer Hesitate: Refreshing and captivating avant rock.
08. Tangent – Not as Good as the Book: Neo-prog rarely sounds this good.
09. Yoshida, Tatsuya – Live in the Head: A blow to the head.

Mladen Škot’s reflections on albums from 2008

Another year, another list... and this time they are numbered. I still maintain that music isn't competition, but art. With that said, making any sort of top lists in art is a highly personal thing, so I've ranked them according to how much they mean to me, or how much fun they brought to this otherwise miserable, life... and sometimes both. There were many more noteworthy releases, not to mention the re-releases, but I tried to keep it short. These 15 releases, for me, always work.

01. Ophidian Forest - Redbad
02. Ekpyrosis - Mensch Aus Gold
03. Janvs - Vega
04. Gamma Ray - Hell Yeah!!! The Awesome Foursome (DVD)
05. Ereb Altor - By Honour
06. InSomnius Dei - Illusions of Silence
07. Striborg - Autumnal Melancholy
08. Striborg - Foreboding Silence
09. Cradle of Filth - Godspeed on the Devil's Thunder
10. Ansur - Warring Factions
11. Gruenewald - Gruenewald
12. Skyforger - Zobena Dziesma
13. Equilibrium - Sagas
14. Dark Fortress - Eidolon
15. Blood of the Black Owl - A Feral Spirit

Pal Meentzen’s top 10 of 2008

01. Skogyr – Rainchants (very repetitious, but very Pagan and pure, and Russian to boot)
02. Leviathan – Massive Conspiracy Against All Life 2LP (the red vinyl release, including the fantastic booklet with Wrest’s illustrations, is a pleasure to own)
03. The VSS – Nervous Circuits (a good unearthing of US screamo from the ‘90s, with a very appealing rarities bonus package)
04. Velnias – Sovereign Nocturnal (very good US pagan/folk metal with lots of atmosphere).
05. Hellveto – Neoheresy (More of the same, but by far not as boring as Graveland’s last album)
06. Killing Joke – Live at the Forum parts 1 & 2. (Their concerts in the re-united original line-up of 1982 were an event not to be missed for devotees)
07. Ophidian Forest – Plains (best multi-national Pagan BM album of 2008)
08. Tjolgtjar - Ikarikitomidun, Lord of the Forest (Tjolgtjar is black metal’s happy madman. His madness gives me happy nightmares).
09. Xasthur/Black Circle - A Living Hell (not because of the music, but because of the prettiest BM t-shirt of 2008)
10. Paysage d’ Hiver – Kerker (at last a quality re-issue of one of his finest projects with dungeon desolation)
11. Horna - Sanojesi Äärelle (a great double album that proves Finland’s black metal masters are still as productive as could be hoped for).

Joshua Gottlieb’s Partial Compendium of Things That Made the Slow Motion Apocalypse of 2008 a Little More Bearable

- Criteria: it had to rock, son!
- Interesting Development: a burgeoning obsession with power pop, the back catalogue of The Posies being the epicenter of this temporal shift.
- Not to Worry: I am still so goddamn metal…
- Flailing nut Breathing: the black metal scene continued to eat its young but still produced enough killer albums to keep me in the fray.
- Welcome Back: Septic Flesh rise again and put out their best album in a decade.
- Standing at the Top: Saturday’s = Youth by M83. The title says it all: summery, hazy, warm(th), fun, languid, shimmery, filtered and distilled through a gossamer prism. Heavy? Not by a long shot, but its songs have the preternatural ability to transport you back to those sunburst, care-free days, carrying the burden of memory as if it weighed to nothing at all.

The Top Ten:

01. M83 – Saturday’s = Youth
02. Earth – The Bees Made Honey in the Lion’s Skull
03. Envy / Jesu – Split
04. Slagmaur – Skrekk Lich Kunstler
05. Torche – Meanderthal
06. Half Makeshift – Omen
07. Septic Flesh – Communion
08. Slim Cessna’s Auto Club – Cipher
09. Gas (Wolfgang Voight) – S/T (cd & book)
10. Exxasens – Polaris

Ten More That Got Me Hot and Bothered on Numerous Occasions (in random order):

Memories Attack, The – S/T
Kerretta – Death in the Future (7”)
Bass Communion – Pacific Codex
Bitter Bitter Weeks – Peace Is Burning Like a River
Nadja / Black Boned Angel – Christ Send Light
Humanfly – II
Nachtmystium – Assassins: Black Meddle Pt.
Dark Space – III
Zomes – S/T
Animus Mortis – Atrabilis (Residues From Verb & Flesh)

Another Fifty That Often Tickled My Fancy (alphabetized):

5ive – Hesperus
Asbestoscape – S/T
Bongripper – Hate Ashbury
Capricorns – River, Bear Your Bones
Cursed – III
Darkane – Demonic Art
Daturah – Reverie
Esoteric – The Maniacal Valve
Fucked Up – The Chemistry of Common Life
Fun Years, The – Baby, It’s Cold Inside
Gas – Nah Und Fern (4 CD box -- reissue)
Geisha – Die Verbrechen Der Liebe
Genghis Tron – Board up the House
Gnaw Their Tongues – An Epiphanic Vomiting of Blood
Gnaw Their Tongues – Dawn Breaks Open Like a Wound That Bleeds Fresh
Hermano – …Into the Exam Room
Gutter Twins, The – Saturnalia
Half Makeshift – Omen
Harlots – Betrayer
Hennes Siste Host – Host
Hey Colossus – Happy Birthday
Jasper TX – In a Cool Monsoon
Jasper TX – Black Sleep
Jesu / Battle Of Mice – Split
Jucifer – L’Autrichienne
Kowloon Walled City – Turk Street
Lento – Earthen
Made out of Babies – The Ruiner
Mayelene and the Sons of Disaster – II
Menace Ruine – Cult of Ruines
Monument of Urns – Absence
Mogwai – The Hawk Is Howling
Mouth of the Architect – Quietly
Nada Surf – Lucky
Nadja – Long Dark Twenties (7”)
Nahvalr – S/T
Part Timer – Blue
Planes Mistaken For Stars – We Ride to Fight!
Portishead – Third
Riggs, Dax – We Sing of Only Blood
Rollo Treadway, The – S/T
Samothrace – Life’s Trade
Servile Sect – Stratospheric Passenger
Sixteen Horsepower – Live March 2001
Taint – Secrets and Lies
Thursday / Envy – Split
Ufomammut – Idolum
Verdunkeln – Einblick in den Qualenfall
Vhernen – S/T
Woven Hand – Ten Stones

Brandon Strader’s top 8 of 2008

01. Mirrorthrone - Gangrene
02. Gojira's - The Way of All Flesh03. Cynic's - Traced in Air
04. Rubicon's - The Die is Cast
05. Opeth's - Watershed
06. Firewind's - The Premonition
07. Ayreon's - 01011001
08. Ihsahn's - AngL

Larissa Glasser’s top six of 2008

01. Audiopain - The Switch to Turn off Mankind
This brief but neck-breaking release from Oslo’s premier retro-thrash trio played on continuous repeat mode the entire year. Early ‘80s thrash abounds with outstanding speed and precision, and this band is proof that you can take the tried-and-true body odor of early extreme metal, spill some good imported beer over it, and spit out something fresh and interesting. Awesome stuff.

02.Venom – Hell
An absolute bounce-back from the deafening meh of the 2006 Metal Black release. Although Cronos is the sole remaining member from Venom’s original “classic” lineup from the 1980s, this may be the best Venom release since that sickening, beautiful time.

03. Hellhammer – Demon Entrails
Although many of Hellhammer’s earliest demo recordings have long since made the rounds in an — erp — shall we say, “unofficial” capacity, Century Media’s retrospective is a worthwhile token. Early versions of what later would become Celtic Frost songs (“Necromantical Screams” in “Buried Forgotten,” or “Suicidal Winds” in “Maniac”) should be of interest to those unfamiliar with the ugly beginnings of black metal — your errant juggalo nephew, perhaps. Just don’t mention Cold Lake.

04. Galas, Diamanda – Guilty Guilty Guilty
I can think of no other solo performer who induces such a dark fugue state, inspires such aural terror, and yet is one of the most irrefutable forces of consolation in this world. Guilty captures several of Galas’s live renditions of blues lamentations, crows of the condemned and damned. The production sounds more immediate and upfront than many of Galas’s previous live recordings. We can expect a new Diamanda release, You’re My Thrill, later in 2009.

05. Brighter Death Now - Necrose Evangelicum
Owwwwwwwwwwww. Noise necro ambient hell, and mean as a fucking crow. Re-release of this 1995 abortion with a bonus disc containing 'Unlive in Finland 1996.' Lone sound artist Roger Karmanik also happens to be the founder of the Cold Meat Industry label, which should give you some indication of how subterranean these soundscapes are. If LRADs were legal for civilians to use, I’m sure this gentleman would add them to his live arsenal. The super-wincing track “Red Red Rain” is one of the most painful ordeals available to humankind. I dare ya, I double dare ya, motherfucker.

06. Kreator - At the Pulse of Kapitulation: Live in East Berlin, 1990
German thrash. Beer. 1990 East Berlin, the wall had just come down. Metallica hadn’t shit on their legacy with The Black Album” yet. Hearken back to a thrashier time, when extreme aggression was less relative than it is today. I could watch this live set for a year.

Matthew Ryno's top almost 25 of 2008

01. Opeth - Watershed
02. Amon Amarth - Twilight of the Thunder Gods
03. Jeff Loomis - Zero Order Phase
04.East of the Wall - Farmers Almanac
05. Trivium - Shogun
06. Sword, The - Gods of the Earth
07. Unearth - The March
08. All that Remains - Overcome
09. Soulfly - Conquer
10. In Flames - A Sense of Purpose
11. Bleeding Through - Declaration
12. Arsis - We are the Nightmare
13. Korpiklaani - Korven Kuningas
14. Russian Circles - Station
15. AC/DC - Black Ice
16. Firewind - The Premonition
17. Kalmah - For the Revolution
18. Disturbed - Indestructible
19. Moonspell - Night Eternal
20. Testament - The Evil has Landed
21. Slipknot - All Hope Is Gone
22. Ihsahn - Angl
23. Eluveitie - Slania
24. Haunted, The - Versus

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interview by: Roberto Martinelli

In terms of his presence on the world scene, drummer George Kolliasí rise is something of a rags to riches story. Consider that he joined Nile in 2004, and hadnít witnessed a death metal drummer play live until the band he was in played support for Nile in 2003. Between that time, he met one of his idols, Derek Roddy, and has propelled his career to a height commensurate with other front-runners in the style, like Tony Laureano, Flo Mounier, John Longstreth, and Roddy himself.

Indeed, Kolliasí introduction to the world death metal scene seemed to come out of nowhere. But heís risen to the occasion, something you can hear on the records heís released, the shows he plays, the videos featuring him on YouTube, and now, on his instructional DVD, Intense Metal Drumming. We met up with Kollias during a Nile Ithyphallic US tour in 2008 to talk about his playing, and attitudes and preferences about how metal drums should be approached.

Maelstrom: Youíve now done two albums with Nile. Can you talk about any difference in approach to recording?

George Kollias (above): I was really stressed on the first record. I thought things would be different, or rather, like recording in the studios in my own country, and I had done 35-40 in various projects before recording with Nile. It was a great experience, anyway.

Maelstrom: I didnít realize it was so many. You donít mention them on your discography.

George Kollias: I feel that most of them donít represent me. I did them as a session member, or I was hired... not that I got paid.

I thought maybe I wouldnít have enough experience for Annihilation of the Wicked, but I completed my parts in three days. It went fast, even though we would not do more than three songs a day, even if I was in the mood to do more.

The second album was not so stressful. We had been together more than three years together, so it all went fast. It took about a day to write each song. We did take more time in the studio. We spent much attention to drum sounds with our producer, Neil Kernon, who did a great job. I used my Gabriel drums, which sound wonderful on the album. We were more careful than on Annihilation, and I believe we did good.

Maelstrom: From In Their Darkened Shrines, to the first album you appear on, Annihilation of the Wicked, Nile got a lot cleaner sounding. And then it got a lot cleaner on Ithyphallic. This is mostly in the guitars, but your drums do sound more sonically focused and... sampled. What process resulted in these drum sounds?

George Kollias: On Annihilation, we used a very cheap drum set, a Pearl Export. But it sounded good. We had a very nice snare, a Ludwig Black Beauty. But in the final mix, we thought the drums were too low. People complained.

Maelstrom: You think the drums are too low? Really? I think you can hear everything.

George Kollias: mmm... The toms and the snare donít have the energy I wanted. Thatís why we spent so much more time on the sounds for Ithyphallic. The sound engineer spent more than seven hours tuning the drums. And of course, the drum set is much higher quality.

But the drum sounds on the album are all natural. Except the kick drums. I used my Alesis D4 for samples (not for triggering. The D4 is ok for live, but itís not professional enough for studio use), and also miked the kicks, and replaced the waves with samples from the D4. But not in a shitty way. Nile is not one of these bands that fixes drums in the studio. Never. Same with replacing ó we donít do that, except for kicks.

We made sure to have more attack on the drums in the slow songs. As you know, Nile has really fast stuff, but we have really slow stuff, also. I try to play heavy and loud during those sections. For example, you cannot play Metallica songs if you do not hit the drums, to get this energy.

But miking the drums was simple. We used Shure SM57s for both snares, AKG D112's for the kick drums (although I prefer the Shure Beta 52s ó you get more attack. The D112's have more of a boomy sound, but with the samples, it came out great), Sennheiser Evolution 604s for the toms. We used five overhead mics, which is odd for me, but itís a Neil Kernon thing, and heís the best.

Maelstrom: Who mixed Annihilation?

George Kollias: Kernon did. I like the sounds on both albums, itís just Annihilationís final mix Iím not into.

By the way, there was no mic for the bottom of the snare.

Maelstrom: Why not?

George Kollias: He doesnít like it. I donít like it, either. I prefer having the attack of the snare only (from the top mic). The bottom [rattle of the snare wires] comes through enough in the kick drum mics. I also record in my practice studio in Greece. I have the same set up, with everything miked. I record into a Firewire mixer with 24 channels.

Itís been funny to notice that everyone in the States uses a mic on the snare bottom; but people from Europe donít... and Neil Kernon is from England.

Maelstrom: Did you use his studio?

George Kollias: No, we recorded at the Sound Lab studios in South Carolina. Neil Kernon lives in Chicago, but he travels for jobs.

Maelstrom: What was the drum room like?

George Kollias: Sound Labís drum room used to be very, very small. To be honest, I donít think that room could fit my kit. So on the first day of recording Annihilation, Neil got us a bigger room. It was much better. The drums could be more alive. I remember the side walls had cork on them.

Maelstrom: Do you understand my surprise that you say the drums on Ithyphallic are not sampled? I mean, it sounds impossibly clear and distinct. How did he do that?

George Kollias: I wish I knew. Iíd do the same on my own recordings at home. Itís some sort of Neil Kernon trick. I saw him work some of it, but I can tell you that thereís nothing special. Like I said, itís the same drums as I have at home. I donít know if I told you about my DVD, but I record the songs from Nile in my own studio to show how I did them. I used my cheap Firewire mixer, and even cheaper overhead mics, and you will be surprised how close my mix of the Ithyphallic songs are to the studio mix.

Live, everybody talks about the drum sound. Everybody. They say itís so clean. Of course, this has to do with the drummer, but the drums I play are amazing.

Maelstrom: Letís talk about your set up, and why it is that way. You play 22" kick drums. Most every kick drum on todayís market is 22"x18". Thatís almost the default. But if youíre going for speed (and youíre using samples on top of that) why not use 20"s, or 18"s? You could also get your toms lower! Also, all death metal drummers sample their kicks, yes? And the samples they use sound like they are coming from a smaller drum, that has more attack. So why not use a smaller drum in the first place?

George Kollias: Yeah, yeah. Youíre 100% right. But I believe Iím kind of dumb. I come from the old school of drummers like Igor Cavalera, Dave Lombardo, and Paul Bostaph ó one of my favorites. 22" kick drums sound so much more powerful. Also, I like the space inside them. I donít use any muffling. I love the natural sound. Other than the sound, I like the set up that way. I know itís easier to play on 20"s or 18"s... but the thing with me is that Iím not into todayís death metal drummers. That doesnít mean I donít like newer drummers, but I donít follow the newer practices and mentality. I see death metal drummers that only do blast beats and fast double bass. And if thatís all you can do, youíre not a drummer! I see drummers getting stuck on that. I say, "guys, you need to open your mind a little bit." If you have an e-kit or 18" kicks, you can blast, no sweat. And I donít support this; I prefer real drummers. And Derek Roddy is a great example.

Newer death metal drummers have a really low set up. Sure, you can move around the set much faster, but I think it loses some of the energy.

Maelstrom: How so?

George Kollias: I see shortcuts like two-foot blasts, and [gravity] blasts... I never do two-foot blasts, unless itís a bomb blast. Blasts are with one foot. Thatís how I learned it.

Maelstrom: Whom did you learn that from?

George Kollias: Pete Sandoval. Living in Greece, it was hard to see what these guys were doing. I first saw a death metal drummer play live when a band I was in played support for Nile, in 2003. Before that, I had been coming from an older school, like Paul Bostpahís. I understood how they hit, and how much energy they put into that. I didnít kow the finger techniques or about the low set ups, or about the weird settings on the pedals so the beaters were closer to the head.

Maelstrom: I canít understand how you can get a full hit in on all of your blast beats.

George Kollias: Itís how I learned. Itís the same thing with the sticks. Some people play with their sticks very close to the drum. Others, like Derek Roddy, use the upstroke a lot in their playing. Itís the same thing in my foot work. I swing the pedal a lot. I donít use my ankles.

Maelstrom: I have noticed you swing your ankle side to side.

George Kollias: I first started doing that when I read in "Modern Drummer" that Derek Roddy does that.

Maelstrom: Years ago, I started doing that unconsciously, but I think it started to hurt my ankle. I took a few lessons from Paul Bostaph, and he told me to stop doing that. Then again, it might have been the shoes I wore at the time... they cut into my Achilles.

George Kollias: I have a story for you. In 2005, on tour, I first met Paul Bostaph. He had noticed my swivel thing, and asked about it. On our second show, he used it! And he came to me and said, "man! It fucking works! Itís awesome!"

Maelstrom: Do you use gravity blasts?

George Kollias: I donít. I do use single-hand rolls, but I donít like the gravity blasts. I hate the way it sounds.

Maelstrom: When I heard Nile had a new drummer, and he was from the Greek band Nightfall, it seemed strange. I mean, Nightfall are nothing like Nile, yeah?

George Kollias: Nothing at all.

Maelstrom: But they chose you. And you can play Nileís stuff!

George Kollias: When Nightfallís first album came out, I was a big fan. They used to have blast beats. The drummer was very good, probably one of the three great drummers Greece produced. He was a one-footer. He quit the band pretty early, like in 1997. I remember when I moved to Athens, and they offered me the job, I was like "ok. You guys donít play the way you used to, but Iím still a fan." It was a good experience. We played Wacken and did some short tours, like to Cyprus.

My drumming started getting noticed with Sickening Horror, the brutal, technical, jazzy death metal band I was in. Derek Roddy noticed. I gave him one of the CDs, and he started talking about it on the forum on his site. He told me I should make a video, and come to the States to play. I was like, "whatever." But for Sickening Horrorís following show, I thought to record myself playing. Derek forced me to post it, and I did. And here we are.

I was 12 when I started playing drums. The first 9 years, I played by myself. I remember the first three years, I tried to get some videos, or something. But all I could really get was some Whitesnake videos. Iíd watch bands like Guns n Roses, and try to learn. Like, the skank beat ó is it quarter notes on the ride cymbal? Is it eighth notes? I knew nothing. Nothing.

But! I was lucky. I trained my ears so I could hear everything. I have tapes from Ď91 of me playing "Angel of Death" and "War Ensemble" perfectly at 13. I worked really hard, mostly on furniture, because I couldnít play my drum kit. So when I finally started practicing at rental studios, I was so excited at the energy there, being able to release all my passions on a real drum kit.

I got into music more and more. Iíve played guitar for 20 years. I used to write songs for my first band, and also do vocals live. Until Ď99, I did everything by myself. Then, I took some lessons from a jazz drummer in Greece. Thatís when I made a big step. Whatever is about death metal, I learned by myself. No one showed me.

I also trained my eyes. So when I saw Derek Roddy live for the first time in 2004, I was like a hard disk, copying everything. I watched the motions, and how high he sat. I figured out that if I sat high, I could move my ankles faster. I figured this all out, and found that thereís one way to do it.

Maelstrom: What do you mean?

George Kollias: If you want to play 16th notes at 260bpm like other drummers who do that, watch them. They all do the same thing. Ok, you can sit a little higher or lower, or swivel more or less, but itís 95% close. Itís like if you want to have a good blast beat ó you need to use the upstroke. You need to lock the roll between your kick drum and snare.

For the gravity blast, I first learned it from my teacher as a single-hand roll. Then I learned that some death metal drummers were using it. I started by playing some five- or seven-stroke rolls with one hand, like downstroke, upstroke, downstroke, upstroke, downstroke. Pause. Repeat, but start with the upstroke, so itís the opposite. You can use this technique in your music in a lot of ways, and in a lot more musical way than with the gravity blast. For example, look at Johnny Rabb. He took something and created a whole new concept that nobody else can do.

Maelstrom: How much would you say you need to be in shape to do what you do? It doesnít seem like you move all that much. After one day of recording, are you burnt out? How about at the end of a show?

George Kollias: Thereís a lot more energy put out at shows. You see the crowd, and you give everything youíve got. If you die after one day in the studio, donít even bother to go out on the road. Or, if you go on the road, youíll find that if you go into the studio, itís easier and youíre better.

I try to have my body in a good harmony. For example, on fills, I make sure Iím in, and then Iím out. For me, itís one motion. Also, about the swivel again: I do it not really for speed, but it helps me with my balance. Youíll see drummers like Tim Yeung, Pete Sandoval use it. Even Thomas Lang has some, and Virgil Donati.

 

 

 

interview by: Pal Meentzen

In this interview, marking the occasion of Pro-Pain's 12th studio album, No End in Sight, bassist/vocalist Gary Meskil reveals several things regarding the new record, and Meskilís current --- and rather bleak --- views on post-Bush America.

Maelstrom: Hello, congratulations with your 12th album. Apostle number 12! Has Pro-Pain come full circle now?

Gary Meskil: First off, thanks! OK, with regard to question # 1: I believe that Pro-Pain is ever evolving as a band and as individuals, and that we also have come "full circle" in certain aspects of what we do, which I think is quite natural considering our longevity and the nature of the music business. I've read many times that No End in Sight is most reminiscent of Foul Taste of Freedom. I think that there are certain retro elements to No End in Sight that take the listener back to the earliest days of Pro-Pain, but then again, No End in Sight takes the band to many previously untapped musical influences. So, it's an homage to the old and the new. To me, it's as much of a 180 as it is a 360.

Maelstrom: At the time of writing, your new president has been inaugurated. The band has been inspired a lot by George W. Bush, and not in a happy way. Your hatred for this man seemed to be the fuel for several Pro-Pain albums in this decade, correct?

Gary Meskil: We have always been very critical not only of George W Bush, but of government in general (particularly Western government) and the entire political process from the bottom up. To say that Pro-Pain is simply a Bush-hating band is, for my taste, too much of a generalization and misses the bigger picture. Yes, GWB has done some very bad things, in my opinion, but so have MANY of his predecessors (Bill Clinton, Bush 41, Reagan, etc...) and many of his colleagues and adversaries around the world. The moment people begin to wake up and see the bigger picture is the moment that REAL CHANGE can finally take place. My advice to all is to study history, follow the money, and some truths will begin to emerge.

Maelstrom: Many Europeans still find it hard to understand why the majority of Americans stood behind the re-election of Bush back in 2004. What is your view on this? Didnít people see that it takes a tyrant to remove one (Saddam Hussein)?

Gary Meskil: Well, forgive me, but in my opinion the question is a bit flawed because it assumes that our elections are fair and honest, when the facts on the ground tell me otherwise. Josef Stalin once said: "It's not the people who vote that count. It's the people who count the votes." It is no coincidence that Jeb Bush was the Florida Governor in charge of the 2000 recount. which ended in a presidential victory for his brother "W." FYI... Jeb's personal adviser on the recount was Judge John G Roberts, who would later be nominated to the US Supreme Court by GWB. As for 2004, there is much evidence of voter fraud... much of which is complied by voter fraud expert Bev Harris at http://www.Blackboxvoting.org.

Regardless of how divided America really is, as long as the press and media can give the "appearance" of a polarized populace via polling and other bullshit mumbo jumbo... then some minor tweaking of the election process in certain so called "swing states" can be the deciding factor. The vast majority of the public eats bullshit for breakfast, lunch, and dinner. They seem to enjoy it.

Maelstrom: The music of Pro-Pain has always been full of anger about injustice. On a more positive note, itís also a sountrack to the slogan "strength & pride," as expressed in classic songs like "Stand Tall" and "Shine." How do you think these terms fit in a nation that may have more need for terms like "reflection and humility"? Itís good to stand tall, but... where do we stand? Itís good to be proud, but whatís there to be proud of? Your thoughts, please.

Gary Meskil: Reflection and humility are very important. To possess the ability to reflect with humility is part of what separates good people from tyrants. Unfortunately, most world leaders lack those key traits. Songs like "Stand Tall," "Pride," "Shine," and even "Make War, Not Love" (which is lyrically personal and not political) all have to do with positivity in that "we shall overcome" all obstacles.

We have traveled the world over many times and we have developed a tremendous faith in humanity as a result. We believe that people are generally good and kind regardless of ethnicity, religion, socio-economic background, etc...

What Pro-Pain means to us is "strength through struggle," and we generally write songs about the plight of the common man. Yeah, we talk about some very negative, reality-based subject matter, but what is also reflected in our lyrics is that there is strength in numbers and we do have the ability to change things if we can collectively wake from our slumber and unite for the greater good. Activism and music are a worthy combination (a la the '60s), and we are the new hippies.

Maelstrom: Do you believe that with Obama as president, the US will recover from its present deplorable state? Or will people expect him to turn water into wine, expect him to archieve things that canít be done?

Gary Meskil: In my opinion (no matter how unpopular), Obama just might be the biggest bullshit artist the world has ever seen. Had he worked for Ford or Chrysler, he would have been "salesman of the century" for sure. He has a questionable voting record that is full of contradictions, he has very little experience in worldly affairs, and yet his financiers and handlers have propped him up like a puppet to convince the world the he is "the one," when in reality he is bought and paid for just like the rest. He is "one of many."

Already, he has backed out of his promise to withdraw our troops from Iraq, he is pushing for an additional 30,000 troops in Afghanistan as we speak, and he is trying to ram a pork-filled $825 billion stimulus package down our throats, which just might finish off what's left of our phony economy. So, I don't expect anything good from Obama... but I really hope that I'm wrong!!

As for expecting things from our leadership that "cannot be done": I believe that everything is very achievable and within reach if the have the proper leadership, but if we continue to play charades and think that real change will come as a result, then we are grossly mistaken. We had some very fine and capable candidates to choose from over the past year: Ron Paul, Dennis Kucinish (sic), Cynthia Mckinney, Mike Gravel, and Ralph Nader to name a few. However, the controlled corporate media sold the public on their hand-picked candidates by mocking and degrading America's "real change" candidates.

Remember: Insanity, by definition, is the act of repeating the same thing over and over and expecting a different result each time. Hence, we are insane by definition (hehe).

Maelstrom: Do you think itís a coincidence that, of all possible times, America has chosen for something revolutionary as electing an African-American president? Do you think that they should have chosen a patriotic war hero like McCain instead, or do you think that Obama is the right man in the right time?

Gary Meskil: What I find to be troubling is that the whole world has been sold on the notion that America has now undergone revolutionary change via our last presidential election, even though there is no evidence to support that notion other than sheer rhetoric, good salesmanship, and a complacent "lap dog" media. Idealistically speaking, anytime is a great time to have an African-American as president of the United States. African-Americans have been treated anything but fairly in America over the years, and it's about time that they are represented properly. So, America is obviously desperate for real change, but again, I think that Obama will ultimately disappoint even his strongest supporters... and with a little research, I'm sure that the vast majority would painfully agree with what I'm saying. As for McCain: The term "patriotic war hero" is certainly up for debate. We'll leave that one for "Joe the Plumber." Disclosure: I did not vote for Obama or McCain.

Maelstrom: Have the long-time members of Pro-Pain developed a different stance towards how a society should work and how it should not? Have your views on crime and punishment changed over the course of the past 15 years? Have you become milder?

Gary Meskil: Yes, and we like to call them "ex-members of Pro-Pain"... haha!! Joking aside, I think that all of our band members certainly have their own political views, but that we can't help but be influenced by one another from time to time. I always appreciate and encourage individuality and free thinking and consider my opinions to be nothing more than opinions themselves and of nothing more in value than the views of anyone else.

Maelstrom: Freedom is an important theme in the music of Pro-Pain. But with freedom naturally comes responsibility, something that not everyone can handle properly. Are there in your view kinds of freedom that are more a curse than a blessing? Is freedom to you a term that has a fixed meaning?

Gary Meskil: Freedom to me is an idea, a concept, a condition. I think that everyone has their own definition of freedom, although some are a bit more Utopian than others, of course. I believe that our founding fathers perhaps created the finest blend of ingredients (freedom and governance) that the world has ever seen. Everyone the world over loved the taste so much that they wished to duplicate the original recipe, but unfortunately the chefs have changed over time and so has the recipe. What we have now is a "foul taste of freedom" (sorry, I couldn't help myself). Yes, everything has its limitations, including freedom. The question is, how much?? In my opinion, the more we let government expand and interfere with our lives, the less free we are. The more control you have over your own life, the more free you are. We are not free.

Maelstrom: Okay, we now have discussed a few things regarding politics and society. Now Iíd like to ask a few things about the album content. What I noticed when reading the lyrics was that a significant number of songs have references to religion. It already begins with the title track, "No End in Sight."

What end is being hinted at? And in two songs, there is mention of "the day." Have you been reading the book of Revelations for inspiration?

Gary Meskil: In my opinion, to be lyrically effective and informative in the political sense, it is important not to be ignorant when it comes to the subject of religion. The way I see it, politics and religion go hand in hand and there doesn't appear to be any resemblance of a "wall of separation" between the two, as Thomas Jefferson had intended. The title "No End in Sight" can be interpreted a few different ways, and we have been known to use such "double-edged swords" in the past when it comes to our song and album titles.

By leaving something open to interpretation, it encourages people to use their own minds and to find meaning in something by applying their own socio-political leanings, biases, etc... So, it's interesting for me as an artist to see what conclusons people draw from our work.

Speaking for myself, No End in Sight has more to do with "end times" philosophy than any of the other possible interpretations of the title. Hence the "X" through the "No." I find the correlation between world events and scripture to be completely fucking astounding. Many believe that we are living in the End of Times, and that world history proves they are right. On the other hand, there are those who believe that scripture is being manipulated and "mimicked" via orchestrated events for the purpose of world domination by a select few. I'll stop there.

Maelstrom: People have always been prophecying doomsday events, be it natural, unnatural or supernatural. Some people even believe that the Apocalypse is not a sudden event, but a gradual process. Thereí s even people who live in such misery and bad living conditions that they have their own private Apocalypse. Do you believe in the notion of Sin, Judgement Day and the Apocalypse?

Gary Meskil: All these things have to do with the afterlife, and unfortunately I don't know anyone who holds the keys. I do think it's beneficial to have a personal belief system that is based in faith, love, and hope. Faith guides the spirit, love spawns compassion, and hope is where dreams are realized. All good things. So, spirituality can be very positive. However, I don't like people who push mythology as fact on others. Regarding sin, judgment day, and the Apocalypse, let's just say that I believe in accountability as a matter of principle.

Maelstrom: The artwork for the album seems to tell a story. Everything is reflected in the eye of someone. That person is in a room, and looking up to a window above. In the eye is a reflection of a pattern seemingly based on the US flag and the shape of a coffin. Then thereís more patterns outside the eye. Left we see random carved lines on a hard surface, and right a pattern with diagonal lines that could be anything. A microchip, wallpaper decoration, or a detail from a suit. In what sense does the artwork reflect the albumís contents?

Gary Meskil: Hey! That's a great interpretation, and it also helps prove my point with regard to question # 1. I think the beauty of the cover lies in the abstract. The thing that I most appreciate about abstract art is that there is so much room for interpretation, unlike realism. To me, the eye represents the "all seeing eye," aka "evil eye," or "eye of Horus". The triangle that surrounds it is in my opinion symbolic as well. There are certain etched patterns that can easily be interpreted as stars and stripes as well. Like cloud formations, if you open up your mind, you can see what you want to see.

Maelstrom: It seems that every new Pro-Pain album features a few spots for guest vocalists and musicians. I was really surprised about seeing the name of Rob Barrett, the guitarist of Cannibal Corpse. How did this contact come about?

Gary Meskil: Yeah, Pro-Pain and Cannibal Corpse are a strange combination for most. However, like all other past "guests" of ours, Rob Barrett's appearance stemmed from a long standing friendship. We've known Rob for quite a few years, and he lives approx. 1 hour north of here, so the logistics were very easy to work out. Rob is a great guy, he shreds on guitar, and "Phoenix Rising" was the perfect song for him to "shred" on.

Maelstrom: Many Cannibal Corpse fans also know about Six Feet Under. Do you know them? Because like Pro-Pain, Six Feet Under are a band thatís very groove-orientated (way more than Cannibal Corpse). Might it not have made more sense to have invited their guitarist Steve Swanson?

Gary Meskil: We have played some open air festivals with Six Feet Under in the past, and you are correct in that musically speaking they are a bit closer to Pro-Pain than Cannibal Corpse. However, we don't know Six Feet Under that well personally, and our guests appear more out of friendship than anything else.

Maelstrom: Can you tell something about Stephan Weidner and Rupert Keplinger? How did they get to work with Pro-Pain?

Gary Meskil: Brother Stephan has been a close friend of Pro-Pain for well over 10 years now. We consider him to be part of the Pro-Pain family. As for Rupert, we met him in Frankfurt during the recording of Stephan's debut, solo album, Schneller Hoher Weidner. Rupert is the lead guitarist for the "W" band and recorded most of the guitars on said album. Brother Rupert is a tremendous talent, and he also has his own band, called Ubergas.

Maelstrom: I see you have your son, Gary, Jr., appearing on the song "Hour of the Time." How old is he? Does he want to pursue a career in music?

Gary Meskil: Gary, Jr. is 13 years old. He sang some background vocals with Stephan and I on "Hour of the Time." It was such a big thrill for Gary, Jr., and it was equally as big a thrill for us to include him on the album!! Gary, Jr. is also a drummer, and he has his own metal band. They play mostly Metallica and AC/DC covers. It's just a fun hobby for him at the moment.

Maelstrom: The song "Where We Stand" re-appears as a bonus re-mix on the album. To me it seems like a reprise of a key song. Would that be right? Is it a key song that you all feel is essential for the album, or was it included just for the hell of it?

Gary Meskil: It's safe to say that "Where We Stand" is one of our favorites. We feel that the song really encapsulated Pro-Pain in 2008, and it speaks well for the variety of music and lyrics that are offered on No End in Sight. My nephew Corey Meskil sang the background vocals on the re-mix, and we felt that his voice added a nice texture to the chorus. We were ultimately torn between which version to use on the album, so we figured that we would include both of them. A win / win scenario.

Maelstrom: The song "Go It Alone" comes across like a farewell song, Iím sure this question will be asked lots more. On the other hand, the lyrics might just as well be addressed to all the musicians who have been in Pro-Pain, not nescessarily to your audience. I also wonder why you didnít choose this song as the album closer.

Gary Meskil: In many respects, Pro-Pain have indeed "gone it alone" every step of the way. However, we couldn't have achieved our goals without a strong fan base and good support from a select few industry people (they know who they are). Sometimes it's nice to reflect and give thanks to those who've helped us along the way. It's important that we communicate to them how thankful we are and that their support is never taken for granted. We don't know how long this will last, but it's vital to us that we say what's on our minds and in our hearts while we still have the opportunity.

Maelstrom: At some point (the first part) you said: "The moment people begin to wake up and see the bigger picture is the moment that REAL CHANGE can finally take place." Can you tell a bit more about how you envision this "bigger picture" and "real change"? I mean, youíre surely not saying that everybody should stop voting and shun politics? If people would stop voting then that would be the end of democracy and thus reduce society to an unfair "dog eat dog" arena where people wouldnít give a damn for anything and anyone else but their own territory and well-being.

Gary Meskil: Yes, I can tell you about my vision for "Real Change": In my opinion, Real Change (for the better) will not take place during an Obama administration. Thus far, he has backed out on every single campaign promise and has already spent more tax payer money than many of our past presidents combined. If one looks into his appointees, they will see that he appears to be nothing more than Wall Streets # 1 lapdog. Upon his election, he had the world at his feet and everyone was on his side. He has already blown public confidence as he and Tim Geithner and others continue to fuck the entire world in the ass. Now, my vision: No more politics as usual. No special interest money allowed, no lobbyists allowed, only paper voting ballots accepted, media cannot influence election outcome via talking heads and spin, no media polling (very dirty), abolish Federal Reserve in favor of a new American controlled sound monetary system, give incentives to companies who manufacture goods 100% in the USA, restore The Constitution and Bill of Rights to the letter of the law, shrink the size of government, etc.... In other words, shift the balance of power from Wall St. (and the banking cartel) to Main St. where it belongs.

Thus far, Wall St. is killing Main St. As for my take on voting and democracy, I think that we desperately need people to participate more in the political process, but that voters need to educate themselves much more as to the choice of candidates. If the majority of voters are blindly influenced by media bias and in some cases cheated of their vote via Diebold and the likes, then it doesnít matter what percentage of the population goes to the polls. We need educated voters. Most American families traditionally vote either Democratic or Republican and are convinced that both parties staunchly oppose one another. In my eyes, nothing could be further from the truth... and in my opinion, what we have here is a one-party system in which we are given the illusion of choice... or good theater, if you will. Regarding Democracy: Democracy = Mob Rules. We live in a Republic. Letís keep it that way!!

Maelstrom: Although No End in Sight certainly has its strong moments, I also very much liked the dark and aggressive mood of Age of Tyranny. It had moments reminiscent of Slayer. Many songs on No End in Sight may have a dark lyrical content, but the feel of the music is much more lucid this time.

I have been listening frequently to both albums, and I wonder in what sense you find No End in Sight is a progression from Age of Tyranny (instead of being a wink of appreciation for Foul Taste of Freedom). Do you agree there is a significant difference in mood on both albums?

Gary Meskil: Yes, I agree that the mood change is significant... but significant by design. Age of Tyranny was a huge dose of lyrical and musical adrenaline, whereas No End in Sight complements it via its contrast by being a more melodic and, dare I say, a more commercial album. Personally, I felt that in order to ensure the bands longevity, we needed to write something a bit unexpected and different. For example, soon after digesting a nice steak you may not feel like eating another equally delicious steak right away, so instead you opt for dessert or a nice cordial. A few days later, your urge for a nice steak may return. Disclosure: I also like to cook (hehe).

Maelstrom: At some point, you said that "activism and music are a worthy combination," and you are happy with that for good reason. What other kinds of activism do you believe in? Is album opener "Let the Blood Run Through the Streets" about having violent feelings of protest in a workers union context? What inspired you to write those lyrics?

Gary Meskil: I believe in activism, but not vigilantism. There are many causes that are worthy of participation, depending on oneís socio-political beliefs and leanings. Our best weapon = an educated public. Violence and war = not the answer and never has been Our lyrics should be looked at as socio-political barometric time capsules from a middle class point of view. I think we capture a lot of public sentiment, and thatís why weíre still here. In some cases, we point out hidden facts, and in many cases we ponder the hypothetical. In the end, we are artists, not politicians. We write about things that light our fire and that we are personally passionate about. Itís a creative outlet for us, and our own form of activism. However, we donít seek to influence a single sole (sic).

Maelstrom: About your view on the album design ó "To me, the eye represents the Ďall-seeing eye,í aka Ďevil eyeí or Ďeye of Horusí": What do you think of the music of Nile? I have a hunch that you may quite like their chaotic tech-death tornado songs about the mystic world of the ancient Egyptians. A good guess?

Gary Meskil: Yeah, I do like Nile! To me, they have always been ahead of their time. The thinking manís death metal. I like that!!

Maelstrom: Pro-Pain has released two "best of" albums so far, and in 2001, also a live album. But what would you think of a live DVD and rarities box set, for instance, something like what Cannibal Corpse did with their 15 Years of Killing Spree retrospective? I saw you play just a stoneís throw from where I live (the Kelder club in Amersfoort, Netherlands) in 2007 and that show was filmed

Gary Meskil: I would love to eventually make another DVD. The last one, Raw Video, was pretty bare knuckles, and although I felt the performance was good, the camera work was amateur. So, I would like to produce a hi-quality DVD someday for the fans!! Maybe Amersfoort, who knows??

Maelstrom: Not on this album, but hopefully all over your first album for the next decade will be the bandís new asset: new drummer Rick Halverson. But wait! This must be your 6th drummer after 12 albums! Just whatís the problem with Pro-Pain and drummers? Doesnít he feel uncomfortable about making his future Pro-Pain debut on album #13?

Gary Meskil: Yes, occasionally we march to the beat of a different drummer (pun intended). Fortunately we are not unique with regard to drummer and or line-up changes. Each change comes with its own story and set of circumstances that were sometimes unforeseen and usually "out of our control." The latest change was unfortunate, but I am happy to report that JC and Pro-Pain will share the stage once again in April, but in different bands, as he is currently playing drums for Stephan Weidner, aka Der-W.

Our new drummer (Rick Halverson) is a tremendous talent and a great asset to our band.  Mark my words, this is Pro-Pain's finest hour!!

Maelstrom: Okay, that was it. Well over 20 questions answered. I hope you enjoyed giving your comments. I could have asked you silly things like what music you listen to these days, what drinks you prefer, if you really like the music of Andrť HazesÖbut no. Iím looking forward to seeing Pro-Pain in April. I might ask you then.

Gary Meskil: Hey, we went this far... so I will gladly answer those for you as well. Other than the usual heavy stuff, I listen to Dwight Yoakam, Brooks & Dunn, Eagles, Sons of Hippies, Travis, Robbie Williams, Boston, Cat Stevens, etc... Drinks I prefer are: Australian Shiraz, California Cabernet, Gin/Tonic, Mojito, Westmalle Tripel, Jever, Vilmos. Oh, and I do like Andre Hazes very much (RIP). OK, thatís all for now. Hope to see you all on tour!!

Pro-Pain will be touring in Europe coming April, with tickets being already sold-out for several shows in Germany. In June they will be touring in the US.

For more info, and new online store please log onto http://www.pro-pain.com or visit us at http://www.myspace.com/propainspace 

 

 

 

 

 
7/10 Pal
 

CHRIST INVERSION - Christ Inversion - CD - Housecore Records - 2008

review by: Pal Meentzen

Christ Inversion is a reconfigured release of the bandís first demo, which originally came out in 1994 as Obey the Will of Hell. It has been re-released previously in 2004 as To Lord Lucifer My First Born. One may wonder why they bothered to continue re-releasing such old, obscure stuff from a band that never got signed. Perhaps because posthumous releases can be as good as any, as we will learn next.

Then, thereís the connection with Pantera. Christ Inversion was an fairly shortlived Satanic black metal experiment with Phil Anselmo on guitar. No less important was the role of co-founder Wayne Fabra, who was responsible for some incredibly harsh, distorted and obsessive belting.

Fabra and two other members shared a long history in a rather obscure and somewhat unproductive band called Graveyard Rodeo. Together with Phil Anselmo, Fabra started Christ Inversion in order to create some damn black and brutal mayhem that would make oneís neck hairs rise like corpses from their grave.

In 1995, Christ Inversion made another demo, 13th Century Luciferian Rites, which is also expected to see a re-release at some point in this year. According to Christ Inversionís MySpace page, Wayne Fabra is also working on a come-back effort. And it seems this band has been all but forgotten, although they existed for only about two and a half years.

The sound quality of this production is pretty rough around the edges, but itís a roughness that perfectly fits the grim mood. Another notable thing is that the music seems like a blend between the brutality of death metal and the evilness of black metal. Both the drumming and riffing style sometimes resemble that of Cannibal Corpse, at least in the faster, thrashy parts. In contrast to that, other segments are plodding about heavily like a golem from the Black Sabbath school of doom.

Instead of songs about the joys of recreation through decapitation, the lyrics stand firm in their misanthropy and Satanism, including a few in-between-song soundcuts, like from the almost inevitable movie classic "The Excorcist." For an extra sinister touch, some nice fairground spookhouse keyboards are thrown in as well.

This self-titled disc is just half an hour in length, but it leaves nothing short of an impression. In a time when black metal is getting more and more progressive, itís good to re-discover a bit of USBM from the time it was still breaking new ground. Judas Iscariot still had to release their classic The Cold Earth Slept Below, and other popular USBM bands like Krieg or Black Funeral were only just beginning. Powerful stuff. (7/10)

 

 

 

 
8/10 Mladen
 

BLOODSWORN - All Hyllest Til Satan - CD - Agonia Records - 2008

review by: Mladen äkot

Of course. Just as we started rushing towards the keyboard to unleash praise for ó finally ó a Norwegian black metal album not falling into the AOBM (that's "adult oriented black metal," and you've seen it here first) category, we noticed "recorded in studio Helvete in 1999." Right. It was too good to be true. But still, it is true, and its age won't keep us from unleashing praise.

All Hyllest Til Satan is a bloody massacre. That was the praise, and now the reasons: it's raw to the point of being mono, and if this is a 2007 remix, we shudder at the thought of what the original must have sounded like. It's almost constantly blasting, and the vocals are overdriven shouts / growls / nonsense... whatever gets the points across, and the points are as follows:

1. Frykt Djevelen, 2. All Hyllest Til Satan, 3. Stormens Roest, 4. Helvetesferd, 5. Satan Lord, 6. Destruction in the Name of Satan and 7. The Dawn of a New Millennium. You don't have to have three lessons in Norwegian like yours truly to understand this, and although you can't understand a thing, the 6th track begins with "This is fucking war!!!" Yes, dear. Smile, because things can only get worse, huh?

In all honesty, the riffs are fairly simple, but this doesn't keep them from being devastating. Scratch that, they just start devastating, and they get even more so towards the end. The drums do the same, and if all the chaos wasn't enough, there was a demented retard playing convoluted solos and melodies all over the place, and whenever possible, out of place. If you're using speakers, you'll be able to hear them, as well as everything else, but use headphones or turn up the volume and you're lost.

If All Hyllest Til Satan had a clean, modern production, it would probably still be equally apocalyptic. Since we don't get many albums of this kind nowadays, we count bad sound as a good thing ó this way we'll need more time to fully comprehend what the hell Bloodsworn were doing exacly. (8/10)

 

 

 

 
8.5/10 Mladen
 

CRADLE OF FILTH - Godspeed on the Devil's Thunder - CD - Roadrunner Records - 2008

review by: Mladen äkot

Say what you want, but life with a half-decent Cradle of Filth is better than life with a bad Cradle of Filth. It's been nearly 10 years since they released anything this writer would listen to more than five or six times, meanwhile cursing Dani Filth and thinking of the good old days when he was the man (no matter how short), Cradle of Filth were everyone's favorite vampires and basically everyone wanted to either sound like them or have sex with them playing in the background.

And let's not forget the lyrics ó yours truly learned half of his English by learning albums like Dusk and Her Embrace or Cruelty and the Beast by heart. But then... Dani declared himself to be "...out of rude puns, dammit," the new members didn't look or sound as cool as Gian, Nicholas or Damien (or even Lecter) and Cradle of Filth turned into a traveling circus attraction. The aura had gone. Until now.

Now, if you have never been a Cradle of Filth fan, you're not suddenly going to become one with Godspeed on the Devil's Thunder. So, why don't we make this a review for the fans, those who have been waiting and who had lost all hope after Nymphetamine or maybe the other one, whatever its name was. Hmmm... oh. Thornography, right. Probably. Was it? But, guess what happened now? This one is good ó really, really good. You'll listen to it five to six times, but that's just the first day! From the sound, the feeling, all the way to the lyrics: "Slitting their throats, pissing on graves. Jesus saves, but he's with Satan." Out of puns? Well, you wouldn't mind having this on your T-shirt. True?

There's more. Dani got his vocals back from wherever they were hiding. Gargling with blood again, hmmm? If we said that the screams might not be as sharp as on Cruelty, but definitely better than on Midian (or anything after it), it should be a clue. Some of those screams are just damn classic! The drumming is as aggressive as hell, and although it's not Nicholas Barker, Martin Skaroupka is just as good. You knew that Cradle of Filth isn't Cradle of Filth without a shaven-headed drummer with a goatee? Yes, he's REALLY that good.

Paul Allender is a guitar hero. The first riff might be strange, but when the black riff enters, "Shat out of Hell" surprises you like nothing Cradle of Filth have played in this century. Then, the macabre onslaught continues, and the incredibly busy Allender spits them out one after another. And each of them sounds good and makes you eagerly await the next one. You wouldn't believe there's just this one guitarist on Godspeed and the Devil's Thunder, but it's true.

To make things clear, Godspeed on the Devil's Thunder is NOT a comeback. But it's not "new" Cradle of Filth, either. Let's say that it is what the band should have done after Midian. It is improved in some directions, mostly the thrash influence (but it's not thrash metal), the symphonic parts and the consistency. So, maybe it's not about vampires or evil countesses bathing in blood, but there is a story behind it, and a damn good one. There's blood, there's the Devil, and there are mutilations. All by one man.

Finally, the throat-slitter, mutilator and the devil worshipper in question? None other but Gilles de Rais. With a certain degree of poetic license, Cradle of Filth tell us another story, detail after detail. Read the lyrics, you'll enjoy them. Without ruining too much of your fun, we can just say that this French nobleman's atrocities weren't much behind countess Bathory's, and the Feriluc guy from Damnation and a Day doesn't even come close.

There's just one objection: The artwork isn't all that awesome. The images are slightly too digital, but okay, they are fine. But you can see the band only on the back cover. Sure, they look way more evil than usual, but where are the poetic descriptions? Surely they could've come up with something better than "Screecher Comforts" or "Something Wicked This Way Drums." But ignore this small drawback and enjoy the rest. If you start walking and the riff from "Honey and Sulphur" suddenly appears in your head, consider yourself lucky. But if you start waking up with a tiny voice in your head singing "Where will you be, my darling? Where will you be when they light my pyre?" you're damned. (8.5/10)

 

Related reviews:
 
Live Bait for the Dead (issue No 10)  
Damnation and a Day (issue No 13)  

 

 

 
7/10 Pal
 

AGATHOCLES - Grind is Protest - CD - Displeased Records - 2008

review by: Pal Meentzen

Itís almost unbelievable how long Agathocles has been around, going back all the way to1985.

Theyíve released a shitload of singles, albums and what not over the past two decades, but thatís not to say that at this point they become overly professional or overproduced. No, sir, not at all.

Grind Is Protest is a highly abrasive monster of an album and it is full of protest songs, with topics ranging from local and global politics and anger against the world translated into lyrics that sometimes make sense, but are often hilarious in their "cutting corners" simplicity.

Besides that, thereís noise, of course, a whole lotta noise. Perhaps the best approximation would be to think of classic Napalm Death in the way they sounded in the times when Agathocles were forming, thus around the time of albums like Scum and From Enslavement to Obliteration. Think of those early gems of nihilism, but then in a more current day but ultimately rough production.

Of course, one shouldnít expect drums of the calibre of the godfather of blastbeats, Mick Harris, but consider the rhythm section as a tribute to where it all began with. Strange but effective is the fact that the snare-drum is off-snare throughout the whole album, giving the music some hollow acoustics that give a fuzzy, downtunes guitar depth to an otherwise two-dimensional, massive concrete wall with slogans splattered on like squashed insects.

The vocals sound like a growling Muppet Show impersonation of Lee Dorrian, and funnily enough Agathocles get away with it. Coupled with manic Gaia background vocals, everything adds up to a traditional recipe for old school mush. Everyone who thinks that current-day Napalm Death has become too professional should pick up Grind Is Protest. (7/10)

 

 

 

 
5.5/10 Mladen
 

ANDROMEDA - The Immunity Zone - CD - Nightmare Records - 2008

review by: Mladen äkot

Okay, let's make a progressive album. How do we do that? First, learn how to play our instruments really, really well. Jazz lessons mandatory. Palm-muted riffs are progressive, and a strange chord here and there adds to the credibility. Keyboards are a must-have, the more the better. We need a singer as well, so how about this guy? He sounds like singers in all the other progressive bands. And a drummer who has taken every lesson possible... all aboard!

Now, the song writing part. It would be best if, while writing, we're not all in the same room. Like, let's take this tempo, and this tonality, work on them at home, and when we return to the rehearsal room we'll just play our parts all at once and whatever we get is the music. This is how Dream Theater write "those" parts, is it not?

No, it is not. You can't be progressive and follow the rules at the same time. Progress: "gradual improvement or growth or development," "the act of moving forward toward a goal." See? It doesn't sound like it's telling you to stay in the same tempo for more than an hour and then just end the album. An occasional heavy "crushing" part doesn't help, and a few actually straightforward parts show that Andromeda can't really make an original straightforward part.

The biggest pain is trying to follow the singer, and realizing that, while he's singing, he actually STOPS on purpose and makes short breaks in order to make a point to not follow the rest of the band. And the rest of the band is following a metronome, sometimes even together. Progressive at all costs. Except it isn't really. Jazz freaks should appreciate this, and Andromeda probably deserves respect for making four albums, probably all equally complicated. But you should rather look for bands who have the guts to actually move forward. (5.5/10)

 

Related reviews:
 
Extension of the Wish (issue No 6)  
II=I (issue No 13)  

 

 

 
8.8/10 Mladen
 

BLOOD OF THE BLACK OWL - A Feral Spirit - CD - Bindrune Recordings - 2008

review by: Mladen äkot

A Feral Spirit isn't made for casual listening. What Blood of the Black Owl started on the eponymous 2006 debut, reached the full potential here. To appreciate it, you'll need darkness. Best time would be after midnight. Headphones are almost mandatory, unless your speakers are at least ten feet apart. And lay on something, but something hard, otherwise you'll have a feeling that the Earth is opening up to swallow you.

If you are already familiar with the debut, there shouldn't be many surprises. A Feral Spirit is lower than low, slower than slow, and as organic as possible. Press "play" and the environment instantly changes. The heavily distorted baritone guitar has an omnipotent sound, rough, warm, cold, hot, distant, close... in the end, the sound is adequate, just a means to an end, and the playing is what makes the difference. You really have to follow it to feel it. Slow it is, but the music (or "craft" as the mainman, Chet W. Scott refers to it) unravels itself in such a natural way that it feels like what it should: a journey. Of a nearly shamanic kind.

You can understand the ways of the Earth, you can smell the ashes flying through the sky and you can feel the clouds passing you by too close for comfort. And the dark hills are beckoning, calling you to come and discover. Although at 72 minutes, a very long CD, A Feral Spirit is a moment. The moment when everything starts to disintegrate, the point when your blood blends with the rock and soil, when Nature returns to its primeval state and everything collapses into itself, into one another, and ultimately into all.

How? You might not care about technical data, because between the mountainous chords and quiet moments of unease, the last thing you want to think about are crow and condor totem flutes, organ, wood and clay ocarinas, thunder gong, long horn, ritual goat hoof shaker or stag antler rattle. They are here, used with a purpose, and used with due respect.

The artwork deserves a special mention, as this time the elk skull / black owl antler bone totem makes the digipak art look almost three-dimensional... but still impenetrable. And look at the lyrics ó by all means, read them. You might begin to understand. Most people who couldn't walk properly without concrete under their feet won't be able to, but if you are not one of them, A Feral Spirit should feel like home. (8.8/10)

 

 

 

 
6/10 Brandon
 

ETERNAL FLIGHT - Under the Sign of Will - CD - Nightmare Records - 2008

review by: Brandon Strader

Eternal Flight is another talented band with an album tainted by subpar production. In a nutshell, their sound is like Iron Maiden with power metal style keyboards. They incorporate some more adventurous verses here and there, and nice, melodic choruses which are often accompanied by keyboard ensembles. The one thing that really detracts from the quality of Under the Sign of Will is the tone of pretty much every sound on the album, barring the keyboards, which naturally get a bit more leeway here.

The bass guitar, although audible, is really weak. If it had more lead-type structures written for it, then this wouldnít be such an issue, yet the style of playing really calls for a more powerfully present tone. The kick drum is also quite weak and sounds fake despite not having the volume or punch of the popular modern metal kick tones.

The guitar tone is pretty decent, yet when it is combined with the bass, percussion, and vocals, it sounds more separated from the music as a whole. Although the production is lacking, Eternal Flight have composed some really outstanding material. With a better producer behind the desk, this album really could have been so much more.

Vocalist Gerard Fois was also dealt a bad hand with his vocal production. It sounds like he is singing in a normal or quiet volume and trying to pull off a rougher tone. Itís something like what can be heard on Virgin Steeleís Visions of Eden, which actually had worse production.

If you can overlook the issues with the sound, Under the Sign of Will is worth checking out if youíre into heavy / power metal. After all, at a really loud volume, little flaws become less noticeable and music becomes so much more powerful. (6/10)

 

 

 

 
8.5/10 Brandon
 

INVISIGOTH - Narcotica - CD - Progrock Records - 2008

review by: Brandon Strader

Invisigoth's previous album, Alcoholocaust, suffered from a lack of flow and the diversity of the parts clashed. With follow-up album Narcotica, the parts are equally as diverse and inspired, yet the flow has been perfected.

Starting with the first two parts of the four-part "Dark Highway" (the highlight of the album), Invisigoth sets the mood with laid-back basslines and atmospheric keyboards, contrasted by massive vocal layer sections and plenty of Egyptian-style guitar leads. Part two is the strongest on the record as the gypsy section transforms into an "Ď80s pop vocal" section very strangely, yet the song is highly catchy in the beginning. All the songs evolve quite quickly in a seemingly short amount of time.

Besides the styles mentioned above, the music can delve into funky territory with wah pedals, heavy sections, and progressive parts with emotional vocal performances. The way that Invisigoth fuses different styles together is a unique experience. Without this band, you would probably have to be in attendance for a middle-eastern military marching band to hear some of this stuff.

Invisigoth's musical and compositional skills have really improved since their last album, making Narcotica a stellar outing. The later songs before the final two pieces of "Dark Highway" are a bit more vacant with plenty of guitar solos, atmospheric keyboards, and plenty of effects on the instruments and vocals. (8.5/10)

 

 

 

 
7/10 Roberto
 

DARK FUNERAL - Attera Orbis Terrarum Part II - DVD - Regain Records - 2008

review by: Roberto Martinelli

Is there a market for two Dark Funeral DVDs from the same era, both featuring just about the same set list, and both featuring two disksí worth of material? Regain seems to think so.

Compared to Part I of this series, Attera Orbis Terrarum, Part II is superior. The show in Buenos Aires destroys the primary footage from the first DVD, which was shot at that club in Poland where so many bandsí official live DVDs go to die horrible, sterile, overproduced deaths.

The Buenos Aires set sounds great, but it feels much more like a proper show. The camera work is pretty good, too, although you donít get enough shots of the drummer. If you like Dark Funeral, youíll be into it. Even if you find Dark Funeral to be a band whose Satanic image is as phony a schtick as the bandís rubber, pentagram-emblazoned armor, and that their music goes hand-in-hand with that, youíll still think itís a good live DVD.

With that said, itís the same set as on Part I, down to the singerís announcing how itís because of people like the audience that heís been doing what he does for 20 years. Checking the set list for DVD #2 of Attera Orbis Terrarum Part II (shot in Sao Paulo), and seeing that aside from "The Secrets of the Black Arts" being played ninth instead of tenth, and how the Sao Paolo set features one extra song, itís the exact same set, you can probably safely bet that all the motions gone through will be identical, as well. And you might also wonder what the point of releasing a 2-DVD set of the same set twice from the same tour is. (7/10)

 

Related reviews:
 
Diabolis Interium (issue No 6)  

 

 

 
3/10 Roberto
 

DRAMMAGOTHICA - IRA - CD - drammagothica.it - 2008

review by: Roberto Martinelli

Sometimes bands that issue their own albums are inexplicably passed over by record labels. Other times, itís obvious why. Drammagothicaís IRA sadly falls into the latter category. Clunky, almost stumbling music of the gothic/theatric school, with dorky grunting male vocals trying to do some sort of horrid duet with good, energetic female cleans, peppered with afterthought male clean singing, make for a lot of wincing. Do good growls, or do good female singing, but donít have female singing on the same plane as growling. Each makes the other sound like a joke. (3/10)

PS: Note to Italian bands. Stop singing about "in my eye." This is the second instance of such in as many issues (Tystnaden and its bumbling album name was covered last time), and itís ridiculous.

 

 

 

 
8/10 Daniel
 

DREAMING DEAD - Within One - CD - Ibex Moon Records - 2008

review by: Daniel Walker

In the December issue of "Metal Maniacs," Michael Caffell of Dreaming Dead rambled on about his holiday wish list, and it was just unexpected to see a fledgling band such as this be featured under the heading of "What could possibly be more brutal than finding out the holiday wishes of metal luminaries from all across the underground?..."

See, that's where the distinction comes in. Dreaming Dead stand out on the strength of the music shown on Within One, but they're not luminaries. At least not yet, anyway. On Within One, they're definitely on the path to greatness. Think progressive black / thrash / death metal with a lethal rhythm section and a great ear for melody.

The complexity of the arrangements and the sporadic bursts of energy recall late Death, and the singer recalls a mixture of Chuck Schuldiner and Dani Filth (at his less shrill moments). Perhaps the best aspect of the singing is the articulation and the fact that the singer is female. It's always encouraging and neat to find good female screamers in metal. For one thing, it's still going against the current grain of metal thinking, which is ironic because metal is all about being iconoclastic. Another thing this writer notices is that female extreme metal vocalists are often easier to understand, based on hearing Angela Gossow from Arch Enemy, this lady, and maybe a few others.

At times, Within One is a battering ram to your senses with a ruthless barrage of blastbeats, but it's always in the context of forward-moving melodic death metal. Additionally, the guitars slow down and dish out chunky riffs sometimes that are great, but are nowhere near breakdowns. These guys used to be called Manslaughter, and now they're dreaming to make you dead with this kick-ass album. Recommended. (8/10)

 

 

 

 
10/10 Mladen
 

EKPYROSIS - Mensch Aus Gold - CD - Paradigms - 2008

review by: Mladen äkot

Normal rules do not apply to CDs like Ekpyrosisí Mensch Aus Gold. See, we knew we were going to like it even before we actually heard it. One of us (okay, it was me) saw the stunning cover somewhere on the internet and immediately started asking questions and showing the image to the others. Who is Ekpyrosis? Where are they from? What do they sound like? and who the hell, how and why, made this artwork?

The CD is here now, and looks even better in real life. But some questions will remain questions, and it's better like this. We don't want to know. Black metal needs mystery. After hearing about three different versions, we decided to stop asking about the band. It's (maybe) possible that there are two band members, but there might be more, or less. It's not even the only band with this name, but who cares? They can't be as good as this Ekpyrosis, the German one. Yes, we're definitely, absolutely, positively sure Ekpyrosis is German. The lyrics are in German, and, strangely for a black metal band, spoken. It's not even a pretentious voice, it's a perfectly natural voice just describing what he sees, thinks, feels, with just enough passion to make it real. It will surprise you, but it won't feel out of place at all. But that's only the beginning of surprises, and we're not going to go through Mensch Aus Gold and describe all that it contains second by second.

The music. This should be short. After all, there's only one song, just a bit above half an hour long. Now, try to think about your life, all the events that meant something, realize that they won't return ó and it will seem that all your years have passed in a moment. Into nothing. Stand, look around you. And ask yourself: "Where am I now?" Now, apply that to music and you get Mensch Aus Gold. The end.

Okay, obviously you need to know more. But the words feel stupid. You've heard expressions such as awesome, breathtaking, emotional, overwhelming, shocking and beautiful before, and using them again would be futile. Just take a few dozen words like those and shuffle them, arrange them tastefully and try to imagine music coming at you, word by word, sound by sound, for the whole duration of one disc, and each single moment fitting the description. Or more descriptions. There's the wall of guitars, and each sequence brings something new, not just the notes, but the feeling, from light and dark all the way to warm and freezing, windy and damp, even high and low. The drums range from furious blastbeats to introspection, and the bass is just... precious. Every instrument, including some extra sounds and choirs, can become the leading one, the secondary one or the background ó but even in the background it can tremendously influence the overall picture just by moving a little to the side. All the individual details are simple enough, but you've never ever heard them work in unison like this. There are a few quiet parts too, but the tension doesn't stop. If you suddenly realize you're listening to a scary, low, beating sound, it's your heart.

What's Mensch Aus Gold about, actually? Let's put it this way: either you know from the first time you SEE it, or you're a hopeless digitalized concrete dweller case. Do yourself a favor and read the lyrics ó yes, it's hard to reach them, unfolding the insert feels even more like walking through a forest, but the English translation is also there. We realize we've given you the answer in the previous sentence, but that's nothing. Read the poem. It will be the best thing you've read in ages. And they will complete the experience. No part of Mensch Aus Gold is to be taken for granted, everything has a purpose, and you are advised to look for the answers yourself. You might discover what you lost a long time ago. (10/10)

P.S. we can't give the album that reveals the meaning of life less than a 10/10. The revelation is at 26:48. THIS is the moment you'll know what's it all about.

 

 

 

 
7/10 Pal
 

ELECTRIC BIRD NOISE - Le Vestibule/Vestibule Transitoire - CD - No More Stars Records - 2008

review by: Pal Meentzen

Electric Bird Noise is the alias of ambient music artist Brian Lea McKenzie (ex-Sqwearl). On Le Vestibule/Vestibule Transitoire, his fourth album to date, consists of two long pieces, to which the titles refer to. The first lasts for just under 25 minutes and the second only seconds below 27 minutes. Apart from some info about the instruments used by McKenzie, there is precious little information about the background idea for these pieces. There is only one short advise: "bee patient." At least thereís some generosity in a bonus vowel!

Online research says these pieces were been recorded for Canadian DJ / host Jean-Francois Fecteau and his long running radio show called "Le Vestibule." They mainly consist of feedback loops that are processed and used to create rhythms while accompanied by ebow & volume swells.

The challenge with releases like these is to figure out the best listening conditions. One idea might be to see them as a company to modern 3D installations, perhaps to something by a conceptual artist like Dan Graham. It conjures images of modern day architecture, tall buildings, with an emphasis on material like glass and steel, instead of armed concrete or brick. Itís cold and lucid.

The first piece is exclusively done by a loop machine and dwindles off into an infinite space and trance, where the unsolved mysteries of dark matter still resides. The second piece is considerably different for the minimal use of a semi-acoustic guitar. The notes played are sparse, but played in a harmonious way that goes well together with the thin, etherial tone. The mood is still not extremely uplifting, but it has a definite sunrise / sunset quality. Call it semi-comatose and you wouldnít be far off.

Electric Bird Noise is not at all dissimilar to the otherworldy, but much darker music of Steve Roach, another ambient artist whose Magnificent Void album has been praised by Malefic from Xasthur ("the epitome of being lost in a galaxy of infinity, forever"). Itís hardly suitable for yoga exercises, or any other feel-good purposes.

To a lesser extent, these two pieces could appeal to admirers of the gloomy soundscapes from Lurker of Chalice, be it in an even more minimalistic manner.

Le Vestibule/Vestibule Transitoire is music to listen to when your on your own, with no one else around, preferably when itís dark outside (and dimly lit inside). One sure thing is that McKenzie clearly understands the philosophy behind ambient music and has no pity for those who dismiss his explorations as long-winded and boring. Unlike a more easily digestible song format, this music works only if the listener has enough imagination to complete "the whole picture." In that sense, itís an interactive experience by definition. (7/10)

 

 

 

 
7.5/10 Pal
 

ELFFOR - From the Throne of Hate (re-issue) - CD - Northern Silence Production - 2008

review by: Pal Meentzen

Last year saw the re-release of Elfforís Son of the Shades. Soundwise, it was by all means an upgrade of the original release from 2002. Now also follows a re-release of 2004's From the Throne of Hate, including two extra tracks, making this disc clock in at precisely one hour of playing time.

It is said that this re-release is different from the 2002 version in that itís been re-recorded. However, there is no noticable difference between the old and this new release. The vocals are identical and the keyboard parts are also. The only difference is the much improved sound, so itís been re-mastered, but not re-recorded.

With the lukewarm review for its predecessor in mind, itís good to tell that From the Throne of Hate was definately a step forward with regard to the narrative qualities of the songs. Thereís so much more happening here, that one no longer needs to think constantly what role-playing games the themes are based on. If the songs manage to stand on their own and to create an atmosphere that conjures scenes from a past long gone, or of an enchanting mythical world of sorts, there can surely be mention of something that goes beyond mere background music.

The keyboard hobo or fugue sounds are still present, though not as dominantly as before.This is good, because their artificial and quirky sound made it difficult to truly judge the merits of the compositions. The keyboards are now much more orchestral and, letís say, Wagnerian. The best moments are when this pompousness is blended with dramatic guitars. Also noticable is a much more prominent role for percussive sounds, adding tension in places where needed. Extra textures are given by the contributions on guitar by Alfon, from the band Suffering Down.

The first bonus track, "Misterious Dawn," is brand new and features great and horrible seagull screech vocals over waves of dramatic keyboard lushness. An excellent addition, but man, Elffor shouldíve left out those distracting toyland hobo sounds! Who is waiting for flashbacks of a silly tiny medieval village while a scenery of majestic mountains covered in snow is unfolding? The second bonus track, "Ancient Rebirth," also has a great sense of epicness.

The moments when the music plays with acoustics and space are most pleasant to listen to in the sense that it gets the listener immersed. An Irish harp, a wide drum skin, and a backing of sleigh bells are simple yet effective instruments that are so much more convincing in this medieval context.

This re-release is a big leap forward for Elffor. It sees a wider, grander range of sounds and moves a step away from the syndrome of sounding like Summoning. Add to this the improved sound and some bonus material and you have a very attractive package. The only reason it doesnít get a higher rating is because of the bloody toyland hobo. Otherwise, all hail Elffor. (7.5/10)

 

 

 

 
8.6/10 Daniel
 

ELIMINATOR - Breaking the Wheel - CD - Suffering Jesus Productions - 2008

review by: Daniel Walker

Thraaaash! Listening to Eliminator might violently part you and your crown jewels. Will you ever get them back? Doubtful.

So feral, so uncompromising... this record renews all hope in the thrash revival currently playing out in cities across the U.S. and around the world. Eliminator may have issued a "fuck you" to a dying metal scene in their liner notes, but they are in essence reinventing or refashioning the wheel for metal.

Listening to Breaking the Wheel the first couple times taps into the vestigial aura of Slayerís Reign in Blood, when Slayer decided they would create the fastest thrash metal record ever; one still worshipped as if it had just been released. Breaking the Wheel doesn't outpace Reign in Blood, necessarily, but it's unmistakably relentless and has the same watershed ambition. It's one of those records where you feel inclined to turn it off after a few tracks because the intensity of it crosses your threshold of sanity, yet you decide to brave it through so you can further declare yourself as a badass.

Make no mistake about it ó these riffs will make you slap your grandma and go into therapy they're so brutal and seething. Samus kills on drums too, though the production doesn't complement their sound very well. No respite is really in sight until about the 7:30 mark on closing track "Prescription for Extinction... Time Enough at Last," a darkly beautiful outro of plaintive strumming. You'll have to trust that you'll need the saving grace of this melody after destroying your hearpieces.

The only real problem with this disc is one shared by many extreme metal records: homogeneity. As a listener, you get wrapped up in the unceasing aggression, but after it's over, you don't really remember any of the songs. Eliminator are young men, however, and at this stage they're probably just wanting to shake things up a bit.

Another slight disappointment is Warchild's vocals. Well, they're not poor, but it's fair to say an increasing number of thrash fans are looking for another highly distinctive voice like Tom Araya, James Hetfield, or Bobby "Blitz" Ellsworth. What we have here are fairly standard rasps drawn from across the thrash, black metal, and death metal spectrums. Perhaps it's a better fit.

Still, this release deserves a concert venue full of horns and a neck full of soreness. Breaking the Wheel is probably the most lethal new school thrash album you'll hear in a long time. Also, don't forget to check out the list of "Fuck yous" in the liner notes. It's a real hoot. (8.6/10)

 

 

 

 
6/10 Mladen
 

FRAILTY - Lost Lifeless Lights - CD - Solitude Productions - 2008

review by: Mladen äkot

Lost Lifeless Lights won't exactly make you want to slash your wrists, but it is a nice example of doom metal. The harmonies, melodies, vocals and even lyrics obviously belong to the My Dying Bride school of thought, and everything is done with care and a sense of relaxed expectation.

It doesn't disappoint, as the time spent in listening to this Latvian band's debut isn't a waste. But, after time passes, what happens is a similar thing to so many albums nowadays: It isn't as memorable as it should have been. All the parts are strong, no fillers, but it's just that you've heard most of them before. Yet, Frailty still has a capacity to surprise, and on what is, in essence, an average album, there are a few inspired moments where you might even start to feel something, like on the 11-minute last track (not counting the bonus Monro cover song), The Scorn, where a long introspective moment makes you wonder if you have perhaps missed something equally thrilling before. But you didn't, or at least not much.

Still, Lost Lifeless Lights could have benefited from more inspired moments. As it is, it's a promising debut, solid, good sounding, but in the long run you'll probably be skipping it in favor of more original bands. (6/10)

 

 

 

 
8/10 Avi
 

FRIEDMAN, MARTY - Exhibit A: Live in Europe - CD - Mascot Records - 2008

review by: Avi Shaked

Exhibit A is most likely the heaviest recording featuring Marty Friedman since Megadeth's 1994 Youthanasia (and arguably the rawest since even longer). As such, its release is the best move Friedman could have made, after a bit of metal negligence on his behalf (which cost him some of his audience's interest and his guitar-hero status). Recorded at various locations throughout Friedman's 2007 European tour (with a complementary Exhibit B: Live in Japan DVD release also available), this live CD release finds the slightly Japanese / pop-culture assimilated guitarist shredding again!

Friedman is not alone on the guitars, though. He is joined by the technically equipped Ron Jarzombek (Watchtower, Spastic Ink). Jarzombek seems to be the missing piece that Friedman needed in his music, and together they revive the cacophonic days of Friedman and Jason Becker. Whether it comes to delivering vicious rhythm guitar (including some grinding wall of sound) or to playing a lightning fast, scorching guitar duet, Jarazombek is up for the job, and he pushes Friedman forward to blazing territories.

The gentle "Tibet" might provide a melodic interlude, but doesn't quite fit with the rest of the material, which is all about unrestrained energy; and the encore cover of Elvis Presley's "Hound Dog" (with a rare yet spare vocal performance by Friedman) fits even less. Still, we can understand the inclusion of those two tracks here, in order to faithfully reproduce a typical Friedman live set.

And having been to one of Friedman's 2007 gigs, we can certainly vouch for Exhibit A being a trusty documentation of Friedman's live gig: The sound isn't always top notch, but still fleshy (and admittedly a bit flashy as well), the rhythm section is driving yet largely restricted to its traditional role (and sometimes on too much of an "auto pilot"), and the band doesn't always sit tight.

None of the minor faults, however, diminish from the fiery celebration of metal guitars by Friedman and Jarzombek. Every occasional Friedman fan should grab this, and listen to the man finally rocking ó saccharine-free and without reservation (oh, and this time with no credit for his stylist!). (8/10)

 

 

 

 
9/10 Mladen
 

GAMMA RAY - Hell Yeah!!! The Awesome Foursome - DVD - Steamhammer - 2008

review by: Mladen äkot

If you're buying DVDs, buy them from people like Kai Hansen. In one of a million scenes on one of a million parts of the bonus DVD, he's openly saying how he doesn't watch them. To him, nothing beats the live experience, and he can't be bothered to sit at home and watch something for two hours. Yes, he's saying this on his own DVD. Conclusion: get DVDs made by artists who get easily bored, as you'll get so much you'll NEVER be bored.

You don't really have to sit through the whole two DVDs of Hell Yeah!!! The Awesome Foursome (and the Finnish keyboarder who didn't want to wear his Donald Duck costume) at once. But, one DVD at a time is no problem. Take the first one, the actual live DVD. Two hours and eighteen songs. It might be one of the best shows you've ever seen. We're still not sure why, but you simply have to watch it. The intro is okay, the first couple of tracks are just warming up, but then... "Man on a Mission," played about a third faster than on the CD, and you're floored. By that time, you've started noticing things. The sound is crystal clear, and most bands couldn't pull all this off in studio using all gimmicks possible, but Gamma Ray just rip through it. So, "Man on a Mission" live sounds more furious and accurate than most Slayer tracks on studio recordings, and what do Gamma Ray do...? They are smiling.

So would you if you knew your instrument better than the back of your hand (What a stupid expression anyway, and... wait, what is this spot? Never seen that one before.). We only have expressions of condolence for Daniel Zimmermann, who is dying, exhausted and sweating behind his drum kit already after three songs, and still playing every damned beat hit-perfect until the end. Dirk Schlachter looks like an oversized version of Joey DeMaio with a bandana, and he probably knows it. He goes with the "more metal than thou" thing all the way, and doesn't care if he looks ridiculous. But look at what the man is doing with his bass, using fingers, pick or nails... and always doing the right thing. We don't know whether to laugh at his gunfighter posing or with it, but he's worth both looking at and listening to.

A special chapter for Kai Hansen. You wouldn't believe the man is also playing guitar (and you probably know how well). Normal singers, those who just have the microphone, are never as hyperactive as this man with his both arms busy. And, while singing and playing he still manages to dance, headbang, fist-punch, wave, grimace, smile, move and it's like no muscle of his body ever rests. A one-man show. If you're wondering about his voice, he's not human. A hobbit maybe, a fantasy character or a man-amplifier... that, yes. But we have no explanation for the Hansen phenomenon. Drinking and smoking (check out the bonus material) and still sounding better live than most metal singers in the studio, while doing all of the above mentioned, and never missing a note. The color, the depth, the falsettos, all perfect. And then a duel with Richter's guitar, yes, using his voice... bloody hell. Years of experience are not really an explanation. He's just metal, alive and impersonated. Of the German kind.

There's also one more guitarist, Henjo Richter. All we can remember are his fingers moving too fast for human eye, and a sadistic smile never leaving his face. Damn him.

So, the songs then. If Gamma Ray did a best-of they wouldn't have chosen them better. All are here, from all Gamma Ray periods up to Majestic album. You don't even have to be more than a casual fan to enjoy them, obviously with a sound this clear, Hell Yeah!!! The Awesome Foursome is a better thing than a real best-of. And you don't have to listen to Ralf Scheepers. There's also a double-CD version of Hell Yeah!!! The Awesome Foursome available, and it has four bonus tracks, live versions of songs from Land of the Free II. That one is awesome, too, even without being able to see the band.

Finally, the audience. Okay, Canada and all that, but it could have just as well been recorded anywhere in the world. They do their job, but you're really looking at Gamma Ray.

Now, the big one: the bonus DVD. Or not. We're absolutely NOT going to describe every hilarious detail, but it is an example how to make a completely non-boring DVD, 156 minutes of it. You have all the video clips (skip them, they are German power metal videos. 'Nuff said), then the "road movie" that'll make you wish you were on the road with them, two unplugged songs recorded in Japan, and the "Historay" bit with a historically delirious collection of the rare and fun video material. Want to see how the vocals are being recorded? Kai Hansen waiting, holding a headphone set in one hand and a microphone in the other, more waiting and then suddenly a scream. And the rest of the band is giggling: "Falsch!!!". Want to see Hansen jumping into the audience from a ten-feet high... nah, get the DVD.

Gamma Ray played in Wacken too. Twice. And you get to see that as well. First from 2003 (and Kai Hansen wearing the same pair of leather trousers as in 2007), and then from 2006 (different trousers, but manages to switch from red to black guitar in the middle of "Heavy Metal Universe"). In the end, if you can't afford leather trousers (if those can endure years of Hansen wearing them, I want a pair) but you want to buy an *awesome* DVD, this would be the one. Gamma Ray look, play, act and feel like they have never had a bad, pessimistic moment in their lives, and damned if the feeling isn't contagious. (9/10)

 

Related reviews:
 
No World Order (issue No 6)  

 

 

 
9/10 Mladen
 

GAMMA RAY - Land of the Free II - CD - Steamhammer - 2007

review by: Mladen äkot

Land of the Free (1995): "Now it's time for us to pray hallelujah..."

Land of the Free II (2008): "God is an illusion and there ain't no paradise and there is no underworld below. Out there is no Heaven and there ain't no Antichrist. Welcome to the real world and the show!"

We have no idea why Gamma Ray went for this album title. Unless it was to draw the attention to it, there was really no point. Luckily for Gamma Ray, although the 1995 album was awesome, it wasn't exactly Keeper of the Seven Keys, and Gamma Ray didn't have to live up to anything from a distant, legendary past (yes, this sounds like we're talking black metal), they just had to make an awesome album again, no pumpkins necessary. Here it is. It might not be Gamma Ray all the way, but awesome it is.

As others have already noticed, this CD (or any other Gamma Ray album) could just as well have been named "Land of the free copyright" considering the number of references and literally borrowed parts. There are Judas Priest references, a few melodies (like from "Exciter"), one or two lyrical lines (from "The Sentinel") and a bass line with a guitar melody copy-pasted from Iron Maiden's "The Clairvoyant." Nothing new. Kai Hansen will be the first one to admit it, saying that he was just paying tribute to his favorite bands. And this writer says "so what?"

If Hansen is stealing, at least he steals the good parts and develops them in different directions. Anyway, Iron Maiden never had an album this good, and Judas Priest only had one (Painkiller). The other few references are to Helloween (the Kai Hansen era) and Gamma Ray themselves. There are probably more, but only Hansen himself knows.

So, if "Real World" has the same structure of "I Want Out"... big deal. The song rocks, the melodies are original, and the familiar few seconds just make it better. "Empress" sounds like a song Accept could have made instead of "Princess of the Dawn" if they weren't a minimalist band, and it rocks as well. The chorus is magical, the melodies are seductive and Hansen's vocals are genius. The classical sing-along melody might be borrowed, but what did Accept do on "Metal Heart"? The same. And Iron Maiden are nowadays stealing more from themselves than anyone else ever did.

Now, the goodies: there is not a single weak track here. From the first to the last minute, Land of the Free II is flawless. You know Gamma Ray can play, and they deliver as always. You're already aware of Kai Hansen's vocals ó this is what power metal vocals should be. Strong, warm, piercing, low when needed, high when crazy, completely recognizable and never, ever irritating or whiny. Hear that, Helloween?

The same goes for the songs: all the well known ingredients, but no filler tracks. Gamma Ray aren't trying to be pretentious, they are here to play metal and have fun... and listening to them spitting out awesome parts (whoever wrote the originals) one after another with an unbelievable feeling of urgency, and more dynamics than three other power metal bands combined, one has to believe them. Gamma Ray consists of four not-so-young, well-experienced and way-crazy guys doing what they know best and still being capable of having a blast. To hell with dignity and trying to look mature.

Land of the Free II should be a classic ó it's great now, it would have been great 10 years ago, and you'll be listening to it 10 years from now. "But the only really original thing on it are Kai Hansen's vocals..." - big deal. Gamma Ray rules. As we're grimacing along with lyrics like "and we rise like Phoenix from the ashes, let us go where no man's gone before..." (and every Trekkie in the room instantly smiles). We don't care. "To Mother Earth" is an anthem, as amazing as anything we've heard since 1995... "Rain" and "Leaving Hell" are ridiculously crushing/catchy, "Insurrection" is a fitting 11+ minute closing song and wherever we look, there are whirlwind staccatos, insane solos, even insane-r breaks, huge choruses, classy bass lines, drums too fast and too live sounding to believe, and, above all, Hansen's inhuman (no, seriously) vocals.

If you won't be able to stop smiling, you can bet your asses that Gamma Ray members had equally silly grins on their faces while recording this stuff. By whatever means necessary, legal or illegal, Gamma Ray have made one of the best power metal albums ever. (9/10)

p.s. being conscious journalists, we took off two points because of lack of originality, one point because one of the songs is "just" excellent, one point because Hansen used a "fuck," and two because Land of the Free II isn't totally gay, what power metal is supposed to be. Also, there are no songs about dragons, which lessened the score by another two points. And the rating is still 9/10. Don't ask why, it's too complicated. Just accept it.

 

Related reviews:
 
No World Order (issue No 6)  

 

 

 
4/10 Roberto
 

ELEMENTAL CHRYSALIS, THE - The Dark Path to Spiritual Expansion - CD - Glass Throat Recordings - 2007

review by: Roberto Martinelli

Glass Throat Recordingís release of The Dark Path to Spiritual Expansion comes in the same style oversize digipak that housed the superb At the Head of the Woods album (reviewed last issue): no plastic, six-panel, with the inner-spine seams the same color as the inside of the package, and rubber nubs to hold on to the CD. And in this case, there are two CDs, and the image and vibe is of pseudo-black metal-esque forests and mysticism. Taking a look at the liner notes, and viewing the breadth of the acoustic instruments played on the album, heightens the anticipation even more. Killer.

Except not. The tracks on this album are all excruciatingly repetitive. The simplistic music and relatively good, thin, icy, reverberant tones might make for some good going, but itís all done over and over and beaten hard into the ground. There are occasional vocals, that range from passably good to not very good at all, but even the good instances of voice (or music) come at a musical progression that takes so long to come to, that the interest in the track is long over. And although there could easily be 25 different instruments appearing on the record, the instrumentation does not seem very rich at all due to the banality of the music and the way it is presented.

What seems inexplicable about this albumís total eight-track, two-hour length, is that it could have been condensed to eight tracks and 40 minutes, and the experience might have been much better. Thereís effective looping, languidness and/or drone, but The Elemental Chrysalisí The Dark Path to Spiritual Expansion is a good example of none of them. (4/10)

 

 

 

 
7.5/10 Pal
 

GIGANTOUR - 2 - CD - Image Entertainment - 2008

review by: Pal Meentzen

Gigantour 2 is a metalfest production with the central point of focus on Megadeth and its singer, Dave Mustaine. Besides this, this DVD also features other bands who played in support of the headlining act, and those bands all carry Mustaineís seal of approval, just like some of the bands are sometimes very much soaked in adoration for their mecenas. Each act is represented by one, two or three songs. The audio production has been taken care of by Andy Sneap and Dave Mustaine, who has no fewer than four name credits for this production.

The Smashup have a song called "Effigy." Itís a very crumbly effigy, though, for the song lacks consistency. Despite a good sound from the lead guitar, the performance falls a bit flat, due

to the vocals sounding forced. Could it have been a case of nerves?

Sanctity have a song called "Beneath the Machine," the signature tune for their album Road to Bloodshed. The vocalist spews forth some growl vocals in a most familiar way. Not bad,

but not very new, either. Sanctityís sound is obviously rooted in 1980s power and thrash metal and not very dissimilar to old Iron Maiden. Itís not a big surprise to see one of their members wearing a shirt from Iced Earth. Know thy classics.

Into Eternity represent their 2006 album, The Scattering of Ashes, with "Severe Emotional Distress." Like Sanctity, they are also a band that seems to have theatrical Iron Maiden

influences in the vocals, be it that they also feature screeches and growls. The song has some interesting harmonic structures and doesnít get repetitious at all, but itís for that very reason Into Eternity may not be accessible to everybodyís ears, being a slightly disorientating mix between prog and black metal. But whichever way to judge it, the drumming on this song is undeniably

furious and splendid, and with a guitar sound thatís very clear and discernable, this is where the DVD really starts kicking off.

Overkill are a band thatís been around for ages, and considering they released their first album back in 1985 itís incredible how strong and fit everybody looks, notably their singer, who must be do his vocal exercises while lifting weights in the gym. He sounds like an evil witch and does a great job in getting the audience in his hand. Overkill know the drill and their tunes include some great monster grooves. Overkill drill their way into the brain to leave a lasting impression,

and not only because they all look cool and funny at the same time. Their songs have also a disarming straightforwardness, making it cool to be dumb.

For the uninitiated, this DVD offers a nice introduction to the mighty Arch Enemy. Angela Gossow remains to this day the undisputed queen of melodic death metal with impressive growling and stage performance, while the Amott brothers duel over who is most versatile on solo guitar. This is a great band to watch on stage. However, what makes their contribution a bit redundant is that 2008 saw the release of the formidable DVD Tyrants of the Rising Sun: Live in

Japan. Furthermore, the live sound has been mixed way too smooth and clean, hence depriving some of the excitement of the show. It starts with "We Will Rise," an older song from the 2nd Gossow-era album, Anthems of Rebellion.

From Opeth is the song "The Leper Affinity," from their 2001 album, Blackwater Park. A monumental 10+ minute slab of melodic, epic metal with strong influences of progressive rock. Singer Mikael Akerfeldtís voice is entirely on another scope, with either great death growls or melancholic cleans sounding as deep as the sound of a horn in the mist. The latter works wonderfully in the acoustic passage of "The Leper Affinity," an intriguing tale that shows their

versatility and mastery of live performance, without demanding the audience to act like fools.

Lamb of God come up with the song "Vigil." The song grooves like a ball and chain, with the vocalist screaming in anguish, spitting on stage and giving the finger to prove his point. The crowd seems to love it, with their heads popping up and down. Unfortunately, following Opeth makes Lamb of Godís songs seem hackneyed and not innovative. Their contribution might have worked better in combination with bands like Hatebreed, but on this DVD Lamb of God seem to be a bit out of place.

Megadeth is last, of course, and it features the songs "Take No Prisoners," "The Scorpion," and "Washington is Next." Their performance is pretty loud and aggressive to the bandís standards, but visually, the band look not at their most vital. As always, there is the trademark thin voice of Dave Mustaine. "The Scorpion" shows once again that his vocal range is pretty limited and he has to push himself to reach both high and low registers. "Washington is Next" has a better, more harmonious blend of vocals and music, and shows how Mustaine can perform well enough without screeching, growling or grunting.

It remains something of a strange sight: this thin-legged, somewhat insecure looking man, hidden beneath a lot of hair and working hard to play his part while being surrounded by a confident bunch of roadwise fellow musicians. The mastermind as an anti-hero.

As an added bonus, the DVD features "Peace Sells," a Megadeth classic and a fan favourite that goes out with a bang. More bonus stuff includes a Behind the Scenes of the Gigantour Metalfest in which Mustaine introduces each band, how he learned of their existance and what it is that he appreciates about them.

There are interviews with all members of the band and their crew plus backstage antics and pranks. Itís a little amateur at times, as image and notably sound are not always quite up to par, but all in all the bonus material gives a lot more depth to the soul of this 2nd Gigantour metalfest.

This DVD is certainly worth it for Megadeth fans, but the selections from the other contributing bands is a very mixed bag. Most bands have a fair and professional representation of their music that ranges from mediocre to veteran quality. (7.5/10)

 

 

 

 
1/10 Roberto
 

GLAUKOM SYNOD - Ogre - CD - glaukomsynod.site.voila.fr - 2007

review by: Roberto Martinelli

Ogre seems to be about mixing thin, random, obnoxious industrial electronic music with even more irritating, janky, funky loops of clean vocals that you might find in some sort of up-tempo blues rock band that sucks. Thatís what the beginning of the album was made up of, anyway. We had not the courage to continue. (1/10)

 

 

 

 
8.5/10 Mladen
 

GRUENEWALD - Gruenewald - CD - Eichenwald Industries - 2008

review by: Mladen äkot

If you have always been an escapist, especially one of those into metal, you tend to take music personally. You know the feeling when a certain album evokes something you can relate to, some feelings, memories, new experiences... or reminds you of something that was once very important, and just a mention of it causes a flood of emotions. People like that don't want to listen to what the others have to say about that same certain piece of music. The others are always wrong, they just can't see and they are emotional cripples. You take their words as an insult, because they use common expressions and technical phrases for something that, in your heart, has a special meaning and can't be reduced to mere irrelevant colloquialisms.

Gruenewald should be your next precious, treasured CD, then. Don't try to read the reviews or conclude what it sounds like from them. Don't try to find one you agree with. They'll always be wrong and you'll feel even more alone than you were when you discovered it. You, and only you, know what happened on that hot, damp rainy summer when the smell in the air was so memorable you can still feel it when you enter a bright, warm, moist place. You might have seen those hills and those forests, but maybe they are just what all of this felt like, and the loss you experienced was nothing you'd ever want to share with others. Their narrow, common minds can't sympathize and their low sensibilities don't deserve to be exposed to this. Keep it to yourself, the pain is only yours and sharing won't make it go. Sharing would just make it more exposed.

Gruenewald is a personal CD. Christian Kolf only knows what inspired it. The rest of us can take it as it is and apply it to ourselves. If it touches you, great. Or maybe not. Depressive, slow music sometimes serves as a liberation catalyst ó listen to, for example, Anathema, and you'll feel better afterwards. But not after Gruenewald. The minimal drums show no signs of hidden, suppressed energy. Kolf's vocals are unique, not entirely perfect, but, for that reason, all the more real. Until the very end, the guitars never stop using almost unpleasant, painfully clean, vividly clear chords, but the inverted harmonies, in their way, blend perfectly. The atmosphere is virtually tangible, and the choice of being immersed into the dizziness of a laborious melancholy, and living through all you maybe didn't want to remind yourself of again, is only yours. (8.5/10)

 

 

 

 
8.5/10 Mladen
 

HOT BUTTERED ANAL - Lies - CD - Spare Change Records - 2008

review by: Mladen äkot

Yeah, same old story. A band releases a debut album, you get it, you hate it so much that you hide it in a bunch of other bad CDs and hope no one will ever notice you have that one and ask you "What's this crap?". The band releases a follow-up, you get it, you even don't want to listen to it, but when you do you can't stop listening. Happens quite often, right? Wrong.

In Hot Buttered Anal's case it's literally "zero to hero." We decockpitated their first cock because all the cock they were cocking was cocktually a childish cock at being recocknised as a funny cock, while the cocktual music cocktent was mostly a cock. As long as there was something to sing to, about cocks, any music was adequate. And the artcock was so full of cocks that whatever the cock Hot Buttered Anal were trying to cock couldn't have been taken seriously.

And now, it appears they DO have something to say. Even better, they can play. They now have proper distortion, too. Who'd have expected that! And the drums are all over the place! As a matter of fact, everything is all over the place, and everything sounds good. If you can still remember the first time you heard System of a Down, brace yourself. Hot Buttered Anal are about to take the world by storm, and if they don't, they'll at least have great fun while trying.

Musically, Lies is a cocktail (that's the last cock, promise) of brutal thrash / crossover riffs with an occasional excursion into country. The songs are short, to the point and you can listen to all of them at once in one breath. Bob Cocks (okay, THAT was the last) has wrote approximately ten times better lyrics this time, and the way he uses them is delirious: fast, angry, lost, crying, sighing, shouting, whatever-the-hell, and lo and behold, he can sing normally and still be convincing.

Since the music will appeal to anyone who wants more SOD, System of a Down or Anthrax with a nasty cowboy / redneck twist, or simply to anyone ready for the next step, you should also know what the songs are about this time. Obviously Hot Butterend Anal realized that not many took them seriously, and decided to be more elaborate about what their point was. So, as a start, track one is called "We're Not Retarded."Then there are sixteen more. The language is still bad. Or worse. You won't want to read these lyrics to your parents, grandparents, your priest, children, neighbors... anyone who speaks English, actually. Hot Buttered Anal didn't spare anyone this time, from the lowest human life forms (politicians), all the way to "God."

Delirious. Life sucks even harder when Hot Buttered Anal describe it, no matter who you are. Finding a dream girl is way hopeless a task when you hear Hot Buttered Anal's criteria ("hides DVDs in her ass when she visits me in prison"). If "American Psycho" gave you nightmares, you have a short summary in one of the songs, and if you're feeling old, you better skip "Time is the Enemy." Abused as a child? Skip two to three tracks. Sure the descriptions are vivid and joyful, but trust us, Hot Buttered Anal made it like that to prove a point. And the answer to the big question is right here, on this CD in a song called "Dear God." Bet you didn't know God lets little girls get raped because they didn't finish their chicken sandwiches (we have to eat them evil little chickens, or they'll take over the world).

There's tons of foul-mouthed wisdom presented through sonic devastation and wrapped into sugar-sweet sing-along tunes, and it's all yours to discover. Again, the band is called Hot Buttered Anal, and the album is called Lies. Get it while it's hot. (8.5/10)

 

 

 

 
7/10 Mladen
 

ID:VISION - Plazmadkaos - CD - Haarbn Productions - 2007

review by: Mladen äkot

Remember Chernobyl? Id:Vision pride themselves in being "from the scorched land of Chernobyl calamity," which is today's Belarus. Looking at the band photo, we can't estimate how many fingers they have (but we're sure there's one head and two arms per member) but the quintet (plus a live guitarist) sure make an interesting cacophony.

Plazmadkaos is industrial black metal, and whatever part you look at, it can't be anything else. It's also chaos, destruction and torment, all in the name of all that is unholy, with righteous lyrics about Satan, death of altruism, deathcamps, death in general, power, immolated God, more death, burning priests and the good ol' 666 thrown in wherever necessary. Nothing spectacular or original, but fun, just as Id:Vision's cyber-corpsepaint image is.

Now that you know all this, can you guess what the music is like? Yes, fun. Cold, emotionless, fun. With all the blasts and screams coming in precisely calculated intervals, but without apparent order, Id:Vision's debut won't bore you. You can enjoy the parts coming one after another, as they go. The songs don't make much sense as such (meaning: as songs) as there are no tempo changes to speak of in them, or pressure / release moments, but each track is instantly recognizable. Imagine sharper and faster Dimmu Borgir, or any symphonic black metal band with strong emphasis on precise guitar work, but instead of huge keyboards, add bleeps, and that's Plazmadkaos.

Yes, bleeps. The massive amount of electronic sounds is all fine, chaotic and adding to (de)composition, and some of those are insanely fast, but they are an acquired taste due to their extreme clarity. On a good day, Plazmadkaos is a perfect soundtrack to a culture decaying under the combined effort of man and machine, but on a bad day... old sci-fi movies, or maybe cell phones before the introduction of polyphonic ringtones. Shortly, to some they might sound too blatantly cheap, and some will love them for the very same reason and proclaim them to be murderous. The same goes for Id:Vision. (7/10)

 

 

 

 
3.5/10 Mladen
5/10 Roberto
 

IN BATTLE - Kingdom of Fear - CD - Candlelight Records - 2007

review by: Mladen äkot

If you listenined to Kingdom of Fear without knowing what it is, we're sure you would never picture Vikings. Although this group began its career with a firm sense of the Viking theme, thereís nothing usually associated with Viking metal here. It's hyperspeed death metal with terrifying, razor sharp, speed picked riffs, endless blastbeats, mathematically arranged time changes and occasional slow grooves.

The problem is that, without knowing what track youíre on from checking your stereo readout, you wonít be able to figure out which song is what on In Battle's fourth album. You can't even be sure it's In Battle, as this release is so much devoid of personality that at any given moment it could have been any other band (How about Decapitated, for example?).

If there is a good side, it is the fact that the bludgeoning never ends. But it's pointless. The riffs are hardly memorable, "spiced up" with even more generic breaks, and nothing seems to pick up on what happened before it. If any of it had some memorability beyond mathematical, okay. But all you get is "hit him, he's not your brother, and even if he is - it's too dark to see anyway" death metal.

Oh, there's one more good point: At least it's not metalcore. But for all those who think Dark Funeral or Marduk are "norsecore"... wrong. In Battle couldn't be any more norse-core than they are perceived as. As of now, start applying the definition to bands like this one. (3.5/10)

review by: Roberto Martinelli

In Battle peaked with their second album, Rage of the Northmen. Sure, as far as technicality and precision, it paled in comparison to the last couple In Battle releases (since they changed styles from a melodic, Swedish-stlye black metal band, and became a faceless, hyperspeed death metal band), but all the technicality and precision seems fake, anyway. If you think albums like this have no taste at all, you would do well to check out Rage of the Norsemen (or even the self-titled debut), for way more feeling, emotion, and composition. (5/10)

 

 

 

 
6.5/10 Pal
 

JUPITER SOCIETY - First Contact/Last Warning - CD - Fosfor Creation - 2008

review by: Pal Meentzen

The keyboard intro during the first three minutes of First Society/Last Warning might make you wonder if itís a keyboard-only album, but soon youíll see there is a whole lot more on and behind First Society/Last Warning. The album title and the telling sci-fi artwork hints at a sort of concept album. Apart from a crucial role for the keyboards, the music is shaped along the lines of progressive metal in the vein of Dream Theater.

Jupiter Societyís main man is Carl Westholm, who may be known to some as an erstwhile member of Candlemass, and a more permanent member of Carptree and doom metal band Krux, where he played the keys. For this project, Westholm secured the contribution of no fewer than 14 musicians, some of them also from Krux, Candlemass, Therion, and even from one of the many line-ups of the Yngwie Malmsteen band.

Westholm also does some vocals on a spacey vocoder, but for this project, he deemed it safer to employ a select group of singers for the leads, of which five are taking turns over the course of nine lengthy songs, including female background vocals by Cia Backman from Carptree. Nils Erikson employs a voice thatís quite versatile in the high registers and on "The Pilot," he sounds like David Bowie around the time of Starman.

The key words for First Society/Last Warning are ambient and symphonic, and it would not be wrong to say that it is the first part of an epic sci-fi metal opera. If youíre expecting something to bang your head to, or if youíre looking for ear-shredding axes or blastbeat frenzy, then you must have landed in the wrong quadrant.

This album requires many listens until it makes sense in its entirety. Perhaps it would not be misplaced to regard it as a 21st century homage to Rushís classic "2112," only three times longer. Set in some distant future, the somewhat fragmentary storyline tells of the fate of the large spaceship the Bismarck Explorer. It left chartered space and disappeared from radar.

Later it was found again, but all of the crew had disappeared. This is a scenario similar to that of a film like "Event Horizon," but the following events involve much more (like the possibillity of alien abduction) the possibility of hostile encounters with enemy fire, and eventually the destruction of the Bismarck Explorer, not without a glimpse of hope for a few survivors who made it to the safety pod.

First Society/Last Warning is a slick yet entertaining album. It doesnít feature many highs or lows, it just floats around like the Bismarck itself. Itís a huge construction with a crew that is diverse but dedicated. How different will the follow-up album be? Hopefully, Westholm will be able to gather personnel for his next opus and keep it consistent. (6.5/10)

 

 

 

 
9.5/10 Mladen
 

KREATOR - Hordes of Chaos - CD - Steamhammer - 2009

review by: Mladen äkot

This time, it's for real. Whatever Kreator were "going back to" on their two previous albums, it didn't work as well as it could have... at least for people not worshipping the ground Mille Petrozza walks on. Violent Revolution wasn't all that violent ó most songs would start good, go on for a while and then turn into mid-tempo chugging that only the most thrash-minded were able to endure (so, definitely not this writer).

Enemy of God was an attempt at combining German thrash with Swedish melodies, and again it didn't crush as much as it was supposed to, and we wondered what the point was in going that route when Kreator had some genuine personality and emotion on their "hated" albums (Outcast, Endorama) and before that, broke new ground on Renewal and Cause for Conflict. Violent Revolution and Enemy of God were too polished, too commercial, and not really a continuation of Coma of Souls, what they were probably intended to be.

But enough about the old. The new Kreator is brutal as hell. We'd say it is "catchy," but it's hard to apply that word to something that is thrown at you at a speed so high that you can't avoid being hit by it. So, Hordes of Chaos catches you, not the other way around. Apparently it was recorded in an almost "live" way, and it feels like it. Whatever Kreator knew before, they used only the violent aspects, and if there are slow parts, they are just a welcome breath of air before the new onslaught. The guitars shred and thrash like there's no tomorrow, the sound is rough but immensely direct.

If you thought that a guitar, when fast-picked, gives a more-or-less continuous sound, Kreator remind you what "speed" used to mean. You can hear every single stroke, played with bloody precision, at too high a speed, and growling at you like a roaring V8 engine. No artificial help either, as in some places the two guitars almost sound out of tune for an all-the-more aggressive result. You can find hints at Coma of Souls, Renewal or almost every other Kreator album, but it all feels like new and re-discovered. Pure aggression.

And Mille Petrozza's voice... NOW is the time for the above-mentioned worship. His shouts sound like whip cracks, and when he catches speed you want to shout along, but he's so violent that you feel like a sissy for even thinking of trying. Again, it's not as catchy as... simply commanding. Chaos! Hordes of chaos! Absolute misanthropy! Run! Amok Run! Destroy what destroy you! Everyone against everyone against everyone against everyone!

Just impressive. All the way and back. We won't even mention the drums, as this time there's no holding back. No, there are no blastbeats, but the beats blast anyway. There are solos, some melodies as well, but all this writer can think of is a graffiti he saw on a wall some ten years ago. Won't bother you with the Croatian version, but it translated into something like "fir is slimmest, pine is greenest and Kreator is fastest." Listen to Hordes of Chaos and you'll know. Now THIS is a proper return. (9.5/10)

 

Related reviews:
 
Violent Revolution (issue No 8)  
Live Kreation (issue No 14)  

 

 

 
3/10 Mladen
8/10 Pal
 

LANTLOS - Lantlos - CD - Aeternitas Tenebrarum Music Foundation - 2008

review by: Mladen äkot

Why are bands like Lantolos doing this to black metal? Okay, we know progressive, modern, melancholic, ambient, post-something-influenced when we hear it and De Tenebrarum Principio is known for bringing pleasant surprises. But Lantlos isn't one.

First, the good points: German is a nice language, one of the best languages to use in black metal. Desperate shouts verging on growls... great. The lyrics weren't included, but we can assume they deal with matters of vital importance. The drums are very inventive, creating dynamics where the riffs themselves wouldn't allow it.

And that's where it stops: There are no real riffs to speak of. If there is a memorable chord sequence, it is repeated way too many times, and if there is a clean interlude, it's just an interlude. The vocals enter too early, and after a while become just pointless and monotonous.

Basically, Lantlos are trying to sound epic but all the drum changes, finger plus / finger minus chord variations and quiet / loud moments still can't hide the fact that on this debut there's hardly any real music, personality or emotions to speak of. You just get chords and rhythms, assembled into songs. Don't fall for it. (3/10)

review by: Pal Meentzen

Cold, grim, bleak. Despair. All very true words in the case of this debut by Lantlos.

Lantlos are a meritable example of a band playing German-sung philosophical black metal. Their tunes are repetitious, yet melodic, in a catchy, sometimes folky way. This without falling into the usual pitfall of "leprechaun cheese": a misplaced (ab)use of folkloric themes. The lyrics are unleashed like from a desperate lone soul screaming against a frostridden wind.

"Who am I to revel in dreams, who am I to turn away from that which is most precious, and who am I beneath the blue stars in heaven?" (This revieweríss translation)

Those with a grasp of German will not have too much difficulty understanding what the songs are about. The vocals are well up in the mix and it seems that LantlŰs want them to be heard. But even without understanding them, it can be sensed that itís all about raw emotions of despair and inner turmoil, and thinking ĖĖ to the point of agony ó about the point of everything in life.

Be it known that this is not another of those Xasthur-style invitations to rush off to the nearest drugstore and heed to a razorblade call to arms. The tunes of the guitars are not destructive enough, but seem to reflect the force that drives people to carry on, no matter how hopeless or depressing life can be.

The first song kicks off in a very energetic manner with a primal scream, warm fuzzy, Burzumish riffs and true-to-style blastbeat action. Depressive optimism, if you like. Then again, the depression doesnít stem from life itself, but from the questions it will not answer. The mind as oneís own worst enemy.

Each of the five songs are fairly long, ranging from seven to nine minutes. But apart from the philosophical rantings, there is also plenty of room to appreciate the instrumental sections alone. The drumming in particular stands out for its no-nonsense approach. A well-balanced blend of typical old school fast with good double bass and "catch a breath" mid-pace, but never boring or more than nescessary. Special mention is deserved for the very subtle accoustic folky guitars that emerge now and then. They mostly just repeat the distorted folky riffs, but nevertheless bring a surprise element showing that LantlŰs have a keen sense for detail and texture.

The song "Kalte Tage" (Cold Days) features a few lines from a young woman, sounding all lonely but still blameful "Youíre not asking yourself anything. Everything was a lie!" Quite a difference from the young women talking during songs of ĖĖ for instance ó Xasthur and Lurker of Chalice about feeling empty and dead inside. After all, relationships gone wrong cut much deeper than feelings of self-pity.
Life hurts more than death and thatís what this album is all about.

LantlŰs have made a debut that is very sincere and personal. Add to this their no-frills approach in terms of production and youíll have one of the more original pieces of recent intelligent and non-Satanic black metal to come from Germany. Highly recommended. (8/10)

 

 

 

 
7.8/10 Mladen
 

LECHEROUS NOCTURNE - The Age of Miracles Has Passed - CD - Unique Leader - 2008

review by: Mladen äkot

Long live the brutality. On the surface, Lecherous Nocturne seem to only know two or three tricks. Look deeper, and you'll realize that they are twisted into so many spastic and diverse parts that you'd need a couple of days to get into them, at least if you're armed with a considerable memory capacity. Since The Age of Miracles Has Passed is less than 28 minutes long, count on having to listen to it for a fair number of times before it starts making sense.

The South Carolina quintet's brand of death metal relies on two basic things. One is blastbeats. Those are good. Really good. Mostly straightforward, but then abruptly changing direction when you least expect it. The other thing are the guitars, and here things get more complicated. The two guitarists switch between low-tuned massacre and furious, high-speed blackened licks at the upper part of the fretboard without any sense of purpose, and with so much apparent randomness that it's hard to believe they were actually composed. Since there are two guitarists playing the same thing, they obviously are a product of meticulous songwriting and memorizing, but how and why they chose to place them this way is a mystery.

But, there is an approach to solving that mystery. Read the lyrics. Yes, seriously. They are good, quite straightforward and they aren't sparing anything that is rotten, from Christians to Muslims, politicians, and any mentally blind individual. And then realize that, suddenly, the breaks and licks make way more sense. Yes, Lecherous Nocturne have tried to literally connect the music and the lyrics, so much that it's hard to tell which was written first.

If The Age of Miracles has Passed isn't exactly full of memorable parts, it's still one hell of an experience. If you want to feel like you're being tossed around by a storm, with the impacts you feel interrupted only by brief flashes of lightning, try it. (7.8/10)

 

 

 

 
5/10 Mladen
 

LORDI - Deadache - CD - The End Records - 2008

review by: Mladen äkot

Even if it's coming from Lordi, an album with 47 minutes of one and the same is too much. We're not talking about the actual songs being the same, you can tell them apart, but the masked Finnish crew has lost whatever it was that used to make the songs on their previous three albums enjoyable, rock-able, and even headbangable.

Okay, when you've been on top of the world, it's natural to assume you have some cash to spare, and there is a horde of producers watching your every step and making sure that every moment on your new album sounds perfect. But in Lordi's case, the polishing didn't serve an actual purpose. For the sake of infernal swamps, just look at them! With all the slimy stuff hanging from their bodies, do Lordi look like a band that should have a sound so clean that you can use it as a dish and serve your food on?

On Deadache, it's just business as usual. Hard rock, giant sing-along choruses, rock licks and simple drums. On Lordi's other albums, you had some great moments, some "what the hell were they thinking?" moments and, mostly, some nasty, dirty, rocking moments. And here, song after song, it's just Lordi doing a routine: intro, verse, bridge, chorus, verse, bridge, chorus, solo, bridge, chorus, the end. Of course they are all nicely done (Lordi and "nice" in the same sentence, huh?) but after five songs you realize that even the fillers, which are thrown in between the song segments, come at the same moments, in all the songs. If it was one song, and if it was on the radio, we'd enjoy it. Or at least we'd think "oh, that one was probably meant to be a single, the others should be better" - but they aren't. They are all the same.

It was expected, after all. All the fame and success turned Lordi into professionals. Nothing crazy, nothing offensive. Well, maybe, if you don't buy Deadache, they'll start feeling aggressive again. (5/10)

 

 

 

 
4.8/10 Mladen
 

MAHATMA - Perseverance - CD - Listenable Records - 2008

review by: Mladen äkot

Unlike South Korean black metal bands, Mahatma, "Korea's heaviest heavy metal band," isn't all that crazy or memorable. Their second album sounds good, it was played exceptionally well, and the songs are diverse. That's all.

Technical and geographical details aside, Mahatma could be just about any band, and Perseverance any half-decent thrash album from the Ď90s ó not by Metallica, Megadeth or even Nuclear Assault, but by one out of hundreds of bands looking up to the big names, playing for years, refining their approach and investing in equipment and production ó just so that, in the end, they could be proud of having done something similar to what the big names were doing.

The point to this would be... we don't know. Thrash for thrash's sake? Playing "true thrash"? There are bands like Mahatma everywhere, at least one in every country. As much as Mahatma are above some in terms of diversity, all the riffs, leads and solos are instantly forgettable. The growled vocals maybe weren't the wisest choice as there was definitely some space for the clean vocals and proper vocal melodies.

There is a mandatory cover song. Admittedly, having the album title in mind we almost forgot that the original "Painkiller" was recorded by Judas Priest, but we can't tell whether Mahatma is covering Judas Priest or Death. Whichever it is, it wasn't necessary. Another mandatory Ď90s article is the final track, "Despair Overcome," which starts as a ballad and gradually becomes thrashier. Nice attempt, but again, it's just one of those. Nice while it lasts, nothing to remember afterwards.

Obviously Mahatma are trying hard, they love what they are doing, and making an album like Perseverance in South Korea couldn't have been such an easy task. It's fairly listenable, apart from too much repetition here and there, but, damn it, there's just nothing more to be said about it. (4.8/10)

 

 

 

 
7/10 Mladen
 

MASSEMORD - Skogen Kaller (re-issue) - CD - Blackmetal.com - 2008

review by: Mladen äkot

As it sometimes happens with BlackMetal.com releases, this one is over-packed. That's not a bad thing if you consider that on this, Skogen Kaller "expanded 3rd edition," you get fifteen tracks and almost 77 minutes of material. It's just a bit funny seeing a CD by the same band having pentagrams, mjollnirs, runic writings and Viking ships... all in the same booklet.

Skogen Kaller is good ó what you expect from Norwegian black metal. Cold, direct riffs, grim vocals and a drum machine so carefully programmed you don't even care that it's a machine. It's not very original, but stands its own ground due to a feeling of determination. The sound hides nothing: all clear and powerful, and you wouldn't guess it is a 2003 release. If there is an objection, it is that some songs end too soon, as if they were deliberately made shorter and more direct, but sometimes they leave the listener waiting for a conclusion.

But, as a whole, Skogen Kaller is a good example of hateful, simple black metal. It thrashes, marches, blasts and swirls, and there are not too many futile moments. Two bonus tracks from the first edition sound a bit cloudier, but actually better. And finally, the bonus ó one acoustic instrumental ó good, if the CD ended here. Next, one Efest cover... here, it becomes too much. It sounds like death metal, and where did the guitar solos suddenly come from? And after it, a Viking song with heroic clean vocals and a typical folk metal rhythm, recorded at a rehearsal. It doesn't sound like Massemord, just like the song before didn't. Finally, back to what is (or isn't) Massemord, as another acoustic interlude along with the sounds of rain, slowly turn into a black metal instrumental dirge. Eighteen minutes of it, so there's enough time to get used to it. It's actually excellent, but more like Lord Hastur Warmachine's current band, Sykdom.

As we know, Sykdom has also had a change in direction recently, and apparently Lord Hastur is no longer a member of Massemord, which now consists only of Italians (the full line-up is yet to be announced). Let's not speculate about this, Skogen Kaller is confusing enough as it is. It's good music, but it would have been better as a non-expanded edition. (7/10)

 

 

 

 
8.5/10 Daniel
 

METAL CHURCH - This Present Wasteland - CD - SPV - 2008

review by: Daniel Walker

Metal Church is one of the bands who were born in the heyday of thrash metal and even auditioned a young Lars Ulrich, but the fact that they have been so rampantly lumped in with the thrash scene is somewhat of a travesty. You could say Metal Church belong to the religion of straight-shooting traditional heavy metal, yet with a thrash metal rhythmic kick.

The band has gone through various lineup changes through the years, and despite having endured the passing of former vocalist David Wayne, has emerged rejuvenated with new singer Ronny Monroe, who also sang on the previous two albums. This Present Wasteland continues Metal Church's honest, efficient assault with impeccable songcraft and Munroe's ridiculously potent falsetto. Tying it all together are unabashedly positive lyrics ranging from peaceful protest in "A War Never Won" to fan appreciation in "Congregation."

Metal Church have shown resilience in dealing with the decline of true metal at the hands of newfangled trends such as deathcore, yet show freshness as evidenced in their conviction and epic tracks such as "Deeds of a Dead Soul," an eight-minute march of precise chiming keyboards and galloping riffs. Kurdt Vanderhoof is quite a smart guitarist, yanking out crunchy riff after crunchy riff with a technical flair.

This is one of the most consistent metal bands around and they're not trying to add a lot of bells and whistles to their sound, contrary to the modern trend even a lot of established bands are doing, which is trying to make the music a lot busier. Worship at this church now. (8.5/10)

 

 

 

 
6.5/10 Mladen
 

MICTLANTECUHTLI - Warriors of the Black Sun - CD - Darkest Empire Productions - 2008

review by: Mladen äkot

Mictlantecuhtli obviously know their own strengths, and stick with them. The songs on their second album mostly adhere to the same formula: galloping blackened thrash spiced up with blastbeats and deliberate melodies. There's not much change from beginning to end, but, as this LA quintet obviously enjoys what they are doing, Warriors of the Black Sun is a pleasant enough affair.

You've heard it before... mainly on the "modern" Immortal albums, but there's a fair amount of Swedish-sounding riffs. In theory, Mictlantecuhtli could be any other similar band, but there's some personality. Okay, the vocals sound quite like Abbath's croaks, but Temoc has enough rhythmic ideas to distinguish himself from being too similar. And the sound, as raw as it is, is Mictlantecuhtli's own, thin guitars and loud drums make the album sound better than it would have, if it had a standard sound.

Of course, what you really you wanted to know is the following: Contrary to what one may read in some history books, Mictlantecuhtli is not the Aztec God of death. Mictlantecuhtli is the manifestation of the creator in death. It is the essence of mortality. Mictlantecuhtli is the equilibrium in life. To put it plainly, Mictlantecuhtli is death.

Now, donít expect anything Aztec-related, apart from the band members' names or the occasional Aztec ornament. Warriors of the Black Sun is merely a collection of straightforward marching / charging songs with lyrics about Pagans killing Christians and glorious victories in the name of Gods and the Sun. There's even an occasional reference to "north," but this is the point where we'll just take it as poetic liberty. Just concentrate on the music, but be ready for a battle just in case ó Mictlantecuhtli's determination can't be denied. (6.5/10)

 

 

 

 
4.5/10 Daniel
 

MAELSTROM - It Was Predestined - CD - Perfect Storm Recordings - 2008

review by: Daniel Walker

Some publications couldn't praise this EP enough, but judging by the text on the back cover it's apparent around here that Maelstrom's It Was Predestined was predestined to failure. The metal universe has witnessed many unlikely genre marriages, but there should have been a dissenter at the marriage of power and technical death metal.

Truthfully, metal this fragmented, directionless, and corny doesn't come around that often. Sure, it's not really subpar in execution. They can play decently enough, but the whole affair comes across as this bloated ego trip that drowns the listener in cockiness. For an anklebiter band who has only released two demos before this EP, they sure have big heads. There are some nice heavy riffs and a menacing darkness that reminds of old death metal masters, but after hearing bright, melodic noodling, it doesn't fit. You feel inclined to look back on the cover and see morbid death images at times and are instead treated to the triumphant, "happy" image of a warrior with two swords slicing water. Seriously, what kind of egomaniac needs two swords?

Metal, and music in general, is full of alchemists trying to make new patterns, but it doesn't always work. At least to Maelstrom's credit, they didn't try to mix too many things in at once. Since the desire to mix disparate genres is inevitable, with a good faith effort they could churn out something fresher in the future that doesn't sound like a messy collage. It's worth noting as well that singer Gary Vosganian sounds like an end-of-level boss on an old SNES game. (4.5/10)

 

 

 

 
8.3/10 Mladen
 

MOURNFUL GUST - The Frankness Eve - CD - Bad Mood Man Music - 2008

review by: Mladen äkot

Ever since we reviewed She's My Grief and interviewed Mournful Gust, the four pre-mixed tracks from The Frankness Eve, downloaded from Mournful Gust's website, didn't leave this writer's computer. They were needed. Lonely nights were better knowing that in those rough, yet special moments of isolation the tracksí company could be relied on. Sad, straightforward and brutally honest, they were always there. Especially "The Cold Solitude," which was learned by heart. And now, the album is finally here.

First impression, the one involving the artwork: beautiful. Forget about symbolic, minimalist, modern imagery, this one is elaborated on all levels, with an obsessive attention paid to every single small detail. Each song has a theme, an enigmatic but real image to look at, and the whole thing has an aged and exquisite appearance. Even the non-metal people I've shown it to were impressed by the booklet, and awed by the Mournful Gust logo circling on the bottom, silver side of the disc. Yes, every possible detail.

The impressions about the music had to wait. The Frankness Eve isn't a CD to be evaluated after one spin. Mournful Gust have spent a considerable time writing it (and recording it from January to September 2007). The ideas were probably clear from the start, but, during the creative process, everything that could have been improved, embellished, or added, was taken into consideration and applied. Most of the time, in this collection of delicate sorrowful waltzes, there's even too much going on. The guitars are seductive, the keyboards solemn, the flute gentle and memorable, and it seems that every drum beat was meticulously calculated. The Frankness Eve needs time to sink in, but it is worth it. And, to make the appreciation learning process easier, its passion commands attention.

The details might be delicate, yes, but we're talking about an Ukrainian band here. Everything is laid plain before you, forceful, and although slow, almost aggressive. Mournful Gust are loud, deliberate and above all, strong. Not strong as in "macho" but, if you really feel something, why wrap it in blankets and try to make it distant? Just say it, like this band does. Strong, as in "strong, direct emotions." And Vlad Shahin's vocals really hammer the point home. His clean vocals could shame any quiet, casual singer, and his roars are massive.

Although trying to play romantic doom metal the old school way (like on their debut) Mournful Gust got so carried away that they have, again, inadvertently made a progressive album. Granted, some transitions and moments are a little rough around the edges, and the lyrics could have been in slightly better English. But for anyone with some feelings left in them there'll always come a time when things go so wrong that Mournful Gust are the only right thing. You just have to hear Shahin growling "I press to heart... I feel nothing" with full passion, and you'll know what those moments are about. Here's to more lonesome nights. (8.3/10)

 

 

 

 
8.5/10 Roberto
 

MYNDSNARE - Conditioned: Human - CD - Demonstealer Records - 2008

review by: Roberto Martinelli

With the release of Myndsnareís Conditioned: Human, not only has Demonstealer Records made a huge jump forward, but so has the entire Indian metal scene.

Up till now, records coming out of Indiaís appeal lay perhaps more in the novelty value of it coming from an infant, fledgling scene, and with all the naive, bumbling charm that goes along with it. Conditioned: Human is an album whose worth can be appreciated beyond geographic details.

Conditioned: Human is perhaps the finest album of technical death to come out in 2008. It displays an excellent mix of aggression, melody, hook, complexity, and technicality, and brings it all forth with engaging energy. While other tech death albums (like Obscuraís Cosmogenesis, reviewed in this issue), sacrifice intensity and immediacy for clarity and cleanliness of sound, Myndsnare bring the technicality and depth of composition, but do so in a way that sounds fresh and rabid, like the musicians really had something new and important to say. Just as importantly, Conditioned: Human sounds like an actualy, talented band playing instruments, not like a meticulously / ridiculously tweaked mix of instruments reduced to plastic tonalities for the sake of gratuitously showcasing chops.

Stylistically, you can tell that Myndsnare are influenced by the band Death. However, this doesnít make them anything close to a rip-off. The music often has a thrashy leaning. Much of the time, Myndsnare will be tearing away in a new direction, but they manage to maintain cohesion in their songs, so that the tunes donít sound like an arbitrary collage of parts. And any death metal album that has a melody that is forever memorable is a death metal album worth checking out. The only things that are not tremendous on this record are the hoarse shout vocals, which are nothing more than acceptable placeholders.

The greatest gift Conditioned: Human can provide for the death metal enthusiast is an album that has something new to discover with each listen. As of this articleís writing, the score is 8.5/10. However, it is entirely likely this albumís appeal will grow with time and familiarity. It makes this writerís top of 2008 list. (8.5/10)

 

 

 

 
6.6/10 Roberto
 

NECROBLASPHEME - Destination: Nulle Part - CD - Agonia Records - 2008

review by: Roberto Martinelli

Necroblasphemeís Destination: Nulle Part is a solid album of heavy, aggressive, pummeling death metal. The music has enough variety in melody and structure to discern songs from one another. Itís a good album, itís a correct album, but itís not particularly new, fresh, or super exciting. It wonít offend death metal purists and offers good entertainment for a few spins. The one thing that will raise all eyebrows is the fucked-with clip of Phil Collinsí "Studio" song, which comes across as the equivalent of someone letting rip a loud fart during an opera. (6.6/10)

 

 

 

 
6/10 Roberto
 

OBSCURA - Cosmogenesis - CD - Relapse Records - 2009

review by: Roberto Martinelli

Death metal has seen a new rise in rip-off adulation trends recently, with talented musicians aping German frontrunner Necrophagist in order to get a slice of the pie. Even bands like Arsis, that had their own sound to begin with, are abandoning their thing to sound more like the perceived leaders of the scene.

In Obscuraís case, the many Necrophagist-isms make a bit more sense: Their drummer and guitarist were both on Necrophagistís genre-exploding Epitaph. (The bass player is from old school Dutch act Pestilence.) But even so, some of the likenesses in sound are still too much of a rip-off.

What Obscura does thatís different from their main band of influence is liberal use of cleaner, more relaxed sections. These arenít entirely groundbreaking, either, but Obscuraís attempt to be different by not going for constant brutality will be noted by fans of the genre.

Cosmogenesis also takes pages from the M.O.s of other noted progressive death metal bands. Death largely comes to mind, but an entry devoted to Cynic also comes up, down to the hollow, elecronic clean voice heard so much on Cynicís albums. Fans of Pestilence will hear some inevitable references to that act as well.

The sound on Cosmogenesis is fairly expected for technical death metal fare of the last few years. The tones are clean and precise, the drums sound very little like a kit would in real life, and the way the lead guitar sits on top of the music is something that will definitely ring a bell. Again, the road laid by Necrophagist has not been traveled away from very much in this regard, although Obscura does sound more organic. However, the most brutal parts of the music are in a way the least because of these sonic choices, as the most aggressive sections sound the thinnest.

Cosmogenesisí music is made up of a myriad of technical parts, which, thankfully, arenít the same handful of death metal modes played faster and more clearly than before, ad nauseam. Obscura mix it up, again with the aforementioned clean parts and focus on music, represented by lengthy sections with no vocals. Stingy metal musicianship geeks will find that all the performances are top notch, with intense pockets of noodling wizardry found throughout. However, when looking at Cosmogenesis as a collection of songs, the album is not extremely satisfying. The music is always good, but none of the songs reveal themselves as particularly noteworthy, maintaining a quality level that stays consistently at, but never rises above mildly engaging. An attempt to have a much stronger identity might not have gotten this band signed to Relapse, but it might have made for a better album.

Despite its quality of musicianship, Obscura is a facsimile of something else in just about every aspect. The music, the production, even the art (done by the same guy that did Originís last Relapse Records album, down to the way the pages fold out) scream "if you like X, Y, and Z bands, this one is a no-brainer." The problem is, if you want your albums to sound different, this might not be the best choice. (6/10)

 

 

 

 
7/10 Pal
 

PHAZM - Cornerstone of the Macabre - CD - Osmose Productions - 2008

review by: Pal Meentzen

"Love me rotten, Love me true." Oh, no, not another band trying to blend humour with grim music? Only very few bands can manage to be truly funny that way. Macabre is one such instance, with their self-designed Murder Metal, because they have done some thorough research on maniacs (like writing Jeffrey Dahmer while he was on Death Row).

Phazm are from France. They do not play at Macabreís dazzling speed, featuring rather slow doom bits alternated with up-tempo rock, Motorhead style, and occasionally employ some really fast blasting. A song like "The Old Smell of the Meat" is such a slab of rotten tissue marinated in a pool of Smirnoff, before being used as a saddle for a Harley motor.

Itís weird hearing stuff that is bursting with doom metal elements, yet itís funny as hell. What to call it? Comedydoom? Phazm is like various styles mashed together and itís going up and down like a rollercoaster with questionable security seating. But they are controlling the wagons, grinning sardonically while their audience mix their sense of fun with voluntarily invoked panic.

Once there was a discussion among Maelstrom staff about how blues scales have no place in black metal. Funnily enough, if a band plays death metal, they can get away with it. The vocals are something of a cartoon growl, low and raspy, and recall Mayhemís Euronymous a bit.

"Love Me Rotten, Love Me True" is simply great and has a heavy, almost Deathspell Omega-like riff that rocks like a monster that digs its way into your brain and chews there on some neurotransmitter cables.

Not all songs are equally strong. "Mucho Mojo" is a bit silly, because its narrative character breaks the flow of the album. Besides, whoíd be waiting for such bottleneck bluesiness followed by a "let me tell you a storyÖ," when the previous songs have all spoken well enough for themselves without any spoken word mumblings.

Phazm are in better control of their instruments than of their lyric writing, but hey, at least their English is understandable and by far not as ridiculous as Leonardo diCaprio playing a role as le roi Soleil in "The Man in the Iron Mask."

Phazm are by all means an original group and Cornerstone of the Macabre is recommended for everyone into humorous, heavy and morbid death metal with rock elements. They also get extra points for a great cover design with its hookah-sucking zombie monks, with some even deader looking Dixieland posse. At least these guys try to bring back some fun in the genre. From France! Cíest merveilleux! (7/10)

 

 

 

 
2/10 Roberto
 

PLACES OF POWER - Now Is the Hour - CD - Blistering Records - 2009

review by: Roberto Martinelli

Apparently, someone with the means still believes that cheesy, third-rate butt rock has an audience. (2/10)

 

 

 

 
6.5/10 Mladen
 

REDEMPTOR HOMINIS - Premices I - IV - CD - Haarbn Productions - 2008

review by: Mladen äkot

On their label's website, Redemptor Hominis are described as "avangarde post black metal," but maybe it would be more accurate to say "retro pre-symphonic occult narrative black metal." How does that sound?

Let's try and look at this EP from a more simple perspective. It sounds like one of the more obscure albums you might have heard in the early Ď90s, back when bands were experimenting with everything they could think of, and with more or less charming results. Premices I - IV isn't half bad: You can listen to the whole thirty minutes of it and feel nostalgic, because it has the aura of something recorded a while ago. The guitars are distant and almost romantic. In contrast, the drums are here and now, and they are sharp, while the keyboard or piano sections add to the atmosphere just enough to make the ongoing ceremony interesting.

The thing that some might not like is the storytelling (or it might be "invocation") aspect. The music itself isn't highly innovative, simple mid-tempo riffs and rhythms like these were played before, and they will be played after. But it serves the purpose, and changes when necessary to add some feeling of advancement through the rituals. And the four rituals (that's songs)... sorry, but French isn't our main language. All we can say is that the lyrics are massive, and they look interesting. Whatever they are about, the rhythmic vocal delivery seems to be as important, and in some cases even more important, than the music itself. Luckily, the vocal patterns vary, and with some spoken or half-sung parts you can listen to them without getting annoyed, but the fact is that they seem to be the main thing for Redemptor Hominis.

Not many will be extremely surprised by Premices I - IV. You can't be blown away by it, and there's something about the vocals making them push aside a big part of the atmosphere that might have happened if they weren't so dense... or the other instruments played more enthralling things. But then, it has a certain charm, and if the above mentioned attempt at a definition means anything to you, and if you feel nostalgic towards the innocent beginnings of occult black metal, try it. It's safe to assume that some might actually be scared by this album. (6.5/10)

 

 

 

 
DIY/10 Pal
 

RUDIMENTARY PENI - No More Pain - CD - Southern Records - 2008

review by: Pal Meentzen

After almost three decades, British anarcho-punks Rudimentary Peni are still the vehicle of the dark visions and snarling comments of Nick Blinko. The songs of Rudimentary Peni are usually pretty much on the short side, hence their EPs are to be regarded as severely compressed full-length albums. The10 tunes on No More Pain represent their ninth album, which consists of 20-minutes of three-chord simplicity.

The production is great, the walls of guitar support a solid brick house and bass and drums waste no time in subtleties. On the first listen, the songs donít seem to be very deep, neither with regard to lyrics, nor with regard to compositional structures. All stripped to the bone.

But this has always been the thing with Rudimentary Peni, itís all part of their minimalistic design. Look at them as nihilists, and thereíd be no reason to take this release seriously. What childish rubbish is this? Even the dumbest kid with a guitar could play a song like "Grave Object," which is as simple as a walk down the stairs.

And the lyrics? Take the entire lyrics for "The Death of the Author": "Being brave / wonít save you / from the grave." Thatís it. Because of their briefness, all lyrics have been printed beneath the titles. It saves money for printing a fancy booklet. Smart, huh? Instead, a fold-out poster is included, an enlargement of the ink-on-paper cover design. Brilliant.

However, when being regarded from a minimalist viewpoint, there is more to it. When going through the lyrics, it becomes clear that the theme of No More Pain is about death, and judging from the sneering vocals of Blinko, things arenít meant as funny as they seem to be. Allegedly, the man has been in some serious personal trouble and therefore it is likely that the theme wasnít chosen for mere convenience.

The lyrics of the first song, "Handful of Dust," are from a poem by T.S. Eliot ("I will show you fear/in a handful of dust"). Itís a tiny reference as a means to an end. Want to get a picture of what that song sounds like? Then think of the tune of "Buffy the Vampire Slayer," and youíre halfway there.

Even more remarkable is the final song, "Pachelbelís Canon in E." Rudimentary Peni have re-worked this classical piece that was written around 1860, and made it their own as a four-minute instrumental. Donít be alarmed, like everything else on here, it rocks like a bastard in lederhosen.

From this, it is evident that Rudimentary Peni are a band of veterans who care not for any distorted or commercial interpretations of this genre. They have been doing their own thing since 1980, and they donít share the street with punks like the Exploited, G.B.H. or the Casualties. They come from a much darker place. Think of this album as a mirror thatís shattered in 10 pieces. All together, they complement the reflection of Blinkoís mind, disturbed and disturbing alike. Itís only good if you can dig it. If you donít, youíll probably think theyíre just taking the piss. (DIY/10)

 

 

 

 
7/10 Roberto
 

RUHR HUNTER - Moss and Memory - CD - Glass Throat Recordings - 2008

review by: Roberto Martinelli

Ruhr Hunter offers its most musical effort with Moss and Memory. The big turning point for this project was Torn of This, the previous album, in which sole member Chet Scott (Blood of the Black Owl) made major steps forward in composition.

While Moss and Memory is less ambient than Torn of This, it features much of the signature elements that make it recognizeable as one of Scottís work, like otherworldy calls of night birds, trademark dissonant chords, and deep and liberal use of what Scott refers to as "ritual intsrumentation," of which some of the most noticeable is his style on the hammered dulcimer... but there is something like 25 instruments on hand here, and the music reflects the variety aptly. Another important progression is the increase in vocals (again, of a variety of approaches and techniques), which appear on every track and play substantial roles.

Speaking of rituals, the word is well-chosen to reflect the energy of the music. Chet Scottís mission in the music he creates and releases ever centers through what can be described as a sacred Paganism, a dark take on the embracing of the Earthís godlike manifestation.

Like the latest batch of Glass Throat releases, Moss and Memory comes in a gorgeous, no-plastic digipak. The cardboard is as dark and earthy as the subject matter, and all art and text is embossed into the packaging. Scottís commitment to releasing total-package albums is more and more of a rarity, making his labor even more recommendable to those interested in mystical, Pagan-oriented, dark music. (7/10)

 

Related reviews:
 
Torn of This (issue No 11)  

 

 

 
6/10 Pal
 

SATANIST - Sadomasochrist - CD - Negativity Records - 2008

review by: Pal Meentzen

Hwraaaaa, infidels of the world: Gather around the chalice of blasphemy and drink from the cup of His Splendid Majestic Blackness, so it may fill your insides. Satanist will satisfy your need for Satanic black metal like Burger King will do for the kitchen illiterates. Would Satanic salmon be ok as well? ĎCause this is true Alaskan black metal by a duo going under the names of Gilles de Rais and Marquis de Sade. Whatís in a name? Oh, wellÖ

The production is neither good nor abysmal. The audibility of the guitars is good and includes some melodic solos from time to time. But the sound of the (programmed) drums, on the other hand, falls short as if it were mastered from a low-bitrate mp3 source. Some songs also feature atmospheric bits on keyboard, like the superfluous instrumentals "A Far Better Resting Place," "Mereitron," and "Ordo Templi Satanis," although to some they might sound more like the soundtrack to an episode of "Doctor Who."

The album has a slightly cheesy fold-out poster of a nun pissing on the Bible. In 1999, Horna included a poster with their Perimš Vihassa Ja Verikostossa EP with a nude chick having some fun with a crucifix. The titles on the Satanist CD back have a dark grey lettering that almost disappears into a black background, which is suspiciously reminiscent of Hornaís Haudankylmyyden Mailla album, also from 1999. A certain similarity between the intro of that album and this albumís "Mercitron" even underlines the notion of a hidden tribute of sorts.

Satanistís mockery of nuns, or for that matter Christianity, is obvious. But having an outspoken stance on Christianity doesnít make the music nescessarily better. The problem is that on this album, Satanist have included a few superfluous side-thoughts and interludes, hence hampering the general flow of the album.

"Dawn of Baphomet" and "Tree of Death" are songs in a manner reminicent of Deathspell Omega (and among the better songs on the album). Their lyrical content is consistent with regard to the Satanic Bible. "Tree of Death" even includes a summary of a whole array of infernal entities. However, a song like "Autoerotic Crucifixiation" is obviously from a different recording session with entirely different sounding guitars. Because it sounds like an early, clumsy studio outtake from Venom, like from around 1981, one may wonder what kept them from trying to be as consistent in sound as they are in their choice of subjects. "Eliphas Levi" includes clean background vocals and has a more proggy feel. Thereís clearly no lack of musical diversity, but it seems itís easy to lose focus within the snowy plains of the north.

Sadomasochrist is an album with a few songs worth hearing. But it also contains some utterly pointless excercises. Considering the fact that it took Satanist three years to record these 40 minutes at various sessions, Sadomasochrist feels like a compilation album, and not a particulary mandatory one, save for the fact that Alaska just may not have an abundance of likeminded peers. So go for the curio factor, or just for the naughty pic, itís mildly entertaining. (6/10)

 

 

 

 
6.5/10 Mladen
 

SAXON - Into the Labyrinth - CD - Steamhammer - 2009

review by: Mladen äkot

Damn, this makes us feel old. Saxon is now more than 30 years old, and weíre not talking about the members. Into the Labyrinth is Saxonís... nah. Who's counting? It's their new album, might as well be their previous album, or maybe any of their albums. We don't know who's buying them, or why, but some obviously do. As for us, we're fine with them. They can play for 30 more years if they want to, and we wouldn't have the heart to tell them they are a bunch old farts who should be doing some gardening instead, or drinking in a pub while reminiscing about how great 1981 was, when they had a big hit where they were simply singing about fashion tips (for the younger readers: "Denim! And Leather! Those are together!").

And what's new on Saxon's 2009 CD? The songs are new, that's what's new. Or maybe just the song titles, and most probably just the cover artwork. It's the old band doing old tricks. A word to those who want to make their band last for 30 years: don't overdo it. If you shoot all the riffs you have in three albums, there won't be enough for thirteen. So, Saxon couldn't be more minimal than they are, and it makes us think they are planning to continue this for another decade or two.

Translated into simpler words, it means rock, straightforward to the bone. Most songs have the time-tested construction, and even if the verse and chorus don't correspond to each other, damned if Saxon have bothered writing a bridge. The bridges they omitted will probably be choruses on the next album.

Now, you have the slow numbers, almost bluesy narrative songs (meaning: it's all about the lyrics, the guitar is a secondary instrument), then the mid-tempo "heavy" tracks and a few songs in the same tempo but with more prominent guitar (that would be "metal" then). The lyrics are obviously the main thing (it's Biff Byford's band after all) and if his voice still doesn't irritate you, after all these years, enjoy. There are songs about living in sin, Valley of the Kings, getting speeding tickets, lonely roads, protecting yourselves when the darkness comes, World War II airplanes ("Hellcat" ó yes, we know it because we are old, too) and of course how it's great to rock. One is about Sweeney Todd, and as a bonus you get a re-recorded "bottleneck" (yes, we know what that is, too) version of "Coming Home."

And that's it. Another Saxon album. Admittedly, we wouldn't buy Into the Labyrinth, but we know some considerably younger people who would. If you're a Saxon newcomer, this one is as good as any. But if you can't imagine yourself turning into an "old rocker" type, do what we do: Just ignore Saxon and leave them be. There are worse bands of this kind out there and they get more recognition than Saxon ever did. (6.5/10)

 

Related reviews:
 
Killing Ground (issue No 7)  
The Saxon Chronicles (issue No 16)  

 

 

 
7/10 Roberto
 

STILLBORN - Esta Rebeliůn Es Eterna - CD - Dissonance Records - 2008

review by: Roberto Martinelli

Like Japanís Corrupted, Polandís Stillborn are far removed from a Latin heritage, yet name their works in Spanish. Itís all good, though, as long as they make albums as good as Esta Rebelion Es Eterna. This nine-song EP is an exercise in constant bludgeoning of the extreme metal kind. The music sounds superhuman, with incessant blasts and enough aggression left over for three other, lesser bands. Sure, the drums donít sound realistic at all, or, rather, sound like a believable drum machine, but thatís the sound Stillborn was probably going for. The bandís from Poland, and metal fans know that those groups are legit.

Yes, the music on this EP is single-minded in its goal. Destroy, and leave very precise heaps of evenly organized rubble in wake. Because of the unwavering means to this end, Esta Rebelion Es Eterna ends right when it needs to, and before it gets old, at 25 minutes. Good choice. (7/10)

 

 

 

 
7/10 Pal
 

SVARTI LOGHIN - Empty World - CD - Aeternitas Tenebrarum Music Foundation - 2008

review by: Pal Meentzen

In the vein of Forgotten Woods and Abyssic Hate, Svarti Loghin, from Sweden, emerge with their debut album, Empty World. It has six tracks with five songs ranging from 6+ to 9+ minutes, plus one outro. However, whereas a lot of depressive black metal has a fairly static, often pre-programmed rhythm section, there is natural drumming on this album.

The level of depression is closer to soulful old Burzum instead of the caustic soullessness of Xasthur. And though there have been zillions of Burzum followers, itís not to say that Svarti Loghin are devoid of originality. Having said that, there is a song called "Cold Void."

The funny thing is that of all the songs, itís the title track that is a total opposite of depression. It has a central riff that conjurs up memories of a very happy Beatles song, "Here Comes the Sun," be it this time with anguished Varg Vikerness-style screams. Speaking of Ď60s music: In the middle of "Inner Desolation" is a laid back part with two clean guitars twangling / chatting together in a manner not unfit for some unreleased tune by Velvet Underground. Itís odd to think of, but such associations make the songs stand out more.

Another notable thing is the sparse but pleasant use of bright sounding, clean electric guitar, an important variation set against the otherwise generic buzz-distorted guitar. The clean intro of the title track is simply beautiful and the best 15 seconds of Empty World.

As could be expected from this genre, there is some repetition going on (there almost always is). With the exception of the outro, there are no keyboards. The slow riffs and submissive bass almost create a substitute for a musical undercurrent that keyboards usually provide.

Although offering nothing revolutionary or truly groundbreaking, this album has its charms. It has a no-frills approach and itís been produced in a manner that doesnít treat oneís eardrums like Xasthurian wrists. As noted, itís soulful black metal. What this album is certainly not, is cold or hostile, not even misanthropic. Yes, there are anguished Burzummy screams, but theyíre still not screams of the type of someone whoís fallen into a deep pit in the middle of the woods, not being able to climb out, while the clouds above are about to burst. The overall feel is one of resignedness, perhaps even of being at peace with oneself and oneís depressive inner voice.

Empty World is an excellent debut in itself and deserves a listen. The claim that Svarti Loghin will become "the Swedish point of reference for Skillful Emotional Depressive Black Metal" seems a bit premature, but if they carry on like this, someone will start noticing them, and thatís a start. And theyíre good at starts. (7/10)

 

 

 

 
7/10 Daniel
 

TREACHERY - Treachery - CD - Czar of Crickets - 2008

review by: Daniel Walker

Treachery is an American black metal band from Minnesota with a decidedly lo-fi approach, relyiing on low, brooding synths, reverbed vocals and drum patterns, and a drum machine, which, for for this type of emotionally detached metal, offers a necessary coldness. Additionally, they employ various sounds of machinery and animals such as birds and crickets. It's an interesting mix of organic and technological.

The Treachery EP is like Burzum meets Fear Factory at their most comatose. Underneath it all are haunting specters of feedback that drip on like stubborn molasses. One does get the slight impression at times that the band's heart is in industrial and techno music, but they're hiding it under the veneer of black metal because they think they'll get more exposure that way. That's probably true, but it would be nice for the black metal side of their sound to develop more.

Treachery makes for a refreshing listen. Not much sounds like this, at least not much of the metal that's in popular print. It has the spirit of old black metal, but is noticeably more deranged and hallucinogenic. (7/10)

 

 

 

 
7/10 Mladen
 

VOETSEK - Infernal Command - CD - Selfmadegod Records - 2008

review by: Mladen äkot

Oh, bloody hell. We've been run over by Donald Duck driving a supercharged tank at 200 mph with custom painted flames on the sides. Seventeen songs in 22 minutes of Voetsek will do that to you.

Not sure who those people are. Apparently they're from San Francisco, but they better stay away from our office. Their debut was called The Castrator Album, so we'd rather not have them around. This singer chick, she scares us. She's chubby, tattooed, and we couldn't stand her voice even if it was slow enough to understand, but it isn't. Yeah, she sounds like a demented cartoon character but we don't want innocent cartoon characters crossing to the dark side. And, she's doing "that" so fast that we can't understand a word.

The track list isn't numbered, and the lyrics aren't printed in the order in which the tracks appear. By the time we realize what song is playing, and find the proper lyrics, it's already gone so we don't know if the song was about all the chicks Lemmy banged, war in Iraq, murders on the dance floor, or murderous mothers.

On a brighter side, all the songs sound the same so you can read the lyrics separately. Fast or faster, Motorhead played at Slayer speeds with a piss-off punk attitude and grind ethic. Underproduced, underdeveloped, underbeautiful. Nasty, greasy, fast and alive. It might be short, but Infernal Command will make you hate your life already after you've listened to a half of it. But yes, that's a good thing. Now go and scare someone else. (7/10)

 

 

 

 
9.9/10 Avi
 

YEDID, YITZHAK - Suite in Five Movements - CD - Between the Lines - 2008

review by: Avi Shaked

After the breathtaking 2007 release "Reflections Upon Six Images," composer/pianist Yitzhak Yedid continues to thrill with this new recording by an oud / double bass / piano formation.

Much like the instruments with which it is played, this novel piece is all about fragile borderlines: between classical music and jazz, between composed / structured and free / improvised, between European and Middle Eastern, and suggesting both the tension and the communality between religions (in loyalty to the city of Jerusalem, which is cited as an influence).

The structured guidelines throughout this work tinge it with a symphonic flavor, making it both grandiose and memorable. Unison lines are carried out with precision and passion, carrying the listener through tense, exotic scenes and to exciting climaxes.

Unlike other attempts by forward thinking musicians, the free spirited solos and the technique (in both composition and performance) are never out of line here, always fitting the frame and serving as a stepping stone. As an example, Yedid's muted piano percussions are never a drill; they are more of a genuine alarm, as the percussive feature three minutes into the first movement demonstrates: It emerges from one of the unisons, first served with gentle, twiddling oud and then nails the bass upon its entrance, with each player and instrument adding his or her own distinguished timbers to form a harmonic counterpoint.

The above also suggests another notable, prominent quality of this recording ó the deviations from the written parts, in the form of free playing, make for contrapuntal polyphonies, which remain fresh with every listen. The improvisation actually enriches the composition by adding uncertainty and twists to the compositions, and this is not to be taken lightheadedly; as this achievement indicates a thorough introjection of the compositions by each of the musicians as well as their inventiveness both as individuals and as a creative outfit.

There is not a second of hollow virtuosity on Mikhail Maroun's middle-eastern-scale decorated, yet somewhat grayish and mournful oud playing, on Yedid's adventurous use of the piano (check out the third movement's "A Pianist's Conflict" for his clever assembly of notes in different octaves into an engaging passage) or on Ora Boasson Horev's entrancing, vibrating bass weaving (her arco bass foreboding with somber, chamber echoes, and her delicately disturbing pizzicato). These only rise to the occasion of serving you this lyrical, spellbinding music. (9.9/10)

 

 

 

 
7.5/10 Avi
 

BELL, MAGGIE - Best Of - CD - Angel Air Records - 2008

review by: Avi Shaked

Another release in Angel Airís "Sound & Vision" line, Maggie Bellís Best Of packs a CD of songs culled from various Bell-featured releases by the label, with a DVD of a 1981 live performance by the Bell-fronted band Midnight Flyer.

The CD is satisfactory, as it compiles songs from the singerís first two solo releases as well as from some live performances, revisiting various stations from 1974 to 2007, to represent both her solo career and some of the bands she had been a part of (Midnight Flyer and British Blues Quintet. Unfortunately no Stone the Crow tracks are included). Keith Smithís liner notes, however, hint at a certain miss, suggesting that there is a wealth of rarer solo material that should have been included here, if only for the sake of attracting dedicated fans. Still, those fans might appreciate the fact that "No Mean City (Theme from Taggart)" is included here, making the recently released CD-single of the song somewhat redundant.

In a previous issue (#60) we celebrated the CD of Midnight Flyerís 1981 performance in Montreux. The 70-minute DVD here offers an even more sensual experience of that gig, and is ó by itself ó worth the price of the set. The footage is one of the most exciting to have come out of the label yet ó being spirited enough to keep up with the kindled performance and with both its audio and video in pristine condition, it allows to almost relive the event.

The band, which included Whitesnake and Foghat refugees amongst others, performs its boogie rock numbers with the chops of hard rock and the soul of the blues; the latter is portrayed in purer form on the closing tracks, featuring renowned bluesmen Taj Mahal and then Albert Collins jamming gracefully with the band. (7.5/10)

 

 

 

 
5/10 Avi
 

PELL, AXEL RUDI - Diamonds Unlocked - CD - SPV - 2007

review by: Avi Shaked

Diamonds Unlocked offers Axel Rudi Pell's take on ten songs whose original versions varied from hard rock through blues rock to pop.

Pell does add a new touch to most of these songs. It is not necessarily a trademark touch, but rather a general pop-metal spin typical of metal bands from the Ď80s, with a melodramatic presentation that is often over the top.

The acoustic version of Kiss's "Love Gun" is a surprising one, and while it isn't rich with nuance, Pell benefits from the fact Kiss missed out on doing this on its MTV Unplugged session (which was far more articulate). The Who's "Won't get Fooled Again" receives a pretty straightforward reading, which fails not only in bringing any insight but also in sounding earnest.

The attempts to pull Phil Collins's "In the Air Tonight" and U2's "Beautiful Day" into hard rock territory fail to deliver the potential that exists on paper, while the slowed down, piano ballad dressing of The Mission's "Like A Child Again" sounds as cheesy as Bon Jovi.

Luckily, the extrovert attitude does work on some of the songs, most notably on Chris Rea's "Stone," which is carried out with storming passion, and Free's "Heartbreaker," which is given a harder touch while the original spirit of the song is maintained with fine, bluesy guitar and organ sounds. Riot's "Warrior" is also updated with a speedy, power metal edge.

On "Rock The Nation," originally by Montrose, singer Johnny Gioli sings "Just wanna have fun," and indeed, Diamonds Unlocked is not essential, but it is rocking, pleasant listen. (5/10)

 

Related reviews:
 
Knights Live (issue No 12)  

 

 

 
3/10 Brandon
 

MANZANA - Nothing as Whole as a Broken Heart - CD - TRC Records - 2007

review by: Brandon Strader

Manzana has a fairly simple approach to their song writing. Itís basically grunge with KoRn-style vocals performed by a female vocalist, Piritta Lumous. If you thought the vocalist for KoRn sounds fairly ridiculous, check it out from a female perspective. There is also a bit of Lacuna Coil-style chorus work that has a more solid vocal tone, and the same generally simplified guitar parts.

The synthesizer choices for this album are lacking. It seems like they use the same "beep" sound on every song. Where is the usage of synth string sections, or at least some other kind of atmospheric sound that could add to the depth of the songs? Itís just the same beeping electronic sound that usually has as many notes as the guitar part: three or four, give or take. Sure, music doesnít hinge around how many notes are written for a specific instrument, yet you canít deny the lack of interest when everything is so simple.

Probably the most redeeming quality of Nothing as Whole as a Broken Heart would be the percussion. The drummer has obvious skill, and often introduces tom fills into verses and various parts in a tasteful and creative way. Compared to the simplicity of the other parts, and the practically inaudible bass, the percussionist seems like a guru amongst peons; a lone golden idol on a pedestal.

The songs are really nothing special, yet tracks like "Gift" make you wonder what they were thinking. What demographic are they focusing on? It seems that any group from metalheads, to hard rock types, to screamo kids, were trying to be catered to on this track, but it seems unlikely that any of those fans would dig it. It does sound like Manzana was trying to go for a certain commercial, heavy sound, yet fell victim to some of the worst clichťs. (3/10)

 

 

 

 
4/10 Brandon
 

NATION BEYOND - The Aftermath Odyssey - CD - Sensory/Lasers Edge - 2008

review by: Brandon Strader

Opening up with quotes from George W. Bush, Condoleezza Rice, and what can only be described as ancient, Hitler-esque samples, Nation Beyond crafts an adequately cheese-stuffed montage of sound bytes onto a crappy techno-style introduction to their album.

Once the first real song, "A Rainy Day in Hell," kicks off, it seems like all hope is lost as Casio-quality keyboard strings and piano come forth. The keyboard elements really suck hard on The Aftermath Odyssey, yet the vocals are really well performed, including the layered, operatic impact vocals. By the time "In The Ashes" begins, youíll be thinking, "Ok, the two introductions are over, now whereís the beef?"

Nation Beyond tease you with a heavy riff that quickly subsides into more crap string and piano sounds. The lyrics are also incredibly cheesy. Ok, The Aftermath Odyssey is supposed to focus on a post-apocalyptic world torn apart by war. Considering that, the frequent drop to wimpy ballads stuffed with horrible keyboard sounds seems unfitting.

Vocalist Neilz Lindstrom actually does have a pretty high range, and his softer, more serious "ballad" voice is pleasant, too. Heís a good performer; he just doesnít have the best lyrics to work with. Things really donít start to shape up until "The Wanderer," which displays the first creative use of the heavy guitars, keyboards, and vocals in a non-ballad context.

When Nation Beyond are actually playing metal, with high-range vocal melodies, double-kick percussion, and accompanying key parts during the epic choruses, they sound good. The Aftermath Odyssey falls short for a lot of reasons, however. Apart from the goofy arrangements, they try to hide the vocal flaws by smothering them with reverb, which really contributes to the muddiness of the production. The guitar tone is fairly raw and has a very inconsistent presence in the mix. The result of all of these elements is an album that sounds fairly sloppy during regular listening, but seems to work well at very high volumes.

On the bright side, songs like "New Eden City" are quite well done, and there is definitely a lot of potential for greatness in Nation Beyond if they can just manage to pull things together for a bit more solid presentation next time. (4/10)

 

 

 

 
8/10 Brandon
 

MORSE, NEAL - Lifeline - CD - Radiant Records - 2008

review by: Brandon Strader

It was a sad occasion when Neal Morse decided to leave Translatlantic. It was also sad when Spock's Beard became barren of all of his contributions. For anyone suffering Neal Morse withdrawals, Lifeline is here to fill that void. Following his previous release, Sola Scriptura, Lifeline continues in a more traditional prog direction.

Lifeline is so much more epic than Morse's previous album. Sola Scriptura took a while to get off the ground; and after it did, it seemed a tad too repetitive. Opening with the title track, this new album begins with an incredible amount of strength. After four and a half minutes when Morse's vocals finally come in, you will have already experienced a colossal amount of top quality prog.

While Lifeline does have all of the elements we've come to expect from Morse, including the massive layers of keyboards, we find Morse employing more real elements like the acoustic guitar and piano on a much larger scale than with his previous efforts. The lyrical content and overall feeling of the album is uplifting, as Morse has decided to put more emphasis on his religion, and this has poured over into his writing. It's a welcome addition to his already stuffed-to-the-brim, epic style.

There are times, however, when the music does seem generic. Like "The Way Home," for example, has a chorus that sounds like something teens would be singing at Church. There are only so many Christian rock songs, and there are far fewer original ones. Luckily though, Morse isn't specializing in Christian rock, and his progressive rock is majestic, and, at times, downright heavy.

Lifeline has a very deep emotional impact, and you can sense Morse's humanity through this music. With songs like "So Many Roads," his personality practically flows like a fountain. Morse continues his tradition of creating massive and intricate progressive rock that brings a fresh face to an older genre. It's fantastic to hear such experimentation that not many bands dare to try. Also, the CD itself looks like a little record. Very nice artwork that helps permeate the aura of aged goodness. (8/10)

 

 

 

 
8/10 Brandon
 

BLACK MAGES, THE - Darkness and Starlight - CD - Dog Ear Records - 2008

review by: Brandon Strader

The Black Mages is a metal band fronted by Nobuo Uematsu, who is best known for composing all of the best Final Fantasy music from the first through the tenth game.

Darkness and Starlight is the third Black Mages album. The first, self-titled album, focused mainly on battle themes from Final Fantasy games performed by a metal band... yet they are so much more than simply a metal band. The high level of composition and actual orchestration requires multiple keyboardists to pull off live in addition to the guitarists and bassist. There is no vocalist, as most of the songs are instrumentals.

With this album and the one that preceded it (The Skies Above) The Black Mages have recreated some of the more adventurous or pleasant themes as well. "Distant Worlds" and the new original composition "Life ~ in memory of KEITEN ~" are a couple extremely melodic songs without a hint of any battle-related activities. Yet for the most part, The Black Mages like to keep a fairly steady amount of hard rocking going on at all times.

It would have seemed that the classic piece "The Extreme" would have translated well into metal as the original version itself was very heavy and had plenty of dual harmonies. It's probably the best battle theme Uematsu ever composed, yet the intensity of the song is lacking on this album.

The previous albums were very heavy and the solo styles of the guitarists were employed in a tasteful manner. What doesnít make Darkness and Starlight the best Black Mages album ever is that it seemed to have lost a bit of edge. At times, this album sounds like backing tracks for a practicing solo guitarist. The heavy rhythms aren't loud enough in the mix. That is the only flaw stopping this from being one kickass heavy metal record. All of the instrumentation is fantastic, and the solos, although excessive, are extremely well done.

Still, the songwriting is pure brilliance and despite a little flaw that is probably only noticed by a trained metalhead's ear, Darkness and Starlight is a very thoroughly crafted work of art. "Assault of the Silver Dragons" may have translated the best into a heavy metal song. It simply slays, and it ends with the gusto of a true heavy metal band. (8/10)

 

 

 

 
7.5/10 Joshua
 

ZODIAK - Sermons - CD - Translation Loss Records - 2008

review by: Joshua

Ya like Tool, do ya? Sure, and really, why not? Their mix of labyrinthine structures, heaviness, superlative musicianship, top notch production, and ó gasp ó actual songs wrapped up, in and around tales of psycho-sexual drama(s) that sprout from the unchecked id of a frontman with a really impressive wig collection is a thing of warped beauty. But, despite all those enticements, when youíre hip-deep in one of their albums, carried away on the updrafts of their twisted, proggy take on metal, do you ever wish theyíd cut short the meandering and the noodling and just get to the fucking point?

Enter Zodiak.

Itís not the band necessarily sound likes Tool as much as they channel something Toolesque and push it through a fairly advanced metalgaze sieve. Sermonsí eight tracks are laden with enough foggy atmosphere to choke a horse or two, punctuated by weighty interludes and not so random bursts of energy underscored by sometimes raw, usually hushed vocal lines. Then the whole deal is overlaid with enough trippyness that could transport you to the Crab Nebula and back on your lunch break. And thatís the key right there: Zodiak is able to accomplish this over a lean and compact 31 minutes ó no mean feat, that.

Whether by design, luck or a short attention span, this comparative brevity is the bandís masterstroke. They cut through all the extraneous buildup and get right to the meat of each track. What makes it truly impressive, though, is that their truncated version of prog / post / art / metal never feels abridged. Most of the songs clock in at the three- to four-minute mark, but they feel longer (in a good way) and youíre left wondering how they pack expansive journeys into such short time frames. Hell, even the one minute "Zeros and Ones" has the breadth of a track ten times as long. That they donít shy away from catchiness is also most welcome, even veering at times toward Torcheís neolithic brand of pop on "Outlined."

Granted, Zodiak do go for it in the eight-minute title song, but given that itís the exception rather than the rule, it doesnít come across so much as a placation to lure in the masses obsessed with Isis, Cult of Luna, Rosetta (with whom Zodiak share a member), Minsk, etc. but rather as an off handed "see, we could do this if we wanted to" statement of anti-purpose... that the damn thing works exceedingly well at bringing you into its dusky embrace doesnít hurt, either.

Short, sweet and subtly mind blowing. (7.5/10)

 

 

 

 
8/10 Joshua
 

SPITFIRE - Cult Fiction - CD - Goodfellow - 2008

review by: Joshua

Metalcore is dead, right?

Sorry, rhetorical question. The sceneís as fetid as Paris Hiltonís panties after a Sunset Strip trawl marked by countless shots of spiced vodka, VIP bathroom-mirror coke breaks and bouts of dumpster sex sandwiched between the two repeated ad nauseum until dawn. Nice work if you can get it. The demise of metalcore has been examined and celebrated (or, lamented as the case may be) by every self appointed pundit in print and on the web; and justifiably so. Letís throw the last shovelful of dirt on the grave and move on to the next sub-genre thatís going to play itself out soon.

HoweverÖ

The idea of metalcore was always a good one. Take a look at the metal scene from the late Ď90s into the early Ď00s, and youíd be hard pressed to argue that there was a movement out there that gave it a bigger kick up the backside. So if the idea, the very notion, is a viable one, then letís give Spitfire a Ph.D on the subject because Cult Fiction rips all sorts of new orifices in the most uncomfortably delicious of ways.

Letís start with the basics, theyíre there: technical dexterity, complexity and craftsmanship buttressed against energy, thoughtful provocation and economy. Your basic blueprint and the Spitfire boys could probably pull that off in their sleep. But thereís so much more at hand, a topsy-turvy skewing that elevates the standard ingredients to a whole other level via jagged rhythms, a muted and discordant stab at melodicism, diverse instrumentation, left field tactics and a healthy appreciation of noise for noiseís sake.

So when a stormer like "Arrhythmia Drift" crashes its battered frame into AmRep style fuzz only to be found on the receiving end of a Ď70s jam, donít even bat an eyelash. When a few minutes of psychedelic doom smoothes out the previous two minutes of swirling distortion found on "Meat Maker," youíll find yourself agreeing thatís a logical conclusion. And "Chemo Therapist" is an absolute beast, like an organic version of Godflesh, inexhaustible lock-step pummel interlaced with the Deftonesí sense of uneasy melody and indelicately spread over guitars that buzz like a million flies feasting on fresh carrion while Jonathan Spencerís tattered larynx belts out lines that veer between objective reporting and subjective lamentation and rage.

Sprinkled throughout are instrumentals that are evocative, languorous, just pretty enough to be unsettling. Other tracks disintegrate midway without warning, sprinting or crawling in the opposite direction. Bits of distortion and static send unreadable transmissions, piano keys are struck, field recordings offer up murky tableaux that youíd be wise to run far away from if you only could. And more, and more. The absolute splendour of Cult Fiction is that none of these intrusions prevent Spitfire from repeatedly handing you your head. (8/10)

 

 

 

 
7/10 Joshua
 

BLOODBATH - Unblessing the Purity - CD - Peaceville - 2008

review by: Joshua

Most of the time, an entire album of death metal at one sitting is too much of the same, like an endless buffet at a truck stop in Indiana with steam table after steam table piled to the rafters with nothing but slabs of chicken fried steak. Sure, the shit is good, but how much can you cram down your gullet before common sense and the gag reflex kick in?

So, in this regard, Bloodbathís Unblessing the Purity is nigh-on perfect: fifteen minutes of unrelenting carnage that kicks in the door, destroys the furniture, obliterates your Hummel* collection and exits with a sheepish grin as you go to retrieve the dustpan and broom. Youíd be well within your rights to be mightily pissed except for the fact the Bloodbath accomplishes this with such artful brevity.

Youíve got to figure that Mikael Ckerfeldt is having a ball here, released from the burden of the compositional shadings and delicacies of Opeth. Sans guitar, his sole responsibility to bellow like a demon who got his four-of-a-kind beaten by a straight flush, overlaying the considerable din created by the rest of the band; and when youíve got three refugees from Katatonia helming the instrumental side of the equation, thereís no doubt as to technical prowess. This is relatively straight forward stuff played by a bunch of guys that really oughta know better.

And thank goodness they donít. If anything, the membersí pedigree guarantees that their single-minded savagery is infused with swaths of color ó quick, unexpected time changes, glimpses of blink-and-youíll-miss-them shards of melody, covert groove(s) ó which, in turn, raise each of the four tracks from solid hunks of death to something more interesting. Any bunch of knuckledraggers can be brutal but it takes a certain flair to excel at brutality. With Bloodbath, the ease with which they export their brand of old school brutality may be the most unnerving thing of all. (7/10)

*itís argued by some that the innocence of childhood has never been so accurately conveyed as it has via the portly, rosy-cheeked and wide-eyed ceramic creations of the Hummel company. Affectionately referred to as "hummers" by legions of collectors worldwide, these figurines have brought unbridled joy to the world for nearly 75 years and are credited with bridging nationsí cultural and socio-political differences that is second only to the advent of the Internet.

 

Related reviews:
 
Resurrection through Carnage (issue No 11)  

 

 

 
7/10 Joshua
 

BLOODBATH - The Wacken Carnage - CD - Peaceville - 2008

review by: Joshua

Live albums. Bah, who needs Ďem? Theyíre usually nothing more than inferior versions of a bunch of songs youíve heard countless times by a band to which youíre already slavishly devoted. There are always exceptions, of course, and weíll add The Wacken Carnage to that rarefied strata because...

a. It serves as a fine primer for the Bloodbath neophyte.

b. The bandís performance here is an unrelenting assault that will absolutely knock your dick in the dirt. Repeatedly.

Ok, that established, what can you expect? Primo death metal rendered flawlessly by a gaggle of Swedish metal vets who have no intention of quitting their day jobs; if all side projects were even a tenth this good the world would be a much better place, indeed. Hyperfast, groove laden and menacing, thereís not a duff track to be found.

Necroticism-era Carcass is at the forefront of the delicately titled "Ominous Bloodvomit," while the early Ď90s are flawlessly recreated, and maybe even improved upon, in the riffery of "Brave New Hell." The songís rhythms are so chunky, so dense, you canít imagine why the earth hasnít reclaimed them rather than continue to bear the load. When Bloodbath switches gears and drop down to mid-tempo range, as on "Eaten," the result is flat-out mean and nastier than a nest of vipers. Such is the quality of the material here that even a standard workout like "Breeding Death" is lifted out of the ordinary by a massive breakdown that morphs into a propulsive thrash affair.

The DVD? Nothing special, really just a companion piece: professionally shot, if workmanlike, no extras, solely a visual documentation of the gig. Nevertheless, it will get you pondering why Mikael Ckerfeldt, Dan Swano and the rest of the front line are clad in ripped white t-shirts and covered head to toe in blood, yet drummer Martin Axenrot is sporting a crisp black t-shirt, bloodless, and looking fresh a daisy.

Both the CD and DVD amply demonstrate two salient points. First, Ckerfeldt possesses some of, if not the finest throatage in the death metal realm. Powerful as hell, a true, deep roar that keeps a safe distance from cookie-monster burbling, clear and evocative without delving into clichť and the well-worn. Second, Ckerfeldt is, without question, the funniest frontman in the game. Impossibly droll and imbued with wit so dry that the Mojave, Sahara and Gobi deserts are wetlands by comparison, he has the throng laughing along even as heís taking the piss out of them.

And talk about crowd control! A guy who can get tens of thousands of cramped and exhausted metalheads to respond to his calls in a collective death metal grunt, followed by a higher pitched yell and then have them top it off with a Dani Filth level shriek, and have them do it repeatedly throughout the set, has to earn your respect if for nothing else. Intentional humour and death metal, hand in hand. Who knew? (7/10)

 

Related reviews:
 
Resurrection through Carnage (issue No 11)  

 

 

 
4/10 Joshua
 

BOHEMIAN GROVE - Age of Retrogression - CD - Hyperblasted Records - 2008

review by: Joshua

Alright, itís been building for a while now, but a line has to be drawn. Bohemian Grove, apologies, nothing personal, because the line is going straight through you. Donít fret, Iíll call an ambulance if necessary.

Thing is, in this age of rapid information dissemination, itís no longer enough to be ok, or even, simply, good; you canít exist in a vacuum anymore. There are way, way too many bands out there that are really good, great or melt-your-face-off amazing, and it often takes no more than a few mouse clicks to gain access to their wares. When a CD like Age of Retrogression comes sliding across the desk, the knee-jerk reaction is to give it a decent rating because the band is capable, the production appropriate, thereís a unexpected idea thrown in and, at the end of the day, the band gets by without embarrassing themselves.

Bohemian Grove covers all those points, their sonic stew culled liberally from Mayhem, Darkthrone, early Ulver and Emperor, Carpathian Forest and a whole lot of Satyricon. Mostly a mid-tempo affair, it plods here, goes blast-beat there, raspy vocals all over the place, the occasional oddball touch like a black Ďní roll break or Viking chants so fey that a shipload of drunken sailors is positively butch by comparison.

But thereís no vision here beyond the cut and paste pastiche, not a thing to sink your teeth into that has the flavor of something, anything, distinctive. Yes, it suffices, but so what? Does anyone really need another albumís worth of indistinguishable material? Age of Retrogression is a perfectly acceptable platter, but adequacy is a damnable offense when there are thousands of bands proffering this same foray into the black metal netherworld. Grab a copy if you must, give it a run through and expect never to have the inclination to listen to it again. (4/10)

 

 

 

 
0/10 Roberto
 

STRAIGHT JACKET - Vices - CD - Beelzabob Music - 2006

review by: Roberto Martinelli

It takes roughly $1,000 to have 1,000 pro-printed CDs made. You get a one-sided color inserts, jewel cases, and color front/back (they call it 2-"page" "booklet" in the industry) pieces of paper for the front.

Considering this, the most amazing thing about Straight Jacketís Vices album is that someone ponied up the (at least) grand to commit this album of 12 covers of pop songs from the Ď70s and Ď80s, played by an unknown band, on an unknown label, to CD replication.

Musicians know that being in a cover band is a smarter move if you want to have some chance of ever approaching being able to claim youíre a pro musician. If you play songs people already know, youíre more likely to get gigs. However, people that go to those gigs go because the band isnít the main attraction, or because the actual band who made the songs famous couldn't make it, but the audience squints and pretends as necessary and can actually kinda sorta make believe that they are. If the cover band is good.

Thing is, though, no matter how convincing your cover band is, no oneís gonna want to pay CD price to take home recordings of your cover songs. Theyíll just listen to the originals. Unless theyíre your girlfriend or parents. Photo montage cover art of some guy posing as a crucified Jesus Christ with a lit cigarette in his hand wonít help.

Guys. Play cover songs. Itís totally lame, but do what you want. But make CDRs. Theyíre cheap and just as good when used as demos to get you more shows. A pro printed CD like this is worth less money or attention than the text used in this review to describe this album. (0/10)

PS: Oh, and whatever you do, don't spend more money sending  whatever disks you make to metal zines.

 

 

 

 
6.5/10 Ignacio
 

AHKMED - Chicxulub - CD - R.A.I.G. - 2007

review by: Ignacio Coluccio

Like it or hate it, post-metal has been metal's most relevant genre for the last few years. Not because of especially high quality releases, but because of it actually trying to do something else (unlike, say, thrash). Starting with Godflesh onwards, Pelican, Isis, Neurosis, Boris, all have tried, with different degrees of success, to think outside of the box. Ahkmed may not do that as much as other post-metal bands do, but they certainly have a more recognizable sound.

Chicxulub is what Hawkwind would record if they were into post-metal. Chicxulub is a perfectly crafted but otherwise not so surprising mix of space rock, post-rock and the harshest side of post-metal. If you've heard Los Natas' first few albums, it's like that with heavier, more technical songs.

Now, don't let the fact that it's been done before tell you that it's a bad album. It's fun, some of the jams on Chicxulub are outstanding (especially the heavier ones) and the effects usage is great too. The atmosphere they create and their sense of buildup and harmony are far above your average Hawkwind copycat band. The production is top notch as well in both EPs (yes, it's not an actual album, it's two EPs put together).

Some elements on Chicxulub must surely sound better live than they sound on album. Namely, the constantly rumbling bass. While it does sound good, it gets tiring after 20 minutes or so of getting your ears drilled by ultra-low frequencies and then realizing that you're not listening to Mortician. Likewise, some of the heavier grooves somehow end up sounding like they're being played far away thanks to the dubious production. Not to say it's bad, but it works better as two EPs than it does as an album.

Get it if you're into Pelican, space-rock or even stoner, but try to listen to it as two EPs. As it was intended to be listened to, that is. (6.5/10)

note by: Roberto Martinelli

"Two EPs" is the term to take note of. Chicxulub would have been on this writerís best of list for that year, until the second EP rolled around, and stuff started going the smelly bluesy route. It all went south from there, literally, and the CD was mailed to Argentina to Ignacioís capable hands.

 

 

 

 
7.8/10 Ignacio
 

COFFINS - Buried Death - CD - 20 Buck Spin - 2008

review by: Ignacio Coluccio

Coffins is the dirtiest death/doom band around. Sure, all death/doom tends to be dirty, muddy and even post-apocalyptic, but Coffins takes the cake. They sound like they are a band of zombies, though fairly musically proficient ones, playing right after eating some humans alive. The cover artist must surely have noticed the same thing, as the cover art reflects perfectly what you'll find inside.

Anyway, Coffins is not only dirty, but heavy. Every single instrument sounds like a brick to your face, from the distorted bass to the rumbling, underground guitars and the zombie vocals of Uchino. This time around, they decided to play an even more old-school, death metal-oriented doom and easily succeed. Think early Grave and early Obituary but with a certain Rigor Sardonicous edge. And don't forget the thrash riffs and the fast parts here and there ó they sound as amazing as their doom.

It'd be safe to say that Buried Death is as heavy as it is because of a) its inhumanly low vocals and riffs, and mostly b) its production. They sound as menacing as a death/doom band should, and they don't give a fuck about your subwoofer. Even when the bassist and guitarist play pretty much the same thing as each other all the time, Buried Death's production makes it sound like a wall of sound. Any other way would be wrong.

Shortcomings? Well, yeah, Buried Death isn't precisely original. It's not just like everything Coffins has made, but it's certainly like Coffins. The point is, Buried Death is a lot of fun, it's heavy, it's brutal, and it wants to kill your family, but in the end it's nothing new, although it's easily the finest in muddy, primitive death/doom. (7.8/10)

 

 

 

 
Ride the Master of Black Sabbath Witchfinder Puppets/10 Abhi
 

EARLY MAN - Beware the Circling Fin - CD - The End Records - 2008

review by: Ignacio Coluccio

Sure, Master of Puppets and Ride the Lightning were great, but Kill 'em All was easily Metallicaís freshest, most fun album. Sure, modern doom metal is great, but have you heard how awesome pre-reunion Witchfinder General is? With that in mind, Early Man recorded an unpretentious, completely retro metal EP.

Kind of.

They certainly succeeded at being retro. In fact, Beware the Circling Fin is just a good Kill 'em All rip-off for two of its four tracks (track 1 is pretty much "Hit the Lights," track 3 is just "Metal Militia," really), while the rest is Witchfinder General + Black Sabbath. Even the production is so Ď80s, it hurts.

Early Man succeeded at being unpretentious, too. So much so that they just rip off other bands! Not to the point of using the same riffs, but there's something wrong with you if you can't notice the glaring similarities.

Sure, it is enjoyable. After all, they mix three of the most classic metal bands and (not precisely subtly) rip them off like crazy. Youíd like to say it's an homage, but uh... it's not. At the very least, Early Man went overboard with the worship there. But then again, is it worth it if what you're listening to is just a carbon copy of something much better and, well, original? (Ride the Master of Black Sabbath Witchfinder Puppets/10)

 

 

 

 
5.1/10 Ignacio
 

FLOODSTAIN - Dreams Make Monsters - CD - Bad Mood Man Music - 2007

review by: Ignacio Coluccio

You know when a band has definitely "got it," but for some reason they fail to interest you? This is precisely what happens with Floodstain. They've certainly got the Kyuss/early Queens of the Stone Age vibe down and, good or bad, aren't afraid of showing their influences. Maybe too much.

Yeah, definitely too much. Album opener "Monster" is a Kyuss song. A little bit more modern, great riffs and all, but it's still Kyuss. Second track, "Love is Poison," is as good as Queens of the Stone Ageís best, but it's still a Queens of the Stone Age track, from the dissonances, vocals and the heavy choruses, to the fact that it stops after a heavy part and restarts with just the bass. Just like Queens of the Stone Age's "No One Knows" (and that's without considering that its riff is actually quite similar to "No One Knows"). And so on.

Floodstain are as good as each band they are a copycat of, but they end up being far less interesting when you know you've heard it before. Think of it more like an introduction to stoner than an actual album, and you'll enjoy it much more. It's not plagiarism at all, but it feels like those cover bands that try to make their own music and end up sounding just like their idols, so Dreams Make Monsters ends up being more of a guessing game ("That's a Kyuss song!") and less of an album.

However, Kyuss worship aside, Dreams Make Monsters is going to get you to headbang quite a lot, even though the cleaner parts feel lacking. The production emphasizes the correct elements and musicianship is as correct as it gets. It's just... not so interesting, and the songs feel much longer than they should be. Still, they get the Kyuss sound spot on sometimes and the Queens of the Stone Age track is definitely a good one. Can't say the same thing about the Audioslave power ballad gone doom "You Lose Alone," however. (5.1/10)

 

 

 

 
5.9/10 Roberto
 

JESU - Lifeline - CD - Hydrahead Records - 2007

review by: Roberto Martinelli

Jesuís post-Conqueror EP, Lifeline, largely follows along in the same blissful haze, with some good moments, but the overall product is notably inferior.

Lifelineís first couple tracks sound like they could be b-sides to Conqueror: the same drone-meets-pop structures and beats, and Justin Broadrickís now trademark voice and guitar tone. These two songs, "Lifeline" and "You Wear Their Masks," might not be as good as the Conqueror material, but if you were stoked on that record, youíll feel like this EP picks up where you left off.

The vocals on Lifelineís third song, "Storm Cominí On," are done entirely by guest musician Jarboe. While Broadrickís and Jarboeís collaboration has given the scene a new project that bears their name, the inclusion of Jarboe on a Jesu album is foreign and unpleasant. The heavy, treacly, melancholic sweetness that Jesu has come to embody in all of its recordings is absent, replaced by a harsher, grittier, edgier presence. The vocal arrangement is annoyingly repetitious as well, resulting in that "I get it, already" feeling that teeters very close to being stuck in your head after the CD is over.

By the time Lifelineís fourth song comes about, itís back to regularly-scheduled programming, but the ship cannot right itself, and the mediocre track limps on until the EPís end. So, two good songs, one throwaway track, and one track with no more than tepid interest makes this EP really one only for the fans. (5.9/10)

 

 

 

 
8.8/10 Ignacio
 

HYATARI - They Will Surface - CD - Caustic Eye Productions - 2008

review by: Ignacio Coluccio

With The Light Carriers, Hyatari released one of the best albums of 2005, one of the best metal albums of the decade, and easily one of the best drone albums ever. For some reason, however, they went way under the radar and many of us never heard from them again. Until now. Follow-up album They Will Surface isn't what anyone expected, but here we are, with a new Hyatari record.

Comparing it to The Light Carriers is like comparing green apples and red apples. Sure, they are both apples, but can you say that they really are the same fruit? (Biology majors abstain from sending me hate mail / explanations, thank you). While The Light Carriers was a melodic Sunn O))) / Earth album, we could say that They Will Surface is a post-metal album. There's a gigantic, obvious drone backbone to it all, but it's not just drone. Hyatari has certainly changed, and it is not something you can easily pinpoint anymore. Downtuned riffs are still there, but it all seems faster, somehow. They decided to drop most Sunn O))) Flight of the Behemoth influences for a decidedly more Earth-like sound, with a lot of post-rock and post-metal all around.

While Hyatari is no more drone than it is post-metal, it sounds as monolithic as drone has ever sounded, even when using substantially higher tempos and far more defined melodies than they did in the past. The result is nearly as polished as The Light Carriers, but there's a feeling that they are more familiar now, like you've heard some parts of the album before. As much as it's tiring and cliche to name Pelican and Godspeed You Black Emperor!, those two bands certainly influenced They Will Surface.

The new album sounds huge, the songs are developed enough for a pretentious "new school" metal band, and atmospherically, it's almost as good as The Light Carriers. Maybe it's just that everyone expected a drone album and hearing actual melodies is kind of offbeat coming from them, but it doesn't have the same magic as before. Don't misunderstand, They Will Surface is a damn good album with lots of brilliant ideas, great production and some of the heaviest riffs to ever come out of metal, but don't buy it thinking it'll be a new The Light Carriers, because they are not alike. At all. (8.8/10)

 

 

 

 
4.5/10 Ignacio
 

PEGASUSES-XL - The Antiphon - CD - Ernest Jenning Record Co. - 2008

review by: Ignacio Coluccio

The Antiphon is one of the least cohesive albums ever released. Remember Of Montreal's (awesome) Skeletal Lamping, made up of lots of seemingly unrelated segments? That was a Yes epic when compared to The Antiphon.

There aren't any songs here, at least not coherent ones. Melodic lines come and go, random vocalists in different, unrelated styles do the same, but the problem is that there's a certain feeling of artificiality here. It feels like Pegasuses-XL didn't do what they did because it sounded good, they did it because it's cool to do ("Of Montreal did it, why wouldn't we?"). As an avant-garde album, it lacks a thoughtful concept. As an indie album, it lacks, well, indie appeal (itís hard to fathom Apples in Stereos fans listening to this for more than one track).

Sure, some parts sound really good, some few are amazing, but it doesn't seem like Pegasuses-XL cared much about the transition between them, and they didn't give the random changes real meaning. For example, the hip-hop segments are absolutely unfitting and they seem to come in at random times, even in the middle of far better sounding 8-bit / electronica parts, and that's without mentioning the Auto-Tuned vocals that feel completely out of place over dissonant jazzy chord progressions. Speaking of 8-bit, the synth usage reminisces the "A Clockwork Orange" soundtrack, and The Antiphon would be a worthless album without it, but it can't do much to save it from being too discordant for its own good.

It's not that The Antiphon is bad, it's just that it doesn't get any more incoherent than this, and Pegasuses-XL didn't manage to make it worth it. They aren't doing anything new, and what they do is awkward. (4.5/10)

 

 

 

 
5/10 Roberto
 

WITHIN THE RUINS - Creature - CD - Victory Records - 2009

review by: Roberto Martinelli

Within the Ruinsí mix of trendy extreme metal styles results in music that is rhythmically reminiscent of Meshuggah, while having the thin, plastic production and flash, and approach to staccato bursts of arpeggiated melody youíll hear in Necrophagist.

What the music is not at all like, contrary to the promotional sticker youíll see on any sealed copy of this album, is Opethís. That untruth is so flagrant that laughter is inevitable. Instead, Victory Records might as well have put "Iron Maiden" or "Metallica" in order to catch more paying fish, and it wouldnít have been any more ludicrous. They could also have put "The Jackson Five" or "Coldplay" had they left out the bit about this record being "progressive rock," which is only trumped by comparisons to Opeth on the lunacy scale.

If you want Opeth, and think youíll be getting Opeth with this record, you will be fucking pissed.

The two biggest drags about Creature 1) that there are precious few dynamics in the musical content. The compositions and deliveries are practically mostly one and the same, and the way the music is produced offers no variety in intensity... itís all one level of in-your-face thin, plastic aggression. 2) Although Within the Ruins are doing something somewhat different in mixing two front-running bandsí distinguishable styles, they are doing little more than ripping off two bands ó not mixing ideas others have done in something that is original. Yes, Within the Ruinsí music is more listenable than Meshuggahís tired, tired formula, but with bands like Coprofago or Fredrik Thordendalís solo project, thereís so much more to choose from.

There are two main guitars on Creature. The one that plays the noodly melody parts sounds like a toy (think Necrophagist, but more plastic), while the distorted, more crunchy one provides counter-balance via relatively heavy-sounding rhythms. The bass guitar is not to be heard, except on a token 2-second solo.

The drum kit, again in the Necrophagist school-vein, is also thin and plastic, and it is only the modicum of real sound that the cymbals provide that provides the listener any doubt it is a drum machine. Does Within the Ruins actually have a human drummer? Perusing Creatureís booklet, there are indeed five people in the band photo, but drums are credited to "Drummer."

The harsh vocals could be at home in a metalcore album, but would also fit in as well in the Meshuggah school. Perhaps in reference to all the emo-core Victory Records has put on the market, one of Creatureís songs features a 4-second emo-core vocal part, which disappears as meekly as it poked its head out, thankfully never to return. The rough vocals are decent, but like on Meshuggah, and most any other album with harsh vocals, their purpose is mostly as placeholders. There is no discernable variety or nuance in their delivery.

Like so many of the albums of the new, short-haired crop of bands purporting to play metal that we have been getting in the past year or so, Within the Ruinsí music suffers from the disorder of making music that is technically busy and flashy, but whose parts sound interchangeable. If you took 95% of the riffs and sections on Creature, and jumbled them all up randomly, you would essentially have the same album every time.

Where this experience differs in the albumís intermission-like tracks, at the mid-point and end of the album. Both are instrumentals, and both take the time to write a catchy melody. These instances stand out so much in how they come across as thoughtful and relaxed, offering a welcome change in mood compared to the ADHD feel with which the rest of the material comes across. Even the less melodic parts around one of the hooks on ultimate track "Victory" seem to fit in with a more accomplished arrangement.

The inexplicable drag about both these discussed tracks is that they end prematurely, without the feeling of being baked all the way through. This is particularly the case with "Victory," whose plug gets pulled just when it feels like its starting to come into its own. So silly and such a shame. Creature is flashy, itís showy, itís listenable, but ultimately, itís empty. (5/10)

 

 

 

 
7.9/10 Ignacio
 

PRINTS - Just Thoughts - CD - Temporary Residence Records - 2008

review by: Ignacio Coluccio

Just Thoughts sure feels like Of Montreal's mid-period most of the time. Lo-fi-ish bedroom baroque pop, happy, with a penchant for simple but effective chord progressions and overlayed melodies (some scat-like singing vocals a la Juana Molina particularly stand out). At the same time, impossible time signatures are used and some vocal harmonies end up being complex by themselves. A complex lo-fi release? You bet.

The best part about Prints is that it's multitextured enough to bore anyone. Just Thoughts is laid back and compositionally challenging. The melody crafting is top notch and there's quite the variety of sounds and instruments, from electronic sweeps and drum-machine, to Auto-Tuned vocals and Animal Collective-like pastiches of sound. There's even an electronic remix of two of their earlier songs, but these are too long for their own good and end up sounding like a fan remix of Of Montreal, what with the accentuated bassline and all.

The video included in the EP redeems it, however, with an obvious B-class editing job, but featuring some fresh ideas and easily the best song on the whole EP (kind of, since it's not included in the EP as a song).

Psychedelic, fresh, easy to listen to but complex enough, Just Thoughts doesn't sound like your average lo-fi indie pop band, but it doesn't stray as far from home as to displease indie pop fans. Even if it's short when you take into account that there's 10 minutes of a filler remix included, Just Thoughts shows some great moments with a peculiar maturity that's going to make more than one new fan go back to check out Prints' catalogue. (7.9/10)

 

 

 

 
2.1/10 Ignacio
 

SEPULTURA - A-lex - CD - Steamhammer - 2009

review by: Ignacio Coluccio

Sometime after their first few albums, Sepultura lost it. Could have been their "woohooo, nu-metal is cool" attitude, their "hah, we're far more than thrash musicians" attitude, or their "let's not write a good song ever again" one. Whatever the reason was, they started to suck. Pretty badly. The nu metal genre saw them as their saviour and metal fans saw them as boring nu-thrash. Their newest album, A-lex, like Dante (their previous album), sees them moving towards... uh... conceptual nu-thrash. And the result is as unsatisfying as it is unnerving.

First of all, and to get it out of the way, hereís the only good thing about A-lex: tribal rhythms. If there's one interesting thing to mention about Sepulturaís last seven albums, itís that they've managed to use tribal rhythms in heavy music and make them sound cool enough. They aren't used that much here, though.

As for the rest, it's inhumanly bland, mind-numbingly boring and the most retarded kind of heavy music possible. Their riffs are about as enjoyable as sticking your hand in a meat blender and the songs are about as developed as their sense of knowing just when to quit (consider that Sepultura no longer has a single Cavalera still in the band). Do you like two-note, downtuned riffs with little to no coherence and pointless instrumental interludes? Then, by all means, go and buy A-lex.

Anyway, as much weíre told A-lex is based on "A Clockwork Orange," the album evokes "A Clockwork Orange" about as much as it does Barney the Dinosaur, so who knows why they decided to call it a concept album at all. Boring, totally unsatisfying, not even a shadow of their good days, itís fairly sure that A-lex is just an experiment on how you can still sell based on name alone. Really, no matter how hard it gets bashed, A-lex will sell and Sepultura will release ten more albums just like this one.

Two points for the tribal rhythms. (2.1/10)

 

 

 

 
7/10 Roberto
 

JESU - Why Are We Not Perfect - CD - Hydrahead Records - 2008

review by: Roberto Martinelli

Of the two Jesu EPs reviewed in this issue, Why Are We Not Perfect is clearly the superior. The music within is largely on par with the songs from Conqueror in drone/pop style and dreamy mood. This time, the percussive aspect has been done with a drum machine, making the songs take on more of a glitch aspect.

While the album is half an hour long, more than a third of the time is devoted to two alternate mixes of songs on the album (technically, there are only two original songs here, with track 2 being an instrumental). While the reprises of "Farewell" and "Why Are We Not Perfect" flow just as nicely the second time as the first, theyíre not necessary. Thereís something about adding alternate mixes on an album that makes the release seem padded, and thus less relevant. Unfortunately, this is still the case here.

Whether Why Are We Not Perfect is indeed padded or not, the contained songs will appeal much to those who enjoy Jesuís signature music, which should be of interest to those looking for tunes with a languid, syrupy and comfortably melancholic vibe. (7/10)

 

 

 

 
8.5/10 Roberto
 

OWL SERVICE, THE - A Garland of Song - CD - Southern - 2008

review by: Roberto Martinelli

The Owl Serviceís A Garland of Song is an eclectic collection of tunes whose main theme is Celtic folk. For the most part, the songs are imbued with a ghost-like, reverberant ambience, which makes them all the more dreamlike, and offers a feeling of Celtic music meeting sacred Christian hymns. The result is highly meditative and relaxing.

Every now and again, A Garland of Song will feature a strong Ď60s psych influence. Invariably, the album comes across with expert presentation, from the lovely female vocals, the warm and comforting male singing, or the exquisite, simply soothing tones of the acoustic, stringed Celtic instruments.

Every once in a blue moon, the official promotional statement about an album will actually be dead on. In this case, it was so well done, we can only quote from it, and wholeheartedly endorse the claims. "[A Garland of Song] fused traditional British folk ballads with elements of psychedelic rock, occasionally bordering on a doom-laden garage sound... it recalls the great acid-folk bands of the Ď60s/í70s, but never sounds contrived or overtly retro... simply arranged, exquisitely executed and captured on tape with authentic warmth." Weíll have to believe that A Garland of Song was inspired by a love for British films and TV from the late Ď60s/ early Ď70s.

If you read Maelstrom because you want to know about metal, and happened upon this review, know that thereís a chance you will also dig it. Hereís the criteria. If you like relaxed but mystical atmospheres with a vibe thatís doomy, yet unoppressive, lovely and surreal, perhaps some mix of Solstice (UK)ís quietest moments, or the work of Lumsk, or the more subdued sections of Opeth, then seek out The Owl Serviceís A Garland of Song. (8.5/10)

 

 

 

 
6.9/10 Ignacio
 

VINCENT BLACK SHADOW - More Deeper - CD - Heartbreakbeat Records - 2008

review by: Ignacio Coluccio

Vincent Black Shadow (don't confuse them with The Vincent Black Shadow; they are a different act) is a nifty band. At the core, they are fairly standard stoner metal: sludgy riffs, powerful basslines, the typical stoner production, yadda, yadda. Outside that, however, they put a lot of other elements into play, sometimes defying the easy "stoner rock" categorization.

Stoner rock vocalists aren't usually harsh. Sure, there are exceptions, but in the end, most vocalists sing normally... albeit sounding quite a bit stoned. Anyway, Vincent Black Shadow has one of the craziest stoner rock vocalists ever. He shouts, screams and wails like he's on really heavy drugs, giving the band a certain Grief edge that not many stoner rock bands go for. When he's not shouting incoherently, he's shrieking like he's a black metal vocalist, or he's doing weird spoken parts. One point for Vincent Black Shadow.

However, they are obviously a vocal-centered band, and the actual instrumentation goes from barely fitting to incredible, but more often merely fitting. There's a lot of potential in the song writing here. Every single bassline sounds huge, but the guitars are usually just power chords for the bassline, or noises, and the drumming is buried under the rest of the instruments. What you can hear, though, is quite good. And, for some reason, most probably the incredible vocals, More Deeper is a whole lot of fun.

So... an average stoner band with inhuman vocals and a great bassist; with a certain grunge and garage sound sometimes, and sludge sound some other times. When they stay pure stoner rock, they sound OK, but they really shine when they say "fuck it" and go all over. Wish that were all the time. (6.9/10)

 

 

 

 
8.9/10 Ignacio
1/10 Roberto
 

ZS - Arms - CD - Planaria Recordings - 2007

review by: Ignacio Coluccio

Steve Reich's minimalism's influence on today's more experimental side of music is deep and thorough, but not many take his New York Counterpoint to heart nearly as much as Zs do. On the other hand, Henry Cow's influence was more concise, limited to the so called "Rock in Opposition," or RIO, genre, and Zs are precisely that. Minimalist RIO, or avant-prog, if you will.

Arms isn't, however, just a RIO album. It also takes the best from genres such as free jazz and rock, and throws in some Orthrelm for good measure. The result is an album that not only manages to surprise you with every twist and turn, like good RIO is supposed to, but also creates a quite particular atmosphere based on repetition, atonality and a fair deal of musical schizophrenia.

While not as complex as Henry Cow's own Leg End, don't expect normal rhythms, and the melodies are, more often than not, barrages of constant notes, sometimes without connection to each other, sometimes mysteriously related in ways the listener just can't grasp. The instrumentation is free jazz standard, but everything is deliberately used to form a wall of sound, quite unlike your usual free jazz. Most of the time, all three or four instruments will be playing similar things with the exact same timing, harmonizing, kind of, with each other.

Sure, it's a hard-to-digest album, and if you're too used to diatonicism, then it might sound off, but effort pays off and once you're past the first listen or so, Arms sounds great. But, again, don't expect normal music here. If Steve Reich + Henry Cow sounds good for you, then Arms is an album you just have to get. (8.9/10)

review by: Roberto Martinelli

Thereís a reason we have a staff at Maelstrom.nu. When an album makes one writer and his hapless roomate want to shoot themselves rather than listen to any more, asking themselves if the music that started off pretty well, but soon degenerated into endless, grating, torturous repetition is an exercise in sucking so explicitly and aggressively that, in persistently sucking, perhaps an epiphany of greatness will be achieved, albeit greatness in sucking... yes, when those occasions arise, the album is sent to another staff member, and it gets a soaring review. Thatís why we have a staff. (1/10)

 

 

 

 
4/10 Roberto
 

CORPUS CHRISTI - The Darker Shades of White - CD - Victory Records - 2009

review by: Roberto Martinelli

Cryptopsy had been a top-notch force in the world of brutal, extreme metal. And then they released The Unspoken King, which knocked them (perhaps unfairly) down very far in the eyes of the diehard faithful, largely by including horrifying emo-core vocal sections.

Weíre talking about Cryptopsy here because of how Corpus Christiís new album, The Darker Shades of White, is being marketed. If you see it at a store, it will likely have a sticker on it claiming it to be "brutal, extreme metal." Before you buy, you should know that the music actually contained is nothing of the sort. Sure, itís aggressive. Sure, itís busy. But it is not brutal, nor is it extreme.

Even before considering the music, people who buy this record based on those words will hate it for all the metalcore vocals, and even more for the mandatory clean sung sections that are so reviled by those who actually know what metal is. A quick check with our hardcore aficionados have confirmed that people who know what hardcore really is donít like these vocals, either.

We could also say that all the songs, or at least the first six or so we listened to before we determined that each song followed the same format (and that was about three songs more than needed), are basically one and the same, but even if they were brilliant and varied, fans of brutal, extreme metal wouldnít care. But they are not varied, nor are they brilliant.

In fairness, the even bigger print states this album is for fans of "Killswitch Engage, As I Lay Dying, and Atreyu." If you know those bandsí music, youíll be able to see the correlation. However, seeing as how Atreyu and As I Lay Dying play one-dimensional, hackneyed music (we canít personally comment on Killswitch Engage. At least one of our staff likes them, so there must be something good there), but there is still apparently a fan base for those bands, if you like that stuff, youíll probably dig this. Not here, though. (4/10)

 

 

 

 
6/10 Roberto
 

LIONíS SHARE - Dark Hours - CD - Blistering Records - 2009

review by: Roberto Martinelli

Lionís Shareís Dark Hours is a power metal/rock album that likes to veer into butt rock territory. The songs range from good to insufferably cheesy. You can tell the musicians can play circles around a lot of what they actually do on the record, but what they do play can be simply effective, and the guitar solos are remarkable. The biggest highlight of the record is doubtlessly the singing of Patrick Johansson, whose vocals in bands like Space Odyssey and Wuthering Heights could put Ronnie James Dio to shame. Itís worth listening to some of these songs on his presence alone. (6/10)

 

 

 

 
6.1/10 Roberto
 

MANTIC RITUAL - Executioner - CD - Nuclear Blast Records - 2009

review by: Roberto Martinelli

Mantic Ritualís Executioner is the latest release in the current resurgence of old-school thrash metal. The album recalls Slayer, early Metallica, Forbidden, and Destruction in its influence, and does it all properly and in a way that is polished to todayís sound standards, yet retains an old-school vibe.

Executioner is good, but nothing more. Like the standard nouveau-thrash band album, the music is either too derivative, or the album is about seven songs too long. With Executioner, four songs would have been plenty for a good, fun dose of thrash.

Whatís good about the album is that itís not presented in obnoxious, over-produced fashion, and that the music will definitely appeal to thrashers who are happy not to dissect too much. Then again, if youíve heard it all before and have it all, do you really need one more album of the same? (6.1/10)

 

 

 

 
7.5/10 Roberto
 

MONO - Gone: A Collection of EPs 2000-2007 - CD - Temporary Residence Records - 2007

review by: Roberto Martinelli

Mono has earned its place in the heavy, shoegaze music world with bittersweet compositions that toe the line between delicate and crushing, and often simultaneously. This CD collection of previously-released EPs will fit in nicely with your existing Mono collection, especially if you do prefer the stuff that made them famous, like You Are There (which you should start off with if youíre new to the band).

The material ranges from very gentle to harsh, scratchy attack, and itís always huge. Some of the material will be familiar to existing fans, but itís a very worthy addition. Unlike most other collection/this Ďní that releases, Gone is also a great CD for people interested in getting to know Mono. (7.5/10)

 

 

 

 
7.2/10 Roberto
 

PATHOSRAY - Pathosray - CD - Sensory/Lasers Edge - 2008

review by: Roberto Martinelli

Obviously, Spheric Universe Experienceís arrival on the prog metal scene has made an impact, because weíre already seeing albums that take many cues from their sound. Take Pathosrayís self-titled effort. If you like Spheric, youíll hear similarities for sure. Pathosray is rougher, the sound is muddier, and they go for harsher elements like a growly backup vocal here or there, but the melodic hook style and vocal delivery is often similar, and the keyboard solos go just as mad. Still, seeing how Pathosray is much better than Sphericís sophomore album, you might be better off getting this one and pretending that it is in fact the follow up to Mental Torrents. (7.2/10)

 

 

 

 
5/10 Roberto
 

WRETCHED - The Exodus of Autonomy - CD - Victory Records - 2009

review by: Roberto Martinelli

Wretchedís The Exodus of Autonomy starts in grandiose fashion with sounds of stringed instruments as harbingers of the metal fury to come. And come it does, with a bludgeoning, chunky attack of heavy guitars and drums. There are good melody and harmony parts within the music, the Gothenburg cliche trappings are kept within a reasonable level, and the Necrophagist-isms, while noticeable here and there, arenít obnoxious.

Wretchedís first song is fun and energizing. However, by the third song, it becomes apparent that every track on The Exodus of Autonomy is basically the same. They all have the same approach, the same elements, and seemingly the same tempo. All except one, the title track, three songs before the end, which incorporates dynamics and emotive melody via Flamenco scales, varied percussion, different guitar tones... basically doing something different than any of the other songs on the album. Itís also remarkable that this song is an instrumental, which helps because it removes the monotone, one-dimensional placeholder vocals. Here, Wretched shows that they can compose emotively, instead of doing the one thing they do everywhere else (except the token intro and outro of violin) on the album. Sadly, after the title track, the regular programming resumes.

Itís not sure whether the sameness of this album is because of the music or how itís presented, but what remains clear is that The Exodus of Autonomy is either the same thing over and over, or an album that, minus the intro/outro, is six songs too long. What Wretched has to offer is correctly done, snazzily presented, and listenable. However, what Wretched does is neither something new nor an interesting version of whatís already been done, and thus it is an average album. (5/10)

 

 

 

 
8.7/10 Avi
 

OHM - Circus of Sound - CD - Shrapnel Records - 2008

review by: Avi Shaked

After Morglbl more or less resuscitated jazz rock in 2007 with its wacky Grotesk, (see issue #61), Ohm treats the often technical genre with as much color and even more elegance (albeit with less eccentricity) in this new release, Circus of Sound.

Ohm is an instrumental combo built around the talents of Chris Poland (ex Megadeth) on guitar and Robertino Pagliari on bass. Together with a drummer, for a fit and heavy drive (three different players, including Kofi ó son of Ginger ó Baker, occupy the stool, one at a time throughout the album), the aforementioned two seem to explore every possible tone of their tools ó they shred, they whine, they thump and they flirt ó making the tracks abound with vivid colors.

But there's more into this album than a fine use of sounds, as Poland and Pagliari cleverly harness the expressive tones into marvelous, fluent guitar/bass melodies, making the energetic tracks sound like actual songs (only with guitar/bass instead of vocals). The catchy phrasings draw their effectiveness from being straightforward and round, becoming a bit too expected at times and risking at losing listeners as the album evolves (especially those who would only treat the album as a superficial listen); mind you, however, that these melodies, obvious as they get, are always served with tones of variations and nuances Ė there are hardly ten seconds that pass without a new twist to explore, attesting to a great sense of innovation and tunefulness. (8.7/10)

 

 

 

 
9.25/10 Avi
 

MONKS, THE - Suspended Animation (re-issue) - CD - Angel Air Records - 2009

review by: Avi Shaked

After quitting The Strawbs, Richard Hudson and John Ford went on to form the pop-rock group Hudson-Ford in the mid Ď70s, which after four albums evolved into The Monks (and another side project inspired by the music of the 1930's by the name of High Society ó its material was also recently released by Angel Air).

This second album by The Monks, Suspended Animation, originally released in 1981, is still relevant today, as its crafty songs ó which cover a wide range of subjects ó portray the world as it is, suggesting it hasn't really changed much in the last three decades or so.

Furthermore, the catchy and punchy songs, which are served with a punk/new wave attitude, still sound surprisingly fresh, something that might be attributed to the skillful performance and the sharp production (the album sounds almost as if it was recorded nowadays), but above all, to the wonderful sense of humor exhibited here.

"Suspended Animation" (the title track), for example, contrasts the promising future with the present in a very British/Cockney manner ("Cruising round the planets instead of hanging round in bars"), while at the same time evoking a sense of drama and sympathy. The funky "I Can Do Anything You Like" goes one step further in terms of its humorous approach ó and even risks being ridiculous ó depicting an Indian group (with an appropriate accent) trying to convince Mr. EMI to sign the band by showcasing its all-around musical talent; but The Monks are actually very talented, and pull it off remarkably and amusingly well.

This re-release adds six songs that were recorded for a following release (unfortunately cancelled at the time). These bonus tracks are comparably fun, thought-provoking and articulate (with a primitive use of electronic drums, which was probably innovative at the time). (9.25/10)

 

 

 

 
7.5/10 Avi
 

BARBIERI, RICHARD - Stranger Inside - CD - K-Scope - 2008

review by: Avi Shaked

This new instrumental release by keyboardist Richard Barbieri surprisingly harkens back his magnificent collaborations with David Sylvian (the two were both members of the art-pop band Japan in the Ď70s/early Ď80s, and continued collaborating since, mostly on Sylvian's solo output). The sonic textures here are intricate, and bloom with hesitant ambience and haunting features. This is a bit surprising given that for the last fifteen years or so Barbieri has become more associated with the rockier Porcupine Tree.

Barbieri is accompanied by Steve Jansen (another former Japan colleague), and together they spin a web of electronic pieces that are delicate and nuanced. Even more importantly, by incorporating real voices, piano and pseudo string/guitar lines as well as a clever yet moderate use of rhythms (including some nice percussion work that balances the beats and keeps things from turning into cheap Electronica) ó the music sounds as natural and as intimate as electronic music can possibly get.

But with all of the music's charm and richness, and possibly due to the availability of comparable works bearing the voice of Sylvian or a wider palette of instruments (e.g. the self titled 1991 release by Rain Tree Crow), one cannot help but feeling that more human/acoustic ingredients would have raised the music to a whole new level. This actually does happen on the two first tracks: Porcupine Tree's Gavin Harrison contributes drums on "Cave," and stays for "All Fall Down," on which he is joined by Danny Thompson (a highly acclaimed player and a founding member of the folk-rock band Pentangle), who plays his acoustic bass passionately, synthesizing beautifully with the electronic soundscapes and the melodic, humming vocals. (7.5/10)

 

 

 

 
8.1/10 Avi
 

STRAPPS - Live at the Rainbow 1977 - CD - Angel Air Records - 2008

review by: Avi Shaked

Strapps's drummer, Mick Underwood, played with both Ian Gillan and Roger Glover in Episode Six in the Ď60s, prior to their leaving to join Deep Purple Mk2, and indeed Strapps did embrace some Deep Purple characteristics while offering its own chops. Strapps was active through the second half of the Ď70s, releasing four studio albums before its demise due to Underwood's leaving to occupy the drum stool for Gillan.

This release unveils the band's '77 set at London's Rainbow Theater, opening for the Ian Gillan Band, and by doing so it offers the previously unavailable insight into the band's eager live performance. The band's distinctive edge blends the hard rock of Deep Purple Mk2 with the funkiness of Deep Purple Mk4 (Strapps also opened for Purple in its final, 1976 UK tour), but also the art/glam rock of Roxy Music and a prototype of the New Wave of British Heavy Metal.

"Violent Love / Secret Damage," for example, opens with organ sounds suggesting Deep Purple's "Lazy" is about to emerge. Soon, however, slightly frenzied Bryan Ferry (early Roxy Music) styled vocals take over, served together with a thin line of futuristic keyboards and delicate guitar. On its second part, the track is left to the mercy of some chugging rhythms and a ravenous vocal performance.

Keyboardist Noel Scott is the central pillar of the band's sound, navigating masterfully between the electronic styling of Brian Eno and pure and playful rock n' roll. This is highlighted on "Down to You," which finds Scott leading the driving, otherworldly attack.

Another prominent feature here is the reggae/funk tinged guitar tones of singer/guitarist Ross Stag, who came as close as anyone got to the full bodied, groovy tones of Tommy Bolin. "Understand It" almost sounds like it was lifted off a Bolin album, with its tasty guitar licks complemented by a funky rhythm section and versatile keyboards; it is mostly the eccentric vocal approach that serve as a reminder that this is a Strapps number.

The sound on this recording is crispy and raw, fitting with the band's full-fledged, high-octane performance, which portrays Strapps as a musical outfit that doesn't fall behind modern rock bands in its freshness. Hence Live at the Rainbow 1977 is not only a most welcome addition to the Strapps repertoire, but also a highly recommended first pick for those interested in discovering the band in its dirtiest and still fashionable manifestation (and also an affordable pick, as the band's studio albums are hard to come by).

Three studio songs are included as a bonus, further illustrating Strapp's unique attitude. (8.1/10)

 

 

 

 
5.5/10 Avi
 

ICED EARTH - The Crucible of Man - CD - SPV - 2008

review by: Avi Shaked

When Tim Owens spoke to us shortly after the release of Iced Earth previous full length release, Framing Armageddon, (issue #57) he hoped for more lower-register vocals to appear on the sequel. Judging by the man's enthusiasm, we assume he didn't mean that these would be the vocals of the band's former singerÖ

Yep, Matt Barlow ó the old Iced Earth vocalist ó is back for this second part of the "Something Wicked" saga, and bringing him back might be the most peculiar decision Iced Earth leader Jon Schaffer has ever made.

First of all, it is well known that a frontman is one of the most dominant characteristics of a band's sound, and so by changing vocalists midway through his ambitious saga, Schaffer has sacrificed the wholeness of "Something Wicked." Schaffer was obviously well aware of that, as Iced Earth released a single with a few of "Framing Armageddon"'s songs re-recorded by Barlow, which didn't really change the big picture.

Second, Barlow sounds less committed to the songs. His low-end bellow does fit with the grinding rhythms (discussed shortly) but generally fails to excite.

A change of vocalists could be an attempt to put more focus on the music itself, proving that the work alone is worthwhile and holds the interest, or that a musical outfit is extremely capable. The Crucible of Man refutes this as well. The album is merely a rerun of its predecessor. Once again, galloping rhythms are the general routine with which the majority of the songs is served, only this time these are less balanced as there are only thin melody lines on top and the hymns are less engaging (Barlow's vocals don't help here, either).

All of the above prove beyond doubt that Tim Owens was a central pillar, without whom Iced Earth just doesn't pull through.

Nonetheless, there are some fine moments to be found, mostly (but not only) on two pairings: "A Gift or a Curse?" and "Harbinger of Fate" find Barlow corresponding with the dramatic performance found on Framing Armageddon, backed by delicate guitar playing and ethnic percussions; while "I Walk Alone," and especially "Divide and Devour" are the exceptions that deliver strong, guttural hymns.

Thankfully, the artificial sounds found on some of Framing Armageddon's connective parts are gone. This time, however, there's a slightly excessive use of an operatic choir next to the Gregorian chants (at times it fits, at others it can get irritating).

This release should have been a killer. Since it is not, this album is one of the greatest misses of 2008 (hell, even its epilogue is an anti climax). In its crucible, Iced Earth wades. (5.5/10)

 

Related reviews:
 
Horror Show (issue No 6)  
Dark Genesis (issue No 8)  

 

 

 
9.75 Avi
 

EVERGREY - Torn - CD - SPV - 2008

review by: Avi Shaked

Remember the times when you used to listen dedicatedly and repeatedly to bands such as Black Sabbath, Judas Priest, or Metallica, absorbing their heavy, emotive elements in the most profound way? This usually involved some sort of headbanging, air-guitar playing or singing/screaming along to the lyrics that ó you felt ó represented your course of life or deepest yearnings.

It sometimes seems as if today's pretensions and, moreover, the growing accessibility to music (on both the artist and consumer ends) produce a wealth of material that is more extreme / bizarre / crossover rather than essential. It is our analysis that there would never be another metal band as monstrous as Metallica (a status which was itself a product of the time), but the thing that is sadder is that bands just don't make timeless albums that keep ringing in your head long after you've listened to them. Do they?

Yes, they do!

On the surface, Evergrey's Torn is a step back, as even the band confesses. The previous Evergrey album, Monday Morning Apocalypse, was not received without criticism (although we loved it!), and it is obvious that Evergrey has decided to win back the disappointed fans.

How do they do that? Quite simply ó the band took the entire production on itself and wrapped the songs on Torn with the trademark Evergrey mist and mystery (which practically translates into whirlpool-like keyboard ambience). But the truth is that other than restoring the distinguishing Evergrey sound, Torn builds on the high impact songwriting and the crunchiness of its predecessor, and elaborates. The result: Torn is fat, gutsy and thrilling.

You will shudder upon listening to Tom S. Englund cry "My chest is open, my heart's on the ground" on "Soaked," and sympathize with the sense of betrayal so intensely portrayed on "In Confidence." You will be knocked out by the fleshy and heavy guitar sheets throughout, swirl along to the riffs and be slashed by the staccato rhythms. You will even be moved by the complementing, heavenly and captivating vocal performance of Carina Englund on the opening and closing songs (the inviting "Broken Wings" and the desperate "These Scars").

In the end you will get so attached to the album that you will find yourself listening to it over and over, even if at some point it becomes an emotional burden. That's what metal is all about! (9.75/10)

 

 

 

 
8.5/10 Avi
 

FIRE - The Magic Shoemaker Live - CD - Angel Air Records - 2008

review by: Avi Shaked

With songs that were hardly original at the time, clumsy execution and a semi-amateur production, Fire's sole full length release ó 1970's The Magic Shoemaker ó is a little embarrassing to listen to these days.

Still, the album about the shoemaker who helps to prevent war with use of magic shoes has won cult status, and this might have something to do with the album being one of the simplest, unpretentious concept rock albums. Think of a very humble version of The Who's Tommy, and you'll get the picture.

In 2007, guitarist and vocalist Dave Lambert decided to revisit The Magic Shoemaker. Lambert, who since then earned a greater name for himself as a member of the folk/art rock band Strawbs (the same band from which Rick Wakeman emerged to join Yes), called on the two other Fire members and together they performed the entire album on stage.

This release captures the live event, which a yielded a surprising result. Finally, The Magic Shoemaker can be enjoyed with clarity and improved musicality, and these really enhance the songs. Everything seems more nuanced and vivid now, and the performance holds fire (check out Lambert's raw guitar solo on "Tell You a Story" ) and creativity ("Like to Help You if I Can" is practically reinvented with an exquisite jazzy interpretation, including a nod to Van Morrison's "Moondance"), while still keeping the spirit of old (the naVve vocals on "Magic Shoes," the honest reflections of "Reason for Everything" and the "Hey Jude" lookalike "Only a Dream" ó these are all faithfully reproduced).

Furthermore, the original album is augmented with a beautiful overture (a bit more bombastic than the rest, it fits nonetheless), a hard rocking instrumental ("War"), as well as live versions of two earlier singles by Fire ("Treacle Toffee World" stands out with its vigorous rhythm) and of the Strawbs' "Just Love," all entwined cleverly into the concept.

It is rare to have a studio concept album being outranked by its live rendition, yet alone one that is done some thirty seven years after the original recording. However, when it comes to The Magic Shoemaker Live, this is clearly the case. (8.5/10)

 

 

 

 
6/10 Daniel
 

EDGUY - Tinnitus Sanctus - CD - Nuclear Blast Records - 2009

review by: Daniel Walker

Edguy are the undisputed masters of cheese around the world. A mere mention of their name evokes images of a record-breaking cheddar bowl. Their latest album continues the power metal kingship they established on 1995's Savage Poetry. The title may cast a faux pas sophistication, but these guys really haven't changed that much.

Tinnitus Sanctus is chock full of Ď80s excess, with modern production and empowering lyrics, which admittedly sound insipid in their forced enthusiasm. The lyrics are a tough case to crack as they can be offputting in their randomness, yet at other times they make sense. One of the lines from "Dragonfly" is "You're riding high when you nasalize what you pulverize. Drag on dragonfly." This is a little puzzling, but regardless of what it means, Edguy has succeeded in creating one hell of a catchy song with a groove you can really sink your teeth into.

Some of the references in the lyrics are nonlinear, such as "The Pride of Creation," which references Frankenstein and an aardvark. Closing track "Aren't You a Little Pervert, Too" is truly bizarre in its Motley Crue exhibitionism, which oddly gives a shout out to the troops in the first stanza.

The guitarist has an ideal arena-rock riffset that similar bands should strive for. In fact, most of the music is best described as pure Ď80s inspired hard rock, like a cheesed-up, European Bon Jovi. Sometimes the double bass, harmonizing, and effects take center stage and that's where it gets into power metal territory.

Tobias Sammet has a rich, booming voice, but it's drowned out or negated by too much vocal layering, especially at the beginnings of songs. It's a sure attention-grabber, but it doesn't have the same epic, classical feel as other power metal choral arrangements and thus can err on the side of noisy shlock.

Overall, not too bad, but the whole thing comes off as a little too sugary and confusing since Tobias infuses serious lyrics with oddball miscellany. Fun for parties and drinking. (6/10)

 

Related reviews:
 
Burning Down the Opera / Live (issue No 14)  

 

 

 
8/10 Daniel
 

INFECTED FLESH - Ascension of the Abysmal Aberration - CD - Hecatombe Records - 2008

review by: Daniel Walker

Infected Flesh is the brainchild of Spanish maniac Roger Borrull, who contributes all guitars, vocals, bass, and drum programming on sophomore release Ascension of the Abysmal Aberration. This little beast is the most violent thing to come out of Spain since Wormed's classic Planisphaerium, and probably more so.

Ascension is the variety of death metal that's so unremitting and fierce that it actually can induce spasms of laughter and nostalgia long after it's over. It's an initiation rite of endurance that you dare yourself to complete because you know the aural rape will be mixed with joy. You might feel a little headache coming on while listening to it, but just accept it as a side effect of this awesome drug.

The blastbeats on this record just do not let up and arrive at insane speeds and concentrations. For an individual to play this mercilessly is most likely impossible, so exceptionally good drum programming is to credit. It just begs the question what software was used.

Borull has a good understanding of arrangement, and therefore no element is overpowering. Even though the drums are cataclysmic, he slows things down at times with bizarre cosmic bass and guitar effects that complement the story of a space leviathan invading a planet. The lyrics here are a surprising mix of heady philosophy (one song even namedrops Nietzsche) with standard gore fare.

Borull also inputs nice grooves and vocal variations to enliven the music. At times, the music slows down to an old-school Swedish death metal type of crawl and he adds comical shrieks that sound like a deranged old man suffering from an asthma attack. Usually, his vocals are of the froggy kind, so he brings a whole madhouse to the table. He adds a pretty decent guitar solo on one track that's definitely out of character for this genre, but is also definitely welcome.

Ascension is another example of wild new school death metal mixed with aspects of the meat-and-potatoes variety of classic death metal. This kind of death metal will never get the same kind of reverence as the older kind, but it sure is a lot of fun and is actually funnier than much of the stand-up comedy proliferating through the airwaves today. (8/10)

 

Related reviews:
 
Anthropophagical Devourment (issue No 10)  

 

 

 
8.5/10 Avi
 

LICK LICK - Lick Lick - CD - Australian Cattle God - 2007

review by: Avi Shaked

A bit late (as this was released over a year ago) but we're here to report that this eponymous debut release by the band from Austin Texas is one of the freshest (referring to both the invigorating and the impudent meanings) albums we have listened in quite some time.

Had Frank Zappa been alive today, he would have been delighted to listen to this blend of fun and sick songs! These tracks are served with an in-your-face punk attitude: The guitars splash all over the place while some deliberately messy, high-distortion sections filth up the scene, going hand in hand with an ecstatic and eccentric vocal performance (Mo Perce has got to be one of the most colorfully deranged female vocalist ever). Imagine a drunkard doing "Willie The Pimp" on steroids (oh, we're not that sophisticated Ė song titles such as "Male Pattern Drunkassness" and "The Drinking & The Drunk" vouch for themselves).

But all this gruffness is only on the face of it, and it shouldn't take you too long to find this out. The cynical, genre-bending songs (mixing punk with post rock in a funked up fashion), the raw harmonies, the infectious rhythms, the 70's vintage organ sounds (the Hammond organ could not have hoped for a more vivid context in the 21st century!) as well as the articulation and drive with which all these are performed reveal a band of abundant freakish creativity that interlocks firmly.

Lick us again soon, please! (8.5/10)

 

 

 

 
 

 

 

 

ANOREXIA NERVOSA - Exile - CD - Season of Mist - 1997

review by: Daniel Walker

Not all the old black metal albums are considered classics, but sometimes it's enjoyable to look back at some of the more aberrant breeds of the genre, and those that have an interesting story. Fans of symphonic black metal know that Anorexia Nervosa used to be a household name until they put themselves on hold in 2005, especially with breakthrough album New Obscurantis Order. Many took Cradle of Filth off their proverbial pedestals and opened a spot for these slick Frenchmen.

What many of these otherwise well-meaning people don't realize is that Anorexia Nervosa's debut album, Exile, is a deranged, ugly patchwork of experimental black metal infused with the coldest of industrial tones. Nowhere to be found here are the calculated shrieks of all their subsequent material. Rather, wretched moans that sounded like the futile undulations of the damned permeate the tracks.

It's an understatement to say that their stream-of-consciousness style of lyricism is novel. The amount of minimalism shown here is staggering; each track rides a musical tide for a while, but just when you think it's going to develop more, it cuts you off and kicks you to the curb. It almost seems Anorexia Nervosa cherishes all the noisy interludes and that the surrounding music is just window-dressing. The black pit of their misery lies in these interludes ó harrowing soliloquies of misery. These buzzing dirges are so isolating and distant.

As far as minimalism is concerned, there's an artistic use of it, but it's not as thoroughly minimal as much of todayís readily available ambient black metal. Many times the drummer whips up sinister, syncopated beats, with the guitarist performing mechanical grinding parts. Still, the fast parts rub off as some kind of psychiatrist appointment gone wrong and leave you with your balls intact, which is fine for the type of work this is.

Exile remains a morbidly enigmatic creation, in everything from the music itself to the S&M photography in the inlay, to the completely incomprehensible lyrics that read like a schizophrenic's internal dialogue.