Tuesday, 28 January 2020

Death the Leveller – I (2017) / 82%

Balanced and potent formula

I was intrigued to see that Cruz Del Sur were gonna release the debut album of Death the Leveller in March 2020 so I went back to check their 2017 EP to get myself ready. Doom metal? Check. Best traditional metal label in the world? Check. Buddies of the best metal band in the world (Primordial)? Check. I was excited to hear this. Formed by the instrumental core of Mael Mórdha, a band I’ve heard a decade ago but forgot about, Death the Leveller dismissed the folk elements of their former band and decided to explore the bleakness that doom can convey.

I was pretty much sold the moment I saw the artwork combined with the epic track lengths of that “extended play”. I mean, it’s almost forty minutes of music divided within four songs... Plenty of meat on the bone. The quartet has this compelling dark aesthetic that’s really appealing to me as far as doom metal goes. I knew what to expect with that skeleton holding a balance and I wasn’t disappointed. I guess they could be compared to Dread Sovereign, Alan Averill’s doom metal side project but I’ve found them more interesting. “All Hell’s Martyrs” was a disappointment for me and I think I haven’t heard their followup yet. The thought of a doom metal Primordial was intriguing and Death the Leveller kind of filled that need.

The vocals of Denis Dowling have the same passion and intensity as Averill’s but they’re also cleaner and more rooted in pure heavy metal. Robust singing all around here. Really memorable, in fact. The ending of the last track “How to Track Pernicious Spells” made me shiver. The instrumentation is pretty pristine and the production sis top notch, they’re veteran musicians after all, that’s obvious enough. They're super good at building crescendos, creating tensions and just using their extended song structures efficiently.

The songs are all pretty much nine to ten minutes but they’re filled to the brim with riffs and they’re not what I’d call slow either. “Gone Forever” has insanely good riffing till the end of its duration. I’d say that Death the Leveller plays some sort of melancholic, atmospheric doom metal which isn’t too far away from what traditional doom can be at times. Bands like Warning, Mirror of Deception or The River navigates the sad waters of depressive doom but there's many more mysterious islands to discover. Death the Leveller definitely has a boat with several oarsmen since they’re constantly active, constantly bludgeoning and constantly interesting throughout the forty minutes duration. I’m turning thirty in like two months and long albums can be a drag to listen to nowadays so I’m hoping their album isn’t seventy minutes! Just like Primordial, you come out emotionally drained after spinning them.

It’s intense without being abrasive, dark without being shallow and trite, epic and complex without being syrupy. I’m quite stoked for what’s to come.


Monday, 27 January 2020

Scorching Tomb – Demo 2019 / 77%

Dirty Montréal 514 Series: Part II

The first effort from those newcomers is a strong slap in the face. The first song demo focuses on simplicity and groove over flashy technicality and it pays off. The vocals are raw, rough and comes off as echoes from a shadowy grave or a decrepit Hochelaga basement. They’re fun and a good fit with the fast and heavy riffs. I rarely want my death metal to be nice and clean and I’m getting what I want here. I want to be thrown in an unmarked grave, one that’s been freshly dug. My corpse laying in a white sheet or in several duffel bags.

Morbidity aside, Scorching Tomb were able to convey those themes quite well and for a demo release, that’s exactly what you want to accomplish. You want it as an appetizer of things to come and you don’t want the customer to leave.
Their songs are fairly short and to the point and the musicianship and songwriting are as solid as the tattooing of some of his mysterious members are known for. Incorporating some slight hardcore influences since Bolt Thrower are better than most things in life, they’re able to be a bit somewhat different than the plethora of generic death metal coming from all over the world.

Not unlike Oath Div. 666 or even Outre-Tombe as far as spirit goes, the band definitely prefers its meat (vegan or not) and potatoes to any frivolities that Québec death metal might be known for. The guitars are crisp and there’s no fretless bass solos or jazz influenced leads. It’s just punches after punches of...well, scorching death metal. Not the most memorable stuff but it goes hard and constantly delivers good riffs.

Get in the tomb as quick as possible. If the ground is too frozen, just pile some rocks over my body.


Grales - Demo 2019 / 75%

Dirty Montréal 514 Series: Part I

Some steps to do before checking this band:
  • A) Order a poutine. Don’t forget that if it’s not cheese curds, it’s not poutine and you should probably reconsider your life if you don’t mind shredded cheddar on your poutine. If you’re in the city, I’d suggest Poutineville.
  • B) Put some wool socks, it’s winter for fuck’s sake.
  • C) Cancel your psychiatrist appointments???????

That new quintet from Montréal will fill your bathtub with a year worth of filth. Unleashing three five minutes songs of thundering sludge/doom, Grales takes you by the hand and shows you how dejected and depressing their city can be. That period between autumn and winter where the ground is getting dirty and the snow can’t decide if it wants to stay or just melts into small putrid lakes of icy water is what that band sounds like. I mean that in a self-loathing but positive way, of course.

The guitars are thick (thicc?) and sounds like you’re constantly falling into brown snow because there’s a thin layer of ice beneath it. The bass is huge too (as it should be) and the drumming is varied, well executed and made me lose my mind from time to time. The vocals are also insane, they have the right amount of viscosity and poison to automatically provide you with the number of a weed dealer who’s probably gonna try to sell you meth too.

Grales gets hypnotic too. The start of “Cult of Domination” reminds me of the psychedelic elements that Ufomammut are known for. Considering they’re a quintet, they’re really able to keep things constantly filled to the brim and this helps when you want to create intriguing and inspired atmospheres. Two guitars are definitely efficient at giving you a big, loud and fully realized sound.

Despite keeping their compositions to a standard length, they’re able to explore some different rhythms and tempos. They’re also quite good at keeping things airy and they know how to stay pertinent without bludgeoning the listener with a constant volley of vocals.

They think of themselves as antifascist sludge and in a tense metal scenes where some people are too tolerant and friendly towards racism and white supremacy, it’s always nice to know that some members of the metal scene won’t stand for that kind of behaviour.

“You won't get your 'ethnostate'
Your obedient wife with a smiling face
You won't get your 'rightful place'
As the master caste of the fucking 'master race' “

Well said, dudes.

Tape release by the excellent Québec label From the Urn (Lochness, Marécage, Grand Morne...)


Wednesday, 21 August 2019

The Crypt – Odal (2019) / 87%

Playing heavy metal - A story of destiny

Arcane heavy metal is currently one of my favorite genres of music as it's clouded in mystery but never never fails to deliver catchy riffs and powerful, idiosyncratic vocals. Cultists like Cauchemar, The Atlantean Kodex or Realmbuilder all brought something different but substantial to this loose genre and this full length coming out from The Crypt explores some undiscovered themes with style and panache.

When I discover a band or an album, I do my research as I want to understand the historical context of a release in a discography. I also tend to explore the previous bands of the involved musicians as a full comprehension of an oeuvre within its timeline is important to me. I did none of those things for Odal. Sometimes it's good to go in blind and get your ass kicked. Well, I got a beating! This album is apparently an experimental offering from the band that's usually playing death metal (I have no idea if they're good at it) and I hope they're not done with heavy metal since it's really damn good.

If you know me, you might know that I'm a sucker for long, epic tracks and they don't disappoint here and the two numbers above ten minutes are showcasing nice ambient heavy metal tendencies. It's intelligent epic heavy metal relying on strong atmospheres and bludgeoning but dreamy riffing. At times, they recall the epic long winded era of Bathory mixed with the fantasy storytelling of Quicksand Dream (I like to think the artwork is an hommage to their classic Aelin). Looming in the ethereal shadows, the NWOBHM's gentle specter is always keeping watch and waiting for an opportunity to strike with intense dual guitar leads à la Murray and Smith. The Crypt is a band that takes its time and develops slowburning pieces of scorched metal and then tempers them in ice cold water. You also don't feel that it's a death metal band playing heavy metal, it's not a silly lifeless project done as a gimmick.

It's heavy metal played at various tempos but it's always outgoing and dynamic. The airy and natural production definitely helps as well. I think the tone of the guitars and the quality of the riffing is what instantly hooked me but they're so much more than that. The musicianship is top notch and never goes into "too much" territory. They're good at mixing the loud and the quiet and several softer moments really make the band shine. I see it as a metaphor related to the sea, an everchanging personality full of unchained power and immense depth. Like a gigantic wave, it grabs you and never lets you go.

The plethora of guest vocals could had been an operatic mess like Avantasia or Ayreon but fortunately, it worked very well. The women bring a fresh take not unlike the recent works by Lethean or Iron Griffin and the male voices bring a subdued epic doom dimension. While it never lacks cohesion but at times it's a bit uneven due to the diverse quality of the ensemble, there's vocals that I really liked more than others such as those on "Palace of Broken Dreams" and some that didn't really work such as "Quest Without End". I ended up liking the tracks with female vocals more but that's just me.

The compositions are rich as they delve inside an extensive lair garnished with many layers of metal. Inside a strong foundation of epic heavy metal, we can find epic doom and some sort of introspective progressive metal. From percussions on the calm closer "Moonlight" to the psychedelic stoner Om-ish feels of "The Lost Magics", there's a lot of diversity here. Similar to a room full of smoke and incense, it's captivating and fills your entire mind with thoughts.

Highly evocative and sophisticated heavy metal blessed by the gods of the genre is what you're getting here. Odal is definitely a jewel of 2019 metal. Don't let it go unnoticed.

Tuesday, 23 April 2019

The Lord Weird Slough Feg – New Organon (2019) / 85%

3 AM bag of cheese

Slough Feg or The Lord Weird Slough Feg (they went back to their old moniker apparently) has always been one of my favorite bands ever seen I discovered their sixth album, the excellent Hardworlder back in 2007. I even got the artwork of Traveller tattooed on my forearm to show my dedication to their craft... Even if the troubadours lead by main songwriter, singer and guitarist Mike Scalzi have been churning good albums (The Animal Spirits in particular), they were never able to reach the heights of Down Among The Deadman, Traveller, Atavism or the aforementioned Hardworlder.

Fifteen years ago, the Feg were the best heavy metal band in America. They have some hefty competition nowadays with bands like Demon Bitch, Magic Circle but I’m sure they still have the tools to go back up there.

After a brief stint with Metal Blade, the band is back with Italy’s Cruz Del Sur for their first album in half a decade. With New Organon, they decided to go back to their roots or at the least the idea behind their roots. It took them a while to gather a new collection of songs, it seems they were a bit lost and confused about the direction to take after the divisive (that’s what I personally gathered as far as opinions are concerned) Digital Resistance.

My first impressions were that New Organon was taking the sound developed on Digital Resistance, Ape Uprising and mixed it with their early 2000s releases. It works well and I was glad to hear the dual lead guitars of Scalzi and Angelo Tringali. At times, it seemed like a toned down version of their heavier classics and well, there’s nothing wrong with that. It’s not a surprising album though, they’re playing it safe most of the times, except perhaps on “Coming of Age in the Milky Way”. It’s a slow, medieval folky singalong song with hints of Queen and Rush combined with their usual Thin Lizzy genuflections. The best track on the album, for sure. Furthermore, bassist Adrian Maestas sings the lead vocals on “Uncanny” and this was also a pleasant surprise. It has a classic rock flair and it’s less gruff and semi-operatic than Mike’s approach.

I think it took me almost three years to enjoy Digital Resistance despite the fact that it’s a pretty immediate album. On the other hand, I liked this one immediately. There's the right balance of all their elements. Slough Feg has the tendency to write blistering but deep compositions about history or geeky but manly odes to philosophy and it’s still the case here. Scalzi explores Francis Bacon’s major work Novum Organum throughout the ten muscular songs of the album. Feg’s intellectual nature is hidden underneath a thick layer of meat, potatoes, butter and cheddar. It’s tasty and nutritive. It feeds your heart and soul with riffs and deep thoughts.

My desires for new Feg albums are somewhat impossible to accomplish at this point. I’d like longer, epic songs for some unfathomable reasons since the band never did this. I’m sure they’d be good at them though so I guess that’s why I have this fetish. I know they'll never do another Traveller and I have to live with this for the rest of my life...

With New Organon we see the band go back to their primal sound and sure, some metal oomph is back but the aggressiveness and the memorability of old is lacking. With that said, Slough Feg are still better than most at what they do and their riffing skills are still up there with the greats. I was preparing myself to that release for a while now and I went back to their whole catalogue. I think it’s a bit unfair to compare it to older works but I mean, I’m petty like that. We don't compare Iron Maiden's contemporary works to Powerslave... Outside of some more forgettable numbers such as “The Cynic”, it’s a pretty even album without any overly apparent weaknesses.

All in all, if you’ve heard a Slough Feg album, you know what to expect here. Or do you? Yeah, you probably do even if they’re “back” with one of their older sounds. Duel lead guitars, soaring solos, Scalzi instantly recognizable rough but classy vocal tantrums. If you don't know Slough Feg, this could be a good place to start, to be honest. You'll just need to warn your neighbors when you'll explore their older albums.

The whole album is fueled by hard hitting riffs such as on “Discourse On Equality” and curvy thunderous leads by level 20 bards. It's a shame that drummer Harry Cantwell (Bosse-de-Nage) is gone but newcomer Jeff Griffin does an acceptable job

Slough Feg are the equivalent of the bag of shredded cheddar in the fridge when you’re hungry at 3 am, you’ll always go back to it even if you know what to expect. If you’re lucky, you can find some really thick chunks. This album slaps and has a good amount of chunky riffs. Definitely the best air guitar album of 2019.

Oh, I'm also very stoked to see them for the first time in June.

Out late June on Cruz Del Sur Music

Monday, 4 February 2019

The Snack Series - Doritos Flaming Hot / Pringles Groovz Applewood Smoked Cheddar

Doritos Flaming Hot

After awkward but funny ideas like the Sonic Sour Cream Doritos (previously featured here), the Collisions ideas or even the Crunchy Nuts Doritos, the brand is back with something safer but hotter.

Packaging: I got a small bag since I'm not the toughest dude ever in relation to spiciness and I decided to try them for research purposes only. They're also available in normal Doritos bigger size bags for people more courageous than me.

Texture/Look: They were Doritos alright and except for their flashy "dangerously hot" red colour, they had nothing special going for them.

Taste: Doritos often releases spicy versions of their chips and some were better than others. Compared to the 2017 version called Heatwave, those were spicier but not as interesting. They lacked depth and panache and only went straight to the heat. Not necessarily a bad thing but I do prefer subtleties with my nachos.

Blazing hot take. Not for weak tongues

Pringles Groovz Applewood Smoked Cheddar

After some interesting ideas like the Tortilla releases (Nacho Cheese and Salsa were pretty damn legit), Pringles is trying to reinvent itself with Groovz, a wavy take on their classic chip. I mean, there's no reinvention here but it's still good stuff.

Packaging: It's a freaking can. Were you expecting Pringles to change their one and only winning formula? Nah, I didn't think so.

Texture/Look: They're wavy and crunchier than your usual Pringle. They feel good in the mouth, my dudes.

Taste: The cheddar taste is here but it's not really strong. Pringles usually go for low key and balance approaches and it's still the case here.

Nothing spectacular. Honest cheese chips.

Saturday, 22 December 2018

Witching Hour - ...And Silent Grief Shadows the Passing Moon (2018) / 90%.

In the pale moon light! In the witching hour!

When I got this in my email from Hells Headbangers, I was expecting nasty black/thrash, something like Nifelheim, Desaster, Occult Burial or Bonehunter (from HHR as well) but no, I was surprised to hear what Witching Hour actually play. I’ve been familiar with the name for a while but that’s actually the first album from the German trio I check and it’s a banger.

What surprised me about this record is how smart it actually is. It’s really rare that a black/thrash band manages to be actually intelligent while retaining their primal destructive instinct. Witching Hour are like a barbarian who didn’t dump their intelligence stat. I think the latest non Vektor thrash band I’ve heard that wasn’t completely only into destroying corpses with their teeth musically was Norway’s Nekromantheon (definitely fucking due for a new record, by the way) and that’s saying something. I guess we could say that the shadow of Deceased isn’t far as well and Fowley’s mark is surely present in Jan Hirtz’s rough drawl.

Their approach is epic and long winded. The decision to start with a ten minute track was bold, especially considering that the first half is instrumental. It did create an interesting and worthwhile introduction to the album. It then continues with five packed tracks full of intricate thrash riffs not only content in delivering aggression but also focusing on delivering interesting time signatures without entering Mekong Delta German progressive thrash territories. Witching Hour also incorporates a large amount of heavy metal in there, it’s ancient occult metal and it made me think of Demontage, the unknown jewel from Toronto, in many ways. Drawn out songs full of incredible riffs combining melodic might with precision, wits and passion are what they offer on here.

They also offer some moments to breathe and gather your spirit such as the first moments of the superb closer “As I Walk Among Sepulchral Ruins” and its repetitive but atmospheric guitar introduction. I got nothing bad to say about this record, it gives me what I want in thrash metal in 2018, it’s not overly long, it delivers the riffs, it’s not fucking dumb and about pizza or “fun” and it remains evil while never becoming unnecessarily full of thicc nacho cheese.