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.

Friday, 21 December 2018

Sadomagickal Seducer – Testicular Torture (2018) / 80%

Cum See Daddy

This had “magickal” in the name so I obviously had to review it. The fact that there’s a naked man being tortured on the cover was just the cherry on the sundae. Sadomagickal Seducer is yet another project by Comte Bergaby/Olivier B. Emond who’s known as Turbo Sodomizer here. He’s currently known for Shezmu, Palmistry, Complot, Pénombre, Hexeth or his new folk black project Moulin Banal. He’s quite a busy man. Unlike many underground metal musicians who have a boatload of projects, Emond finds the inspiration to make them sound all different and distinctive.

SS’s debut extended play is an intriguing mix of unhinged sexual tension. There’s a lot of things going on at the same time on those four dense tracks, all below the four minutes mark. There’s huge proto black/thrash/speed riffs à la Midnight mixed with some metallic punk lubricant not too dissimilar to what Satan’s Satyrs or Alucarda should sound like. The vocals are put through a wall of sexual moaning and lamentations, they’re rough and it sounds like there’s a maniac who’s being maniacally tortured by a bunch of horny Quebecois lumberjacks.

The special thing about the project is the huge layers of orgasmic keyboards all around the songs, it creates an atmosphere where a special orgy could happen. The EP ends on a lovely cheap church dirge and some sobbing just to make you feel uneasy. The project delivers enjoyable riffs with a peculiar ambiance and the room smell like a massage parlor once the release is done.


Thursday, 20 December 2018

Mirror of Deception – The Estuary (2018) / 92%

Wurst Doom Ever I: Baden-Württemberg

2018 is a grand year for German traditional doom as it marks the album releases of three of the most important bands of that tiny but intriguing scene. I’m speaking of Angel of Damnation, Dawn of Winter and of course, the reason I’m sitting at my desk right now, the esteemed Mirror of Deception is back after a long break. Now, if only we could get a new Wheel full length…Oh, we also got the debut full length of Goat Explosion!

While I’m a big fan of traditional fan, I reckon that the genre can be interpreted as samey or even “easy” to play. “Just write some Black Sabbath riffs, dude”. Sure, ok, but no, it’s not that simple. The best doom bands are the ones who go beyond the usual requirements and create distinct identities and pocket dimensions of goodness. MoD doesn’t sound like anyone else, they truly have an idiosyncratic take on the genre. It’s weirdly atmospheric with intriguing vocal melodies and trippy but subtle guitar riffs. I feel there’s some hints of Gothic rock in there or maybe crumbs of atmospheric rock but that’s just me trying to find where the uniqueness of their sound comes from. Veteran doomster Michael Siffermann has this German precision in his vocals, he’s mournful but confident. Alongside fellow guitarist Jochen Fopp, he took his time during after they got back together in 2014 to craft interesting and strong compositions

Their process and approach reminds me of Revelation, perhaps the best American doom band of all time that never got their due. I feel the same ritual was done with Mirror of Deception, they spent countless hours in a dark chamber where old progressive rock was then fused the hell out of it with doom metal. What was left was a sorrowful potent blend of unique metal that’s challenging my understanding of what the genre should be or become. It’s not progressive per se, it just feels wonderfully odd and the choice of melodies is charmingly off putting. Their doom is both accessible and obscure, both catchy and obtuse… They’re a band of differences being thrown together.

Ultimately, trad doom is a genre relying on the strength of the riffs but the emotional weight of those involved is also quite important. Mirror of Deception handles both masterfully without being cheesy and overly into sadguy sadness like 40 Watt Sun.


Lycanthro – Four Horsemen of the Apocalypse (2018) / 75%

Strong heavy metal lads in development

The second extended play from those Ottawa metallers is a professional homage to a bunch of heavy metal masters but they’re also starting to get their own identity amongst a sea of NWOBHM worshipers.

James Delbridge, guitarist/singer and what I assume main songwriter is only twenty and that’s possibly why his influences are so apparent. Judas Priest, Iron Maiden and 70s Rush are to my ears the most prevalent and I mean, those are some of the best bands ever. There’s a bunch of other things too like some thrash, power, speed or even progressive metal and symphonic elements in there and it creates an enjoyable mix of engrossing snacks. Delbridge is definitely a gifted vocalist and guitarist, he demonstrates that on all tracks.

Like modern Maiden, most tracks are on the long side and the album’s culmination is the fourteen minute epic “The Pale Rider” with its beautiful piano segment à la X Japan. They’re a good mix between emotions and strong musicianship and that’s something usually akin to the European sound (bands like Blind Guardian or Wuthering Heights come to mind.) The band still has to release a full length album but I’m confident they’ll do good, they nailed their production on this EP (that could had been a full length to be honest). They simply need to be a bit more original and distinctive to establish themselves as Ottawa’s premier modern heavy metal band. They have the potential to be more than a local opener for well known bands.