Wednesday, 30 October 2013

Borrowed Time - Borrowed Time (2013) | 91%

Superb album art done by Shagrat of Acid Witch, it reminds me of Running Wild a little.

More sand in the diamond encrusted hourglass

"The past and present are but one component”

Detroit, such a desolate wasteland, money did ravages there and Nicklas Lidstrom retired,  what's left to enjoy? The new album of Eminem? Well, the Tigers and the Lions are pretty good... But screw sports, we're here for metal, right? Concerning that music style, Borrowed Time is there for y'all. Formed in the year of the shark 2010, the American band released a bunch of demos, splits and extended plays before this year, the year metal traditionalists were expecting, the year they finally released their first full length. This self titled album is perhaps the best debut album heavy metal has seen since...Well, I don't know, since a while at least!

I really discovered them in 2012 when they played in Montréal for the first time alongside Cauchemar, Demontage, Occultation and Metalian (what an amazing lineup!). I knew the name but I had yet to listen to them and I was utterly pleased with their performance. I had high expectations for their first album and I'm absolutely not disappointed by the outcome.

Led by Jean-Pierre Abboud, the only constant member of the lineup, his silky falsettos are of the purest heavy traditions and they're certainly in the major league. His delivery is pristine, subtle and powerful. He's able to mix emotional and almost romantic intonations like on “Dawn for the Glory Rider” and he really shines on “Of Nymph and Nihil”, a balladesque track and perhaps the best song released in 2013 (yes, believe me.). He's also using a rougher voice from time to time to indicate you're not listening to a HammerFallesque cheesefest. J-P is more charismatic than skilled even though he has chops, he's no Harry Conklin but who really is at his level?

This band has one of the best lyrical and artistic approach the genre has to offer. The lyrics are about as deep and well written as you can read from a band taking its inspiration from fantasy and literature. They owe that to Manilla Road, a band that everyone worthy should at least worship a little, Borrowed Time definitely do, they covered the classic “Necropolis” on their demo to prove their adherence to the Road club. The great cover art represents the band very well, it shows a certain distinction and intellectualism that isn't much present in most metal genres. Don't think I spit on metal, I do like unsubtle stuff like “Painkiller”, it's encompassing the passion and primal energy of the music but I always had an inclination for truly well written and researched lyrics, somewhat like Virgin Steele did with their exhaustive conceptual albums. Borrowed Time are not quite there yet but it's way more interesting than singing about tits and bikes all the time. I mean, hell, we know it's cool, no need to prove you can party all night long and can withstand a night of hard boning with groupies. 

Music wise, the band runs a very tight ship. It's full of solos, great bass lines and energy. Victor Ruiz and Matt Preston are great guitarists and their leads are efficient and even if they're numerous, they don't feel like they're all over the place. The album is as intricate as its cover art, full of little details that you'll be able to hear even after your fifth or sixth hearing. Mixed up with a knack for mysticism, the music is heavy but it also can be joyous at times like “Pygmalion” with its catchy vocals. The album is composed of nine tracks but two of them are short one minutes interludes that serve as segues into the next songs like “Dark Hearted...” which is an introduction for “Libertine”. To be honest, it's not the best composition for a track-list, it doesn't quite affect the cohesion that much but it's  cluttering the album. They don't really fit into the next songs themselves since they're instrumental and would lead to the longer songs being longer and boring. Outside of these unnecessary but still pretty good short tracks, the band delivers three very epic songs from six to seven minutes and they're very apt at building interesting tempos and atmospheres like on the great closer “A Titan's Chain”. This last track has some pacing issues near the middle but that's something easily fixed with some experience, it's after all their debut album.

The influence of the beloved NWOBHM, a scene that is now trendy in the underground is obvious. Plenty of bands are getting back together to play festivals such as Keep It True and Muskelrock or even release great comeback albums like Satan did this year with “Life Sentence”. This return to the roots is a good thing since most of the bands are decent but we're already starting to to scrape the barrel. Borrowed Time takes its influence from the epic branch of the British scene with bands like Cloven Hoof, Elixir or the long tracks Iron Maiden is well known for. Nonetheless, the band is still American, taking inspiration from the fantasy inclined cult bands like Longings Past. I think epicness could be a feature that they could expand, but in the meantime, they both nail the fast, heavy tracks like “The Thaumaturgist” and the epic ones.

Perhaps not as good and adventurous as In Solitude's new album “Sister”, “Borrowed Time”, while conservative, does everything right. It wasn't a rushed album, the band took its time. The production is way better than on their other releases and it helped the band in its noble quest.

To my dismay, I've read probably what is the worst review I've ever read on a “professional” website. A review written by a random girl on Metal Temple, it compared Borrowed Time's sound to Van Halen and King Diamond and made Metalocalypse jokes. Huuur. A lot of people don't seem to grasp what traditional metal is and should be. The fact this website employs such terrible reviewers is quite bad for the scene. Everyone can write such bullshit on the internet, creating inaccuracies and spreading awful and wrong information. What I tried to accomplish with this rant? Maybe asserting that heavy metal is now perhaps a niche more than ever and it has to face the incomprehension of modern metal fans who are clueless on its origins and its developments and drench in mediocrity.

“What will be? Tell me great vizier”

...The future of American traditional metal, their sound represents the evolution of the genre and even though it doesn't have the “oh my god, we have bell bottoms and weird hats!” sound of the vintage rock/metal revival nor the characteristic sleek and tasteless sound of many heavy/power bands signed on major labels who don't give a fuck about honesty and are trend surfers. Alongside bands like Dawnbringer or newcomers Eternal Champion, Borrowed Time delivers pure metal with a flair for emotions of the highest instance. They do it with ease and carefulness and they'll harvest the fruits of their labour.

Essential. Don't borrow it, buy it.

Monday, 28 October 2013

Alucarda - D.F.F.L (2013) | 78%

Dying From Fucking Lego

This demo is the first release of this solo project from Denmark and it's quite cool. Named after a cult Mexican horror movie, the sound of this twenty minutes release is definitely interesting and worth the time for the underground metal fans in need of well done occult music. The sample at the beginning of the last track is from the movie “Satan's Sadist”, another cult movie and it has this cheesy but enjoyable vintage vibe that is often well liked in that genre.

Even though the production is very rough, I think it compliments the songwriting of H Witchfuzz, a dude named Hampus Wahlgren who's a newcomer in the scene but he's definitely there to stay since he has an interesting take on the whole vintage doom sound. The guitar riffs are still pretty discernible under all the fuzz. It's pretty damn fast...oh yeah, I forgot to say that he's including a shitload of punk in his sound. It sounds like Satan's Satyrs but with a better production (getting a better sound than “Wild Beyond Belief!” wasn't quite difficult since it was the shittiest sound ever). In fact, if you're a fan of this American band, get this demo immediately. It's available for free if you don't like tapes, so you guys have no excuses!

It's mostly groovy as fuck and pretty speedy but the doom influence remains obvious. It's a good mix of influences and the formula totally works. The track “Wicked Sabbath” is a pretty heavy & slow one using potent doom qualities. Full of distortion à la Electric Wizard, the music is pretty thunderous, the bass is loud and the drumming is fast paced. The fact it's very speedy gives the band an interesting edge and it's not only a mix of doom and punk, it feels connected and natural.

The vocal facet of the project will perhaps be the breaking point for certain people. They're clean and buried under the mix but high and screechy, they can be a bit grating at times but I guess that my tolerance for such vocals is good. I do think it's original and it's a change from the buried, deep vocals the doom genre tends to use. It has this nice DIY vibe that I like, it's honest and fun and I rarely ask for more when there's also a quality in the songwriting. To conclude, Alucarda is a project with a lot of potential and it will be interesting to hear the future releases.

Saturday, 26 October 2013

Steel Mammoth - Radiation Funeral (2011) | 83%

NWOFHM #5: Nuclear Metal Transitioning

Steel Mammoth is yet another project with Jussi Lehtisalo in its rank, perhaps the most occupied musician in Finland and he really created a scene of his own outside of the Finland conventions. Compared to most of his other metal projects, this one is a full band comprised of two Seremonia members and the drummer of Arkhamin Kirjasto. Jussi handles the guitars, basses and vocals alongside Ville Pirinen (Seremonia, Garfield Steel...).

Steel Mammoth is one of Jussi's most prolific projects outside of Circle. And speaking of this seminal psychedelic rock band, I have no idea what happened to it in 2013. It seems the band has split into two separate entities. One with the usual members formed Falcon (ex-Circle), a AOR/hard rock band while Circle is now composed of metal musicians (Speedtrap, Stench of Decay). It's simply weird like everything he and his label Ektro records do, Jussi is definitely a tough guy to follow but I do my best to keep my head out of the darkness.

This project has many albums but the first four releases weren't metal, they explored psychedelic and stoner rock but they still had this gritty and aggressive approach. The typical NWOFHM touch was also quite present, it was quirky, weird and had the unique riffs and basslines of Jussi. They had this 70s vintage, garage rock vibe that was quite cool, it was somewhat like Graveyard but with an original twist.

But two years after the excellent “Nuclear Ritual”, the band released this album “Radiation Funeral” and it marked a change of sound. Akin to the sky after a nuclear war aftermath, the sound became darker and they joined the ranks of Krypt Axeripper, Arkhamin Kirjasto or Motorspandex on the Metal Archives. Their riffs became heavy as fuck and the vocals as metal as a rusty cheese grater. The influence of the unholy trio composed of Venom, Bathory and Motorhead was integrated into their psychedelic basis and it's freaking refreshing. This combined with an healthy dose of punk and some doom metal made this record a pretty fun one.

It can compared to the extreme metal attack of Arkhamin Kirjasto but more gritty and less experimental and weirdly catchy. It's heavy/thrash/punk played in the Jussi Lehtisalo fashion so it still sounds pretty out there! Their songwriting formula is fairly simple, nine songs for thirty minutes of music, it's certainly a blistering, nasty attack. The opener “2000” sets high standards for the rest of the album but there's certainly no fillers here. The bass is loud, the drumming is energetic and it's fucking fun. It's not only a change of sound, it's rather an evolution since they retained the elements that made them cool and original and added an old school metal vibe. It's rare to see non metal bands evolving towards the metalness, it's often the opposite, bands become wimpier since they're grown ups now. Well, fuck growing up, I'll eat pop tarts with my imperial stout if I want to.

Steel Mammoth's later days are a good counterpart to the experimental heavy metal approach of Jussi's other metal projects. I'm radiated but I don't care.

Oppression - Silence! (2012) | 81%

Randonneurs métal punks

Oppression is the new project of Sovannak (leader of the excellent weird black metal project Putamen Insula, read my review of their last album here: click me ) and Lord Draconis of Return to Nothingness (never heard them). “Silence!” is their first release and it's a very good sixteen minutes slap in the face with a combat boot.

The band is pretty interesting, they're mixing black metal, punk, oi and even martial music plus some post punk influences in a very potent musical formula. Not unlike Putamen Insula, they have a very radical thematic approach exploring nonconformist, violent anarchist views that are somewhat not typical of black metal bands but more prevalent in crust or punk circles.

The vocals of Sovannak (he's not handling the guitars this time) are probably the highlight of this release. Combining quite competent traditional black metal screeches full of venom and spite with airy, almost folkloric clean vocals. The clean vocals are sometimes only a support to the songs, often without lyrics like on “L'appel de la bête” or an integral part of their sound like on “Sous une épaisse couche de fumée”. The melodic punk influence is perhaps coming from French bands like Bérurier Noir or from the cult Québécois band Banlieue Rouge. Mixing this punk sound with lo-fi black metal is quite enjoyable.

Their combination isn't unnatural, their riffs are catchy, simple and sufficiently heavy for the band to be considered somewhat metal, albeit it's almost a 50%/50% recipe. “Tuer” is a pretty metallic track but nonetheless, there's an unity in the songwriting so it's perceived as a whole and not as disconnected parts with clean vocals intertwined with harsher moments.

The production of “Silence!” isn't as raw as you could expect from a limited to 100 copies tape release. It's lo-fi, yes but not crappy and it's more like “anarchist café” than “bedroom” black metal. The harsh vocals are a bit buried at times but it's necessary for the genre, the cleans on the other hand are nice and well recorded, the melodies got stuck in my head for a while.

Overall, a cool first demo from Oppression. I actually just came back from a gig they did and their new songs are also pretty cool, they seemed to be punkier as well, let's follow that band!

The tape is still available on certain distros such as CW Productions, Found Dead (for Euros), Tour de Garde...But Sovannak gave me his permission to include a downloadable link for my readers

Download "Oppression - Silence!" for free, buy it if you like it!

Thursday, 24 October 2013

Call of the Wild - Young Wolves (2013) | 77%


This young pack of wolves from Toronto released this EP back in February are a pretty enjoyable traditional metal band with very awesome chops. Led by the charismatic guitarist Cyndi Zhang who's as sexy as talented, Call of the Wild once again proves that Toronto is the heavy metal Mecca of Canada. The Chinese immigrant has composed everything in the purest Steveharriseque version and this really helped for the cohesive feel of the extended play.

The four songs, seventeen minutes release is driven by powerful & precise leads delivered by Zhang and Tom Stanley who are a quite nice guitar duo. Bordering on shred, the solos are definitely one of the highlights of their sound. They got nothing to envy to the legendary bands and compared to many “OH MY GOD SOLOHS!” bands like Dragonforce, their solos are substantial and they have this natural vibe. Their riffs are very solid as well, it's pretty damn fast and they keep things interesting during the numerous leads. The beginning of “Young Wolves Rising” has these pretty awesome leads, encompassing epicness within its traditional length. The band has the skills to pull off more intricate material and I wish they'll expand their sound in this direction. They could certainly pull off six or seven minutes tracks with ease.

Not as vintage as their city brothers of Axxion or Phantom, the NWOBHM influence is still there but the band has an unequivocal modern feel a bit like Skull Fist has. There's a big speed metal influence too CotW's vocals are not as sugary and not as high. Power Serg's delivery is forceful and manlier than some other singers of similar bands who sometimes could be mistaken for eunuchs if their jeans weren't tight. He's pretty good and sings the decent, entertaining lyrics written by Zhang, he's yet another very good tool that the band has.

The four songs are all around the four minutes mark, there's no fillers and no ballads. The catchiest track is the shortest one “Hang 'Em High” with its short bass lead at the start. The Canadians are very tight and not only the lead guitarists are competent, the rhythm section as well.

Unfortunately, In a really competitive heavy metal market, nothing really stands out in their music, nothing sucks either. It's generic but very professional and worth the time if you're a fan of the genre and definitely worth what you can give them on Bandcamp. Solid stuff but I feel they have yet to find their true identity, let's wait for their first full length, I'm sure it will be pretty awesome.

Funeral Circle - Funeral Circle (2013) | 89%

Tony's notes: The awesome cover art was made by Martin Hanford (no, no, not the one who did “Where's Wally?”), he's known for his covers for Bal-Sagoth, Slough Feg, Orange Goblin...

I'm willingly stepping into their circle ---> O

Finally, doom metal has made its place in Canada. 2013 marked the release of three important albums for the scene, Cauchemar's excellent debut “Tenebrario, Cromlech's “Ave Mortis” and Funeral Circle's self titled. This triptych of excellent releases marked a new uprising for the genre in my native land. Blood Ceremony also released their third full length but it's their usual “vintage occult flute” stuff, hence nothing quite extraordinary but they're still an important part of the scene.

Their “Sinister Sacrilege” EP released in 2010 was very impressive and was well received by the doom community. Followed in 2011 by split (one original song and a Witchfinder General cover) with the mighty Lord Vicar but this full length is their first release since then. I believe the band had a lot of lineup issues and it's the still the case. The singer on this album has left the band and has been replaced, it's basically the project of Pilgrim (Matthew Barzegar) now, I'm excited that he's moving to Montréal as I'm sure there's some gigs planned up, well I do hope so!

Compared to the fast heavy/doom approach of the frenchies of Cauchemar, Funeral Circle is pretty damn slow and takes its time to build up songs. They play a style that borrows from both the epic doom scene and the traditional doom one. It might be said that these two camps are quite incestuous these days and it would be right. Indeed, bands like Atlantean Kodex or While Heaven Wept successfully mixed a shitload of influences together and while these Canadians do it more subtly, the mix of genres is still done perfectly.

Even if the provenance of these doom agents is diverse, from Germany to the United Kingdom and now Canada, they're all evolving under the same banner, the banner of excellent glorious and soulful metal. As brothers in arms, they're exploring the writings of Howard, Lovecraft, Moorcock, Tolkien but also the dark and romantic ancient history of our own twisted world. While Funeral Circle's lyrical and thematic side is pretty well developed and interesting, they're not yet as great as the full fledged clerical side of Atlantean Kodex who wrote the most interesting lyrics of the decade on “The White Goddess”. Always a pleasure to lyrics that are connected to your interests nonetheless!

In the style of Reverend Bizarre's debut or WHW's “Sorrow of the Angels”, they play on atmospheres and while it's not as emotionally draining as the early works of Tom Phillips (who got happy after “Of Empires Forlorn” apparently), it's still pretty heavy on the grandiose. It doesn't feel epic accidentally as they have this knack for slow, heavy dirges like “The Charnel God” which is superbly decorated with keys and profound leads. There's more guitar leads here than in your usual doom bands and you can almost feel the early Opeth influence here and there as I know for a fact the composer of the band is a fan. It's especially obvious in that nine minutes tracks. There's this mournful and classical sonority reminding me of an album like “Morningrise”, certainly a good thing in my book.

It doesn't try to be emotional like 40 Watt Sun or epic like DoomSword, they just play an instinctive style that accurately fits some of these descriptions. Admittedly, it's not as heavy or crushing like The Gates of Slumber (R.I.P. Brothers), it's exploring a softer, ethereal sound and it's a well done trek. There is this sweet interlude track “Tempus Edax Rerum” that explores acoustic and mythological realms. The production also compliments the songwriting, it's airy and minimalistic and gives the rightful place to the riffs to grow, like the grass grows in these desolate Roman ruins all over Europe.

Their EP had somewhat the same style their full length has but with a lacklustre production, It wasn't as lush and precise. There's a true progression both in the songwriting and the musicianship. There's no songs like “Sinister Sacrilege”, this was a fast, four minutes song with a Pentagramish attitude. It would had been cool to get one or two hard hitting tracks but it wouldn't had been helpful to the cohesion of the album. There's no need for forced diversity when the sound of the album doesn't ask for it. The doom I like the most isn't a collection of songs but rather a complete experience

A facet of their sound that is putting up there with the best bands of the genre is definitely their vocals, I hope Adrian Miles sounds as good as Jeremy Hannigan. He has a clear sense of melody and his delivery is very enjoyable such as in “Amaranthine (Wandering Dreamer)” with its catchy chorus. The vocals are often calm and soothing, reminding me of Solstice but deeper and obviously not with that sexy British accent even if we're still in the Commonwealth. It's mixing the deep, poetic vocals of Albert Witchfinder with a softer side and this is completely winner.

Alongside the Bostonians of Magic Circle, we were able to step into two mystical and occult worlds this year, both albums are the first offerings of these promising North American doom priests, keep your eyes and your hearts wide open.

By the shadow of the Ross Bay cemetery, it's not blasphemous to assert the greatness of the funeral circle. Let's pray to the gods of old that this album is not an once in a lifetime deal. I'm not afraid, the band is in good hands with Pilgrim who's the main composer and their new label Shadow Kingdom. Mandatory.

Tuesday, 22 October 2013

Craven Idol - Towards Eschaton (2013) | 93%

The sound of crumbling cathedrals

The new extreme metal powerhouse Dark Descent Records is rapidly becoming the best label in the underground and Craven Idol is perhaps my favourite release from the label. While I can appreciate some of their bands like Corpsessed and Adversarial, I'm not the biggest fan of this old school death metal revival trend, the scene basically has fun spreading the doctrine of Incantation without writing new rules. On the other hand, Craven Idol while firmly rooted in oldschoolism, mixes genres and styles to breach more boundaries.

Decorated by another gorgeous painting by the Italian mad genius Paolo Girardi. He's perhaps the best artist to grace the genre in years and 2013 is definitely a great year for him with the new albums of Cauchemar, Lycus and Inquisition, The cover art reflects the evil and fiery anti religious feel of the record. The cathedrals are crumbling, Death is awaiting. Don't miss your turn to join the apocalypse.

Their debut album is a exceptional slab of black/death/thrash crafted by the Armageddon. They probably achieved exactly what they wanted to with “Towards Eschaton”, it's pretty much perfect in every ways. I haven't heard their 2010 EP but I can only applaud such talent. The album starts with its best track, the six minutes “To Summon Mayrion”. Its atmospheric and rich ambiance are hellish and proves that their style can be done with class and melodies without turning into a modern, saccharine wankfest. This track pretty much embodies everything that is right about metal, it contains interesting slow and fast riffs, great intricate leads and harsh vocals full of venom. The riffs of Scourger (who played drums on the new Solstice EP) and  Immolator of Sadistik Wrath (I wonder if that's his real name) are insane. They're blistering, groovy and aggressive like their style deserves but there's a certain facet of their sound that made them stand out. A bit like Ares Kingdom's Incendiary is such an important record in my opinion. There's a mysticism to find and a cultured and pertinent background to such heartfelt and passionately heavy music. It's certainly as beautiful as the cover art, a different kind of beauty, one that you can't find in mainstream media, one you can find in mythology or the bloody lies the bible spawned. They transposed Melechesh's intelligence into an harsher, yet still pertinent setting. Their production is also top notch for their genre and mixed with their pristine song writing, it created a marvellous album.

Thick and rich like a slice of pumpernickel bread, Craven Idol isn't as shallow as as the devil's fart, no no no! Their songwriting is otherworldly and the temptation to press the replay button is as strong as when Eve ate the forbidden fruit. The mere thirty-three minutes explains this seduction and even if I feel they still had the time for one or two other tracks, it feels unnecessary, they said and delivered what they were supposed to in the most blasphemous fashion. Decidedly more varied and not as rooted in black and traditional metal as a band like Aura Noir, they're also more subtle and not as “FUN”. Tracks like “Aura of Undeath” are powerful hymns using background choirs to accentuate the effects. The band delivers the short, insane tracks like the epitome of might and magic that is “Orgies” 

Destroying Destroyer 666 at their own game, Craven Idol just managed to release the best extreme metal album of the year. If you're still listening to the new Carcass, you might be disconnected and your judgement might be blurred, just sayin'. I crave thy idol and you should too.

Ningen-Isu - Taihai Geijutsu Ten (1998) | 95%

                                               人間椅子 – 頽廃芸術展

*Decadent Art Exhibition* - Pinkish Spherical Elaboration

Check out my review for "Ougon no Yoake" (1992): CLICK ME

Tony's notes: My second review for Ningen-Isu, this weird Japanese band exploring rock, progressive, stoner, doom metal and traditional Japanese music. The song titles will be in the romaji translations since it's easier like that, the Metal Archives page has the titles in their real Japanese form.. I'd like to review all their albums but it's obviously a very daring task, I'll try to cover most of their eras at least! I have to thank the ex-moderator Crick who convinced me to check this band, your obsession has driven you insane. He gave me the whole discography but I definitely will spend at least one grand to get all their albums one day, it's one of the best discographies in metal and it needs to be better known outside their country. "Decadent Art Exhibition" is the translated title of the album, truly justified.

Well, this cover art is weirder that the last time my grand-mother accidentally smoked weed with my dad. “Try my cigar, mom” said my father. It was like being in a movie directed by Wes Anderson with David Cronenberg. The artwork was commissioned by the band and I'm not really sure what it is. At first, I thought it was a giant pink elephant flowing in the sky like the pig on Pink Floyd's “Animals”. The sphere-like animal is surrounded by a naked woman tied to a tree with tentacle roots and a pensive man. There's trees and the ocean in the background, indicating that the location is indeed one of the numerous japanese islands. Maybe it's an allegory about the creation of art and the fact the woman is tied showcases the misogynistic culture of Japan. The man thinks and the woman is a barrier to the thought development. Ningen-Isu always had peculiar artwork but this one takes the cake and so is the music included here.

In my review for “Ougon No Yoake”, I mentioned that it wasn't the best album to get into this band. Well, this one is an even worse entry point. It's perhaps their most fucked up full length. Located midway through their career, it serves as a good demarcation between the later days which and the previous releases which were pretty fast paced and rock and roll for their standards (albums like “Odoru Issunboushi” or “Rashoumon”). “Taihai Geijutsu Ten” is one of their most psychedelic album (a simpl look at the cover again would support that argument).

The progressive rock influence is quite obvious on this album, it always has been an integral part of their sound but it's fully developed here. I feel like the progressive ate some of the doom and metal influences (they were definitely not in the belly for a long time though). Nonetheless, there's fast, metallic tracks like the excellent & catchy “Excite” with its speed metal approach. The bulk of the album remains the six and seven minutes epic numbers like the doom monster “Dunwich No Kai”. The sound found here is basically a mix of weird progressive rock, blues (“Mura No Hazure De Big Bang” or “ED45” are influenced by Physical Graffiti), hard rock and doom. Don't worry though, the band still has a metal edge, it's just mixed up in their sushi recipe alongside other tasty ingredients.

Each of their albums are exploring the lush landscape of Japan, unravelling the multiple facets of the complex former feudal identity of Japan. This record is exploring the deep and mystic spiritual philosophy of existence. Twelve songs of unparallelled vision, travelling at light speed between the eras while borrowing everything it needs. The power trio’s biggest homage is perhaps to the seminal and timeless force of Rush. Akin to the Canadian band, Ningen-Isu is technically strong but never emotionally shallow. The main feat of strength of the band is their solos, expertly crafted and full of blues influence, in perfect synchronicity with their rich songwriting.

Ningen-Isu has of course always played their music with a very tight approach, they’re Japanese after all and outside the realms of Abigail and Metalucifer, sloppiness is to be laughed at. Nonetheless, “Taihai Geijutsu Ten” feels more laid back and it's playing with a lot of atmospheres. Despite their restrained line-up, it's quite varied and that's the best proof you can get to confirm the genius creative process of Kenichi Suzuki (bass, vocals) and Shinji Wajima (guitars, vocals), they drive the sound with ease and care and by this point in their career, they were very oiled machines of riffs and groove. It was an era of their sound that still was refractory to the groovy stoner influence found in later albums.

The vocal approach is not that much of an acquired taste here or maybe I'm just getting used to it. The dual approach of the aforementioned duo works very well. I can understand the reservations concerning this aspect of their music but the cleans vocals nourished by the quite tremendous Japanese accent are simply so original and fresh for a westerner that it gives this band an additional and idiosyncratic modus operandi.

Their albums are usually pretty long, full of intricate songs and perhaps a little hard to get into but it's very rewarding at the end of the process. They have this uncanny ability to develop a true identity, although you can hear their influences, it's so perfectly mixed within their Japanese sound such as in “Chinurareta Hinamatsuri” with its use of traditional instruments. Even though their lyrics always had been in Japanese, their music is thoroughly anchored to their roots.

It's never painfully cheesy opposed to these androgynous Visual Kei/jpop bands popping everywhere. These bands like Versailles are the creative antithesis of Gaahl, they both act like divas underneath the thick makeup or “corpsepaint”. These bands discovered how to write music while watching an hentai version of “Beauty and the Beast. Ningen-Isu, on the other hand, found their voice by diving into inventive tales and deep literature (the last track's title can be translated to “The Dunwich Horror” and it's indeed a dark and ominous song). They're mixing subtle theatricality alongside a solid, musical background that is really the main feature of this band. Music should be the number one priority, caring about something else than the content is hollow.

Japan is a world of its own, building a personality outside the kingdom of trite white metalheads building the churches of their heritage. Ningen-Isu, who's nonetheless evolving into this kawaii empire, is living in their own, perhaps seclusive but oh so creative bubbles protected of these shitty, modern, saccharine influences. They're all about delivering the goods transposed as solids riffs, they'll always rule and it was no different in 1998.

Saturday, 19 October 2013

Cromlech - Ave Mortis (2013) | 85%

"What is best in life?" "DOOM METAL!"

Do you like Solstice? Yes, fine, you're checking the right band. You should probably order this CD already, no need to read my review. Well, it would be nice if you would anyway. Still here? Cool, then. “Ave Mortis” is Cromlech's debut album and it's a massive testament to their epicness with its seventy minutes length. The band from the Ontarian metropolis has chosen an apt year to release their first album as the first Solstice release in more than a decade graced us of its presence. Just beneath Atlantean Kodex's sophomore, this is one of the best albums the epic doom genre offered us in this sanctified year.

The epic doom unit includes three members of Into Oblivion, a death/black band widely unknown for their long ass tracks that are going nowhere. I thought it was pretty peculiar for a band of this genre to have twenty minutes songs. While Cromlech definitely has some monotonous parts, it's more or less an accepted feature of their genre and a problem that many doom bands are encountering. “Ave Mortis” only has eight songs but six of them are more than eight minutes long.  Some editing would had been nice, maybe to keep the album under or near an hour. One human being can only take a certain amount of badassery in one day and I felt a bit overwhelmed after this battle. The armour, yet comfortable can be burdening. Nonetheless, there's some extended lead guitars parts that are quite enjoyable such as in the nine minutes instrumental “Amongst the Tombs”. This band has big balls, it's not easy to pull off an instrumental song like that but they pulled it off with a lot of verve.

The band has a natural guitar tone made enjoyable by the earthy and raw production. It's certainly not the best sound they could get but it does the job, crunchier guitars would had been nice though. The dual lead guitars of David Baron and Roman Lechman (the co-composers of the band) are tasty as fuck, the leads are rightfully placed and aren't overplayed. Their riffs are not so heavy and they're very melodic but there's still a thundering approach to their musical identity such as in “Honor” with its fast paced heavy metal riffs. 

Their songwriting is pretty varied, we have a short, fast track like “Lend Me Your Steel” and many songs have faster, almost borrowing the speed metal tempos at times. One thing's for sure though, it's always tremendously epic. The bulk of the album is the two middle tracks with their identical lengths of 11:25 minutes, they're a good resume of the band's identity. The epic doom identity is intertwined with an healthy mix of enjoyable Manowar and traditional power/heavy metal influences. The musicians definitely know the direction they follow, it's energetic despite the lengthy bits because it always had the sense to be groovy as hell. The bass is lively and noticeable especially in the final epic track “Shadow and Flame” with its bass lead opening. 

Perhaps the main force of Cromlech is their vocals. It's Kevin Loghnane's debut metal endeavour and surely not his last. The dude has pipes! He's very similar to the legendary Hansi Kürsch and if you're not excited at the though of the singer of Blind Guardian fronting an epic doom band, well, what the fuck are you doing here? Loghnane weren't on the demo or the split the band did before their full length and even though I haven't heard these releases, I can only assert that he's an excellent addition. His clean voice is powerful and emotional, I actually wish his presence would had been more important since he's bringing an ethereal and poetic side to the band. Actually, he's not on the songs 2, 4 and 5 because he was a late addition to the band, it's instead Lechman who's doing the lead vocals. His voice is harsher but still pretty cool. There's also a lot of backing and supporting vocals adding another level of narrative but to be fair, most of the time, they're not really necessary, they're tough guys shouts such as the “Hail! Hail! Hail!” in “Honor”. Just give a bigger place to Loghnane and you'll have a much solid beast, no need to rely on these harsher vocals to be heavier.

The themes and lyrics, obviously more epic than a ten foot beard, are quite fun to read. We have songs about Tolkien, Howard and Rome history and of course, while nothing new and ground breaking (who the hell cares), it's well done and more than delightful.

“Ave Mortis” is a strong effort from these Canucks and although the sound is slightly too raw, it's very professional as proven by the artwork created by the famous Kris Verwimp (Absu, Sear Bliss, Suidakra...). Cromlech is a band to check out and alongside Funeral Circle, they're the future and the admiral emergence of Canadian epic doom metal. Get this.

Thanks to David Baron for the review opportunity.

Cromlech on the book of faces

Vestal Claret - Bloodbath (2013) | 70%

Phil Swanson is overrated

I feel it's necessary to start this review with a rant. No, I do not like Phil Swanson. He's not atrocious or anything but he really gets on my nerves. I don't really understand why he's in so many projects and I'm glad he left Atlantean Kodex because Markus Becker is so much better. All the bands he or was part of are good because of their riffs (Briton Rites, Upwards of Endtime, Hour of 13 or Seamount). Vestal Claret while not as good as most of these bands is no exception to that rule. He has this original yet grating delivery which works well on a forty minutes album like Ho13's debut. His nasally voice just doesn't please me enough but I reckon he has a good range. I think the main offender is that he's simply everywhere in the heavy/doom world.

Vestal Claret (great name!) is some sort of traditional heavy metal with doom elements but not enough to justify a place in the doom universe. The atmosphere and approach are quite occult as demonstrated by the lyrical themes, well written with hints of old English. Swanson is still a pretty good lyricist even if some of the songs are hit and miss here (the weird “Missing Girl”). The album starts with perhaps its best song with the nine minutes “Hex of Harm” and it stays good for the whole duration, it's just way too long for its own sake. The days of forty minutes heavy metal is not yet over and while it was a often a  format compromise, it was usually the right amount of music. “Bloodbath” with its twelve songs and its seventy minutes length is just too much to handle especially since most songs are similar and the band doesn't include progressive or atmospheric elements.

Simon Tuozzoli is handling the guitars here and while he's a good composer, he's definitely not Howie Bentley (Briton Rites, Cauldron Born) or even Chad Davis (Ho13). The riffs are pretty good but after four or five songs, I'm beginning to be bored even though the quality of the songwriting isn't quite different. Vestal Claret's sound goes to slow traditional metal to mid-paced/semi-fast tracks and even though, it seems to be varied on paper, I don't think it works that way. It feels united but blurred and samey. The solos are well done, well produced such as the one in “Blood Oath” and it's enjoyable but for some reasons except the vocals that I already discussed, I can't enjoy the album as much as I would like to, it's just flat. 

While nothing is intrinsically wrong with the music, it's mundane and it's nothing you haven't heard before like most of Swanson's projects but this one is even more middle of the road. If you enjoy Swanson, sure, well check it out. I mean, I admire his beard but his voice, not so much.

Thanks to Rafal from Nine Records for the CD