Tuesday, 25 February 2014

Stone Dagger - The Siege of Jerusalem (2013) / 84%

Primitive metal puncture

I was really mystified by Magic Circle last year, their self titled debut managed to become one of my favourite albums of the year and by all accounts, it was in part due to the awesome vocals of Brendan Radigan. The doom metal crew all coming from well known hardcore bands (not by me, mind you! I need to discover them.) from the Boston area impressed me with their live vigour at Wings of Metal. While I already liked the band before that festival, it was there that I was convinced they were to become a very relevant part of the American traditional metal scene.

Radigan was definitely busy in 2013 as he released this two songs demo tape who sold faster than a Big Mac in a McDonalds near a bar at 2 am (been there, done that). It will be released on analog support in late spring (a 7 inch) and it was time based on the comments I read on several forums. The tape limited to 100 copies (if I'm not mistaking) managed to make quite an impression in the metal underground and with good reasons since it's awesome stuff.

The ten minutes release is quite well done, it's the work of Radigan who plays guitar, bass and sings on it. He's helped by two friends from his main band, Chris Corry who helps with the guitar leads and Justin DeTore who handles the drums (weird since he's MC's bassist) but really, the project seems to be his baby. The guys seem to trade their instruments within their numerous projects, like for Mind Eraser, Radigan plays the drums and DeTore sings. It's a pretty fun scene within the confines of the beautiful scenery of New England.

Contrary to the Pagan Altar inspired and emotional doom found on MC, Stone Dagger (awesome name, evocative of the power of the project) is rooted in pure old school, talented heavy metal played in authentic fashion. You can feel the love for American true heavyweights like the fabulous Omen with their love for battle hymns or the might of early Manowar, a time where they weren't busy writing eight minutes introductions and interludes about how big their balls are. This album makes me want to sing “Heart of Steel” with the boys in a seedy karaoke bar selling only Bowes dry and Pabst Blue Ribbon cans while a classic match-up between the Bruins and the Canadiens is playing in the background.

Quite riffy, the self titled song and “Black Clad Rider” are both around five minutes and are intricate compositions for a traditional heavy metal. It helps that these guys are not young guns as the personality that was aimed for was already and easily reached here. It's not an exploration or a test of the sound they wanted but a full fledged, albeit, short release that gives you an ache for more. It's rockin', possessing both the power of the early American scene mixed with the flair of both the NWOBHM scene and the other sensibilities of European countries (Sweden and Germany in particular.) It's fast and the track lengths gives them plenty of time to explore and do cool stuff. It's not grandiose and epic like 80s Manilla Road and it doesn't try to be. It's subtle but hard hitting heavy metal with hints of hard rock and just simple but effective groovy riffs and fun tasty leads.

The vocals are powerful as fuck, Radigan is a beast and knows how to drive a song with the breath of his vocal cords. He's very catchy and not as introspective here as he is in Magic Circle, he transpires energy and his high clean attack with a relatively deep voice is a nice plus. He delivers the historic based lyrics with conviction and that's what the whole demo is about, being convinced by its true artistic nature. Heavy metal these days is about nostalgia and doing what feels right and even though its creator comes from a background in hardcore music, he certainly is a real fan of the genre and it's apparent!

The production of the demo is not optimal for the singer as it's a bit burying him but it's nothing preventing my enjoyment. It's just another facet of the primitive but genuine approach of their sound. These guys, veterans of the DIY way, knows how to achieve an optimal sound for such a release and be honest to the sound and themselves.

I can't wait for a full length from Stone Dagger, I bet it will be awesome and sharp. I'll happily cut my thumb on its precious edge. Get this if you can find it, if not wait for the vinyl or listen to it on bandcamp! I'll assure you you'll press repeat after its ten minutes of blissful metal.

Stream the demo here: CLICK ME

Friday, 21 February 2014

Ogre - The Last Neanderthal (2014) / 93%

Fortune, freedom, beyond the hand of time

Right when I discovered Ogre, the band was sadly split up or in a hiatus. I was pleasantly surprised when they got back together to play some gigs and when they announced they were working on a new album, I was more than thrilled! “The Last Neanderthal” follows their great conceptual album “Plague of the Planet” which was a one song voyage through another world and although it's not as out of the box, it's a strong effort. I had huge expectations for this fourth album since this band has released three underrated American doom gems in the past and this one is fortunately no exception.

One could point out that many doom bands evolving in the 21st century are derivative, that they're not not modernizing their sound or that they're way too much into Black Sabbath.  Ogre will not change your mind if you think that way. While I already said that I have nothing against conservatism in doom metal in some of my other reviews, I think that bands bringing fresh ideas to the fold are always interesting and the trio from Maine is truly alive and evolving within the genre. They're far from being a modern band, their sound does indeed rejects the ideals of crappetised Nuclear Blast approved idiocy. It's warm and cuddly doom metal with deep roots in hard rock, blues and even some funk at times.

The power trio's key tactic is to play everything with a deep passion for their craft, it truly transpires the speakers to hit the listener right through his heart. Their formula doesn't deviate too much from “Seven Hells” or “Dawn of the Proto-Man” but it's tighter and heavier. Songs like “Son of Sisyphus” or “Warpath” are some of the heaviest material the band has composed, it's probably helped by the superior production featured here (not 50% better, mind you, just a tad). It's airy and it has this classic aura you're expecting from a traditional doom band. The songs are rather long (three being more than seven minutes long) but they know how to diversify things, the speedy opener “Nine Princes in Amber” is fucking awesome, it's aggressive and it has this charming fantasy flair inspired by the lyrical approach full of lore. Their music is nothing ground breaking but they're doing everything a doom band should do. It can be funky (like the cover of the uber obscure 70s band funnily also named Ogre) or slowly epic like the eleven minutes closer “The Hermit” introduced by the countryesque “White Plume Mountain” interlude. I almost wanted more of this calm side of the band, as you may know, I really enjoyed Leeches of Lore's third album with all its country and folk music sensibilities and it would had been nice to see Ogre explore these foreign lands.

Ed Cunningham (bass, vocals) is surrounded by two very strong musicians who both were session live members of the seminal and cult band Blood Farmers for a while. Ross Markonish is a superb guitarist who's a big fan of reverb and long, jam inspired solos. While he's a bit less loose here, he still takes the time to deliver big time leads. Even if the solos are numerous, the riffs are still freaking good creating a rock solid basis.

As with any good power trio, the interdependence between the bass and the guitar is (and should be!) optimal. The two dudes know each others very well and it's apparent here, they have this cohesion only found within veteran bands like Rush (Ogre covered two songs from their debut album, they can be found on the Secondhand Demons compilation.) To complete the lineup, Will Broadbent is a solid drummer who's not letting himself be overshadowed by his two companions, he's groovy and knows how to drive the songs. He's old school and likes to use the cymbals, no triggers or blast beats here of course!

Cunningham's vocals are perhaps an acquired taste but if you're used to Ozzy and Geddy Lee, you'll be fine. They're clean, high and comes directly from the good ol' days of rock. He has this particular gnarly way of singing that totally fits their genre an it's pretty honest and enjoyable. He's powerful and knows how to stretch out the lyrics (not very numerous) and make them last longer. He could be a deal breaker for some people but doomsters will appreciate him since his contribution is done so gracefully within the confines of the genre. He's emotional in all his nasal might and he's another proof that the band has no weak links.

There's nothing lacking music wise. Well, perhaps something... It's just not as special as their other albums even if it's certainly as good! But there's a certain aesthetic that is missing. Maybe it's only in my head, maybe I drank too much India Pale Ale tonight, I'm obsessed with this type of beer just like I'm obsessed with this type of metal. Unlike IPAs, the only thing that is bittersweet with Ogre is the fact the album is ONLY forty seven minutes long!

The sonority that I mentioned is tied with the title of the album, it reminded me of fellow Americans Slough Feg and Crescent Shield with their respective albums “Atavism” and “The Last of My Kind” with their prehistorical premises. Ogre's lyrics are always very good such as the mythological inclined “Sons of Sisyphus” which is basically an allegory to the harsh life of a blue collar American compared to the fate of some Greek personalities. It's deep but down to earth themes with an honest intellectual approach rooted in simplicity. They're able to transpose vivid historical subjects into songs hence cementing their original identity.

The Last Neanderthal is probably the doom album of the year and it's gonna be pretty damn difficult to beat it. While it's not as adventurous as their pre break up album, the quality is more than present. No one in the genre can be as honest and as hard working as these three guys, they manage to write heavy, intelligent, atmospheric and pertinent songs with ease confirming them as the best American doom band of the decade.

Saturday, 1 February 2014

Realmbuilder - Blue Flame Cavalry (2013) / 89%

Advance of the Epic Duo

The traditional duo comprised of two full fledged intellectual (one is a writer, screenwriter, filmmaker, the other is a music professor) is back with their new full length on I Hate and I was expecting it since a while. The fact that such scholars are doing such primal music fills me with happiness. It's what metal should be, an escape into the nether realms, into the unknown to evade the burden of real life. The genre also needs all kind of people bringing different ideals, different ideologies to the fold and that's exactly what these guys are doing. Exploring heavy metal with a very creative approach, Realmbuilder doesn't sound like anybody else and the musicianship is not for show nor to get sexy girls to suck their phallic egos, it's all there for a reason. Like a great thesis without useless footnotes, the band doesn't waste anything and gives you what you deserve, a great thirty five minutes of unaltered music played with passion and might.

The third album from the band is doing exactly what I hoped after their excellent sophomore “Fortifications of the Pale Architect” that I also reviewed. I wanted the band to go into an even more intricate and doomy direction, they were already epic but I wanted more and they totally delivered with this opus. The songs are longer and, I know it's cliche to say that but the songwriting has matured and reached its peak here.

The first track will fool the listener as it's a speedy three minutes attack, it's groovy and tight as fuck, the riffs are heavy, the solo is mighty and the flow is better than on their usual shorter songs. It's like they needed some sort of closure before moving to the lengthy songs composing the rest of the release. The second song “Advance of the War Giants” is a twelve minutes voyage towards whatever fantasy world is in Czar's mind and it's perhaps their best song they ever wrote. While it's increasingly atmospheric, there's a certain power to the production of the guitars that made it sound very airy and dense. The do it yourself approach is still the way to go here but everything is improved, the guitar tone is more organic and simply better produced and it suits their sound very well

The third song took me by surprise and I wasn't quite sure what to think at first. It's a slow and oceanic dirge, akin to a calm soothing walk on the beach, maybe alongside a washed up hero with a rusty sword offering you the dirty secrets of his career. It's seven minutes of pure windy atmospheres, it's pretty nice and well placed between the two ten plus minutes songs, a sort of well composed buffer between two gigantic entities fighting for power. The final title track is a good mid paced song bleeding epicness, this one is a bit too long but I'm not sure if it's due to its emotional weight or its length. It's hard to fully absorb the album in one sitting and that's probably why the album short duration is a benefit. Due to the well crafted skills of JH Halberd, it doesn't feel like it's an eternity.

The instrumentation of “Blue Flame Cavalry” is pretty rich. As written in the booklet, there's “miscellaneous percussion and sound design” and also some trumpet, all played by JH Halberd who's handling all the instruments except the drums and some guitars leads. He has an exceptional vision of what traditional metal is. There's no fucking around and even if there's a lush background to the songs, it's not for the grand purpose of making avant-garde shenanigans, it's to create their own grand worlds inhabited by over the tops conceptual allegories made of spikes and stones. There's a certain military vibe to the aptly titled album, it has this fantasy medieval flair to it which is quite enjoyable. It's a nice extension of the lyrical side, not that it wasn't already achived in their previous albums  but it's clearly  overstated in a good way here

Four songs of cohesive epic heavy metal with an additional doom feel is what we get here and it's their strongest release yet. It's deep and full of imagination, it tells a story that transpires power and confidence (to be honest, I have no idea what it's about but it's epic!) Just like in his more “prestigious” job, Czar is able to offer a pleasant narrative with simple yet memorable vocal lines. I think he improved his delivery here, it's even catchier than before even though the songs are supposed to be these long, full fledged epics. It's still this unorthodox approach but it's more natural here even though the band is still an acquired taste. There's plenty of sing along moments like these cool “uuuuh uuuh” lines that are giving an almost religious vibe to the album. There's a certain nod to the best cult band ever, Rush on this album. It can be found both in the atmospheric and precise songwriting and the long tracks reminding me of their underrated classic “Caress of Steel” with their epic scenery depicted with grace and talent. Not that Czar's voice is similar to Geddy Lee's but there's this charm coming from this original yet enchanting eccentric delivery.

The band, opposing many detractors, is still not giving up on its nonconformist crusade. This album won't please their naysayers but if you already liked them, there's no ways you'll be disappointed. A mandatory album for adventurous heavy fan and a good way to end 2013, a great year for traditional metal.

Thanks to I Hate for the promo.