Saturday, 31 May 2014

High Spirits - You Are Here (2014) / 82%

Black shirt & white pants all the time

Chris Black is back (in black?) with High Spirits and a brand new album. The Chicago bound musician is alternating between many projects, all exploring different spectrum of traditional metal. Dawnbringer explores a psychedelic side with progressive and extreme metal influences, I'm a big fan of Nucleus, it has many intricate solos and it's quite unique. On the other hand, Superchrist is more about sleaze and rock and roll and his new project Aktor (in collaboration with one of my idols, Jussi Lehtisalo) is greatly influenced by Blue Öyster Cult. Oh and of course Pharaoh (where he only drums) is perhaps the best modern American power metal band! You could say that Black's resume is impressive in both its variety and its notoriety.

High Spirits are known to be fun, immensely catchy heavy metal/hard rock and that's what the album delivers here. But it's noticeably different from Another Night since it has a totally non metal production. Compared to the fully 80s sound of their 2011 debut album which had more to do with AOR and glam rock, You Are Here sounds like an alternative rock album. It was weird at first, I couldn't put my finger on this particular thing, I even thought I did a bad rip of the album (that I got at their first gig in Montréeal with Cauchemar and Kadavar) but my CD rip was fine! There's a certain indie charm to the sound and it weirdly fit the catchy, fast paced and short numbers of You Are Here. The sound is pretty fuzzy for a traditional metal/hard rock album and I think it doesn't fit the band's style as well as their debut.  I think the songwriting is also not as memorable this time around, perhaps not as insanely catchy either, it's a bit more moody and sad.

Composed and played entirely by Black, there's still a full band approach here and it's demonstrated on the stage as he's known to play live (where he put his focus only on the vocals) with 4 friends who are mostly members of fellow Illinois heavy metal band Züül. It's nowhere near amateurish even if it has this simplicity feel. The nine songs album isn't quite varied, it's always mostly fast paced, ultra catchy hard rocking music and it doesn't quite need to be anything else. It's well crafted with fun riffs and sharp solos. The clean, joyful vocals are probably the highlights such as the titular final track with it's entrancing chanting of “hiiiiiiiiiiiiiigh spirits!”. Their sound is at the limits of what we can consider heavy metal, it's not quite heavy and relies on hooks for the most part. Even though the themes explored here are mostly personal issues & relationships written with an almost “I'll tell you what happened to me last night while we're drinking at the bar” vibe, it's very honest and doesn't try to come off as smart even though Black is definitely capable of being nerdy (see Dawnbringer's Into the Lair of the Sun God)

We're saying goodbye
This is the night we gather.
Taking your hand in mine.
And all of the things that matter
Are frozen in time

Everything is restrained except the emotional catchiness, you can sense the author poured his heart into the songwriting, the lyrics are very intimate, perhaps even too much. You can feel he went through a hard breakup and he's using this album as an outlet. While I prefer intricate, poetic or maybe metaphorical lyrics, it's fun to read the opposite from time to time.

Influenced by AOR and 80s hard rock, High Spirits won't change the music's world but it's quite refreshing to hear this in 2014 when extreme metal seems to reign and everything gets more technical and technical, it's fun to hear such a throwback band playing it cool. I'm high on catchiness now!

Thursday, 29 May 2014

The Wizar'd – Ancient Tome of Arcane Knowledge (2013) / 95%

The Grand Winner of the Doom Wizard Battle

The doom quartet from Tasmania is back with their third full length album and it's definitely their best yet! I wasn't much of a fan of the slow dragging doom of Infernal Wizardry but Pathways to Darkness was pretty enjoyable and their latest follows in the same vein except the songwriting has improved considerably. The riffs are tighter, the vocals even more catchy than before, goddamn I like this album! They may have found their sound on Pathways but they truly develop and affirm it on Ancient Tome  and I'm so glad they did since it's a short but oh pleasant ride.

We're served with fast to mid paced traditional doom and with only six songs for a bit more than thirty minutes of music but it's all the time they needed to leave a well lasting impression on me. The songs are not more than six and a half minutes and they never overstay their welcome unlike many doom nowadays. The band has a clear direction, there's no wandering around the bushes, they comfortably piss where they want to unlike the terrible doom of “popular” American bands like Pilgrim or Pallbearer.

The band shines pretty much everywhere, their riffs are fucking groovy and all great and their solos are magical incantations with the mana to wake up a thousand Snorlaxes! These leads are probably the highlights for me, they're so tight and fun to air guitar to! Even if the album is rather short, there's still mournful slow parts like the debut of “Blaspheme” or “Far Away Castles”, a song paying homage to the glorious atmospheric gloom of “Planet Caravan”. They already did that with “Franki's Dungeon” on the previous album and it's once again quite a success here.

CD version

Doom metal is often accused of being derivative of Black Sabbath's genre but The Wiza'rd are nothing like a copycat, their sound is pretty damn original. They mix the classy lead oriented feel found in Pagan Altar with a shitload of NWOBHM influenced and trad doom riffs. It's quite well produced too, the sound is massive  and it's conceivable right from the start with the killer track “Turn To Evil” with its entertaining demeanor. The double guitar attack is also another thing that could set them apart from most of their contemporaries, it assures that the band stays interesting while their numerous solos are blistering through the air. The bass played by a lovely witch is loud and can perhaps recall the stoner side of doom or the overbearing playing of Albert Witchfinder but admittedly restrained in order to get a sort of instrumental unity throughout the album.

Ol' Rusty's vocals are perhaps an acquired taste but I'll hate you if you don't like them! I reckon he could be a deal breaker for those who listen to doom metal in the hopes of finding another singer like Messiah Marcolin. I have some news for you, it's not needed! Doom is all about feels and The Wiz'ard knows how to write emotional driven songs with memorable hooks and strong musicianship. The singer/lead guitarist takes the high, nasal Geddy Lee/Ozzy Osbourne trademark vocals and push them to their extreme and he's damn good at it. I was immediately hooked by his hailing voice singing the great vocal melodies, he's peculiar, original and oddly charismatic. It fits the “out there” vision of the band, it's quirky, weird trad doom while being overtly catchy and fun. Furthermore, it's pretty different from their first album released in 2008 that was using some sort of semi raspy early Dorrian style of vocals that were not particularly good but were a decent fit to the mournful, slow sort of doom explored back then. I usually dig that sort of stuff but they weren't just very good at it. Their evolution turns out to be an interesting and joyful one.

Illustrated by some killer artwork (there's different versions for both the vinyl and the compact disc.) I personally prefer the LP, it's perhaps one of the most detailed doom cover ever, it's showing some sort of wizard (well, duh?) possessing unparallelled power due to a magical tome (hence the title of the album!?) while some weird bards are playing, naked women are dancing and some intense stuff involving eagles and celestial forces are happening in the sky. The CD version is simplified a little and features a bird man reading said tome but has the same beige & black colour scheme.

This album is certainly a jewel found in the doom metal underground and you can be sure you'll have a good time listening to it if you dig the genre like I do. Mandatory, I've heard the album only this year but it would legitimately top my 2013 end list, that's for sure. You went to Tasmania, you looked for the devil but you've found the wizar'd!

The nicknames of the members are worth mentioning!
Ol' Rusty Vintage Wizard Master – Vocals, guitars
Blackie the Crimson Heretic of a Thousand Eyes - guitars
Iron Tyrant - drums
Tangerine Dream - bass

Magic Facebook

Tuesday, 27 May 2014

Hooded Menace, Beast Within & Oath @Katacombes in Montréal, may 26th 2014

Flyer for the gig alongside the patch I got, Hooded Menace were out of CDs/LPs! Damn you MDF!

Thanks to Stéphan Dagnelie for the pictures, much appreciated since I constantly forget to bring a cam.

Another great gig at Montréal's best metal venue, the Katacombes on Saint-Laurent. On this rainy spring night, I wore my usual attire and arrived early even though the place is quite known for never starting their gigs on time. I was wrong this time and I was glad to be since I managed to watch much of the set of the headliner, I missed the last track sadly but making my way back safe and sound mattered to me, that's not very metal, I'm aware! The crowd was a bit sparse but considering the gig was on a Monday, it was a good, dedicated one. Thanks to Black Dot for this great gig, Hooded Menace are probably back in Finland but I hope they enjoyed their short stay in Québec and North America.

9:30 to 10:00
Oath (not the most original name around...) from Sherbrooke started the evening. As far as I know, it was their first gig in the Quebec metropolis and they ripped the city a new asshole. The quartet plays a sort of primal, aggressive death metal with some grindcore, brutal death and even some sleazy doomy parts! They only have one guitarist but it doesn't matter at all since their music is not technical, it's greasy and it has no leads. It's instead relying on a heavy, crushing bass presence to make things interesting. The singer has a good stage presence and his vocals are deep & cavernous, they seemed to lack a bit of power though but it was perhaps due to the mix. They only have a two songs rehearsal demo digitally released for seven bucks on Bandcamp but due to the terrible sound quality, it's not worth hearing! I'm expecting a strong debut release from these guys, they were a good surprise to start the evening.


10:15 to approximately 11:00
Beast Within were the second opener and I was glad to see them since I've missed their set at the latest Wings of Metal (I was too busy filling my stomach with tasty dumplings since the Katacombes are located near the Chinese area of Montréal!). The quintet is composed of seasoned metal musicians (Thesyre, Utlagr, Akitsa...) so you know it's gonna be tight and professional. Alongside the two songs from their solid first EP released by Sepulchral back in March, they played three new ones and it was a damn good set. Their main inspiration is certainly Celtic Frost, the band has this sort of proto black metal vibe going on mixed with a lot of crushing groovy death/doom/thrash. The new songs were especially a bit more doomy than Adversity/Servitude and their two guitar attack crushed the crowd. Eric Syre is a good frontman and delivers a mix of semi raspy/gritty vocals. Interesting band with the right influences and the right, massive sound. I can't wait to hear a full length from these guys. Most of 'em had cool beards too so that's definitely a plus!




Picture taken on Beast Within's Facebook page
11:20 to approximately 12:30+
Hooded Menace only played three gigs in North America during this “tour” including the Maryland Death Fest so I guess I must warmly thank them their choice to visit Montreal. Some people (Tanya Sim and Kevin Campbell) who wrote a lot of lyrics for them were attended the gig. Probably the reason my city was picked! Anyway, I was pretty damn happy to see them and I've been expecting this concert for months since Hooded Menace are perhaps my favourite doom/death band. The quartet (two lead guitars!) wasted no time and opened with the title track from their three albums (Fulfill the Curse, Never Cross the Dead and Effigies of Evil) in chronological order!  We were served eleven songs with a good diversity, three songs from each full length, “The Haunted Ossuary” from their excellent split with Coffins and a nine minutes song from their latest EP called “Chasm of the Wraith". My highlight of their set was certainly “Crumbling Insanity”, this song is so melodic and crushing at the same time that you want to pummel the ground while crying.

Lasse Pyykkö who usually do everything (the new EP features a full band for the first time)except the drums in the studio “only” plays the lead guitar live and he fucking destroys, the vocals are performed by Markus Makkonen and he's pretty much perfect at the deep, old school type of death growls. Their crushing riffs intertwined with mournful, intricate leads truly works live. The crowd was getting pretty small towards the end but the die hard metalheads present were enjoying themselves quite a lot, there was a small but fun pit and the band really enjoyed itself. Their sound was one of  the best I've ever encountered at the Katacombes perhaps due to the SUNN O))) amp and the Gibson flying Vs!


Fulfill the Curse
Never Cross the Dead
Effigies of Evil
The Love Song of Gotho, Hunchback of the Morgue
Chasm of the Wraith
Beauty and the Feast
The House of Hammer
Curses Scribed in Gore
Crumbling Insanity
Night of the Deathcult
The Haunted Ossuary

Sunday, 25 May 2014

Focus Indulgens – Hic Sunt Leones (2011) / 90%

Cannelloni & Manicotti Doom pt. V: I'm no cynic

Italy has always been one of the most renowned country for progressive rock with bands like Area, Museo Rosenbach or Banco del Mutuo Soccorso. Paul Chain definitely did a lot to preserve the heritage with all his weird experimental albums, but Focus Indulgens, a project apparently started by the father of two of the members in the early 90s truly understood they had a purpose in life. They're keeping alive two legacies, the one of their dads (doom!) and the golden days of prog from the 70s!

Carlo Castellani and Edoardo Natalini (drums, vocals) two dudes near my age embraced the calling and crafted a great doom record but they added more to the pasta recipe this time around.

Indeed, compared to their decent but unspectacular debut, Hic Sunt Leones is much much much more progressive and weird. It's more rich and intensely out there than the safe traditional doom of their previous album. The Past hinted to a proggier future but with only one year between them, it was a fast transition! Certainly one I'm grateful for though! Led by Castellani who plays the flute, the organ, the piano plus the usual instruments like the electric guitar or the bass. He also sings so you can say he has his hands full here but it's all done wonderfully. The other guitarist, the third member of the unit, adds some nice harmonica parts here and there. I've always liked this instrument ever since I've been born as my father is a big Bob Dylan and Neil Young fan and he transmitted his passion to his son. I remember being surprised by Ozzy Osbourne's mouth solo in the seminal song “The Wizard” found on Sabbath's debut. I always wanted to hear more metal musicians use this small but interesting instrument and it's always a joy when I find some examples.

The band is still freaking metal though, they're just mixing more progressive and psychedelic rock in their sound. There's some soft parts here and there so it's not a complete and spastic mix of influences but rather a good flowing diverse album. “Figlio Di Cagna” (I thought it sounded poetic but it means “son of a whore”, oh well!) has one of the best riff I've heard recently and with its nine minutes, the song explores many facets of their sound ranging from soft, early Genesis influenced keys to hard hittin' dark themed doom metal that is mid-paced and groovy.

The lengthier closer “Vinsanto” is one hell of a prog rock conclusion, quarter of a hour of uber rich music encompassing everything I like about Focus Indulgens. Compared to progressive/doom bands like Revelation, they're not subtle at all with big hints at symphonic heavy prog and big bands with sophisticated songwriting. Their vocals are quite enjoyable too, they have this clean, high and kind of melodic edge while retaining some grittiness. Sure, the lyrics are completely in Italian but I think it's giving some eccentricity to the content, not that the musical content wasn't itself already fucked up. The production on the vox changes from song to song, sometimes it can be kind of buried underneath the warm instrumental layers but it can be at the forefront in other moments, it adds to the varied atmospheres the album has. Perhaps due to the language similarity (Italian and Spanish), Carlo reminds me of Mago De Oz's releases with Jose Andrëa (Finisterra amongst others.)

Immensely rich, I can't see a prog or a curious doom fan disliking Hic Sunt Leones is a great record with everything I ask for in my music. Cool solos, long fun songs, surprises (that fucking flute is awesome!), a worthy bass present. All this combined to create an emotional album supported by ultra talented musicians.

Saturday, 24 May 2014

Venus Victrix - Venus Victrix I (2014) / 78%

Texan mum doom: good quality, kind of fresh

Venus Victrix are a new project from the American South, near Austin, Texas to be more precise and they were formed by the composer and multi instrumentalist Keegan Kjeldsen (already part of two other bands) with the addition of a woman named Tiffany (in a legit band called Bad Lucifer as well but they have nothing released yet). Joined by some other members, this duo is the creative core of the project. Their first release is quite legit and it fits the current occult female fronted doom metal trend of recent years.

This debut album is quite well produced considering it's their self released debut, the sound is defined and it can easily highlight the different components of their songwriting, some keyboards, a loud bass (“Change”) and some acoustic guitars like on the ethnic Om/Orphaned Land inspired ending of the last track “House of Bast”. The drums sound a bit weird, a bit cardboard-esque but that's not bothering me too much. While their ideas are not the most originals, everything is done with the utmost care. The tracklist is well balanced, eight songs for a bit more than forty minutes is perhaps one of the best deal you can have in doom.

The vocals are pretty good, perhaps one of the best the genre has to offer, really. They're quite airy and ethereal and it fits the direction they wanted to find. Like the band, the vocalist is akin to popular bands like Jex Thoth, Blood Ceremony or Jess and the Ancient Ones. Clean, powerful female vocalists with a very melodic edge who can transpose the psychedelic era of Jefferson Airplane into modern soil. Compared to a band like Jex Thoth, the band has plenty of riffs and it just doesn't rely on doomy atmospheres to create their ambiances. There's nice leads too, it's never too much and they contribute to the good direction the album has.

Their sound is nowhere near as vintage as the seventies 70s afficionados of Blood Ceremony though, it's much more subtly brought both instrumentally and lyrically (the lyrics of the intricate seven minutes “Tsukuyomi” are nicely written). All of 'em are about different mythologies instead of your usual evil occult satanist stuff, we have Japanese, Roman or Greek legends like Bacchus on “The Horned God”. I always liked these themes, these tales are damn bloody and pretty metal!

While riding on the mum doom (female fronted doom that can be seen as soft) wave, Venus Victrix delivers the goods on their debut, it's a heavy, psychedelic and fun record. It's perhaps very safe but this doesn't make it any less enjoyable. Support the band!

Friday, 23 May 2014

Dark Quarterer - The Etruscan Prophecy (1988) / 97%

Cannelloni & Manicotti Doom pt. IV: The God of Tits and Wine

Dark Quarterer, in my opinion, is Italy's best metal band. Perhaps this seems like a bold statement considering there's bands like Death SS, Mortuary Drape, Bulldozer or Lacuna Coil (ok, just kidding!) coming from the legendary Mediterranean country. But I stand here, proud of being a hip kid for liking such a cult band.

The Italian trio (back in the day, they have a keyboardist now) led by Gianni Nepi (bass/vocals) is often seen as the European answer to Manilla Road. Formed in the late seventies like Shelton's band, it took a long time before any material got released, I believe they were a cover band for a while. More than a decade really made the sound of their first two albums of the bands (released in 1987 and 1988) to be already well established. They're often saying that they created a sort of epic progressive heavy metal and I can definitely agree with that assessment. It's sort of mixing the epic charm of early Manowar without the unhealthy amount of cheese with some slight English prog or Rush influences (this airy narration in “The Etruscan Prophecy” reminds me of the epic tracks from Caress of Steel.) The true progressive elements will have to wait for their later albums to truly appear (such as War Tears and Symbols) though.

While the first Dark Quarterer albums can be seen as their proto progressive metal era, an era of exploration perhaps, it's no less of an extraordinary writing lesson in terms of epicness and richness. The songs are long, intricate and feature a high level of musicianship that will continue with the addition of their current guitarist in 2002 but Fulberto Serena (later of Etrusgrave) is quite a beast in his own right. He composed all the music on this album. Both the riffs and his melodic leads are enormous and he shines on the classical guitar interlude “The Last Hope”. This musical lavishness is omnipresent in their songwriting, they're as opulent as the Etruscan civilization before its downfall. Even if the songs are lengthy, it's not slow, it's coherently mid paced and there's no time wasted anywhere. Some songs may take two or three minutes to get going but you're never bored, it's essentially building awesome crescendos that are grasping your heart with their long-winded solos and I'm not asking for anything else than that.

Songs like the title track or “Devil Stroke” are the purest definition of epic akin to the colossal epic “Colossus of Argil” from their debut, people should use misusing this tag so much to describe everything with longer songs, lyrics about dragons or bands taking their pictures in old European castles. Powerful, catchy riffs with a primal production associated with these weird, unorthodox but completely awesome high, clean vocals singing about mythological stories. This is what epic metal is all about.

While it's mainly epic heavy metal, there's a sort of epic doom feel in the longer songs, you can feel a sense of similarity with bands like Candlemass, maybe it's because of the early power metal influenced vocals that most epic doom are using as well. I'm not just trying to justify their inclusion in my Italian doom series, I swear that they have doom elements even though it never was the main component of their sound. Fans of actual bands like Solstice or Atlantean Kodex could easily connect with Dark Quarterer and should really check them out before they decide to release a new album so they'll be prepared. I guess we're due even though they released a remastered anniversary of their debut two years ago, that's something I don't quite like, let history speaks for itself and not through modernized versions of your old compositions. I can understand the necessity for these musicians to redo their under-produced material but the recording is often part of the charm. Trying to recreate it seems sterile to me.

Compared to the Shark, Nepi's talent as a vocalist is undeniable (may the Manilla Road fanclub be understandable toward my criticism, I don't want Failsafeman to kill me.) His powerful vocals at the start of “Angels of Mire” when there's no instruments playing is so great, it filled me with so many emotions. Their music is so uplifting, oh my god. Even though he has a thick Italian accent, it's in no way cancelling the enjoyment I get from his vocals. He's certainly one of my favourite metal singers and should get the recognition he deserves, he melds poetry, power, originality and passion into a mighty mix. He delivers everything with so many emotions, he's like this great comedian playing one of the best Comedia dell'arte plays and putting everything he has everyday, under any circumstances. Screaming his lungs out, telling tales of old, tales of gold.

His lyrics are also impenetrably deep, they're romantic with a sense of urgency mostly unattained by non anglophone bands. Maybe the sometimes inapt English could scare some listeners but that's another proof of the existence of Anglocentrism. Sure, Italian lyrics (or even Latin like The Black) would had been cool but it's fun to relate to their themes and metal is a global phenomenon. The 80s weren't so kind to foreign languages, some bands like Pokolgép, Sortilège or Aria were doing it but it was far from trendy. Nowadays most of the bands using their vernacular languages are mostly folk, pagan or black metal bands, I think it's fun to hear the traditional sort of metal in Polish, Italian or even Japanese!

I consider this album to be almost perfect, perhaps falling short compared to their debut in some regards, maybe in terms of originality and vision but I do think they go hand in hand. “Angels of Mire” and “The Etruscan Prophecy” are maybe their two best songs but the debut seems to be more consistent. It's their Crystal Logic and The Deluge but compared to the Road, they never quite came back to this epic heavy sound and managed to use it as a foundation for their progressive metal days. Dark Quarterer is a band with a long career but not many studio recordings and you can really the dividing lines between their distinctive eras. It's fun to see a band that doesn't churn releases every two years without any feeling of exploration, great art shouldn't be forced and it's really what the Italians always did.

Long live Dark Quarterer and their unique, excellent epic legacy. They're totally underrated and that's unjustified. Praise the god of tits and wine for their well deserved appreciation.

Thursday, 22 May 2014

The Black - Refugium Peccatorum (1995) / 75%

Cannelloni & Manicotti Doom part III: Refuge of Sinners

The Black is one of the oldest traditional doom bands in the Italian scene, not quite well known outside of its mysterious realm. They've been releasing albums for ages and are pretty consistent. Refugium Peccatorum, their third one released when I was a wee child of five years is perhaps one of my favourites of theirs. Formed in 1988 by Mario Di Donato after the demise of the excellent Requiem (check out their great compilation The Story 1985-'92), the band is truly the project of this guitarist and vocalist who's been the only constant member of the trio.

The band has been known to release both short and longer releases, such as their latest kind of interminable album Gorgoni. This one on the other hand is only thirty three minutes if we exclude the three bonus tracks (including a cover of Saint Vitus' “Hallows Victim”.) I think their formula works better when it's out not freaking seventy seven minutes, this works for most things too!

The Black's sound has a huge liking for the instrumental side of doom metal, there's indeed five instrumental to be found here ranging from one minute to almost four. They're all good songs with a catholic influenced darkness in them. They feature lo-fi keys and they give a nice, albeit a bit cheesy atmosphere. Maybe that's the focus due to Di Donato's inability to sing properly? He's a good guitarist for sure but I never was a fan of his vocals and I don't think it's due to the use of the dead but fascinating Latin language (another constant characteristic of the band's identity). I guess it works considering the style they play and most doom metal doesn't have pretty good vocals. He's still kind of powerful, I just don't really like the tone he's using, it's a bit unnerving.

The use of Latin coincides with the religious lyrical themes, I'm not quite fond of these but it truly fits the band's vision and I can't quite understand them anyway. Mario seems to like the darker side of catholicism such as sins, he made a full concept album based around the seven sins in 2004 called Peccatis Nostris so you know he's serious about that.

Even though they're one of the ancient players in the Italian doom scene, they never were the leaders simply because their material is not strong enough to compete against early Paul Chain or Black Hole. The band needed (and still do) a good vocalist to really make it. They don't do anything wrong musically, it's just not quite good f you quickly disregard the quirkiness. Their leads are cool such as in “Mortalis Silentium” but it's nothing to call your grand mother about. They explore traditional doom but with a peculiar twit, the use of these synthy, medieval or Renaissance-like  interludes sets them apart.

Their songs are mostly short, riffy and the album is well constructed even if there's many instrumental breaks. The songs are not quite memorable, there's no big catchy numbers or awesome vocal lines, it's trying to be special but both the sub-par production and the casual songwriting (when it's actually metal) doesn't help.

The best thing about The Black is their artwork, always done by their leader, it has a weird religious style akin to their sound. It's full detailed with many bright colours. I don't really know what's happening on the cover art but there's a loaf of bread, some weird hooded people watching in the fog and a guy dressed as a hobbit trying to be seduced by a yellow bearded demon with birds as wings.

Their discography is huge and I'm not recommending everything they did, this album is a good entry point to it if you're interested. It's still quality stuff but perhaps for the doom purists and collectors.

Abysmal Grief – Misfortune (2009) / 84%

Cannelloni & Manicotti Doom pt. II: Spooky!

Formed in 1995, it took them more than ten years to release their debut album but Abysmal Grief certainly knows how to take their time and craft well written doom metal. In the purest Italian tradition, their sound if greatly influenced by horror imagery and soundscapes. I mean, the label that released this album is called “Horror Records”, big hint!

Misfortune, their second full length is top notch quality stuff. It's hard to define it as a traditional doom metal album even though it can't hardly fit any other categories except perhaps that vague dark metal tag that I prefer to avoid. The slow heavy doom riffs are joined by a huge organ presence adding a layer of unparallelled ominous atmosphere. This satanic rites aura is definitely helped by the subtle samples used sporadically throughout the album. The vocals are certainly yet another step towards Satan's approval, they're deep, mysterious and quite harsh without falling into extreme metal territories.

One could say that Abysmal Grief is Gothic metal in the truest sense of the genre, it's dark, creepy but it has this fun feeling through and through that can recall the irreverent humour of Type O Negative, a band that wasn't afraid to mix Sabbathesque doom with gothic tendencies. The songs are quite lengthy like the excellent nine minutes “Cadaver Devotion”, it's slow with repetitive riffs and can recall the traditional doom scene of Finland or even the slowest Saint Vitus tracks. It's fairly simple underneath the layers of thick, romantic keys. Of course it doesn't need to be complex at all, you're reading a review part of a doom series after all.

We can link the band to a newer one called Acid Witch with the way they build their songs and add an enjoyable horror movies to their formula. The American band is also adding a fair load of extreme metal heavyness though, Abysmal Grief doesn't need any of that to deliver the goods. The atmosphere such a simple recipe offers is simply marvellous, the last thirteen minutes song “Resurrecturis” ends with one riff repeated till it's time for a sort of creepy lullaby that delivers the final blow. They're also quite good at delivering songs without vocals such as the seven minutes instrumental juggernaut “Knells of Accurse” containing many background sampled vocals. I don't think their songs are overlong either and at around forty five minutes, Misfortune doesn't waste any time and you shouldn't either, get into this band right now.

Quite recommended for fans of trad doom with a scary, gothic twist.

P.S.: the members are all dressed like some sort of evil priests, don't let your kids near them.

Wednesday, 21 May 2014

Stake-Off the Witch - Medusa (2010) / 85%

Cannelloni & Manicotti Doom pt. I: Sonic Look

Hailing from Piacenza (Northern Italy), this quartet explores pretty interesting sonic landscapes. The band, composed equally of two men and two women (something more and more recurrent in the Italian doom/stoner scene with bands like Kröwnn, Hands of Orlac or Black Capricorn). I personally adore the contribution of women in metal when it feels genuine and not forced like these symphonic unmetal copycats plaguing the world.

Fuzzy as fuck, the bass is loud and in your face and melds well with the double guitar attack. I immediately thought of Sonic Youth for some reason, the voice of Steph (guitar, vocals) reminded me of Kim Gordon a little and the wall of noise made me recall the wonderful releases of the American seminal band. She has a sort of charming, ethereal voice that would make me open my eyes even though I could be transformed into stone. There's even some male vocals in the catchy and groovy “Time is Over” to push the Sonic Youth analogy forward. She also reminds me of Laura Pleasants, a cute blonde handling the guitar like a boss always makes me blush!

Stake-Off the Witch plays some sort of really loud stoner metal/rock with definite psychedelic elements (the second half of “You Get Me Down” for example) intertwined with noisy but clear cut riffs supported by a solid but subtle rhythm section. It reminds me of the spacey sound of Kylesa mixed with an healthy dosage of noisy grungey influences. The songs are mostly fast or mid paced and can reach the seven minutes mark, they never plod though and the album doesn't deviate from their formula much. Their sound is pretty original as it includes influences from different genres to create something almost new, it won't change your world but it might make you like stoner rock a bit more. There's not a lot of criticisms I can find here, it's well done, well written and fun music by a very underrated band.

Their songwriting is intricate and rich and it's culminating with the two parts finale “On The Negation And Affirmation Of Medusa” with its heavy crushing riffs and soft entrancing vocals. If you like your stoner to be well thought rather than all about drugs and fun, this Italian band is for you, waste no time and get Medusa!

S-OtW on Facebook

Sunday, 18 May 2014

Tjolgtjar - Kjal Tjormejn (2012) / 87%

What is that? No idea.

I can't spell that name for shit, thank Satan for copy paste.

J.R. Preston is a busy man, when he's not releasing new albums with this one man band, he's doing it with Blood Cult, Enbilulugugal or plenty of other projects including a country one. Hailing from Illinois, the music has a obvious American Midwest feel and I really dig that.

Tjholtgtar being pretty productive (four full lengths released in 2012 but some of it is old stuff), it's a bit hard to get into them (or him!) and this album is perhaps not the best starting point. Might I suggest Ikarikitomidun, Lord of the Forest The New Age, the instrumental fun of Psychedelic or the conceptual horror of Halloween? The album is one song, forty two minutes in length so it's certainly not for people with a deficit of attention. Even though all his stuff is weird, some of it can be quite easier to assimilate.
The whole deal is kind of raw but the guitars are very audible and you can discern the riffs pretty easily, really. The riffs and leads are solid (such as the awesome bluesy licks at around 6:00) and I like the production on them, it's kind of crisp and dirty but it can be melodic and clean when it needs to be. There's even some acoustic guitars here and there such as in the final minute of the album. It gives a sort of bluegrass feeling and I really like when metal integrates unconventional genres like country or neo folk (such as the excellent Austrian band Cadaverous Condition.)

I guess I'll say it's more lo-fi than raw. It's charming and the songwriting fits the production quite well. I wouldn't want to hear that sort of music with a crystal clear Nuclear Blast sound. Fuck off plastic black metal! I think the do it yourself approach is what makes this relevant. It proved that a sound can still be rich and intricate without the need of a fifty thousand bucks production and the help of Peter Tagtgren.

The black metal core includes many different influences such as rock & roll, blues, psychedelic, grunge, progressive, surf rock, punk, etc... But everything is included as a coherent deal, nothing feels forced. You're not telling yourself “ohhh, here's a psychedelic inspired section” and “cool, clean vocals!”. The progression of the album feels natural and the flow is totally fine, a primordial concept in a one song release.

Preston is using some cool buried and weird clean vocals (he's better than Fenriz!) alongside his high pitched black metal screeches. There's not a lot of vocals, the excellent songwriting is the core of the album but they're pleasant enough and accordingly buried. Lyrically, it's about esotericism, mysticism and some sort of mythology I really don't grasp but it's fun. It's some sort of Indian primitivism, it's fucked up and a good fit to the eclectic out there music.

Definitely adventurous, Toultgtjar breaks the boundaries of taste to create an album that will only appeal to the most courageous listeners. This sort of lo-fi black metal has already a small fan base, mix it with this cocktail of influences and you have something totally fringe.

Recommended only if you're cool enough and like risks.


Friday, 16 May 2014

Prajna – The Summer Eclipse (2014) / 94%

Bogota's Hidden Diamond

Andrés Felipe Murillo is a young Colombian man, he dresses well, he's into anime and Japanese video games like Touhou and he's a terrific musician. I'll have to admit he's a good friend of mine but this won't taint my judgement! I'm objective in the face of awesomeness and the first full length of this solo project is certainly phallus inducing.

Prajna used to be a full band but he always was the composer until he decided to davemustaine a little and fire everyone. He can do almost everything on his own and considering the Colombian scene is not very inclined to his genre of music (it prefers dumb thrash apparently) it doesn't quite matter if he plays gigs or not. Murillo composed everything and played all instruments on this debut, his first release since the impressive EP  “Lost in the Void” released three years ago. It took him a while to finish since he's also a full time student but it's top notch and well worth the wait for his small circle of fans throughout the interwebs.

The ten songs, forty six minutes full length is an impressive unique slab of heavy/power/speed metal and it really sounds professional even though there's no label support or anything of the sort. The drums were programmed but it's no biggie, the results can be of high quality nowadays and it's not the end of the world in my opinion. The production and mastering are pretty good considering the DIY approach, lots of time was dedicated to it and the mixing support of Charles Wong (another friend of mine) really helped the record. The riffs and solos are very well produced and nothing sounds wimpy and shallow.  Quite the contrary.

The dude is a very talented guitarist and he proves it throughout the whole deal with the numerous excellent solos (such as the catchy lead opening of “This World (Is Broken)” or the raw instrumental energetic finale of “Nowhere”.  It has a good amount of cool riffing too, it's fast paced, ultra melodic without being too cheesy and saccharine. The album is quite diverse too, it has some progressive elements like “Heart on Fire” with its ethereal piano background reminding me of the later modern stuff of Dark Tranquillity. The main influence here is Japanese video game music and anime though, it's mixed with the traditional metal sound to create something awesome and inspiring. Since I have basically no kawaii knowledge except for like Full Metal Alchemist and Cowboy Bebop, I can't truly get the references but eh, it's special and interesting. It's not quite apparent and I only know it's there because he told me but someone who isn't familiar won't get the Japanese references and it won't interfere with their enjoyment.

Murillo is influenced by the good stuff, like early German speed metal and American power metal. John Arch (Fates Warning) is definitely one of his influences vocally and that's always appreciated even though Arch can't be beaten. While his delivery is perhaps the only negative thing I can find here, he's not bad, he's simply pretty unconventional. His high pitched thick Spanish accent can be grating for some but I think it can be lovely and adorable when you get used to it! His delivery is high pitched, powerful but juvenile but no one can accuse him of not being true to himself. Even if he's not a top notch vocalist, his vocal lines are quite superb, he's not only a guitarist, that's for sure. As long as he doesn't get kidnapped by the FARC, I'm sure he can improve his skills! His English is pretty much perfect so the lyrics are well written, definitely better than many European power metal bands.

Catchy, fun, well written and honest metal is what is delivered here, through the immense, obscure talent of its composer, Prajna shines. Kiss the cook because this is tasty! It's a great mix of emotional shred, riffy speed metal, melodic power metal and it has many refreshing ideas. No lines snorting there, only legit stuff induced by hard work, true talent and vision.

Get the album for free on Bandcamp, pay more than 15 bucks to get a physical copy.

Andrés Felipe Murillo

Thursday, 15 May 2014

Jesters of Destiny – Fun at the Funeral (1986) / 95%


Tony's notes: This review concerns the remastered reissue that includes seven excellent bonus songs that would had been on the next album and a cool cover of Black Sabbath's Electric Funeral. It's the mandatory version, I would say.

The year: 1986. Many metal bands were releasing their magnum opuses and the genre really started to diversify and started to explore many different horizons, sometimes extreme, sometimes estranged ones. Jesters of Destiny were a beast that was way too adventurous for its time or at least were not commercial enough for a label like Metal Blade that dropped the band after its debut album. Due to today's genre specialization, they could perhaps find their crowd, albeit a limited one. I can live with this marginalization, not everyone is destined to like everything. This band is definitely something else. Something great!

This album was reissued by Ektro Records, hence catching my attention since I follow the deeds of this label very closely. Jussi Lehtisalo, the man behind Ektro must be a huge fan of this defunct band since Bruce Duff (bass, vocals) contributed to some of his projects like Pharaoh Overlord's Out of Darkness and the excellent Circle album Hollywood. Both men surely share a liking for intricate, unorthodox music and it's undeniable that Lehtisalo was influenced by the album's vision.

Many sources say that the band invented the so called “alternative metal” genre and while you can feel a similarity with bands like Primus or even Faith No More, I feel it's a bit misguided to use such tag. Their sound, even if I do fancy classification and I'm sometimes compulsive about it, is truly hard to pinpoint. There's many distinct stuff on here, there's instrumental tracks like the superb “Love Theme From Jesters on Parade” or the sample heavy closer “Ray's Theme”. The old school punk approach of “Incubus” is immediately followed by a poppy song called “Happy Times” that is as good as any of The Cure's strongest material and also reminds me of Dire Straits! That's certainly not for the young man who can't get enough of Masters of Puppets' apparent subtlety back in the day.

The diversity of the album has a rock solid direction, it's a true monument to songwriting. It has the efficacy of Tom Waits' greatest albums, an album like Rain Dogs  shines throughout its overture to musicality. Bruce Duff and Ray Violet (guitars, keyboards), the only two members that survived during the short existence of the band truly knew how to mix things up. Some glam here, some post punk/alternative rock there, some psychedelic kraut up your ass, some AOR and finally, the reason we're here: the heavy metal riffs and leads. All the components are all brothers and sisters on “Fun at the Funeral” and they all live in harmony.

Simply with the keyboard overture of the first track “Diggin' That Grave” and the heavy riff that follows, you immediately know how a psychedelic heavy metal band would sound. It's approaching a mix of the catchier side of NWOBHM mixed with psychedelia, it's almost as if The Flaming Lips decided to get drunk as fuck, stop their funny shenanigans and write metal songs.

The main element that makes this band so enjoyable is Bruce Duff's vocals. His delivery is pretty damn awesome and it has a wide appeal. He can play with his high voice like a theatre actor and he's interesting. He has a sort of classic rock flair and his choruses, sometimes idioyncratic like the self loathing “I Hate Bruce” or the genius “Crimson Umbrella”, are very catchy. Even though he's a clean vocalist with no roughness in his voice, it's not always quite accessible since he's using some weird vocal patterns mixed with the pop choruses.

Musically, it's pretty unique, they don't sound like anyone else. Nonetheless, you can spot some influences like Sabbath or Deep Purple but with the weirdness meter pushed to the maximum. They have a rich sound that is out of time and soft piano melodies are intertwined with hard rockin' heavy riffs. Loud bass, subtle riffs that don't always rely on their heavyness to mark the imagination, it's often about energy and fun. A sort of dark brooding attraction. It's not quite fast, not slow either, favoring a mid paced groovy approach. Judging by the bonus tracks like “House on the Hill”, they were going in a heavier direction.

Apparently Jesters of Destiny will release a new album soon, it will be quite interesting to see what they can do almost thirty years after this one. This is a classic album that everyone who's interested in unconventional music should check out.

Buy their stuff on Ektro Records.

Tuesday, 13 May 2014

Live Review: Ulcerate/Phobocosm/Chthe'ilist @Katacombes in Montréal, May 12th 2014

The up and coming death metal from the Montréal south shore were back at the Katacombes after their impressive first gig at the first edition of Wings of Metal last year. They still don't have a bassist even though they're looking for one, kind of a shame that there's nobody who can join them, I would if I was a musician! Nonetheless, it's no biggie when there's two talented lead guitarists! 

Their thirty minute set killed everyone, the crowd was already numerous for the openers and that's always cool. Their crushing death metal sound is pretty damn good, it's technical without being showy, shallow and noodly (like their drummer's main death metal band Beyond Creation). After their great demo (try to pronounce the title), they're gonna release a full length (when? No idea, but soon) and I know they're shopping for a label and have many prestigious options (Profound Lore? Dark Descent? Roadrunner?).

Their stage presence was intense, mostly due to their energetic and talented session singer (Laurent Bellemare from Tribunal). The two guitarists had a good chemistery going on, they like the same stuff and it shows.

Alongside the second opener of this evening, they're the future of the Québec death metal scene, they're evolving with extrinsic influences (mostly from Finland, they covered a Demilich song) instead of praising at the altars of bands like Gorguts or Kataklysm.

A band to follow, for sure. Guided by Tougas, a shy and quiet talented promising young man, Chthe'ilist is destined to great deeds.



With their debut full length scheduled to be released this Autumn by Dark Descent Records, Phobocosm are slowly making a name for themselves not only locally but internationally. The Montréal quartet played their, I believe, fifth gig tonight. I was lucky to see their first one back in 2012 when they opened for Adversarial.

Their brand of ultra dark death metal kills, it's midpaced, dirty but with a perfect and professional guitar tone. The drummer was also a beast behind his kit. The leader and composer Samuel Dufour formely of Towards Darkness and Vengeful is supported by another guitarist and it's adding a layer of evil atmosphere that's most welcome.Their songs are long, heavy and their sound inspired by the likes of Incantation and fellow cavernous death metal bands is distinct in the Québec scene. Maybe they're not quite original in the grand scheme of things but they sure know how to write somber catchy hooks and that's all that matters

Just like most of the Dark Descent roster, Phobocosm is quality stuff. Simply waiting for their debut album Deprived to come out so they can receive their due praise.



Since Inter Arma dropped off the tour for some dates, Ulcerate were able to play a longer set to compensate! The New Zealand power dissonant trio offered almost eighty minute to the enthusiastic crowd. I've missed their first Montréal gig two years so it was a first time for me and I quite enjoyed the experience. I'm really not a fan of the technical death metal genre but Ulcerate is one of the exceptions since they don't rely on showy acrobatics and instead are subtle about the whole thing. I had no idea how well their atmospheric style would be transposed to a live setting since they're only three musicians but I was pleasantly surprised.

I think it works quite well since the guitars aren't quite the focus of their music, Jaime Saint Merat (drums, artwork...) is the obvious core of the entity. He's perhaps the best drummer in modern death metal, he destroys all competition. It seems that everything is build around his drumming to create a death metal harmonic monster. The three members are all bald weird looking dudes, it's like they meld together to form a six arms being completely overwhelming his opponents with his earnest formula.

The songs from their latest album Vermis  were really good live, even tough The Destroyers of All is perhaps my favorite release of theirs, it's harder to replicate these songs live since they're so intricate. Vermis, on the other hand, feels a bit like a more concise, maybe simplified version of TdoA. They're live friendlier and it's apparent throughout the set. They finished the evening with Everything is Fire though and that's probably their best song so it was an ideal choice.

Even though I missed the sixth game of the Montréal/Boston series, the Habs won so all is well! The dissonant pulse emanating the Katacombes helped the team defeat the Bruins!