Sunday, 23 August 2015

The Sword - High Country (2015) / 85%

Ooby Dooby Rock

A popular opinion about the American quartet is that they were opportunists hipsters who jumped onto the stoner doom band wagon and while it's sort of true, it's not fully accurate. The early 2000s were more about sludge (early Mastodon), aggressive stoner (High on Fire), stoned stoner (Bongzilla) and the retro metal approach wasn't still quite big in the US, it was going somewhere in Europe with Witchcraft and the likes though. Even if it's possible that the dudes of The Sword weren't totally honest about their craft (I don't quite believe in that, I'm naive enough to think musicians play the music they like) and weren't doing anything new at the time, they brought doom to the American masses and that's something. Also, <i>Age of Winters</i> was still released before the whole occult rock/doom fad (think of Jex Thoth for the US). Nevertheless, I'm not saying they were instigators or precursors since stoner rock/metal wasn't absent, they never really brought new ideas and bands like Priestess were evolving in the same genre but after more than a decade, the band was in dire need of a change of scenery.

I enjoyed their first three albums but thought that their fourth record <i>Apocryphon</i> was a mediocre effort: it went nowhere and it felt rehashed and lazy. Three years later, they're back with a new album and they feel fresh and renewed. It's nowhere near as heavy as their four other albums but it still rocks super hard. There's still some doom and stoner metal to be found here but they added a huge dose of classic rock and psychedelia to their formula. It's like they took a long big bath while listening to Rush's <i>Fly By Night</i>, some old CCR and Led Zeppelin and a bunch of Queens of the Stone Age records (Satan knows I love Josh Homme). While many songs are far from their old style (check out “Seriously Mysterious” and its lush keyboards or the psychedelic intro), I feel their identity is kept intact, it's clearly the same dudes. They probably discovered the psychedelic darlings of Tame Impala and decided they liked their stuff ( to be fair, well, Kevin Parker is pretty damn awesome) and I think it's wonderful. Add a lot of blues, roots and southern rock tendencies to their psychedelic stoner rock and you're in business for what I'd call my surprise of the year. Nonetheless, I'm sure some “purists” of the band won't like this new direction but to me, it's an extension of their identity and a logical progression.

You'd think the album would be entirely a rock affair if you've read a recent interview J.D. Cronise (vocals, guitars) did. He said the following: <i>“I’ve been listening to a lot of blues and roots music, even country music, a lot of old country music. This record reflects more of our current tastes... I don’t really listen to that much extreme music anymore, or really even that much of what you’d call heavy metal."</i> (<a href= "">Read the full interview</a>) It's not though, there's still a lot of stoner metal/rock here, they just added more ingredients to their tex mex taco and it's just tastier. He also mentions that playing super heavy doom would had been “playing a part” and that there's not enough individuality in the metal scene. I certainly agree with what he said and The Sword managed to break off of their own mold, sure it's not as thundering or intense as <i>Gods of the Earth</i> but I'm happy they didn't release an album akin to Death Magnetic (a record clearly written to please the fans who were demanding some true 'Tallica!) and that they were honest with themselves. What's the point of playing a genre of music you're bored with?

The structure of the album may seem jarring as it has 15 songs but I don't think it was problematic at all. There's a good flow between the tracks and there's enough variety to keep us hooked throughout its duration. Some of these are interludes like the superb krautrock influenced “Agartha” or the accoustic charm of “Silver Petals” and they add a cool groove to the record. They still deliver solid heavy songs like the great “Early Snow” and its big band blues section (trumpet, saxophone and trombone!). It's High Country's finest moment and I wish it would had been even more present. Cronise and Kyle Shutt didn't stop writing huge guitar hooks (the AOR/glam riffs of “The Dreamthieves” are excellent). I've seen them and it's a strong guitar duo in the purest rock tradition. They're strong musicians overall and there's a lot of (vintage) feel in the leads and the bass (Bryan Ritchie handles the synths as well) is a subtle yet tight and vivid presence.

Cronise's lyrics aren't quite better this time around but they're still at least entertaining, they were always fun especially on the Sci Fi concept album Warp Riders. There's some sort of rural/agriculture theme going on (the introduction of the album is called “Unicorn Farm”) and it fits the vintage psychedelic approach they took. There's some funny innuendos like “give me your honey, spare me your stings” in the great last track “The Bees of Spring” but he will not win any literature prizes with his prose, he's still quite juvenile. I mean, he's still speaking about witches and like he said in one of the tracks “it's nothing new”, eh, I have no problem with that after all. His vocals were never The Sword's strength and it's still not the case but I do think they're stronger and aren't as buried as before. They're entertaining and highly catchy and possess this interesting pop flair. He's very good on the soft moments of “Ghost Eye” or the western ballad “Turned to Dust”. He's certainly not John Fogerty but he doesn't try to be either and he's a good fit for the sound of his band.

High Country could be seen as a way to get a foot in the door of the recent vintage stoner rock revival (they'll bring both Kadavar and Royal Thunder with them on two different tours this year), if it's the case, it's done with honesty, skills and vision and shows that The Sword can adapt themselves. It's not a lazy effort, it's a real combination of influences in a package that doesn't feel dated or archaic despite the vintage inspirations. Anyhow, the band has always been in possession of a crossover appeal between rock and metal, they just made it clearer with this. Let's boogie with The Sword, my ass is already shaking.

Saturday, 22 August 2015

Top 50 of 2000-2009, part 5, 10 to 1!

TOP 50 OF 2000-2009

Part V

Positions 10 to 1

Here it is, the final installment of this top 50 with my 10 favorite albums of the last decade. Thanks for following the series and I'm sure I'll regret not picking this or that album later on but eh, making lists is fun!

10. Solstafir – Kold (2009)

The icelandic quartet reached their creative peak with this album. While their two most recent records are good, I never enjoyed them as much as I liked this one. The cold (pun intended) atmospheres and the inventive blend of post rock with Viking and black metal asthetics is simply grandiose. You're hooked the moment the 8 minutes instrumental opener starts and it's a voyage through this snowy country for an hour. Simply beautiful music.

9. Wuthering Heights – Far From the Madding Crowd (2004)
Oh man, I remember discovering this band and listening to this album (and The Shadow Cabinet as well) non stop for weeks. They're quite unique, blending neoclassical power metal with progressive metal, folk metal and Dio-esque vocal accrobatics. They're just exactly what I want in this sort of music, super epic lyrics about fantasy (mostly Tolkien), soaring vocals, excellent solos and super catchy songwriting. It's a shame they're on hold right now due to their guitarist/composer's health issues and I hope he'll get better and release the successor to the excellent Salt released in 2010.

8. Amon Amarth – With Oden On Our Side (2006)
Amon Amarth is a widely popular band for a good reason, they're fucking excellent. While they don't really reinvent themselves, they managed to really excel at crushing and manly melodic death metal. WOOOS is by far their best for me, it's a widely important album for my metal development and I still like it 10 years or so after its release. It's an album I spin often when I get nostalgic and it never fails to deliver the goods. With Oden on our side, we are indeed victorious. 

7. Cult of Luna – Somewhere Along the Highway (2006)
The Swedish project has released nothing but strong albums so far and it was hard to pick between “Salvation” and this one but I think Somewhere... is a bit more memorable and features better individual songs like “Finland” or “Dim”. I believe CoL is the best band exploring post-metal (whatever that is) territories and yes, this includes Neurosis and Isis. Their blend of atmospheric music with many subtleties is always making me happy. I can't wait to see their first Montréal gig ever in Montréal in early September with Kylesa (featured in part 4 of this top 50).

6. Symphony X – Paradise Lost (2007)
I thought Iconoclast was a disastrous affair, the New Jersey progsters decided to go in a groove and mecanical direction and I wasn't fond of it but damn, its predecessor is one of their best albums alongside Divine Wings of Tragedy. The groove side is present, yes, but it's a companion to their epic and mythological identity and mostly in Allen's voice. I have fond memories of buying the gorgeous digipak and sharing the album with my best friend during the last days of high school and I still go back to this album often, the songwriting is great and the instrumentation is top notch. Essential metal.

5. Opeth – Ghost Reveries (2005)
Opeth is my favorite band, I love all their albums but my favorite ones are their first three. Morningrise being one of my best albums of all time doesn't mean that their more recent work isn't good though, quite the opposite. While I'm not the biggest fan of their alleged breakthroughh album Blackwater Park, Ghost Reveries is a masterpiece and a rival to Still Life for the 4th place in their discography and my heart. Their first album on Roadrunner is a varied, profound and compelling effort and it's still full of extreme metal moments (Watershed was their true transition album towards prog rock). Songs like “Harlequin Forest”, “Beneath the Mire” or “Isolation Years” are some of the best ones Mikael Akerfeldt ever wrote.

4. Enslaved – Below the Lights (2003)
The Norwegians are in possession of one of metal's best discographies and there's still releasing super great albums nowadays but this one is perhaps my favorite. It's a perfect mix of their Viking/black metal era with their progressive tendencies and has memorable songs like “Havenless” or the live staple “As Fire Swept Clean the Earth”. There's also no weak(er) moments such as on RITTIR or even Mardraum. Prog metal at its best.

Oh and yeah, I own a signed copy of the album (I've seen them 3 times live, managed to get this signed when they they opened for Opeth in 2010). Note that it's the actual lineup and not only the members who did the album.

3. Sigh – Imaginary Sonicscape (2001)A true work of genius blending black metal with psychedelic rock, prog and everything else that Mirai Kawashima and company could think of. I wrote a long review about it in 2013 and I think it would be impossible to describe such genius again.

2. Slough Feg – Traveller (2003)
Slough Feg are one of the most consistent bands of their generation and this is in my opinion their best album. The sci fi concept inspired by an old table top role playing game is fantastic and gives the album a lot of memorable lines likeI feel the x-rays on my brain”. Mike Scalzi's inspired guitar playing and super catchy lines ensured that this album will become a full fledged heavy metal classic in the decades to come, it's definitely one of mine, that's for sure.

1. Reverend Bizarre – So Long Suckers (2007)

One of my favourite albums of all times, it was a no-brainer for the 1st place of this top. The massive length and the uncompromising approach made me fall in love with doom metal and it's still a total package experience every time I spin the two disks. Like I said in my 100% review, more is less. Their debut could had been considered as well since it's also a masterpiece but I don't have the same relation with it, it's a bit less personal. I remember ordering “So Long Suckers” from a metal/prog store in Montréal, this was back in 2008 where I had yet to use the internet to order stuff and it feels like a product of another time, a time more naive and full of life.

Thursday, 20 August 2015

Magister Templi – Into Duat (2015) / 88%

"Duat" is the realm of the dead in the Egyptian mythology.

Crushing the opposition into dust

Norway isn't widely known for its doom metal, compared to nations like Sweden of Finland, it only has a handful of bands evolving in that style. I'm thinking here of Lamented Souls with its lineup composed of well known musicians (ICX Vortex and Apollyon), the excellent High Priest of Saturn and Sadhak or the underwhelming Sahg and Devil... That's about it as far as traditional doom is concerned... Well, except for Magister Templi! The quintet from Oslo is back with their sophomore release after their well received debut album “Lucifer Leviathan Logos”.

Not as doomy as their debut, “Into Duat” is more rooted in epic heavy metal than anything else. I'd still classify them as heavy/doom as they mix both genres but this is clearly not your typically slow trad doom release (see England's Witchsorrow for a good example of this in 2015). Unlike many doom bands (I'm thinking of the Candlemass lovers of Crypt Sermon here), their influences and inspirations are harder to pinpoint. There's some early Slough Feg (read Thin Lizzy) in their music (especially the track “Horus the Avenger”) and pure 80s heavy metal and that's totally awesome. They're very groovy and keep things relatively short and tidy (eight songs for forty minutes), only the excellent opener “Creation” is a bit on the longer side with its near seven minutes length. While I'd like for them to go overboard with some longer moments like fellow heavy/doomsters Atlantean Kodex, I'm perfectly fine with this stylistic choice and I must say that they're pretty skilled at incorporating such an epic sound to a classic, punchy and concise packaging. It feels like they're putting Maiden's most epic tracks into a 4-5 minutes one.

After the Lovecraftian and occult themes of their previous effort, Magister Templi took the Nile way and crafted a bunch of songs about Egyptian mythology (obvious with the song titles) and it's always a rich and interesting subject to write about. There's plenty of occult stories full of betrayals and magnificent fantasy tales to be found in Egypt's rich lore. The musicality is also influenced by the themes, it's not exactly Melechesh turned doom but the analogy isn't that far off (listen to “Anubis” and its ear-worm of a chorus), that's a style of metal we rarely hear, I still feel like a 10 minutes epic heavy/doom track about Ra or whatever would had been great but that's just me!
Osiris, god of the afterlife!

The two guitars approach was the way to go, there's many subtleties so the double axes way was required. There's not a lot of super technical guitar solos not that they were needed, there's some like the start of “Slaying Apophis” but it's kept minimal, it's just great riffs after great riffs most of the time. The bass is also strong, especially in the “Rime of the Ancient Mariner”esque break in the closing track “Destruction” (the album starts with “Creation” and ends with “Destruction”, it's fitting). Their vocals are thundering and freaking manly, quite powerful and particular, they add to the epic vibe the band is cultivating. Abraxas d'Ruckus has this classic, deep approach reminiscing of Danzig and I hope he sings without a shirt on! The band puts a lot of emphasis on the collaboration between the catchy vocal lines and the instrumentation, in the end, they really do fit well together.

Magister Templi is a top tier traditional metal and they're exactly how “true” metal should sound in 2015. It's not too cheesy nor rehashed and it has this classy distinguished feel (not as refined as Borrowed Time though but these guys were hard to beat). Ornamented by a beautiful and evocative artwork, you just can't ignore the mighty power of these guys. It's a required spin for trad metal fans.

Monday, 17 August 2015

Age of Lust / Oppression / Verglas Split (2015) / 86%

Punky black metal North American triptych 

This three way split is showcasing three different sides of black metal but still in possession of a similar identity feature in a compact nineteen minutes tape and it's quite lovely. I'm starting to like the split format way more than before, I think it's a fun way to mix the different approaches of like-minded bands together.

Age of Lust is the new project of Sam Morgan who's a profilic Floridian musician known for Floridian Winter (haha? As a Quebecois, this is like saying “hot ice”) among other thing. I'm only familiar with Floridian Winter's full length as far as this is concerned (that I checked because of this split, really) but it was quite good. It's a bit hard to judge this side of the split since it's like three minutes long and this include a ninety seconds introduction but eh, I'll do my best. The intro is some melodic clean guitars and the other track is raw but pretty damn fast black, the punk element isn't as present as in the other project I mentioned. “A Breath of Lunacy” features some great lead guitar work underneath the gloomy and totally adequate screams and I wish it was longer, it's a strong song. This falls in the raw but melodic territory of black metal, a genre I always dig and crave.

These two songs served as a sort of introduction to two Quebecois bands who are feeding us three new tracks each, I thought it was odd at first to see a Floridian band alongside them but with today's means of communication and with the help of the internet, everything is possible.

Oppression, formed by members of Putamen Insula (sadly, they recently broke up) and Blackscorn is a Montréal band that I've been following since their inception. I reviewed their first demo and enjoyed their first full length released last year so it was cool to get some brand new tracks from them. They evolve in a sort of martial, misanthropic black metal/punk hybrid with French lyrics and they're groovy as hell. Their sound explores both the old schools of punk (think of French cult legends Bérurier Noir) and black metal. It has this sort of tongue in cheek violent dark humour. It's irrreverent and full of disdain for the (sometimes) disgusting societal conventions, Oppression is a necessary force against crooked cops and political abuses. 
Sovannak intertwines between clean vocals with a militaristic vibe (this includes chanting) and screams full of hate. The bass is thick, the drums beats perfect for a rebel militia parade and the guitar plays these incisive yet super catchy riffs without any frills. The angry vocals of "Esprit bestial" were a clear highlight for me, the loud bass of "Sans retour possible" were also pretty damn cool. Definitely one of Montréal's most interesting bands, they're a great example of the crossover between punk and metal and shows how well the two genres can be mixed together.

Verglas has been releasing a bunch of stuff since 2009, mostly demos but this is their first split release. J. (or Jonathan in non-black metal speech) played with Sovannak in Putamen Insula and currently plays with him in the coldwave/post-punk band Noyade so there so there's a real connection between the two Montréal based projects found on this split. Verglas (icestorm) plays a primitive, lo-fi sort of black metal with a lot of punk elements, their genre can be compared to Bone Awl (they played gigs with them back in 2012) and Raspberry Bulbs. They often use samples (see the demented French samples of their “Satanisme Juvénile” demo) but not this time, their three short songs are jam-packed with fast riffs and cold as fuck drumming. I like their rehearsal room feel, it's raw but the fast riffs are well-recorded. Their vocals are screechy and can be linked to the depressive black metal scene, they're buried underneath the guitars and this gives us a damp and dangerous atmosphere that makes me feel uneasy but happy.

I must note that their last track is called “rouge-gorge” or “robin” in English and I'm pretty sure that's the first black metal song dedicated to this particular bird. To be fair, it's a pretty lovely creature. Now, if only these guys could offer us something more substantial like a full length... No need to clean the sound, it's already super adequate for their genre, I don't like my steak burned to a crisp and likewise, I think the lo-fi approach is the best for them. Well done, fellows, it's perhaps the strongest material they ever wrote.

The tape was released by Primal Vomit based in Florida which I believe is Sam Morgan's label and I'm happy that Québec is exporting two of its best black metal bands. Age of Lust is a promising project and I look forward to more compositions by them. Pretty damn good split.

Saturday, 15 August 2015

Top 50 of 2000-2009, part 4, 20 to 11

Part IV

Positions 20 to 11

20. Manilla Road – Voyager (2008)
Mark Shelton came back to the metal world with a strong record in 2001 called Atlantis Rising and has been churning good albums since then but I think the best of the modern era of the Road is this one, Voyager. It's epic, heavy, intricate and it's about Vikings so it's automatically awesome.The production is raw and fits the extremely great soloing of Shelton and his incisive riffing, there's also a superb use of acoustic guitars such as in the title track. Mark Shelton isn't the best singer ever but his odd delivery fits the atmosphere like no others and is part of the identity of the band, they're automatically recognizable. He's the Bob Dylan of epic metal and Dylan is freaking awesome.

19. Electric Mud Generator – To the Disdain of Polyhymnia (2008)

Better known for A Forest of Stars, this trio lead by Duncan Evans plays a highly unique sort of progressive metal mixing doom, stoner, rock and other stuff into five lengthy tracks (there's a 22 minutes song here!). It's their last album before an unknown fate and it's quite a shame! I wrote a pretty long review for it here so I'll save myself the trouble and link it. 


18. Celtic Frost – Monotheist (2006)
The reformed legend released one of the best comeback albums of all time with Monotheist. For the time of one album, Tom Gabriel Fischer and Martin Ain put their differences aside and did a wonderfully dark and profound album. I may come as a blasphemer but I even prefer this to their proto extreme metal era. Tom continued with Triptykon and while I fucking like their 2 records, they're not as special and deep as this one. It's one of the heaviest record but it's not shallow at all, it's diverse and never let go of your spine for its whole duration. Hail Beanie.

Bolt Thrower – Those Once Loyal (2005)

The British death metal machine has said they can't write good albums anymore and I guess it would be a hard task to beat their latest one released 10 years ago. Anyhow, I'm quite fine with them touring and playing their classic material! This is pummelling war-themed metal of the purest quality, it has thundering riffs, harsh vocals full of spite and a tank like mid-paced approach to destroy all opposition. Long live Bolt Thrower!

16. Candlemass – Candlemass (2005)
Another comeback, this time it's Messiah Marcolin who went back to Candlemass for one last dance before their three albums with Solitude Aeternus' singer Robert Lowe. I think the self titled album is their best recent album and not only because of the messiah's presence but because of the quality of its songwriting. I don't really quite like what Leif Edling and company are doing now and I thought that Avatarium was quite mediocre, this album is the last great thing Leif did... for now.


Summoning – Let Mortal Heroes Sing Your Fame (2001)
I had to include one of Summoning's albums here and this is certainly one of my favourite ones alongside Oath Bound and Minas Morgul. This album leaves Tolkien aside and focus more on Moorcock. It's not widely different from what they usually play, it's atmospheric epic black metal of the highest level but I feel this album is tighter and a bit more focused than some of their others. It's cheesy keyboard metal but with a lot of soul and vision, it's esoteric, fantastic and totally fits your best D&D games.


Melechesh – Emissaries (2006)
Ashmedi has yet to release a weak album, he's indeed a true Mesopotamian metal machine and bludgeons his way through the desert. Melechesh released their two best records during this decade, this one and their previous one Sphhynx and both could be included here but eh, I have my rules so only one can stay. Emissaries is the one I picked, it's aggressive, epic, melodic and totally groovy and that's totally want I want from black or death metal. It also features one of the best opening track ever with “Rebirth of the Nemesis”! The band is still compelling nowadays, The Epigenesis was almost as good and they're really fun to experience live (I had the chance to see them twice).

13. Asmegin - Hin vordende Sod & Sø (2003)

Probably my favorite folk metal album of all time, Asmegin's debut is a master class in terms of songwriting, it has plenty of excellent elements and they all fit very well together. From harsh black metal vocals to clean female vocals, mournful violins, fast paced blastbeats, the album has almost everything. Its pagan/Viking vibe is truly enjoyable, it's atmospheric and melancholic while never entering the long winded Moonsorrow territories (not that I don't like this), they keep things short and tidy but they're still able to get their point across wonderfully.

12. Blind Guardian – A Night at the Opera (2002)
ANATO was one of my gateway albums for heavy/power metal when I was like 16 so it's pretty important for me. And Then There Was Silence is a majestic epic song and it's always making me smile. It's truly a cheesy album but it's bombastic and has phenomenal songs and melodies that I don't care. The vocals of Hansi are so layered that he's his own choir and the automatically identified guitars of André Olbrich are some of the things that made this album an essential for me.

11. I
ron Maiden – Brave New World (2000)
Bruce and Adrian went back to Maiden after a hiatus from the band and they released another classic album with Harris and company. It's the classic lineup but with Janick Gers who took Adrian's place after his departure in 1990, Maiden now has 3 guitars... but it's pretty irrelevant really. What's important is the quality of the material here, while I kind of like The X Factor, BNW improves on all front and delivers excellent proggy heavy metal. It has a nice diversity too with epic songs like “Dream of Mirrors” or fast paced rockers like “Fallen Angel”. Compared to the two other albums of this decade (2003's Dance of Death and 2006's A Matter of Life and Death), it's tighter, more focused and doesn't have much filler except perhaps the two latest songs, especially The Thin Line Between Love & Hate, one of their worst closers and possibly the only reason it's not in my top 10. 

Only one part left, let's see if you can guess some of the albums in my top 10, guys!

Monday, 10 August 2015

Top 50 of 2000-2009, Part 3, 21 to 30

Welcome back to the top 50, let's not waste any time with some pretentious discussion and let's explore the albums I have in this third part!

30. Behemoth – The Apostasy (2007)
This album (alongside Nile's Ithyphallic, not featured on this list unfortunately) was one of the most important ones for my metallic development. Behemoth are an highly popular band but they got where they are for a good reason; they fucking slay. While Demigod is often seen as the superior release, The Apostasy is a bit stronger and more focused. It's brutal, dark, atmospheric, epic, smart blackish death metal with a strong direction and a clear vision of how modern metal should sound like. Nergal is perhaps a diva but he's almost without an equal in the extreme metal world.

29. Moonsorrow - V: Hävitetty (2007)
Finland's folk metal institution released one hell of an album with Verisäkeet in 2005 but I picked this one instead. It has only two songs for almost an hour of music and it's their most ambitious piece of work so far. It's atmospheric, intelligent, mesmering, heavy and uses their heritage in a very tasteful way. It's like traveling to Finland for 56 minutes, it almost feels like being in a sauna with Napero.

28. Agalloch – Ashes Against the Grain (2006)
For certain people, it's all about The Mantle but I personally think the moose clad album is quite overrated and I prefer this one. It has the best balance of their sound including all the elements that I like from the band. It's not as black metal as its follower nor a mixed bag like their latest one. It also features some of their best tracks ever like “Not Unlike the Waves” or “Limbs”. Agalloch is a subtle band full of complexities and a varied dark approach to metal and that's their best album.
27. My Dying Bride – The Dreadful Hours (2001)
I don't like everything the legendary Englishmen did but when I dig them, I think they're fantastic. This album is one of their best, it's a good mix of their harsher death/doom days with harsh vocals combined with their romantic Gothic side. For dark and depressive music, it doesn't get much better than My Dying Bride at their finest hour. Alongside "The Light at the End of the World", it's one of their best albums and can almost hold a candle to "Turn Loose the Swans".

26. The Ocean – Precambrian (2007)
The German project lead by Robin Staps has always pushed the boundaries of sludge metal by incorporating a shitload of atmosphere, post-metal, progressive and by following in the footsteps of Neurosis. Precambrian is a double album and it's divided in a very unique way, one of the disks is quite atmospheric, somewhat what the band has been playing for their whole career while the second is like a sludgier and more aggressive EP. They're a tremendous band who recently had a drop in quality (see Heliocentric) but they got their shit together for the excellent Pelagial and I can't wait to see where they'll go next. I was lucky to see them live with The Atlas Moth some years ago and they're as interesting and cerebral as on record.

25. Kypck – Cherno (2008)
The Soviet influenced troop from Finland released one hell of a debut album and it's still their best one as far as I'm concerned. Their doom is slow, depressive and fits the Russian coldness in the lyrics perfectly. As a history buff, it's awesome to see a bunch of sad Finns use Russian history as a theme and they even use the language to convey their despair. Kypck plays a very original brand of doom metal and there's no bands who sounds like them.

The Gates of Slumber – Conqueror (2008)
My buddy Mike made me remember to add a certain band so thanks ya bastard but now we have a tie since I didn't feel like removing any of the other albums on my list!

First off, we have The Gates of Slumber with their third album. It's possibly not the best of the defunct American band but it's the one that helped me discover them and I have an emotional to it. It's still a fantastic album full of variety, from fast paced numbers (Ice Worm) to epic ones (Children of Satan, Dark Valley Suite) and TGOS should be hailed as a doom legend. They have this epic heavy metal approach mixed up with trad doom. Sadly, they split up some years ago and then their bassist Jason McCash died before a tentative reformation. Guitarist/singer Karl Simon has a new project called Wretch though and they'll release their debut album this year, I believe!

24*. Type O Negative – Dead Again (2007) Conqueror is then tied with another last chapter from an American doom band, this time it's Dead Again from the legendary Type O Negative (Mike's fault!) It's their last album before the death of frontman extraordinaire Peter Steele in 2010 and they went out with a bang. I'd say it even has a place in my trilogy of their best albums alongside World Coming Down and October Rust. It's massive, heavy, very varied and has excellent long songs like “September Sun” or “The Profit of Doom”. It's also more condensed than most of their previous albums and doesn't have much filler (TON liked to troll with weird interludes). TON is really dead and unfortunately their remaining members have yet to achieve the quality of this album.

Rush – Snakes and Arrows (2007)

Rush got back from a hiatus with the excellent Vapor Trails (2002) but they improved on this album with their two subsequent albums, this one and Clockwork Angels (2012). The legendary Canadian trio is one of the only bands with more than four decades of experience that's still releasing compelling and thoughtful music. Furthermore, they still rock fucking hard (see Farcry) and can write subtle but fantastic songs (Armor & Sword). Alex Lifeson shines here with soulful solos and great guitar work on the instrumental tracks of the album (The Main Monkey Business is one of their best songs ever). Rush don't just ride on their legacy but they're improving it.

22. Ogre – Seven Hells (2006) This sadly overlooked American doom trio is pretty damn great. They mix hard rockin' blues with traditional Sabbathian doom and also include some Rush influences. With ties to Blood Farmers, they managed to write albums that are as good as the self titled from this other American doom titan. Expect long ass solos, explosions, thundering bass and slow heavy drums from these guys. Truly essential trad doom.

Krypt Axeripper – Mechanical Witch (2007)

Jussi Lehtisalo is now one of my favourite musicians and I owe everything to this extended play. I since discovered most of his projects including the cult experimental rock band Circle and Pharaoh Overlord but this one has a very special place in my heart. It's traditional heavy metal but with a very fucking weird twist and I can't enough of it, sadly that's their sole release so far but I've heard that he's a working on a follow up. 10 minutes of pure bliss.

Read the review I wrote in 2012 for this EP: Here

That's it for this part, stay tuned for part 2, we're approaching the end, friends!

Saturday, 1 August 2015

Reverie - Bliss (2015) / 80%

Give me the peace and joy in your mind

Here's the debut album of Denmark's Reverie, “Bliss” is a particularly emotive work of blackened death metal and it's full of subtleties. The nearest comparaison i could make is with Tribulation's second coming. Take their excellent “The Formulas of Death”, streamline the album (it was frankly too long), remove some of the experimentation and you're not too far from Reverie is doing.

They could be affiliated to the current occult European scene, a scene transcending genres (think of Watain, The Devil's Blood or In Solitude). These bands from different backgrounds all share an identity in both music and visual art. I was in fact reminded of a drawing in In Solitude's latest (and final!) album “Sister” booklet when I got Reverie's album in my inbox (check it out here). Reverie doesn't quite sound like these bands, of course but there's some melodies that gave me a sense of familiarity. It's dark, occult but at the same time, full of class and maturity (astonishing for a band in their early 20s).

From the album name to their visual art approach, every facets of the band has this romantic and distinguished aspect. This is still extreme metal but we're pretty damn far from the bestial/war metal scene, the quartet had this calm demeanor approach in mind when they made “Bliss” and they succeeded at crafting an album that's sonically interesting and doesn't need to extend its compositions in an obscene manner. They kept things brief with a nine songs/thirty-five minutes release that leave you asking for more. They're fast paced with melodic yet sophisticated guitar riffs. There's only one guitarist but he's quite busy, unleashing riff after riff and decorating the whole thing with well placed leads (see “Fall Apart”) but they're far from being the main focus. The musicianship is interesting, blending massive vintage death metal with a melodic black edge and even a semi-dissonant persona from time to time, a song like the five minutes “Circles” is demonstrating all the appeal of their style in an epic manner. The drums are vividly rapid and are quite apt at including little enjoyable details like the western influenced start of “From Sea to Shore”. The vocals are harsh but well enunciated and they're a great fit to the music, they have this timeless feel and I could see them work in many different eras of death metal. They're abrasive but not overly so and they're quite accessible. 

The ethereal and classy side of the band is demonstrated through some moments like the title track interlude composed of flutes and acoustic guitars or the epilogue of the last track “Blind At Heart”, it's not exactly fully natural yet and it needs some refinement but it gives the band an interesting personality. The talent is there so I'm not afraid such thing will happen for their next album. Scandinavians are often apt at diversifying the extreme metal genre and adding a lot of delicacy and nuances to it, bands like Dawn, Opeth or Edge of Sanity did exactly that and Reverie are walking the path of these pioneers. They have yet to reach the level of quality of Tribulation but things are looking good for their future.

Reverie on Facebook

TOP 50 of 2000-2009, Part 2, 40 to 31

40. Ningen-Isu – Hoochie Koo (2006)

Choosing a Ningen-Isu (人間椅子) album was a given for this list, the difficult task was to choose which one as they released seven album during the last decade and they're all excellent. I picked this one because franky it has a rabbit on it, I mean, how freaking cool is that? Well,no, really, it's a very solid album and I prefer this rockier side to the more modern one they're playing recently. It's very varied and if you have yet to discover this Japanese band, it's time to do so. You could start with any of their albums but Hoochie Koo isn't a bad place to start.

39. Mastodon – Leviathan (2004)
Before turning into a progressive or melodic metal/rock band, Mastodon were a super interesting sludge band with heavy riffs and complex drumming. This album will (and already is to some point) be seen as an influential classic in the decades to come, it has everything from speedy crushing numbers like “I am Ahab” to more epic ones like the excellent “Hearts Alive”. Hate on Mastodon for their tremendous rise into metal stardom but they actually wrote compelling music and still do.

38. Gojira – The Way of All Flesh (2008)
The French groove masters released “From Mars to Sirius” some years prior to this one and it made them quite popular but I personally prefer “The Way...” with the magnum opus “The Art of Dying” which is one of my favorite songs ever. The rest of the album isn't quite as good but I highly enjoy their mix of death metal, groove, progressive metal and some metalcore influences. The Duplantier brothers are both killer musicians and they unleash the groove song after song.

37. Crescent Shield – The Stars of Never Seen (2009)
The last album before the passing of singer Michael Grant is a great testimonial to the man. The Americans' two albums were two very unique releases in the metal spectrum, evolving in a smart, epic and original heavy/power genre, Grant and DeLucie (master guitarist known for other bands like Destiny's End) were a strong team and wrote great songs like the historical epic “The Endurance” about the Antarctica exploration by Ernest Shackleton in 1914-1917. I always enjoyed US power metal way more than its Europeau counterpart since there's a right balance between cheese, heavyness and epicness, Crescent Shield is top notch metal worth more praise. RIP Michael.

36. In Solitude – In Solitude (2008)
The debut of these Swedes is perhaps the best revival heavy metal album of recent times. Despite the young age of all the members at the time, they wrote a pretty mature album full of solid trad riffs and memorable choruses in the purest Mercyful Fate fashion. I thought their last album “Sister” was a superior record but it was something widely different from the self titled. In Solitude remains essential metal and may they rest in peace.

35. Kylesa – Static Tensions (2009)
Kylesa's super catchy psychedelic sludge is phenomenal, from the lush guitars of metal sweetheart Laura Pleasants to the mix of female and male vocals, the Georgian band has continuously improved since their debut and continue to do so. Their latest album “Ultraviolet” is also pretty good and see Kylesa move towards an even more psych direction but “Static Tensions” was pretty great at merging the aggressiveness of their early days with their current sound.

34. Esoteric – The Maniacal Vale (2006)
Greg Chandler and his band released the pinnacle of funeral doom metal with this 100 minutes double album voyage into the deepest abyss of slow, dark metal. It's a hard album to swallow in one sitting but I think it's the only way to listen to it. Put some headphones, close the lights (very important) and let the down-tuned riffs and the super cavernous vocals move you. If you're suicidal or depressed, it's perhaps not the best album to listen to though...

33. Communic – Payment of Existence (2008)
Norway is widely known in the metal world for their numerous black metal legends but they also have excellent progressive metal outfits like Arcturus, Circus Maximus or this pick, Communic. The three albums released by this power trio during this decade are all very fucking good but I discovered them with “Payment of Existence” hence its choice. I have a thing for long songs full of heavy riffs and high clean vocals and the band lead by Oddleif Stensland (guitar, vocals) hits all the right note with me. They could be compared to Nevermore (especially in the vocal department) but I think they crush the Americans by being way more atmospheric, compelling and progressive. I think people don't talk enough about this band and that's a shame since they're extremely good.

32. Vektor – Black Future (2009)
The whole retro thrash scene is deadly boring and I don't like any of those bands (see Warbringer or Bonded By Blood) but Vektor are something else. Grandly influenced by Voivod, these four dudes are into space and sci fi instead of being into “killing posers with an axe” or “driving tanks to kill posers” like your typical thrashers. The long intricate songs full of excellent solos and screeching black metal-esque vocals are excellent. Progressive thrash has always been a favorite of mine with bands like Mekong Delta or even Megadeth's Rust In Peace and these Americans managed to write a compelling album to lead thrash metal into modernity without sacrificing heaviness, quality and originality.

31. Deceased – As the Weird Travel On (2005)
King Fowley and company definitely released a great array of albums since their debut in 1991 but I think they reached their pinnacle with Supernatural Addiction in 2000 and this one five years later. Their blend of death, thrash and heavy metal has never worked as well and it's super catchy. I just love the mix of harsh, intelligible thrashy vocals mixed with Maidenesque leads, it works much better than the heavy metal project of Fowley called October 31 that are sadly far from being as good as Deceased. The intelligent lyrics about horror literature (think Poe or Lovecraft) is also a noteworthy component and it's always a plus in my book. Essential American metal.