Thursday, 15 December 2016

Magic Circle – Scream Live EP (2016) / 95%


Magical object from another era


The quintet from Boston is currently the best American metal band. Yes, yes, I know, this may seem a hyperbolic statement but their blend of high octane doom metal furled with heavy metal is just so damn contagious and mesmerizing. I had the opportunity to see them live twice so far and they’re even better than on record and that’s no small feat considering the quality of both the self titled (2013) and Journey Blind (2015.) This limited live tape (also available as a digital download) captures their stage energy quite well.

The EP was recorded live on a local Massachusetts radio so it’s not the exact same thing as a full blown live album with an audience but it’s simply a joy to listen to those guys play that it doesn’t really matter. Brendan Radigan is an absolute beast of a singer and he’s always stepping his game live. I think I prefer the tone of the vocals found on this tape than the ones of the studio albums, they’re a bit more upfront. Radigan is just an unhinged force of flawless manliness, he makes the entire band rise to an almost unmaintainable level of quality. His best performance is perhaps the title track of their newest full length album where he declares dark poetry with the conviction of an enlightened madman.

Ancient heroes from ancient wars.
In the arena the lions roar.
Fed to the fires they'll surely die.
Life to the wind. They journey blind.


The guitar duo of Ducas and Corry is so dynamic and busy that the strength of their abilities almost outshines the tremendous compositions they’re playing. The bass of DeTore (you can also hear his drumming skills on the Sumerlands’ debut album) is unfortunately not loud enough and that’s one of my only complaints about the sound of this recording. Their dense doom approach works very well in the live setting, their tracks full of twists and turns, slower and faster moments are just astounding.

Five tracks for thirty minutes is just enough to get you started for the day since their sound is so rich and complete. We get three songs from their sophomore, “Scream Evil” and “Rapture” from their magical debut, a good balance. Their albums aren't too long either and it's perfect since their music while captivating drains you of your energy as it's so emotional and powerful!

The band was apparently so happy with the results of this radio show and that’s why they decided to release it as a physical object. I can see (and hear!) why as it reflects the kind of guys they are. Magic Circle are a band without any frills, they’re like a beautiful woman who doesn’t need makeup to truly shine. Natural, honest, hard-working traditional metal is what they play and that’s what we get. Great live tape.

Tuesday, 13 December 2016

Quicksand Dream – Beheading Tyrants (2016) / 87%


Atmospheric sword and sorcery metal



The elusive Swedish duo surprisingly decided to release a second album after the underrated and cult-classic to be “Aelin – A Story About Destiny” released a good sixteen years ago. While the album is short based on our arbitrary full length standards (to hell with ‘em, I say), it doesn’t disappoint at all.

While 2016 offered us a bunch of excellent traditional albums such as the unhinged weirdness of Demon Bitch or the Phil Swanson heavy metal love affair of Sumerlands, Quicksand Dream has nothing to be ashamed of in terms of both quality and vision. With this new opus, we’re served six mid-paced epic songs culminating with the fantastic and highlight “To Kill Beneath the Sun”. The thirty minutes record  has an appreciable balance between fast and slow elements and a track like “The Shadow That Bleeds” demonstrates how well the band masters both the quiet, soothing moments as well as the riffy rockier ones.

Their blend of doomy epic metal is certainly something a bit more common than it was back in 2000. Bands like Atlantean Kodex, Sons of Crom or even Visigoth released strong, timeless metal while Quicksand Dream were slumbering in the shadows. Fortunately, it’s great to hear that they didn’t lose their edge. The riffs and huge bass lines of Patrick Berlund are catchy as hell, alternating between sorrowful, powerful and heavily evocative. His leads are also super interesting and captivating (check out the introduction of “White Flames on Black Water”. Göran Jacobson is still a tremendous force with the microphone but the production on his vocals is a bit underwhelming as it’s full of echoes. Despite this technical issue,  he still delivers a truck load of emotional heroic and manly bardic moments.

Their take on the genre could be qualified as an intelligent and atmospheric sword and sorcery epic heavy metal. It’s crushing but offers soft, gentle blows instead of a full blown barbaric attack and prefers relying on escapism than straight off beheading tyrants with a great axe. Quicksand Dream is both for those who like their metal full of powerful hymns and for those who also like to drink tea and read some Robert E. Howard. That’s a very particular niche occupied by the late The Gates of Slumber but also the epic doom pretenders to the throne Lord Vicar.

Sunday, 11 December 2016

Metallica - Hardwired... To Self-Destruct (2016) / 83%


*Insert witty joke about Dave Mustaine here*

James and Lars are back in full force after the insanely fun train-wreck of Lulu and Hardwired is perhaps the best thing Metallica could had done in 2016. Say what you want about the quartet, they never gave up and they’re always willing to experiment and renew themselves. At this point, they just do what they want and they earned this right.

Considering Kirk lost all his riffs in an iPhone incident (how fucking dumb is he?), the whole album is a collaborative effort by Metallica’s eternal duo. The tall blond rhythm guitar god basically lifts the album to another level and the Danish tennis legend keeps things rooted in an efficient simplicity. Kirk is alright at times but he rarely has the place to shine and I’m not even sure Metallica has or even need a bassist. Use Robert’s skills, dammit.

This is a frustrating record since it's easy to identify what was necessary to make it a great one. The main faults are once again the overindulgence the quartet has and their complete lack of editing. This could be seen as the "old metal legend" syndrome as Priest and Maiden did it as well. Metallica's arch nemesis Megadeth's recent endeavors (except for Dystopia actually) sucked but for other reasons.

I thought Death Magnetic was a fine record plagued with a messy loud production but Hardwired managed to sound renewed without compromising the identity of Tallica. It's just four guys having fun playing a style of music they like and I believe this is the biggest strength of this album. The biggest metal band on Earth sounds confident, powerful and convincing. I have no issues with the production either, it’s heavy without being brick-walled.

One of the consensus that I've been seeing online is that it would had been a strong eight songs record and that most of the second disc is sort of weak. While I agree for the most part, I do think that the 12 songs (13 if we consider the new version of Lords of Summer as part of the record) are all solid and interesting. It’s just too much to take in.

The first disc is catchier and faster while the second has this groovy doom approach but the entire opus is cohesive in its sprawling length. This is a feat in itself since I feel this is a song based effort. A compilation of new material if you will. It's self contained well-written numbers of mostly 6-7-8 minutes alternating between the eras of the Californian icons. Mixing the rock sound of the Loads, the thrashy comebacks of Death Magnetic and a fair share of the groovy heavy metal of the self titled, Hardwired is ultimately a fun album with strong songwriting and diverse footings. Metallica never wrote an uninteresting album and that's one of the reasons they're metal's biggest band. This one is no exception.

Highlights:
-The Lovecraftian Alice in Chains-esque vibe of “Dream No More”.
-The excellent leads at the end of “Halo On Fire”.
-The aggressiveness and riffs of “Spit Out the Bone”
-James’ vocals
-The RJD medley on the bonus disc is awesome, especially "Tarot Woman".


CD1 85%
CD2 79%

Monday, 5 December 2016

Demontage – Fire of Iniquity (2016) / 90%





Not yet extinct



The best metal band from Toronto is back with their third album and the first since their fantastic 2010 opus The Principal Extinction. While I have certain reservations concerning this new record, it’s still one of 2016’s best moments and, in the end, was far from disappointing.

Based on the psychedelic and progressive tendencies of their previous work, I thought the trio were gonna keep exploring this path and go full bonkers. I mean, there’s still similar moments here like the glorious “Untame Iniquity” or “Cult of the Meteor” but I think the focus is elsewhere, it's perhaps a bit more rooted in metal than ever. The tracks are mostly shorter and punchier but they still include lot of epic heavy metal,possibly more than ever before. My reservations are purely personal since I really like when bands go all out and release meandering (in the best sense possible) pieces and it’s not what this album is about. Oh well, there’s still the new Cultes des Ghoules for crazy black/heavy metal if I want to hear such a thing! I guess that I considered this new record as a sort of stagnation but after a while, I kept hearing new subtle and intriguing details. It’s just much more dense and compact and is more surprising than you’d expect from a band with this aesthetic.

The production while still on the lo-fi side is a bit better than it was before. Regardless, I don’t want a thoroughly clean Demontage album like I wouldn’t want a Nuclear Blast produced Darkthrone album. The gruff style works well for them and is an essential part of their identity. They’re obscure minstrels from an old, mystic aura where metal was still embryonic and genres were blurry.

The musicianship is also one of the aspects that put Demontage over their peers, The Lout is a riff machine and an inspired vocalist who channels the chaotic evil gods of old and the Abominable Reverend pounds the drums like a raging madman. There’s no disposable moments here and the album’s flow is precise and balanced as they alternate between mid-paced insanity and fast-paced attacks with ease and experience. The guitars are the clear highlights of this full length, they do so much while keeping things neat and their sound is fully devoid of any gimmick and unnecessary fluff. Demontage is a band relying on extremely addictive leads played by a single guitarist who just hammers riffs after riffs like it's nothing. Furthermore, the additional keys here and there certainly add a certain epic flair but they were able to convey this grandiose feel with their usual metal lineup. Not unlike the masters of metal themselves, Manilla Road.


From the thrash attack of the appropriately named “Mad Thrasher” to the Dark Quarterer-esque instrumental conclusion of “Into the Fire”, Fire of Iniquity is a tour-de-force. It’s a challenging record successful at mixing a lot of traditional metal styles in one potent formula. The first wave black metal meets the Greek scene and pure heavy metal is just something that barely anyone else is playing nowadays. Demontage are just as good as Zemial and Agatus, two comparable bands and influences. At times, they could be seen as a crazier and more elaborate Venom as they’re full of spite but also quite thoughtful and intelligent. We have the best of both worlds. Metal is at its finest when there’s no pretension involved but also when primitive posturing is removed from the equation. One thing is certain though, Demontage still freaking rules.






Friday, 28 October 2016

The Snack Series - Sriracha Popcorn



The Snack Series :

Sriracha Hot Chili Sauce Popcorn by Pop Gourmet Popcorn


Price: $4.50 for a 127g bag. It was pricy but eh, the temptation was too strong to resist. The bag was bought at Bulk Barn alongside gummy bears, peanuts M&Ms, BBQ bits & bites, Oh Henry pieces and Reese pieces. Fuck off, it's Halloween and I wanted to make myself happy again.

Packaging/extra information
 : the bag is gorgeous. It looks like the Sriracha bottle with the green cork and the red body. If you're a fan of the popular hot sauce like I am, you'll notice the bag immediatly.

Texture: Well, it's popcorn and like it's written on the packaging, the color is natural and there's tiny bits of Sriracha flakes on the pop corn. It's high quality stuff.

Taste: If you have a cold, eat those. As it was expected, they're pretty damn spicy. I currently have the sniffles while I'm writing this review but I just can't stop eating them. Precise and identifiable, the Sriracha taste is in the spotlight.

8/10
Great but a bit too pricy. You could possibly make them yourself too but ehhhh, probably not worth the hassle.


Saturday, 15 October 2016

Barrow Wight – Knights in Saurons Service (2016) / 79%

"Wicked men. Servants of Sauron. They are called to Mordor. The Dark One is gathering all armies to him. It won't be long now. He will soon be ready."

Barrow Wight is a band in constant evolution, maybe because except for Andrew (bass/vocals), their lineup has been grandly unstable or maybe that’s just what Middle-Earth metal deserves and Saruman keeps killing their drummers and guitarists. Anyhow, on their debut album released on the great Australian label Heavy Chains, the Canadian trio unleashed their strongest slab of material yet.

Even if this has the best production they ever had, Knights in Saurons Service (an homage to Kiss?) is still a primitive affair as far as heavy metal is concerned. The love for proto extreme metal is clearly in the center of those compositions but there’s an obvious depth found on this record. This can be heard in the “intro” mixing the atmosphere of Lord of the Rings with this cryptic and apocalyptic aura, there’s more than meets the eye on here.

The core of their sound are those super catchy short tracks like “No Sleep Till Gondor” or “The Cult”. They’re bangers full of the punk fueled heavy metal aggression of Venom, Motorhead and even Amebix. This approach combined with the lore of Tolkien works so well. They’re the exact opposite of Summoning but this universe is large enough for both sides of the spectrum to exist.

In my review for their 2014 EP, I said that there was a “certain will to push the boundaries of their agenda” and I was right. They’re starting to experiment with some slower tempos (“Grond” or the excellent “The Palantir”) and it pays off. There’s also some unorthodox moments like the The Doors keyboard break on the title track, this was an insane surprise. To round off their experimentation, there’s subtle nods to 80s goth rock here and there and this just adds to the experience. I think they’re not done experimenting with their blend of proto black metal and heavy metal, they’re still not daring enough!

Andrew’s vocals are blackened croaks and they often lack in power but they really fit the “don’t fuck with me” attitude of his bass licks (check out “Dwimmerlaik”!) No frills guitar riffs, thunderous drums and groovy headbanging is what you’ll get here. It’s not perfect yet but it’s really damn fun and that’s one of the reasons we listen to metal, right? They always give a good show too, they’re charismatic Canadian Hobbit bards who are at their most powerful on stage. Like “Grond” (a battering ram made to look like a wolf head by the Orcs”), the album shatters everything. After Bolt Thrower, it’s pretty much what the Uruk-hai would listen to to motivate themselves.

Friday, 14 October 2016

Ezra Brooks – Target Promo 2016 / 82%



Bourbon Whiskey infused with Arcane heavy metal




Originality in heavy metal is often hard to reach or achieve without losing the essential traits of the classic genre. To distinguish themselves from the masses, the artists must deliver a distinctive sound within the confines of the style, bands like Borrowed Time, Demon Bitch or even Darkthrone with The Underground Resistance managed to reinvigorate the genre. Ezra Brooks, with their debut release, successfully wrote fresh and exciting heavy metal made for connoisseurs.

The arcane heavy metal path is one I've been following for a while now. It's often mixed with doom and sword or sorcery (see Atlantean Kodex or The Gates of Slumber) or it's simply slower than your usual trad heavy metal. The main characteristic of this abstract sub genre would be the mix of high octane riffs and an occult and elegant atmosphere. The sole album of the aforementioned Borrowed Time or Howie Bentley’s Cauldron Born and Briton Rites are good examples of arcane trad metal. In Solitude’s Sister wouldn’t be a bad choice either. Emotional weight through uncompromising heavy metal riffing, basically. I believe that's what Ezra Brooks plays too.

Following the Canadian path created by Tales of Medusa (the last track is a cover of this mysterious band), Shawn Vincent wrote subtle but engaging metal with hooks and depth. Only joined by Jan Loncik, his companion in Hrom (power/speed/heavy), who handled the guitar solos, this is a one-man band project but with an interesting narrative.

I recently reviewed Lascaille Shroud's latest album and while we're in completely different territories musically, the science fiction story-line involving the character Ezra Brooks has the similar feel. This pulpy sci fi/fantasy setting works really well with the style, it’s fun without being saccharine and smart without being pretentious. There’s a cerebral edge to Ezra Brooks’ music but it’s never turning into a “progressive” mess.

The production is great and everything sounds good, I dig the guitar tone a lot. Nevertheless, there's still a definite will to make this sound timeless or unpolished and this what makes me really dig the approach. Vincent's voice is quite buried underneath the mix, he's not the most talented vocalist but the material is written and played with this in mind. The most important aspect of music is that you must know your strengths and weaknesses. His strength is writing tight epic riffs without unnecessary garnishes.

The material’s main inspiration is perhaps the ballsy sound of USPM but there’s nods to other scenes such as the early 80s German power scene. Considering Vincent is a bassist in his other two bands, the instrument certainly has a place of choice here but it’s not overbearing or anything. The drums could had been heavier and faster though but overall, it doesn’t feel like it’s only one dude at all. The longest track “Weilding the Mirrored Gauntlet (Escape The Labyrinth)” also has some synths elements adding a certain sci fi flair to this epic number without any cheese whatsoever.

2016 is a year with great heavy metal on the lo-fi side of the spectrum (check out Scalare, Barrow Wight or Angel Sword) and Ezra Brooks (the name of a Bourbon Whiskey brand!) definitely brings something interesting to the table. I’m pretty excited to hear the future releases.

Bandcamp
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Tuesday, 4 October 2016

Inter Arma – Paradise Gallows (2016) / 89%





The International Armada of Southern Post-Metal

After the impressive one-song extended play The Cavern released two years ago, Inter Arma doesn’t have anything to prove to anyone. They’re one of the best american metal bands of their generation and their third full length will only solidify their status as a genre bending and untamable epic beast.

The first noticeable aspects of an album are always the artwork and the title and there’s a clear newfound identity found in the cover art of Paradise Gallows. Compared to Sundown or Sky Burial, it’s full of colours and could almost fit an indie rock band but the scene illustrated is bleak and ultimately fits the sound of Inter Arma. Compared to its artistic rendition, this album is far from being a shipwreck. It’s probably more the large rocky island in the background which is known for leading ships to their demise. Just like the crew of a well-managed ship, the songs on Paradise Gallows are fairly diverse but they learned to work well together to maintain the deck and ride the sea like no one else.

While somewhat sunnier than Sky Burial and overall perhaps softer, it’s still pretty heavy at times. The big Southern melting pot is the basis of their identity. They mix this depressive but warm and dirty sludge sound with healthy doses of black/death metal recalling the elusive Bölzer full of cavernous vocals but they keep things mid-paced or hellishly slow. Songs like the nine minutes “Transfiguration” bring forth the gloomy atmosphere while never losing the focus on tight and riff based metal. I guess we could say that their approach seems all over the place, right?

Maybe... but wait, there’s more! The combination of the massive Neurosis-like riffs with hints of funeral doom/death works quite well. The integration of psychedelic elements also feels natural (listen to the droney but catchy “The Summer Drones”) and there’s a slight nautical aspect to their compositions. It feels like you’re on the Atlantic, near the state of Virginia while listening to the darkest Nick Cave albums but your buddy suddenly plays his Eyehategod mix-tape on his boombox.

“Potomac” (speaking of said nautical feel) is this gorgeous instrumental song full of clean proggy guitar leads and piano and it’s a soft interlude before we’re served two extended heavy numbers.They’re all over the place with their styles of riffing and melodies but they’re surprisingly able to have a clear and solid direction while battling the intense waves made by the aggressive kraken.

Mike Paparo’s presence is outstanding in its richness and diversity. From the harsh yet deep black metal growls to the Mastodon-esque rough delivery of “Violent Constellations”, he’s a gifted metal singer. He’s also great at other styles including the tragically romantic vocals neo-folk of acoustic closer “Where the Earth Meets the Sky” and this sort of entrancing quasi spoken word (check out “Primordial Wounds”).

The guitars of Dalton and Russell range from megalodonian to intricate and psychedelic. This album is long (71 minutes) but it’s always inventive and spectacular. Their weaving of calmness and bludgeoning intensity has reached its peak on Paradise Gallows and the evolution of their sound since their 2010 debut has been an enjoyable process to follow. This is a great album.

Inter Arma on Facebook
I can't wait to see them Saturday in Montréal.

Sunday, 2 October 2016

Mountain Dust, Zaum & Chronolith @Turbo Haus, September 30th 2016

Mountain Dust, Zaum & Chronolith @Turbo Haus, September 30th 2016

To end this warm month of September, I had to choose between three interesting gigs happening on the same evening. It wasn't an easy decision to make since I'm a big fan of Toronto's Demontage who were opening for DBC at the Piranha Bar and the Red Bull Academy drone gig seemed pretty attractive as well. In the end, I went with the style of music closer to my earth, doom metal. After a long commute to the south west of Montréal, I arrived in time to see the first band on the bill.




Chronolith are a fairly new local band and based on their singer, they play some form of sludge. I guess they do but they're not your usual run-of-the-mill sludge band. The guitar is fairly inventive and sometimes inflicts ethnic influenced leads with a progressive precision and the bass was quite loud with a clean and heavy sound. They're not the dirty, heroin-addicted style of sludge, they belong to the psychedelic school that Kylesa used to teach at. On some of their songs, they had a violinist who added some richness to their sound and it wasn't too dissimilar from what SubRosa are offering us. The singer was pretty generic and didn't offer much as far as stage presence is concerned but maybe he wasn't feeling well that night. Anyhow, I liked their compositions and I'm looking forward to their studio releases.








ZAUM: The duo from Moncton are about to release their second full length (once again on Sweden's I Hate Records) and they decided to do a short two dates Québec trip before going overseas to play a massive European tour. The metropolis was to first to host those two bearded gentlemen and they didn't disappoint. They opened with "Influence of the Magi" the first side of Eidolon, their new album, an extended twenty minutes track full of twists and turns before playing two older tracks. Zaum consists of drummer Chris Lewis and bassist/singer Kyle McDons and those two guys are able to convey an impressive sense of mighty power with their interesting formula. McDons is using a wide array of pedals and his abilities exceed the comprehension of mere mortals such as myself. He's also a sound engineer so he knows exactly what to do to make his project sound great. Decorated with their numerous personalized candles, the stage was blown to bits by the subtle yet captivating red lights emanating from underneath Lewis' drums and the whole setting really managed to give the necessary aura their middle-eastern influenced approach to doom metal needs. Thunderous, simple but not lo-fi, Zaum are all in and they always deliver the slow, tasteful goods.

Previous reviews of Zaum: Oracles (2014) and Himalaya To Mesopotamia (2015)






Mountain Dust are perhaps Montréal's current best rock band and they closed the evening. I had to miss their album release gig so I really wanted to see them play their new songs live and it wasn’t disappointing. The quartet plays heavy rock with an amalgam of influences from diverse eras. You get the lap steel from the blues or country scene, the keys from the Deep Purple and the presence of guitarist/singer Brendan Mainville can recall everything from the grunge era to the early proto hard rock days of the 60s. Speaking of this decade, the band did a fantastic super heavy cover of The Doors’ “Waiting For the Sun”. The dudes are all coming from a metal or hardcore background so there’s this added heaviness to their vintage rock and it’s highly fun to hear and watch. It’s authentic without sounding like a pale copy of your dad’s record collection


Review of their debut album Nine Years







Saturday, 1 October 2016

Opeth – Sorceress (2016) / 92%


Make Opeth Metal Again?

Now one of the biggest metal/rock bands on the planet, Opeth’s career has taken an important detour with Heritage in 2011. Legions of fans and detractors alike are asking themselves what will be the sound explored on this new album. Let’s not burn the sorceress before hearing her plea, shall we?

The Swedish giant is a band in constant evolution and unlike their peer, In Flames, they managed to make the transition into softer territories in a good way. They were already showing signs of their evolution with their gorgeous 2003 opus Damnation but with Heritage, they went all in, and it displeased and divided their audience. While they will not win back the fans who wants them to be truly metal again with this new album, it might be viewed more favorably. Anyway, I don’t really care about what other people say about Opeth, I care only about what Mikael Åkerfeldt is doing since he’s been the leader of my favorite band since I discovered them in high school.

I will not let the suspense go on much longer, yes Sorceress is a good album but I do think Opeth never (and probably never will) released a bad album. I do have some reservations towards the album though. It’s clearly not as good as I wanted it to be. The band has always been somewhat disjointed as it’s usually the case with bands with long song structures. Nevertheless, it’s never been as apparent and obvious as it is here except for Heritage which is possibly their weakest album. Maybe it’s because of the eleven-tracks format (the most of any Opeth album) or the fact that the songs are a bit shorter and more self contained.

Opeth had the tendency to be meandering and includes a wide array of styles within the same songs. Sure, there’s exceptions found in their past career with songs like “Harvest” or “To Bid You Farewell”, but Sorceress feels much more like an amalgam of different styles than any other of their other albums (extreme metal excluded, no they’re not coming back to their death metal blend...). You have the folky Jethro Tull-influenced ballad “Will o the Wisp” or the heavy metal/hard rock of “Chrysalis” and the different elements are a bit less melded together than before. Furthermore, “The Seventh Sojourn” is even a track similar to the Fertile Crescent sound, and it works as a sort of smooth interlude similar to the non-metal tracks found on Melechesh’s excellent albums The Epigenesis and Enki. Oh man speaking of that, an Opeth/Melechesh tour would be killer. Make this happen, Nuclear Blast.

The final important negative point would be the abrupt end of the album. It ends with a short, one minute outro after the hard rocking “Era” and it was a bit like if the waiter removed your plate from the table while you’re eating it. It was a sudden and unexpected finale to an otherwise great album. The introduction right before the title track works though. It’s classical guitars with some ethereal female spoken word, and it sets the tone in a good way. It’s not unlike “Coil” from Watershed but it’s not a “complete” song.

Still, I reckon my criticisms are pretty small. I’ve learned to disregard those aspects after four or five spins and it remains a collection of great songs. Regardless, the album isn’t as condensed as their previous one. The cohesion is lacking and the flow isn’t perfect. Still, it’s not as incoherent as Heritage and doesn’t have as many disposable moments. I’d say that “Sorceress 2” is the only truly weak point found on this record. It’s a boring four-minute acoustic ballad with unremarkable vocal lines. It’s the total opposite of the aforementioned and super great folky “Wisp” and it has to be one of the weakest tracks Opeth ever composed.

While Pale Communion was pretty much Opeth without the extreme metal elements, Sorceress is less limited and feels it could be another transitional album. Nevertheless, I do think Opeth never did a real transitional album except Watershed. They’re just creating landscapes based on a large amalgam of approaches and themes, and it turned out their 2008 record was the last one with death metal components. Still, the tracks without Mikael’s harsh vocals like “Porcelain Heart” or “Burden” were signs of their future incarnation. I can’t help but think that Sorceress could be interpreted as a new watershed for the Swedes. It’s hard what to predict what they’ll do next, but based on the lyrics of “Era”, it could be the conclusion of their current manifestation. It’s the “end of an era, we’ll start a new...” so maybe they’ll go back to their prog death sound and tour with Amorphis like it’s 2002 all over again?!

As far as their evolution is concerned, Sorceress is still Opeth exploring progressive rock in their own way but it probably has their heavier moments since the album that gave us “Lotus Eater” and “Heir Apparent.” To answer my own Trump reference in the title, yes this is (probably??) a metal album ,and the heavy parts possess a new sense of perspective. They added some stoner flavors to their newfound metallic formula and it’s heavier than Pale Communion when it actually decides to be. The title track released as the first single is a good example of Sorceress’ metallic identity. While this is still Opeth, it’s a widely different album even if there’s their usual tropes.

Compared to the previous album, the jazz influence are gone and the combination of heavy metal, progressive rock and folk took their rightful place. We already had heavy rock parts on Heritage (“Slither”, a song dedicated to Dio) but those parts are boosted on this album. This side of the band’s identity took time to appear and knowing how much Mikael is a lover of 70s and 80s heavy metal and hard rock, it was simply a matter of time. He’s a massive Michael Schenker fan and it’s obvious that UFO, Uriah Heep and the NWOBHM scene were huge influences on the compositions. Those classic rock influences were included into the idiosyncratic sound of Opeth, they never were and never will be a cheap throwback or a “vintage rock” band. They’re innovative while looking at the rightful musical identities of the past.

Concerning the individual performances of this opus, Martín Méndez’ bass is a shining beacon. He’s been playing a role within the band’s sound recently and it’s a good thing; the dude is on fire and deserves more credit and praise. Another key element: The keys of Joakim Svalberg (his second album with the band) are thunderous and give Opeth their well-deserved rich sound. The chemistry between the keys and the guitars is certainly something to behold.

There is a voice surrounding me...” -Mikael Åkerfeldt on “Strange Brew”

About the leader himself, he’s always been one of my favorite singers but he has been improving his clean vocals for a while now and probably offers his best performance ever as a clean singer on this 12th album. He shines on the rougher moments, and he’s been expanding his pallet for the softer parts. While I’ll admit I do miss the growls at times, even if they wouldn’t fit here, he’s masterful on Sorceress. He’s soulful, charismatic and sensual on the heavy bits, and sensible and mystic during the calm instants. My favorite Mikael moment of the album has to be the memorable chorus of “The Wilde Flowers”.

Production-wise, I dig the guitar tones, they have this old school feel but with strong doom sensibilities. The riffs on tracks like “Chrysalis” or the truly sole epic they did “Strange Brew” (the most varied track of the album) are killer and absolutely well written. The acoustic guitars are back in full force too and their inclusion on tracks like “A Fleeting Glance” are pertinent. Fredrik Åkesson and Åkerfeldt are expert guitarists, this is known. Their guitar parts range from being subtle to over the top in a matter of instant (listen to the soloing of “The Wilde Flowers” or the Blackwater Park/Ghost Reveries-esque calm parts in some songs). Nonetheless, they’re a bit too mechanical during the “stoner” moments (such as the debut of “Era”) but overall, the two guitarists keep things interesting, uncomplicated and tidy. It’s yet another strong slab of strong and creative musicianship.

To conclude, the new influences ranging from stoner rock to heavy metal made this a fresh record without being overly modern or distasteful. That’s a feat in itself in this saturated musical age full of bands trying to mix everything together in the hopes of creating something unusual or redesigned. Twenty-one years after their debut album, the Swedish monolithic entity still has the upper hand.

It may be the most chaotic album they ever did and the direction they took isn’t quite clear to me. Are they coming back to a more metallic sound to please the fans? Anyhow, the mixture of elements is working. It almost sounds like the perfect marriage of Ghost Reveries, Watershed and Pale Communion into one potent magical spell but it has the main downfall of Heritage, the incoherence of its tracklist.

Make Opeth Great Again? They’ve always been great and they’ll always be the best band. Metal or not. Is this album even metal? Who cares? It’s Opeth, and they’re awesome.



Originally written for The Metal Observer.

Wednesday, 21 September 2016

Agatus – The Eternalist (2016) / 92%



"Take me far away!"


The Weaving Fates is a timeless masterpiece but is Agatus still relevant more than a decade after their last album? The answer is simple: It's a big thundering "ABSOLUTELY!". Like Norway's In the Woods..., the Greeks are certainly back for the best possible reasons and offers an unexpected masterpiece of Hellenic steel.

Once of the first noticeable aspects of this new opus is that the black metal is mostly gone from their sound. While The Weaving Fates was a nugget of powerful and entrancing black metal with strong traditional metal leanings and it was a riff machine. Their sound wasn’t too far removed from the melting pot formula of the later albums of King Fowley’s Deceased. Those albums are masterful examples of how to combine the metal eras. On this 2016 release, the situation is the opposite from what we used to know of Agatus, the black metal elements aren't the core of their sound anymore. This is irrelevant to the quality of their compositions though.

Dimitrios Dorian’s other band, Zemial, managed to expand to what was possible in black/heavy metal with the transcendantal Nykta three years ago. Fortunately, Agatus gladly follows the road created by their brother band. Zemial’s performance at Wings of Metal last year convinced me that they’re metal's most underrated band and Agatus also needs more recognition and praise.

The main difference between between the two bands is Agatus’ tight songwriting, they’re both as epic but the tempos and approaches are different in nature. The track-list is one of the only normal things here, the forty minutes album  On The Eternalist, the Dorian brothers embraced the progressive rock influence that they always liked but pushed the boundaries of their sound to its limits. If I had to classify the album (something I like to do!), I guess I would say that it’s blackened epic progressive heavy metal (a mouthful, I know...) and it's an explosive and cohesive mix. I imagine Chris Dorian also brings a lot to the songs, the multi-instrumentalist fraternal duo is just so damn creative. 

The record is full of those idiosyncratic guitar leads influenced by the epic metal scene and the clean vocals are predominant compared to their previous releases. There’s a grand variety of voices, in fact. From the soaring yet manly cleans incantations to a rougher and more abrasive approach, there’s a bit of everything on here. Songs like “The Invisible (Fifth Portal to Atlantis)” has this highly understandable type of harsh vocals that I always liked and it’s reminiscent of the olde age of black metal where genres were not totally set in stone. On the other hand, "The Oath (Of Magic and Fire)" has vocals worthy of the best NWOBHM albums and an extremely evocative chorus.

The Eternalist is a rich album with diverse textures with intricate keyboards, subtle chord arrangements (listen to the ending of “Gilgamesh”) and acoustic guitars but the metal riffing remains an essential component of their identity. The metal influences are also quite numerous from the distinctive black metal sound developed in the early 90s by a wide array of interesting bands including Agatus themselves to the ballsy epic heavy/power of Warlord and even Blind Guardian (“Perils of the Sea (Part II)” has leads reminding me of André Olbrich’s playing.). Greek metal bands always incorporates a massive amount of Mediterranean emotions and soundscapes into their music and Agatus are definitely masters of Attican art.

The amalgam of vivid melodies and musicianship is something Agatus truly possess. The fact that the songs are on the short side could be seen as a curse since they’re packed with so much stuff but it’s one of their strengths. They never overstay their welcome and keep things quick, tidy and fresh throughout the whole album. The drumming of Dimitrios (aka Vorskaath) is still impeccable and never tries to be over-the-top even if he could totally unleash furious beats if he wanted to. The guitars are clear, heavy and are really great at mixing the different styles played by the band and the leads are just full of feelings and are the true definition of epic metal. The bass is not so loud but its presence is felt in a very enjoyable fashion, it could had been a bit higher in the mix though. Regardless, the production is lush and doesn't obscure the metal riffs, everything is at its rightful place and I just want to listen to the album all-day long.

All in all, Agatus released a strong album and it has nothing to envy to their previous oeuvres whatsoever. It’s a condensed work with so many riffs, passion and managed to expand their classic metal side. At times, it almost sounds like Rotting Christ mixed with Iron Maiden’s Seventh Son of a Seventh Son and yes, this is wonderful. Greece is having another great year with albums like Nox Formulae’s The Hidden Paths to Black Ecstasy or Kawir’s Father Sun Mother Moon but Agatus’ The Eternalist might be the best representative of this excellent scene.

Bandcamp

Thanks to Hells Headbangers for the promo copy.

Wednesday, 14 September 2016

StarGazer - A Merging to the Boundless (2016) / 96%



Academic War Metal



This is a seriously weird but addictive album and its wide mix of elements shouldn’t work as well as it does. The Australian trio cultivates a mysterious and magical aura throughout their elusive albums. This 2014 effort was released 4 years after the excellent A Great Work of Ages and I bet it’s gonna take a while to get a new one. This is fine though since despite the short length of this album, there’s so many things to discover on every spin. The fact that the members are involved in other high caliber bands such as Mournful Congregation or Cauldron Black Ram (if you’re not familiar with both of them, check them out too) could also explain the long periods between full lengths.

While I certainly like straight death metal with no frills or gimmicks, I do prefer adventurous bands unleashing weirdness upon weirdness. That’s why I think Horrendous released one of the best recent death metal albums with  Ecdysis and it’s probably why Opeth is my favorite band (I guess they still count as death metal, right?). StarGazer are definitely one of those exploratory bands and they have an unparalleled vision. Traveling through avant-garde seas like their fellow Australians Portal, I do feel this trio made their experimental blend of extreme metal more natural by removing the obsessive Lovecraftian horror element of The Curator’s band. The most impressive component of this trio is their level of musicianship, it’s simply through the roof. They’re basically Australia’s extremely cult response to Rush, Atheist, Death but also to Incantation and Demilich, if this makes sense. Like their other compatriot Ulcerate, the trio consisting of the usual metal instruments are able to push the generic envelope of such a formula but contrary to the Everything Is Fire Tasmanians, they don’t do it by creating a massive wall of sound. They do it with a superbly smart sound full of intelligent moments like no one else.

What’s also exceptional about them is their ability to integrate an experimental approach so easily in their songs. They almost hide the fact that they’re weird by just being riff machines, a good example of this would be “Black Gammon”, the aggressive opener. The song starts in a somewhat safe way but then bludgeon you with insane bass licks.

There’s also the variations in moods and tempos that are quite interesting, “An Earth Rides Its Endless Carousel” has this smooth section incorporated with ease and it’s just unbelievable. There’s also some brief clean vocals to accentuate the transition. Speaking of vocals, I’ll admit I can really say who of either Damon Good (known as The Great Righteous Destroyer here) or Denny Blake (The Serpent Inquisitor) are singing since they share the duty but there’s a grand variety of extreme metal vocals styles. From deep, cavernous growls to the more traditional thrashy death style (opening of “Incense and Aeolian Chaos”), and I must say that every facets of this aspect of StarGazer’s personality is thoroughly enjoyable. If you add the fact that the lyrics are totally bonkers, you get an interesting album. The mix of magical, mystical and fantasy themes written with in poetical but also academical sort of way is without a doubt one of the highlights of the record for me. Let me go back to what I was saying about the “hidden” weirdness, the lyrics absolutely add this eccentric flavor.

Antiquial light shed with a wave of lichen hand
An ancient tress, a wooden pulse
Varnish reeks, shadows creak
A stale grace, old tea, old tea


The Australian trio are in fact a war metal band turned into an university professor. They went to war, killed a bunch of innocent people, came back and finished their English literature PhD and wrote about their experiences. The skilled marriage of death and black metal (war metal is often a mix of both and some added elements) is actually hard to distinguish, I do think they’re a bit more on the death metal side most of the time but there’s definite black metal elements on Merging. They play technical death without falling into the easy tropes of the genre, no overlong soloing or disastrous odd time signatures written to impress kids. It’s just unhinged drumming with mesmerizing bass lines and intricate guitars. The eleven minutes song “The Grand Equilizer” is obviously the centerpiece of this album, it has all their elements and it’s just a fantastic progressive metal track full of twists and turns. The album then ends its (relatively) brief essay with two harder and to the point tracks. I guess I’ll just replay it until I fully understand it.

The album is usually pretty cheap on Nuclear War Now! so grab it, it’s just incredible.

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Tuesday, 13 September 2016

Dagger Moon – Citadel (2016) / 80%


Moonlit easy riding

This quintet from Washington plays an interesting sort of crossover genre. Blending the heaviness of crust with the moody darkness of doom wasn't quite enough for them. They decided to add a massive amount of synth to their music and it really works.

Sharing two members with Ilsa (one of them do the artwork for both bands), Dagger Moon are much more subdued and laid back as they don't have the same pissed off sludgey Cianide influenced bludgeoning sound. It's a bit hard to describe their style since the mix is done effortlessly and with care. The really loud synths make them sound like dangerous punks driving through an industrial city in decay on their loud bikes, they drank too much cheap beer so they're a bit drunk so they're not driving too fast. Just fast enough to create some roadkill on their way to hell. As illustrated on their vinyl release, we could also envision this big ass punk on his bike just floating around on this apocalyptic moon. This album would probably fit Stranger Things if the TV series would be even darker to give you an idea of how lush it is.

The bass has this huge, hardworking sound and it's often louder than the guitars. The drums are simple yet effective and like the compositions, they're more smooth and contemplative than heavy and suffocating. It's metal mostly because of the way the riffs are composed and the epic song structures. It can be repetitive at times but I think it fits their idiosyncratic feel and almost gives a synth drone ambiance to the album. The guitars still have some shining moment such as the ethereal leads of "Black Water" but overall, they could be perceived as secondary here despite establishing Dagger Moon as a metal band. The metal is perhaps not the first thing you'll notice but it's there and its carnal embrace with the synthrock elements is fairly nice.

The six lengthy songs combine groovy mid-paced riffs, synth influences and clean Napalm Raid-esque crusting. Their approach could also be compared to Tau Cross in spirit, a melting pot of good things related to both the metal and the punk worlds but Dagger Moon's vocals are more cryptic, buried and harsh and there's of course the omnipresent synths. Comparisons aside, there's basically nothing truly similar to them and they're pretty refreshing.

Saturday, 3 September 2016

Cardinals Folly / Church of Void / Acolytes of Moros - Coalition of the Anathematized split (2016) / 85%





The Forsberg/Selanne coalition


The members of the coalition and the tracklist are as followed:

Cardinals Folly
1) Hyperborean 4:53
2) A Slave of Karnstein 5:53

Church of Void
3) Night’s Watch 5:43
4) Moonstone 8:06

Acolytes of Moros
5) The World Belongs to Demons 14:22

Useful links:
Album released by American Lines Prods

The split album on Bandcamp

This coalition of Nordic bands truly hits the spot and shows how different traditional doom can be. I’m using “Nordic” and not “Scandinavian” since there’s some geographical and historical debates going on about whether Finland is truly part of this European region or not. As a social sciences teacher, I do think the home of Teemu Selanne is Scandinavian despite their unique language and their cultural ties to the now deceased Soviet union. Still, doom is an international affair and truly transcends the frontiers created by us mere mortals.

The two Finnish bands, Cardinals Folly (I wrote a review of their 2016 full length here: click me) from Helsinki and Church of Void from Jyväskylä (I love this language) are similar in their groove first and ask questions later approaches to trad doom. They’re both hard rocking bands but with different aesthetics. The two bands are both exploring fantasy themes but they have divergent approaches. The Cardinals have this bigger than life pulp/classic horror literature persona while the Church are A Song of Ice and Fire fans (see their track “Nights Watch” or “Winter Is Coming” from their debut album). While I wanted the Church song “Moonstone” to be about Clefairy but it’s probably about something much darker!

Cardinals Folly
The tracks of Cardinals Folly have a fairly disappointing guitar tone, the rhythms are off and it’s too overly fuzzy for my taste but the compositions are as good as on their latest album. The power trio offers two strong and catchy tracks, one in the purest hyperborean tradition but mixed with a contemporary viewpoint on how technology ruins everything (if I understood the lyrics correctly) and one about the book Carmilla (I guess I’ll have to ask Howie Bentley if their analysis is solid as I’ve never read it myself). The band cites Saint Vitus in their first track and yep, we’re not too far from the Americans but it’s cruder and probably less serious. They have this huge bass tone, loud and great vocals and an appreciation for Nietzsche’s Twilight of the Idols. Nevertheless, they’re not a groundbreaking nor essential doom band but they're enjoyable and their style has to be admired.

75%






Church of Void

Church of Void are super groovy but they’re more laid back and they often take their time to crush. Compared to Cardinals Folly, they’re perhaps more in line with the witchcraft-esque scene of today. They also have some slight stoner/doom tendencies but avoid the trite stereotypes of the genre there's some Cathedral influences here and there.

No gear worship here even if their sound is particularly solid and their two guitars gives them some leeway and perhaps more options. This split also made me revisit their debut and I liked it more than before, they’re a band playing an immediate sort of doom but it took me some time to appreciate their pretty distinctive approach. Magus Corvus’ vocals are a bit too buried but he’s a solid clean and gritty singer who brings an 80s goth rock flair to the songs (the introduction of “Night’s Watch”) and has the necessary charisma to be the frontman of this solid band.

The quintet has the right balance between slow, mid-paced and faster material. Fortunately they're excellent at whatever speed they choose to drive. 

86%

Acolytes of Moros

The Swedish band Acolytes of Moros delivered only one track but it’s a long one. Longer than the two songs from their latest fantastic and criminally overlooked and ignored demo released last year (review here: click again), “The World Belongs to Demons” (annoying demons?) is a fourteen minutes infernal dirge of tremendous quality. Christoffer’s vocals are haunting, tenebrous and often walks into poorly lit black metal avenues at times (he had a black solo project some years ago). The lyrics written by a common friend are, from what I gathered, are about the woes of depression. The lengthy numbers drags and drags in the best way possible, it’s repetitive and simple but that’s how I like it. The production is also better than on Herald of the Imminent, everything is clearer and heavier.

Thick bass lines, heavy slow riffs and “shit man you gotta go see the shrink” lyrics are what you’re getting here and I want you to love it. I'm happy that I managed not to compare them to Reverend Bizarre so far but I guess I have to. They're perhaps their best acolyte (yeah yeah!) alongside The Wandering Mid get and they hold the flame of sad operatic lengthened doom high.

92%



All in all, this is a quality split and it keeps getting better and better as it kept the best band to conclude the album. Long live Scandinavian (or Nordic or whatever!) doom metal.

The three bands are gonna play some dates together including this one in Finland. I'm posting it because the poster rules and I'd like to be there!



Thursday, 1 September 2016

Koprotopsy – Eternal Extinction (2016) / 70%

Mesopotamian brutal death made in a French bedroom? 



Koprotopsy is a one man band from France and I’m not totally sure why I like this album as much as I do. I mean, I know I shouldn’t and deep down I’m pretty sure that my inner person thinks it sucks but I managed to ignore what my brain is saying and enjoy this album. Michaël Sikli also known as Sainte Vermine, is in many projects, now something common with the development of technologies and internet but this is the first one I’ve discovered and it’s impressive in its own way.

Even if it can be seen as amateurish or even a bedroom metal band, there’s an obvious richness to this project. The combination of genres is pretty unique and it creates an avant-garde formula. You take the bass heavy dynamics of the totally insane Estonian duo Neoandertals but remove some of the crude craziness from it and you add guitars but not loud ones as you don’t want to bury the clicky bass! This is the core of their genre but it’s not over yet, Koprotopsy is adding ethnic influences to make their music completely bonkers. At times it sounds like Melechesh and Cult of Fire just discovered brutal death metal in a Russian basement full of slam wiggers. While it’s all programmed instrumentation for the estranged parts, it sounds good and it’s well done. The production for the metal elements is definitely sub-par but I didn’t really mind this. Sure, a solid production with real drums, louder guitars and real ethnic instruments would had been better but I think a large part of my enjoyment come from the fact that it’s a cheap home production.

The fourteen minutes track “Engraved Into Ashes” has pretty much everything. Piano parts intertwined with huge bass licks, dark ambient bits and toy machine gun blastbeats played underneath a symphonic doom/death moment. It’s fun, for sure. The vocals are probably way too high in the mix and the deep growls are nothing really special, it’s not what’s interesting about this album and should probably be considerably lowered on the future releases.

It’s the equivalent of cooking something that you think will turn out totally inedible because you mixed weird ingredients together but when you take a bite, you tell yourself “ehhhh not bad”. This is bad but good and it’s hard to explain why I ate the whole thing. He also released the Primitive Deathcult EP in 2016 and it’s worth checking out as well, it’s one long track showcasing the ethnic side even more.

Thanks to my buddy Caspian for the discovery.

Wednesday, 31 August 2016

Primordial – To the Nameless Dead (2007) / 100%

Stoutness, Sophistication and Sorrow


Tony’s classics part III: One of my favorite bands for like a decade, I always wanted to get my thoughts together and write a Primordial review. This is, in my opinion, their magnum opus so here it is.

To the Nameless Dead is a pure emotional voyage through music with a strong historical grasp of the world. With these eight songs, Alan Averill explores the dark past of Ireland with a sharp pen and an intellectual mind. The lyrics while linked to certain moments in time can also be interpreted in a timeless or contemporary way. “Empire Falls” can be seen as the fall of the Roman Empire or the upcoming and likely destruction of the modern western world and he, himself, mentions the fall of the west in the notes of the truly epic “As Rome Burns”

“The West is ripe for the picking, ready for the fall”

It’s not an objective vision though and nor should it be. It’s a sad and pessimistic portrayal worthy of Ireland’s rough history. There’s harsh connotations about genocide, assimilation, the faith of nations and the reasons and repercussions of wars. There’s also a true analytic work behind the lyrics of Primordial and it’s true for all their albums. They underlines the deep meaningful aspects of Earth’s tragic and often unfair history. Their four previous albums (The Gathering Wilderness in particular) almost reached the perfect mix of depressive storytelling and music and even if the band has never released a bad album (and possibly never will), their formula has never been as accomplished as it is on this 2007 opus.

“History is often dictated by faith. Putting the worlds to rights while it passes you by. Is there an honour in following your words to the bitter end despite being plagued with doubts?”


If I truly believe in something it must be the fact that the quintet will never give up their quest to unravel the shadows of the human psyche with their sound. Still, enough about their thematics, let’s talk about how freaking good the music is instead. Primordial are one of those bands formed in the 90s who really managed to craft an idiosyncratic sound out of already existing sounds. Bands like Opeth, Moonspell, Rotting Christ or even Darkthrone all created new versions of genres but in Primordial’s case, it took more time for their identity to be developed to its most refined version, the To the Nameless Dead version. While 1995’s Imrama is a good album, it feels unfinished and lacking in scope. Taking the epic sound of Viking era Bathory and drowning it in Celtic folk, we should be in known territories but the compositions are so distinctive and surprising.

I do think that a lot of great bands possess the ability to build a wall of sound where all the instrumentation comes together to make the recipe totally complete. While you can of course praise the guitar playing of MacUiliam or the thunderous drumming of O’Laoghaire, the five guys all come together in the end. The songs are long and meandering in the best way possible. They’re also packed with riffs and never feel like they’re overlong. There’s basically no bands who are that tight at writing eight minutes songs. Primordial are classified as a black metal band only because no other genre can fit their lush yet dark sound. Dark metal isn’t a real genre either, go away Bethlehem. They’re hand to pinpoint not only because of Alan’s vocals but also because of the unique and intricate songwriting. Their riffs can often be seen as simple but they’re emotionally charged and the duel guitar approach gave the band an atmospheric force. It’s never whiny, self-absorbed or pretentious, it’s down to earth and has the right amount of melodies and memorable vocal lines to feed the entire city of Dublin for decades.

“Oh they’re folk metal? Like Korpiklaani?”

“NO.”


Folk metal is mostly a vile genre full of drink-along songs and lyrics about Hobbits and generic vikings with horns on their helmets (not historically accurate, motherfuckers). On the other hand, Primordial are so much deeper and interesting in their conservative but still quite original way. It’s not overproduced (“not very produced” to quote the booklet) and it makes the sound really natural. There’s no useless flush, no keyboards or flutes. It’s lo-fi folk metal full of gloomy attitude. As an example, the subtle use of acoustic guitar in “Heathen Tribes” is far from cheesy and overdone. Their seriousness and their sophisticated yet honest epic side is what makes them so great. They never try to impress with neoclassical guitar solos or bludgeon the listener with gear worshiping riffs. Primordial is the mysterious rogue at the obscured table at the back of the tavern who knows that he could take you down with ease if he wanted to. This album managed to kick my arse when I’ve heard it in 2008 and I still spin my copy often (three times during the writing of this review!)

Alan Averill has always been one of my vocalist for the unadulterated passion he delivers. He’s one of those instantly recognizable voices in metal and he’s always so emotional and expressive. He’s really good at those gritty harsh vocals like the ones on “No Nation on This Earth” but the soaring cleans were always my personal highlight as they’re the aspect of the band that made me a fan in the place. He’s like a possessed spirit singing the woes of his nation to whoever come across his tomb. Like the music, his voice transcends genres, he fits epic doom very well (see his other band Dread Sovereign) or even war metal (see the short lived Irish/Canadian project Blood Revolt) and he never gets boring.

Their latest two albums tried to expand their sound a bit but they’re not as compact and as To the Nameless Dead. This album hits all the sweet spots in terms of lyrics, riffs, ideas and overall enjoyment. Primordial are without a doubt a blue collar band, hard working and hard drinking individuals who continue to do what they love despite all odds. Regardless of who they appear to be, they’re highly intelligent and this is a masterpiece for the ages.



Primordial in 2007

Tuesday, 30 August 2016

Skeletonwitch – The Apothic Gloom (2016) / 78%


A gloomier and evolved approach 

Skeletonwitch is band that I’ve been ignoring since their excellent sophomore effort Beyond the Permafrost mostly because I stopped following melodic death metal except perhaps for a very small number of bands like Dark Tranquillity. Following the departure of founding vocalist Chance Garnette (I guess he became unlucky?), the American quintet managed to revitalize their sound with this sweet extended play.

The sound of the Ohio based band has always been a mishmash of styles surrounding their melodeath core like their thrash leanings. They also had some black metal elements as well but, as far as I remember, those were never as obvious as they are here. I feel the melodic black approach those guys took here has injected some life in their formula and the addition of vocalist Adam Clemans (Wolvhammer) adds a certain blackened sludge/crust. The final track of this EP, “Red Death, White Light” (the title reminds me of a The Velvet Underground album) is basically a mix of their melodeath sound with a shitload of post-black metal and it’s superbly done. Clemans’ vocals are not as insanely high as Garnette’s but I think he did a fantastic job and he fits the style.

The first three tracks, while good, just don’t reach the same level as the last track. The two tracks sandwiched between the title track and the seven minutes closer are fast bangers with a lot of groove but they just don’t do much to reinvent the formula (not that it was needed, you could say). The first track, “The Apothic Gloom” brings a certain melancholia to the EP with its soft introduction and some Swedish doomy death feels. I was almost reminded of Tribulation’s The Formulas of Death and their semi-gothic influence with this track. There’s a musical depth in those songs just like the death metal played by bands such as Horrendous. It’s not just pure melodic aggression.

Skeletonwitch are once again successful at melding genres together and things are looking well for their next full length album if they continue to expand their sound like they did with this release. Maybe someone will give them a leaf stone so they can evolve Gloom into Vileplume and be even better.