Tuesday, 18 January 2022

Top 10 of 2021

 


Here's my top 10 of the year of albums I actually bought. Pretty much only Stormkeep is absent because I wasn't fast enough to get a copy and it's sold out now.


Tower - Shock to the System (Cruz Del Sur Music, CD)Fronted by who's possibly the best singer in heavy metal right now, Tower plays blistering and amazing trad metal with everything at its rightful spot. it's old school but it feels fresh. While the twin guitars and the rest of the instrumentation could be seen as an afterthought as opposed to Sarabeth Linden's immense vocals, I love the leads and solos a lot and it's not the case at all. They lead the way in that bludgeoning and burgeoning female fronted American heavy metal with bands such as Shadowland, Sanhedrin, Sölicitör, Midnight Dice or Savage Master. My album of the year.

Darkthrone - Eternal Hails.....  (Peaceville, CD and vinyl)
I'm a big fan of "modern" or later days Darkthrone as shown by the fact I got it on vinyl and CD. I think Nocturno and Fenriz can do no wrong and they've been in my top 10s every time they released something since Circle the Wagons in 2010hey managed to please me once again with a completely different direction than Old Star or Arctic Thunder. It's epic long songs with a raw touch and a doomy spacey feel throughout. I loved the whole album but the ambient ending of the last track "Lost Arcane City of Uppåkra" was perhaps my favorite piece of music this year.

Amyl & The Sniffers - Comfort to Me (Rough Trade, ATO Records, CD)Insanely catchy and aggressive punk from Australia fronted by a small ball of blond energy. With well written, take no prisoners and feminist lyrics, Amy's natural and honest raw vocal delivery is a great combination with the ferocious riffs and the dynamic rhythm section. Memorable punk with a lovable energy

Steel Bearing Hand - Slay in Hell (Carbonized Records, Tape)
2021 was a good year for thrash, great albums were released by Nekromantheon or Mystic Storm but Steel Bearing Hand ruled supremely hard. Intense, epic, violent and hellish death/thrash with insane solos is what you're getting here. It doesn't mess around.

Full review on here and on Metal Archives

Morgul Blade - Fell Sorceries Abound (No Remorse Records)
Quite possibly my surprise of the year, Morgul Blade's debut album is a worthy mix of epic heavy metal, folk metal (reminds me of Mithotyn a bit) and dungeon synth. They combine both harsh vocals with clean ones and it works well, it feels like blackened epic fantasy heavy metal most of the time and that's my kind of stuff for damn sure. It's tightly condensed, well written and has definite highs such as the ballad "Oak in the Mist". Awesome album.

Eisenhand - Fires Within (Dying Victims Productions)
Austrian Eisenhand play one of my favorite kind of heavy metal, it's raw, riffy and intently lo-fi. Their band pic has a bike, an axe, a suede jacket and a rifle. They sound exactly like that. Underrated album worth your time if you're into Brocas Helm and the likes. Big balls energy. This gives me the same feel as Demon Bitch while they're pretty different, I have yet to find out why.

Idles - Crawler (Partisan Records, orange tape)
After a disappointing third album in Ultra Mono, the brits are back in full force with Crawler, a dark record that fits the mood I'm in right now. Super varied, the album explores electronic industrial dance music (Car Crash) to powerviolence (Wizz), Nick Cave-ish power ballads (The Beachland Ballroom) while mixing it with their usual abrasive post-punk direction. It still works and it's cohesive as hell in its madness.

Dread Sovereign - Alchemical Warfare (Metal Blade Records)
I'm a big fan of Primordial but I never could fully get behind Dread Sovereign, the doom metal project of their leader Alan Averill until this album. It's a bit more traditional in its composition and grooves a bit more than their overlong debut album. It's some sort of hybrid between trad doom, heavy metal with some hints of black (proto black?!) here and there and has one of my favorite cover art of the year.

Herzel - le dernier rempart (Gates of Hell Records)
I was a big fan of Herzel's debut demo and it took them a while to release a full length but it was worth the wait. The Bretons play long form epic heavy metal in French and it's remarkable. The use of folkloric instruments (the bombarde!!) adds an unique element to their sound but they already were unique before that. Influenced by Manowar, Virgin Steele or Warlord, they're able to craft timeless heavy metal worthy of the tales they tell.

Antichrist Siege Machine - Purifying Blade (Profound Lore Records)
One of the most punishing albums of the year alongside Concrete Winds, ASM plays some sort of super fast war metal and it's just a lovely 30 mins. It destroys like a sharpened blade, not much more to say, really.





Monday, 18 October 2021

Ezra Brooks / Serpent Rider - Visions of Esoteric Splendor (2021) / 85%


R I F F S

Epic heavy metal is a tightly knit community, it’s a very niche genre of an already niche music style. It’s then normal that each epic heavy release gets its fair share of scrutiny from their nerd community.

Ezra Brooks, the solo project of Smoulder’s lead guitarist Shawn Vincent has always been excellent. The Magickal Realm has covered two of their previous releases, including the split with Emblem, a super underrated Newfoundland heavy metal band and I was stoked to hear more from them. When I learned that Matt Preston (known for Borrowed Time) was gonna be a guest on their side of the split, I got even even more excited. This guy is a beast and I’m keeping myself pure for whenever the new Prelude to Ruin release decides to drop as he’s featured there too. Anyhow, Ezra Brooks is a riff firstt, ask questions later kind of band and right from the start, you’re bludgeoned with excellent guitars. “The Helm of Sacorb” (who the hell is Sacorb?) riffs hard and the presence of Preston on the lead guitar adds another excellent layer to their solid formula. Unfortunately, Shawn’s decision to put the vocals so low in the mix wasn’t the best decision, it’s like listening to Mark Shelton singing from the immortal realm of heroes deep down in hell. It’s still kinda cool and it’s certainly distinctive for their style but I would have preferred something else.

Their music has this enjoyable epic but science fiction based feel but without getting too nerdy or gimmicky. Just blistering quick epic heavy metal that’s constantly delivering high energy material. The synth opening of “Am I just Paranoid” reminded me of the smartest sci fi prog metal bands like Shadow Gallery or early Ayreon, it’s a nice touch. "When the Future Fails", a somber track evokes the trad days of Fates Warning with aplomb but it's mixed with the contemporary sound of North American obscure heavy metal.

Serpent Rider is also originally a solo project, one created by Brandon Corsair (Draghkar, Azath…) and they released a decent demo back in 2019. Back with a different lineup and a widely different singer, their side of the split slaps. Their new singer (who could very well be Brandon’s wife!?!?!) is a gifted vocalist but her style, approach and delivery are all 0% metal, it creates some sort of disconnect with the supremely metal guitars of Corsair and Kelly Kuciemba (from death metal legends Drawn and Quartered). To be honest, I’m not sure it’s a negative aspect, it just takes some time to get used to. I still think Mariah Carey fronting Omen would still work, to be fair. Anyway, if Tsamis made unconventional women vocals work with Lordian Guard, I’m sure others can too.

If there’s something than the Greeks like more than remembering everyone how cool they were 3000 years ago, it’s certainly Manilla Road (there ya go, namedropping the Road in the same review twice) and it’s felt within their music. Their epic heavy metal sound is basically USPM meets Doomsword, hellas metal and the Italian pagan epic doom mood of Doomsword (see “The Wretch”). The Greek influence is even obvious as they cover a Varathron cover but in a heavy metal style, it’s also present in Brandon’s compositions for Draghkar's debut album, this just shows how well he integrates those influences in those two different projects. Their three original compositions are speedy epic numbers with a lot of groove and might, it's aggressive but pretty distinguished.  Andrew Lee (Ripped to Shreds, etc…) handles the drums and bass and it’s pretty much faultless as you’d expect with him. Serpent Rider are super super tight musically, not something usual for the style that often likes to play it loose but it works very well for them.

Both possessing unique vocals, this is a pretty interesting split release, their influences are obvious for the acolytes of epic metal but they do a lot of new and fresh things as well. Something I’d like from both bands is a long ass epic song, like more than ten minutes, I’m sure they would succeed at the task too. They have the chops, the talent and the reasons to do so. Excellent split, lads.

Out soon on No Remorse records (CD/LP)

Edit: based on Shawn, Sacorb is just Brocas backwards and the whole song is a tribute to the legendary US band Brocas Helm. This rules.

Sunday, 20 June 2021

Mindforce - Excalibur (2018) / 90%

Crossover for KINGS like you

I don’t review crossover often (or at all even) because I feel there’s not a lot to say about the genre. While it’s somewhat the case with Mindforce as well, this album has been really hitting the spot since I discovered it recently. I was automatically intrigued because of the artwork and the title and even though I wasn’t expecting crossover mixed with Obsequiae and medieval folk music but it distinguished them from the usual fare we get in the scene.

As expected of a twenty-one minutes record, this is quite ruthless, unhinged and hella fast. The title track, the longest number here, is also possibly the slowest and hard hittin’, recalling Slayer’s Seasons in the Abyss to a certain extent. When the riffs get slower is when I lose my shit, they know how to be a crowd pleaser. What I like about crossover is that it relies entirely on how good and dangerous your riffs are and how good and aggressive your singer is. Well, New York’s Mindforce definitely delivers on all fronts. Short one to two minutes tracks is what you’re getting here, it flows nicely and crushes you like a thick lady would crush a watermelon between her thighs while saying “you’re next”.

There’s subtle details that elevates the band as well such as those short, sorrowful leads on “Fades Away” but overall, it’s pretty meat and potatoes thrash/crossover/hardcore with hardcore vocals and immense riffs and breakdowns. If you like Power Trip or Drain and don’t know those guys yet, get on board. Just like their music, I’ll keep this short and let you enjoy their idiotic metal made for idiots like us. To be played loud. All day.

Metal Bounty Hunter Volume 12


 


The Metal Bounty Hunter series is back with four short-ish reviews, all about doom and heavy this time.



Zodiac - Stone Command (2015) / 85%

Digitally Challenged: Part 6 The Zodiac Killer?


This short lived doom band from Brisbane impressed me a lot with their final recording, a three track extended play released on tape by the excellent Heavy Chains Records. Three of the members are now playing in Knifer, some sort of Motorheadish heavy/speed metal about booze, but Zodiac was all about traditional doom metal.

The first two tracks are around five or six minutes, both faster affairs while Legacy is close to ten and encompasses their sound well. The nasal vocals by Ben Peters can obviously recall the legends of Sabbath and Pagan Altar and he does a great job at reciting the classic occult but fun lyrics reminding me of Cathedral or Witchfinder General. Their production is pretty tight and professional, the two guitars are heavy and super punchy, delivering riffs that would please any doomsters and top notch solos as well (check “The Devil’s Cavalry”). All in all, it’s honest, hard working, blue collar doom that’s super well written and on the edge of being memorable. A shame they died, really.


Eldritch Rites - Hell And Doom And Days Long Gone (2020) / 82%

Pub doom

The trio from Melbourne plays raw heavy/doom with an unhinged passion possibly fueled by liquor. Also evolving as Open Door of Doom but with a designated English singer, Eldritch Rites are pretty fun stuff unfortunately plagued by a lackluster production. It’s sort of like it was recorded live in the pub on the weekend to make sure the dudes had an easy access to booze served by the devil. I can’t really blame them to be fair.

Regardless of my first impressions about the production, this is a band with strong musicianship and songwriting, it’s more layered than I was expecting to be. It’s downtrodden trad doom made by men in their thirties or forties and it’s fairly effective at its goal. Songs like “If These Walls Could Speak” are miserable, it’s heavy, slow and makes you feel like you just got divorced and she’ll obviously get the kids and even the dog. 10 minutes closer “They Came to Raise the Dead” has this epic but still raw feel and ends with “Lunar”, a joyful but mournful acoustic guitar recalling English progressive folk.

There’s a certain English mood throughout the album and it’s also encompassed in how sad it is. Dudes, there’s koalas in Australia, why are so fucking sad? Go check how slow they move or something. The guitar playing of Shayne Joseph (also in prog rock/heavy metallers Trebuchet) is quite excellent, it’s pretty brutal, crunchy for the genre (see “Witch Woman”) and has this heavy rock quality to it. His vocals possess this sort of accented exaggeration and they wouldn’t be out of place in a Monty Python sketch about witches or some shit.

Recommended if you like your doom cooked slow and possibly still blood red.




Assembly at Dusk - Assembly at Dusk (2013) / 88%

Digitally Challenged: Part 7 We leave at dawn.

Got the tape, I'll write a review during my Christmas break. Thanks a lot!” - yours truly in 2013

Well, better late than never, you know. Sorry dudes! I’ve been meaning to tackle this tape for years now as it’s very good metal deserving of more scrutiny. Unfortunately, Connecticut’s Assembly At Dusk broke up shortly after I failed to write a review for this compilation regrouping the two demos they did in 2013. Their take on heavy metal was fairly fresh at the time and I feel it’s something that could be somewhat trendy today with bands like Spirit Adrift. The super melodic but tight vocals of Jeffrey Schaefer (hopefully related to the redneck terrorist we all know) are the most powerful aspect of the band but the compositions are top notch too.

Their sound as its core is epic heavy metal but there’s a lot of doom (think The Gates of Slumber) and even some blackened elements in how the riffs are composed. “Money, Gods and Greed” or “Before This City is Aflame” pretty much sounds like black/heavy metal with clean vox, almost a mix of Enslaved and Manilla Road. Even if it was record in the basement of their guitarist, I think the production is excellent, especially for demos, I’d prefer the vox to be a bit more on forefront but I barely have any complaints about the crunchy riffs and the black & tremolo infused leads. Their songs are intricate and most are around the six minute mark, they’re filled with details and there’s no filler here.

They’re another sublime band who died too quickly, this is still on their Bandcamp so no excuses not to check ‘em out.

--------------------------------------------

Trebuchet – Trebuchet (2020) / 70%

Not quite breaking down the walls yet


Formed by Dave Gilbert (who’s also in four other bands I’ve never heard of) and Shayne Joseph (Eldritch Rites, Dire Fate…), Trebuchet plays an interesting form of doom metal with strong ties to the past. It could be described as some sort of proto doom with a lot of psychedelic, hard rock and progressive rock influences. While on paper, this sounds like a dream to me, I wasn’t super crazy about them. I’d rather go back to Quicksand Dream or Realmbuilder.

The self titled full length starts with two ten minutes tracks and they’re both too long for nothing. I usually like long songs but those two bored me real quickly. The three other songs are shorter, all around seven minutes. “Girl from the Fen” right in the middle of the album is a soporific ballad but the two other more metal tracks don’t really go anywhere either for me. As much as I like Geddy, Ozzy or Terry, Dave Gilbert’s vocals aren’t for me and I don’t like the fuzzy effects on ‘em, probably there to hide the fact they’re not good at all. With that said, I quite like the guitar tone and would have liked to life the riffs and songs more. There’s some good moments here and there but they’re a bit too few for my liking. I might applaud how well they mix the different genres though, that's not really the problem I have with them. Just found the album mostly boring, you know. To conclude, I’m sad I didn’t enjoy this. Semi epic doom/prog about the Middle ages with a name like Trebuchet? Maybe my expectations were too high.

Saturday, 19 June 2021

Legacies Unchain – Satan is Strong and Always Near (2016) / 95%

"Is he though?"
"Yes, he is."


Composed of the sole member of the excellent Misantropical Painforest and another dude known for Wormphlegm and its funeral doom classic, Legacies Unchain is definitely my discovery of the year (or last year, no idea, time is blurry right now) and I’m thankful for Hops from the Ride Into Glory community for the recommendation. Their take on metal is one that speaks to me quite a bit, it’s occult, slow and lures you in the dark Finnish forest to sever your arms with a hand axe.

Satan is Strong and Always Near (one of the best album titles of all time) is pretty much only three extended tracks with its title track being a bit more than twenty minutes. There’s three untitled instrumental including two to start the album, for some dark magical reasons, they’re not on the tracklist! The first and third are some guitar doodling moments that puts you in the mood. The second is one minute of shamanic aboriginal music preparing you for some ritualistic black metal, it’s not randomly placed either as there’s comebacks to this sort of primitive atmosphere throughout the album. The use of the didgeridoo, this cool wind instrument from pre-colonial Australia highlights the barbaric, primal feel of Legacies Unchain and it can be found alongside your normal metal instruments in “All Hail the Great Sperm” (what?) or “Dragon City”. The instrument announces the arrival of those two dudes on the artwork as they’re storming the camp full of goblins in order to slay ‘em all. In the name of Satan, of course.

The whole thing sounds like a do it yourself barbaric black metal assault to me and I mean, I really love this kind of stuff. Apparently recorded in 2004 but only released more than a decade later, their kind of metal is pretty timeless. It’s mixing the raw occult power of black metal with the stupidity of heavy metal and the brain dead riff onslaught of death metal for our selfish pleasure. It’s a riff worship ceremony and the unworthy ones were sacrificed to some primordial spirits. The duo is able to write interesting, river-esque songs with only the power of powerful metal riffs and Satan. Spiritually linked to black/heavy bands like Demontage or Malokarpatan, Legacies Unchain slashes you with mid-paced riffs until you’re out blood to offer. They use those traditional elements well such as on the title track, it’s like if funeral doom was combined with black/heavy/thrash, it’s long but epic and flows nicely and it’s 100% hateful, obviously.

Their vocals are also pretty diverse in their commitment to barbaric prowess. To high pitched screams to more deep growls and to some insane chanting, there’s something for everyone. The title track concludes its twenty-three minute run time with a mad clean scream, probably a shamanic priest dying during a ritual or something. Those guys like their crushing brutality too, the death metal influence can be felt at the beginning of “...Sperm” while “Dragon City” is rooted and drenched in heavy metal riffs. Their vocals are a constant though and they anchor the band into Satanic overload.

Satan being always near them managed to motivate the guys, this is one hell of album. Even though it’s somewhat inaccessible due to the sheer length of its songs, there’s an entrancing vibe that rewards you. It’s similar to Cultes des Ghoules’ masterwork Henbane (the pinnacle of black metal as far as I’m concerned) in how it makes me feel, it’s riffs after riffs and you may think it’s dumbed down but it’s actually oddly subtle and genius.


Thursday, 17 June 2021

Carcolh – The Life and Works of Death (2021)

 



The Baguette Doom Series pt. XXII: Death is doing some overtime.



The debut album from Carcolh was one of the best doom records of 2018 but it went largely unnoticed (not by me, I reviewed it. Check baguette XVIII)) ‘cause well, French traditional doom isn’t exactly Gojira. Well, good news if you haven’t heard it yet, their sophomore is even better. Formed after the demise of Marble Chariot (also covered by yours truly), a band I thought had a lot of potential but died too quickly, the Bordeaux quintet plays the exact sort of metal I crave.


Their sound is dark and rich. It moves slowly but at a steady pace and confident in its ability to keep the prisoners in their cells forever. I think the band is at their best (and they got better at it) on the longer numbers like “The Blind Goddess” or the album closer “Sepulchre”, both around ten minutes each. It’s this sort of trad doom that’s more interested in building moods than just bludgeoning you with riffs, there’s a few rare bands that can do both but they’re the top dogs. Carcolh can do it occasionally though.

The highlight of the album for me was “Aftermath”, an atmospheric piece about the First World war and the Battle of the Somme in particular. It’s a sad and mournful ballad and while it’s a break from doom metal, it’s probably the darkest moment to be found on here. Sébastien Fanton delivers one hell of a performance on there, his clean vocals fits the mood and establishes the man as the leading man in French trad doom metal. He has this pretty unique voice and his English delivery is part of the charm for me. He can be gruff, powerful or poetic.

Showing that Carcolh are also apt at punchier, faster numbers, “When the Embers Light the Way” is a groovy number with some harsh vocals and a thunderous guitar solo. Who said that doom metal can have monotonous or boring musicianship? Those guys are tight but their playing is subtle and engaging. They’re not flashy and they serve the songs well. The two guitars lineup help the band moves forward as well. With the right people, it can make a world of difference, especially when it’s time to recreate the more intricate or profound sections of those compositions.

I feel they’re an entity of their own. While, of course, their music is rooted in existing doom tropes, it’s not too easy to pinpoint where their worship altars are. When your influences are melted together is precisely when you can really call your take on a genre genuine.


Bandcamp

Wednesday, 16 June 2021

Purification – Dwell in the House of the Lord Forever (2020) / 87%

 

Psychedelic transition in Portlandia




The second full length from Portland’s Purification appeared as an offering from Santa on Christmas 2020 almost six months after their previous album. Following the excellent Perfect Doctrine, the most accessible release from this group of guys, Dwell… goes back to some of their weird antics. Under the name Thrown, two members played some sort of Carnivore infused noisy heavy/doom/speed and while we’re far from that sort of stuff, it’s a subtle departure from the first two Purification LPs.

Their debut was raw traditional doom, I liked it but not as much as the “refined” product that followed. Their third effort goes deeper into psychedelia, it’s almost ambient trad doom at times. The artwork is a pretty good indicator of how it sounds, acid induced psych doom with a sort of religious, divine feel. The two longest tracks (about half the length of the album) start and end the album with drawn out, mournful but atmospheric riffs. The vocals are strong when present, ominous and clean but with a secluded monk approach. Overall, it’s more restrained than their previous material but it’s moodier and shows another side of the band, one where they’re confident in their ability to create landscapes of sounds delving beyond the metal realm.

Speaking of exploring new areas, the original material includes two instrumentals and it’s quite hypnotic and has a desert drone mood to it, not unlike Earth’s western albums like The Bees Made Honey in the Lion's Skull. “Ar Soudarded Zo Gwisket e Ruz” is five minutes but could had been extended to ten or fifteen with ease while “Bombfog” is a short ambient, film music-ish introduction to the last metal track of the record.

I must admit that I’m a bit scared of the pace they’ve been releasing their music, one album every six months or so is a bit much. They have one coming up in two weeks already. Ultimately, I can’t complain because it’s all been very good but I don’t want them to become something like Haunt/Beastmaker and spreading their sauce too thinly. Still, this is kind of a glorified extended play turned into a full length. There’s two covers, a well rendered one of the obscure NWOBHM classic “Rainbow Warrior” and one from David Benson, a Christian doom nobody. They’re both pretty interesting picks, thanks for not covering Sabbath or Candlemass, dudes.

Yeah so pretty moody, atmospheric quasi ambient traditional doom metal is what you’re getting here. It’s diverse, well written and sends love letters to many different bands and subgenres. It’s very much an album between two albums but there’s still a lot of rewards to be found here.


Bandcamp