Sunday, 12 December 2010

[ALBUM REVIEW] Bahal - Ikelos

1. La Tormenta
2. Il Sentiero
3. Erebo 10:40
4. Il Bardo
5. Il Labirinto
6. La Rosa
7. Danza Del Crepuscolo
8. Tra Le Braccia di Morfeo

Obscure Italian Black Metal band Bahal unleash their latest offering, and with a logo designed by the renowned Christopher Szpajdel, virtuoso of all things spiky and symmetrical, initial reactions are fairly impressive. With a lyrical theme based upon ancient Greece, as evident from the title Ikelos, is a welcomed deviation from the typical satanic theme.

Bahal's sound is best comparable to an amalgamation of Satyricon, Necrophobic and most surprisingly of all Opeth. Frequent transitions between a headstrong assault of blasting and tremolo riffing, brief acoustic interludes and long guitar solos turn the stigma of all black metal being derivative and repetitive on it's head. It's certainly progressive in every sense of the word, but ends up ensnared in the most frequent and frustrating trap of so much progressive music; self-indulgence. Let me get this straight, Bahal is an extremely talented guitarist, the solos on this album are exceptionally good, but they're stretched out to almost ridiculous levels. You've only got to look at Peste Noire for guitar soloing performed tactfully in black metal, whereas with Bahal they're not added to compliment the music, rather merely the guitarist showing what he can do.

With that out of the way, this is actually a very good album though at times does tend to suffer from it's length. Some songs burn out before they even get going, and the opening track is not the strongest and “Erebo” is just flat out boring, but the second half of the album is a significant improvement from the first, most notably last track “Danza Del Crepuscolo”. Bahal's vocals are low and hollow sounding with a heavy swab of reverb, he actually sounds very like Sakis from Rotting Christ. The guitar has a significant shade of Necrophobic off it and has a good prominent tone to it.

Ikelos main faults lie within it's most standout feature, which is the progressive element Bahal is using. Reduce the length of some of the songs and some restraint on the guitar soloing and maybe then they'll have something special worth talking about. As it is, it's a promising and fresh perception on performing black metal, but more often than not just becomes sluggish and self indulgent. It's main weakness is that which makes it unique in the first place. There's a certain balance which needs to be found, but here the scales remain heavily skewed.



Written for Metalcrypt

Thursday, 9 December 2010

[ALBUM REVIEW]Astrophobos - Arcane Secrets

1. Divine Necromancy
2. Arcane Secrets
3. Crossing the Abyss

Swedish? Early nineties styled Black/Death Metal? That can mean only one thing, and that's Astrophobos play extreme metal heavily influenced by Dissection. Genuinely good Dissection worship is a difficult thing to come by, most recent imitators Thulcandra are so successful at completely replicating that sound they are basically featureless clones. While they can pull the sound off perfectly, they're missing that certain spark than others that came before them such as Vinterland or Sacramentum were able to emulate. Arcane Secrets, the debut EP by Astrophobos has the potential to put these rookies on the same pedestal as those aforementioned greats, and although I say rookies, make no mistake these three are far from inexperienced at this style of music. It may be their first release but according to the band they have been playing this style of music for years, and judging by the quality and professionalism of the music on this EP, I can well believe them.

The EP is extremely short, but being self financed and self released with no label backing whatsoever you can obviously forgive this slight shortcoming. Being completely DIY, the production's gotta be pretty amateur then? Wrong, nothing could be further from the truth. This is what struck me most about this release, how clear and polished the production is for a self-release. And no wonder whenever it's Peter In de Betou who did it. Also known for working with Watain, who have been known to dabble in a bit of Dissection themselves, at least he's experienced in the field. It has a lot more in common with The Somberlain era Dissection than it does Storm of the Light's Bane with more emphasis on the drumming and guitar work yet still retaining that melodic backbone. “Crossing the Abyss” for example, might as well have been a track lost from those sessions. The guitar work is as you'd expect it, slick and unmistakably Swedish in tone, with intense razor sharp riffing. Micke's vocals are oppressive and strong, as they should be, because Jon is an exceptionally hard guy to emulate. As for the drummer being seventeen, I find it completely fascinating at how developed his sound and technique is for such a young age.

According to the band they have a full length album in the works of which I will be waiting with high anticipation. Cover art from Caspar David Friedrich, and three highly impressive tracks kneeling at the altar of Dissection, what more do you want? A label needs to sign these guys up fast, because judging by the quality of material on this short but striking release, they're going to get a lot bigger, and more than just mere pretenders to Dissection's golden throne.



Written for Metalcrypt

Sunday, 5 December 2010

2010 - The year in metal.

Well folks it's almost upon us, the end of 2010. Just like 2009, it has been an exceptionally good year for metal with some surprising releases both positively and negatively. There were so many great albums to chose from to try and squeeze into 15, but I've managed to narrow it down and here are my choices of what I believe to be the absolute best to showcase metal from 2010.

Écailles de lune

The enigmatic Neige managed to perform the incredible feat of actually topping the band's debut, Souvenir's D'Un Autre Monde. This fantastic fusion of majestic yet unrelenting Emperor-esque Black metal and sullen shoegaze guitar passages comes together in scintillating fashion, eclipsing all the would-be imitators to their debut in 2007 and showing them how it's really done. And to be honest, I can't ever see anyone other than Neige himself coming anywhere near to bettering this style. Monumental.

Let the Devil In

This latest unholy plague unleashed by mastermind Shatraug exploded completely out of the blue and struck me senseless. Shatraug may be a bit of a vagrant when it comes to black metal, but when push comes to shove he does it extremely fucking well. Yes this is even better than Behexen. Uncompromising and beguiling, this is how black metal should be done.


Atlantean Kodex
The Golden Bough

I have a feeling this will be at the top of many peoples lists, and it's not hard to see why. The doom tinged epic metal of these Germans is straight out of the instruction manual of Hammerheart-era Bathory and Doomsword. If you thought The Pnakotic Demos was impressive, you're in for a surprise. The next time someone asks you to define metal? Just hand them a copy of this CD.

Ominous Doctrines of the Perpetual Mystical Macrocosm

A surprise addition for me here, mainly because I was never that big a fan of Inquisition. They often receive a large amount of flak for their comical image and ridiculous titles. It's slightly unfair as many pass them off without even listening to them because of this, especially when they've managed to release an album of this standard. Immortal worship at it's most pompous and grandiose without ever becoming self indulgent from these Columbian veterans.


The traditional heavy metal revival peaked in 2010, and while many bands were just looking back through rose tinted glasses and completely lacking in substance, Enforcer rose to the top of the heap. Quitely rightly so too, as with Diamonds, Enforcer have managed to carve out a sound of their own yet retaining all the pizzazz and attitude which made heavy metal in the first place. Dense, commanding and extremely catchy, Enforcer are an exciting prospect for the future and surely destined for big things.

Lawless Darkness

Sweden's satanic trio Watain returning in 2010 with the follow up to Sworn to the Dark, and continue the form that saw them so revered ever since Cacus Luciferi was unleashed upon us. Unashamed Dissection worship, only now with an added touch variation, it's the logical step forward from their previous release. They even managed to fit a fourteen minute blasphemous epic in the form of “Waters of Ain”, which features the legendary Carl McCoy. It may just be the best black metal song of this year.

Iron Maiden
The Final Fronteir

This is a band which need no introduction. If you know metal music at all, you know Iron Maiden. The Final Frontier removed any doubt about the band's ability these days since the disappointing A Matter of Life and Death. Kevin Shirley has worked a fantastic production here, and with the band's extremely progressive approach to the song-writing yet still retaining that unassailable identity which make Maiden who they are, they've produced their most memorable album since Brave New World.

From the Devil's Tomb

A band who I've only recently come across, Weapon play caustic brand of blackened death metal. Blistering drum work and riffing with a bile draped atmosphere to boot, Morbid Angel are just as much influences as Mayhem. The alternation between blood blasted brutality and macabre processions are the record's forte. The Ajna Offensive have a seriously impressive roster, of which Weapon are another compelling addition to.

La cité des vents

A high flier in my end of year list last year, Aorlhac have managed to return again this year with La cite des vents. Still spewing forth their own brand of Occitania influenced black metal with the medieval tendencies of Peste Noire, it's a worthy successor to Opus I. They haven't made the impression on the scene I imagined they would, but provided they keep releasing material of this quality, the breakthrough is bound to happen sooner than later.

Marrow of the Spirit

Probably the most anticipated metal album of 2010 finally hit the shelves in late November. Their brand of heavily post-rock influenced Black/Doom hybrid draws influences from everyone from Sol Invictus to Katatonia. There was extremely high expectation placed upon this release, but Portland's favourite heathen's have done it again. If you are looking for the textbook soundtrack to the dreary, washed out portents of Autumn, I don't know a better album.

Beheaded Ouroboros

Invictus have been releasing some extremely impressive albums lately, and this is top of the pile. Possibly one of the most downright putrid and unrelentingly heavy albums you'll hear all year, with insanely decadent gutterals from this esoteric horde. Genuine old school death metal with a big middle finger to the vapid facade of 'technical' death.

Cloven Hooves at the Holocaust Dawn

It's Helmkamp, need I say more? For those unfortunate enough to have completely passed by Order from Chaos and Revenge, primitive war metal tyrants James Read and Pete Helmkamp join forces once again to conjure up a release of nothing more than all out depraved violence. Comparable to no less than a bullet straight down your throat. Utter barbarism.

Christian Mistress
Agony & Opium

Bearing the Fenriz seal of approval, Christian Mistress and their take on classic heavy metal put many to shame on much bigger labels. The raw, DIY ethic and solo littered songs with Christine's enamouring vocals show all the self indulgent 'gothic' metal bands how proper metal is supposed to be performed, for here, the flame of the eighties is brighter than ever.

Briton Rites
For Mircalla

Hour of 13 mastermind, Phil Swanson joined forces with Howie Bently of Cauldron Born fame here, and though on paper it's hard to comprehend how it could possibly work, it does. Taking the blueprints from Black Sabbath and Witchfinder General, add an occult horror movie-esque atmosphere and Phil's unmistakable vocals and you get this; the best doom metal album of the year.

The Mercian Sphere

How could you not love a cover like that? Weathered atmospheric black metal in the same vein as Drudkh with a heavy acoustic slant to it, Winterfylleth are a gem in the British scene at the minute. Focusing on their Anglo-Saxon heritage rather than typical Satanic musings, it's a welcome change. Dynamic and brooding, yet exceptionally vicious as well, with The Mercian Sphere are cementing their place as important players in the UK scene.

2010 also threw up a few surprising disappointments...

1Blind Illusion
The Demon Master

The Sane Asylum, an absolute thrash metal classic and one of the most sought after metal albums ever. This? A shocking, direction-less attempt at some sort of hippy grungy nonsense. Blind Illusion are about sixteen years too late with The Demon Master, and even then it still would have been shit.


Previously with four classic albums under their best, together with a seven year wait amounted to the second biggest disappointment of the year. With Kurbads, Skyforger diluted much of the folk that made them popular in the first place and downtuned the guitars to almost nu-metal levels at times. Boring and completely uninspired riffing and awful vocals from a band who should know better.


White Wizzard
Over the Top

They chose wisely in picking the title track as the single, because along with 40 Deuces, they are the only two decent songs on this. Utterly shallow and lacking in substance, Jon needs his ego deflating slightly, because he hasn't actually ever done anything noteworthy to warrant it.

Handful of Stars

Drudkh were, and still are a favourite band of mine, so when I heard the new album had begun to incorporate shoegaze into their sound, I was quietly grinning with anticipation. Then I listened to it. What shoegaze? Someone needs to read up on their definition of what shoegaze really is. Insipid riffing and a horrible sterile production, just what the fuck exactly have you done Drudkh?

Negura Bunget
Vîrstele Pămîntuluis

Not horribly bad as such, but when you put it up against the magical Om, it doesn't even come close. The Dordeduh EP was what this should have sounded like.

Written for

Friday, 3 December 2010

[ALBUM REVIEW] Heathen Foray - Armoured Bards

1. Armored Bards
2. The Blight
3. Bifrost
4. Ascension
5. Messenger of God
6. Endless Sorrow
7. A Brother's Tale
8. Walls of Vienna
9. Hopfen & Malz
10. Carthage's End

Naming yourself after one of Falkenbach's best songs is making a bit of a statement. So you'd expect Heathen Foray to sound somewhat similar to them then? Well that's not the case here, as Austrian five piece Heathen Foray have more in common with Dragonforce musically than they do Falkenbach. From a country that hasn't produced much else to many other than Abigor and Summoning, this is definitely going to be a welcome new arrival to some.

They are described as Viking metal, but I would take that label with a pinch of salt as the lyrics tend to deal with European history as a whole rather than specifically Viking themes. Hannibal and the fall of Carthage and the Ottoman's siege of Vienna are but two of the various themes dealt with here so it's not really Viking metal as such, I would hesitate that the term 'battle metal' would be more suitable to their style, in the realm of bands such as Turisas and Equilibrium. I've never viewed Viking or battle metal as legitimate genres, but that's a discussion for another time.

Take the stadium-esque death metal sound of Amon Amarth and incorporate it with the neoclassical sweeping arpeggios of Dragonforce and you've got the formula heathen Foray use. As much as I loathe to use the word when describing music, 'epic' is certainly one of the terms I would use to describe Armoured Bards overall sound. Opener 'Armoured Bards' is by far and large the best song on the album, perfectly suited to the live environment with it's bombastic chorus and extremely melodic, power metal styled guitar leads. The first thing I noticed was just how similar Robert's vocals were to Johan Hegg's, it's so uncanny if you didn't know otherwise you'd swear blind it was him. The whole album is extremely well structured, the production is crystal clear and the guitar playing is absolutely fantastic, but after the first song it never really threatens to scale those heights again. Other notable songs worth mentioning would have to be 'Bifrost', with it's acoustic intro, which would be even better if it wasn't so long and 'Ascension' which actually reminds me of fellow compatriot, Ray Well's project Raventhrone more than anything else. Don't get me wrong, the whole album is very good, it's just with an opener as good as 'Armoured Bard's' (which if it were in Amon Amarth's discography, would be a live classic) it was always going to be a huge task for them to hit that standard again. At times it comes close, but not enough.

Armoured Bards is a commendable attempt at a style of music which has been absolutely flogged to death in recent years. At times it is utterly fantastic, and at other times it does get pretty average, but this style of music does have a massive market, and the potential and opportunities for Heathen Foray to go on to much bigger and better things are there, they just have to find a touch more identity to stand out. If melo-death with fretboard tearing soloing sounds like your cup of tea, Armoured Bards is certainly sure to fill a gap anyway. Just don't expect anything revolutionary.



Originally Written for