Wednesday, 30 May 2012

[ALBUM REVIEW] Haeiresis - Transparent Vibrant Shadows

Genre - Avantegarde Black Metal

1. Emitting Memories
2. Hallowed But Hollow
3. The Coming Of Wake
4. Mirrorstains  
5. Traces Of Decay          
6. Transmigrating Corridors II                     
7. Surreale                         
8. Emptyroom                  
9. Transparent Vibrant Shadows On The Breathing Walls

The industrial style of black metal is a tough nut to crack. You’ve got arguably the genre’s perfectors Blut Aus Nord now performing at their peak and a whole slew of other acts somewhere in between aiming to try and recapture some of those same evocative images and nebulous atmospheres desperately ever since the emergence of Mysticum back in 1993. Transparent Vibrant Shadows is the debut of Lithuanian act Haeiresis and aspires to fall somewhere in between the vast suffocating celestial atmospheres of Darkspace and the horror induced progression of The Axis of Perdition.

Unlike traditional black metal it doesn’t aim to unsettle the listener through a mass of satanic propaganda and exhaustive blasting, it follows a more reserved approach aiming to disorientate you through harsh impenetrable dissonance. There’s shrill industrial rhythms abound and together with the inaccessibility of it all proves a hard listen for the uninitiated to the genre. The guitar passages are excessively technical and are what really brings the comparisons to The Axis of Perdition; nonstop treble high atonal and obscure leads together with off-beat riffing. Technically I would have to admit the guitar playing here is fantastic, but it lacks any real flow and structure and you’ll end up finding yourself overwhelmed by a whirlwind of incohesive and lifeless noodling which detracts hugely from the atmosphere.

Of course as now appears to be the accepted norm in a genre such as this, S.B. employs the use of a pretty shitty drum machine in an aim to strengthen the industrial racket which really only succeeds in increasing the monotony of it all. The vocals, to be frank, are fucking awful; thickly muffled incomprehensible rasps that sound like someone dragging a plank of wood across a concrete floor, I mean if there was as much effort put into the vocals as the guitar work then it wouldn’t be so bad. It’s not all bad though, “Transmigrating Corridors II” forsakes all metal elements completely for a vast sweeping spatial atmosphere that genuinely is horrifying. This is the sound I expected to hear coming into Transparent Vibrant Shadows and it only plays a brief cameo. It’s certainly something more in the vein of Darkspace and maybe something he should focus on more in the future for it’s the best track on the release.

Technically the other songs are all well performed but it seems too much emphasis was placed upon the guitar and not enough in other areas which are severely lacking. It’s completely devoid of any personality and sounds all too detached lacking the dreaded, nerve splitting and apocalyptic soundscapes that the other bands mentioned do so well. For what it is it’s just about passable, I’ve heard much worse attempts in this area, but it’s just far too lacklustre and soulless to ever threaten the upper tiers currently inhabited by bands like The Axis of Perdition and Blut Aus Nord. 


Sounds like - Blut Aus Nord, Darkspace, The Axis of Perdition

Originally written for The Metal Crypt

Monday, 28 May 2012

[ALBUM REVIEW] Skelator - Agents of Power

Genre - Heavy Metal

1. Agents Of Power 
2. Gates Of Thorbardin 

3. Dream Dictator 
4. Rhythm Of The Chain

Elric: The Dragon Prince (A Tale of Tragic Destiny in 12 Parts)

5. Overture (Instrumental)
6. Elric: The Dragon Prince
7. Pulsing Cavern 00:34
8. Stormbringer And Mournblade
9. The Young Kingdoms
10. The Dark Tower 
11. Cymoril 
12. Rubble And Ash
13. Fate, The Dreadful Curse 
14. Elric: The Kinslayer 
15. Bane Of The Black Sword
16. Outro 

If there’s two things I love in this world more than anything it’s vintage, spellbinding sword and sorcery fantasy and traditional no-frills balls to the wall Heavy Metal, so when I come across a band who combine the two in as sublime a fashion as Seattle’s SKELETOR then you’d be right in thinking I get a tad excited and go a little weak at the knees. For as much as I love my metal evil, brutal and all kinds of filthy and disgusting, I still maintain there is nothing at all can beat straight up classic Heavy Metal when performed and executed properly; bands such as MANILLA ROAD, SLOUGH FEG, OMEN, HELSTAR and so on are exactly what I mean, no sugary keys nor obscure pretences, just fearless leather studded metal the way it was originally intended. SKELETOR are firmly set in this mould, drawing influences from the aforementioned acts as well as the likes of JUDAS PRIEST while adding their own unique sheen to their fantasy borne crusades so they don’t remain yet another act left for time to envelop under its unforgiving wings.

Maybe there is a certain degree of persuasion and influence clouding my own judgement due to the fact a significant portion of “Agents of Power” is devoted to Michael Moorcock’s legendary Elric tales and myself, like Jason and co. being a massive enthusiast for all things Moorcock. But then again, when you’re named after He-Man’s arch nemesis, have songs that involve Dragonlance together combined with that cover how can you possibly go wrong? The first four tracks are nothing short of fantastic, integrating the unwavering US Metal ethos together with a more 70’s styled rocking PRIEST approach seamlessly. And when you’re spearheaded by the resolute wail of Jason which sounds uncannily like Geoff Tate flanked with some rather illustrious and flashy guitar work it’s severely difficult not to be impressed. From the Eternal Champion dedication ‘Agents of Power’ with its fist pumping, chorus driven and guitar shredding Manowar aesthetic to ‘Rhythm of the Chain’ and its carefree ‘fuck it all’ attitude which throws forth suspiciously familiar echoes of ‘Hellbent for Leather’ on steroids. A track I’m sure is a live staple in their setlist already, certainly destined to be if not already.

Where ‘Rhythm of the Chain’ ends though the albums real centrepiece begins. The previous tracks being a great showcase of the bands ability to pen virtuous and steadfast Heavy Metal rockers, the final twelve are actually a single piece entitled ‘Elric: The Dragon Prince (A Tale of Tragic Destiny in 12 Parts)’. And that’s what really crowned my interest, and I don’t need to tell you why. Many bands have written tracks about Elric, some better than others. Very little in my opinion has ever bettered ‘Bane of the Black Sword’ (the track here unfortunately not a cover) by APOLLO-RA or STORMBRINGER’s ‘Tanelorn’ and I always found DOMINE hugely overrated but this is something vastly different and ambitious by SKELATOR here and it works with a great deal of success. Highlights would be ‘Elric: The Dragon Prince’, again another swift burning anthem or ‘The Dark Tower’ another blood rushing high tempo number. The only slight problem lies in the spoken word sections constantly disrupting the flow; just when you want the current passage to continue or think it’s going to elevate to the next level, that section ends only for another completely different one to pop up. Had they been cut out and the remainder been knitted together then we’d be on to something utterly outstanding altogether. Still though it’s a first, the only other traditional Heavy Metal  song of the same gargantuan proportions I can think of off the top of my head is MANOWAR’S ‘Achilles...’, and it’s much better than that. We all know how shitty that was.

Each element of SKELATOR’S musicianship is fantastic and tighter than Bruce Dickinson’s spandex, but a special mention must go to frontman extraordinaire Jason Conde Houston with his outstanding set of pipes that channel everyone from Rob Halford to Geoff Tate. From his stratospheric wail to dropping through to a slightly lower gruff tone dripping in attitude and panache, his range is seriously impressive. As good as the riffs and solos are, it’s his vocals that really set them apart, I’m still fucking singing along to ‘Rhythm of the Chains’. Sure every tom dick and harry in the eighties had a blistering shredder, very few had a Midnight or a James Rivera. Guitar aficionados fear not though, the duelling Rob’s have some fierce chops, ripping solos and finesse abound to keep you happy.  What I love about this album is it doesn’t try to be anything fancy, their wear their influences vividly on their sleeve but still manage to drag you into their own vibrant realm of fantasy inspired metal that leaves many of their more prominent peers behind with a mouthful of dust and grit; why would you ever want anything else?


Sounds like - Battlerage, Judas Priest, Twisted Tower Dire

Originally written for The Metal Observer

Saturday, 26 May 2012

[ALBUM REVIEW] Mysteriis - Hellsurrection

Genre - Black Metal


2. Nazarene Shall Fall
3. Hall Hath No Limits
4. Ave Mysteriis II - the Second Coming
5. 66 Infernal Legions
6. Torment on the Tomb of Christ
7. Vatican Decays
8. Heaven's Monotony
9. Temple of Disease
10. Outro / Profecia

Recently reunited and eager to spread their satanic gospel throughout the black metal realm, Brazilian band Mysteriis have coalesced once more after their rather uninspiring stint as Darkest Hate Warfront to release only their second full length album, and this isn’t just any old resurrection, it’s a fucking hellsurrection! Aren’t they clever? You’d think given the tragic album title, horribly trite cover art and the band’s history you’d expect to music to be similarly shallow and intolerable; I was certainly prepared for the worst, but the material present on Hellsurrection actually isn’t as dreadful as I initially anticipated.

The first half admittedly lags behind significantly compared to the latter half of the album contains the stronger material. From the off you’re initially struck with just how poor the production is, it’s a plight that hangs over the album continually; the guitar tone is far too clean and clinical, which is a shame as they can sew together some impressive riffs and harmonies which are scattered throughout Hellsurrection. A good deal of murk and grit would have added so much more to this album.

Execution wise, although fairly formulaic and extremely predictable, the songs hold their own and occasionally there are some inspired moments such as the soloing in the second half of the opener and “Torment on the Tomb of Christ” which is arguably the strongest track here along with “Heaven’s Monotony” and it’s rather quirky Arabic styled guitar flurries. Agares’ guttural rasp is sufficient enough but far too one dimensional, something which could be said of the majority of the album, it all kind of just coagulates into one big pool of extreme mediocrity. At times there’s even a few keyboard passages  spread within but they’re sparse and sounds as if the band aren’t too sure whether they want to take the melodic road or not.

I would liken their sound to mid-period Ancient and at times there are shadows of Emperor circling, but for the most part it falls within the ‘safe’ category that Ancient themselves eventually fell into. I suppose it’s no surprise the mid era Ancient vocalist Lord Kaiaphas makes a cameo as does Lord Belial’s frontman. It’s vicious and harbours a good deal of intent with all the elementary aspects performed well enough  but when push comes to shove it’s nothing more than an a severely average black metal album, something of which there are enough of infesting the planet as it is.

As far as a showcase for Brazilian black metal goes though it never had a huge scene to begin with, I don’t think Mystifier have much to get concerned over, there are better artists out there. It lacks the unique characteristics and variety which is needed to elevate a band such as this to the next level.  There’s all manners of blasphemy and unholiness crawling out of every orifice here and if that’s your thing you might find something present, though I struggle to find a reason to go back to it really, for although an improvement on the previous (that wasn’t hard), it’s still too much of a non-event.  


Sounds like - Ancient, Patria, Emperor   

Wednesday, 23 May 2012

[ALBUM REVIEW] Siculicidium - A rothadó virágok színüket vesztik

Genre - Black Metal

1. Zuhanás
2. Holnap Majd Felgyújtom Az Erdït
3. Várnak A Varjak
4. Ökörtej (Latte Bue)
5. Halványan Az Idï Ellen (Rehearsal)
6. A Sajnálat Utolsó Lehelete (Taxidermia) (Rehearsal)
7. Bakarasznyi Mumus

I first encountered Transylvanian Black Metal act SICULICIDIUM a couple of years ago now when I stumbled upon their (currently only) full-length release ‘Utolsó vágta az Univerzumban‘ in a local record shop and bought it on a whim and subsequently loved it. They exhibited a striking blend of influences from TORMENTOR to INQUISITION and DARKTHRONE among others. ‘A rothadó virágok színüket vesztik’ is their first new release since that album and retains the same basic style and principles of the last album, except this time it appears to have been stripped right to the bone and sandblasted with a huge amount of wretched dirt.

The underworldly melodies have been for the most part been replaced by a brash and obnoxious punk like influence which for the most part seems to transfer across rather well. It’s a short enough affair, there’s only three proper songs which are new, then you’ve got two interludes and then two tracks which are rehearsals presumably left over from the recording of their debut album. “Zuhanas” kicks things off with a horror driven dirge and you can immediately hear the TORMENTOR influences in the band’s sound here, most notably in Béla Lugosi’s grim, rasped vocals. Supported with subtle synth work and Krul’s slightly muffled albeit impressive drumming it is the only track that really carries forward that grisly, evil sound from before. 

“Holnap majd felgyújtom az erdőt” is where the crusty Black ‘n Roll influences really seep through, HELLHAMMER-esque in all their raw garage like glory. Ultimately though this song doesn’t really do much for me, its repetition doesn’t really work and the song in general just comes across as a tad silly. Then came “Várnak a varjak”, and even though it wasn’t even two minutes long I thought it was pretty fucking awesome, except it sounded a touch familiar. Struggling to put my finger on it and racking my brain for ages it then dawned on me, that same rhythm and arrangement was used on “Halványan az idő Ellen” which is a track off the last release and also makes a cameo here as well in rough rehearsal form. Here it is moulded into an atmospheric and melancholic interlude that provokes an eerie sense of unease and trepidation and a direction I wouldn’t mind the band exploring further. It works very well.

“Ökörtej” reverts back to the raucous and raw Black Metal, brisk in pace with its primitive tremolo riffing and those obnoxious vocal patterns and ugly attitude, it almost sounds to these ears like a twisted marriage between DARKTHRONE and ABUSRD. The vocals could definitely do with being filled out a bit though, it sounds as if Bela Lugosi has been recorded while singing halfway down a hallway. The next two tracks are rehearsals off the last album and there’s not much to say about them really other than “Halvanyan...” having the same melody as “Varnak...” except transcribed in metal form this time around and “A sajnálat utolsó lehelete” being an extremely unevolved version of that previously seen on the last album.

For what it is, ‘A rothadó virágok színüket vesztik’ is again another decent release by this Romanian horde. It’s a lot different in contrast to the last album though, bearing an altogether more repulsive and odious facade than previously seen in its punkish delivery. At the end of the day though there are only four completely new tracks here, the rest appears to be no more than a collection of odds and sods that have been tacked on for good measure so I would advise newcomers to start with the debut first, and then opinions deciding, they could move on to this without too much hesitation. 


Sounds like - Inquisition, Absurd, Barathrum

Originally written for The Metal Observer

Tuesday, 15 May 2012

[ALBUM REVIEW] Hellspawn - The Great Red Dragon

Genre - Death Metal

1. The First Banner in the Fields of Devil   
2. Words Becomes Flesh
3. Hellspawn      
4. Diabolic         
5. The Great Red Dragon 
6. Intro to the Revelation  
7. Revelation of the Red Dragon   
8. The Dice Are Cast       
9. The Greatest King among Demon          
10. An Obelisk of the World     

The Great Red Dragon is the sophomore effort by Polish death metal horde Hellspawn, and if this is anything to go by then they could certainly have a bright future ahead of them. Opting for a more brutal, clinical approach to proceedings than the recent wave of Swedish influenced acts which currently seem to be in vogue (not that I’m complaining), Hellspawn have a sound that appears somewhat of a consolidation of old school US death metal influences and the rather sleeker veneer of compatriots Vader and Decapitated.

One of the aspects of this release that initially drew my attention was the extremely thick and tangible guitar tone which is heavier than a bus full of Gene Hoglan’s. The riffs themselves twist and turn with a crushing, clever groove, convoluting and pulverising a path through Robert’s technically proficient, blast strewn brutal drumming and Mariusz’s deep set gutturals from which I can certainly derive influences of Dave Vincent. The guitar in general be it the huge riffing or wild soloing is all heavily influenced by Morbid Angel, it has just been polished up a touch.

Speaking of the guitar solos, they’re littered  all throughout The Great Red Dragon during its brief stay and add a welcome sense of twisted melody and variation to what could otherwise be a rather one dimensional release. Luckily for Hellspawn though they kept their tracks mostly around the three minute mark which was a smart move as this particular strain of death metal is notoriously problematic with bands creating songs which just drag on and on into a horizon of aimless monotony.

The short yet potent bursts of brutality keep the concentration from waning and prevent Hellspawn from ever becoming too stale. Any arguements I have with this release lie solely with the song writing which becomes quite predictable, notably so towards the album’s closing stages where the songs sort of just run into one. The musicianship though is ace, amplified by the great clean production job which clearly accentuates each individual instrument yet refrains from dousing the fire which so many ‘modern’ production jobs manage to do.

Still, regardless of the slight lack of originality and diversity The Great Red Dragon is a very respectable effort at a style of death metal which more often than not bores me to tears. What it lacks in innovation it more than makes up for in spirit and technique, which is present in abundance. And when it comes down to it, isn’t that all that’s important? The latest Horrendous album is still by far and large the death metal album to beat this year though; still, fans of Vader, Morbid Angel and Hate Eternal will definitely dig this and should give it a blast.


Sounds like - Morbid Angel, Vader, Hate Eternal

Originally Written for Metalcrypt

Saturday, 12 May 2012

[ALBUM REVIEW] Crystal Viper - Crimen Excepta

Genre - Heavy/Power Metal

1.            Witch's Mark  
2.            Child of the Flame         
3.            It's Your Omen   
4.            Crimen Excepta            
5.            Medicus Animarum        
6.            The Spell of Death     
7.            Hope Is Gone, Here's New Law               
8.            Fire Be My Gates           
9.            Tyrani Piekieł (Vader cover)      
10.          Ghosts of Sherwood    

So Marta Gabriel and her merry band of Heavy Metal hotshots return with the follow up to their 2010 effort “Legends”, and where “Legends” was a decent if slightly unfocused and indistinct release, “Crimen Excepta” is possibly the band performing as close to the peak of their potential as heard so far. For those not in the know, CRYSTAL VIPER are a Polish band who adhere to a code where if it doesn’t contain a mountain of guitar-wailing, double-bass and fist-clenched-to-the-sky choruses then it isn’t worth a damn.

When you worship at the feet of Heavy Metal legends such as RUNNING WILD, OMEN and IRON MAIDEN like these guys do you’d be forgiven for wondering how it’s physically possible to release an album less than perfect; well “Crimen Excepta” is arguably the closest they’ve come yet, maybe even slightly bettering their fantastic debut album. “The Curse of Crystal Viper” was nothing but naive, ingenious Heavy Metal flamboyance with a certain swagger that hasn’t been seen again among these ranks until now. “Crimen Excepta” has everything any self-respecting fan of classic Heavy Metal should ever want or need; it’s utterly anthemic and unashamedly retro yet harbours enough character and is refined enough to prevent it from ever setting foot in ‘cheese’ territory, which is a difficult thing to achieve these days.

The opener ‘Witches Mark’ is the weakest track on the album, it just doesn’t grab you with the same magnitude that others like ‘It’s Your Omen’ or ‘The Spell of Death’ do. It finally feels like they’ve broken the chains that shackled them on their previous release and are now free to run riot, none more evident than in the aforementioned tracks, which showcase CRYSTAL VIPER at the combined pinnacle of their creative forces so far. ’It’s Your Omen’ for example is everything a Heavy Metal song should be, balls out and swamped with steely riffing, blistering solos and Marta’s vividly catchy, unique and authoritative vocal patterns. This woman has some seriously impressive vocals that are tailor made for this type of music, unmistakable and commanding she wraps you around each note with that abrasive wail fluently.

The title track even features Dave Bower of HELL fame towards the end which adds a nice dramatic finish to an otherwise great song, and when not completely castrated by Andy Sneap’s production skills (...or lack of) he is actually pretty good. He actually sounds a bit like Marco Hietala from early TAROT days here, which certainly is no bad thing. The whole album is overflowing with RUNNING WILD-esque riffs and driving double bass which is a concoction that is certain to get the blood flowing, most noticeable in the remarkable ‘The Spell of Death’ which is the standout highlight here. High tempo, energetic and absolutely ripping, it’s CRYSTAL VIPER at the best I’ve ever heard them, they make it all appear so effortless here compared to past releases.

Bonus track ‘Ghosts of Sherwood’ is actually one of the strongest tracks on this release, the band slow it down a notch to the point it’s almost a ballad, something they’ve always been rather proficient at but the VADER cover seems a bit pointless. I’ve never really been a huge VADER fan though so it does nothing for me; it just seems a bit throwaway. Aside from that the only other gripe I have is with the production which is slightly stifling and muddied, but it doesn’t affect “Crimen Excepta” too much to be a significant problem.

It’s CRYSTAL VIPER as we’ve come to know them by now, powerful and extravagant, but this is on another level completely compared to the last album. It’s not original at all, but who ever decided that something needs to be original to sound good? It’s so shamelessly rooted in the eighties and early nineties Power Metal that I adore it, it’s like they’ve finally rediscovered that spark has been absent ever since “The Curse...”. This is what Heavy Metal is all about, flashy guitar work, glass rattling choruses and saturated in attitude. It puts HUNTRESS’s latest shallow attempt at Heavy Metal to the sword, and then stamps on it a few times for good measure. “Crimen Excepta” is everything that album isn’t. 


Sounds Like - Running Wild, Iron Maiden, Warlock

Originally Written for The Metal Observer

Wednesday, 2 May 2012

[ALBUM REVIEW] Aschenglas - Schauderreich

Genre - Symphonic Black/Folk Metal

1. Weinende Engel            
2. Viel zu schlimm um wahr zu sein            
3. Inkaelte            
4.  Zu horchen zur Geschicht        
5.  Brandemann     
6.  Klein Leidenslied           
7.  Schwesterleins letzter Tag         
8.  Schwarzer Regen            
9.  Schauderreich  
10. Am Ende dunkelts ganz und gar             

I first came across this bizarre Austrian outfit a few years ago when I bought one of their demos on a complete whim.  While it wasn’t the most awe-inspiring example of black metal I’d ever heard there was a certain spark hidden deep within that fuzzy demotape that kept drawing me back to it every now and again wondering when they’d get round to releasing a full length. Schauderreich has to a certain extent fulfilled that promise, but unfortunately held back to a huge extent by the absolutely woeful production. Seriously what was this recorded on, a fucking brick?

Trying to pin a sound on these guys proves to be rather futile; the core of their sound is rooted firmly in the black metal realm but there’s a menagerie of other influences such as goth and folk that really set off their identity. If you’ve heard their countrymen Raventhrone then it might go some way to describing their sound for it appears they are to some extent an influence on Aschenglas’ with the synth prevalent, medieval atmospheres albeit without the sheer epic soundscapes that Raventhrone were able to conjure.  

It’s an unashamedly melodic release, the keys have a significant presence throughout the whole album and are admittedly at times outstanding, stirring up images of far-fetched medieval fantasy themes. You only have to listen to the title track or “Brandemann” to know what I mean. The guitar work plays a somewhat reserved role, unintentionally due to the fact it’s so insubstantial and the tone so weak. There’s no kick off it which is a pity as there is some brilliant riffing and lead work beyond that wall of synth. This is generally the main problem that plagues the album from beginning to end, and subdues what would otherwise be a fantastic release. The sound is so compressed and lacking in dynamics and bass that it stifles every single element of the release, which is a pity as there is some really impressive musicianship on show here.

“Inkaelte” is one of the highlights, seven minutes of extremely melancholic guitar riffs supported with a backdrop of triumphant sounding synths and vocals duelling between deep Germanic goth and high pitched throaty rasp that at times tends to sound a little silly. “Brandemann” is much more vigorous and direct, sounding almost like a prelude to a great battle of sorts. The album’s main showpiece though lies with the title track “Schauderreich”, a sprawling epic that spans eight minutes and begins in stunning fashion with an intro awash with flowing, majestic keys and sorrow laden riffs that echo to a ‘not-quite-so-well’ produced Summoning among others before shifting mid-way into something considerably more ‘gothic’ before reverting back to its Summoning-esque grandeur to close the song.

One thing’s for sure, it’s an interesting listen. At times it was mesmerizing and others it left me cold and unsure. I would love to have given Schauderreich more but the production is so downright shitty I couldn’t; there is a mass of potential just waiting to be unleashed underneath that flimsy exterior, which hopefully we will see some of in their next effort. As it stands though, if you’re a fan of extremely melodic, ambitious and dramatic black metal with plenty of unfamiliar influences that wouldn’t sound out of place in a world inhabited by hobbits, orcs and elves then give it a whirl. Just prepare to be ever so frustrated. 


Sounds like  - Raventhrone, Summoning, Nazgul

Originally written for Metalcrypt