Saturday, August 28, 2010

Vielikan - Emotional Void

Better than the bands they remind me of

Northern Africa isn't necessarily known for crushing Metal, but Vielikan certainly prove that such a thing exists. Hailing from Tunisia, Emotional Void is a decent 25 minute journey through darkness that's interesting while it lasts, but won't stick in your mind for months after the experience. While yes, the tag of "Progressive Death Metal" will invariably draw comparisons to the bewilderingly beloved Opeth, the influence keeps itself restrained enough to remain pure influence as opposed to straight up worship, which is definitely a good thing. The percussion generally keeps a very slow pace, and while double bass may kick up occasionally, Tarak Ghemguy's upper half keeps the flow at a snail's pace for most of the duration. The main issue with Emotional Void is that it just kind of… I don't know, just happens.

No segments grab you by the balls and command your attention, there is no real sense of overwhelming atmosphere, and nothing is really retainable. The riffs are reminiscent of Gojira in the sense that they just kind of grind and chug along like an old fashioned locomotive on an endlessly looping track. The train chugs and chugs along, polluting the air and going nowhere, and most of the riffs are no different. Again, this isn't necessarily a riff based style they're going for, but the lack of any overpowering atmosphere leaves me nothing to think about except the guitar work. Thankfully, the overall feeling from track to track changes enough to keep them distinguishable. "Zero Affection" takes a Doom/Death style route in the vein of Evoken somewhat, "Black Marsh" has a couple clean breaks that warrant the dreaded Opeth comparison, and "A Vertiginous Fall" sounds straight off of From Mars to Sirius, further hammering home the unfortunate Gojira similarity.

You could do a whole hell of a lot worse than Vielikan (I guess you could be listening to Gojira, so this is a better choice by virtue of the fact that it isn't them), but there are much better ways to spend your time. Fans of the bands I've mentioned throughout the review should check this out, but if you never really liked any of them, nothing here will change your mind or enlighten you to the style.

RATING - 60%

Originally written for 

Unburied - Slut Decapitator

One of my favorite album titles, at the very least

The only phrase I can use to describe this would be "lukewarm vehemence". There isn't anything really bad about this Virginian Death/Grind outfit, but there isn't a damn thing worth getting excited over either. It's something that is fantastically mediocre, extraordinarily middle of the road, and just very, very, inconsequential. None of the riffs stick with you, none of the songs command your attention, and no single instrument strikes you as spectacular or awful. Y'know? It's Death/Grind, and that's about it. The only thing I can think of that is even somewhat unique or memorable about the album is the fact that they don't really mix the two genres as much as they make them "coexist". What I mean by that is simply that the songs aren't a mixture of the two, but the album contains some Death Metal songs and some Grind songs. The grindy songs are still closer to metal than, say, Last Days of Humanity or some other ridiculous goregrind band, but most of the songs just sound like a really bland, slightly faster than average, Death Metal.

I have to give the band some credit for making the bass prominent in the mixing. Most bands really seem to neglect the low end, and the act of simply making it easily audible will immediately make bass players enjoy the album just a slight bit more. I'll say that the second half houses the more memorable and worthwhile tracks, and "Gore-Soaked Revenge" is probably the best purely because it is based off a good, memorable riff, but it's still a faceless blur overall. There isn't much point listening to something that you won't remember or want to hear again, so I'd say this album shouldn't be bothered with unless you're a huge fan of the genre and need absolutely every release in order to feel complete with your life or something.

RATING - 54%

Originally written for

PanzerBastard - 2006 - 2009


June 6th, 2006, was a fateful day for Heavy Metal. For the first time since metal's birth, the dates have aligned to form a sort of tribute to the eternal muse down below… 06-06-06. On this day, Slayer promised to release their new album, Christ Illusion, but bureaucratic setbacks pushed the release back to August. Determined to make the once in a life time chance mean something, Slayer promised to kick off their highly anticipated Unholy Alliance Tour on that day, but Tom Araya's gallbladder surgery pushed that back a week as well. So the fateful day went by with very little happening in the world of metal since one of the biggest bands managed to not pull through with any of their promises. Essentially the only thing that happened was that this was the day when Boston's PanzerBastard took form, and while this isn't quite as momentous an occasion as anything Slayer could've done (as shitty as Christ Illusion was), PanzerBastard delivers some extremely fast and solid Thrash.

2006 – 2009 is a compilation of three earlier demos, Hell Gate, Bastards Die Hard, and Boston. Personally, I find the Bastards Die Hard material to be the best of the lot, disregarding the asinine intro and outro that both consist of essentially one riff repeated over and over again for a few minutes. "No God(s)", "PanzerBastard", and "Bastards Die Hard" are probably the best tracks on the whole compilation, it's just coincidence they all happen to be from the same demo. While some of the musicians have a background in hardcore and punk, not very much manages to seep through. This is Crossover of the thrashiest kind, and the hardcore vocals and blast beats never take away from the almighty riff (the latter actually improves most sections it appears in). Honestly, this reminds me of St. Louis retro-thrashers, Head on Collision; the main difference there being that I can listen to PanzerBastard for more than three songs at a time without getting bored. I'd say check this out. It's nothing revolutionary, but it's solid, thrashing, headbanging fun without some lame gimmick tacked on in order to make it entertaining like so many other new Thrash bands have done.

RATING - 83%

Originally written for

Nahar - La Fascination Du Pire

A competent snoozefest

To me, Nahar is proof that some people just aren't quite made for one-man bands. Sure, Sorghal from Nehemah contributes vocal duties to La Fascination Du Pire, but as far as I can tell all of the songwriting and instrumentation is done by Shaddar, and he frankly doesn't have the talents to pull off what he's going for. Excluding the ambient intro track, the track lengths average out to slightly less than seven minutes. That, coupled with the fact that a majority of the album is mid-paced, gives the idea that he's trying to go for an epic style of Black Metal. Unfortunately, there is no feeling of epicness to be found. No real emotion manages to emanate through the dirty BM production, even though it's obvious that this was his goal. So instead of any real power, we're left with a very plodding recording. There are definitely some shining moments here and there like the end of "Where Others Have Drowned" or the beginning of "The March of No Reason", but overall there just isn't much of interest. I think the main problem is that while Shaddar has many ideas, the lack of other songwriters means his ideas are never tweaked or refined to become better. "Desert of Redemption" starts off on a typical, yet promising, Black Metal riff with a slow "blast beat" behind it, but the issue is that it barely evolves. You'll hear maybe two or three different permeations of that same riff with the drums bapping away at the same tempo for damn near the entire first six and a half minutes. The only reason it doesn't last all eight is because the last two minutes are ambient filler. That's the general idea behind most of the songs, and they never really mutate into what they want to be. Shaddar needs a full band to help these ideas mature and flourish, until then he'll probably continue to churn out boring music with few glimmers of potential here and there.

RATING - 44%

Originally written for

Kiuas - The New Dark Age

On the bright side, at least they're easy to classify now

I'm a pretty large fan of Kiuas's first two albums. Both The Spirit of Ukko and Reformation did an extraordinary job of seamlessly blending Power Metal with outside influences like Melodeath, Thrash, and even some Black Metal. When I first heard their debut, I was somewhat blinded by something new and shiny, but even now that my phase has worn off, it's still a solid record. The following album was decent as well, although it had its share of clunkers as well. 2008 delivered The New Dark Age to us listeners, and through the benefit of hindsight it has shown me that the genre mixing wasn't the main thing that made Kiuas stand out, it was in fact the only thing.

The New Dark Age sees the once mighty Finns stripped of all the fancy battle armor that once adorned them. Underneath the imposing steel and leather, there is a spindly adolescent with a deep voice. The core of the warrior may not have been very strong, but when fully equipped for battle it was one hell of a force to be reckoned with. Well our warrior decided it was time to come out of his shell and stop pretending he was such a badass, and it was time instead to ride into battle unequipped yet determined. The point is that Kiuas is a fairly weak Heavy Metal band and in fact NEED the occasional blast beat, death grunt, or thrashy riff in order to fully reach their potential. In all honestly, one can only listen to the opening track, "The Decaying Doctrine", and promptly skip off to do something more worthwhile. That song is the blueprint for most of the rest of the album. It's mid-paced, chunky, bottom heavy, and features a good, clean middle range voice screaming over the top. The problem is that this formula wears thin rather quickly. One of the only times the formula is broken is on "To Excel and Ascend". The aforementioned track stills rides on a middle tempo and chugging chords, but it's one of the only times where Ilja Jalkanen lets his voice break the range he lazily sits in for the rest of the album, as he lets out a few low roars. Something incredibly simple like a few lines in a different vocal style reminds me why I fell in love with Kiuas in the first place. It's a shame that he and the rest of the band are suddenly afraid to experiment and let in all the outside ideas again. What we're left with is a fairly bland mid pace Heavy Metal album with a big focus on groove. Stick to The Spirit of Ukko, at least it manages to offer up more than two good tracks.

RATING - 52%

Originally written for

Hod - Serpent


Despite the fact that Texas plays host to a respectably sized slew of Black Metal bands, most of them seem forever doomed to live in the shadow of the mighty Absu. New Black/Death outfit Hod does a pretty good job of reminding us that there are other things inside that big, dumb cousin of the USA apart from Absu and King Diamond (for the time being at least). Despite only being formed less than two years ago, all of the members have been involved in the scene for nearly two decades, so you can expect something that sounds like some seasoned veterans cranking out some vicious metal as opposed to a bunch of kids hopelessly paying tribute to their idols. Their debut full-length, Serpent, consists of seven razor sharp, high tempo, aggressive Black/Death tracks that never slow down enough to give your neck a break. It's just constant pummeling from the get go, just the way the style should be played. To paint a vivid picture as to what the band sounds like, imagine Goatwhore amped up the Black Metal in the riffing department, nearly eliminated their blast beats, and recruited Taz from Looney Toons for vocal duties. That's right; these vocals come off as hilarious as opposed to hateful. I understand that metal is a great medium to be as ridiculous as possible but still be extremely cool at the same time, but this is an entirely different level. The LAST thing you want a Black Metal album to remind you of is a children's cartoon. Apart from this one setback, Hod holds up very well amongst the sea of mediocrity nowadays. There aren't any real standout tracks, but the album itself is an enjoyable journey through the depths of hatred and revenge.

RATING - 80%

Originally written for 

Embryonic Depravity / Gorevent - Malignant Opus of Inherited Depravities

Chugga chugga chugga chugga CHOO CHOO

This split is absolutely dripping with hilarious cliché. From the longwinded and meaninglessly syllabic song titles of the Brits' band to the goofy Engrish of the Japanese folks, the track titles are merely the beginning of the stagnation and unoriginality to be found here. I can't even look at this from a band by band basis, as they are rather similar styles of drop Z Devourment worship. If I had to pick which band I'd prefer, it would be Embryonic Depravity simply because the vocals are less irritating. And really, pretty much the only difference between the bands is the vocals anyways.

The tracks are indistinguishable from one another, but that is par for the course in this style, and that honestly isn't really a problem. The real issue is the fact that all eight tracks between the two bands just plod along like a hippo with a hernia, except it's not as entertaining or memorable. Embryonic Depravity is, as I said, the better of the two bands because they take a healthy dash of Dying Fetus to mix in with the Devourment, and this is evident on tracks like "Insurgence of Dogmatic Antiquity" and "The Propagation of Decrepitude", throwing it some technical sweeps to break up the monotonous chugging. Vocally, they like to stick with the tried and true method of growling really deeply and not actually annunciating anything.

Gorvent, on the other hand, does pretty much everything wrong. I'll give them some leeway for at least having a better drum sound (no "rubber band slapping against a tin can" snare drum), but the annoyance of their weak bass drum and overly sharp cymbals kind of offset their one improvement over the first half. The vocals this time are even less decipherable, instead going for the uber low snoring technique utilized by many goregrind acts. The fact that the music is literally nothing but boring chug riffs severely hinders the enjoyment of it. Drums switch between typical back beats to blasts and that's really the only variation throughout their contribution to the split. I can't even point out any one song as being the best or worst simply because they are all the same basic formula of chug/blast/chug/break down.

Malignant Opus of Inherited Depravities is a below average mid-paced Brutal Death Metal split, but not something worth nobody's time. Devourment and Dying Fetus fans could check it out, but it's not for everybody.



Originally written for 

Deicide - Till Death Do Us Part


Deicide baffles me. Deicide and Legion are Death Metal classics in my eyes, then they release Once Upon the Cross, which isn't awful, but rather pedestrian and a massive step down. Fourthly comes Serpents of the Light, which is a slightly different take on their established style, and thus one of their best records. Afterwards, they released a bunch of tedious and boring albums, they then boot out the Hoffman brothers, recruit Jack Owen from Cannibal Corpse and Ralph Santolla, who was fresh off recording Iced Earth's incredibly crappy The Glorious Burden, and release their masterpiece, The Stench of Redemption. Stench was chock-full of new and awesome ideas, more intense songs, and Santolla's masterful guitar wizardry. Everything had finally aligned for one of the original Death Metal acts.

So what the hell happened with Till Death Do Us Part? Everything that made the previous album spectacular is conspicuously absent. It's not like they've completely reverted to the tedium of the Insineratehymn days or anything, but whatever magic they previously possessed is completely gone. Benton's trademarked dual layered growls are still prevalent, Asheim's drumming is just as vicious as ever, but I think the thing that made the most difference of the previous record was the addition of Owen and Santolla. The latter's soloing style is rather unique and strange in the context of Deicide's brand of fury, but it fit perfectly. It was a breath of fresh air for us listeners, and now the two are relegated to the back with very few standout moments. Benton's divorce really tore into him, that's understandable, but it seems like he let that inspire him to a fault. "Goddammit guys, I'm angry and bitter! Fuck those melodies and leads you wrote, THIS is how I feel, so fuck you. Don't like it? Start your own band!". It all boils down to the music, and this pales in comparison to the 2006 opus. It's nothing new, it's like a forced mixture of their middle era and tinges of the last record. Either way, it lacks the memorability and awe-inspiring quality that The Stench of Redemption so proudly carried. Is this just a disappointment in comparison to the previous behemoth? Somewhat, but even as a standalone, this doesn't do anything to impress me.

RATING - 35%

Originally written for

Friday, August 27, 2010

Five Finger Death Punch - The Way of the Fist

You can't fool a former MTV drone!

I grew up with metal. My mother was a huge Metallica and Pantera fan, my dad loved Black Sabbath, I sang along with Megadeth's Countdown to Extinction from a very young age, and my taste stayed along the lines of hard rock ala GNR and mainstream metal for nearly the first decade of my life. Around the age of nine, I discovered cocai-.... erm... MTV. I was swept up into this mindfuck of a television station and began to base my tastes off of what was popular on the broadcasts. Because of this, I became a massive pop punk fan at nine years old. Blink 182, CIV, The Offspring, and other assorted bands were the order of the day. At age ten, I entered a brief rap phase. Eminem, Dr. Dre, stuff like that. After a few months of that, I "rediscovered" metal through dreck like Korn and Limp Bizkit. They blended that coolness of rap and that heaviness of metal to my ears. Obviously, I know better now, but that was a the coolest shit in the world when I was in fifth grade. I paid money to see Staind live, I thought Slipknot was the heaviest band around, I would listen to System of a Down's Toxicity at least twice a day, I probably still know all the lyrics to every song on Static-X's Wisconsin Death Trip. The lyrics of the genre reflected my twelve year old angst against the society that just didn't understand me, the songs were catchy and occasionally offensive, and it catered to the misunderstood like myself. Somewhere in eighth grade though, I had a strange desire for something a little more complex, so I got sucked into Metallica again and eventually refined myself into the Mosh Jesus you see today.

I shared this story because I learned something from it. Throughout my time as an angsty, Mohecan, nu metal drone, I became extremely familiar with the sound, ideals, and all the nooks and crannies of the genre. It gave me x-ray vision, so to speak... the ability to spot wolves in sheep's clothing. No longer could a bunch of angry losers in Halloween costumes control my mind. This is why Five Finger Death Punch is the recipient of so much of my uncontrollable rage, it's a collection of faux tough guys masquerading as heavy metal, polluting the minds of youngsters seeking to explore the genre. I am being 100% honest when I say that every last one of these songs sound like they would fit perfectly on Slipknot's Iowa. There is honestly nothing redeemable about this release, and all five members of the band, the road crew, those who helped in the studio, and all of their fans deserve to be rounded up, sodomized by cacti, castrated with meat tenderizers, and strangled with their own entrails. This is absolute zero, a place where all life dies. Matter ceases to move and music ceases to be enjoyable in any way.

The songs are only discernible due to differing levels of unintentional hilarity, almost all of which revolve around the hands down biggest clown to ever step behind the mic. Be it the laughable "BREAK THIS SHIT DOWN!", the pathetic "NO MERCY! YOU FAGGOT!", the despicable whining of "Everything I touch, turns to ashes...*crys*", or the sheer stupidity of shouting "YOU'RE MONKEY SEE AND MONKEY DO!" with honest conviction, the album is chock full of comedy around every turn. The breakdown of White Knuckles is pretty much the worst part of the entire record, as it just sums up the entire nu metal angst down to the letter. The crescendo of bullshit with him doing that stupid whisper-and-scream thing of "I'm taking back control... WITH MY KNUCKLES!", it's hilarious and humiliating at the same time. Every last lyric is the absolute nadir of creativity and sounds like shitty poetry hypothetically written by me circa 2001. It's all the same "I'm angry at the world, my father is an asshole, you're a bitch, why did my girlfriend leave me?, why doesn't anybody understand me?" garbage that saturated Korn albums in the late nineties. And honestly, everybody who isn't Devin Townsend should write this down, saying "fuck" every other word does not make you sound tough. The lyrics are not intimidating, I do not fear your obvious rage that you are so desperately trying to convey. Knock it off, it's not cool.

And as if the lyrics weren't enough reason to earn the ire of everybody who's heard an Exodus song in their lifetime, the vocals themselves are some of the most laughably horrendous I've heard since Masterpiece. He has two styles of vocals, Corey Taylor-esque "rawr I'm angry" tough guy screams and Corey Taylor-esque wussburger clean whining, both of which are terrible even for what they are... which is shitty. I've never met anybody who's been dumb enough to throw roadkill over a pile of shit, but this dweeb gets close enough to the general idea by taking an already awful style of vocals and managing to cock them up so badly. If there is any redeemable quality to him, it's that he shuts up every once in a while. The only downfall of the parts where he isn't crying is that he is no longer comically obscuring the pitiful instrumentals. I'll give these guys a very, VERY small amount of credit for at least being able to navigate around their instruments well enough, but that small amount of non-hatred is almost immediately stripped away due to the obnoxiously awful songwriting. They continue the old nu metal tradition of riding one riff into the ground for the duration of the track, with very small breaks for the inevitably terrible chorus and generically crappy breakdown. What could possibly be described as an average riff is extremely few and far between, and whenever it surfaces, it's drowned out by the hormonal stupidity of everybody's favorite microphone mongoloid.

People have tried to argue against my stance by claiming that the presence of double bass drums and guitar solos disqualifies it from being nu metal. This is like saying that calzones taste better if an accordian player is in the room. It has absolutely nothing to do with anything. Slipknot used double bass all the time, so let's not even try playing that card again. These solos that lobotomy patients speak of are as laughable as the rest of the record. Every time a solo starts up, the rest of the band slows down while the guitarist plays a super "emotional" lead consisting of maybe four or five notes, with a couple random rakes to fool all of the 'tards into thinking he's a guitar god. Honestly, listen to any solo on the record and try to imagine what they look like on stage. He hits his first prolonged note, the stage gets dark as all of the members step away from center stage, the lead guitarist slowly walks into the spotlight shining on the now clear center, his head flying back after each bent or held note. In the dark, one can faintly see the arms of the other four idiots rowing up and down, as they all bow on their knees to the six stringed messiah in front of them. He finishes his godlike twelve note solo, gently kisses the rest of the band on the forehead, and gives them permission return to their instruments so they can begin the song again. At this point, I would begin praying to God for Michael Romero to burst through the ceiling and COMPLETELY SHRED HIS FACE OFF! But alas, Romero seems content to sit on his ass and eat pork rinds all day, for if he had even a modicum of a sense of honor, he would've decapitated this blithering fool before this abomination of a record was recorded.

This is Slipknot, nothing more, nothing less. The overabundance of foolish teenage angst immediately shunts any good that could've hypothetically manifested itself through the record. And what's even more hilarious/depressing, is that nothing good is on here anyway. Roadkill over dungpiles, that's all. I believe that if you listen to this, decide it is enjoyable in any way other than unintentionally hilarious, then you need to be drawn and quartered. Listening to this is akin to having your foreskin slowly nibbled away by your grandmother. Death to Five Finger Death Punch. May your souls rot in eternal purgatory. Now if you'll excuse me, I'm going to go blast some Torture Squad to wash the shit out of my ears.


Alter Self - Ashes over Eden

Nothing to really see here

While the album art of this Greek band's first, and currently only, demo screams of melocore posturing, the actual music underneath thankfully manages to carry a sharper edge reminiscent of The Crown. Ashes over Eden leans predominately towards the Thrash side of the Death/Thrash style, and there aren't any complaints from me about that. Alter Self is a competent band, but one that I feel hasn't come into their own quite yet. There isn't any shameless emulation to be found here, but there's very little that makes me say "FUCK YEAH" and start thrashing like a maniac. The solo and middle break in the title track is easily the highlight of this 15 minute romp, but the rest just kind of goes on through the background and never really grabs your attention. The vocalist from Alter Self's painfully mediocre countrymen, Dark Vision, makes a guest appearance on "Wither", but it honestly isn't that noticeable. Guest vocalists can be a neat feature if it's somebody with a recognizable voice and/or established background, like when Tomas Lindberg guested on The Crown's Deathrace King. Having your guest vocalist hail from an equally unknown band with a dime a dozen voice doesn't help you stand out at all. I know I've mentioned The Crown twice already, but that's really what Alter Self sounds like; a passable, but not enthralling, and less speed obsessed version of the legendary Swedes. Give it a listen if you've got nothing else going on, but don't go out of your way for it.

RATING - 59%

Amputated - Wading Through Rancid Offal

THESE guys made Gargling with Infected Semen?

Well color me shocked. Britland's Amputated have come an astoundingly long way in just two years. Their debut, Gargling with Infected Semen, was frankly garbage. This Sevared style of Brutal Death Metal is one that's incredibly simple, yet very difficult to do in a way that doesn't bore the piss out of me. As you can probably tell, GwIS did just that. So it was with great reluctance that I decided to give the band a second chance, but it wound up actually being a good decision on my part.

Wading Through Rancid Offal ranks as one of the very few Slam Death records that manages to actually grab and hold the listener's interest. This is rather ironic considering the tracks are nearly indistinguishable and only feature two vocal stylings, both of which are quite monotone. There's the very low croaking style that dominates most of the record, plus the genre staple pig squeal, neither of which enunciate at all, which makes me wonder if the vocalist even has a tongue. Looking past the cliché vocal department, it's the music that really makes this album stand out. The slam sections manage to avoid the pratfall that most Slam Death bands fall into, and that's that they stomp more than they plod. The breakdowns may take up the most space on this album, but they're done well enough to maintain interest and actually carry the song quite well. The shoddy production of the previous album has also been considerably cleaned up. The percussion is kind of wooden sounding but everything sounds chunky and filthy, just how it's supposed to sound. If there's any real problem with Wading Through Rancid Offal, it's that while it's fairly good, it still strictly adheres to every cliché of the genre. Every song starts with a sample, the song titles (I'm assuming the lyrics are as well, but there's really no way to tell) are verbose and gory, most tracks focus on breakdowns with sprinkles of blasting sections, and it's very short.

With all that said, I'm still impressed even if it's because my only prior experience with the band was so horrible. Everything from the production, to the artwork, and most importantly, the songwriting, has all been improved immensely. Fans of Devourment and Dying Fetus's less widdly widdly moments should check this out.

RATING - 78%

1349 - Revelations of the Black Flame

Remember all that stuff we were good at? Let's do the opposite

Okay, it's fairly obvious that I have a massive boner for 1349's previous works. Liberation may have had some remarkably thin and buzzy production, but Beyond the Apocalypse and Hellfire are must listens as far as I'm concerned. The band was incredibly good at what they did, which was furious and relentless Black Metal that focused on intensity far more than atmosphere. Sure, it's not what most people prefer, but I'm much more predisposed to that style since I entered BM through the Thrash camp.

So what makes Revelations of the Black Flame so much worse? Frankly, everything the band was good at is conspicuously absent. Instead of the unchained fury, we're barraged with half hearted ambience and slow, dissonant melodies. Of the nine tracks, only "Serpentine Sibilance", "Uncreation", and "Maggot Fetus… Teeth Like Thorns" retain any of the band's former glory. The Pink Floyd cover is interesting if nothing else, but it just goes in one ear and out the other, as do most of the filler tracks. I'm not bitter because the band switched styles; I'm bitter because they're terrible at what they're trying to do here. 1349 is not a group that excels in creating an unsettling atmosphere, nor are they renowned in the world of ambience. Hellfire was a modern classic because there are few bands that can cram as much intensity and aggression into one record as well as 1349 can. It barely let up, so I can't help but wonder why they decided it would be such a great idea to abandon what made them so memorable and enjoyable in the first place. The bottom line is that Revelations of the Black Flame is fucking lame. If you want an ambient soundscape integrated with Black Metal, stick with bands like Wolves in the Throne Room who know how to make it interesting. Disappointment of 2009 by far.

RATING - 18%

Xerath - I

A somewhat interesting idea marred by shitty music

I like music when it's taken to an extreme. I've grown to like damn near everything that metal has to offer purely because I'm in love with the concept of extremes. Over the years, I've warmed up to my former punching bag in drone. I've grown to see the appeal of insanely raw black metal and ridiculous goregrind. Everything from the stupidly over-the-top (Dragonforce) to the most dismally downtempo (Wormphlegm) has entered my regular listening cycles because of the fact that the bands in question had the balls to push their music to the extreme. Hell, a large portion of what I listen to isn't extreme at all, but the point I'm trying to make is that I'm more likely to enjoy a mediocre yet enthusiastic black/thrash band than a mediocre yet creative band in a safe genre. And this is where Xerath enters the picture.

Xerath garnered a large following due to word of mouth and likeness to Meshuggah back last year. Something about the "orchestral" prefix really piqued my curiosity when I first heard about the band, and the sad fact is that the term should be used in quotation marks no matter what the context. Meshuggah got lucky, their trademark style is incredibly simple in essence (two or three note riffs played in a complicated time signature with no progression and mindless yelling over the top), but it's one that's inimitable because nobody can try to tackle a similar approach without being egged by all the Meshuggah fans for being shameless clones. Xerath was capable of emulating this style, and even improving it by putting in more than three riffs per song plus a few short solos with an actual sense of melody, but couldn't really take off due to the aforementioned issue with playing the style. So they decided to pull what Winds of Plague did, and just add keyboards. Xerath were guaranteed popularity purely because they managed to sound like Meshuggah with one key difference. The same problem that the aforementioned deathcore abomination suffered from is just as prevalent here, and that's that the keys typically don't actually do anything. They layer over the top of songs that sound like they were written without the synths in mind. They play root chords and fade away, nothing more. There's nothing more frustrating to me than hearing a band that actually has potential and an interesting idea end up sucking because they can't get out of the rut they started in.

None of the songs on I stand out thanks to yet another inherited trait in the indistinguishability. I hate to keep comparing the band to Meshuggah, but this is darn near the only influence I can pick out within the actual meat of the disc. Every issue I have with the Swedish faux-progsters is reciprocated with this British counterpart. The riffs are uninteresting chugfests, the vocals are a tuneless and unvarying shout, the percussion manages to be complex yet profoundly boring, and nearly nothing sticks in your head after repeated listens. The one and only time I ever said "wow, that part was actually pretty fucking cool" was during the very last track, "Right to Exist". The variances in the riffing are less subtle and more interesting in that song, plus the guitars finally take a back seat to a worthy symphonic part for the first time on the record. Oh sure, there are extended breaks throughout the album, but the orchestrations are pedestrian and weak during all but this last one. I'll also mention the track "Alterra", purely because I actually sense a strong Pantera vibe in the front half as opposed to that dirty "M" word for the first and only time.

Honestly, I'd recommend this only to fans of Meshuggah or any of those proggy types who value difficulty to play over memorability or songwriting. If you're interested because of the supposed epic orchestrations like I was, look elsewhere. The promises of polyrhythmic chunk melded seamlessly with emotional symphonics are empty promises indeed. You'll be just as well off with playing Chaossphere loudly and In Sorte Diaboli quietly in the background.

RATING - 23%

Wolf - Wolf


For those who don't know, lasagna is a kind of pasta pie thing that looks disgusting and regurgitated, but it tastes like a slice of holy heaven, and that is what Wolf's self titled debut reminds me off. It looks like shit (most hilariously bad album cover I've ever seen coupled entirely unoriginal and generic name and sound), but tastes fantastic (the music is incredibly fun, fast paced, solid old school heavy fucking metal).

There, now that my contractual food reference is out of the way, allow me to continue with my musical analysis. As stated, Wolf's brand of heavy metal is... well, like a store brand. If Iron Maiden, Judas Priest, Jag Panzer and the like are the Cokes and Pepsis of the style, then Wolf is like the Sam's Choice or the Tab. There is nothing here you haven't heard a thousand times before a thousand times better, but one can hear the conviction and passion in their riffs, which is more important than anything else. Imagine, the most innovative, creative, unique piece of music in the existence of humankind is performed by a bunch of scholars who have practiced to the point that they could play in their sleep, and execute the piece flawlessly in a nearly mechanically precise way. Immediately afterwards, Iron Maiden Clone #8675309, comprised of four or five eccentric looking young adults, sloppily plays their song, with a performance that exudes energy and passion. At this point, your are forced to make the choice of which one was more entertaining and what you'd rather see for the rest of eternity. I don't know about you, but I'll take the fools in spandex jumping around like chimpanzees on angel dust over the scholarly robots every single time.

That rather lengthy hypothetical was just my way of saying that while Wolf brings nothing new to the table, they are an enjoyable treat for any fan of the traditional heavy metal style. These guys sound like they worship Omen's Battle Cry, and that's about just as good an album as any to worship, and they do their worship relatively well. The riffs and leads manage to sound fresh even after the many recyclings they have undoubtedly gone through before the time of this album. Most of the songs are about the same pace and tempo, with the difference between the fastest and slowest songs being maybe only 20 or 30 bpm. So there isn't too much variation between tracks, but the variety in song structure will keep one interested throughout the duration. The minuscule difference between tracks and riffs that just scream deja vu don't seem like as big of problems as they actually are if you allow yourself to get sucked into the music.

There is one point of contention that really grates on my balls that I must address, and that is this vocalist. He is crappy... really crappy, he is the crappiest muffin (first person to identify the reference gets an internetical cookie). Remember how I said the vocalist for Icarus Witch sounded like a sedated Geddy Lee? Well now imagine a really tired and unconvinced Geddy Lee. All the passion championing I do when it comes to this band is almost always circumvented by this idiot. He sounds bored, like he just read the lyrics on the day he was to record his tracks, and he absolutely hated them. He's just there to fill the void of a frontman, the band needs a face and a voice, so they apparently just went with the first guy they saw who had long hair. I seriously can't see this guy being the best they could find. His voice lacks any sort of power... no vibrato, weak delivery, and just generally sounds like a really bored Joey Belladonna. The final seconds of Moonlight is a great example. The vocal line ascends to a point where he can't reach the note, and instead of just singing that particular portion in a lower octave or writing a melody that he could sing, he strains really hard to hit the note, and still ends up wailing about three or four whole tones flat, resulting in a hilariously embarrassing Kiske imitation. The fact that he plays guitar at the same time is no excuse, either give up guitar and vastly improve your vocal capabilities, or find a guy that doesn't smoke turds.

It's difficult to speak at great length about the instrumental aspects of Wolf. They are competent and ferocious, yet unoriginal, and I find it hard to explain it any further. Most riffs reek of Battle Cry or Powerslave and the drums utilize a grand total of four or five different beats, each one sounding like a master track from Iron Maiden's debut. And despite all this, it doesn't seem stale unless you want it to. Even though this is a hideously flawed record, it stands as an everlasting testament to why metal has endured as long as it has and why it won't die any time soon. While metal is still a young genre, it sometimes seems as if it expanded too quickly, and all of the ideas were used up in a mere 20 years. 38 years after Sabbath's debut, we are still treading new ground, but many of the paths are beaten and worn. Metallica has even set up a few rest stops along a few paths. But as Wolf tread the path that was taken many years ago by exponentially more talented groups, they still manage to deliver a solid dose of old school heavy metal. This is fun in moderation, but shouldn't be abused, lest it grow stale much faster than desired.

RATING - 79%

Witchaven - Totalitarian State of War


Every once in a while, a band comes along and just completely dominates you. You know damn well that there are better bands out there, but you just can't get over how awesome this one pet band is. Currently, Witchaven is this band for me. I'll be walking down Venom Avenue, the coolest street in all of Metaltown, and people will come up to me and ask "Hey dude have you heard the new Nile? Whaddya think of it?" and the only words that come out of my mouth are "FUCKING WITCHAVEN! YEAH FUCK YEAH YEAH! FAY! CESS! OF! DEEEEEATH!" as their heads blow backwards and skin slowly peels away from their face as a result of the power that simply reciting the lyrics musters. I find it impossible to listen to a band like Witchaven and not struggle to quell the urge to find the nearest living thing and kill it. They play with a rare power, a rare force that can command the listener to do whatever the band pleases, and they never have to even speak the command, you just do it.

Totalitarian State of War is black/thrash at it's most primal. Witchaven is the kind of band that wakes up every morning and eats freshly ground uncooked lamb for breakfast. With the blood still dripping from their jaws they exit their doom fortress and start axe murdering the local wildlife, and soon after that they jump on their V666 Murdercycles and ride a badass wheelie all the way to the Vatican where they sacrifice one priest every day in the brazen bull. Their days climax with a blasphemous orgy complete with mutilation and vorarephilia to the soundtrack of Bestial Mockery. What I'm trying to say is that they are bloody bestial ass rape raw and carry themselves on pure, undiluted attitude. Even tracks where they aren't running on all cylinders like the midpaced "Whispers in the Wind" completely destroy. "Circle of Shadows" and "Century of Fire" are probably the fastest outright tracks on display (and are unsurprisingly two of the best), but no track feels like a wasted spot. The production quality varies from track to track due to this actually being a compilation as opposed to a full length album, so it can be somewhat frustrating when listening from front to back. Songs like "Black Thrash Assault" and "Circle of Shadows" sound really professional (by black/thrash standards) while "Screams in the Night" sounds like it was recorded on a cell phone.

Instrumentally, this really isn't all that much to write home about. There aren't insanely fast blast beats nor virtuosic guitar acrobatics, but these California bred heathens play with a fresh intensity and passion that I find sorely lacking in most thrash based acts from the west coast. Instead of utilizing the perplexingly popular mindset of "Know what's awesome? Exodus. We should do that", they go for a mission along the lines of "Know what's awesome? Sabbat. We should try to be even better". And while they don't yet have the legacy of the Japanese Leather Thong Warriors, they play music of a similar style and equal viciousness, possibly even surpassing it at times. They way I see it, Totalitarian State of War wipes any trace of doubt away from the mind of the listener. The fact that Witchaven is still unsigned completely baffles me, as Hells Headbangers or Nuclear War Now! should definitely jump on a band of this style and quality. I believe they are bound for underground infamy based purely on the fury of the music. No frills, no gimmicks, just blasphemous, raw, neckbreaking attitude.

RATING - 89%

Winds of Plague - Decimate the Weak

Well, they ALMOST managed to not suck...

Let's get something out of the way really quickly. Yes, Winds of Plague's image is incredibly stupid. While I'm sure they weren't aiming for it, their metal aesthetic is so far off the mark that one really can't be blamed for being put off this band before even hearing a single note. Their hilariously bad music video for "The Impaler" sure as hell didn't help matters either. They look like (and probably are) a bunch of kids who were into hardcore that fell in love with Job For A Cowboy's infamous EP, Doom. They needed something to help them stand out in the flooding deathcore scene, so they chose to incorporate keyboards. To be completely honest with you, it worked very well, because I would have never been interested in hearing the band if it weren't for the symphonic prefix. But the bottom line is that merely doing something different isn't enough to legitimately garner genuine praise. It's been said several times before, but just because you're the first guy to train an elephant to piss in its own mouth, doesn't mean it's great purely because it's new. But here's the strange thing about Winds of Plague, they aren't really all that awful down at their core.

I'll give you a second to collect your socks that inevitably just flew off.

What I mean is that when they stick to trying melodic death metal, they're passable. Not great, but passable. Nobody in the band is a particularly strong songwriter, but the keyboard melodies actually seem to work over the generic chug riffing most of the time. While there aren't too many bands doing what they are doing here, it's still not very adventurous. There aren't too many strange riffs or exploratory melodies, but they do the job well enough to obscure the biggest problems with the album when they are in top form. For example, "Angels of Debauchery" has a churning middle section that focuses more on the atmosphere created by the keys, and they manage to give a somewhat soaring quality above the bland heaviness underneath. It manages to slow the song down despite frequent blast beating, giving it a somewhat mystical quality that the rest of the album sorely lacks.

Sadly, that's where the praise ends. The rest of Decimate the Weak is every bit as bad as the general opinion seems to reflect. I mentioned that nobody here is a very good songwriter, but the disjointed cut/paste style that most tracks feature is extremely irritating. It seems like these fellas enjoy deathcore, hardcore, melodeath, and symphonic metal, but they haven't the slightest clue how to actually blend them into a cohesive beast. Several songs will awkwardly jump from a generic melodeath riff into a cliche deathcore breakdown with absolutely no warning. The opening track, "Anthems of Apocalypse" is a perfect example. The song begins immediately after the pointless symphonic intro track with a typical metalcore/melodeath riff and a simple chord progression on the backing keys. The song follows that general template until suddenly stopping and turning into a hilariously brutal breakdown. I swear, you can hear the hardcore dancers in the back of your head start masturbating once it starts. The vocalist spurts a few ultra low, sounding like a deathcore parody, syncopated vocal lines before the song randomly switches back to where it was when it started. I sat stunned at the completely out of place breakdown upon first listen. "Maybe I just don't understand it" I thought to myself, as I was still early in my deathcore quest at the time and still didn't understand the thought process behind most of the decisions that seemed questionable to me. But before my thought was even finished, another asinine breakdown crashes through and stinks up the place. The hardcore "YOU WANNA SEE US FAIL?! NOT TODAY MOTHERFUCKERS!" yelling over the top was the icing on the cake. There was absolutely no way the band could redeem themselves after that insipid move. Yet, when the breakdown ended (as abruptly as it started, I should add), it was replaced by an adequate blasting section accompanied by the first riff I wouldn't describe as retarded. That's just the first song folks, and it never improves. Sometimes there's an unnecessary key only section and sometimes there's a big, dumb slamdown, but it never follows a logical flow. Winds of Plague is trying so hard to be against the grain and in support of throwing away conventions that they forgot to actually write a coherent song. I don't allow Opeth to do this shit so there's no way in hell that these tools get a free ride either.

Which leads me to my next point, this vocalist is fucking terrible. He has the common decency to not distort the shit out of his vocals like Suicide Silence, but there's no power behind any of his styles. He sounds like he just recently got into the music and just listened to a few similar bands in order to get the general idea down, as opposed to actually training his voice to growl with ferocity. Merely changing the way your voice sounds does not count as death metal vocals. He seems more rooted in hardcore and therefore has a voice that's incompatible with the melodic death metal that takes up a majority of the record. He only truly sounds like he belongs on a few choice spots, like near the end of the title track. Apart from being crappy and incompatible, he also spews some of the most retarded lyrics I've heard since Five Finger Death Punch. I'll concede that I don't know who the primary lyricist is, but nothing changes the fact that Jon Cook is the one whose mouth they are regurgitating from. I mean, for god sake, look at this choice excerpt from "Reloaded"

We've got the world in the palm of our hands.
Bustas fall down when we're barking commands.
Atlas ain't got shit on our steez.
Kick out the chair and get on your knees.

I really, really wish I was making that up. That reads like a mallcore parody, and yet here is this grown man making a complete fool of himself by yelling this drivel with honest conviction. Angsty teenagers write better than that, which is an absolutely pathetic line to be under. Sorry guys, but either ditch this fool or just give up, because despite the fact that he is so forgettable and easily blocked out when listening, he is the weakest link in a chain already made out of Twizzlers.

Decimate the Weak is bad, no two ways around it. I feel like they actually have some potential beneath the bad songwriting, lame image, and gimmick (ooh look, we have a chick in our band, here's a picture of her boobies, buy our albums please). If you've got tattoos covering both arms and use the word "fuck" like it's a punctuation mark, you are most likely the target demographic, but I can't even guarantee you'll like it considering some of my deathcore friends have complained about the sub par quality of the record. I guess if you enjoy the genre and don't mind a bit of experimentation, it's at least worth a listen. It's different, but far from being good. If they gave up on the breakdowns, hired a vocalist who actually carries a powerful set of lungs, and focused more on the light keys over fast heavy riffing, they could be okay. They flirt with that idea a few times here, but mostly tend to play simple melodies over simple chugging patterns, which frankly, takes about as much skill as being able to pick your nose without drawing blood.

RATING - 19%

Vicious Attack - 2009 Demo


If you aren't an Illinois or midwestern US native, I can imagine it'd be difficult to name more than a few big bands in the Chicago scene. Areas like southern California and the east coast are intense hotspots for this new breed of thrash that's been making the rounds lately. The midwest only spawned a handful of classic bands in any genre, let alone just thrash. Trouble, Morbid Saint, Cyclone Temple, and Usurper are a few off the top of my head, while I could probably write a novel about all of the great bands to come out of Los Angeles and San Francisco in the thrash genre alone. In the new millennium, a few local favorites have spurned and a couple have even made somewhat of a name for themselves. Infinite Missiles, Cross Examination, and Diamond Plate are a few that have gained some renown. One local Chicago favorite, and possibly future force, is Vicious Attack.

First off, the guys at Gunpoint Studios did a damn fine job of making this demo sound professional. Thankfully, it's not the glittery sheen of Gama Bomb, it manages to be both dirty and clear along the lines of early Slayer and Exodus. That sound is, frankly, how thrash should sound. I must say the only thing that bothers me about the production is the extreme panning of the two guitars. I never thought this sounded good when done in a thrash context as the music is just too fast and chaotic for a pair of ears to handle when a blazing lead is tearing at your right ear and a sharp rhythm is slicing your left. Listen to Slayer's Decade of Aggression and tell me I'm wrong, I dare you.

Vicious Attack are a prime example of why I say thrash can never really die out. It can lose favor, it can become stagnant, and it can be outdone in terms of speed and brutality. But the fact of the matter is that none of that matters when it's done well. This demo absolutely reeks of early and late (no middle era influence though) Exodus and Kreator at their most vicious, but that means precisely dick considering how energetic and aggressive the fellas behind the music are. The vocals resemble Rob Dukes, which isn't necessarily a bad thing considering Dukes is only really bad when Gary Holt decides to give him the spotlight (which is unfortunately often). Here, the vocals are used as an instrument just like the guitars and finds itself syncopating with the sharp chords rather frequently, integrating itself into the music as a whole as opposed to being layered over the top just because instrumental bands rarely get popular. There is a hilarious screech at the end of Infestation that breaks the flow somewhat, but works as a decent climax and release of energy. The guitars and riffwork further prove my point, as while they're about middle of the herd in terms of creativity, you never once doubt the band's conviction to thrashing faces off. The rhythm recalls Anthrax and Sodom with their insane precision and tempo. The leads pose a bit of a problem though, as Gomer Pyle seems to improvise most of the solos Kerry King style (aka pick an area on the neck and hit as many notes as possible in the time allotted). Most of the leads are very choppy and amateurish as a result. But once again, it manages to work well against the unrestrained nature of the backing band.

While Vicious Attack is no Sabbat in therms of speed, no Destruction in terms of riff writing, nor Kreator in terms of intensity, they are a very capable addition to the thrash wave of the new millennium. I sincerely doubt they will rise to the levels that Warbringer, Evile and the like have risen to, but they could garner quite the fanbase if they spent the majority of their careers only opening for bigger bands. Thrash is a simple beast, and Vicious Attack know exactly how it ticks... show up, destroy, leave.

P.S. I own the first copy of this release, so if they actually wind up being huge, I'll eat my words and then rub it in everybody's faces.

RATING - 83%

Vader - Impressions in Blood

Swapping the sledgehammer for the meathook

I've made it fairly well known that I find Vader to be one of the most consistently fantastic groups in heavy metal history, and that every album has it's own unique quality that makes it great. The irony of that statement is that they've essentially taken a page out of Running Wild's book and released the same album over and over again for a decade. But again, just like the German speed metal legends, each and every album has more than it's fair share of classics. Every album had at least one of those instantly recognizable fan favorites. Imagine Litany without Wings, imagine Black to the Blind without Carnal, Vader has always had at least one song that defined not only the album in question, but the philosophy of the band as a whole. Their current latest, Impressions in Blood, is no different in that department, but there is definitely a sonic difference when it comes down to it.

Over the years, Vader has been mauling fans with the fabled sledgehammer. A simple device that anybody can effectively use, but none with as much flair and familiarity as our favorite pissed off Pollacks. Ever since before The Ultimate Incantation, listeners have been mercilessly sledged into submission. It's always been constant pummeling straight from the get go, and there has never been anything wrong with that. Upon first listen of this album, listeners are instead greeted with a symphonic instrumental opener. Okay, so Vader has fallen into the trend of useless time wasters as album openers that do absolutely nothing for the album or upcoming song, but hey, everybody flubs up once right? Sure enough, the opening riffs to Shadowfear confirm most fans' fears, something has changed. The first semblance of Vader's classic furious blasting death doesn't rear it's mangled head until a full minute into the first song. The old school mercilessness fills only approximately two thirds of the record, with the other third being filled by a slower, slightly more melodic riffing style or silly tribal drum beats. Daray attempting to recreate the classic drum groove in the beginning of Kreator's Terror Zone by banging on a timpani with what sounds like rubber mallets is a novel idea when it first appears in As Heavens Collide, but what was once thought to be an experimental one-off really becomes awkward when it starts happening every other song. Imagine you're fast asleep, and one of your buddies drunkenly stumbles into your bed, kisses your neck, and proposes a session of orgasmic delight. As soon as you inevitably perk up and offer to pound him into oblivion, he shrieks and jumps out from under the covers. He then, humiliated beyond belief, shuffles over to the room where his girlfriend is sleeping. The first time this happens, it's uncomfortable and unsettling, but at the same time it's cunt blastingly funny. But if this were to happen every other night, you'd likely distance yourself from said friend. And as such, I feel like turning this album off and cranking up De Profundis after the third or fourth time a renowned death metal drummer starts beefing bongos with his face.

I guess what the previous joke was trying to say is that Vader have, in a spiritual sense, given up the method of garnering attention and fans with relentless brutality, and have instead opted for something a little more groovy and catchy. Keep in mind that this isn't necessarily a bad thing, but it just seems like they are out of their element here... experimenting just for the sake of being different. Naught but two songs are devoid of this newfound love of all that is downtempo and chugtastic. Be it a somewhat modern styled breakdown or the aforementioned tribal tom beats, virtually nothing escapes its clutches. Now I must assure you that Vader is one of those bands that can manage to rise above a bad decision, and actually craft songs that work extremely well in this style. The Book is a great example. It's midpaced with a relatively simplistic main riff, but it ends up being memorable and carries a bizarre feeling of mystique instead of being boring and plodding. And like I had previously mentioned, most songs alternate between the newer experimental elements and the archaic demolition of old school Vader, so songs like Warlords and Helleluyah (God is Dead) also end up as a delightful mixture of new and old instead of an awkward one. I find the main attraction of the album to actually be the second half of it, housing tracks like Red Code and They Live, both of which sound like they could've been on Litany. And as previously mentioned, The Book is a great chugger as opposed to a terrible one like Predator. These tracks also contain some semi-impressive leads, another rarity for the band. If they had a solo in the past, it was usually Kerry King whammy madness, whereas a couple of these are a little bit more traditionally structured and executed with a thrasher's mentality.

So after all these years, Vader has finally shifted their modus operandi. The vintage sledgehammer beating has been retired in favor of the meathook disfigurement. Instead of pounding your skull in for the duration of the attack, they have now taken a liking to jabbing a meathook into your body, dragging you for a couple of feet, tearing said hook out and forcefully reinserting it elsewhere before starting the cycle over again. The change is a little discomforting at first, but their execution is good enough for you to overlook the difference. Standout tracks are Helleluyah, They Live, Red Code, and The Book, with the rest being rather hit or miss, with only Predator standing as the lone shitty track, sporting a boring plod as opposed to a pumping groove, and an insidiously annoying fade out that lasts nearly a minute and a half. If you are one of those who can't get past the new direction, my advice is to just give it time. And if it never grows on you, there is no need to fear, for De Profundis will never change. The good ol' sledge is always near if you need a quick fix, but Impressions in Blood is a fairly welcome change of pace to help spice up a catalog that was beginning to grow stale. Let us hope that they can keep this balance well enough, for a sharp shift back to the old style would probably end up being a collection of rehashes, and a continuation into this newer, catchier, groovier territory could just as likely yield nauseously bad results.

RATING - 86%

Vader - Black to the Blind

Transpierced hymens my lust adores

Poland's deservedly well-known death metal legends, Vader, are part of a small yet honorable group of bands that have become known for mind boggling consistency. If you find that you like Litany, chances are you'll love De Profundis and Revelations just as much. Sure, a few folks will complain about how much The Beast sucked or how Impressions in Blood is nothing like The Ultimate Incantation, but most Vader fans are smart enough to realize that there is something special in each and every album. Yet for some reason, their third release, Black to the Blind, seems to be somewhat overlooked and under discussed.

Maybe it's because it falls in between two undisputed classics in De Profundis and Litany, but I find Black to the Blind to be every bit as good as those two. Clocking in at just under thirty minutes, this is the shortest release the band has ever put out; this would lead one to believe that it is also the fastest, and they might be right. It's difficult to judge the relative speed between two Vader releases, as they've always played an extremely fast, intense, high-octane brand of death metal, featuring some of the most mind blowingly fast and precise drumming of the nineties. Doc's performance here is every bit as good as anything else he ever did in his lifetime, blasting away with almost robotic precision. And just like every other album, I find it hard to find a weak track, only some which rock a little bit less. I find the least memorable one to be The Red Passage, but that isn't saying much, as each and every track is 100% solid death metal. Beast Raping and the second half of Distant Dream are probably the two slowest moments on the entire album barring the intro to Carnal, but again, that's kind of a moot point when even those sections are still fast enough to keep the flow going. Hell, even the little breakdown near the end of the title track is bookended by two ludicrously fast sections. I think what people are mistaking as "groovy" riffs are simply slowed down versions of pre established riffs. The middle section of Fractal Light, the pre-verse of True Names, they wouldn't sound out of place on De Profundis if they were played but ten or twenty BPMs faster.

But the best of the best here, is clearly the third track, Carnal. It starts off as the slowest part, the guitars grinding slowly while the drums carry an extremely simple cymbal rhythm, and yet it manages to be completely captivating, making you earnestly await for when the track will inevitably explode. The listener's anxiety is succinctly obliterated and replaced with total awe as the piece takes on it's true form, rolling your ass with one of the fastest riffs Peter and Co. ever wrote and Doc's signature blasts repeatedly molesting your eardrums like a machine gun.

It's difficult to do an in-depth analysis of this album, or any Vader album for that matter, mainly because of how consistent they are throughout each record. The nigh indiscernible differences between the tracks aren't enough to bring the overall enjoyment of the album down, unlike Goatwhore. Black to the Blind smokes face from start to finish, with nothing more than a minor hiccup or two with the intro to The Red Passage. There isn't anything here that will change a skeptic's mind about the band, as it is nothing new, but it is another solid slab of intensity to satisfy any death metal fan. Recommended.

RATING - 92%

Tiran - Demonia

Bring some soap to the listening party

As children in America, we are taught that Russia is very large, but everybody lives in one crowded city, wears furry hats, and drinks isopropyl alcohol all day long. When I, as a child, would raise my hand and ask the teacher "Why? Wouldn't it make sense to move out of the big city and go somewhere else if the country is so huge?", the teacher would respond with "Because Russia is retarded and backwards. They light themselves on fire when they get invaded and they have nuclear missles pointed at America, so they suck". Times may have changed, but Tiran seems like the heavy metal representation of the angry, drunk, nonsensical Russian that the wonderful public school system in Illinois taught me as a child.

In a word, Demonia is just downright dirty. You can practically visualize the flakes of dirt and dead skin fluttering off in every direction while the band and all their fans headbang in unison. The riffs are all straight up, Sodom influenced thrash (which comes as no surprise considering the third track, "S.O.D.O.M.") covered in mud. There aren't any studio tricks at work, so you'll hear the honest style of a three piece on this record (no dueling harmonies or guitar riffs under a solo, for example, just one guitar all the time), and as such the bass is a little more prominent than usual for the lo-fi thrash sound. The production is very raw and filthy, with a very distorted low end and thick wall of sound. The problem is that, while the sound is good enough for the low tier thrash style, the music doesn't do enough to keep the listener interested. I'm aware that this is thrash, and thrash was never a thinking man's music, but this is difficult to just headbang for a half hour to. Sure, "Kult Trupa" and "S.O.D.O.M." have some interesting riffs and "Provokator" is really sick when the tempo shoots up, but the record on the whole just kind of waltzes in one ear and out the other. Percussion does little to spice things up and the vocals don't do too much to distract from the typically boring instrumentals. What this leaves is a very middle-of-the-road, yet very primal, thrash record. Don't get me wrong though, attitude is definitely where the band excels. Tiran sounds like they light their audience on fire at every show, just to prove they aren't fucking around. They sound like they probably start every morning with a double shot of vodka chased with a slightly weaker vodka. In other words, Tiran is precisely that brutish Russian stereotype that little American children become familiar with thanks to the propaganda footage and Disney cartoons.

Demonia will most likely never become a staple in your listening cycles, but it's a fun filler record that you can churn through once a year just to show off your knowledge of obscure thrash to your friends I guess... if you're into that sort of thing. "Panika" and "Tvari" are the best tracks here, and I think that Tiran could work their way up the thrash ladder if they expand on the fury showcased in those two tracks above all the rest. Otherwise it's fairly pedestrian, forgettable thrash, albeit with a vicious attitude. Tiran write big, stupid, drunk, and pissed off thrash, which is quite good in itself, but it seems they're a little bit too inebriated and can't quite write a fantastic riff as a result.

RATING - 62%

Timeless Miracle - Into the Enchanted Chamber

The Ballad of Gary

When I was a young lad, growing up in the backwoods of the suburbs of Chicago, I had a friend named Gary. Gary was a spunky young boy, energetic and vibrant, yet still extremely smart. Gary had a future ahead of him, a future much brighter than the gelatinous entity that my soul resides inside of that spends all of its free time critiquing metal albums on the internet. One day, not long after puberty, Gary's birthday rolled around. I figured that I owed my best friend a birthday present, and I remembered that he had a somewhat bizarre taste for the dark, macabre, and mystical. Perusing through the local record store, I came across a dark album cover in the metal section. It featured a decaying forest, the stone bust of a snarling werewolf, a shining entrance to a forbidden tomb, and a large clock that was apparently crafted by a dyslexic triple amputee. I said to myself "Gee golly jeepers! This is just the kind of mysticism that Gary is into! How picture perfect for me to conveniently stumble across an obscure metal release in a record store in Aurora! Wayne's World lied, Aurora is actually a fucking scumhole, but hey, they apparently sell Scandinavian metal here!". I wrapped the CD in tin foil (just to show how metal I was), and handed it to him at his birthday party. He opened the package and lit up with glee. He ran to the stereo to listen to his new, dark, mysterious album. Fifteen seconds into the first song, he began foaming at the mouth, convulsing, and bleeding from the eyes. I dashed forward and caught his nearly lifeless body before it came crashing down. As my best friend died in my arms in a puddle of piss and drool, I raised my fist and futilely shouted to God "Why hath thou brought this upon this young angel?!".

I later learned that Gary was lactose intolerant, and the sheer cheese that saturated this album was enough to deliver a lethal, seizure inducing dose to a young boy with such a condition.

Now, despite the fact that this story is obviously false and chronologically makes as much sense as an inflatable dartboard, the moral stands; this is the hands down cheesiest album I've ever heard. Cheese is a hard thing to define in a musical context, but one can find almost no other description of this music. Seriously, listen to this fluffy, flowery album and think of a term to sum it all up. Chances are you thought of a term for molded old milk. And the strange thing is that Into the Enchanted Chamber is, on the whole, an enjoyable album. Sure, it's not the most original thing I've heard, nor is it the highest quality of flower metal I've heard, but there is just something about the unabashed, pop-influenced, and inoffensive music on this record that I cannot help but enjoy. Be it the bouncy keyboard parts, the happy-go-lucky vocals, catchy choruses, or the occasional excellent riff, very little can be described as shitty. The production is tighter than a four year old and the songwriting is solid.

The vocalist was the main component in my reasoning for my somewhat negative first draft submitted nearly a year ago, but I've come to somewhat adore the fact that he sounds like he's singing with a clothespin over his nostrils. It makes Timeless Miracle stand out among the sea of wailing falsettos that are nigh indiscernible from each other. I hear super flowery power metal and I couldn't tell you who it was if I was looking at the goddamn album cover, but as soon as I hear the allergy afflicted sounds of our bald headed castrato crooner, I jump with glee. His voice never fails to garner a grin from me, be it for the unintentional hilarity or the fact that he just sounds so happy and innocent, despite the fact that he's singing about dismembering children. Which brings me to the next facet that makes them unique, the lyrics. While a lot of flower metal bands are stuck in the fantasy rut involving fairies and goblins and elves and unicorns and reach arounds and all that jazz, Timeless Miracle sing graphic tales of werewolves disemboweling little girls and a man's last minutes before being strung up in the gallows. Pagan rituals, malicious spirits, conniving witches, escaping Hell, Into the Enchanted Chamber really breaks the stereotype when it comes to what poofy keyboard driven metal usually sing about.

Instrumentally, I don't really see anything worthy of knob slobbing, but I will say that the highlights of the album are easily the galloping riff patterns (Curse of the Werewolf, Down to the Gallows, Return of the Werewolf) and the bouncy and/or upbeat keyboard melodies (The Gates of Hell, Into the Enchanted Chamber). It seems like the band is always at their strongest when they quit pussyfooting with overlong epic bollocks and emotional ballads and just brazenly stampede into a riff monster or unabashedly glossy and poppish section. This means that I find The Voyage and Memories to be the weakest tracks here, but they don't detract too much from the overall experience. While the music itself is usually bordering between mediocre and decent, it is played competently enough and ends up somewhat arbitrary anyways because whenever the music gets boring, you find yourself focusing on the vocals, which make the music that much more fun.

If you have friends like Gary, don't be fooled like I was, this isn't anywhere near as dark as it seems at face value. Shit, this is pretty much like staring at Sirius. But unlike Helloween's much lauded abomination, The Dark Ride, Into the Enchanted Chamber doesn't pull any punches or feebly try and force out a darker side. It doesn't try to be anything that it isn't, and the innocence and happy-go-luckiness of the whole deal just makes any day brighter than it previously was. So this isn't the kind of metal you put on when you want to pump yourself up before a streetfight or something. It's more something you put on in the car on the way to an amusement park. Overall, my only complaint is that the slower and more emotional moments take away from the fun that I was having before they came and tried raining on my parade, but if one can look past these small blemishes, there lies a bafflingly fun and enjoyable record. Listen only if you can appreciate molten mozzarella over your tulips.

RATING - 91%

The Sword - Age of Winters

Hell bent on destroying my credibility

The Sword is one of those bands that a lot of metalheads scoff at as being third rate wannabes with nary a shred of artistic integrity. One of those sad amalgamations of hipster kids that wanted to cash in on the popularity of metal. While, yes, the founding member was originally a founding member of an indie band, the premise of The Sword being formed purely for financial gain is laughable considering the last four words of the preceding sentence make as much sense as shit scented deodorant. Metal has a massive and loyal following, true, but if they really wanted to make money off the style, they would've taken a route like thrash revival or metalcore. Y'know, something that's proven to be an almost guaranteed snatch of at least half of one's fifteen minutes of fame. Who knows why the style switch happened? I guess only the members themselves will, but it's a pretty safe bet that they simply enjoy the music. I find it strange that people lambast a band for doing something purely because they think it's cool... why the fuck else are you supposed to do something? Sex is pretty cool is it not? Well, since you haven't been having sex since birth then dammit you don't deserve to have any now!. You eat sausage with your pancakes for years? Did you recently discover that bacon is actually the ultimate breakfast enhancer? Too bad asshole! Tough shit, you should've thought of that before you started with sausage you fucking heathen.

You see the absurdity? I can understand spiting a kid who takes up skateboarding just because his friends do. Sure, he can give the activity a bad name with his lack of understanding of the history and/or totally bodacious slang. He may even make a complete fool out of himself by busting his melon trying to drop in on the half pipe at your local skate park... but can you really keep hating him if he persists and turns out to be a solid skateboarder? That's The Sword in my eyes. It seems to me like they may have taken up playing a watered down High on Fire style for either of the two reasons listed above: either they liked it to begin with, or because of a third party. Either way, the end result isn't undesirable. It's derivative and lacking in substance at times, true, but the riffs are solid enough and played competently.

I'll be the first to admit, while I do enjoy the occasional listen to Age of Winters, there are two very glaring flaws that make the album either unintentionally laughable or difficult to listen to. The first point is the lyrics, holy hell and a half do these lyrics blow a fat one. Here is a tutorial on how to write lyrics for a Sword album: go to your local library and check out a book about mythology. Greek, Norse, Finnish, whatever, everything gets a mention. Now go to a zoo and throw it at the chimpanzees. After a few days, retrieve the book from the cage, pick out every sentence with feces smeared on it, and then throw them together haphazardly. They don't have to fit into a pleasing cadence, they don't have to follow a rhyme scheme, just as long as you cram as many awesome sounding names in there as you can. Congratulations! You have successfully written Lament for the Aurochs! +666EXP! Level up! The second point of contention is the drummer. Either this man has the ride mixed far too high, or he seriously uses the crash to keep the beat. Either way there is a constant *TEEESH TEEESH TEEESH* noise carrying on throughout the entirety of almost every single track at nearly the same beat with very little variation. It can be grating and makes the album almost impossible to finish if you notice it, and believe me, once you notice it, it doesn't go away.

As for everything else, it's nothing special, but yet it's nothing to earn your ire. A majority of the riffs may give you a little niggling feeling of deja vu, but they flow together so well you seem to forget that Sleep wrote these riffs many a moon ago. Even so, songs like Iron Swan and The Horned Goddess give my head little choice except to bang excessively. Many of the riffsets are nothing short of punishing and 100% heavy fucking metal, as unoriginal as they may be. I'll admit that the last three songs manage to fall flat on the whole, with Ebethron having a really unnecessary drum ditty in the middle, March of the Lor having easily the lamest riffs on the whole album and some of the worst I've heard period (bizarrely, they are sprinkled between some of the most intense moments on the record), and Lament for the Aurochs plodding on for far too long. Freya has gained national exposure due to the Guitar Hero series, but I still find it to be enjoyable with a scrumptiously satisfying main riff, despite the overexposure and being the band's Stairway to Heaven (I say that solely in the sense that is the only song that casual fans can name off the top of their heads). It's hard to verbalize what makes the music good, but believe me it's a love it or hate it type of thing. Imagine Blessed Black Wings simplified and with a below par drunken crooner behind the mic, but imagine it sounding good.

I've dwelled on the negative for a majority of this review, and I'm actually coming up short on why the album and band don't deserve the shit that they usually get. It's derivative, has a lazy vocalist, an annoying drum production, and god awfully bad lyrics, but dammit it's good. Age of Winters is greater than the sum of it's parts, and yet I can't quite explain why. It's comparable to (brace yourself readers, here comes another food comparison) grilled cheese. It's fatty, greasy, bare bones, minimalistic, and pretty much the bottom of the barrel when it comes to cuisine... but holy DAMN does it taste good! Really, this is a controversial record and an objective analysis is somewhat difficult to come by. The dribbling fools hailing this to be top notch doom metal need to pull their heads out of their ass for fear of choking on their heads, and the staunch haters need to loosen up their tin foil helmets, it's probably restricting bloodflow. Just because a fairly unoriginal and catchy band garners mainstream attention doesn't indicate the destruction of the underground. Motorhead will still put out great records, Altars of Madness will sound just as good as it did almost twenty years ago, and Origin will still play a mindblowingly fast brand of technical death metal. And even if any of this changes, none of it can be blamed on The Sword's rise to fame. Listen and judge for yourself, but try not to make up your mind before hearing it.

RATING - 76%

The Lord Weird Slough Feg - Twilight of the Idols

Slop a-sloppy joe, a-slop a-sloppy joe

Come one and come all! Ladies and gentlemen, boys and girls, gather 'round the internet! The only place where you'll find an American Midwestern redneck like myself consider ground beef covered in barbecue sauce and other assorted spices slathered between two buns fine cuisine. Shit, smack some cheese in the middle of this concoction and you've pretty much got a Jesus sandwich! The sloppy joe is somewhat unappealing to those brand new to American redneck food, looking somewhat lacking in the stability department. A city slicker or European may ask "Well, wouldn't that fall apart when picked up? It's like mega chunky soup smooshed between two slices of bread", and this is where the mullet headed, gun toting, beer guzzling inbreds that I call my family say "Well that's the best part, you can just scrape the excess garbage up with some potato chips and eat that!".... or they just shoot at them and yell violently about never coming near their double-wide ever again if they like their ass in one piece, depending on how much Coors Light said hick has consumed.

Now that we're all uncomfortably aware of how much I love meat in my buns, I'd like to say that The Lord Weird Slough Feg's sophomore full length, 1999's Twilight of the Idols, stands as the musical manifestation of my beloved sloppy joe; messy, yet undeniably delicious. One description I use a lot in my reviews is "precise", I find myself endlessly praising people like Doc Raczkowski and Gene Hoglan for being able to play extremely fast and yet extremely tightly. Yet here, Slough Feg's music sounds like the guitars are playing too fast for the drum beat or that random notes are hit on accident. Cues sound missed, riffs sound half a beat longer than the drums, the entire recording comes off as amateurish at worst, and like a drunken rehearsal at best. The intros of both Warpspasm and Bi-Polar Disorder are two excellent examples of what I'm talking about. And throughout all of that, I have a hard time thinking of a more fun and enjoyable album off the top of my head. The bouncy rhythms and sheer Celtic quirk that saturate this record seep through my speakers, bashes my balls against a running belt sander, and then mushroom stamps me with all of the fury and swagger that one should expect from Slough Feg. Tracks like Highlander, The Great Ice Wars, and Slough Feg carry a slightly dark undertone to the otherwise uptempo and somewhat happy and innocent sounding melodies. It may sound odd, but really, The Pangs of Ulster never fails to make me grin.

There is also plenty of variety to be found here, songs range from the faux heavy metal epic, The Great Ice Wars, the gruesome gather-'round-the-campfire battle hymn, Brave Connor Mac, and the dark galloper High Season II. There's something for everybody here. Bi-Polar Disorder actually wouldn't sound out of place as one of the faster songs on a 70's Black Sabbath release, barring the vocals of course. I'd have to say that the first half of the record is better overall, as The Great Ice Wars has this really unnecessary ambient middle part with Scalzi narrating the story. This is not the only flaw of the album, but it is easily the most annoying, as it is the first time I find myself itching to press the skip track button. And what's even worse is that it's bookended by two excellent sections of galloping heavy metal. But the good news is that almost every other aspect of Twilight of the Idols is pure, auditory sex. The leads are always blistering and ear catching, soaring high over the unadulterated quirk below. It's almost like clutching onto the feathers of a Griffin as it soars over a Medieval battle remeniscent of a scene out of Braveheart or something.

It's hard to describe what The Lord Weird Slough Feg actually sounds like, much less what makes them so good. Think about it, you cannot describe a smell without comparing it to another smell, and it's damn near impossible to describe what color is, and classing Slough Feg is just as daunting of a task. Try it out, try explaining what sizzling bacon smells like without referencing another smell, try defining the spectrum of color without using a dictionary (or by just being smart, you aren't welcome here if you are), and then try pigeonholing Slough Feg. The easiest and broadest term to use would just be "heavy metal", and that's really about as descriptive as it gets. The best description I've found is Di'Anno era Iron Maiden with a Celtic tinge, sans the twang. Listen for yourself, and buy the albums if you can find them.

RATING - 96%

The Lord Weird Slough Feg - Down Among the Deadmen

Astounding on all levels

The Lord Weird Slough Feg seems to have gotten a good amount of internet buzz as of recently... or at least in the sections of the internet that I frequent. But I say proudly, if it weren't for all of this hype, I would've never been exposed to this metal masterpiece. Slough Feg is one of the few bands on earth that deserves every good thing that ever gets said about them.

The year 2000 was overall a dreary year for metal on the surface. The nu metal scourge was garnering all of the media attention and giving metal a bad name to the outsider. I quick glance through my iTunes shows the only good metal releases for the year being Nile's Black Seeds of Vengeance, Vader's Litany, Persuader's The Hunter, and this. So I can only imagine the impact this would've had on me if my nine/ten year old ears had heard Warrior's Dawn back then as opposed to the Limp Bizkit and Korn dreck I liked (I'll admit, I was a nu metal fan, but keep in mind my age... I was still young). I guess what I'm trying to say is that history is on Down Among the Deadmen's side. It was a shining example of what heavy metal was, it embodied metal's ideals and objectives during one of the darkest years since 1993. During a time when metal was viewed as a bunch of angsty dolts in clown makeup, one album stood above the rest as what metal is, should be, and always will be.

Almost nothing is wrong with this record, and it falls just a hair short of a perfect score for me. Cauldron of Blood is overlong and a tad bit droning, as is the middle section of High Season, but otherwise this is a flawless album that should be mandatory listening in schools across the world. Since there is a better chance of me shitting out a pineapple than any kids ever discovering this gem on their own, I'll just recommend this to all metalheads who read this review or have even a passing interest in music that falls on the heavy side of the spectrum. Hell, even you light rock/pop wussburgers should listen to this.

The album is produced wonderfully, the guitar tone is pleasantly chunky to complement the balls out metal of the songs, the drums sound excellent and real (they would fail at this part on the follow up to this album, Traveller), and Mike Scalzi is one of the most perfect tenor voices metal has ever heard. He adds a raspy edge to his tales of Celtic myths and, as seen in Warrior's Dawn, even some American history.

Slough Feg is one of those few acts that possess that wonderful Running Wild quality I mention all the time.... the charm, charisma, and aura that makes every song an enjoyable ride that you want to hear over and over again, no matter how simplistic and immature the song may be. The kicker here is that no songs are juvenile or immature, most are semi-complex metal anthems that are not only catchy, but sophisticated at the same time. Traders and Gunboats, one of the best tracks on the album, even has this goofy spoken part about what I can assume to be the role playing game Traveller, a game that the next album would actually be based on. Even with the nerdy monologue in the middle of the galloping riff titan, I can't help but feel that it does not disrupt any flow and I actually find myself excitedly following along with the spiel, enthusiastically shouting about the Daylight Consulate and Sword-Worlds. Not many bands can do that, but Slough Feg can. Even the insidiously catchy Heavy Metal Monk, complete with what is simultaneously the goofiest and best lyrics metal has ever seen, just commands the respect and attention of everybody in earshot.

The slower, almost doomyish Psionic Illuminations is catchy beyond belief, as is the much lauded Walls of Shame (I find it to be a tad overrated, but that doesn't stop it from being perfect (if that makes any sense)). Songs like High Season, Warrior's Dawn, and Marauder have some of the most compelling intros I've ever heard. To me, an intro is supposed to either grab your attention and make you yearn to hear what follows, build anticipation, or mushroom stamp you with a diamond dick. Slough Feg manages to accomplish every task I feel an intro should accomplish. Warrior's Dawn (which in case you can't tell, is my favorite song) starts with the excellent war drum beat and the guitar's rallying gallop. It's odd, but Slough Feg is one of the very few bands where I find myself complementing the intros.... whatever they do, they do it very fucking right.

I fear that this is turning into fanboy raving, so I'll stop here. The riffs are almost all deliciously old school galloping exercises, the drums are actually compelling, the bass is audible, the lyrics are excellent and usually fantasy based, and Scalzi has one of the better voices in metal. Unfortunately the band would never reach these heights again, but they have never and will never flat out suck, so do everything in your power to get your hands on any album bearing their name. Hardworlder is more rockish than metal, Atavism is shorter and faster, the self titled is a rough and raw blueprint of their trademark style, and Twilight of the Idols is where they established it. Down Among the Deadmen, above all else, is where they perfected their melodic, folkish style of classic traditional heavy metal. Mandatory listening, one of the best albums of the millennium so far.

RATING - 97%