Tuesday, March 27, 2012

OSI - Fire Make Thunder

OSI
Fire Make Thunder
Metal Blade Records

It’s hard to believe it’s already been three years since OSI released their last release ‘Blood’. But then again, it’s not all that surprising given that I still consider the album one of 2009’s strongest releases, and as a consequence, having been playing it on a semi-regular basis since. Returning with the same line-up that created ‘Blood’, progressive rock act OSI (Comprising of ex-Dream Theater/Fates Warning/Chroma Key vocalist/keyboardist Kevin Moore, Fates Warning guitarist/bassist Jim Matheos and Porcupine Tree drummer Gavin Harrison) are back with their fourth full-length effort ‘Fire Make Thunder’.
Those with only a passing interest in OSI will no doubt conclude that ‘Fire Makes Thunder’ is nothing more than a continuation of where the band last left things with ‘Blood’. And to some extent, they would be correct in thinking so. I mean after all, OSI haven’t radically changed their sound or direction all that much since the release of ‘Free’ back in 2006. But calling this new album a mere extension is really only a half truth, as the subtle differences that emerge after repeated listens highlights the subtle changes the band have made between their past release and their new one.
‘Cold Call’ opens up the album in a suitably heavy fashion, and is almost like a bridge building track between ‘Blood’ and ‘Fire Makes Thunder’, with the overall feel and construction of the track echoing elements of the past (Matheos distinctive riffs, the radio program samples, Moore’s trademark half spoken/half sung vocals and the underlying dark atmospherics), while showcasing their steps towards the present sound (The dynamics highlight the sparseness of instruments and the decidedly minimalist approach to the song writing, and their renewed focus on strong chorus structures and bridges).
Sounding very much like a natural progression from the opening track (Particularly on the lyrical front), ‘Guards’ is dominated by a strengthened bass and drum groove which is broken up with some heavyweight riffing from Matheos, while on their instrumental effort ‘Enemy Prayer’, Matheos demonstrates his varied approach on the guitar (Both in terms of sound and approach), while Moore shows restraint on the sample front, and instead allows the song to stand on its own by remaining purely instrumental throughout.
In terms of personal favourites, ‘Wind Won’t Howl’ is a real stand out with Moore providing some beautifully layered textures and harmonies in the song’s choruses to give it a real catchy appeal that hasn’t been heard in some time, while the acoustic based ‘Indian Curse’ is another stunning example of OSI’s experimental bare-bones musical approach coupled with Moore’s distinctive melancholy/dream-like vocal style.
The downbeat ‘For Nothing’ is somewhat of an oddity on the album with a sound that would be more accustomed to a Chroma Key release than OSI, while ‘Big Chief II’ sounds reminiscent of ‘No Celebration’ off ‘Blood’ in the musical sense, and therefore comes across as one of the album’s more disappointing efforts.
But OSI do manage close the album on a high note, with the moody and darker toned ‘Invisible Men’, which not only allows the band to stretch out a little more in terms of atmospheric elements and changing extremities/tempos (Heavier passages linked beside quieter moments), but the song also allows Harrison a little more freedom to show off his percussion skills over the course of a full song.
While some fans were a little disappointed with ‘Blood’, I actually consider the album a real return to form for the band after their lacklustre ‘Free’ release from 2006. Given my high opinion of ‘Blood’, I wasn’t expecting too much from ‘Fire Makes Thunder’. But to my surprise, barring a couple of tracks, OSI have managed to add a few new tricks to their sound, and make an album that qualifies as a strong follow-up to the exceptional ‘Blood’. And to these ears, that’s quite an accomplishment.

For more information on OSI, check out - http://www.osiband.com/

© Justin Donnelly

Monday, March 26, 2012

Soen - Cognitive

Soen
Cognitive
Spinefarm Records

Although having played a part in helping to establish Amon Amarth (Playing on the band’s debut ‘Once Sent From The Golden Hall’ in 1998), Swedish drummer Martin Lopez will always be remembered for his contributions to Opeth, having played on 1998’s ‘My Arms, Your Hearse’, and featuring on every one of the band’s releases through to 2005’s stunning ‘Ghost Reveries’. After leaving Opeth in 2006 officially due to health reasons (Although it has since come to light that Lopez was no longer interested in Opeth’s lengthy touring and a general lack of interest in making music in Opeth after ten years with the band), Lopez disappeared into a self-imposed exile for the better part of the next four years. But while little was heard from Lopez, it didn’t necessarily mean that he was completely inactive on the music front. In fact, Lopez was very busy. Having founded Soen back in 2003, it wasn’t until Lopez parted ways with Opeth that he was able to fully commit his time to the project. In the years since then, he spent his time finding the right mix of musicians. By 2010, Lopez had managed to secure a solidified line-up to include ex-Willowtree vocalist Joel Ekelöf, guitarist Kim Platbarzdis and ex-Death/Testament/Sadus/Iced Earth bassist Steve DiGiorgio – and the underground was abuzz with talk to Lopez’s new musical venture. Two years later, and Soen have finally unveiled their debut offering in ‘Cognitive’ – and the end result is an album that’s sure to attract divided opinions.
Despite being described as ‘something completely different’ by Lopez, there’s no mistaking the similarities between Soen’s debut effort and the collective works of A Perfect Circle/Tool. While there are worst acts than A Perfect Circle and Tool to be influenced by, one has to question where the line between influence and plagiarism is drawn given that Soen’s musical direction and sound is very much alike.
After a rather short introductory track entitled ‘Fraktal’ (Which involved some back-masking, heavy bass and some very Maynard James Keenan influenced vocal lines), Soen gets straight into the heart of things with their first real offering ‘Fraccions’. Again, the similarities between Soen’s offerings and Tool are unmistakable. From Platbarzdis’ angular riffing, DiGiorgio ever-present bass work, Lopez’s rhythmic drum/percussion work and Ekelöf’s carbon copied Keenan-like melodies and delivery are so Tool like that you’d be hard pressed to tell any real differences. Of course, Soen do inject a little of their own personality into the song in places (The odd guitar riff, bass run and drum fill stands out here and there), but for the most part, ‘Fraccions’ is every bit like a Tool song, without really being one.
‘Delenda’ on the other hand is something a little more Soen like, with the progressive riffs and overall song structure leaning towards a more restrained and mellow Opeth/A Perfect Circle vibe, while the percussive driven ‘Last Light’ is by far the most ambient and mellow track on the album, and another prime example of where the band step beyond being an obvious clone to really produced something captivating.
In terms of highlights, ‘Oscillation’ is a definite high moment on the album with its heavier and minimalist guitar approach, progressive underpinned rhythmic grooves and some stunningly simple (But effective) melodies from Ekelöf, while ‘Purpose’ and the closer ‘Savia’ are follow-up favourites that showcase a little more of Soen’s individual spirit than some other tracks on the album. One last track worthy of a special mention is ‘Ideate’, which boasts an interesting mix of ethnic instrumentation, samples, small clutches of vocals from Ekelöf and some truly haunting tones from Platbarzdis used to great effect.
In a lot of ways, I can understand why some people will view Soen’s debut effort as a disappointment. After all, the Tool comparisons are just too obvious to miss. But in having said that, not everything on ‘Cognitive’ is a complete reworking of Tool’s sound and style. Soen do have a sound of their own, and it can be heard on some tracks, even if it’s only on a few tracks in total.
Performance wise, everyone within Soen absolutely shines – even Ekelöf, who despite lacking a bit more character and range, and who seems to have completely dropped the approach he had in Willowtree for something more akin to Keenan these days, manages to inject a lot of emotion into his performance. Unfortunately, strong performances and a few original ideas isn’t enough to make ‘Cognitive’ stand out on its own, and distance itself enough from its primary influences.
There’s no denying that Soen are an interesting act, and full of first class musicians. But hopefully with their next release, they’ll impress even more with greater originality in their song writing.

For more information on Soen, check out - http://www.myspace.com/soenmusic

© Justin Donnelly

Sunday, March 25, 2012

Aborted - Global Flatline

Aborted
Global Flatline
Century Media Records/E.M.I. Music Australia

Long running Belgium death metal outfit Aborted have always been a band of change, both in terms of line-up’s and sound, particularly on their last couple of releases (2007’s ‘Slaughter & Apparatus: A Methodical Overture’ and 2008’s ‘Strychnine.213’), where they explored more melodic territory. But while Aborted’s last couple of albums were solid efforts, some fans were turned off with their change of direction, with some claiming that they had lost touch of the fire and aggression that made their ‘Goremageddon: The Saw And The Carnage Done’ album from 2003 such a critically acclaimed release.
Aborted made some attempts to recapture their former glory with the release of ‘Coronary Reconstruction’ E.P. in 2010. As expected, the E.P. was well received, and had many anticipating a full-fledged return to form with the eventual release of a new full-length effort.
It’s been two years since then, and after assembling a new look line-up (Group founder/vocalist Sven De Caluwé is now joined by ex-They:Swarm/Whorecore  guitarist Eran Segal, ex-Abigail Williams/System Divide guitarist Michael Wilson, Atrocity/Leaves’ Eyes bassist JB Van Der Wal and ex-Blood Of Cain/Abigail Williams/Fallon drummer Ken Bedene), Aborted are back with their seventh full-length album ‘Global Flatline’. And what an almighty gory return to form it is!
After a brief and creepy introductory track (‘Omega Mortis’), Aborted immediately get down to business in full-speed mode with the album’s first single and title track ‘Global Flatline’. Opening with the sample ‘I’m going to fucking rape your soul!’ over a crushing slow intro, ‘Global Flatline’ turns into a furiously riffed/relentless blast-beat filled track that proves beyond any doubt that they have their edge and aggression back. Having said that, the melodic edge of the band’s recent past hasn’t disappeared entirely, with the overall feel of the song combining the best of Aborted’s venomous past and melodic sensibility of their recent past to create a sound that will please all fans.
Benighted’s Julien Trechan helps add an extra depth of aggression vocal wise to the intense blast of ‘The Origin Of Disease’, while tracks such as ‘Fecal Forgery’ and ‘Of Scabs And Boils’ represent the other end of the band’s song writing spectrum, with the pair leaning more towards the melodic side.
In terms of guests, Trevor Strnad of The Black Dahlia Murder lends a hand on the somewhat melodic and groove based ‘Vermicular, Obscene, Obese’, while Jason Netherton of Misery Index can clearly be heard on ‘Grime’ (Which appears in re-recorded form from their previous E.P.) and Keijo Niinimaa of Rotten Sound within the blistering ‘Our Father, Who Art Of Feces’.
But it’s not like Aborted really need guest appearances to hold up ‘Global Flatline’, as the band prove beyond any doubt that they can well and truly deliver on their own with tracks such as ‘Coronary Reconstruction’ (The title track from their last E.P.), the haunting slow burner ‘Expurgation Euphoria’ (Which is somewhat similar in direction to the lengthy album closer ‘Endstille’) and ‘The Kallinger Theory’.
‘Global Flatline’ is the kind of album that marries all of the band’s varied sounds of the past to create the kind of release that fans of any Aborted era will thoroughly embrace.
Aborted may have distanced some fans with their more recent efforts, but with ‘Global Flatline’, its clear the band are back in all their gory splendour.

For more information on Aborted, check out - http://www.goremaggedon.be/

© Justin Donnelly

Insomnium - One For Sorrow (Limited Edition)

Insomnium
One For Sorrow (Limited Edition)
Century Media Records/E.M.I. Music Australia

Insomnium have been one of the melodic death metal scene’s underground favourites for the better part of the last decade, with all four of the Finnish act’s albums earning considerable praise. Following on from their 2009 release ‘Across The Dark’ (Which like all of their former releases, was issued through Candlelight Records), the four piece act (Comprising of vocalist/bassist Niilo Sevänen, guitarist/backing vocalist Ville Friman, guitarist Ville Vänni and drummer Markus Hirvonen) are back with their fifth effort ‘One For Sorrow’ – which is also their first for Century Media Records.
With a fairly successful and firmly established sound in place (At least for their last three albums), it comes as no surprise to find that on ‘One For Sorrow’, Insomnium have stuck with their tried and true take on the melodic death metal sound. While there’s nothing necessarily wrong with maintaining the levels of perfection the band has undoubtedly reached with their last couple of releases, there is something to be said for pushing the boundaries to not only challenge yourself, but your audience as well.
The first track on the album, ‘Inertia’, is an interesting and slow building near instrumental track that reveals a bit of a post-rock sound, but works exceedingly well at introducing their follow-up effort ‘Through The Shadows’. It’s here that we get the Insomnium sound that we’re all accustomed to, with the band relying more on textures and moods on the guitar front rather than complexity and technical precision to get across their message. In a lot of ways, Insomnium’s music sounds like a cross of latter day Amorphis, Amon Amarth and Kalmah, but without sounding like any one of the bands in particular. Vocally, the duality of deep growls and clean vocals are a little hit and miss, with the cleaner efforts sounding a little tacked on. Overall, ‘Through The Shadows’ is an O.K. track, but far from one of the band’s finest.
‘Song Of The Blackest Bird’ and ‘Only One Who Waits’ (Which features a guest guitar solo from ex-Pathos/Dimension Zero/Dark Tranquillity guitarist Daniel Antonsson) on the other hand are far stronger efforts, with the band showcasing a little more aggression and speed in their song writing, without losing any of the despair and sorrow that Sevänen produces through his low growled vocal efforts.
More than a touch of Amon Amarth can be heard throughout the choruses of ‘Unsung’, but doesn’t harm the track given that the song itself is a strong one from Insomnium, while ‘Every Hour Wounds’ sees the band ramp up the speed and aggression once again, but with a slower chorus and some clever backing vocals to make it stand out from some of the other heavier efforts on the album.
The short instrumental piece ‘Decoherence’ is a welcome break around the latter half of the album, and a wonderful segue-way into ‘Lay The Ghost To Rest’, which features some great riffs, haunting melodies and a slower pace to emphasise the heavier elements of the band’s music.
‘Regain The Fire’, much like ‘Through The Shadows’ earlier on the album, is one of the more disappointing efforts from the band, with the clean vocals sounding a little too out of place to sound natural. In stark contrast is the title track ‘One For Sorrow’, which is one of the album’s more doom influenced and progressive efforts, and by far one of the album’s genuine highlights.
The final track on the limited edition version is ‘Weather The Storm’, which was originally released as a digital only single six months prior to the release of ‘One For Sorrow’. Despite featuring Dark Tranquillity vocalist Mikael Stanne, ‘Weather The Storm’ is surprisingly not too far removed sound wise from what you would otherwise expect from the band in general. Song wise however, it’s certainly a strong effort from Insomnium, and a worthy edition to the album. It’s just a shame that the b-side to ‘Weather The Storm’ (The instrumental ‘Beyond The Horizon’) wasn’t also included.
Overall, ‘One For Sorrow’ is everything you would expect from Insomnium, with little in the way of any real surprises. While I was hoping for something a little different from the band, I can say that I enjoyed the album for what it is. Whether or not I will be satisfied with another carbon copy the next time around may very well be a different story.

For more information on Insomnium, check out - http://www.facebook.com/insomniumofficial

© Justin Donnelly

Ion Vein - IV v1.0

Ion Vein
IV v1.0
Majesphere Records/Mortal Music

If there was ever a band that has been plagued by every bit of bad luck possible, it would have to be Chicago (Illinois, U.S.) act Ion Vein. Foundered way back in 1994 out of the ashes of Latent Fury, Ion Vein were creating a fair amount of buzz in the underground with the release of two demo (1997 and 1999), with many hailing the band as one to watch, and potentially the next big thing.
Despite failing to capture the attention of labels at the time, the band released their debut full-length effort ‘Beyond Tomorrow’ in 1999 to critical acclaim. Although the band weren’t able to secure a major label deal, they scored some high profile gigs, and took out plenty of awards for their album at end of year polls. In the four years between album releases, the band appeared on several tribute albums (Most of them through Dwell Records) and maintained a presence on the live circuit. In 2003, Ion Vein finally released their sophomore effort ‘Reigning Memories’, which again drew critical acclaim, but failed to attract a major label support. But in the years since the release of ‘Reigning Memories’, Ion Vein has suffered considerable line-up changes, weathered a partnership with a label that promised much, but delivered little (Now & Then Records), inevitably leaving guitarist Chris Lotesto as the only original member left to rebuild the band from scratch.
Well, it’s taken more years than expected, but Lotesto has assembled a new look Ion Vein (Joining Lotesto is ex-Enertia/Attica vocalist Scott Featherstone, ex-Syris/Twelfth Gate bassist Rob Such and ex-Michael Angelo Batio/Winterkill/Spirit Web drummer Chuck White), and together they’ve finally put together a new E.P. in ‘IV v1.0’.
In partnership with Mortal Music, and part of an ongoing series of digital only releases to reintroduce the band to audiences, ‘IV v1.0’ is a taste of what the band hopes will be a full-length release in the near future. And what a taste it is!
The opening track of this three track E.P. is ‘Enough’, and it’s the perfect introduction to Ion Vein’s modern brand of progressive/heavy/power metal. Produced, engineered and mixed by Neil Kernon (Who worked with the band on ‘Reigning Memories’), ‘Enough’ immediately hits you with its great sound. But aside from sound, it’s Lotesto thick and powerful riffs that stand out, and when coupled with Featherstone’s strong and equally powerful vocals, it makes for a perfect union. Strong, grooving and razor sharp, ‘Enough’ is a killer progressive/power metal track, and the perfect reintroduction of Ion Vein.
‘Love/Hate’ does take on a bit more of a progressive edge with some great distinctions between the faster verses and slower choruses, while the final track ‘Anger Inside’ is an all-out speeding assault, with Lotesto’s solo and White’s punishing performance behind the kit real stand outs.
After years of false starts and roadblocks, Ion Vein is back – and in a major way!
The only shame is that it’s taken so long, and ‘IV v1.0’ is all we have to enjoy at this point in time. But if things go according to plan, Ion Vein’s full-length effort will see the light of day in the near future, and that this teaser E.P. is just a start to what I can only hope is a killer release.

For more information on Ion Vein, check out - http://www.ionvein.com/

© Justin Donnelly

Nordic Nomadic - Worldwide Skyline

Nordic Nomadic
Worldwide Skyline
Tee Pee Records/Impedance Records

After impressing fans with Quest For Fire’s impressive ‘Lights From Paradise’ from 2010, Toronto based vocalist/guitarist Chad Ross is back with something new. And this time it’s a brand new release from his alternate outfit Nordic Nomadic, who have recently signed to Tee Pee Records.
Not unlike Nordic Nomadic’s self titled debut effort (Released in 2007 through Blue Fog Recordings), ‘Worldwide Skyline’ is primarily a stripped back affair, with Ross writing, performing, recording and mixing the entire album himself, with the only outside contribution coming from renown producer/multi-instrumentalist/Hylozoists founder Paul Aucoin providing a few vibraphone additions.
Musically, Nordic Nomadic covers a completely different realm of music to psychedelic rockers Quest For Fire, with Ross indulging his folk/psychedelic pop influences, but with a minimalist approach that gives ‘Worldwide Skyline’ a unique sound.
The title track ‘Worldwide Skyline’ is the first offering on the album from Ross, and is perhaps not one that gives a true indication of what Nordic Nomadic stands for in the musical sense, with the opening minute comprising of electric guitar riffs. But once the heavy introduction is over, the acoustic guitars and heavily harmonised vocals take over, and the true musical identity of the band’s soul is revealed, and what a mellow and gentle soul it is. Of course, heavier electric guitar does crop up from time to time, but essentially ‘Worldwide Skyline’ is primarily an acoustic based affair, and for the most part, a fairly easy going, melodic and laid back affair at that.
The country flavoured ‘The Future’s Fear’ is a definite favourite on the album with its effortless meandering melodies and chilled out vibe, while ‘The Soft Way’, ‘Take Your Heart To The End’ and the beautiful closer ‘The Things You’ve Lost’ follow a very similar course in terms of instrumentation and direction.
In terms of personal favourites, ‘Growin’ Horns’ is a real stand out, with the progressive electric feel sounding reminiscent of the kind of material that Scott Reeder (Kyuss/The Obsessed) presented fans on his solo effort ‘TunnelVision Brilliance’ (2006), while ‘Bite To Chew’ and ‘Listen To The Leaves’ are further similar examples following Reeder’s semi-acoustic psychedelic brand of alternative rock to be found on the album.
Fans of Quest For Fire may find something of interest in Ross’ solo efforts, but only as long as they’re expecting something a little more downbeat and earthy as an alternative. But in terms of semi-acoustic psychedelic alternative rock, Nordic Nomadic’s sophomore effort ‘Worldwide Skyline’ is definitely a winner for this scribe.

For more information on Nordic Nomadic, check out - http://www.myspace.com/nordicnomadic

© Justin Donnelly

Thunderkraft - Totentanz

Thunderkraft
Totentanz
Svarga Music

Just when you think you’ve heard every genre tag under the sun, along comes a completely different one. And this time its Ukraine act Thunderkraft, whose music has been described as industrialised folk/death/groove metal. Given that the band have been around since 2001, and have in that time only managed to release one full-length album (2005’s ‘Знамя Победы’ or ‘The Banner Of Victory’ through Blazing Productions), I had no idea what to expect from their latest effort ‘Totentanz’. But after giving the album a few spins, the unusual genre tag made sense, and I was pleasantly surprised by what the Kharkiv based band had to offer on their latest release.
The four-piece act (Comprising of vocalist/guitarist/flutist Master Alafern, bassist Sigurd, flutist/keyboardist Anna Merkulova and drummer Munruthel) immediately let you know exactly what constitutes industrialised folk/death/groove metal with the opening track ‘Настане час’ (‘A Time Will Come’). Industrial elements come in the form of atmospheric/symphonic keyboards, the groove comes from the underpinned grooving guitar riffs, the death metal aspect is driven primarily from the diverse vocals and the folk elements are dotted throughout the song via traditional key progressions and the use of flutes and violins. It’s a strange mix of influences, but somehow the band make it all work throughout the song, without making anything stick out as unnecessary or tacked on. The only real issue is that at seven and a half minutes long, the song does drag a little towards the end.
From here, Thunderkraft show a lot of diversity in their music, with ‘Дефект масс’ (‘Mass Defect’) drifting more towards latter day Samael musically with its thick keyboards atmospherics, subtle industrial overtones and predominately growled vocals, while the title track ‘Totentanz’ (‘Dance Of The Dead’) pushes the electronics of the former track even further, giving the band a sound that veers more towards a electronic version of Rammstein.
Despite sounding competent musically (Apart from the folk/pirate inspired keyboards around the two/thirds mark), the harsh vocals (Sung in Ukrainian, Russian or German) on ‘Смерть не роз’єднає нас’ (‘Death Won’t Separate Us’) loses something in its delivery. The same can be said for the cinematic ‘Навстречу новой заре’ (‘Towards A New Dawn’), while ‘Смятая повесть’ (‘A Crumpled Story’) and the overly long ‘Творець життя’ (‘The Creator Of Life’) just simply fail to ignite in the first place, and therefore come across as a little bland compared to some of the other tracks on the album.
But while the album misfires in places, Thunderkraft do hit their intended target on the aggressive and fast paced ‘Світ майбутнього’ (‘The Future World’) and the minimalistic and somewhat strange ‘Де сон л’є вологою з вій’ (‘Where The Dream Flows As Moisture From Eyelashes’).
Thunderkraft’s music is different, challenging and downright bizarre in places, but also unique. And while not everything works throughout ‘Totentanz’, the material that does work is enough to warrant investigation from those who are after something a little left of centre, or has always wanted to know what industrialised folk/death/groove metal sounds like, but was always afraid to ask for fear of making a fool of themselves.

For more information on Thunderkraft, check out - http://www.myspace.com/thunderkraft

© Justin Donnelly

Wednesday, March 21, 2012

Arrayan Path - Ira Imperium

Arrayan Path
Ira Imperium
Pitch Black Records

When Cyprus based outfit Arryan Path finally delivered the follow up to their long forgotten debut effort (2004’s fairly underwhelming ‘Road To Macedonia’) in ‘Terra Incognita’ (2010), they not only proved that they had come a long way in their six years away, but also a force to be reckoned with within the global power metal scene. Keen to capitalise on their sophomore album’s success, the band have bolstered their line-up to six full-time members (Comprising of vocalist Nicholas Leptos, new guitarist Alexis Kleidaras, guitarist Socrates Leptos, Prodigal Earth bassist Paris Lambrou, keyboardist George Kallis and drummer Stefan Dittrich), made some slight adjustments to their name to avoid any confusion the band had endured over the last couple of years (Arryan Path has now given an extra a to become Arrayan Path) and returned with their eagerly anticipated third full-length effort ‘Ira Imperium’.
For the most part, ‘Ira Imperium’ doesn’t stray too far from the sound and direction that was offered up on ‘Terra Incognita’. While some may find the similarities between the two albums a little disappointing, there are enough subtle changes to prove that the band have made some progression in the twelve months between releases.
The opening track ‘Dies Irae’ gets the album off in a dramatic fashion, with the orchestral keyboards giving the start of the song a huge epic feel, before the guitarists take over with some great tandem riffing that shows a little more aggression than most of their output of the past, without forsaking any of their familiar melodic edge. Nicholas Leptos adds some clever middle-eastern influences into his vocal delivery to give the song a little more colour, while the additional spoken word samples that follow the solo only adds to the epic feel of the track as a whole.
The follow-up tracks ‘Gnosis Of Prometheus’, ‘Amenophis’ and ‘77 Days ‘Til Doomsday’ are strong tracks with heavier guitar work and strong chorus melodies, while the addition of guest vocalist Tony Martin (Ex-Black Sabbath/The Cage) on the title track ‘Ira Imperium (The Damned)’ is an obvious highlight within the first half of the album.
‘Kiss Of Kali’, ‘I Sail Across The Seven Seas’ and ‘Emir Of The Faithful’ are noteworthy for their inclusion of traditional melodies (Synthesized sitars and percussion) within the band’s familiar power metal framework, while ‘Katherine Of Aragon’ (Featuring Natalie Kyprianou on backing vocals) is the only track where the doom influences of the band’s past make an appearance this time around.
Finishing up the album is ‘The Fall Of Mardonius’, where the band seem to throw a bit of everything into the mix to create a powerful epic that stands as one of their most ambitious efforts to date, while the closer ‘The Poet Aftermath’ follows on in the complete opposite direction, with only keyboard orchestration and Nicholas Leptos powerful vocals carrying the song. Both are definite album highlights.
Overall, ‘Ira Imperium’ isn’t so much a departure from where the band last left things on ‘Terra Incognita’, but a more consistent, well thought out and executed version of the same thing. The song writing is stronger, and the musicianship within the group has definitely improved with the expanded line-up. And to these ears, that’s enough to give ‘Ira Imperium’ the edge over anything Arrayan Path has offered in the past.

For more information on Arrayan Path, check out - http://www.myspace.com/arrayanpath

© Justin Donnelly

Black Tusk - Set The Dial

Black Tusk
Set The Dial
Relapse Records

Georgia has produced some fairly impressive sludge metal acts over the years – most notably Mastodon, Kylesa and Baroness. But while all three bands mentioned helped found Georgia’s impressive underground scene, it’s fair to say that over time, they’ve all progressed and evolved, and have well and truly moved on beyond their primitive sludge metal origins. Not surprisingly, their absence has created a void in the scene, and one that Savannah based trio Black Tusk are more than eager to fill.
Despite having quite a few releases under their belts (Most notably 2005’s Wrecked Signal Records ‘When Kingdoms Fall’ E.P. and 2008’s ‘Passage Through Purgatory’ full-length release through Hyperrealist Records), it wasn’t until Black Tusk signed to Relapse Records and released their ‘Taste The Sin’ album in 2010 that people took notice of their huge and heavy sounds. Following on from the modest success of their last release, Black Tusk (Who comprise of guitarist/vocalist Andrew Fidler, bassist/vocalist Jonathan Athon and drummer/vocalist James May) returned to the studio with legendary producer/engineer Jack Endino (Nirvana, High On Fire, Soundgarden, etc...) to emerge with their third full-length effort ‘Set The Dial’.
The band gets the album off to a thumping start with the rather short instrumental ‘Brewing The Storm’, which showcases their ability to deal out some heavy riffs that not only get the blood pumping, but builds up to a climatic finish that befits the song’s title.
With the intro drawing to a fade, the band launch into ‘Bring Me Darkness’, which is no less rocking than the opener, but with an added aggression with the introduction of the three vocalists. Song structure wise, Black Tusk have made a concerted effort to stay away from anything too progressive or complicated. Instead, the band relies solely on simple riff structures, volume and aggression to get their message across.
‘Ender Of All’ ups the ante in terms of aggression over the former track, but also showcases the band’s ability to weave some textures into the song structures aside from delivering pulverising riff after riff, while ‘Mass Devotion’ starts off with a captivating doom-like atmospheric opening riff, before the band step things up a gear with its stomping groove.
‘Carved In Stone’, ‘This Time Is Divine’ and ‘Growing Horns’ are fairly straight-forward and upbeat rockers compared to most of the tracks on the album, and perhaps better suited to the live stage than in the studio, while the title track ‘Set The Dial To Your Doom’ is a blend of stoner rock, sludge metal and hardcore punk, and without a doubt one of the album’s stand out cuts.
The instrumental ‘Resistor’ is one of the album’s more daring and exploratory tracks where the band step outside their comfort zone to try their hand at something a little more intricate and progressive (Which certainly isn’t a bad thing at all I might add), while ‘Crossroads And Thunder’ closes the album out in a grooving stoner rock manner – but with Black Tusk’s own primitive touch.
Black Tusk isn’t about to win any awards for adding something new to the sludge metal scene on ‘Set The Dial’. But on the strength of their latest album, ‘Set The Dial’ will stand as the band’s most consistent and best sounding release to date, and the kind of release that will win over existing fans in no time.

For more information on Black Tusk, check out - http://www.myspace.com/blacktusk

© Justin Donnelly

Heresiarch - Hammer Of Intransigence

Heresiarch
Hammer Of Intransigence
Dark Descent Records

Following on from their cassette only demo ‘Obsecrating The Global Holocaust’ that was released not long ago through U.S. label Satanic Skinhead Propaganda, Auckland/Wellington (New Zealand) based outfit Heresiarch has returned with their official debut E.P. release ‘Hammer Of Intransigence’.
Having given listeners a taste of what to expect with the release of their demo, Heresiarch (Who comprise of vocalist Nathan Hutchison, Diocletian guitarist Joel Baldwin, bassist Marcus H. and Diocletian/Apocalypse Command/Witchrist drummer Cameron James Sinclair) have well and truly stepped up their sound with their latest release, with ‘Hammer Of Intransigence’ a truly chaotic blast of blackened death metal that is a hostile soundtrack to the listener’s descent to hell.
The opening track ‘Abomination’ (Which was put together by fellow Wellington artist soundscape Fenrirsson of the rather mysterious Vánargandr) is a rather fitting introduction to the album, with the short piece serving up a mixture of air raid sirens, screams and all manner of apocalyptic sounds to what is undoubtedly the front gates to Armageddon.
As the opener fades into the background, Heresiarch unleashes their ungodly noise via the follow-on track ‘Carnivore’ (Which is a reworking of ‘Man Is Carnivore’ from their demo). Blindingly fast, crushingly heavy and filled with plenty of duality on the vocal front (Guttural grows and traded off with higher end screaming), ‘Carnivore’ is a complete onslaught of pure blackened death metal right from the start, and only offers a reprieve around the tail end where the band make the transition towards a slower paced and crushingly heavy doom finish.
The chaotic and raging ‘Iconoclasm’ is a worthy stand-out cut with its relentless blast beats and grindcore-like guitar riffing, while ‘Thunorrad’ and ‘Conflagration’ are noteworthy for their more rhythmic and groovier riff structures (Which surprisingly manage to rise above the volume of aggression the band churn out in lightning speed), and the sporadic and unhinged lead guitar solos dotted throughout the former.
Finishing up the E.P. is ‘Intransigent’, which is another track where the band indulges more in the doom metal sound that was previously heard on the second half of ‘Carnivore’ mixed with plenty of the speed and aggression shown throughout most of the songs on the E.P., making the song another real stand out.
Heresiarch aren’t really going out of their way to do anything new within the black/death metal scene, and unless you have an ear for this style of black/death, you could be forgiven for saying that after a while, all the tracks seem to blend into one another.
But for those who relish uncompromising aggression and crushing brutality with an emphasis on the bare basics, you have little to complain about after giving this a few spins.

For more information on Heresiarch, check out - http://www.facebook.com/heresiarchcult

© Justin Donnelly

Inferion - The Desolate

Inferion
The Desolate
Independent Release

Miami (Florida, U.S.) based black metal outfit Inferion have surprisingly enough been around in one form or another for the better part of the last fifteen years. But while that may be so, you wouldn’t know it given that within that time, the band have only managed to produce a handful of demos, one full-length release (2003’s ‘Firewar’) and a split E.P. with ex-Inferion guitarist/drummer Armando Martinez’s project Heaven Ablaze (2005’s ‘The Arts Of Blasphemy (Divine Hatred)’).
Having said that, there’s a very good reason for the lack of activity within the band, as group founder/vocalist/guitarist/drum programmer/sampler Nick ‘Thor’ Reyes has spent much of his time deployed in Iraq with his army unit.
But despite this, after spending the better part of the last six years of writing and recording, Inferion (Who aside from Reyes, also comprises of backing vocalist/bassist Frank ‘Ysgar’ Gross) have come back with something new - a second full-length effort in ‘The Desolate’.
Given the fact that ‘The Desolate’ was recorded over many years and in a number of locations, I wasn’t expecting all that much from the album. But to my surprise, ‘The Desolate’ is a fairly strong release from Inferion, even if there isn’t anything too unexpected from what you would otherwise expect from a U.S. band whose black metal influences primarily come from a more European stance.
The opening track ‘Among The Twilight’ gives you a good indication in terms of what you can expect from the bulk of the album, and that’s fast paced and innovative riffing, rasping vocals and an overall level of aggression that only emphasises the melodic aspects of the group’s song writing. There are enough tempo changes and shifts in mood to keep things interesting, which is essential given the band’s rather basic take on the black metal sound. The only real obvious issue here is the programmed drums, which at times sound a little too synthetic, and have a tendency to overshadow the bass and guitars in places.
‘Forgotten Ethereal Visions’ is another solid track with its tight guitar riffs and chord progressions, while ‘It Began With Blood’ and the somewhat experimental duo of ‘The Killing Process’ and ‘Underlife’ sees the band toning down the blistering attack and speed to make way for a greater melancholic and progressive atmosphere within the songs to take on a leading role.
As the name would suggest, ‘Moment Of Anger’ is a track that is seething in venom and rage, but only in parts as the band throws in a couple of slow passages to give the song a little more depth, while ‘Purest Evil’ is every bit as destructive as the former, but with some great melodies thrown in to really hook the listener in.
But while there’s some really strong songs on ‘The Desolate’, there are a couple of weaker efforts as well. The instrumental piece ‘Numerous Lacerations’ is an interesting track for sure, but doesn’t seem to fit with its placing around the middle of the album, while the closer ‘Withering Dieties’ seems to go in a more alternative rock direction, but with a black metal delivery. As you can imagine, it’s a combination that simply doesn’t work.
While the production values on the album are a little all over the place, the programmed drums sucking a bit of life out of the songs and a track listing that boasts a selection of songs that range from very good to downright average, it’s fair to say that while ‘The Desolate’ is far from a masterpiece, it is at least a solid album overall.

For more information on Inferion, check out - http://www.inferion.bandcamp.com/

© Justin Donnelly

The Man-Eating Tree - Harvest

The Man-Eating Tree
Harvest
Century Media Records/E.M.I. Music Australia

When The Man-Eating Tree released their debut effort ‘Vine’ in 2010, I found the album falling below my expectations given the impressive resume of the members that makes up the line-up.
That’s not to say that ‘Vine’ was terrible, because it certainly wasn’t a bad album per say. But I would go as far as to say that while the Finnish act had well and truly captured the sombre atmospheric rock sound they were clearly aiming for, the song writing fell a little short of memorable in places.
In a surprisingly quick turnaround, the Oulu based six-piece act (Comprising of ex-Fall Of The Leafe front man Tuomas Tuominen, ex-Poisonblack/Sacred Crucifix guitarist Janne Markus, ex-Depth Beyond One’s guitarist Antti Karhu, bassist Mikko Uusimaa of melodic gothic rock act Reflexion, former Embrace keyboardist Heidi Määttä and former Sentenced drummer Vesa Ranta) are back with their new album ‘Harvest’. And what a difference fourteen months makes!
The band chooses to start the album off in a slow and atmospheric manner with the short instrumental piece ‘Harvest Bell’. Although only featuring guitars and keyboards, it’s a memorable piece of music, and a perfect introduction to ‘At The Green Country Chapel’. Almost immediately, you can tell that The Man-Eating Tree have made some attempts to add some new textures to their sound. The guitars have a little more to say (Both in terms of their riff structures and their overall presence in the mix), and Tuominen’s melodies are easily more memorable than anything from the band’s debut. ‘At The Green Country Chapel’ is something a little heavier from what you would otherwise expect from The Man-Eating Tree, but every bit as melancholy, atmospheric and mournful given the band’s past efforts.
Proving the former track wasn’t just a one off, ‘Code Of Surrender’ and ‘Incendere’ again showcase a heavier guitar approach musically, without overshadowing Tuominen’s emotive and catchy melodies, while the up-tempo and fast paced ‘Armed’ follows a similar path, albeit with one of the strongest and memorable choruses on the album.
The slower and sorrow filled ‘Like Mute Companions’ is another great cut that showcases the band’s ability to shift between atmospheric passages to full-on rocking moments (Complete with soaring choruses), while the downbeat and bleak ‘Exhaled’ is something of a minor epic with its slow doom-like tempo, huge wall of guitars on the riff front and Tuominen’s sorrow inducing vocals.
‘Down To The Color Of The Eye’ is somewhat of an oddity on the album with its modern and different sound on the musical front and the odd growl thrown in to shake things up. While the song does take a little getting used to (Especially in terms of the vocals, where Tuominen sounds like he’s singing in a different key at times), the song has eventually won me over and stands out as one of the album’s stronger efforts.
‘All You Kept Free’ comes across as a track that could have easily been lifted from their debut, which means that while it’s O.K., it’s not quite in the same league as the rest of the album. Thankfully, the predominantly instrumental piece ‘Karsikko’ closes out the album on a high (And somewhat reflective) note.
While I was a little disappointed with ‘Vine’, The Man-Eating Tree has well and truly made amends with ‘Harvest’. Despite the short gap between releases, the song writing and musicianship within the group has really come a long way.
If you’re after something that’s both atmospheric and sombre, but still packs a punch in terms of memorable choruses and plenty of guitars, I can now wholeheartedly recommended checking out The Man-Eating Tree’s latest and greatest effort ‘Harvest’.

For more information on The Man-Eating Tree, check out - http://www.themaneatingtree.com/

© Justin Donnelly

Monday, March 19, 2012

Glenn Hughes - The Autobiography - From Deep Purple To Black Country Communion

Glenn Hughes With Joel McIver
The Autobiography - From Deep Purple To Black Country Communion
Jawbone Press

Autobiographies seem all the rage these days, with almost everyone with any measure of fame seemingly in a hurry to get their story down on paper before the public tire of trend. While there have been plenty of tell-all tomes I’ve been interested in and duly purchased in the last few years, the one book I’ve been really looking forward to is the long in the works effort from Glenn Hughes.
First mentioned some four years ago, Hughes’ long overdue literary effort ‘The Autobiography - From Deep Purple To Black Country Communion’ has been a long time coming, and only now finally seeing the light of day. Naturally enough, I couldn’t wait to absorb myself in Hughes’ story, so much so that I abandoned all the books I was currently reading at the time to focus my attention solely on Hughes’ effort.
I’m a huge fan of Hughes, and have been for many years, whether it be his work in Trapeze, Deep Purple (Both Mk. III and Mk. IV line-up’s), Black Sabbath (Or Tony Iommi), Black Country Communion or his long list of solo work and collaborations he’s involved in throughout his extraordinary forty years as a singer/songwriter. So with ‘The Autobiography - From Deep Purple To Black Country Communion’ finally making its way into my hands, I was eagerly looking forward to Hughes and co-writer McIver (Who’s penned some twenty books over the years, and who recently helped co-write ex-Sepultura/Soulfly front man Max Cavalera’s authorised autobiography) finally shedding light on Hughes’ much publicized rise to stardom with Deep Purple, his fall from grace through drug addiction and his eventual return to the music scene and limelight, as a true rock ‘n’ roll survivor.
Well for the most part, Hughes’ autobiography does provide some answers to many questions some have of his life. The book recalls in detail Hughes’ meteoric rise to fame and fortune, and his slow downward spiral into addiction. The only problem is what’s missing from the book, and that’s everything else.
After a brief foreword piece from Metallica drummer Lars Ulrich (Who considered Hughes a rock god, and saw him play with Deep Purple twice), the book takes a detour to Christmas 1991, when an overweight, spiritually bankrupt and drug addled Hughes was once again indulging in one of his frequent drug binges, only to feel that after the high, something was wrong. That feeling eventually turned out to be a heart attack. After a dramatic start to the book, Hughes and McIver take the story right back to the very start, with Hughes discussing his early family life, his first love, his first band (Finders Keepers) and the influence soul music had on him at an early age. The pace of the writing is fast, and McIver’s interviews with Hughes parents and others help give the story a little more colour to Hughes’ own personal story. From here, the story moves fast, with Hughes’ time with Trapeze told by all those involved (Band members, their manager and friends), before eventually settling into Hughes’ eventual recruitment into the legendary Deep Purple.
The history surrounding the Mk. III and Mk. IV line-up of Deep Purple has been told countless times. And not surprisingly, given that the band helped establish David Coverdale (Whitesnake), Hughes and Tommy Bolin as living legends. As expected, Hughes goes into great detail about the music the band made at the time, the drugs that constantly surrounded the band and Hughes’ introduction to the big time. Much of the story is known, but Hughes’ insight into his time in Deep Purple is quite insightful, not to mention brutally honest in terms of his increasing drug dependency, and the band’s growing dysfunctional state as a working unit (Which would eventually lead to Ritchie Blackmore’s departure, and the recruitment of The James Gang’s Tommy Bolin). There are plenty of great stories from Hughes, some of which are quite amusing (Bringing Stevie Wonder into the studio during the recording of ‘Stormbringer’ is one that comes to mind), but the underlying story that emerges throughout his time in Deep Purple is one of drug use that went from recreational use, to inevitably reach a point of addiction – in a major way. Hughes speaks of his addiction with candid honesty, detailing in vivid detail the damage it did to his personal relationships, his health and ultimately his career in Deep Purple.
From the moment Deep Purple broke up, little is known about the hell that Hughes was going through in his personal life. But over the course of several chapters, Hughes goes to great lengths to explain how powerful the hold his addiction would have on him, without pulling any punches or sugar-coating the truth one bit. There’s detailed accounts of the making of his debut solo effort ‘Play Me Out’ from 1977 (An album that was essentially written and recorded on speed), his ill-fated reunion with Trapeze and his tumultuous relationships with friends and lovers (Who amongst others, included actress Linda Blair and Cherie Currie of The Runaways).
It’s around this point (Two thirds of the way through the book) that the story takes on a greater emphasis on Hughes drug additions rather than keeping it tied in with his musical output. The doomed Hughes/Thrall project is given some coverage, as to is Hughes short-lived stint with Gary Moore (Which aside from discussing his work on Moore’s 1985’s album ‘Run For Cover’, Hughes finally settles the infamous Mars Bar story once and for all) Black Sabbath (1986’s ‘Seventh Star’) and John Norum (1992’s ‘Face The Truth’), but for the most part, music is passed over for a more in-depth look at Hughes’ continued downward spiral into madness and self destruction through drugs.
The last third of the book is no less compelling than the first two-thirds, but disappointing nonetheless.
The heart attack that Hughes and McIver opened the book proved to be the catalyst Hughes needed to get clean and sober, and so begins Hughes story of his rocky road to sobriety. In amongst the various chapters, Hughes admits to moments where he’s relapsed (Something he had never admitted to anyone before the book), and the lengths he’s gone to in order to make amends to those he has done wrong by and let down while in the grip of addiction (And by all accounts, it’s been quite a few people over the years). McIver also takes the opportunity towards the end of the book to introduce Gabi (Hughes’ wife) into Hughes’ life story, before dedicating the last chapter to Hughes’ latest and most successful project in some time – Black Country Communion.
Like a lot of autobiographies, Hughes’ ‘The Autobiography - From Deep Purple To Black Country Communion’ focuses a lot on his personal life rather than his professional endeavours. While there’s nothing necessarily wrong with that, it has to be said that the emphasis on his drug addiction is at times a little overbearing, to the point where you sometimes forget that throughout those dark and desperate years, Hughes was still actively writing and recording for a variety of artists. I was particularly disappointed with the lack of details surrounding such obscure recordings as 4 On The Floor’s self-titled effort (1979), the aborted second Hughes/Thrall release and his collaboration with Robin George (The lost 1989 album ‘Sweet Revenge’, which eventually surfaced in 2008).
Even more disappointing is the lack of coverage on Hughes’ own solo work in the book. ‘Play Me Out’ is talked about a lot, but everything thereafter is given a fleeting mention at best.
Finding the right balance between the subject’s personal life and their musical life is never an easy job, and few have succeeded (I consider Stephen Davis’ Aerosmith effort ‘Walk This Way’ from 1997 and Mötley Crüe/Neil Strauss 2001 classic ‘The Dirt: Confessions Of The World's Most Notorious Rock Band’ two of the best examples at finding the perfect balance). Unfortunately, McIver fails to find enough middle ground to satisfy those purely interested in Hughes’ musical output.
Despite its flaws, ‘The Autobiography - From Deep Purple To Black Country Communion’ does provide a fascinating insight into Hughes’ heady rise to the top, his self-inflected fall into addiction, and his eventual resurrection and return to life and music, leaving no question that Hughes has lived the life of a rock star, both in terms of its highs and its lows, and survived to tell the tale.
The real shame is that in amongst the book’s core story, Hughes’ reputation as a formidable singer, songwriter and musician is barely touched upon.

For more information on Glenn Hughes, check out - http://www.glennhughes.com/

© Justin Donnelly

Monday, March 12, 2012

Bolero - Voyage From Vinland

Bolero
Voyage From Vinland
Independent Release

When Pagan/folk metal first made its mark on the scene, the genre was something special and unique, and undeniably successful. But as the years progressed, more and more acts decided to cash in on the growing movement, which inevitably led to the oversaturation of acts all attempting to win over the same small audience. So when a new act makes its way onto the scene, you can’t help but feel that regardless of how enjoyable the band or album is, there’s little chance that the band in question will do anything that hasn’t already been done, better by those who represent the best of what the genre has to offer (Namely Ensiferum, Turisas and Eluveitie). This brings me to Whitby (Southern Ontario, Canada) based outfit Bolero (Who were formerly known as Dark Abyss), who have just released their follow-up to 2008’s ‘Through The Ages’ E.P. with their debut full-length effort ‘Voyage From Vinland’.
Putting aside the fact that the band come from Canada, and that the name Bolero brings to mind something more along the lines of Latin music as opposed to something Viking based, ‘Voyage From Vinland’ is a solid and likeable release from the folk metal newcomers, but nothing that could honestly be considered groundbreaking in terms of what the genre has already offered up in the past.
The five-piece act (Comprising of vocalist/bassist Morgan Rider, guitarists/backing vocalists Tim Ferriman and Casey Elliot, keyboardist/vocalist Alexander Woods and drummer Rob Rousseau) get the voyage underway with a brief instrumental piece (The title track ‘Voyage From Vinland’), which provides a suitably stirring and atmospheric build up to the first real track on the album ‘Send Of The War Summons’. Bolero have plenty of heavy riffs, speed and aggression (Particularly on the vocal front) to rival any of the big name acts in terms of heaviness and pacing, and the song writing is catchy enough to stand up against the best the scene has to offer. The only downfall evident is the pristine production (The song does sound a little sterile and perfect), and the obvious lack of traditional instruments to provide the folk influences. Despite the flaws, ‘Send Of The War Summons’ is a good song, and a credit to the band’s ability to write a strong song.
From here through to the end of the album, Bolero’s song writing rarely falls below the set standard of the opening pair of tracks, with ‘Voyage From Vinland’ retaining its quality from start to finish.
While the album as a whole is a worthy effort, highlights include the black metal influenced ‘Risen Victorious’, which features some great lead work and some impressive duality on the vocal front, the over the top ‘Pints Held High’ (A track that’s sure to become a favourite on the live front), ‘O’ Hail To The Northlander’ and the triumphant closer ‘Sworn Under The Winter’s Majesty’.
Apart from some production issues and some underwhelming instrumentation (Not only the lack of traditional instruments, but also some cliché keyboards in places), ‘Voyage From Vinland’ is a thoroughly enjoyable album, even if it’s far from anything remotely different or unique from what’s already been done within the folk/metal scene.

For more information on Bolero, check out - http://www.myspace.com/bolerometal

© Justin Donnelly

Elks - Destined For The Sun

Elks
Destined For The Sun
Tee Pee Records/Impedance Records

The first thing that struck me about Brooklyn (New York, U.S.) act Elks was the genre tag their label had given them when describing their music - namely astral metal. What the hell is astral metal?
Without further delay, I slipped in the band’s debut E.P. effort ‘Destined For The Sun’ in order to find out what Tee Pee Records were on about, and found that while the four piece act (Comprising of guitarists/vocalists Devin McManus and Josh Scannell, bassist/vocalist Don Stewart and drummer Sean ‘Smokey’ Adams) have a sound that lies primarily within the heavy/sludge/stoner metal genre, lyrically the band really do take the listener on a journey beyond the scope of many acts.
Although the E.P. only contains six tracks, Elks’ debut effort is a conceptual based effort, which recounts a tale of a peaceful planet that is taken over by a hostile expanding empire, imprisoned in a golden ship and sent hurtling towards the nearest sun. While imminent death approaches, a nearby Rift Wurm hears their cries, knocks them off course, where they crash land on an uninhabitable planet, where the unlucky survivors begin to rebuild their society. Eventually, those that remain become nomadic space Vikings, whose sole purpose is to take revenge on the empire.
Conceptually, ‘Destined For The Sun’ is heavy stuff. And as expected, musically, Elks are every bit as heavy.
The opening track ‘White Fang Learns To Hate’ provides the listener with the musical template that the band base their entire E.P. on, and that’s a sound that takes the chaotic progressive rock direction of Mastodon, the raw aggression of Baroness and the energy of High On Fire, and mixes it up into one powerfully tight unit. Vocally, Kylesa is brought to mind with the constant shifts in front men, while the production is really in your face and abrasive. There are plenty of great riffs, and the twists and turns within the rather short tune are great, with the only flaw being that the vocals are a little low in the mix.
The follow up track ‘Two Moons Of Mars’ packs a real punch with its galloping riffs and heavy drumming, while ‘Fall Of The Starchitect’ is a surprisingly catchy tune with its opening riff, but also boasts some heavier psychedelic influences passages as well to really give the song some strange and compelling diversity.
The title track ‘Destined For The Sun’ and ‘Eaters Of The Dead’ are favourites with their no-nonsense rock-styled riffs and straight-forward aggressive power, while ‘Weedwolf’ is a heavy sludge like track that gives the album a suitable crushing conclusion.
I’m not entirely sure that astral metal is a term that sums up Elks’ overall sound, because there’s a whole lot more to the band than sci-fi lyrical themes and metal. But if the likes of High On Fire, Mastodon, Red Fang, Black Tusk, Kylesa or Baroness take pride of place in your music collection, then Elks’ ‘Destined For The Sun’ comes highly recommended.

For more information on Elks, check out - http://www.myspace.com/elkselkselks

© Justin Donnelly

Face Of Ruin - Within The Infinite

Face Of Ruin
Within The Infinite
Independent Release

Milwaukee (Wisconsin, U.S.) outfit Face Of Ruin have been lurking around the underground scene for quite a few years now, and have caught the attention of many with their uncompromising and brutal take on progressive death metal.
Face Of Ruin have impressed with their two former releases (Being their 2007 split E.P. release with Divisive Skin and their self-titled E.P. from 2008), and true to form, the band have once again delivered another quality release with their latest effort ‘Within The Infinite’.
Armed with the addition of vocalist Matt Bishop to their ranks (Ex-Lividity/Human Artifacts), Face Of Ruin (Who also comprise of Shroud Of Despondency guitarist Jon Liedtke, guitarist Shane Ebert, bassist/backing vocalist Noah Mezsick and Orwell drummer Cris Bissell) have taken their music to an entirely new level of perfection on their latest release, with the opening track ‘Torture Of Silence’ the first cut to showcase the tight and efficient unit the band have become in their three years away from the studio. Starting out with a slew of twisted riffs and a casual groove, ‘Torture Of Silence’ slowly builds to a truly punishing assault on the senses as it progresses, with Bishop’s guttural deep growls, Bissell’s hammering drums and the technical groove provided by the remainder of the band combined to create death metal perfection. Some experimental distorted spoken word vocals and small pockets of melody certainly don’t take away from the song as a whole, and show that while brutality is a dominating force in the band’s overall delivery, quality song writing and structure is also of great importance to the band.
The title track ‘Within The Infinite’ pushes the extremities even further than the opener, with the heavier elements of the band’s sound given a push into overdrive (Especially on the vocal front, where Mezsick’s backing vocals provide plenty of support to Bishop), while the melodic flourishes on the guitar front are given a little more prominence with some inspired and extended lead work.
Finishing up the E.P. is ‘In The Depths Of Blackness’, which is by far the E.P.’s most progressive and technical effort, and a stand out cut on the disc with some additional guitars provided by The Absence’s Patrick Pintavalle and samples lifted from the cult 1990 film ‘Jacob’s Ladder’.
Face Of Ruin has really put together a solid release in ‘Within The Infinite’, both in terms of song writing and its overall production (The album was recorded with The Absence/Infernaeon drummer Jeramie Kling, and mastered by Scar Symmetry guitarist/keyboardist Jonas Kjellgren). The only real flaw with ‘Within The Infinite’ is that it’s an E.P. rather than a full-length album. But given that the band has already started work on some new songs, enough material beyond an E.P. shouldn’t really be a problem with their next release.

For more information on Face Of Ruin, check out - http://www.faceofruin.bandcamp.com/

© Justin Donnelly

Wykked Wytch - The Ultimate Deception

Wykked Wytch
The Ultimate Deception
Goomba Music

Miami (Florida, U.S.) based outfit Wykked Wytch has been around for the better part of the last sixteen years, and have four full-length efforts to their name. But despite the band’s history, the black/metal act still remains largely unknown, due mainly to the fact that they have undergone some serious personnel changes with every new release, which has also brought about a change of musical direction from album to album. Four years on since the release of ‘Memories Of A Dying Whore’ (Which was released in 2008 through Perish Music), Wykked Wytch are back with an entirely revamped line-up, a new label (Goomba Music) and a new album in ‘The Ultimate Deception’. And as expect, things have once again changed for Wykked Wytch in every conceivable way possible.
With a change of personnel (Vocalist/founder Ipek and keyboardist/sampler Salvatore LoPresti are the only members to remain from the band’s line-up of four years ago, with guitarist/bassist Nate Poulson and guest drummer Kevin Talley rounding out the band’s current line-up), the musical direction on Wykked Wytch’s latest release has seen the band push further into the black metal side of their sound, which is more than evident in the album’s opening track ‘Birthing The Beast’. After a brief orchestrated introduction, the band makes an appearance with all guns blazing, and Ipek in particular showcases both her clean and screamed vocals to create something equally as  demonic sounding as the music itself. Once the track settles down, the band showcase their ability to move between melodic symphonic black metal and heavy gothic influenced death metal, without sounding like they’re trying too hard to cover too much ground. Ipek has an impressive array of sounds to her vocal delivery, while newcomer Poulson’s addition is definitely an asset to the band’s overall sound with his neoclassical shredding and furious black metal riffing.
But for all the strengths the band demonstrated on the opening track, they falter quickly with the album’s title track ‘The Ultimate Deception’. While the song boasts some cool riffing, and Ipek delivers a scathing vocal performance throughout, the song itself is a fairly forgettable one at best, and instead reveals a trend that runs through about half of the album – strong musicianship let down by fairly average song writing.
‘Despised Existence’ is a far stronger track with its aggressive riffing, melodic solos from Poulson, hard hitting and relentless work from Talley and Ipek’s constant shifts in vocal stances throughout its duration (Clean vocals, demonic shrieks and guttural growls), while ‘Prayers Of The Decapitated’, ‘Abolish The Weak’ and the savage attack of the closer ‘Eyes Of A Vulture’ represent the stronger efforts on the album.
While some of the other tracks on the album do have their moments (In particular ‘When The Sleepers Rise’ and ‘Serpents Among Us’), the band don’t seem to be able to combine their instrumental skills and their song writing enough to make the songs sound memorable enough to really stand out. And as for the band’s cover of Metallica’s ‘Fade To Black’ (From 1984’s ‘Ride The Lightning’), I can’t say that Wykked Wytch have really improved on the original by emphasising on making it more extreme. It comes across as a little too cliché and clinical for my liking, and is easily the album’s low point.
Wykked Wytch has a lot of potential, but their song writing still needs a lot of work. As a consequence, ‘The Ultimate Deception’ has some really good songs, but just as many weaker efforts, which inevitably gives the album a really patchy feel overall.

For more information on Wykked Wytch, check out - http://www.wykkedwytch.com/

© Justin Donnelly

Monday, March 5, 2012

Funeral In Heaven/Plecto Aliquem Capite - Astral Mantras Of Dyslexia

Funeral In Heaven/Plecto Aliquem Capite
Astral Mantras Of Dyslexia
Dunkelheit Produktionen

It’s taken some time to put together, but German based label Dunkelheit Produktionen has finally released the much talked about split album from Sri Lankan black metal outfits Funeral In Heaven and Plecto Aliquem Capite. With my knowledge of the Sri Lankan metal scene somewhat limited, I was curious to say the least about what these two bands have produced on ‘Astral Mantras Of Dyslexia’. Needless to say, I was expecting the unexpected, and that’s exactly what both acts delivered with their respective sides of this split album.
Opening up the album are Colombo based Funeral In Heaven, who have been active for the better part of the last decade. The seven piece outfit (Comprising of vocalist Chathuranga Fonseka, guitarists Shamika Makalanda, Joseph De Alwis and Ayesh Perera, bassist Dimuthu Fernando, drummer/violinist Visharadha Kasun Nawarathna and percussionist Dineth Wanasinghe) start off proceedings with ‘Transmigrations Into Eternal Submission (Of Altered Consciousness)’, which is essentially an eleven and a half minute traditional piece featuring plenty of percussion, violin and hypnotic grooves. Although long, the instrumental doesn’t overstay its welcome, with the slow build in tempos and intensity keeping things interesting, while the subtle electric guitar in the background does add a touch of depth to the song overall.
The follow-up track ‘Bandhana (Gatahaththey Kathaa Wasthuwa)’ is where Funeral In Heaven really gets to showcase their take on black metal. While the song does have some interesting elements (The slow dirge like delivery, the dense and suffocating sound and overall depressive atmosphere), it’s way too long at twelve minutes – especially for what is a fairly straight forward and simplistic black metal number.
Finishing up Funeral In Heaven’s set is the band’s cover of Thapas’ ‘Buddhang Saranang’, which is something quite different from the other tracks with its percussive heavy grooves, chanted choral vocals and doom-influenced guitar work. In a lot of ways, this is by far Funeral In Heaven’s strongest and most memorable offering here. The only problem is that it’s a cover.
Moving onto Plecto Aliquem Capite (Which is Latin for Suffer Capital Punishment/Death), the five piece outfit (Comprising of Forlorn Hope/Raaksha vocalist Buddhika, guitarist Joseph, bassist Chathuranga Fonseka (Who doubles as Funeral In Heaven’s vocalist), backing vocalist Sanka and drummer/programmer Kasun) begin with the traditional instrumental piece ‘Lament’, which unlike Funeral In Heaven’s offering, is a little more open in terms of instrumentation, and with a greater focus on strings that give the song a very haunting and sorrowful feel. Although it’s nothing I hadn’t already heard before, ‘Lament’ was a thoroughly enjoyable start to Plecto Aliquem Capite’s set.
As with Funeral In Heaven, it isn’t until the second track that Plecto Aliquem Capite showcase what they’re really capable of. ‘Stoned Guru Ramblings’, which was released as a single back in 2009 through Ziekte Records, comes from a completely different musical angle to that of Funeral In Heaven, with the band presenting listeners with a truly chaotic sound. Although musical doom influenced, it’s Buddhika’s unearthly screams and shrieks that really give the band their uncompromising and unique sound. Although a little hard to take initially, repeat listens do eventually reward the listener – provided of course that extreme and unhinged black metal is something you can sink your teeth into in the musical sense.
Not unlike the former track, ‘Cemetary Of The Deep’ is another disturbing piece of aggressive black metal with doom influences, but with a little more melody on the musical side of things (Especially on the latter half of the track, where the band pick up the tempo). Vocally, the song is every bit as scathing and unsettling as you would expect.
Finishing up the album is ‘Crestfallen: Immolating Shakthi’, which is a collaboration between Funeral In Heaven and Plecto Aliquem Capite. As predicted, the song itself allows both of the band’s characters to come through in equal balance, with the contrast between the vocalists and the inclusion of traditional music at the tail end the song, real stand out features.
While I thought that Funeral In Heaven’s contributions were a tad long and fairly predictable compared to Plecto Aliquem Capite’s far superior efforts, ‘Astral Mantras Of Dyslexia’ is overall a solid and enjoyable release, and a worthy showcase of what Sri Lanka has to offer in terms of black metal.

For more information on ‘Astral Mantras Of Dyslexia’, check out - http://www.dunkelheit-produktionen.de/

© Justin Donnelly

The Gardnerz - The System Of Nature

The Gardnerz
The System Of Nature
Abyss Records

Originally released in 2010 (Independently through the band’s own website), ‘The System Of Nature’, the debut album from Swedish death/doom metal outfit The Gardnerz, has officially been picked up by U.S. label Abyss Records and given a second lease of life through this expanded re-release.
Having lived with ‘The System Of Nature’, I can’t say that my original opinion of the album has changed much from my first impressions – and that is that while The Gardnerz have penned some really great material, ‘The System Of Nature’ is in all honestly a little patchy and inconsistent as a whole.
The four piece outfit (Comprising of Vandöd vocalist Niclas Ankarbranth, Toxodeth guitarist Wilhelm Lindh, ex-Vesania/Sacramento bassist Francisco Martin and Execrator/Nimrod/Sadism/Thornafire drummer Juan Pablo Donoso) start the album off with ‘The Art Of Suffering’, which is one of the best examples of when the band really do manage to present the listener with something special and unique. Starting out with some gentle and atmospheric guitar work, the song soon takes a turn towards the heavier side of death/doom metal with some clean and heavy sounding guitar work, and the throaty and guttural vocals of Ankarbranth. From here, the contrast between Opeth-like atmospheric and gentle passages is thrown against some really heavy and clean cut mid-paced guitar riffs, all the while maintaining a death metal facade with Ankarbranth’s vocals out front. It’s an interesting mix of clinical death metal with some elements of doom metal influences brought into the mix, which combined makes for an unusual, and dare I say, unique sound.
But while The Gardnerz does have a unique sound, not everything works for the band on the song writing front. Despite some great solo work and some crushing riffs, ‘Lady In The Grave’ lacks that something special to make it really stand out from the ordinary, while ‘More Or Less’ and the plodding ‘Born To Consume’ are further efforts that fall short in the song writing department when compared to some of the stronger efforts on the album.
But while The Gardnerz does have some tracks that fall below par, there’s far more that do manage to impress. Some worthy of mentioning include the faster paced/technically inclined ‘Your Final Solution’, ‘Incident’ (Which is by far one of the album’s more unusually constructed tracks where the use of dynamics and minimalism is really exploited to its full extent), the death metal based ‘Flaw In The Axiom’ and ‘Maybe It’s Time’, where the band really throw in everything to create a song that encompasses everything the band stands for in the sound sense.
As mentioned earlier, Abyss Records’ release of ‘The System Of Nature’ comes in expanded form with the addition of two covers. The first is a cover of São Paulo (Brazil) act Vulcano’s ‘Bloody Vengeance’ (Lifted from the band’s ‘Bloody Vengeance’ album from 1986), which the band manages to cover fairly convincingly. The second cover is of Winter’s ‘Servants Of The Warsmen’ (From the cult U.S. act’s sole full-length release ‘Into Darkness’ from 1990), which is as expected, a perfect fit for The Gardnerz in a musical sense.
While there’s no shortage of death/doom metal acts within the scene, The Gardnerz do present something a little different to most on their debut effort. Unfortunately, while ‘The System Of Nature’ has its strong moments, it does have its weak points as well.
The Gardnerz have a lot going for them, and with any luck, their next album will deliver more on their strengths rather than dwell further on their obvious weaknesses.

For more information on The Gardnerz, check out - http://www.myspace.com/thegardnerz

© Justin Donnelly

Illnath - Third Act In The Theatre Of Madness

Illnath
Third Act In The Theatre Of Madness
Pitch Black Records

It’s been a long gap between releases for the long running Danish outfit Illnath, but after five years, the Lyngby based outfit are back with their third full-length release ‘Third Act In The Theatre Of Madness’ - which is their first release through Pitch Black Records after parting ways with Worldchaos Production. Although both of the band’s previous releases (2003’s ‘Cast Into Fields Of Evil Pleasure’ and 2006’s ‘Second Skin Of Harlequin’) had their moments, I can’t say that I genuinely got into the band. But with the release of ‘Third Act In The Theatre Of Madness’, Illnath have undergone a complete line-up reshuffle (Vocalist Mona Beck and drummer Dennis Stockmarr have now joined guitarist/keyboardist/song writer Peter Falk and bassist Kenneth Frandsen), which has resulted in a change of musical direction as well.
In the lead up to the release of their new album, the band stated that their melodic black metal sound of the past had been cast aside to make way for a new sound that would take every aspect of the whole sound to new extremes. That, coupled with a whole new line-up had me wondering if Illnath had finally managed to make something that takes the promise of their former releases to a whole new level. The answer of course lies somewhere between a yes and a no.
In terms of direction, Illnath were half correct in their statement. Sure, the melodic black metal sound of the past has been cast aside for the most part. But if the truth be told, Illnath are now very much a melodic death metal band, with tiny traces of traditional/power metal heard throughout ‘Third Act In The Theatre Of Madness’. As for the symphonic tag that the band gets lumped with, the truth is that while keyboards are ever-present within the band’s songs, they’re hardly symphonic.
On the production side of things, ‘Third Act In The Theatre Of Madness’ is by far the band’s strongest and most professional sounding release. And in terms of song writing consistency, it’s clear that the band have really worked hard at refining their songs, earning ‘Third Act In The Theatre Of Madness’ its place as Illnath’s strongest release to date. But while it would appear to be all good news, ‘Third Act In The Theatre Of Madness’ is far from a first class release.
The biggest issue with Illnath is that while they’re good at what they do, I can’t help but feel that they’re nothing more than a clone of Arch Enemy mixed with Children Of Bodom. Part of that Arch Enemy comparison does come down to the fact that Beck is a female vocalist, and does growl in a similar fashion to Angela Gossow. And while she does a more capable job of fronting the band, she doesn’t quite have the same character in her voice that Gossow does.
On the musical side of things, the ten tracks on the album are competent, but nothing really stands out as anything you haven’t heard before from the likes of Arch Enemy or Children Of Bodom in the past. Falk is a great guitarist, but as a song writer, his compositions do come across as kind of faceless at best. As good as album highlights such as the fast paced ‘Fall Of Giants’, the mid-paced ‘Tree Of Life And Death’ and the catchy ‘Lead The Way’ are, they really aren’t all that memorable once the album finishes.
Illnath are an O.K. act, and ‘Third Act In The Theatre Of Madness’ is by far the most accomplished effort the band have put together to date. The problem is that it’s all fairly pedestrian sounding, unadventurous and done infinitely more memorable by others. Hopefully the band will make some attempts to step outside their comfort zone and make something a little more daring and interesting the next time around.

For more information on Illnath, check out - http://www.illnath.dk/

© Justin Donnelly

Xenomorph - Empyreal Regimes

Xenomorph
Empyreal Regimes
Dark Descent Records

Following on from the success of their re-release of Death Strike’s ‘Fuckin’ Death’, Timeghoul’s ‘1992-1994 Complete Discography’ and Uncanny’s ‘MCMXCI – MCMXCIV’ from last year, Dark Descent Records have once again ventured into the past to find a long lost obscurity, dust it off and reintroduce it to a whole new audience by giving it the deluxe reissue treatment. This time around its Nebraska (U.S.) based death metal outfit Xenomorph, and their long forgotten album ‘Empyreal Regimes’.
Xenomorph was founded back in 1990, and eventually split in 1996 following the death of vocalist/guitarist Joe ‘Pappshammer’ Papek. But while the band’s time together was short-lived, they did manage to release a three track demo in 1993 (‘Subspecies’) and one full-length release in the form of ‘Empyreal Regimes’ in 1995 (Through their own Fleshkoptor Musikkk label). With only an hour’s worth of musical output to their name, it makes sense that with the overdue re-release of ‘Empyreal Regimes’, Dark Descent Records have compiled both the album and the demo on the one album, making this an essential package for anyone who has long sought the complete Xenomorph catalogue, or for those who are looking for something a little more on the obscure side of early U.S. death metal.
In terms of musical direction, Xenomorph were primarily known as a death metal band, but while the tag is justified, the band also managed to incorporate elements of thrash metal into their sound, as well as showcasing a technical edge within their riff structures.
The trio (Comprising of Papek, ex-Angelcorpse/Acheron/Immolation bassist Bill ‘Beguiling Tempter’ Taylor and ex-Diabolic Possession drummer Chris ‘Zoanthros Vanir’ Haley) get the album off to a powerful start with ‘The Keep’, which initially utilises the use of samples to create a foreboding atmosphere, before the band blast their way through with some grinding riffs, some innovative drum work and Papek’s impressive rasp-like vocal work (Which in some ways brings to mind a cross between Death’s Chuck Schindler and David Vincent of Morbid Angel).
‘Wehrmacht’ is a firm favourite with Haley’s incredible drumming expertly timed to stand out against the tight knit riffing of Papek, while ‘Plight Of The Cimmerian’ really demonstrates the diversity within the band’s song writing with its menacing mid-paced tempos. Further highlights come in the form of the constant twists, turns and shifts in speed within the two closing tracks ‘Valley Of The Kings’ and ‘Biomechanics’.
As mentioned earlier, this re-release also includes the three tracks from the band’s original demo ‘Subspecies’ (Namely ‘Cyberchrist’, ‘Phosphoric Coaqulum’ and ‘Kaziglu-Bey’). Whilst their inclusion doesn’t really enhance the album as a whole given the vastly inferior production value (They essentially sound like they were recorded in a garage), their inclusion does show how much the band progressed in the two years between releases.
Xenomorph never really achieved much in their short time together, and with the passing away of Papek, their demise was inevitable. But with Dark Descent Records’ re-release of ‘Empyreal Regimes’, here’s hoping that Xenomorph finally gets some long overdue appreciation for what they did manage to achieve in their time.

For more information on Xenomorph, check out - http://www.myspace.com/xenomorphregime

© Justin Donnelly