If someone's only previous exposure to Finland's Amorphis was The Karellian
Isthmus, it is doubtful they would even recognize Tuonela as
a product of the same band. The heavy riffing, the speed, and the
death metal vocals are all pretty much extinguished now, as the band has
steadily evolved into a 70's-based rock/metal act with plenty of psychedelic
and folk influences.
"The Way" starts things off well, with an enchanting riff that is somewhat
hypnotic and Pasi Koskinen's unique vocals. The vocal melodies really
help drive home "Morning Star," one of the album's finest and most memorable
moments. "Nightfall" is interesting as it increases the tempo a bit
and has rather middle-eastern feel to it. In fact, a few songs on
Tuonela do, as the band move away from the more traditional folk styles
that were incorporated on Black Winter Day and Elegy.
"Greed" is the first track that really sounds like it could have been on
and even features some deathly vocals from Pasi (a first). It must
be stated that Pasi does one hell of a good job at the gruff vocal stylings
and is 100% better than guitarist Tomi Koivusaari (who used to handle all
the vocals). "Divinity" is another winner and "Shining" has a slightly
Sabbath feel to it (think "Tomorrow's Dream" not "War Pigs").
On the down side, the title track just kind of drags along with nothing
to really justify its inclusion, and "Withered" isn't a whole lot better.
Two songs out of ten isn't bad at all, though, especially when the other
eight are so good.
The musicianship in Amorphis is as awesome as ever, with some beautiful
leads, not to mention well-placed keyboards, flute and sitar. With
the disappearance of keyboardist Kim Rantala, that part of the Amorphis
sound is understandably less up-front, but the session player does a fine
job and it definitely is still an important part of the band's sound.
The production is very good and spacious, really bringing the songs to
life. After Elegy, I was somehow expecting the band to kind
of drift off into some weird, trippy direction and lose focus, but the
songs on Tuonela are upbeat, well-crafted tunes, making this quite
possible Amorphis' crowning achievement thus far.
This is really odd one-man industrial project from Bellingham, Washington.
Bryan Tewell is the man in question and he handles everything from the
music and vocals to the recording and album layout.
(12 Ton Productions)
Stylistically, Take. is pretty diverse. "My Shiny Toys"
mixes high-speed industrial rhythms with strange, carnival-like melodies
and samples. "The Civilized Man" follows with an even denser sound,
including a nice melody and some tortured vocals. The vocals in general
are the one weak element of AnthroPile, as they rarely mix well with the
music (usually due to some ill-advised pitch-shifting or other effect).
Fortunately, this song is one of the exceptions, where everything works
together quite well. "Distributor," on the other hand, is a good
example of a musically excellent track that is let down by the vocals.
Other standout cuts include "But They Do," "Mesopotamia" and the lengthy
and complex "PaM." Vocal samples play a large role on this album,
some sounding home made. Most songs have a noisy, guitar-esque synth
driving them. There is something of a low-tech feel to the production
on the album, but it still sounds pretty cool and reminds me of some of
the quirkier Wax Trax! stuff from the late 80s.
This album is interesting and worth looking into. Not every song
is a winner and, as I said before, the vocals need work, but there is a
unique sound here and some definite creativity. Praise must be given
to AnthroPile at the very least for avoiding all the current trends in
electronic music and trying something different. Bryan's skill at
writing songs and manipulating samples bodes well for even better things
to come. More info at: http://fp.netos.com/xon/anthropile.htm
This is something of a side-project of Covenant and treads some similar
ground. While I wouldn't rate the overall quality as high as Covenant,
there is some excellent musicianship to be had and plenty of speedy, black
Mirrored Hate Painting
After a pointless vocal intro, "The Abyss's Mystic Haze" kicks in at
full speed and it is immediately clear that this is going to be a less-than-commercial
outing. The high-end sound to the riffing, strained vocals, blast
beats and chilly keyboard lines are all present and accounted for, creating
a similar mood to the likes of Satyricon or even Dimmu Borgir. The
way the keyboards are layered into the sound in particular reminds me of
Somehow, the unusual cover art and song titles led me to expect a far
more off-the-wall approach, ala Arcturus or Ulver even, but Mirrored
Hate Painting is actually pretty standard fare. It is well done,
certainly, and I can't pick out anything to really complain about, yet
I find my interest fading after the first couple tracks. It has been
done before too many times, methinks. There is a bridge midway through
"Mirror In Scarry Skies" (god, I really hope that is a typo...) that features
a really cool mid-tempo riff and I would have liked to have seen the band
mix it up like that more often. That's not to say the music isn't
complex - it is - but it just needs a little more variety. More of
those moments where you just go, 'Wow!'
Overall, a good album that just lacks that special spark to make it
a great album.
I kind of lost track of these guys after they first came on the scene in
the early 90s. Coming out in the midst of the funk/rap/metal crossover
boom, I just figured they disappeared along with most of the other bands
in that genre. Fortunately, they have not only survived, they have
released a kick-ass album here in 1999.
(The Music Cartel)
"Two Sides" is a great starter track, mixing rapped vocals with some
truly metallic riffs and some off-the-wall middle-eastern melodies.
"Hold Your Head Up" rages forth next, filled to the brim with angst, tight
start-stop riffing and hard vocals. The hardcore element is a bit
more present here, as is some of the underlying technology. "Biggest
& The Best" sustains the level of quality with some nice (albeit simple)
synthwork and a great use of harmonics in the pre-chorus riff. By
this point, some of the less obvious influences are starting to become
obvious, as I am reminded at times of folks like Moby and Disposable Heroes
of Hiphoprisy. The chorus to "Chances" shows Clawfinger experimenting
with a more melodic and catchy approach, while "Don't Wake Me Up" has a
definite alternative rock feel to it that isn't altogether unhealthy.
"Not Even You" is a relationship song that the Offspring would be proud
These two Swedes and two Norwegians took their time creating this record
and it definitely shows. Nothing on this album is new, to be sure,
but where bands like Rage Against the Machine and Pitchshifter have faltered
in recent years, Clawfinger deliver the goods.
For those Fates Warning fans who weren't happy with the lighter direction
the band took after No Exit, there is finally something to help
ease the pain. Vocalist Ray Alder has taken a much heavier route
for this, his solo project of sorts. He also gets to flex his vocal
muscles a bit more and show he is just as capable in the lower registers
as the high ones.
Now, while Engine is certainly heavier than Fates, it is not very metal.
It is much more in line with the earlier work of bands like Soundgarden,
Tool and their ilk. The riffs are fairly simple and the arrangements
uncomplicated, though they do throw a few prog twists into the mix here
and there for good measure. Fine performances from everyone involved,
but none of the songs really stand out as being particularly interesting
or memorable. Probably the best cut on offer is "Tree of Life," which
has a darker, moody atmosphere that brings to mind Katatonia and The Cure.
Joey Vera delivers a thick, solid production job (along with a fine
bass performance), but it all seems rather academic by the end of the disc.
The unimaginative band name and album cover are sadly reflected in the
fairly non-descript lyrics and song-writing. None of it is bad by
any means, it just isn't particularly good, either. I was really
hoping for more, as Ray has a great voice that I always felt was under-utilized
in Fates Warning and it does fit quite well with the heavier sound.
Other than his voice, though, there is nothing to distinguish Engine from
a zillion other bands. Expect to see used bins full of Engine promos
in the near future...
With 'Viking metal' coming into its own as a sub-genre of black metal,
Enslaved have returned to demonstrate how it's done. And, man, do
they put their hearts into this one! No lack of intensity and with
the help Peter Tatgren, the cleanest and most powerful production job Enslaved
has completed to date.
After a fairly relaxed and almost regal intro, the band slam into "In
Chains Until Ragnarok," a full-throttle firestorm of blastbeats, grim vocals
and dizzying riffs. Clean vocals are also utilized to excellent effect,
further boosting the epic feel of the material. Amazingly, the band
don't really let up throughout the remaining 7 tracks, resulting in an
almost-numbing brutality at times similar to Emperor or Marduk, yet sounding
The band's strength lies in its ability to come up with cool riffs and
arrange them just so. Casual listeners could dismiss the whole album
as chaotic noise, but if you pay attention, you realize just how finely
crafted and executed the songs on Blodhemn really are. The
improved production only adds to the proceedings, sharpening up the guitars
a bit and really helping the drums provide the proper impact. Crowned
by a skillfully executed album cover, Enslaved have not only topped all
of their previous works here - they have set a new standard for all Viking-wannabes
This album is subtitled "a tribute to Cernunnos," who killed himself in
April of 1997. The material is a collection of new songs (well, new
in 1997 anyway), old songs re-recorded with the new line-up, and a cover
(Sodom's "The Conqueror").
After a reasonably ominous keyboard intro, new track "By Dark Glorious
Thoughts" kicks in with a raging black metal fury. The band's speedy
attack is decent but perhaps a bit short on character. Fortunately,
the band slow things down now and again and seem to fare much better during
these sections. "Satan Never Sleeps" dates back over ten years, yet
doesn't sound out of place at all. The band pull off the Sodom track
quite well, too.
This is one of those difficult albums to review, as there is nothing
particularly praiseworthy nor particularly bad about any of it. The
production is passable, the vocals are suitably harsh but also rather nondescript,
the songs are fairly complex and feature some cool bits here and there,
but...you get the picture. I've got a feeling the very haphazard
nature of this collection contributes a lot to its mediocrity. Hopefully
the next full-length album of new material will rise above this and really
demonstrate Enthroned's abilities.
Forewarned are a Cali metal band with some classic thrash influences and
a touch of prog. This release is merely a 3-song sampler of what
is to come. The band is still a bit rough around the edges, but considering
they are only a year and a half old, that is to be expected.
Opening track "Heavy Machinery" is easily the weakest of the three.
The music itself features some awkward riffs and transitions, and the vocals
don't do anything to help matters. Sounding nearly spoken during
the verses, the work much better on the choruses where David Parsons actually
sings. "True Believer" is better, with a cool lead and bridge in
the middle. A melodic, clean guitar intro leads into "An Eternity
to Endure," the best cut of the bunch. The main riff is memorable
and the arrangement features plenty of twists and turns to keep things
The recordings isn't great, but it's certainly not terrible either,
especially for a demo. Forewarned are definitely on the right track
- they don't sound like anyone else, they have a good deal of variety and
they are good at arranging their tunes - but they still need to develop
a bit. With better production, tighter playing and more consistent
vocals, Forewarned will be a real threat. More info: http://www.4warned.com
California's sonic powerhouse Hate Dept. have finally delivered the long-awaited
follow-up to Omnipresent. Though that disc is certainly a tough act
to follow, the band rose to the challenge and have come up with twelve
songs that take the basic Hate Dept. sound and update it.
One thing that separates Hate Dept. from many of their industrial peers
is their ability to write incredibly catchy, poppy songs, while still retaining
an edge. "Superdrama" is a blend of danceable electronic styles,
taking what Prodigy did with "Firestarter" and making it good. "Coming
Down" is a funkier number that brings to mind recent SMG output, albeit
with a lot more noise and distortion. The guitars on Technical
Difficulties are less present than in the past, due in large part to
the way they are processed, but there are plenty of overdriven synths and
noisy samples to keep the aggression level up.
Of course, the band have their softer side as well, and "Wait" is an
excellent ballad that mixes The Church-like introspection with synthpop
and trumpets. "Anger Impulse" is the first track that really sounds
like the Omnipresent material, while "Little Let Down" has one of
my favorite lines: "I'm glad to disappoint you / It's nice to let
you down." The lyrics in general are a little more obvious this time
out, though many are still open to interpretation. Destined to be
a huge hit (well, in a perfect world anyway), "Release It" is a killer
track, sort of an industrial version of Depeche Mode, with some cool vocal
The remaining six tracks aren't as instantly memorable, but are still
good tunes. "Fireflies" in particular is a little off the beaten
path, with something of an Ebbhead vibe going on. Seibold's
voice is as versatile as ever, ranging from a new wave/punkish sneer to
smooth and emotional. And of course he also handles nearly all of
the writing, programming and production work, so I guess I can forgive
any delay in getting this record out. Bored with all the dippy, trendy
electro out there? Get Hate Dept.
In a year that has marked outstanding new releases from the likes of Emperor,
Hades Almighty and Enslaved, I held little hope that someone would actually
top them. Yet, we're only halfway through 1999 and Immortal have
already achieved that arduous task. At The Heart of Winter
is a huge, monolithic record, filled from start to finish with brutal riffs,
compelling arrangements, savage vokills and a production to kill for.
At The Heart of Winter
"Withstand the Fall of Time" is a great opener, as it starts with some
heavy chords that slowly build up until the drums kick in high gear and
we're off. Not content to just rage away at 100 MPH like some, Immortal
take you through many twists and turns as the song evolves. This
is their modus operandi throughout the disc and they have nearly perfected
the skill, as the songs never drag, never get boring, and yet exceed 8
minutes on a regular basis. Remember when Metallica used to write
songs that were 8 or 9 minutes, yet they sounded 'complete' rather than
'long?' That's what Immortal achieves, six times in a row.
"Tragedies Blows At The Horizon" is one of the real standout cuts, with
a chorus that sticks with you immediately, but there are no bad tracks
to suffer through either. Immortal know when to use subtlety, too,
such as the intro to the title track, a beautiful use of keyboards that
just further emphasizes the heaviness of the song when the guitars come
in later. This track is also a great example of the band's skill
at putting the 'metal' back into 'black metal.' The riffs they come
up with vary from the usual chilly, high-speed numbers to more mid-tempo
classic metal, yet never does any of it sound dated.
The production on At The Heart of Winter is just outstanding.
Peter Tägtgren gives the band a full, heavy sound that is rare in
black metal circles. The bass often gets lost with this kind of music,
but not so here, and the guitars are just huge. The mix is perfectly
balanced as well, never letting any one element dominate the sound.
Hopefully, this will inspire more artists in this genre to get out of the
Darkthrone school of 'bad production = good' and strive for this level
I will admit that this is the first full-length Immortal album I've
had a chance to hear, but rest assured that will be soon remedied.
It's a rare thing when a band can combine power, confidence, skill and
just plain good songwriting the way Immortal have here. At The
Heart of Winter is destined to be a classic and is a must for all metal
fans, black or otherwise.
One of the key purveyors of melodic death metal in the late 90s, Sweden's
In Flames seem to have really come into their own in terms of sound and
presence. While changes from album to album have been fairly noticeable
in the past, the progression from Whoracle to Colony is relatively
The thick, heavy sound hits you right away as "Embody the Invisible"
begins, as do the harmonic guitar leads that hark back to Maiden's glory
days. There is perhaps a little more experimentation in terms of
synth integration, but not a whole lot. "Scorn" is one of the more
atypical tracks, with a hard rhythm and almost industrial approach to the
verses. The vocals are generally as harsh as ever, though Anders
does experiment with a cleaner, near-gothic approach on songs like "Ordinary
Story." "Resin" features a cool 3/4 time signature, much like some
of the material on The Jester Race.
In Flames' style is really an interesting combination, incorporating
the obvious (death and classic metal), and the more obscure (industrial,
modern alternative). There are even a few moments that remind me
of Anathema and Amorphis' flings with trippy 70s rock. The tempo
is kept fairly middle-of-the-road most of the time, but there are some
speedier moments to be had as well. The lyrics are generally pretty
out there, making little sense on the surface. Whether there is a
deeper meaning behind them is best left to each individual listener to
discover on their own.
As with recent Moonspell and Sentenced releases, repeated listenings
are pretty much mandatory to properly absorb the album and get into it.
I was a bit disappointed with the general lack of progression on my initial
listening, but I think Colony is one of those 'grower' albums that
just takes a little while to settle in. While Dark Tranquility has
chosen to expand their horizons, In Flames instead have focused on cementing
their sound and creating a good, solid album, a cornerstone to build on
in the future.
An almost-true story: It is 1983 and I am making the usual bi-monthly
trip to the Record Garden in Eugene to spend my allowance on the latest
obscure metal finds. After searching in vain for months, I finally
find a cop of Jaguar's Power Games - yes!! Further searching turns
up other soon-to-be-classics by the likes of Acid, Warlord and Loudness.
Then I come across a band called Killer Khan - hmmm... Sounds familiar,
I think I may have read a favorable review of them in Ron Quintana's Metal
Mania a while back. So, overlooking the dodgy album art, I plunk
down my $7.99 and prepare for the ride back to Roseburg. On the trip,
I greedily dig in to each album, digesting all the lyrics, thank-yous and
studio credits, unable to wait until I get home to my turntable.
Once home, I drop the needle on side one of the Killer Khan platter, seeing
as how it is the 'wild card' in the stack. Within the first minute
or two, I smile, knowing that I will be soon dubbing the album on the other
side of Saxon's Power and the Glory, in preparation for the next
ride back to Eugene...
Kill Devil Hills
Okay, so Killer Khan are actually a 90s band and this is their third
album since '95, but the feeling I got from listening to it really took
me back to the early days of my metal awakening. Imagine a cross
between Witchfinder General and Diamond Head and you have some idea of
what to expect here. Strong vocals that are neither too high or too
low combine with a raw guitar sound and classic NWOBHM style riffs to create
some excellent trad metal. Best of all, it sounds natural and not
like some of these retro bands that try too hard.
The album starts off well with "Computer Icon," showcasing the band's
various talents and featuring one of the album's coolest riffs, but it
is "Wicked Chimes of the Southern Bells" that is the real landmark achievement
of the disc. "Supersonic Masquerade" features a great, chugging riff
that sticks with you right from the first hearing.
Fortunately, while the rest of the tracks aren't quite as good as these,
they are still worthy tracks and Kill Devil Hills is a pretty damn
solid record - er, I mean CD. All the pitfalls of early 80s metal
are here, too - low-budget art/layout, cliched lyrics and less-than-pristine
production - but it all works to make Kill Devil Hills the album
it is, which is a nice shot in the arm for anyone tired of the current
trends. More info: http://www.killerkhan.com
Morgana Lefay fans can rejoice - the band yet lives! While only vocalist
Charles Rytkönen and guitarist Tony Eriksson remain from the old line-up,
the duo were the main creative force in the band anyway. Fortunately,
the classic power metal sound that made Morgana Lefay so good is maintained,
with a few new experiments thrown in for good measure.
The Seventh Seal
"End of Living" starts off sounding very much like the band's previous
work, though with perhaps a slightly heavier touch. Next up is the
title track and it is one of the album's highlights, with a great riff
and grand chorus, much like the material on Maleficium. There is
a slight thrash tinge to the Lefay sound, though it is usually the slower
brand of thrash, ala Metallica circa "Eye of the Beholder."
Elsewhere, the band show their more melodic side on tracks like "The
Boon He Gives," while still retaining their trademark heaviness.
This song is pure class, with a great chorus and would be my pick for a
big push at radio. The CD's final cut, "Shadow Empire," is worth
noting, too, as it is one of the fastest Lefay songs I've heard yet and
closes up the album on an energetic note.
I liked Morgana Lefay and counted them as one of the premiere melodic
power metal outfits of the 90s. The few complaints I had with their
sound, mainly over-wrought arrangements and too many ballads, have pretty
much disappeared in this new, leaner incarnation of the band. They
mix it up more and Charles' vocals are more impressive than ever, delivering
the soft lines as convincingly as he does the all-out rockers. With
a top-notch production job, excellent performances all around, some of
the band's best material to date, and gorgeous album art, there is nothing
not to recommend about The Seventh Seal. A must for all fans
of power metal.
The work of one Toronto man, Rik MacLean, Mara's Torment fall into that
rather gray area near ambient and soothing, trance electronic music.
The overall vibe of Across For Show is more calming and relaxing
than anything else.
Across For Show
Opening track "Where We Go To Die" features a soft beat behind floating
synths, while "Imagine Me" is even more minimal, featuring only subtle,
interweaving notes in a very ambient atmosphere. The pack quickens
a bit on later tracks like "Where It Begins" and "Symmetry," which approaches
Delerium territory circa Spheres. "Of Stars and Wishes" is
the most peaceful track of the lot, as it is nearly inaudible at times.
The album closes with the "...Down For Go," which relies on weird effects
and sounds for a suitably cool ending. Following it, however, is
a 'hidden' track that is at once both the most upbeat song and the happiest
on the album. It also seems rather out of place and I would have
much rather the CD had ended on "...Down For Go."
Across For Show is Rik's second release and I'm surprised no
label has picked it up yet. Ambient music is probably some of the
easiest music to play, yet also some of the hardest to play well.
Mara's Torment does it well. The overall feel is very positive, too,
yet never slips into New Age cheese-land. More info: http://corpusnet.com/torment/
When it comes to classic rock 'n' roll, few bands have done it as well
as Nazareth and even fewer have survived as long as they have. Starting
out at the beginning of the 70s, the band racked up hits over the years
such as "Hair of the Dog," "Love Hurts" and "This Flight Tonight," but
never had the same mainstream success as other hard rockers of their day
such as Zep or Sabbath. I think part of that is due to the band's
diversity and unwillingness to be pigeon-holed in one style, as they incorporated
heavy metal, 50's rock 'n' roll, reggae, synthpop, country, blues and even
some Latin elements into their sound over the years. While it may
have limited their commercial appeal a bit, it was certainly good news
for the band's fans, as they never stagnated and you could always count
on Nazareth for a solid, rockin' album.
With the departure of original guitarist Manny Charlton in the early
90s, it seemed like the band's day was finally over. The first album
afterward, No Jive, abandoned the modernized style that Manny had
been leading the band toward in favor of a far more organic, retro sound.
Things didn't quite gel, but six years down the road, things began to fall
into place better, with the result being Boogaloo.
The style is still very much in that 60s/70s blues/rock mold, with a
more upbeat vibe than usual and some well-placed piano in place of the
more synthetic keys that had taken over the band's sound in the late 80s.
If you recall songs like "Dressed To Kill" and "Take the Rap," you get
the idea. There is a real consistency to Boogaloo that is both its
greatest strength and weakness. All the classic Naz albums had a
few really stand-out cuts, some good songs and perhaps one or two throwaways.
This time, nothing really jumps out as extraordinary, yet none of the tunes
do anything to drag down the album either.
Sadly, this is the last album that the band will record with drummer
Darrell Sweet, as he recently passed away after suffering a heart attack.
Whatever the future holds for Nazareth, their place in history is already
cemented and Boogaloo is a more than respectable addendum, especially
30 years into their career.
NINE INCH NAILS
After an interminable delay, we are finally presented with some new material
from Trent + Co. After such a wait, I rather expected a grand change
in style, not unlike the changes that have occurred between all of his
previous recordings, but alas it isn't here. Perhaps the album will
tell a different story.
The Day the World Went Away (CDS)
The actual single version of "The Day the World Went Away" is by far
the weakest of the three cuts. Why Trent thought this would make
a good single is beyond me. Alternating between an almost too-quiet
ambience and a lethargic, noisy guitar riff that just annoys, only the
vocal lines are worth the time. Imagine a mix of "The Downward Spiral"
and "Hurt" but less interesting than either. "Starfuckers, Inc."
is much better, coming across as a blend of "The Perfect Drug" and the
material on Broken. It's upbeat, brash and features a guitar-heavy,
Ministry-esque chorus. The "quiet" version of "The Day.." finishes
the single and is a much, much better version of the song. Doing
away with the guitar part entirely, it features some wonderful piano and
is arranged in a more logical fashion.
As you can see by my comparisons, the material on this single seems
more like a reflection of NIN's past rather than a window onto the future.
As far as I'm concerned, that's fine, as I'd rather see him concentrate
on doing something well rather that trying to keep up with all the latest
trends (hello FLA, Download, etc.). Who knows, though - maybe the
rest of the album is going to be drum 'n' bass and jungle hell...
The follow-up to the awesome power metal debut from Primal Fear has arrived.
Led by ex-Gamma Ray vocalist Ralf Scheepers and Sinner bassist Mat Sinner,
the band continue their classic metal assault throughout the twelve songs
Jaws of Death
The differences between Jaws of Death and PF's debut are pretty
minimal, actually. The solid, heavy production is still intact, giving
the guitars a massive shred factor. Also, the band's ability to come
up with incredible riffs hasn't diminished, as evidenced by the likes of
"Save a Prayer," "Church of Blood" and "When the Night Comes," to name
but three. Ralf's vocal chords haven't deteriorated any, either,
as he delivers yet another incredible performance. His clean singing
style ranges from a mid-range to incredible highs, yet always with a great
deal of a power. Definitely one of metal's finest vocalists, his
style is stamped all over Jaws of Death and makes even the lackluster
And, yes, there are a few filler selections. "Fight To Survive"
and "Hatred In My Soul" aren't bad tracks, but do nothing to really move
the listener either. Fortunately, these are the minority and the
rest of the album is very strong. The band seem to have abandoned
the ballad territory explored a bit on the debut in favor of making a solid
album of Balls To The Wall meets Painkiller metal that is
sure to elicit more than a few cases of whiplash. Like Gamma Ray,
the band temper speed with plenty of great mid-temp riffs, giving the album
a real sense of variety. It's the kind of material that just screams
to be heard live. The album closes with a cover of the Rainbow classic,
"Kill the King." While a thoroughly rousing rendition, this song
has been covered so many times already, it would have been cool to hear
them tackle something else.
Comparing this album to the debut is a bit difficult, as it came near
the start of the recent metal revival and was something of a shock to the
system. While the initial impact of Jaws of Death may not
be as intense, it is still a more than worthy follow-up and another great
opus of powerful and heavy metal the way it should be played.
The third re-issue of classic Riot albums is here and it also marks the
final release with Rhett Forrester on vocals. Actually, everyone
except guitarist Mark Reale abandoned ship after this album, which is really
sad as subsequent incarnations of Riot - as good as they have been - have
never matched the sheer class and quality of these earlier recordings.
Born In America
After things fell apart with Elektra, Riot was left out in the cold
with this recording. It finally wound up on Canada's Quality Records
label, who obviously had no clue how to market a metal band and it never
got the recognition it deserved. Overall, Born in America isn't as
strong as prior releases like Restless Breed and Fire Down Under,
but it is still a great record and it's great to see Metal Blade re-issuing
it (with the original cover art, thankfully!).
"Born In America" revs up the album with a nice crunch, while "You Burn
In Me" sounds like the intended single. Despite its slightly commercial
feel (the band never stooped to wimpy keyboards though), it is a great,
catchy song and seems like a more natural successor to the "Outlaw" single
than Restless Breed's rather downbeat "Showdown." Up next,
though, is the album's crowning achievement, "Wings of Fire." Following
the pattern established on "Altar of the King," it begins with a quiet,
acoustic intro, with some beautifully sung lines by Rhett. Just as
the guitar slows and fades, the drums kick in full force for one of the
band's fastest and most powerful songs at the time. Riot were always
able to rival the more popular acts like Judas Priest and Rainbow for coming
up with great arrangements and choruses, as this song more than amply demonstrates.
Other album highlights include a great version of Cliff Richard's "Devil
Woman," the gritty but ever-so-catchy "Vigilante Killer" (the original
title of this album up until the last minute), the grim and heavy "Where
Soldiers Rule" and the album closer "Promised Land," a Rick Ventura-penned
gem in the vein of "Feel the Same" and "Dream Away."
The sound quality on this re-issue is decent and the packaging is excellent.
Not only do you get all the lyrics, but a number of old band photos (many
live shots) are included as well. I still remember the original Japanese
version of the LP that included such great mis-translations as "Come in
leather like the 50s / They were really down the green" and "Got to foster
need / Got the fiscal queen / Anything to seize…"
The production on Born in America is a little less polished than
some of the preceding records, but it is still decent and the material
makes up for any lacking elsewhere. Now that all the classic Riot
albums are available on CD, there is no excuse not to own every one of
them! If that's not financially feasible for you, you should still
put Born in America near the top of the list, as it is a definite American
Perhaps it shouldn't be so surprising to see the Stormtroopers of Death
resurface after so many years, considering the current retro climate of
nostalgia and reunions. While I was never personally a huge S.O.D.
fan, I appreciated some of their work and there was no doubt about the
band's abilities. For me, it was more interesting to listen to Nuclear
Assault and Anthrax, though.
Bigger Than the Devil
Well, it's 1999 and things have certainly changed. The term 'hardcore'
these days generally refers to a collection of macho, mid-tempo mosh riffs
liberally called 'songs.' Nuclear Assault is long dead, Brutal Truth
is no more and Anthrax is running on empty. Bigger Than the Devil
is a surprisingly energetic and enjoyable disc, as the band seems to have
recaptured some of their lost youth during the recording. The speed
that has been missing on recent Anthrax outings is back in all its glory,
though they do mix up the tempos pretty well.
Lyrically, Billy has moved on somewhat from the retarded conservative
views that masqueraded as humor on Speak English or Die, but this
isn't rocket science, to be sure. Nor should it be. Billy's
vocal abilities have actually improved, too, and he belts out the tracks
in true, rapid-fire hardcore fashion. Of course, the rest of the
band's talents have never been in question, but it is always nice to hear
Charlie beating the hell out of his drums and he does plenty of that here.
Bigger Than the Devil features plenty of short-but-sweet tracks,
too, another trademark of the genre that seems to have died in the 90s.
Despite the Iron Maiden mockery adorning the cover art (and tray card),
this album owes way more to the history of punk than to metal. Rhythm
is king here and you'd be hard pressed to find a better trio to deliver
the goods than Scott, Charlie and Danny.
Highlights for me would include the raging "Black War," "Skool Bus,"
"Xerox," "Kill the Assholes" and the ever-amusing tribute "Celtic Frosted
Flakes." "Charlie Don't Cheat" is a blast of pure speed that D.R.I.
would be proud of. By around track 20, things begin to sound somewhat
samey, but the band don't exceed their time limit too much and end things
with a couple of their patented tasteless ballads, this time paying 'tribute'
to Michael Hutchence and Phil Hartman.
Did this album need to be made? I think it did, actually.
Danny is the only one who seems to have kept the spirit alive over the
years and hopefully the energy radiating off this album will inspire Charlie
and Scot to come up with a kick-ass Anthrax album next time around.
If not, at least we have Bigger Than the Devil to chew on.
Ever since singer/keyboardist Kimberly Goss announced the formation of
Sinergy (originally Synergy), there has been a great deal of anticipation
of the debut album. Featuring Alexi Laiho (Children of Bodom), Jesper
Strömblad (In Flames) and Sharlee D'Angelo (Mercyful Fate, Witchery),
expectations were extremely high. While it may not live up to all
of them, Beware the Heavens is still a great album and a must for
fans of classic heavy metal with a modern touch. Imagine all the
members' main projects mixed with 80s Judas Priest and Warlock and you
will start to get a feel for the Sinergy sound.
Beware the Heavens
"Venomous Vixens" starts us off on the right foot, as it blends the
pyrotechnics of Children of Bodom with Kimberly's beautiful and powerful
voice for thoroughly enjoyable listen. Sinergy do a great job at
coming up with memorable, catchy choruses and this is one of the best.
"The Fourth World" is a little less energetic and Kimberly sounds almost
a little too restrained on this one. Fans of Xena will be thrilled
by "The Warrior Princess," a loving tribute to everyone's favorite mythical
warrior, not to mention a great speed/power metal track in its own right.
The title track is next and is already a classic in my book. Everything
about it falls into place just perfectly - the vocal melodies, the riffing,
the chorus. Some of you may have heard a demo version that was available
for a while in MP3 format and this one is slightly different. Mainly,
a vocal bit was added at the start and the main solo is different, but
it is still great.
The remaining four tracks aren't quite as good (except maybe "Virtual
Future," but none disappoint, either. The slightly over-long "Razor
Blade Salvation" almost does, but it has its moments, too, and it shows
another side to the band. Considering two songs are instrumentals,
a nine-track album seems a bit short, but it is hard to argue with the
quality of what is offered and it still clocks in at over 34 minutes, so
no complaints here.
Top notch production and playing is a given, considering the musicians
involved with this album. As much as I love In Flames and especially
Children of Bodom, the songs on Beware the Heavens actually have
more of their own individual personality and style. Finding suitable
musicians to replace these guys for a tour or follow-up album is going
to be a difficult job, indeed, but as long as Kimberly is involved, I am
confident it will be good and have the trademark Sinergy sound.
SIX FEET UNDER
Let me preface this review by just mentioning that I never liked Cannibal
Corpse - quite the opposite, actually - and a lot of that was due to Chris
No surprise that I didn't care much for Six Feet Under when they appeared
on the scene, as they followed a similar musical course and featured Chris'
trademarked death gurgles.
The latest SFU is interesting, if nothing else. It kicks off with
a slow, Obituary-like riff then proceeds into a weird, almost hardcore
vibe. Chris still 'sings' in a very much death style, but he is more
understandable these days. Lovely ditties like "No Warning Shot"
and "Bonesaw" are a little closer to what I was expecting. They're
raw and brutal and fairly heavy, doing their best to avoid any kind of
melody or complexity. In the riff department, SFU score the highest,
as they do come up with some pretty cool ones, esp. the slower and mid-paced
ones. "War Machine" is an example of SFU doing something different,
with a little more of a classic-metal feel to it. I like the fact
that they didn't feel compelled to conform to some kind of death metal
blueprint and make every track identical.
The lyrics are as silly and overly violent as ever, but it's the mix
that really lets down Maximum Violence. The production is
fairly murky to begin with, but that wouldn't be so bad if it was at least
mixed well. It is not. The vocals are way too loud and dry,
placing them well above and away from the music. The drums sound
like, well, crap, especially the snares when the tempo picks up at all.
I still wouldn't say SFU are particularly good, but I must admit I was
impressed with the progress they've made and this is easily their best
effort so far. If they can get a recording that doesn't sound like a fucking
demo next time out, there is potential for serious damage.
My exposure to the so-called stoner rock scene has been somewhat limited
thus far (mainly Kyuss, Orange Goblin, Electric Wizard, Monster Magnet
and St. Vitus, if you want to count them). Terra Firma are already
my favorite of the bunch, though, as this debut (?) is killer.
(The Music Cartel)
One thing that really makes Terra Firma so good for me is the
energy level is very high. No sluggish riffs drifting through the
haze here. The band keeps it mostly upbeat, with some interesting
off-beat rhythms in almost every song. The sound is a cool mixture
of seventies rock ala Sabbath and NWOBHM. One song, "Spiral Guru,"
even apes the riff from Iron Maiden's "Sanctuary" - definitely not the
usual doom and gloom. Later tracks like "Nimbus" and "Altered Beast"
cruise along at near-Motorhead speeds, amazingly. Terra Firma can
play it slow and low, too, though, as "Fifth Wheel" would probably impress
even Tad for its grungy heaviness.
Vocalist Lord Chritus comes across like a sensible blend of Ozzy and
Zeeb Parkes, showing his softer side on the effectively subtle "Separate
Graves." The rest of the band do their jobs well, too, with guitarist
Freddie Eugene in particular impressing me with his ability to deliver
just enough chaos to keep it exciting, but keeps it all in perfect balance.
The lyrics would probably make more sense if the listener were sharing
some of the chemicals that no doubt inspired them, but are reasonably decent
The production is basic, but works perfectly for the music. The
guitars are loud and seriously rock, while the vocals aren't mixed overly
loud. In less competent hands, this is the kind of music that could
easily come across as just a barrage of noise, but Terra Firma have done
a great job pulling it off. Another plus for the band is that they
keep the song lengths relatively short (3 to 4 minutes generally), foregoing
the self-indulgent jams that tend to crop up on retro-minded albums.
Listening to this album makes me realize just how far ahead of their
time bands like Witchfinder General and Trouble were back in the early
80s, despite the fact that even then they were looking backwards rather
than forwards. Terra Firma firmly put the fun and energy back into
70s rock that the grunge bands so readily drained away.
My first experience with this band of Chicago old-school black metallers
was the track "Slavehammer" on a Necropolis comp a couple years back.
I was impressed, too, as the band displayed a real talent for re-inventing
the brutal side of bands like Celtic Frost and Bathory. Raw, bass-heavy
and not pretty. They've got the look down, that's for sure:
bullet belts, studded leather everything, Abaddon shades and swords to
II: Skeletal Season
Skeletal Season is the band's second full-length effort and it
shows a slight progression. All the elements of old are still intact,
but a touch of modern black metal is injected here and there. The
track "Dismal Wings of Terror" is a good example, as it features sections
of fast, raging black metal with screeching vocals, along with slow, doom-heavy
chunks of near death metal. There's a hint of early Sodom, too, on
some of the faster cuts (witness "Brimstone Fist"). The Frost influence
is never too far away, though, as one listen to the title track will emphasize.
Diabolical Slaughter (no, really, that's his name, it says so right here…)
even incorporates some pretty convincing 'ooh!'s and 'hey!'s on the song
The production is loud and gritty - I'm sure it would make someone like
Mutt Lange cringe but it suits Usurper's evil intentions to a tee.
This is a no-frills record, so don't expect any choirs or orchestral arrangements.
Still, within the framework the band has set for itself, they actually
do quite a bit. The vocals are anti-melodic throughout, yet cover
quite a range of styles and pitches. Some acoustic guitar is blended
in to further expand the sound, but it is never used to lighten the mood
in any way.
While Euro acts like Pentacle are treading similar territory, I think
Usurper actually do a better job. They do tend to lose a little cohesion
when they speed things up too much, but a good deal of Skeletal Season
is mid-to-molasses-slow and heavy as fuck. Definitely one of America's
brightest (or should that be darkest?) hopes right now and well worth investigating.
For those looking for a good introduction to the world of black metal,
this series of double-CD sets is one of the better places to start.
Granted, these are all 'commercial' black metal bands (i.e. they have released
albums on known labels), but the quality has been consistently good since
the beginning and volume IV is one of the strongest yet.
Disc one starts off well with the awesome Witchery and their brand of
blackened thrash. Mixing cool riffs, strong leads and a nice bridge,
this track is one of the album's highlights. Myrkskog, a band unknown
to me previously, are up next with a somewhat non-descript take on the
classic Norwegian black metal sound. Usurper set things right, pulverizing
everything in their path with their Bathory and Hellhammer-fueled, bottom-heavy
approach. This track is from their recent Skeletal Season and even
approaches Obituary territory at times. The underrated Hecate Enthroned
are next with a blast of raging, neo-classical black metal that sets itself
apart with some haunting keyboards and the most OTT screeched vocals on
the whole set. Primordial seem a bit out of place, while Thorns add
and offbeat, almost cinematic feel to the usual black metal framework.
The ubiquitous Emperor are next with one of the best tracks from IX
Equilibrium, namely "Decrystallizing Reason." Prophanity churn
through two verses in competent but forgettable fashion, but things pick
up with the rather melodic bridge. Odium tread similar ground less
effectively, while Misfortune suffer from less-than-great vocals.
Ashes deliver a more raw black metal sound, with the result being an average
song that is played with a great deal of conviction. Opeth close
off the disc with their usual, overdone sonic stew.
Disc two fares better, I'd have to say, though there were no real lame
tracks anywhere on this collection. Limbonic Art are good and heavy,
with a classical feel, while Enslaved offer one of the most frenetic moments
from their recent Blodhemn release. Myrkskog appear again with similarly
characterless results. Behemoth are better, building some fairly
complex arrangements out of simple riffs. Peccatum, the left-field
Emperor side-project, are an acquired taste to be sure, with their unusual
mix of opera, black metal, industrial, goth and classical elements.
Their sounds is very compressed sounding and, while my initial reaction
was rather lackluster, they are starting to grow on me. Diabolical
Masquerade provide the highlight for disc two, with an excellent mix of
heavy and melodic riffs, not to mention the top-notch production job.
This Katatonia side-project is hard to pigeonhole, as there are some of
those triumphant, Viking-like riffs to be had, alongside more traditional
black and thrash metal lines. Darkwoods My Betrothed are decent and
the lyrics are actually intelligible! Thy Serpent are similar, with
a slightly more gothic tinge. Witchery return for another foray into
thrash paradise, though this track is a little less immediate. The
legendary Carpathian Forest are back and this track is nicely chilling,
as the band really excel at creating dark, dreary atmospheres within the
black metal paradigm. Opeth appear again...yawn... Fortunately,
Ancient Rites close the album with the rousing title track to their recent
album. A great mix of death, black and thrash metal, the band known
their riffs and put the knowledge to good use here.
All in all, Blacked IV is a solid compilation of the current
black metal scene. Anyone remotely into the scene will already have
at least half this stuff, though, as none of it is exclusive or rare in
any way. But for the newcomer or those who just want a collection
of tunes of the blackened variety, it's a worthy investment.
Here is a nice little comp that features some quality lesser-known acts,
a number of which I was only aware of peripherally before. Unlike
a lot of label samplers, this one only features a couple actual Dion Fortune
recordings artists, and the resulting mix is a nice cross-section of synth-heavy
goth, industrial and electro acts.
Dion Fortune Sampler Vol. 6
Chaos God kick things off with a Sisters-meets-NIN approach, relying
on some nicely processed guitar riffs and heavily gothed-out vox.
Veterans Clan of Xymox deliver "Going Round," a cool track that blends
in a modern edge to the bands traditional pop/goth approach. Ahead
are next with a very vanilla and harmless track, followed by S For Crime,
who come across as a decent blend of Delerium and Ringtailed Snorter.
Beborn Beton's "The Truth" is an excellent slice of polished synthpop,
while Mesh veer a little too close to Depeche Mode land (though they do
it very well). Legendary Swedish aliens S.P.O.C.K. offer "E.T. Phone
Home," further strengthening the dance element of this comp, while Lady
Besery's Garden conjure a darker, dreamier version of synthpop.
System Der Dinge break things up a bit with an upbeat slab of industrial
dance with some distorted vox and a nice melody. Die Form contribute
one of their less-inspiring instrumentals that borders on electronica hell,
while Sabotage offer a light, airy dance track that features a variety
of beautiful vocal stylings. Sweet William offer a rather oddball,
minimal song with vocals like a drunk Douglas McCarthy. Can't say
it did much for me, but it was certainly one of the album's most unique
tracks. Diary of Dreams offer another well-done yet ultimately forgettable
track of dreamy, trancey techno. 162 are really making good on their
early promise and "Introit II" blends somewhat experimental rhythms, melodic
pads and soaring, operatic female vocals for one of the comps definite
highlights. Area 04 tread similar ground, though with less captivating
results, due in part to the Wayne Hussey-esque vocalist. XIII complete
the sampler on a really different note, sounding like a rather typical
rock/blues band with some slight indie leanings. Not a terrible song,
but hopelessly out of place on this sampler, I'm afraid.
All in all, this is a pretty balanced comp, with a number of interesting
bands that may or may not be new to a lot of readers. If you're looking
for some new synth-heavy music with lots of melody, this is a good starting
Grita! is a label dedicated to exposing Latino artists from all over the
world, covering all kinds of musical styles. Métalo is a
compilation that focuses on the harder end of things, featuring lots of
hardcore and metal acts, some of whom will no doubt already be familiar
to the average headbanger.
Brujeria start things off well with a thick slab of their patented hardcore
metal. Pissing Razors are next with a choice cut of raging mid-tempo
thrash that speeds up when it needs to, sure to please fans of early Machine
Head and Pantera. Criminal take a less technical approach but still
deliver some quality death/thrash. Makina manage to outdo them, however,
with a well-produced and highly energetic track. Puya, who stole
the second stage at this year's Ozzfest, are represented here by "Montate,"
one of the best (and most extreme) tracks from their latest album, Fundamental.
The band's ability to combine highly complex riffs with hardcore energy
and salsa rhythms is truly unique.
Elsewhere, Ramp offer a strange mixture of Alice in Chains, modern Metallica
and god-knows-what...it's weird, but actually works better than you might
think. Raimundos come across as a heavied-up Primus, while Armored
Saint close the album with the unreleased track "Pirates," classic power
metal straight down the line.
For a compilation of bands from all over the world, there is actually
a remarkable consistency to the tracks on this album. Most are in
the modern thrash-meets-hardcore vein, with gruff vocals, brutal riffs,
and a general lack of melody. Not by usual bag, but I found myself
enjoying most of these tracks nonetheless and there aren't any real losers
in the bunch.
Wench are an intriguing project from San Fran that mix elements from goth,
trance and tribal music together. While that combination has the
potential for serious boredom, Wench take only the good elements from each
and make it work extraordinarily well. This is made all the more
impressive when you realize the entire album was written, played, sung
and produced by one person, namely Frances Byrne.
(Razor Byrne Productions)
"Chant" builds slowly and reminds me of the classic TKK track "Heresy."
Next up is "Radio India," which follows in similar fashion with some added
vocals that really enhance the mystical/spiritual atmosphere of the music.
"Salome's Dream" bring the vocals up-front more and develops the (Middle)
Eastern feel that is hinted at on the first two tracks. Some slight
industrial tinges creep into "Tantra," while "Voodoo" is a more subtle
and contemplative track. "Ophelia" has a real electro-goth feel to
it that should please the more open-minded fans of early Switchblade Symphony,
going so far as to actually have a catchy chorus. "Sidonia" closes
the album with a more ambient approach, with an uplifting feel to it not
unlike the first rays of dawn after a particularly dark night.
One thing I really like about Wench is it never becomes self-indulgent.
The songs are spacious but never exceed their needs. If an idea is
only good for 2.5 minutes, that is how much time it gets. No moment
goes to waste, with the result being a an epic soundscape. The songs
come together to create this huge, enveloping atmosphere that is dark but
never dismal. Very impressive, especially for a debut. More
:Wumpscut: are not unlike Leaether Strip, at least in the regard that it
takes a little while to get into them. Both bands have taken Skinny
Puppy as a reference, stripped it down to its harshest essentials, and
built something new with the pieces. Also, both bands have evolved
considerably with time without losing their core sound.
Boeses Junges Fleisch (Eevil Young Flesh)
The usual mix of hard beats, noisy synths, distorted vox and sweeping
strings are present, but there is also a richer, more lush sound to this
album than previous :W: releases. The most obvious example of this
is lead single "Totmacher," which features some acoustic-sounding strings
and beautiful melodies. The rhythms are more complex on this album,
too, staying away from the standard 4/4 dance beat most of the time.
There are some definite old-school moments, such as "Flucht," but the more
off-the-wall arrangements like "Zerstoerte Traeume" and "Wolf" are more
the norm. Fortunately, the concessions to modern electro styles is
minimal and used to good effect on the eleven electro/EBM tunes offered
One of the things I like the best about :W: is there is a real edge
to the music. While a lot of others are smoothing out their sound,
Rudy delivers no-bullshit lyrics of sex and violence through heavy distortion,
over a solid wall of pounding percussion. I'm not a :W: expert by
any means, as my only other real exposure has been Music For a German
Tribe and the god-awful 'remix war' with haujobb, but I found his latest
work to be excellent and truly a breath of fresh air in 1999.