Saturday, 29 October 2011

#097 Skeletonwitch - Forever Abomination

Skeletonwitch return with album number three, (or four, depending if you count their long out-of-print debut) Forever Abomination. I've always considered Skeletonwitch to be quite an interesting band, and it's reasonable to state that there are few bands anything like them. The new album carries on the aesthetic and sonic signature style of the band, with a few tweaks here and there.

Skeletonwitch have always played a tight, elaborate style of black-thrash, and this album is no exception - indeed, it seems to have been refined even further than in their previous efforts. It's still full, if not more so with this release, of the little twists and turns which make the band so distinct, with the lead work especially having a very interesting, surprisingly clean tone in the release. The rhythm guitar is very chunky and crunchy, too, which helps to capture the increased quantity of relatively riffy, thrash orientated material, which is executed in a solid sounding, and pleasing way. This gives the band's sound the boost in strength which it needed, finally giving Skeletonwitch some power above and beyond that conjured by their speed and harshness. The albums also a step up in terms of being memorable, with sections sticking in the mind from the very first listen onwards.

One thing I very much admire about Skeletonwitch is that they aren't afraid to do things which other thrash bands might be nervous to attempt - the band do for thrash what Baroness do for sludge-metal, with songs like "The Infernal Resurrection" having an almost pop-music catchiness and twisted-cheeriness, especially in the intro. Skeletonwitch are the sort of band who manage to make things like that work, seamlessly. This album has a sheer maturity about it which the band haven't managed to reach before, and every characteristic of their sound seems to hint at it. Although the bands sound is consistent, it's becoming a better and better version of itself, to the point of being noticeably different to their earlier work. This album seems to suggest a band soaring high, in the peak of their performance, and is a milestone on the band's journey from little-known to highly acclaimed.

I'm tempted to consider this the bands best album yet - It's certainly a strong piece of work, both in terms of skilled playing, good songwriting, and nice production, which is the icing on the cake. The album is the third in a chain of what are, by any standard, remarkably good records.

I give "Forever Abomination" 8/10.

Skeletonwitch Official Site
Skeletonwitch on Myspace
Skeletonwitch on Facebook
Skeletonwitch on Metal-Archives

Tuesday, 25 October 2011

#096 Hamerex - Rites of Passage

I must admit, how I came to know of Hamerex was a little blurred in my memory - a friend of mine remembered hearing a band which "started with H and ended with X". He then proceeded to find this band, and, within a couple of days, I got asked to review "Rites of Passage" the band's debut full-length, by the band themselves. And that is exactly what I plan to do...

I get the immadiate impression that Hamerex are one of those bands, of which there are too few, who play traditional metal, but in a modern way, and without submitting to the demand to be "retro". The band seem to be playing heavy metal because it's what they want to do, and not for any other reason, and it's certainly apparent in the bands sound; the songs seem very wholesome, organic, and solid. Hamerex's sound rests on the more extreme edge of traditional metal, and there's certainly elements of more extreme genres, a good few parts of songs are clearly heavily thrash-influenced, and the vocals are frequently on the harsh side - definitely heavy metal in the vein of Venom, as opposed to say, Judas Priest, and the murky (although not necessarily bad) production of the album seems to add to this notion, although the murkiness is certainly a positive, as opposed to a negative effect, complimenting the somewhat blunt, tough sound of the songs.

The band's sound has a pleasingly unique character, and I've not really heard anything quite like it. It reminds me of things like Venom, and Blaze Bayley's more recent solo work, but it still distinct from both of these things. For one thing - Hamerex seem to create an epic sound in their material, without resorting to synth, or to excessive technicality, in a way which not many bands can, and a lot of the songs, "The Lycan" for instance, seem imbued with a certain energy which is very uplifting, despite the lack of elements which traditionally amount to an "epic" sound. The whole album has some instantly memorable guitar parts and lyrics, which can only be good, and I'm sure is a sign of sturdy songwriting.  Personally, I'd reccommend Hamerex to anyone who was after some good old fashioned, take-no-prisoners heavy metal.

All in all, I find that, if there is one style which most metalheads can agree on, it's this; no-nonsense, down-to-earth heavy metal - metal in what might be regarded as in it's purest form. It certainly ticks a lot of the boxes of a good metal album.

I give the album 7/10.

Hamerex on Myspace
Hamerex on Facebook
Hamerex on Metal Archives.

Sunday, 23 October 2011

#095 Cathedral - The VIIth Coming

Cathedral, formed by ex-Napalm Death vocalist Lee Dorrian, have been a British doom/stoner metal mainstay for a long, long time. The VIIth Coming represents the bands later material - taking a lot of influence from stoner-metal, and less from the doom metal which was the bands initial style.

Of the multitude of bands which fuse stoner and doom metal, Cathedral are quite high on the list of "bands which do it well". The stoner influence creates a telltale massive lower-end, but combines it with, often, the crushing chord-driven attack of doom metal. The band are in the middle in terms of heaviness, too - a lot of the doom metal I've been listening to has either been very epic, or harsh, but Cathedral take the middle-ground, and do so rather well, brimming with attitude, which is boosted further by the remnants of a punk-style in Dorrian's vocals, but also with a lot of beauty throughout the album, no doubt borne from the doom metal element in the music. Pleasingly, the album as a whole has a diverse and enjoyable range of musical styles within it, with some tracks having a lot of groove, others an epic feel, and some feeling rather punk in their edge.

Throughout all of the songs, there seems to be a fantastic synergy between the instruments, and the sound seems organic and honest, with the sounds mixing, as opposed to simply being superimposed upon one another, in a very sterile fashion. The album also has a lot of replayability, as should be apparent to the listener, there is a hell of a lot going on in most of the songs, unquestionably much more so than can be taken in in a single listen to the album - I got a copy of the album over a month ago, and I'm still picking up on bits I haven't appreciated before, like some marvelous sonic buffet. There's a lot of heaviness, in that quintessential doom/stoner way, and while a lot of extreme-metal subgenres sound "heavier", This album has a very wholesome, honest, and bass driven kind of heaviness, which is equally pleasing to the ear.

The VIIth Coming is an enjoyable album from start to finish, and if I didn't feel ill today, I'd have liked to go into more depths about what I like about it - take it from my common-cold addled brain, however, it's a mighty fine listen.

I give the album an 8/10.

Cathedral Official Site
Cathedral on Myspace
Cathedral on Facebook
Cathedral on Metal Archives

Thursday, 20 October 2011

#094 Metallica & Lou Reed - Lulu

Talking of collaberations with Lou Reed in my last review would seem to have been rather prophetic - The whole of Metallica and Lou Reed's album is now available to stream online, it what appears to be it's entierity. Having not recieved much praise at all, I was curious to examine the album in it's complete state, and not in the form of tracks. Here are my findings:

I don't mind Lou Reed, and I'm partial to a bit of Metallica, once in a while - and I'm pretty certain that both are fairly good alone. But like a chocolate and bacon sandwich, the two just don't seem to come together in a way quite as fantastic as supposed, or indeed stated. One thing I can't criticise, yet, is the guitar-work. Apparently, Metallica plays in the style of the Load and Reload albums, which were, to me, most enjoyable, albeit without the interesting blues edges - this album sounds almost like sludge-metal, with a deep low-end, and a heavy, thick feel, with some cool sounding, and the album would sound pretty nice as an instrumental album. There are glimmers of stylistic hope, too - Tracks like "Mistress Dread" start out very promising, in an almost oldschool thrashy style, albeit with a strange constant tone behind it, and the horrible realisation that it sounds exactly like parts of "Disposable Heroes". Sadly, the instruments are the only thing I can proclaim to have enjoyed through the listen. Lou Reed was never the most conventional vocalist, but at least in his previous material, his disorganised, talking approach fitted quite well. In this, it sounds like someone has taken samples of Granpa from The Simpsons ranting, and superimposed them over the music.

The album sounds quite disorganised too - there aren't a great many catchy choruses, and the ones which are are delivered by James, not Lou. A lot of the songs sound quite rough, as if they were done for something similar to Garage Inc, as opposed to a shiny new album. I am, however, interested to hear Metallica doing something different, and a lot of the songs have elements not before included in much of their sound; some have epic elements, synth, and interesting (but not neccessarily enjoyable) twists. I get the impression, however, that the album could have been a lot better, one of the major contributions to it's weakness being Lou Reed. Some of the moments are truly cringeworthy, but others are a little rewarding, and it's definitely not an utterly terrible record.

 There are many albums that have left me a little dissappointed, but not many of even those get a particularly low rating - in fact, I often think I might be too generous with my ratings. Loutallica certainly isn't dire, but it's not great. Listening to the album is certainly worth trying once... but they say that about bondage.

I am the Table. And I give Lulu 5/10. 

Lulu Streaming online
Lou Reed and Metallica official Site

Sunday, 16 October 2011

#093 Iced Earth - Dystopia

Okay, I'll admit that I was a little bit cheeky - I downloaded the leak of the album a couple of days ago. The fact that I've also pre-ordered it, on the other hand, balances it nicely, so I feel no qualms about reviewing this album a little while before it's officially released. Dystopia is the tenth studio album by the band, and their first with new vocalist Stu Block - after a few albums generally considered to be sub-par, I've been awaiting dystopia with bated breath.

I think I can safely establish, from the very beginning, that Dystopia is a large cut above many of the bands recent works, and possesses a fire, and, most importantly, a complete feel which the last few albums sorely lacked. Each song stands up well on it's own, and although the album has a theme, it's not a concept album, which is a good change. This album is pleasantly closer to thee "classic" albums, such as Something Wicked, and Horror Show, which seems a pleasing development. After a few albums of rather weak riffs, Dystopia is a veritable riff-fest, and it's a reminder that Jon Schaffer is an extremely competent rhythm guitarist. The vocals are rejuvenated too, with Stu Block delivering a talented vocal delivery - sounding like both Barlow and Ripper Owens, but also being distinct in his own right, and easily as versatile at the others - crushing baritone vocals, deadly falsettos, and even the occasional growled vocal, such as the opening vocal of the opening track, which proclaims the album with great power and strength.

One of the things which has been proclaimed by Jon Shaffer about the album is going to be less elaborate than some of the previous efforts - focused a lot on heaviness and intensity. This is definitely true - Iced earth haven't made a song which could inspire a mosh in a couple of albums, but some on this album undoubtedly can; songs like "Boiling Point" are a thousand-mile-an hour return to the bands thrashy roots, but are also reminiscent of tracks such as "Stand Alone" from Something Wicked. The album gets a good balance of tempos and styles too - there are songs all the way from ballad to blisteringly fast, and almost all of them feel relatively complete, and are well written, beyond a doubt. Just about everything which is roughly associated  with Iced Earth's sound is present in some form or other, making the album well rounded as well as well written. It's not fantastically progressed, or evolved, from the bands traditional sound, but it is using that sound in the best way that it's been used in a long time, and it has changed a little - there are things I haven't heard the band do before, scattered here and there, like gems. 


I'm thoroughly pleased with Dystopia, I must admit. I'd lost quite a bit of my faith in the band, but this album has rekindled it and more - Before,  thought that Iced Earth were perhaps past their best, but now, I'm not so sure. If the band keep momentum, I expect great things once again.The album's a comeback, and they never went too far in the first place, lets face it, they've never done a collaboration with Lou Reed.

I give Dystopia 9/10.


Thursday, 13 October 2011

#092 Of Spire & Throne - The Trial of Failure

Of Spire & Throne were a local band who supported Yob when I went to see them live last night. I gave them a listen before the gig, but I was sufficiently impressed by their set to consider returning my ear to them. I don't get the chance to review bands I've seen live anything like as much as I'd like, so I'm grabbing the opportunity to review them now, having had the whole experience.

Like all respectable doom bands, Of Spire & Throne deliver a slow-tempo, crushing set of tracks in "The Trial of Failure" their debut EP. Having listened to a lot of "epic doom" as opposed to the more brutal, extreme-metal influenced doom which this band, and the others involved in the show, delivered, I found the style a very refreshing change of style. The lower end is massive, although I fear that perhaps the production doesn't do it justice compared to the tone of the live performance, although, pleasingly, all of the live elements are nicely congruent with the EP. The vocals are conventionally brutal, in something of a death-metal style, which fits nicely with the music. Interestingly, Of Spire & Throne seemed to be the most vocally dominated of the bands playing, and there was a pleasing emphasis and strength on the vocal attack which gives the music a lot of punch.

The atmosphere that the band create is sinister and dark, but also beautiful, and along with the band's aesthetic, suggest a reasonable black-metal influence - the band certainly appeal to me on the same lines as a black-metal band of similar tempo and style, although the dominant doom-metal strain in the music entirely outweighs the black-metal influence which I can perceive, although it certainly adds flavour to the songs, and while the band were probably the least experimental band to perform on the night, and are generally quite conventional in their sound, their impact is profound and thoroughly enjoyable - doom metal as it was meant to be, with an extra helping of heaviness thrown-in by the lower end and the vocals. All in all, it's a solid release.

Listening to the music again makes me wish that I'd gotten a copy of the band's EP at the gig, but I'm sure I'll run into a copy again at some point. The band seems to have a reasonable amount of potential, and I could certainly envision the band achieving a good degree of success - certainly getting signed, at the very least. With slightly better production, the tone and intensity of the music could be captured excellently. I look forward to that day.

I'm going to give "The Trial of Failure" a 7/10, but I anticipate when the band's sound matures, I'll be giving them higher ratings.

Of Spire & Throne on Bandcamp
Of Spire & Throne on Facebook
Of Spire & Throne on Myspace
Of Spire & Throne on Metal-Archives

Sunday, 9 October 2011

#091 Yob - Atma

Attracted by the lovely cover art, the desire to expand my musical taste, and the imminent opportunity to see them live in a few days, I've promptly decided to lend a thorough ear to the stoner/doom act Yob. More specifically, their sixth full-length album; Atma, which came out a couple of months ago. Now, that really is lovely artwork, don't you agree?

Yob give one of the more crushing doom metal onslaughts I've heard in recent months, and I'll wager that the stoner metal element adds to that considerably. While at a consistently low tempo, the riffage through out the whole album is immense, monstrous, and the low end would shake the walls with relative ease, in a plodding, but very enjoyable manner. The vocals seem quite diverse, with the first track having an almost traditional-metal, sneering, high pitched delivery, juxtaposed with the second, which has very harsh, growled vocal approaches, or the third, which is somewhere in between. The vocal variation seems to add a lot to the music, and at any point during listening that I zoned out a little (which is one of doom metal's attractions, from a non-analytical point of view) the vocal twists and turns restored and maintained my focus. The entire aesthetic of the album works in this way, that said - It's one of those albums which feels like a musical journey, an experience, as opposed to a collection of individual songs.

The production's a bit fuzzy, but the sheer extremity of the overdriven guitars, and the low-end are more complimented than jarred with this; The production is definitely just about perfect for the bands sound, murky and crushing, but not without a little essential treble to give the music plenty of power, although I'd be inclined to say that, in terms of sheer sonic power, Yob are easily up there with the most intense doom acts of today, although the heaviness is nicely combined with an unconventional sense of beauty, which, although not "epic", is certainly haunting, and posesses a shimmering wonder which is quite difficult to qualitize - listen to the album, perhaps, and you'll know where I'm coming from.

I can't claim to have been into the band for a long time - about a week, since seeing their name on a poster, to be precise, but I certainly enjoyed listening to this album, and am curious to lend my ear to their other material, which I hope is equally enjoyable. The band exceeded my expectations, I can happily profess.

I give this album an 8/10.

Yob on Myspace
Yob on Facebook
Yob on Metal-Archives

Friday, 7 October 2011

#090 Embers - Memoria in Aeterna

Embers are one of those bands which I discovered completely on a whim, once again, while trawling through bandcamp looking for things to listen to. I'm not the best genre-classifier in the world, by a long stretch, but the EP seems to be comprised of doomy songs, with perhaps some black-metal influence, and some synth thrown in along the way, all of it too good effect.

As soon as I began to listen to the EP, I could immediately tell that it was going to be a little different to anything which I'd encountered before, and I can happily say that I was right. Embers have an interesting "symphonic crust-punk" sound going on, with black metal/punk hybrid riffage, synergised with synth (or what I might be foolishly presuming to be synth), and doom metal tendencies, which, although an odd sounding combination on paper perhaps, works extremely well, creating remarkably beautiful music, with a harsh edge which nonetheless blends well. The vocals are a black-metal staple, harsh and sinister, but also add to the styles beauty and fascinating crossover of stylistic influences. One of the notable advantages of a band who incorporate a bit of everything in their style is that, in my case anyway, they hit all of the right buttons with my musical taste. Epic, dark, energetic, intense, the band seem to manage to evoke it all, and I can safely say that there is practically  more than one atmosphere at once half the time, leaving the feeling the music gives almost up to personal choice of the moment.

Perhaps the band strikes such a chord with my taste because what they're making is quite close to the music I aspire to make myself, but I'm certain that the band would appeal to just about anyone into black metal, or extreme metal in general. It's odd for a band to combine symphonic beauty with the attitude and snot of punk-influence, but Embers seem to pull it of extremely well. It's not the kind of music you just listen to a couple of times, either, it's the kind of album which has a lot of replay value, and I, for one feel like I may well be listening to this compact, complete sounding EP numerous times in future. Sometimes you'll encounter an artist or sound that just possesses a certain enjoyable charm, and I think I can safely say that Embers are one of these - I'm astonished that they're not better known.

I can safely say that this is one of the bands I have randomly discovered which will stay in my musical circulation for quite some time, and, when I get around to listening to their full length, later on, I hope it holds just as much charm, beauty, and most of all the same excellently high "listenability" which this EP had.

I quite happily give this EP 9/10.

Embers on Bandcamp (with free download)
Embers on Myspace
Embers on Metal-Archives

Tuesday, 4 October 2011

#089 Falloch - Where Distant Spirits Remain

Scotland's Falloch formed in 2010, project of Andy Marshall, the man behind black-metal band Askival, which was put on hold a few years previously to Falloch's inception. Not beating around the bush, Falloch promptly got signed, and now, only the year after the bands formation, they offer up a debut full-length album.

It's difficult to know exactly what to make of bands which appear so suddenly, but from the onset, it's apparent that Falloch are making some reasonable post-black metal, assuming that's what it is - I struggle sometimes to fathom the complexity of subgenres of black-metal, especially when the prefixes are arriving en-masse. The sound is awesome, in the old sense of the word. It's vast, thrilling, and mind blowing, infused with beautiful melancholy but also huge energy. Many of the songs have a seriously nicely-executed Celtic twist, with a lot of (presumably synthesised) folk instruments, which only adds to the albums vast soundscape, without being even remotely cheesy or any other characteristic of that persuasion - The folk instrumentation, and the keyboard work in general, is done in deadly seriousness, and undoubtedly hits the mark when it comes to epicness and mood, in a way that I recognise from bands like Wodensthrone, who also execute keyboards flawlessly, achieving absolute musical beauty.

Falloch are very restrained when it comes to deploying the black-metal side of their sound, with most of their songs being quite peaceful, with very, very few harsh vocals, scattered here and there, and, although the guitars get quite intense at times, there isn't much of the abrasive edge bestowed upon conventional black metal. The plus side of this is that the album possesses some major musical beauty, while still retaining the vast, heavily forested feel of epic black metal, which evokes sorrow and wonder in equal measure, and also gives the listener time to think, not overwhelmed by heaviness, but not lulled by soft-music to the point of being unable to find the music absorbing. The album is very strong as a whole, and packs a lot elements into the music, especially considering that the album is a debut, and is also very different from the previous work of the bands creator.

I'm pretty certain that Falloch are a band to watch, as they've certainly sprang up within a few years, and are already making a lot of progress, and are being noticed. If this continues, the post-black metal scene might have something even more remarkable on it's hands. All I can say is keep up the good work.

I'm going to give "Where Distant Spirits Remain" 9/10.

Falloch on Myspace
Falloch on Facebook
Falloch on Metal-Archives

Sunday, 2 October 2011

#088 Nethervoid - In Swarms of Godless Wrath

Intense, wrath-filled and overtly occult related black-metal. Where in the world could have spawned such a band, I thought to myself. Somewhere cold and dark, heavily forested perhaps? No. Nethervoid hail from Iowa, in the USA, and in their second full-length album, "In Swarms of Godless Wrath", they demonstrate that Iowa does indeed have good music to offer.

Nethervoid produce a traditional sounding black-metal offering, with a good balance of speed and dark atmosphere, which is very well captured indeed. The songs have a bit of variety to them too, as opposed to all being of the exact same style, which is something of a problem in a lot of black metal. The albums fast paced too, a mere thirty-five minutes in length, and flew past at great speed - I was at track-five before I could blink. This might suggest that the songs run into each other a little bit, but they've got a certain distinction, each one having a scattering of uniqueness within it, keeping the album exciting from start to finish. The album is endowed with a very mature feel, and despite the band having only released one album and one EP previous to this, it sounds extremely solidly formed and indicative of a band who have found a definite direction, and some real darkness - the "Iowa Black Mass" intro track really sets the occult, dark theme for the whole album rather nicely.

The albums tone as a whole is nicely prescribed by the guitars and vocals. The guitar sound is atmospheric, but possesses a bit of crunch with it, giving the music energy, not being excessively raw, but also retaining the dark, evil and bestial quality of the music. The vocals are impressive too, a very demonic sounding thing, somewhere between a shriek and a rasp, which makes the band stand out a bit, as, although the style is used in black metal, it's one of the less used styles. The drums are tolerable, and, although I'm reasonably positive that they're provided by a drum machine, the production does a good job of making it feel quite organic, and, despite my usual allergic reaction to drum machines, I only felt ill during a few blastbeat sections, where the timing was a little too perfect to sound good, although I can happily say that that's my only complaint from an otherwise excellent album.

To conclude, I'm rather glad that I encountered Nethervoid, on one of my spontaneous rummages through Bandcamp. If the band continue to make albums like this one, then I'm confident that they could become a very successful black-metal act, and I look forward to that time.

I give "In Swarms of Godless Wrath" 8/10.

Nethervoid on Bandcamp (Download the albums here)
Nethervoid on Myspace
Nethervoid on Facebook
Nethervoid on Metal Archives