Monday, 30 July 2012

#183 Vindicator - United We Fall

Perhaps among the unsung heroes of the thrash-revival movement, Vindicator have been making albums at quite a stalwart pace since their début, and United We Fall, the bands third album, is fresh off the press, on a new label, Slaney records. Apparently someone went back in time and killed Heavy Artillery Records' grandparents, because all trace of their previous label is gone.

In addition to having a fairly epic name, the bands much is an enjoyable listen too - For the most part thrash metal of a particularly intense style; uncompromisingly angry and traditional, with a notable amount of open-string work, even for thrash - much like the band's peers Evile. In terms of influences, I can hear a lot going on in the music - bits of Megadeth, Testament, and most of the "greats" of eighties-thrash. Vindicator manage, mostly, to avoid being simply re-hashed retro thrash however, and they certainly have some twists and turns of their own to boast, and the band have an atmosphere and tone which certainly distinguishes them from others. The machine-gun, heavily rhyming vocals give the music a real driving force, extremely manic feel, especially in the faster sections, and a catchy edge. The album was certainly beginning to settle into memory after just one listen. The vocals are enjoyably traditional too, quintessential thrash vocals, for the most part neither quite sung nor growled, but at the same time encapsulating the explosive energy the band seems to have. I've listened to many of the newer thrash bands, and upon listening to Vindicator, I could really feel the energy, which many of the bands, while equal in tempo and sometimes ferocity, didn't have.

The album as a whole has some really tasty riffs interspersed through it. Some of them, you have to look for a bit, or only become apparent with familiarity, but a lot of them are unapologetically obvious, and really enjoyable - the album manages to let you hear what's going on in it reasonably well, despite being a whirlwind of speed. You can tell that Vindicator are a band who really care about solos too - The ones in the album, often very competent and notable, feel like a lot of consideration has gone into crafting them - they're not just thrown into the songs, but they really work, and listening to them really takes me back to the days when solos were my favourite thing in music. The albums overall production is interesting - it's odd in a way I can't quite pinpoint, but not badly so - the guitars sound very metallic, to the point that I can almost taste iron upon listening. This isn't an unpleasant tone, especially after a couple of listens. In fact, it's a nice change from the default modern production, albeit not so terribly removed from it - especially the drums, which are certainly well polished, but not so much as to be plastic. All in all, the production is nicely all rounded, and really capture the ferocity with which the album utterly flies along.

Vindicator are, I feel, a thrash-band who deserve attention. This album is certainly a step towards that attention, and the third album is certainly a milestone in any band's career. This one in particular feels very complete, and very solid.

It's a 8/10 from me.

Vindicator Official Site
Vindicator on Bandcamp
Vindicator on Myspace
Vindicator on Facebook
Vindicator on Metal Archives

Saturday, 28 July 2012

#182 Dragged into Sunlight - Hatred for Mankind

I've been meaning to review Dragged into Sunlight for quite some time. What stood in the way was, that until a few weeks ago, I'd forgotten completely what they were called. That setback now overcome, it feels like a good time to review it. The band are one of those band's which I find hard to classify, and, in my experience, that tends to be a good sign. I'll tentatively call them "death metal with a bit of everything"

You can't judge a book by it's cover, and the same goes for albums. However, beholding the twisted and evil artwork, I was certainly prepared for quite a sonic onslaught, which is exactly what I got. The tempo of the work may swing back and forth between rabid and doomy, but the album is very, very consistent in how dark and bloodcurdlingly crushing the it is, and it does an immensely good job of sonically ripping ones limbs out of their sockets, in the best possible way. As everyone knows, there is more than one way to be misanthropic, and Dragged into Sunlight certainly explore a few. On top of the enraged heaviness, there is often more subtle darkness, with sections which are heavily influenced by black-metal and doom-metal. The sum of all the styles incorporated reminds me somewhat of the "bestial black-metal" style of bands like Blasphemy, but I'd certainly not label DIS as such - while the raw-production, and often the evil-sounding, slightly muffled vocals, remind me a bit of the style, it is, at the same time, plain to see that the band doesn't quite fit into that category, which is, essentially, a good thing - certainly indicative of a pleasing uniqueness, or, at very least, definitely showing that I don't know enough about death-doom.

I don't exaggerate much when I say that Hatred for Mankind is one of the most dark and evil albums I've heard in a long time; The black-metal elements, evil tremolos and the like, add a layer of dark-shadow upon the low-fi, implosive, brooding riffing, which is dark-enough by itself, a looming wall of low-tone which sounds positively apocalyptic, and when the vocals become a screech instead of a growl, and the threatening spoken-word samples kick-in from time to time, the music transcends dark and enters the realm of evil, which is, I expect, exactly what the band aimed at. If so, this is a great example of a band making vision into reality. Production-wise, there is one touch I particularly like - the prominence of the drums. In a lot of fairly raw metal of this kind, it's quite normal for the drums to sound a bit muffled and blunt. Not so, in this album, where on top of being skilled, the drums are quite high in the mix, easily audible, often to the point of being in focus instead of trapped under other instruments, and bringing an interesting edge to the music, more piercing and, indeed, evil-sounding for it, the shrieking high-hat and cymbals something which many low-fi bands miss out upon.

I'm definitely going to include Dragged into Sunlight into my regular listening, and I can safely say that the band are on of the bands I'll be keeping an eye out for, both gigs and new releases. If you want an album unrelentingly dark and lethal, this is the album for you.

Definitely a 7/10, and probably an album which will get even better with time.

Dragged into Sunlight Official Site
Dragged into Sunlight on Myspace
Dragged into Sunlight on Facebook
Dragged into Sunlight on Metal Archives

Thursday, 26 July 2012

#181 Jag Panzer - Ample Destruction

United States power metal, or USPM, is a niche within power-metal as a whole, and is stylistically different from it's European-born counterpart; Often less flowery, less synth-focused and with a tendency to considered closer to no-nonsense, balls-to-the-wall metal. The closing phrase of that sentence describes Jag Panzer's début, "Ample Destruction" nicely.

From what I know about USPM, which, like everything, is probably less than I should, Jag Panzer are a prime example - A little heavier than the heavy-metal which preceded it, but not too far removed from it. Ample Destruction, an undisputed, highly revered classic of the genre, seems to typify it quite well, even in a time before power-metal had a definite identity. Manly riffing, and a buzzing, slicing and utterly metal tone to it - the album is practically made of denim and leather, without being in the slightest bit over-the-top. The vocals range, but typically inhabit the mid-to-high range, much akin to the established, and indeed still flourishing NWOBHM. The vocals demonstrate plenty of vocal talent - powerful, honest sounding, and dominating the album's sound in many places, soaring above the other elements in the mix very prominently, often not seeming to fall victim to the somewhat rough production which flavours the rest of the album; perhaps, I feel, a little rougher than would have been best, but nonetheless fitting, both of the albums character, and of the character of USPM at the time - emphasising the rough-cut nature of the music, in comparison with the tidy, shiny European brand of the style, which was already starting to be assembled out of fairy-dust and dragon pubes across the Atlantic.

The album is one which takes a bit of listening to enjoy fully the elements hiding below the surface. On the second listen, I found myself finding extremely enjoyable and catchy hooks, sections, riffs, and a whole cohesiveness to the whole album; it seemed a little shaky on the first listen, but on the second if seemed to have foundations of iron. This left wondering how on earth I'd missed these things the first time around. It's just one of those albums. I wouldn't quite call it a "grower" but it definitely can't be taken-in in a single run-through. I always have a pleasant experience to listen to an album with real solidity to it, and I can certainly sense that in this one. Maybe not quite what the frequent hundered-percent ratings lead me to expect, but damn near; a nice-tasting piece of work. Certainly good enough to forgive the band taking ten-years to produce a second album, which apparently nobody liked, when the début's quality is coupled with the fact that, until they split-up in 2011, many of their albums were of a similarly high calibre to the début. All in all, to overuse that phrase to death, the album certainly warrants it's classic status.

If you could distil an album and put it in a bottle, Ample Destruction would be the antidote to plastic, over-produced modern metal; I often say it, but with this album especially, this is what metal is all about!

This is a 9/10.

Jag Panzer Official Site
Jag Panzer on Myspace
Jag Panzer on Facebook
Jag Panzer on Metal Archives

Sunday, 22 July 2012

#180 Periphery - Periphery II

Much like Fifty-shades of Gray and The Bible, Periphery are one of those things which I feel I should perhaps examine before being to eager to pass judgement. I've often said that progressive metal isn't usually my forte, in the way the term is miss-used to refer to a style, a genre of music, as opposed to the actual act of making music which is progressive. Periphery seems to be the former of the two.

I'm nervous. Periphery seems the kind of band to attract fiercely loyal fans. I'm not one. As just about every prog-enthusiast that I've met has told me - I just don't get it. They're probably right, and it's true; I don't get it. It seems, well... overrated. Upon listening to the album, what I hear is very virtuosic, extremely talented metalcore. Not, sadly the guilty-pleasure school of metalcore, but the "Oh God, you just killed Metal-Hammer" style. Who knows, I'm probably just being a dick. I must say that my main grief is with the generic vocals, which vary from typical metalcore to sounding a bit like Greenday in places. Apart from those, a lot of the music isn't all that bad - the solos and lead guitar are often excellent, albeit half the time the work of guest musicians, notably Jon Petrucci, a representative of another band which I almost entirely don't get. The riffs are survivable - also a bit generic, the kind which I'll end up hearing any time I find a radio station or music video site which purports to be metal. The djent-ish tinge in some of the riffing is a little bit more interesting, and while I've probably listened to about seven minutes of djent ever, it certainly breaks the mundanity of the riffs a little, if I'm even recognisng the djent elements correctly.

The production is extremely neat, and the album is undoubtedly overproduced. On the plus side, I've always felt that that is a sound which fits both metalcore, progressive metal and djent, so nothing about this album is compromised in any way by it in the production department, especially considering that if it's not annoying me, it's almost certainly not going to grate with people who listen to this kind of thing on a regular basis. The rather prominent electronic elements, all in all, are quite good, although when the songs start to have sections which are so thoroughly dominated by the electronic elements I did begin to feel a bit lost for a while, although in the better ones, the band did manage to conjure an admirably wide, crystal clear sound-scape. Occasionally, programmed drums came in to replace the organic ones, which was an interesting touch, making the music sound somewhat like slightly psychedelic dance-music. I have no idea what they were aiming at, but still, interesting. This initial impression leaves me wondering slightly - I don't see where the progressive and experimental elements in the music are, and as such, I'm currently of the persuasion that Periphery are one of those bands who are progressive in the sense that a bit of their music sounds a little bit weird, have a few odd time signatures, and has the occasional floaty synth section, and not for any hugely substantial reason. Summarising my views at this point would be rather easy; I probably just don't get it, man. For what it is, the album is also too long, in my opinion. It doesn't feel, or flow beautifully, like an "opus" which would warrant such length. It's just an album.

Once, I ran out of forks, and had to eat my pot-noodle with a spoon. Listening to Periphery has been a similarly long and arduous procedure. But equally, the pot-noodle, for being difficult to get at, was still reasonably tasty. Likewise, I wouldn't dream of simply thinking of Periphery as shit. They're good, but just not for me. Like using the spoon to eat my noodles, however, I'm buggered if I intend to do it again in future.

It's a 6/10 from me. Don't listen to me though; You probably like it. Good on you.

Periphery on Myspace
Periphery on Facebook

Thursday, 19 July 2012

Feature: A New Millenium

Sequel to "Innovation to the rescue: Why the 90's weren't that terrible"

I can well imagine that, at the dawn of the two-thousands, the future of metal was unclear. Buried under a fairly hefty load of nu metal, later metalcore and to an extent groove metal, the metal underground wasn't much to write home about, or so one might think. I'm not certain what the outlook was for metal in the early years of the decade, having not discovered heavy metal until about 2005, but the plethora of development and ingenuity which the style has undergone over the decade leaves me hoping that someone saw it coming. Who knows how huge a factor the internet has been in this, but one thing is certain; by the end of the 00's, metal was in the best shape it had been since the 80's.

One of the major movements to dominate the decade are the several revival-movements. One of the most notable being the thrash-revival, something of an explosion of thrash bands which began around the start of the decade, and has been going strong ever since. Bands like Toxic Holocaust and Municipal Waste, formed the vanguard in the first few years of the decade and were soon followed by  Evile, along with peers, bands like Havok and Warbringer, members of a huge wave of bands who formed around 2004-2005, and are the bands who earned the thrash-revival a labelling-term.

Not all of the thrash being played at the time was at the hands of entirely new bands, however. Many of the bands from the eighties who had endured, or split up during, the 90's returned to action, and many who had ceased to play thrash returned to the style. Albums like Megadeth's "The System Has Failed", and numerous other works heralded a group of bands re-embracing thrash, and large concerts such as 2001's "Thrash of the Titans" benefit concert made thrash relevant and lively within heavy-metal music again, and was also responsible for more than one reunion, for example Death Angel re-discovered their love of playing from it. I'd certainly be willing to wager that the gig played a part in the acceleration of the thrash revival, and was certainly a proclamation that the senior bands of the genre were far from finished, a testament to this is the decade of solid thrash releases which followed - Overkill's "Ironbound", for example being hailed by many as an excellent album.

Another notable resurgence has been that of traditional metal, the "New wave of traditional metal", as it's known - no doubt coined by someone who knew how to label something really really literally. Just like the traditional metal of old, there are bands who deal in attitude, bands who deal in atmosphere, and all points in between. Unlike the thrash resurgence, I posit no hypothesis as to the factors behind it, but bands like 3 Inches of Blood can certainly be considered to be among those who set the ball rolling, before being followed-up by bands like White Wizzard and Portrait, and hundreds of others, drawing influences from the whole spectrum of traditional metal.

Of course, far more than just resurgences of tried and tested genres have occurred - in fact, as the nineties ended, metal was about to undergo some very interesting new developments. One genre to expand impressively was technical death-metal, with bands like Nile bringing death-metal into a fast, blisteringly complex manifestation. Death metal in general certainly became prone to being much more brutal and technical than the "old-school" death metal which was familiar from the late eighties onwards, and while it endured somewhat, a lot of the bands which defined the decade certainly had a predominantly technical and  brutal edge to their playing style.

The mainstream side of things, while dominated by metalcore, nu-metal, and more recently by the rising power of djent, has also seen a few metal bands rise to success; often exceedingly so. Bands like Mastodon went from being relatively little-known sludge-metal bands to mainstream powerhouses, with millions of fans over the course of the decade, slowly perfecting a formula which came to fruition on landmark-popularity albums such as Crack the Skye. Lamb of God, and other groove-metal acts whilst often unpopular among hardcore metal fans, are easily among the most widely known bands of the decade, often with huge album sales.

Something which I hear now and again in reference to the 00's is the complaint that nothing particularly ground-breaking or original happened. Personally, I wouldn't be so quick to say so. Just under the surface, a lot has been going on. Post black-metal has really taken off, with bands like Agalloch leading the charge, and with bands making new headway in previously established genres; Vektor and Skeletonwitch have refreshed thrash, and Ghost have done new things with rock n' roll itself. Pharaoh have taken power metal into new dimensions, and bands like Watain have brought a lot of spirit back into black-metal, like them or not.

All in all, I think it can safely be said that the 00's have been an interesting and busy decade for metal. I've been into metal for five years, and no doubt, I've still missed huge areas of interest about the decade. I'd like to think that that is a testament to how large a subject metal is, rather than an admission that I still know nothing. I discovered metal in the 00's, and I hope I can say that the 2010's are going to be just as interesting.

And now, the mandatory list of bands which I mentioned - I know of plenty of others, but I mentioned the more well known ones deliberately.

Toxic Holocaust
Municipal Waste
Death Angel
3 Inches of Blood
White Wizzard
Lamb of God

Monday, 16 July 2012

#179 Baroness - Yellow and Green

Baroness are one of the better known bands of Savannah, Georgia's sludge-metal scene, along with peers such as Black Tusk and Kylesa. Yellow and Green is the band's third album, and a double album at that. Before listening to the stream, I'd heard very mixed reviews, and opinions were certainly split. For a while, I wasn't sure what to think myself, either. It was certain, however, that this album was going to be different.

Yellow and Green shows us, from the onset, a smoother and more rock orientated version of the band. While the signature psychedelia and outright bizarre style of Baroness is still utterly noticeable, and welcome, the band is certainly more melodic, especially vocally, where there is a ten-fold increase in vocal harmonies and cleaner-style vocals, with many of the songs taking on an almost pop-music feel. "Little Things" for instance has a rhythm which wouldn't be out of place in eighties new-wave, and all round, the double-album has quite a commercial edge, which isn't quite disguised behind the albums quirkiness. This theme is also prevalent in the band's overtly catchy choruses and riffs, especially on songs like "Take My Bones Away". It does seem that the band have definitely made themselves more accessible, perhaps naturally, perhaps deliberately. It feels like something has been lost, especially in terms of heaviness; The bellowing vocals which got me into the band on Red Album aren't used much, only on a few songs, and frankly, I miss them. The riffs aren't anything like as heavy either - all in all, the guitars are quite subdued, certainly providing a twisted atmosphere which the band always had, and are still doing so (the albums atmosphere, I will not dispute, is excellent) but there are few of the bone-crunching and roaring riffs which the band used to do. The "Green" part of the double-album, while more heavy and guitar driven, still isn't quite the same.

This brings me onto another thing; The two albums don't feel massively distinct from one another. I don't know if they're meant to, quite frankly. Despite being quite light, airy and soft, I'm certainly not writing-off the album - in all honesty, I quite enjoyed it, but it's certainly a different kettle-of-fish to it's predecessors. The change isn't mind-numbingly distinct - The album isn't a huge diversion, and it much less of a change of direction than I was lead to believe, in fact, it feels quite a successful evolution, and the album does feel like it's part of the Baroness "family" but it's certainly a notable step, and almost certainly a sign of change to come. In my experience, the surest way to tell that a band has reached a stage of borderline-mainstream success is when Metal Hammer magazine begin to take an overt interest. They have. The album simply isn't as crazy, and while undeniably still quite nuts, it seems a little more grounded in reality than it's predecessors, and isn't quite as progressive - a greater proportion of the songs sound "conventional", you might say. The album is, nonetheless an enjoyable use for 75 minutes.

I think, all things considered, that in excess of my expectations, or at least, what I'd been told, I'd consider this album to be successful - It's got plenty of experimentation, and there's no denying that it still feels like Baroness. It's not really sludge metal any more. Perhaps not even quite metal at all. It's still not bad though, and I for one will make a note of informing people that it's "decent".

I'm giving this 6/10.

Baroness Official Site
Baroness on Bandcamp
Baroness on Myspace
Baroness on Facebook
Baroness on Metal Achives

Saturday, 14 July 2012

#178 Spellblast - Horns of Silence

Folk metal and power-metal are two genres I'm prone to neglecting a bit, and indeed, perhaps I don't work hard enough to remedy this problem. I'm consciously going to make a bit more effort to diversify, if I can, starting with this album; Spellblast's "Horns of Silence", a début by the Italian folk/power outfit, which, conveniently covers both of the genres I need to listen to more of. What's more, I've been meaning to review it for ages.

Sonically, the band seem to combine the epic, often slightly over-the-top feel of power-metal with folk melodies and a very strong and noticeable mediaeval/fantasy sound, which is purveyed by the melodies and synth work which is actually, for the most part, very tastefully done. A lot of power metal feels very smothering to me because the synth and general cheesiness is layered far too thickly, but Spellblast have a synth-sound which is crisp, clear and much more enjoyable than I expected. All in all, I must observe that the band is much less cheesy than what I expected, especially considering that they have a song called "Sign of the Unicorn" (which turns out to be a solid tune). It has plenty of energy and heaviness, and also a lot of emotion and beauty, often sincere and deep, as opposed to superficial. The album swings pleasingly between these aforementioned moments of atmosphere, and sections which are catchy and extremely fun to listnen to - The faster sections, and indeed the superb chorus of "Glory to the Gem" are exactly the way power-metal should be, while the more folk-influenced songs, such as "Goblin Song" have a feel of real uniqueness, whilst still oozing with extremely catchy sections and hooks.

The album has good musicianship and production, too - the riffs are tight, with a very pleasing, deep guitar tone, and the lead guitar is quite clean, clear and simmers in the solos and lead sections. The synth has a nice, modest feel to it, as I already mentioned, and the vocals are varied throughout the album, whilst managing at all points to be highly competent; strong, powerful and with a reasonable range. Certainly, the overall vocal quality is slightly above, or at least matching, the level of the average European power-metal band. The variety in the bands style is certainly an enjoyable feature, and the injection of folk which the power-metal receives certainly makes for an album which is not only interesting but is also very memorable and stands-out from the crowd. And with a crowd as big as that of European power-metal, that's a noteworthy feat. The albums gliding, wide open, and epic soundscapes feel really nicely-done, and while I don't know much about power metal, compared to the sub-genres I usually haunt. While the music may be a little over-the-top, in the way power metal so specialises in being, the music manages to sound honest and pure.

All in all, I'm pleasantly surprised by what Spellblast sounded like - To be quite honest, I was expecting something a little challenging to listen to, but it turned out to be quite an enjoyable album - certainly one which I feel good for having listened to.

I quite liked it - 7/10.

Spellblast Official Site
Spellblast on Myspace
Spellblast on Facebook
Spellblast on Metal Archives

Wednesday, 11 July 2012

#177 Motörhead - Orgasmatron

What do you mean you've never reviewed a bloody Motörhead album? There's quite a large pile of bands which I should have reviewed already, and it has come to my attention that Motörhead sit very snugly at the very top of the heap. Now that I've actually gotten round to it, It's uncertain which band will be at the top of the absent-minded theoretical list. If you have any clues, let me know. Maybe Saxon. Back to the matter at hand, however, the Motörhead album in question in this review will be Orgasmatron.

By the mid-eighties, and the advent of Orgasmatron, Motörhead were already something of an institution, albeit a very different one from the one which commenced operations in 1975. Granted, Motörhead have always played their very own brand of rock n' roll, but it would be narrow-minded indeed to say that all of their albums were the same. Orgasmatron is, I find, a particularly good album at demonstrating this. The four-piece lineup of the time certainly gives the album a thicker, heavier and noticeably different sound. Perhaps more metallic, in many instances, and while it's physically impossible to give Motörhead more oomph than they had already, this twin-guitar attack certainly gives the bands ferocity and energy a few new dimensions. Theme-wise, too, the album has some broad horizons - While the staple themes of Motörhead-eternal are present (and so they should be), there are plenty of more mature themes - Orgasmatron's title track is a thoughtful commentary on religion, showing that while Lemmy and the gang are rockers of the highest order, there is no doubt that they are also thinking men. "Deaf Forever" is another track which certainly attracts my interest, both lyrically for it's themes of warfare, but also musically, with it's stand-out, almost Industrial sounding riff really shaking-up the traditional formula.

The band's twin-guitar line-up would last for several more albums, well into the nineties. In that respect, Orgasmatron is very certainly an album which marks the beginning of an era, and certainly showcases the band's development. Even bands as consistent as Motörhead, it must be stressed, evolve and grow, and while the twin-guitar era was certainly an island in a sea of power-trio, it's certainly as solid as the "classic" albums of the early-eighties, and is, for that matter, a classic in it's own right. It's hard to find Motörhead albums which aren't, saying that. The albums released with two guitarists, however, seem a different breed of classic - Especially this album, and 1916, and while they receive less attention than albums such as "Ace of Spades", and other earlier works, they remain just as good.

It's odd to think that this album is actually a fairly early Motörhead album, The band had only been around for 11 years, and yet still, the album was released 26 years ago, if my notoriously bad maths is up to scratch. It just goes to show the longevity which Motörhead possess, and the Longevity which their albums possess.

A classic - 8/10.


Wednesday, 4 July 2012

#176 Gehenna - Seen Through the Veils of Darkness

It's pouring with rain. Somewhere in the distance, the ominous rumble of thunder makes it's presence known. I finish eating a Kit-kat, and I already know what subgenre I shall be reviewing today. Indeed, it's black-metal weather, and I know just the album I've been meaning to check-out.

Gehenna are a band I've been meaning to examine for quite some time, and, like many of my reviews, the idea to review an album simply popped into my head, and I wrote this review later the same day. Gehenna, like many of the bands in the golden-age of Norwegian black metal, came into being in the early-to-mid nineties. This album, their second full-length, is definitely held in high regard. The first track bursts forth, scathingly cold and low-fi, but still quite crisp and full of flavour, certainly produced well in the sense that it sounds the way black-metal should. Quintessential and effective black-metal riffing seems to lay down an indisputable dark, and maliciously evil backbone to the music, the sound of ritual-blood and dark incantation. The frequent, but not dominating, waves of synth add a depth and austere beauty to many sections, especially tracks like "Shirak Kinnummh" really making the album a bouquet of variety - Perhaps not quite with the Viking-feel of Enslaved's early work, or the virtuosity of Emperor, but with it's own greatly enjoyable charm, which keeps it's intensity and raw guitars well. The album is an icy-cold collection of music, and the guitar tone, as well as being diaboliocal, is also suggestive of a ripping, unavoidable icy-wind, and the music certainly causes a shiver or two, as the best black-metal does.

One thing I very much noticed when listening to the album was the balance which the sound manages to achieve; Raw and enraged black-metal, often heftily dosed with synth, and a great variety of influences, including folk, but also excellent variety within the black-metal element itself - Some parts as intricate as anything on De Mysteriis, but also sections as crude, blunt and nonetheless effective as Hellhammer. It's an album which very observably covers all bases - There is a little of every aspect of black-metal interwoven into the music, and I can safely say that the song-writing on the album is a league about many of the band's peers. These aspects manage to be cohesive, too, and not spontaneous, which is also admirable. It sounds not so much that the band was so varied through experimentation, but instead saw a place for the many aspects among each other, and the album is solidly interlocked, like a well-crafted occult piece of Velcro. Although I go on about many elements, I must also mention that the elements are combined to make something unique. The album is definitely not simply a chimaera of varying styles, but is very much unique entity in and of itself, which is most pleasing of all, and certainly is a great reason behind it being what I'd consider "A gem of Norwegian black-metal".

Today was my first time listening to Gehenna, but I doubt that it shall be my last; This album is a textbook example of a black-metal album done-right. Varied, but also coherent and deeply evil-sounding. A truly underrated album of the Norwegian black-metal scene.

This is a 9/10.

Gehenna Official Site
Gehenna on Metal Archives

Monday, 2 July 2012

#175 Dawnbringer - Into the Lair of the Sun God

Dawnbringer is a traditional-metal ship formed in 1995, crewed by, among others, Matt Johnsen and Chris Black, both of whom are also at the helm of power-metal crusaders Pharaoh. Dawnbringer is, however, the older band, and I feel I very much should check them out at some point. That point is now, and I can safely say that the band is a truly interesting specimen.

It immediately came across that Pharaoh and Dawnbringer do share a number of musical traits, but after some superficial similarities, they are certainly very different animals to one another. Dawnbringer is darker, and often rougher, albeit possessing the virtuosic edge, and a similar guitar style to Pharaoh, which isn't surprising considering that they share a guitarist. Chris Black's vocals are rough, but charmingly so - tuneful despite their harshness, and all things considered, quite unique, which is something which can, for that matter, be said about the band in general. The combination of black-metal influences with traditional metal is something which plenty of bands have tried their hand at, but Dawnbringer certainly have a very unique take on the idea, with the predominantly traditional songs being augmented here and there by little nods to black-metal, many of which I'm sure I failed to pick up upon (but nonetheless appreciated), a indication, perhaps, of the great intricacy with which the styles are blended into one. The black metal parts are certainly cleverly inserted, and are seldom in-your-face overt, aside from the occasional song, but made all the more effective for their sparing use. The music isn't so much blackened traditional metal, but it contains a few select cuts of the style.

The album is at times quite difficult to measure - the lack of track titles (they're all given Roman numerals, as opposed to names) makes the whole album a bit inscrutable, especially with regards to what-goes-where, however, it has the plus-side of making the listener take the songs entirely at face value, and definitely makes them somewhat more enveloping, especially considering that the albums face value is rather high. The album feels very whole and complete, and flows very well, carrying the albums combined atmosphere and raw aesthetic along nicely. The sound the band create really is somewhat unique, and certainly unlike anything I've heard before, albeit with the pleasing familiarities, and indeed the memorable nature of traditional metal. There are dark, crushing moments, epic, slower-paces sections of deep beauty, and very traditional sections, sometimes with an almost rock n' roll edge to them - what's most impressive however, is that the band manage to roll such a diverse range of styles into one, very cohesive and well-constructed album, as opposed to sounding like a circus.

If there's one thing which this album demonstrates, above and beyond the fact that it's a solid album in and of itself, it's that heavy metal is a lot like Lego; it can be infinitely combined into new things, and with a bit of thinking-outside-the-box, all sorts of things can happen.

This is a 8/10 album, easily.

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