the underground music magazine    

issue #76 August, 2014

 


Dear Maelstrom readers,

This is our second issue for 2014. It is an eclectic one - covering a wide spectrum of music genres. I hope you will enjoy it.

This time around, I would like to express my gratitude to all the artists, labels and PR agencies who keep sending us music for review. Whether our collaboration is a well established one or a new one - it is crucial to Maelstrom. I hope you are also enjoying the fruits of our cooperation and keep supporting us. We are here to serve!

Rock on,
Avi Shaked 

P.S.

We are looking for a new member to introduce some fresh blood and review some of the cool, digital promos we're accepting. If you think you're a talented writer and wish to join our worldwide staff, contact me.

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6.8/10 Mladen
 

DEATH TOLL RISING - Infection Legacy - CD - Shut Up Tyler Music - 2013

Not exactly groundbreaking but a whole lot of a neckbreaking, Infection Legacy is a death metal safe bet. It is as technical as it get, as complicated as possible, without losing the momentum and as rabid sounding as, well, anything, really. There is not much to complain about, and just as well not much to write about. You want death metal, you get death metal, mostly in headbanging medium tempo with some up-tempo, OK riffs, OK solos, etc. - done the Canadian way. And as a curiosity, hmmm... there was none we could think of. This doesn't mean a death metal diehard won't enjoy Death Toll Rising's second album. If you're one of them, go for it, and if not, you will be none the wiser. (6.8/10)

 

 

 

 
9.99/10 Chaim
 

MORD'A'STIGMATA - Antimatter - CD - Sun & Moon Records - 2011

This gem, buried down beneath this reviewer's stack of albums-to-be-reviewed-sometime-in-the-future (if I had only known earlier it's that good...), is a monument of metal artistry that must be registered among all you aficionados of the extreme sound. Polish death metal in its finest moment, and don't tell me that's black metal because it is most certainly not. Every aspect of Antimatter screams death metal, from the way the drums are played, to the barking style of the vocals.

There's the black metal riffing, sure, but the guitars sound so heavy and ominous, their vitriolic nature flirts intimately with the death metal aesthetic rather than with any other sub genre. The possibly triggered double bass drum, the quasi-belching vocalists that sounds like a less hysterical Martin Van Drunen, the cavernous, dark, muscle-riffs - these all sound pretty much death metal to these experienced ears.

The title track - one of the album's highlights - opens with a wonderful lunatic piece that blends jazzy grooves and clinical blasts, something akin to Gorguts' technique on their seminal recording Obscura. It rapidly progresses into a nocturnal, sonic veil of cold darkness. The whole album sort of revolves around that "master track" so to speak, with each additional track being a sort of either devolution or evolution of that song. Dissonance and multiple rhythm changes - some more tribal and some traditionally heavy metal in essence - coil around that virtually incessant blast beat.

Esoteric in lyrical content (cryptic song titles and no publication of the lyrics, which is a shame), and both in imagery and eerie symbolism, the sombre metal on display matches the netherworld sentiments with an impressive display of doom-laden, dark magic-conjuring riffs that are so ominous that their undeniable power pulls the listener into their strange, metaphysical world of cosmic grief.

Mord'A'Stigmata's Antimatter is an album for advanced listeners that happen to find pleasure in the most twisted and sinister albums out there; imagine a wedding in Hades between Gorguts (Obscura-wise), (a faster version of) Asphyx, Nightbringer and Deathspell Omega. Could you really imagine such a combo from hell?! A thinking man's metal of death if there ever was one, displaying both complexity and dark spirituality at the same time, and in the most convincing manner.

Antimatter is a flawless album having not a single weak spot: even its mellower parts are immense in their simple beauty, while the more intricate, exquisite moments are simply mind-numbing, chilling and awe-inspiring due to the high level of inventiveness, the epically divine song writing skills and the marvelously tight execution. A philosophical, fabulous transcendental journey into the darkest graveyards of the universe, somewhere beyond the stars, where death itself is nothing but a blessing. Astral, cold, discordantly beautiful and deadly death metal, with a touch of avant-garde that breaks no rules by venturing not into other musical realms but instead remaining true to its roots as it twists everything to the maximum without breaking the very foundations of death metal, exploiting its wonders and potentials to the fullest. (9.99/10)

 

 

 

 
8/10 Chaim
 

OCEAN CHIEF - Sten - CD - I Hate Records - 2013

Swedish prodigy Ocean Chief do stuff their own way. With Sten, they have perfected the sound of the apocalypse. It's not that the album is exceptionally heavy or dark, but it is so bleak and godforsaken, listening to it is like watching the end of the world unfolds right in front of your bewildered eyes.

Ocean Chief's style is hard to pinpoint. Really! they play a unique form of post/atmospheric hardcore tempered with sludgy aesthetics and a handful of post-rock-ish experiments, having also a grain of stoner metal embedded discretely in its fabric; but don't expect any jolly stoner sentiments emanating from the music, as you will find none.

Essentially, Sten is a musical black hole, pulling everything and everyone in its "event horizon" range, down to its dark existence. The listener is being faced with harsh, lunar, foreboding emptiness that does not herald a good fortune upon mankind.

Miasmic, unclean and pessimistic, Sten is a captivating piece of well-articulated doom and gloom, having an acute, surreal affinity and a sort of tamed, innate chaos, domesticated for the sole purpose of enabling its handling and recording; a wild beast caged but very restless and angry.

The rock ensemble occasionally resorts into seemingly "free jazz" improvisations that serve as suspense-generating agents. These in turn give way to astral, flesh cutting, distorted guitars and some searing, highly atmospheric keyboards of the highest order, echoing the best progressive rock / electronica bands from the past. Imagine the vintage, celestial synthesizer sound of Tangerine Dream or Jean-Michel Jarre, couple that with the emotional, epic rock display of King Crimson - and you will have a faint idea about what's going on here in terms of the progressive elements.

The drums are mostly tribal, plodding and ritualistic, and the angry Swede presiding over the vocals has got an edgy, vile voice, processed slightly through some electronic device, and his Swedish - with that accentuated thorny R - sounds simply evil and hateful. Seriously hateful.

And then there's the metallic aspect: bass-driven, the metallic hardcore on display has got some of the dirtiest, nastiest guitar sound ever recorded. It's like the electric guitars are actually bass guitars in disguise, playing these ominous, desert-barren riffs. And yet, the music is dreamy, aspiring star-wards instead of spiraling down to the pits of hell and dragging the listener downwards. No, Ocean Chief's Sten gazes toward the skies, and beyond, transcending any genre's aesthetics and in the process makes the audience transcend as well.

Overall, Sten is a stunning, genre-defying album, convincingly bearing a voice of its own; an impressive effort by one of today's best post-metal / post-hardcore outfits. (8/10)

 

 

 

 
9/10 Chaim
 

FADING WAVES - The Sense Of Space - CD - Slow Burn Records - 2011

This gentle giant has been released in 2011. Struggling to find the right words with which a review would be articulated, this reviewer pondered and pondered some more upon that issue, and while he did so he had let the memory of the album's existence slip between his fingers. There was a promise though, lingering in the Aether - a promise that some day this unique album will find its way to the heart and mind of this reviewer (yet again), and he in turn will perpetuate its existence by a written piece describing the greatness of The Sense Of Space

So time has come to tell you what you've been missing...

Basically, Fading Waves is the brainchild of a Russian dude who uses ad-hoc session musicians on this recording. He writes everything, programs the drums and the samples and plays some bass and occasional guitar. The existence of a full ensemble enables the recording to emanate this 'big band' feel; the impression of a whole symphonic orchestra playing metallic compositions, with a larger-than-life gusto and holistic, all-encompassing, transcendental aspirations. 

It's like the music is trying to engulf the listener from every side, rock their world hard and then continue to deploy a universal canopy of sounds; to cover the whole wide world - and if possible the universe itself - with this silky dark blanket. 

The Sense Of Space is an ode to the elements. The beautiful polychromatic photos on the cover and within the booklet are on par with the subjects dealt with and correspond to the music. Akin to Vivaldi's "The Four Seasons" in a contemporary, rock-ish outfit, this one also has some space-worshiping, astral sentiments, interwoven into the whole of the album.

The music uses a palette of varied soundscapes and genre aesthetics: angelic singing mixes with post-rock sonic waves, growls with shoegaze-y rock, and electronica with doom metal. There is never a shortage of ideas or aural landscapes, and those in turn, change constantly, transgress and transform, transfigure, mix and match. 

However, despite the myriad of styles and genres presented, there isn't a weak spot to be found here. Fading Waves excel in anything they do, whichever approach to music they embrace; they deliver a top-notch performance whatever the style they play. You wait for a glitch, for a weak moment, for some boredom to set in... something! but these little failures that remind us how imperfect humans are  - even those prolific musicians amongst whom - never realized. 

The Sense Of Space is a massive, enjoyable record, debuting one of the most creative musicians out there who gracefully allows us - with the aid of his good friends / phenomenal musicians - a glimpse into his stargazing lucid dreams. His tools are simple, his execution is exquisite and relentlessly beautiful, whether it's the ritualistic moments, the ethereally sublime vocals, the sludge-y post-metal, the masculine growls, the guitar leads and lush, exuberant solos, or the long instrumental, totally mesmerizing and deeply contemplative moments -  the music will make you afloat. You're going to feel lighter than your actual mass while listening, and the beauty captured by these frequencies will send pulsating shivers down your spine. 

So whether you like The 3rd And The Mortal, The Angelic Process, Cult Of Luna or Klimt 1918, you need this album -  and the sooner the better. Don't be a fool like the writer of these very lines by waiting yet another 3 years until you enable this magnificent album to grace your ears or graze your soul --  this music must be heard by as many worthy humans as possible. (9/10)

 

 

 

 
7.5/10 Chaim
 

ORTEGA - 1634 - CD - Aesthetic Death - 2012

The prestigious Aesthetic Death Records has got this habit of re-releasing independent album that were originally self-released by bands a couple of years prior to catching the eye (the ear) of Aesthetic Death, believing the musical material contained within those unheralded independent albums is valuable enough that it should be revisited, reprinted and be warranted an accessibility to a larger audience. 

Such was the case with the phenomenal Fatum Elisum self-released, self-titled debut album, and such is the case with Dutch quartet Ortega, whose album 1634 had been recorded in 2010, while in 2012 it was upgraded, given a better looking packaging and printed in much larger number of copies courtesy of the aforementioned label.

Ortega's theme on 1634 revolves around the oceanic and the naval; shipwrecks, storms, tidal waves, sirens; the very mysteries buried underneath the dark blue, velvety, salty H2O of the world; and even though Ortega loosely share interest and thematic framework with bands such as The Ocean, Ahab, Whales And Aurora, Fungoid Stream and basically any other band whose moniker involves the word 'ocean' and/or other water-obsessed bands out there who have built entire careers on the basis of that sole subject - in the end, Ortega share very little with any of those mentioned; on the contrary, they carry an individualistic banner of singularity in their sound aesthetic and the music captured on 1634 can hardly be regarded as metal par excellence. 

Never mind the sludge/doom rubric the band proclaims their music to fit into, as 1634 is neither sludge nor doom (nor any combination of such). Ortega plays atmospheric hardcore, plain and simple. The riffs are distinctive to hardcore punk; the sound etiquette - the guitar distortion effect included - is so much into atmospheric hardcore, it leaves no room for metal to squeeze in. But that, by no means, is a bad thing, as Ortega practices some majestic, hermetic hardcore/post-hardcore of the highest level, and in that regard they are reminiscent of the aforementioned The Ocean or Whales And Aurora; reminiscent, yes, but more austere and simpler/more linearly approaching than the former, as well as more into sheer ambiance and volatility than the latter. 

The music on 1634 is more airy than heavy; almost danceable at time and very much into the tamer kind of mosh pitting. The opening to the whole album, as well as parts scattered here and there, have got a southern/folk flair to them, like something Across Tundras would have played. There are all sorts of ocean-related samples as well, like the sound of water ripples going back and forth, back and forth, receding from the shoreline and advancing yet again, conquering whatever tiny turf of a sandy beach they can before receding back. The music itself is on par with the tides and ebbs, taking you on a joy ride, carrying the listener upon surging, raging swells and plummeting him/her into the unknown deep, where both tranquility and dread reside. The album has a dualistic approach, a dichotomy between utter bliss accompanied occasionally by classical string instruments and sudden bursts of raw power coupled with thrashing guitars and gigantic rhythm section that beautifully contrast the moody, gentle parts.

The long, dreamy, contemplative, suspense-building tunes have got a strong Neurosis modus operandi vibe, and so are the explosive (never too explosive though) zeniths of those very ambient moments, where a ripping guitar and robust drums drain all the tension buildup, and while releasing this trapped energy they burst with polychromatic anger. 

Ortega's effort is by all means a worthy addition to the growing number of post-hardcore bands; 1634 distinguishes this band from the crowd - a crowd comprised of many bands lacking personality or individuality. Luckily, Ortega own both, and more: in its approach to the style, in how these guys write songs, in how they generate that exquisite yet foreboding atmosphere, in how they manage to dodge copycatting while still sounding like Neurosis' baby brother. 

Anyone who's into high quality atmospheric hardcore/post-hardcore of the reflecting, contemplating, soul-searching kind - you will not easily find a better album than 1634 and you can take that to the bank. (7.5/10)

 

 

 

 
9/10 Chaim
 

NEGATIVE VOICE - Infinite Dissonance - CD - Inverse Records - 2014

Originally released independently in 2013 only to be re-issued a year later by the Finnish label Inverse Records, Russian band Negative Voice's Infinite Dissonance is an album you would like to pay attention to, as it has captured the essence of an older sound being delivered with the utmost skill - an album the likes of which are few and far between. 

Infinite Dissonance has adopted the Swedish melodic death metal sound of the early 1990s, incorporating euphonious black/death metal paradigm with a slower, more sentimental dark metal approach, and owning a general doom aesthetic and romantic undercurrents that wash the scenery with acute, divine melancholia without a single cliché being thrown into the mix. 

Despite the fact the album is devoid of a singular personality per se, the myriad of influences it plays with have all converged by apt musicians into a unified entity in an awe-inspiring manner, and in the process the band has been offering some of the most magical moments metal music has ever known. 

If you wouldn't have known otherwise, you'd be fooled to believe the album is the brainchild of some Swedish supergroup from the 1990s, assembling under one roof the best musicians of that era, being comprised specifically of bands such as A Canorous Quintet, Katatonia and Tiamat, as Infinite Dissonance tries (and succeeds) in imitating the sound of albums such as Dance Of December Souls, Brave Murder Day, Silence Of The World Beyond, Clouds and Wildhoney, making room for any of the aforementioned immediate inspirations to be heard, but injecting them with a melancholic, melodic black metal dose that renders the music melodramatic and emotional sans the cheesiness. If there had ever been such a supergroup, this album would have been its ultimate offering, and in itself Infinite Dissonance is the zenith of all homages to those glorious metal days where timeless albums (such as those we've already mentioned) dawned upon the metal community with their unequivocal dark beauty. 

The organic sound of the recording is throughout thick and gritty, and despite the fact the album has been given modern production values, it keeps a certain underground, muffled character that helps identifying and accentuating the obvious sonic role models and their enormous influence, which is exhibited and well-articulated on this album - an influence that lies at the very foundations of Infinite Dissonance, solidifying the fact this wonderful amalgamation is the homage of all homages. 

Even the vocals - throaty, monolithic, dramatic and almost decipherable - alternate between Katatonia's Jonas Renkse and Tiamat's Johan Edlund, with a greater-than-life punch and pummeling dark metal presence, walking the seam between the torturous, the heart-broken and the ear-splitting gritty. 

The album's aforementioned organic sound is achieved thanks to a full ensemble playing real musical instruments, including a real drum set (a fact that become increasingly scarce nowadays), and despite the fact the compositions are not excessively technical or complex they possess a great degree of emotive power and obvious nostalgia, while the fine guitar leads have been given a major role in the recording, pushing the music forward and in the process exhibiting bewitchingly lush melodies, complementing the slow-to-mid-paced steady-state tempos and transcending the metallic edge into the realms of celestial beauty. 

The tracks exhibit some progressive rock elements, made flesh especially on the third track where the vocals alternate between Renkse/Edlund rasps and Gilmour/ Waters Pink Floyd-ian clean singing, enhancing the brooding atmosphere with a thorny, contemplative melancholy. The guitar solos and the gentle treatment the instruments received in the perfectly balanced mix allow the music to breath and expand; the modus operandi of the playing technique is that of basic heavy metal focusing mainly on the conveying of melody rather than on making the most brutal or heavy album in existence, a concept readily understood when the band let only the lead guitar and rhythm section speak, momentarily forsaking the harrowing vocals and the distorted rhythm guitar. 

Infinite Dissonance is the blueprint for excellent Heavy Metal paying homage to Sweden's greatest atmospheric legends. Such a fine work of art we have rarely encountered, capturing an immense desolate beauty using the metal language. Sure, the music is by no means original or revolutionary, but the execution is immense and it compensates for any downside the album arguably possesses. Couple the music with the effective and enigmatic artwork, the black/grey aesthetics of the packaging (that ironically contrast the polychromatic nature of the songs and the vividness of the overall music) and the well written English texts, and you have got yourself a winner. Do yourself a big, big favor and get this album now, that is if you love heavy metal at all. (9/10)

 

 

 

 
9/10 Chaim
 

TEMPESTUOUS FALL - The Stars Would Not Awake You - CD - I, Voidhanger - 2012

Tempestuous Fall is one of several bands in which Dis Pater - the Australian enigmatic multi-instrumentalist - is the main figure; bands in which he's either the only member or the one who writes all the material and performs most of the music in addition to the occasional helping hand by session musicians. On The Stars Would Not Wake You he incorporates a second growler on the opening track (why and what for? His growls are good enough on their own) and a violinist whose appearance is mostly minimal. 

Tempestuous Fall, like every other Dis Pater project (Midnight odyssey, The Crevices Below, to mention only a couple) has a unique voice (literally and metaphorically speaking), unsurpassed and unmatched by any of the band's peers creating in the funeral doom niche. 

The first, most striking element that is noticeable from the get go, is Dis Pater's singular sound, a sound shared among his other bands - regardless of their stylistic tendencies - and manifested in the edgy, treble-high recording and in the black metal aesthetics of the compositions. The guitar has been engineered to produce the sharpest, most vile distortion sound - a sound which embraces an electronic measure that allows the electric guitar to sound colder and more callous. The distortion used is mostly a monochromatic wall of sound with an industrial character - a constant, bleak backdrop for the finer elements to come into play in their intimidating, looming shadow. The production, in that context, reminds of Xasthur et. al., but Tempestuous Fall's sound is infinitely more obsessed with details than just exercising a wall of sound with little variation as in Xasthur's approach (or of any other depressive bedroom black metal band in existence, for that matter) which relies mostly on atmosphere rather than on actual compositions and their execution.  

The aforementioned sound - open, high-pitched and very non-underground - enables the gentler aspects in the recording to manifest. The clear guitar strumming, the numerous leads, the tremolo-high electric guitar solos as well as the many neoclassical moments are all highlighted despite the governing, noisy wall of sound in the background. Ironically, rather than drowning the other elements under swells of vitriol, this very busy and granular curtain of noise is what eventually brings them to the front of the stage. Rich textures of neoclassical flair push the album forward, ornamenting it with Baroque nobility, and could have easily stood on their own. We're not so sure this can be said about the metallic edge of the album; but fuse these two extremes, and the outcome is devastatingly beautiful!

This exquisite album mostly exercises the black metal modus operandi, offering the world a very unique, gentle, slow black metal emotional masterpiece with some, very limited, death metal touches that pretty much boil down to the occasional, low, grunting vocals. But black is only the general sound of Tempestuous Fall's brand of metal, embodied by the degree of rawness attributed to the guitars and the sentimental spark; you won't find much of black metal's trademark characteristics in the actual progression of the album - not in the riffs, nor in the moment-to-moment development of the themes, and not even when inspecting the sound design. While musical measures undertaken by the majority of black metal bands typically focus on the big picture, with Tempestuous Fall it's all about the smallest of details: from the first key stroke wash to the last of the choral lamentations - the Stygian and the celestial are both in the details. Nevertheless, the spiritual essence of black metal, its monochromatic grittiness, its volatile, ethereal elements are all there, highlighted through the careful usage of electric guitar nihilism and keyboard mastery.

The clean vocals of Mr. Dis Pater - cold, bleak, dispassionate yet enchanting - are another highlight of this curious recording. Mr. Dis Pater likes to intervene in the natural flow of music on each of his projects, harnessing his clean, soothing/menacing vocals for attaining a reclusive, dark, almost religious solitude, crafted. They offer an oasis of contemplative nihilism and meditative self-ruination like nothing out there. They are by no means life-affirming moments of bliss and beauty, but rather harrowing, miasmic heralds of tragedy and pain. 

Mixing simple, constant beats and a noisy background that sounds machinery-derived and very much industrial/apocalyptic, the dualistic aspects of the recording - the harshness and the finesse - work wonders, and literally mind-fucks the listener: it's like taking ice-cold and steaming-hot showers simultaneously. Imagine that.

Couple all the aforementioned with a sublime graphic presentation adorning the cover and booklet pages, depicting works by classic painters: eye-candy, awe-inspiring, colorful masterpieces revolving mostly around themes of the religious and the sacrilegious, and you have yourself a second to none treat of macabre, both in the aural and the visual departments. 

This album comes as highly recommended to anybody with a slice of brain and a slice of good taste in music. Please, just don't expect yet another (watered down) funeral doom / death metal album, because this beast is most certainly not one of those abominations. Tempestuous Fall has created, with The Stars Would Not Awake You, a niche of its own, that could be easily dubbed as funeral (neoclassical, plodding) black metal; and despite the fact this album is so much reminiscent of every other Dis Pater project - it still sounds like nothing else out there: its singularity surpasses both funeral doom and black metal, its beauty uncanny and its ability to mesmerize supreme. (9/10)

 

 

 

 
7.7/10 Chaim
 

DOOMED - In My Own Abyss - CD - Solitude Productions - 2012

Germany's Doomed go straight to the throat. Without further ado, they attack the physical and the mental with full-fledged, massive death metal ferociousness and plodding doom dynamics that immediately make an impression. 

Doomed go back to the roots of the doom/death style, their album being a protocol of metal's evolution, or transformation, from the old schools of the metal of death to the more ethereal, contemplative doom regions. Doomed's slowed-down death metal exhibits its dark colors in all their glory, while the doom vibe is elusive, fleeting, almost indescribable. It's not something words could articulate, but rather something embedded deeply within the sounds, a sonic phantom metamorphosing the music from mere death metal to a doom/death classic that owns all the distinctive attributes of the style, thus becoming the blueprint of that particular aesthetic. 

Instead of trying to reinvent the wheel or the very concept of deathly doom metal, Doomed take the style's basics and works with them, shaping and refining them so they become crystalline pure. And even though the very style's roots are derived from a hybridization between aesthetics, Doomed have managed to compose and perform an album that's the perfect example of a unified sound, comprising exquisitely fused styles of music, sounding familiar for all intents and purposes but also like something totally different and unique. The earth-bound death metal bread-and-butter modus operandi corresponds wonderfully to the insidious doom element, and the ancient, cavernous sound matches the futuristic, stargazing aura and the sublime production. 

The bottom line is Doomed's In My Own Abyss should satisfy both death metal purists and doom/death fans alike. It displays both worlds (that can be very different from one another despite the many overlapping characteristics) in an awe-inspiring fashion, upgrading the very sound of death metal and making it a mystical beast drenched in its own mire of horror, gothic innuendos and tragic soundscapes, illustrated by a highly advanced songwriting ability that doesn't boast too much but rather keeps the volatile, enigmatic essence of gloom and doom down to the minimum, without which the music would have sounded like a good, but not outstanding, death metal piece.  

We wouldn't go as far as dubbing In My Own Abyss as the best doom/death metal album out there, but it is near damn close to being dubbed as such. Give this monster of an album a try, if you're a death metal or a doom metal fan - and especially, if you're not. It will show you a couple of tricks both death and doom metal have long since forgotten or have never known about.   (7.7/10)

 

 

 

 
6.9/10 Chaim
 

ROYAL TALONS - Royal Talons - CD - Consouling Sounds - 2012

Dubbed simply as Royal Talons, this self-released recording was later re-released by Consouling Sounds under the name Shark Skull, being also the title of the first track of this 46-minute, 5-track EP of slow, plodding, gargantuan sludge.

Royal Talons often ventures off the pure sludge terrain by experimenting with elements foreign to 'pure' sludge, sounding at times like Earth on their latest efforts (The Bees Made Honey In The Lion's Skull, especially) or like Across Tundras' pilgrim/pioneer folk-doom Americana recordings and some good old sludgy, blackened stoner metal in the WeedEater vein. 

All in all, this EP is a good start for this American triplet hailing from Colorado, showcasing their unique, smooth and epic style, mildly experimenting with each of its satellite aesthetics - from epic doom, through drone, to stoner rock and Southern sun-baked psychedelia - with a persuasive force and the agility of an angered adolescent, but nevertheless sounding mature and thoughtful. The vocal versatility coupled with the unorthodox approach to sludge/doom - employing a myriad of singing techniques that work synergistically one with the other, no matter how estranged they are - and the auditory coherent versatility boil down to a satisfying, if not original, recording that will please many fans of this particular metal niche. (6.9/10)

 

 

 

 
7.6/10 Chaim
 

SECTARA - Interstellar Terror - Beneath The Eyes Of Baines - CD - Indie - 2011

Any band who uses a saxophone will almost immediately receive our knee jerk appreciation, especially if it incorporates the sax well enough into a totally foreign musical aesthetic, as is the case here where it is utilized by in extreme metal setting. Gimmicky to an extent - for it appears only on two tracks (track #3 and #6) - the sax is introduced so organically and naturally into the mix that you simply cannot but adore the musicians who had thought about this particular gimmick. 

Sectara's Interstellar Terror is a frenzied excursion into the minds of some prolific and unorthodox musicians: it portrays a hectic, diverse and multifaceted songwriting that roams the spectrum between progressive and death metal, picking elements of avant-garde, electronica and jazz, while it passes briefly through the dark corridors of the inventive, creative minds of those who have conceived it. 

The guitar playing is insane; constantly shredding, lead after lead, solo after solo; the rhythm guitars are huge and charismatic, constantly pummeling with their distorted hostility, and overshadowing the progressive niceties and laid-back moments of musical finesse with their brutish abruptness.

Even those clean vocals - that normally would make you avoid albums such as these (as they tend to kill the intensity of the metallic essence with their goofy mellowness) - sound good in the context of serving as a fleeting oasis of sanity in the face of the crazy, erratic rhythms and even more insane guitar playing. 

The patterns are often reminiscent of neoclassical outfits such as Windham Hell, while the progressive aspects correspond slightly to Nocturnus for the exceptionally bent melodies and the keyboards' sound characteristics, and those are kept at minimal quantities throughout the recording; the guitar playing technique does conjure the ghost of Sculptured, and although Sectara show lesser avant-garde leanings, their lightning-fast leading guitar roams those half-progressive, half-oriental scales with utter ease and head-spinning velocity, and this approach is as advanced as any forward-thinking method out there, crowning Sectara as one of the most intriguing avant-garde metal contenders to the throne of that non-genre, on par with the great, aforementioned advanced thinkers aforementioned.  

Being comprised of veteran musicians, it may come as no surprise Sectara know what they do, tightly performing their unique brand of metal under which progressive, death, black and experimental metal have all gathered peacefully. Even the less enchanting, more mundane moments are executed with utter prowess and the dynamics of an ADHD-inflicted child who's not only restless but also highly intelligent. 

But as previously mentioned, the highlights of the album are definitely the couple of tracks that introduce a saxophone: magical, almost surreal moments that paint the scenery with a John Zorn-ish urban lunacy, clashing estranged elements in an awe-inspiring manner. 

So if you happen to like Sculptured, Cynic, or Windham Hell, this album is so much for you! (7.6/10)

 

 

 

 
9/10 Chaim
 

RAVENTALE - Transcendence - CD - Bad Mood Man Music - 2012

This little gem was released back in 2012, lying in this writer's promo stack ever since. Scorn and prejudice were its fate, thinking this baby is in the same vein of Raventale's previous couple of efforts that were - in a nut shell - lukewarm at best, mediocre to the bone, especially in the songwriting department, which yielded stagnation and lack of personality, even if the execution was good, for all intents and purposes. 

Transcendence is not the most original recording. Still, the songs are so catchy and the somber atmosphere is so exquisitely dark, you'd easily forgive Raventale for all the disadvantages the album arguably possesses. 

Let's assume for a moment that the band had made no conscious decision of trying to sound like Katatonia's Brave Murder Day. The opening track, "Shine," however, sounds exactly like something taken directly out of Brave Murder Day and that includes every aspect that made the aforementioned album so timeless and unique so many years ago, and anyone who comes close to capturing the essence of that great album is definitely someone to consider! In fact, Raventale does more than that: it revives the old Katatonia sound and updates it into a contemporary aural assault as sharp as shark's teeth and as vicious as a Wolverine. 

Raventale sound grander, more holistic, more virile and poignant; a world devouring beast of prey, universal and perpetual gargantuan beast. The vocals are lower and more harrowing than Mikael Akerfeldt's but still carry the distinctive Akerfeldt signature; the drums are basic and steady, offering that unsophisticated mid-paced, belching beat found on Brave Murder Day, even though Raventale's drums are either programmed or triggered. Still, they sound so organic and natural and Katatonia-like, they would almost make you dance thanks to their smooth dynamics. The guitars are, again, gritty and unadventurous (Brave Murder Day era Katatonia, didn't we say?), and yet they possess enormous power as they glide heavily yet gracefully through the dark sonic oceans like an ocean liner of epic proportions through restless swells of dark solace and tragedy. The ghosts from the past have been reawakened with this very opening track, more brutal and hateful than ever. 

This counts for something, at least. Doesn't it? If not for the originality factor, then at least for making the perfect dark metal song, if there ever was one.

But wait! There's more! Raventale also knows how to play black metal, and its is melodic and engaging to the hilt - with tons of nicely written riffs, amazingly potent leads, robust atmosphere, hooks galore and atypical vocal arrangements - never sounding melodramatic, goofy or weak in any shape or form; they don't even convey that laughable tough-guy attitude or the whiny, "torturous" kind of approach corresponding with the look-I'm-suffering-so-much black metal trend of today. 

Raventale offers only hermetic, solemn, hypnotizing, contemplative darkness, harnessing black metal as its backbone aesthetic yet applying death metal undercurrents, subversively painting the lucidly portrayed, velvety, somber landscapes with a darker tone of depravity and pessimism. 

On Transcendence, Raventale has perfected the dark metal sound, delivering a unified hybrid of several aesthetics, somehow blending them so well that wherever your attention or ears roam, you only hear and see the dark; like a picture on the wall where the eyes of the object follow you with their glance never mind the angle at which you glance back. When Raventale plays death metal, it sounds like dark metal. When they play black metal, they sound yet again like dark metal. When they play dark metal, they sound like the darkest - blacker than black, deadlier than death - metal out there. 

Nevertheless, the album is fundamentally catchy and linear, but in a fun way. The listener will enjoy every listening session to the fullest, every moment passing will be satisfactory; there is not a single weak moment on this recording - not one, and that's rare. The album's myriad facets will cater for the needs of every lover of dark, emotional metal music out there; every aficionado of death and black metal wouldn't be left unscathed; every soul with the desire to quench its thirst with utter beauty enshrouded by quintessential dark mystique will be indulged, because the universal language spoken by this enigmatic Ukrainian band is infiltrating the very essence of being with its harrowing compositions; a great metal mother/beast from the teats of which you will be readily suckling the black milk of death - and beyond.

"Transcendence," the closing track, is a track of pure astral force; an aural stargazing/meditative session where one can almost lose himself in the richness of the textures and the austerity of the bleak ambiances; so volatile and pure and beautiful they are, propelling their way to outer space using magical moments of exquisite blast beats coupled with tremolo-heavy, incessant strumming, generating harmonies so melancholic and sentimental they make even the stars sad.

Transcendence is the name of this album, and transcendence is what it provides, in copious streams. If you like the dark side of things, that is if you like metal, get this album now!  (9/10)

 

 

 

 
7.5/10 Mladen
 

DISLOYAL - Nineth Gate - CD - www.disloyal.sk - 2012

Even though there is a feeling of listening to Morbid Angel's "God of Emptiness" at a bit higher speed, this is not a bad thing. Disloyal's 4th album is slowly abrasive, persistent and persuasive. Slightly demented mid-tempo riffs paired with wailing, ethereal guitar leads, and an occasional staccato, all serve a purpose. Well elaborated songs convey a proper feeling of distance, and there are obvious artfulness and mysteriousness at work here. In essence, this Slovakian band creates a no-nonsense type of intelligent death metal through mostly simple patterns assembled in a demanding way. Listening to Nineth Gate you could find yourself floating away, losing perception and wondering, feeling sad, melancholic and perhaps defeated. (7.5/10)

 

 

 

 
5/10 Mladen
 

DEATHQUINTET - Godwork - CD - www.deathquintet.com - 2013

A bit of core, a bit of death, a bit of groove and a bit of thrash, but mostly boiling down to Swedish death metal background music done by the book. There's no denying that Deathquintet can play, and the sound is potent enough to make you notice it. But, riff after riff, part after part, there isn't all that much to remember or identify with. So in the end the only identifiable things on Godwork will be the guest vocalists, like Tomas Lindberg (but considering that he's been a guest on every Swedish metal band's album at least once, even that is not much of a selling point). (5/10)

 

 

 

 
7.5/10 Mladen
 

GUERRA TOTAL - El Armagedon Continua - CD - I Hate Records - 2013

There's not much to invent when you're playing razor sharp, speedy thrash metal straight out of the '80s but that obviously doesn't stop this Colombian crew. Even if the riffs aren't particularly new, Guerra Total makes them sound exciting. Armed with a solid amount of "what the hell was that" moments, scream-along choruses and stop-go breaks, El Armagedón Continúa effortlessly keeps you entertained, headbanging and waiting for the next guitar solo. And those, those are solos of the mouthwatering kind we haven't heard since Kreator's Coma of Souls or Testament's The Legacy. They are just that good, and you have to hear them. Several times. (7.5/10)

 

 

 

 
7/10 Mladen
 

LOSS OF SELF - Twelve Minutes - CD - The Flenser - 2013

Extremely talented at making a mess out of simple things, Loss of Self will give you a headache. Each of the songs here is short and simple, but you won't realize it until after you have listened to all nine of them a few times. The chords are post-something flavored, and strongly so, so if you are not into this kind of music just avoid Loss of Self. The rhythms are unexpected, mathematical and aggressive. If you aren't into progressive stuff, again, avoid Loss of Self. The vocals are screamed, sharp, and scattered so much that the compositions, as minimal as they are, lose their meaning anyway. So if you are into straightforward black metal nursery rhymes, again, avoid. 

However, if you are interested in hearing some uneasy, nightmarish, expressive and labyrinthine black metal, with sounds and feelings that are more important than actual compositions then definitely give Twelve Minutes a try. (7/10)

 

 

 

 
8.5/10 Mladen
 

DOL THEETA - The Universe Expands - CD - Electronic Art Metal Records - 2008

What do you get when you mix electronica, trance, Greek music, techno, metal, progressive, ambient, industrial and female vocals? Awesomeness, that's what you get.

Disregarding a superfluous intro with someone talking about hypnosis, everything else is simply inspired, to the max. The Universe Expands starts deceptively easy, but then it's going, flying, changing, ebbing, tiding and growing. Music everywhere, melodies everywhere, sounds clashing, teasing and releasing, Dol Theeta never ceases to amaze. Going into oblivion, glory, introspection and conclusion like they are all one and the same thing, everything here has a purpose. It is absolutely unstoppable and all you can do is relax and be carried away. Each song has its own face, identity, role and connection.

Dol Theeta try to describe its music as "stories of mind/soul dreams in our inner and outer space, psychedelia, the manifestation of the soul" and even though it might sound like a pretentious claim it is totally evident that this band is for real. Oh, and the female vocals are certainly an ethereal bliss! (8.5/10)

 

 

 

 
8.5/10 Mladen
 

VENEFICIUM - De Occulta Philosophia - A Missae Tenebrae - CD - Sepulchral - 2008

If it's not blastbeats, it's two bass drums at full speed. If it's not two bass drums at full speed, it's blastbeats. Simple, but it does wonders. And before you say "norsecore" let us assure you it's nowhere near, as this Quebec trio is playing a chilling, symphonic, hyperfast, elaborated and entranced sort of black metal with zero "core" in it but with a fair share of church-like keyboards that are almost as loud as the guitars.

It takes a while before you start being able to tell the songs apart, but once you get used to Veneficium's way of doing things, it doesn't even matter. De Occulta Philosophia is simply a monumental, sonic strike resembling the feeling of being thrown into a storm blazing over a nightside graveyard. Bursts are coming from everywhere, and although one isn't necessarily stronger than the other, most of them will come as a surprise. For the most part of this fifty minute recording, there will be no rest, no mercy and no warmth. No mid-tempo parts either. Hell, only Veneficium knows how they managed to make so much blasting so interesting, but since they have apparently split up, all we can do now is listen to the 2008 De Occulta Philosophia and keep remembering the "good old times" of black metal. (8.5/10)

 

 

 

 
8/10 Mladen
 

HAVE A NICE LIFE - The Unnatural World - CD - The Flenser - 2014

Lots of bass, lots of depression, catchy guitar tunes, distant atmosphere, '80s flavored vocals, and even more distant sound. For people who are into alternative or garage rock, this album by Have a Nice Life will be a welcome addition to their CD collection. It's also a good listen for those beginning to ponder about stuff like the meaning of life while using heavy intellectual words (like post-something, something-gaze, self-whatever, etc.).

All the songs are different and the band sound like it really means everything it says. But, if you are amongst the few who already know the questions and some of the answers you will find this recording of little use. The rest (ninety percent or so of the world's population) should get it and benefit from its provocations. (8/10)

 

 

 

 
unknown/infinity Mladen
 

DARK MATTER HALO - The Hermetic Drone Volume I - CD - monte.cimino@gmail.com - 2012

We don't know about you. We really don't. Different strokes for different folks. For all we know, this might make you fall into trance, achieve enlightenment, visit your past lives, be at one with the Universe, get epileptic seizures or kill your neighbors. For us it's 30 minutes of a continuously warbling, spacey sound made from a few keyboards combined, with little to no changes, followed by another track of basically the same thing; the only difference between the two being the names. So, you're better off checking Dark Matter Halo for yourself and see what it does to you. We simply could not guess. (unknown/infinity)

 

 

 

 
6/10 Mladen
 

REALMBUILDER - Blue Flame Cavalry - CD - I Hate Records - 2013

Still charming, still rudimentary and still clumsy, Realmbuilder are simply doing things their own way. The sound is "as is" - no special blending between the instruments. It is true heavy metal. It is done with heart and if your mind is right, it will fill in the blanks.

Truth be said, on their third album there are some embellishments and additional sounds, but you can still tell it is Realmbuilder from a distance, so this is no . No trouble. The problem lies within the epic songs themselves: smart and honest they are, and they contain stories, but they should have been catchier, like on the first Realbuilder album. This one's a bit better than the second release (which is the lesser of the band's three albums), but as for the feeling that Realmbuilder rely upon there is simply not that much to headbang to, live through or sing along with. Blue Flame Cavalry is still worth listening to, as not many bands have the guts to try something similar. It's simply not the best that Realmbuilder can do. (6/10)

 

 

 

 
4/10 Mladen
 

WHEN PROPHECY FAILS - The Hours of Darkness - CD - monte.cimino@gmail.com - 2011

Originally released in 2007 and rereleased in 2011 to celebrate another failed doomsday prophecy, this is probably a collector's item just for the artwork and theme. As for the music, you get two tracks of brutal, unlistenable electronic noise done with who knows what, and all we can say is that it's fairly imaginative and non-repetitive. And that it is torture.

There's a spoken interlude with a little girl whining about something and finally an outro, a low sound drifting over a surreal landscape but nothing too terrifying. Or anything else. There goes 19 minutes of your life. And you will probably regret wasting them. (4/10)

 

 

 

 
2/10 Jerome
 

CRUCIFLICTION - Heresy Is Met With Fire - CD - Indie - 2013

Canada did us all the favor of giving us Voivod, but no good deed goes unpunished it seems. Do you want to give up 60 minutes of your life that you will never get back? Of course not! None of us do, and yet as reviewers this is the type of sacrifice we make.

Thrash seems to be on the rise again - some bands get it, some don't. This a case of the latter category. Don't get me wrong these guys can play, but it's another case of another new band recycling everything you've heard before, and a production that sounds hollower than an empty tin can.

Technical proficiency aside, lyrics like "fighting for scraps on the floor" made me miss Grim Reaper and Thor. The song "Shreds of Humanity" is the band's attempt at a ballad, if you insist on calling it that, and at the risk of sounding more pretentious than we already do, these guys apparently didn't get the memo that there wasn't a good metal record with a ballad since the days of Faster Pussycat.

In short, none of the songs are catchy or memorable, and the lack of imagination and leaves a lot to be desired. You're better off listening to Metal Church. (2/10)

 

 

 

 
7/10 Jerome
 

DEATHBLOW - Prognosis Negative - CD - Indie - 2014

You mean to tell us there's more in Salt Lake City than Mormons? Indeed there is!: DeathBlow, and their freshman release Prognosis Negative.

Once again (read our review of the Crucifliction release in this issue) we state that there are two types of thrash metal bands - those who get it, and those who don't. Now, not only do these guys get it, they get it right! It's fast, it's unapologetic, and unlike bands such as Razormaze and Municipal Waste, you won't find DeathBlow ranting about about partying, pizza and high-top nostalgia.

Key tracks to check out include "Riddled with Tumors," "HellBound" and "Storm Warning". It's an album that's straight and to the point. The icing on the cake is the raw production, which gives the album the aesthetic that a lot of bands are overlooking these days. Highly recommended for fans of Voivod,Sodom and Nuclear Assault. (7/10)

 

 

 

 
10/10 Jerome
 

KILL MATILDA - #Punk #zombie #rocknroll - CD - Indie - 2014

When I first picked up this album I thought "This is either going to be the best or the worst thing ever". I love Punk Rock and Horror films, so two things I love on the same album? This seems promising.......

And the verdict? I LOVE this album. The first track - "Pomegranate" - it instantly reminded me of everything I love about Babes in Toyland. "Law Abiding Citizen" took me back to being a 12 year old kid listening to Joan Jett and The Blackhearts. It's everything you're asking for: 6 songs, 20 minutes of unrelenting Punk. And though I've never been a fan of acoustic renditions, the final song being an acoustic version of the band's own "Geisha With A Switchblade" is the perfect ending to an album I honestly can't get enough of.

What else is there to say? This album is so good - do yourself a favor and get it. (10/10)

 

 

 

 
7/10 Avi
 

MONEY, HELEN - Arriving Angels - CD - Profound Lore Records - 2013

This third release by Helen Money (a stage name for Alison Chesley) opens with "Rift," a track which sounds like a raw guide track for a Tool composition; followed by "Upsetter" which holds a Univers Zero styled chamber terror.

There are beauty and idiosyncracy to these instrumentals, being the result of a solo act based strictly on cello playing, with some overdubbing and sound processing applied. In fact, this is an intriguing and somewhat menacing electro-acoustic trip, quite possibly made all the more coherent thanks to the vast, post rock making of recording engineer Steve Albini.

Still, at some point we find ourselves picturing how the material would have sounded had it been given further elaboration, and indeed on the third track - "Beautiful Friends" - Neurosis drummer Jason Roeder joins and concretely adds to the rhythmic textures. He contributes on three other tracks as well, one of which is the next - "Radio Recorders" - on which things get real nasty, with rapid drumming and a discordant manipulation of Chesley's cello.

Sure, Arriving Angels is an impressing album, relying mostly on high quality cello performance which dislocates the instrument from its classical music context to portray metal and avant garde moods; and while we appreciate and enjoy it as it is, we feel that it merely scratches the surface of what may come if Chesley uses her attitude as a platform to build on. (7/10)

 

 

 

 
4.5/10 Avi
 

ALCEST - Shelter - CD - Prophecy Productions - 2014

Alcest is now almost free of its metal origins, and on Shelter the band offers dream-pop songs. We don''t have a problem with that concept, but, at we do have a problem with the content: songs that are static, lost in a sea of compression (not as much as sound wise as it is vibe wise), and often sound alike. We''re not even sure what mood they convey as it''s some sort of a happy melancholia. (4.5/10)

 

 

 

 
7/10 Avi
 

1NTR - Corrupt Practises - CD - Adaadat - 2014

As opposed to the other Adaadat release featured in this issue (by Christos Fanaras), this album by 1ntr (the London based producer James Parr) consists of analog electronics used to create assorted effects. It is placed in the more discrete end of the Electronic music spectrum - an end which we generally see less of an end to.

With all that said, and even though it fails to take us someplace else, 1ntr manages to introduce sounds that are provocative and intriguing, at times testing our tolerance for all sorts of squeaks and squeals. It's a creative yet scattered affair that one can never be prepared for, and indeed, the element of surprise is as crucial here as the nature of the sounds featured.

With beats not really functioning as a dancing beat (and that's great! we are deterred by dance music), and peculiar sounds taking the lead, "Corrupt Practises" is an interesting effort that will not leave you indifferent. [and like other Adaadat releases it is available for free download: http://www.adaadat.co.uk/1ntr/] (7/10)

 

 

 

 
7/10 Avi
 

ALBINO RHINO - Albino Rhino - CD - Inverse Records - 2014

This Helsinki trio certainly go for a unique sound. The sonics here are thick and appropriate for the downtuned Doom mess that's on the menu. Consisted of four lengthy tracks (one instrumental and three songs, ranging from 7 and a half to over 14 minutes), the band's self-titled, sophomore release offers slow music that actually sounds sludgy, and we're still not quite sure how well it works. There's a luring attractiveness to the restricted frequency range used here, but at some point the limitations become overbearing, making you feel as if this is simply an excuse for poor production skills or a limited budget.

With the cloud of production hovering over, we turn to the material. It's a good blend of Doom and psychedelic Stoner rock, treading heavily and with some solid riffs. Fortunately, there's enough ingenuity here to cover for any lack of creativity: despite the nature of this music, the trio keeps things interesting (for the most part) and effective by applying tempo changes and introducing treble guitar tidbits. (7/10)

 

 

 

 
8/10 Avi
 

BURNIN RED IVANHOE - BRI - CD - Sony Music - 2013

It's been a while since we have covered a Sony release. First and foremost, they don't send us Cds anymore; but then again, there's very little they can interest us with (Judas Priest and Fiona Apple are the rare few, so if any Sony/Epic representative is reading this - feel free to send us the new Priest).

But not all Sonys are created equal, and based on this release it seems the Denemark branch is of a more daring nature (yeah, we know we're generalizing, but we prefer the positive spirit).

Burnin Red Ivanhoe released its debut in 1969, and its first round lasted five more or years or so, as leader Karsten Vogel began to concentrate on his newer jazz-rock outfit, Secret Oyster, which is considered another prime Danish export.

Back to Burnin Red Ivanhoe - the band was revived several times with different lineups. The one is question here typically includes Kim Menzer (on harmonica, flute, trombone and vocals) beside Vogel (on saxes, clarinetsm keyboards and vocals), both of the original band; accompanied by newer members on bass, drums and guitars.

Now, BRI is quite eclectic, and yet it sounds coherent. Starting with The Who styled guitar chords topped by saxes and harmonica, the opening "Tiden om tiden" ("Time on time") seem to continue thriving on that ultimate rock spirit of The Who, which is both energetic and clever. "Cafe Blahat" follows with some lounge music, allowing Vogel to demonstrate his sensitive side, before "Sig det" ("Say it") spices up that same vibe with backbeat and a lengthy, versatile electric guitar solo, setting the stage for the jazz-rock instrumental "M 144" (also the title of the band's 1969 debut), which blends all of the preceding elements - the rock drive, the sensitive smoothness and the jazzy articulation - with ease and style into a gorgeous 6 minute piece.

The buildup continues, as "Alting var bedre" adds some country flavors into the electrifying blues rock, "Mind the gap" echoes late Steely Dan soul numbers (female background vocals included), and so on, until Aske Jacoby seals things up with an emotive, rock guitar solo on "Air II."

BRI proves Burnin Red Ivanhoe as vital as ever, and if you like crossover rock music, this is one album you should get. (8/10)

 

 

 

 
9/10 Avi
 

FANARAS, CHRISTOS - Impermanence - CD - Adaadat - 2014

While we are no experts regarding Electronica, it has struck us that the successful ambient Electronica attempts are those that manage to portray a world in an organic manner. These are typically continuous (as opposed to discrete) strokes of imaginative sonics harnessed to deliver a mood, a setting and at times even an incident.

"Impermanence," by Christos Fanaras, is such an attempt. By using vintage, analog synthesizers Fanaras invokes a gratifying, absorbing auditorial experience akin to Klaus Schulze's 70s space music, without sounding dated (if anything, it is futuristic). Running continuously for 44 minutes, this composition can be entrancing, intimidating, moderately noisy and equally lovely, and totally displaces the listener unto a new world (which is not totally unlike our own, but perhaps less cultured and tamed)

If you don't believe us, the guys at Adaadat are kind enough to offer it as a free download, so hear it for yourself: http://www.adaadat.co.uk/mp3/christosfanaras_impermanence.mp3 . (9/10)

 

 

 

 
7/10 Avi
 

OLIVER DAWSON SAXON - Blood and Thunder Live - CD - Angel Air Records - 2014

Recorded across Europe and England in 2013, this live release is obviously of particular interest to Saxon fans. These will find the raw, unrefined yet somewhat cliched hard rock spirit of the band in full capacity here.

The sound is not exactly of high definition, but it is a full range recording that at the right volume (crank it up!) should give you a trustful and energetic auditory experience (we have to admit we've never been to a Saxon gig, but we've been to quite a few others to know).

While the momentum is not always kept up, there's plenty here to enjoy: from the stormy, first song, "Past The Point" (from the band's effort recorded under the name Son Of A Bitch which was reviewed in issue 74) with its Dio riff ripoff, to Saxon classics such as the midtempo "Crusader" (does anyone else notice the similarity in melody to Dio's "Last In Line"?), the pseudo blues "Redline" (complete with twin guitar instrumental section) and the monumental "Denim and Leather."

These and others are performed with the authentic hard rock attitude and most importantly - some exciting guitar playing (solos included) that is as melodic as it is wild. If you are a sucker for 80s hard rock and particularly NWOBHM you just can't go wrong with this one hour pack. (7/10)

 

 

 

 
9/10 Avi
 

DESCEND - Wither - CD - Inverse Records - 2014

Opeth fans - this one's for you. These fellow Swedes move from brutal to gentle with the same agility Opeth does (or at least did, before giving up some of its death metal identity). The lyrics are less epic compared with Opeth's, and offer more direct, existential reflections. Fittingly, the vocals are, for the most part, growls, and quite accomplished ones as they manage to convey the horror while still being decipherable.

A warm production as well as some beautifully integrated clean and acoustic guitar sections ballance the high technical proficiency and rhythmic inferno, with drum blasts dancing as in a ritual, and the guitars - with lead duties shared between the band's two guitraists - ripping with both devastating and melodic leads.

"Wither" is the second, full length by Descend (we're curious to know if the first one is as good as this one!), and it's quite surprising we have not heard about this band until now, as this band is clearly a rising force which we wish the rest of the metal community will soon discover. (9/10)

[Our Gut Feeling on this release is available here]

 

 

 

 
7.8/10 Avi
 

DIALETO - The Last Tribe - CD - MoonJune Records - 2013

We can't really remember the last time we've heard such a high quality, new instrumental rock before this one arrived.

This Brazilian trio (guitar, touch guitar mainly in bass role and drums) delivers fantastic, composition based (as opposed to improvisation based) rock instrumentals that rely mostly on the electric guitar for drive and melody (they were all written by guitar player Nelson Coelho).

This is the band's third release, and the pieces here are detailed, and offer just enough progression to keep the interest throughout (no mean feat, considering the stylistic one track mind), while clinging on to the clear and clean, modern day rock aesthetics, favoring metallic sharpness over classic rock's blues leaning.

The aforementioned merits can also be a disadvantage. It's all a matter of taste, and those seeking bold, new frontiers are unlikely to find them here unless they are willing to settle for the touch guitar sonics as a refreshment to the rock trio format.

However, those who are looking for more guitar dominated instrumentals that are free of transient trends (it is modern sounding, but in a natural way), full of passion and delicacy as well as intelligently storming, will definitely find plenty of them in the music of Coelho and Co. (7.8/10)

 

 

 

 
5.5/10 Avi
 

DISCIPLINE X - Wasted In Hollywood - CD - Inverse Records - 2014

Finland's Discipline X offers melodic thrash with a punk attitude in its first full length release. Think of very early Metallica mixed with The Misfits. The production is a bit dilettante, and surprisingly it does not necessarily help in conveying a raw attitude, but instead reveals the band's limitations.

However, the material here is not half bad, and the performance is enthusiastic, resulting in a fun and somewhat delinquent listening. The punk twist to the thrash is quite vital, and the melodic guitar work is to the point, adding color and some musical nobility to the fast songs. Most notably, the guitar solos don't sound as generic as you would expect (by genre association) and hold certain interest as well as correspond with the rest of the music. (5.5/10)

 

 

 

 
8.5/10 Avi
 

DISTORTED HARMONY - Chain Reaction - CD - Indie - 2014

There's a lot of commonality between Distorted Harmony in its second release and the softer, American supergroup Flying Colors. "Hollow," the sixth song, illustrates this clearly: the vocals on this song (and on others here) are reminiscent of Casey McPherson's, and their sensitive pop orientation is crucial to the song's grip; the modern production is also comparable, augmenting the accessibility as it processes the music with fashionable tones while maintaining a wall of sound as a backdrop (mostly by use of electronic keyboard sounds).

All of the above is accomplished without overclouding the melody and the blistering, shredded rhythms, resulting in a robust yet effectively humane assault, which leans more towards nu-metal and Tool (though more extreme, as "Children Of Red" demonstrates) than towards Dream Theater, as opposed to the band's 2012 debut "Utopia" (even though one can still clearly recognize that old influence in various places such as the instrumental section of "Misguided").

Distorted Harmony's dramatic tendencies might definitely appeal to fans of Pain Of Salvation. Also, there are enough crunchy and crushing sections, not to mention dynamics and technical proficiency (sample the stormy introduction of "Natural Selection"), to satisfy just about any progressive metal fan; that is as long as he/she is willing to deal with the slick production and other tuneful elements that not only hint at the desire of mainstream acceptance but also help in distinguishing the Israeli band from its contemporaries worldwide. (8.5/10)

[Our Gut Feeling on this release is available here]

 

 

 

 
8/10 Avi
 

GODSPEED YOU! BLACK EMPEROR - 'Allelujah! Don't Bend! Ascend! - CD - Constellation Records - 2012

On this latest release by post-rock innovators Godspeed You! Black Emperor, the band retains its atmospheric yet catastrophic sound with two, nearly twenty minute centerpieces, rounded up by two shorter (yet not short at all), more meditative, ambient numbers.

The first of the lengthier pieces - the opening "Mladic" - finds the band's draggy maneuvers being colored, and at a certain point even accelerated with Middle Eastern flavored motifs that are both rhythmically and melodically engaging. It's almost like the band reinvented itself, maintaining its signature sound while incorporating exotic and memorable, song-like hooks.

The second central composition, "We Drift Like Worried Fire" evolves slowly into a minimalist, mid-tempo symphony that has a post black metal flavor in its tension and sonic backdrop, akin to the ensemble's previous works and yet still fresh. (8/10)

[Our Gut Feeling on this release is available here]

 

 

 

 
a sign of things to come/10 Avi
 

SOLSTICE - Death's Crown Is Victory - CD - Into The Void Records - 2013

Solstice ain't no new band, mind you! It has released two full lengths and an EP in the '90s, but from what we've sampled, this EP is the one that hits the jackpot. It's mostly that crunchy heaviness, coupled with some mighty guitar riffs and, perhaps above all, the Messiah Marcolin styled vocals of the new - and to us their best to date - front man, with all their pathos.

Two mighty songs uncover old school doom, armed with the epic songwriting, the right attitude and the pathos. Apart from the crunchy sound, there's nothing modern about this. It's true - the two songs are wrapped with two lesser instrumentals, which work as scene-setters but we would have prefered to hear them as a basis for more songs.

Running for less than half an hour, we can't wait until Solstice puts out an entire album of songs, as their music is just the way we think doom metal should be. (Hopefully a sign of things to come/10)

[Our Gut Feeling on this release is available here]

 

 

 

 
8.8/10 Avi
 

MACHINE MASS FEAT. DAVE LIEBMAN - Inti - CD - MoonJune Records - 2014

We raved about Machine Mass Trio's "As Real As Thinking" in our previous issue. Now, this is no longer a trio (hence, abbreviated to Machine Mass) as Michel Delville (guitar, guitar synth and electronics) and Tony Bianco (drums, loops and percussion) continue on their own.

Wait! Actually, they're not on their own. They recruited veteran sax player Dave Liebman, and he truly shines as an avant garde jazz player here. All the characteristics we admired in the previous release are still here: the profound and live use of loops and technology that provides details and, at times, make the music sound as if it was played by full ensemble; the fluency and articulation set in active ambience and the versatility demonstrated.

However, and perhaps due to the presence of Liebman onboard, the music here is more jazz oriented, in its theme exploration sense, and slightly less climactic (actually, some of the tracks just fade out, and we were really disappointed to find the closing track ending this way). That's a change, but not necessarily a minus.

The chops here are simply amazing: Bianco is a drummer in a league of his own, being so busy and yet sounding so at ease and light, as he nourishes the sonic fabric with regal sounds while allowing his companions the breath of air. As for Delville - his electric guitar playing sounds so vital employing rock tempers into curved leading phrases or plain revelry, but it is just as mesmerizing when it is used to augment that same sonic fabric with Bianco.

Liebman, an experienced and adventurous player, integrates smoothly, either by employing his creative soloing or by teaming up with Delville - and both forms can be heard in full glory on "LLoyd." His performance is full of passion and curiosities, coloring the music with his tenor sax, soprano sax or wooden flute (the latter is utilized on the only non-original piece here - an Eastern flavored cover of Miles Davis' "In A Silent Way"). Liebman feels like an organic part of the performing unit (rather than a stellar guest), and all parties involved should be given credit for this.

Only the song "The Secret Place," which includes overly fancy vocals by Saba Tewelde (to an attractive ambience featuring theremin-like sounds), prevents this from being a perfect instrumental offering. But that's a minor fault, considering the amount of music here to absorb. (8.8/10)

 

 

 

 
5/10 Avi
 

GEORGE, ROBIN - History - CD - Angel Air Records - 2014

Robin George's close musical resemblance to Tommy Bolin serves him right, as Bolin left big shoes to fill (in his particular niche), and George definitely picked up on Bolin's slick and somewhat funky pop-rock legacy with style and talent.

This release compiles a number of demos recorded between 1979 and 1981. Dave Holland, of Judas Priest fame, was handling the drums at the time, and some other noteworthy guests - such as Phil Lynott and Mel Collins - appear here, supporting George who is handling the guitars and vocals.

Unfortunately, the quality of the recordings is very problematic. While everything is loud and clear and the music's fashionable vibe is apparent, so is the aging of the tape which was used to capture it: aside from a terrible hiss, there are also discrepancies in speed within the tracks, and the sonics feel limited, occasionally making the songs all the more cheesy. Robin George completists will definitely want this (the neoclassical flavored closing instrumental, "Charlotte Starlight," is a prime example of the gems one can find here), but if you're a casual listener you will be better looking elsewhere (for another, actual Robin George album, such as the 1985 Dangerous Music, reviewed in issue #72). (5/10)

 

 

 

 
7/10 Avi
 

CLYNES, SUSAN - Life Is... - CD - MoonJune Records - 2014

Life Is... starts promisingly with a title track that introduces the somewhat fragile yet definitely determined Susan Clynes advising us to make something out of life.

Apart from the courage of releasing new material recorded in live setting, there's beauty and intamicy in the clarity of this live recording, and these allow Clynes's direct voice to shine with its tenderly delivered semi-cliches. The performance is engaging, dominated by Clynes' piano (the sole instrument on the track except her voice).

"A Good Man" follows and sadly does not live to the promise of the opening song. It is here that we discover our preference for songs of a personal, first person perspective over her half-baked tales about others (as is the case in this second track). Apart of the content, the live setting's advantage collapses and disappoints on this track: Clynes makes a mistake when she starts singing one of the verses, and when she fails she restarts the verse, breaking the fluency. Furthermore, her vocals seem slightly forced on this number (which finds her supported by a rhythm section), and this is apparent near the end when she tries a vocal maneuver which simply does not work. This one should have been left out.

Luckily, things get back on track with "Childhood Dreams," on which Clynes finds a common, creative language with Simon Lenski's aching cello (Lenski is consistently responsible for some of the album's most daring moments, such as its finale), but something's not quite working on "Ileana's Song," on which she teams again with a rhythm section (perhaps because the song is just too damn sweet).

Despite being too aware of herself, never really drowning in her own songs like Fiona Apple (she does come close on "When You're Dead," and that brave performance certainly striked our chords), Clynes has an appealing quality that can make you fall in love with her. Not just because of her vocals - her piano playing, which has some modern jazz leanings aside its song-like sensitivity, can also be lush and sweeping, as the nine minute instrumental "Les Larmes" (featuring voice, piano and cello wrapped with chamber music aesthetics) brightly demonstrates. (7/10)

 

 

 

 
9/10 Avi
 

UNIVERS ZERO - Phosphorescent Dreams - CD - Arcangelo - 2014

Released by the Japanese label Arcangelo, this latest musical offering by Belgium's premier avant rock ensemble is, in a way, a return to the basics.

After the 2010 Clivages (on Cuneiform Records) found the band elaborating its classical chamber music themes with some brighter and more acoustic tones and instruments, bringing fresh and new vibes (check out that album's "Soubresauts" and "Three Days" off that album for a taste), it is now back to reverberating with the electric. New recruits Antoine Guenet (of The Wrong Object and SH.TG.N) and Nicolas Dechene - handling keyboards and guitars respectively - join Dimitri Evers (on bass), saxophonist Kurt Bude and leader and drummer Daniel Denis in portraying the music of Denis and Bude with that mystifying, foggy timbre.

And indeed, Phosphorescent Dreams is true to its title (coming to think of it, Univers Zero is quite good in naming their releases according to content). These tracks aren't as nightmarish as Univers Zero's reputation might lead you to thinking; but instead these are marvelous, nocturnal, dream-like instrumentals that hover over you with intriguingly intricate sounds, memorable melodic lines and rewarding patience. "Les Voleurs d'Ombre" for example, sounds like a surreal ball, and as Univers Zero cleverly applies appropriate shades to the instruments while flirting with atonality you can vividly imagine ghosts dancing tango around you in some abandoned castle.

Still playful, the music here isn't meant to shock you as much as it is to lead you into a vague state of mind - one which can ease worldly matters and allow you to follow into transcendence and comfortably accept the surreal as a complementary side of existence. "L'Espoir Perdu" definitely demonstrates this: the overall, plaintive mood is dictated by Daniel Denis' slow march and the ominous trombone shades, and as the entire ensemble leads you through down a funeral, the featured, lyrical trumpet (which alludes to Kenny Wheeler's) acts as a comforting force.

Repeatedly revisiting this release, we found that it has a haunting force that lasts long after the music's over. (9/10)

 

 

 

 
9.5/10 Avi
 

UT GRET - Ancestors' Tale - CD - Altrock - 2014

This new release by Ut Gret had a strange appeal when we first played it. "Strange" - because we could not attribute it to the tonality of band's sound, which is not unlike many others', and while the music was indeed lush it seemed hardly groundbreaking.

Yep, we have come to expect ingenuity when it comes to avant-progressive releases, and yet we could not care less about it here, when we did not find it on the surface.

But then we realised - Ut Great's greatness is in its latent ingenuity. There's hardly anything forced in the band's lively compositions, which blend jazz, rock and avant garde with rhythmic complexity and harmonious arrangements. These are performed fluently, with natural sound that might even appeal to fans of classical music who prefer clean esthetics (and who will definitely find inspiring movements in this recording); and enwrap the listener with comfortable and colorful auditorial visions.

The opening title track, with its rare breeze, sounds like a expanded take on the wonderful, early incarnation of Return To Forever, as it is enriched with full strings and horns orchestration. This is a proper introduction to the delicate, luring adventures ahead, some of which has more room for free improvisations as a leading vehicle while some - like the King Crimson derived "Zodiac" (complete with mellotron!) - accentuate the progressive rock elements.

Guest vocalist Cheyenne Mize is a major asset in this recording, making the elaborate songs all the more accessible and humanly warm. Her role on "Selves Unmade," for example, is crucial to the hypnotic impressionism of our life cycle which this piece evokes with its horns (flutes, bassoon and clarinets), and we sure hope to hear her featured in future Ut Gret releases.

A lovely booklet makes the CD purchase all the more essential. Go get it! (9.5/10)

 

 

 

 
9.5/10 Avi
 

REIJA, XAVI - Resolution - CD - MoonJune Records - 2014

Spanish drummer Xavi Reija might be a master of the acoustic kit, but this release is electrifying as hell.

Together with Dusan Jevtovic on guitar and Bernat Hernandez on bass, Reija repeatedly forms "a zone" throughout this extensive, 77 minute release. And this is not a comfort zone, mind you; it's a zone of ultra tight musical conversation, rich with articulation, freedom and understanding, and - on the immediate level - it is a zone of persistent, determined groove. Just sample "Dreamer," and let its Electronic music styled vibe get you unconsciously dancing on your feet with its drum and bass, as the track evolves through hazy and noisy, almost free form guitar ranting to nearly chaotic scenes (nearly - as the groove is always well maintained and nourished) bordering not only on post rock, but also on industrial metal.

There is an abundant yet meticulous use of electronic effects here, which helps invigorating the tracks (and as a result the listener), coloring them afresh and acting as an inherent part of the composition. Such an example can be heard on the opening "Flying To Nowhere," where at some point the feedback and overdrive seem to cause fragmentation that introduces dissonance to the otherwise inseparable melody and groove.

If you like fiery instrumental music that is based on openness, creativity, talent and tuneful harmony, "Resolution" is for you. (9.5/10)

[Our Gut Feeling on this release is available here]

 

 

 

 
3/10 Avi
 

DEATHPOINT - Sinister - CD - Spread The Metal - 2013

Canada''s Deathpoint might have potential, but we fail to see it as it in this sophomore release, as it is buried deep under the poor production.

Clearly, an attempt was made at music which holds a good blend of groove metal and metalcore, with only a moderate yet sensible sense of melody. This type of music requires nothing less than punctuate, clear and still forceful production; but the production on Sinister doesn''t hit that - the album sounds like a complete mess!

The melodic guitar work is left in the back, which prevents anyone from being impressed with it, the vocals suffer from a similar problem as they are not balanced to maintain their effect, and the rhythms are evident but not accurate enough to get a tight, unconsciously driving grip on the listener.

Worst of all, the music doesn''t even sound authentic - it sounds like a cut and paste mosaic of sounds and notes recorded separately and assembled to form songs. The high notes are especially disturbing as they sound compressed and artificial (which might be due to the quality of the promotional material we got, but if so - it''s totally not our fault!). Sure, the music here is relentless, but it all sounds the same. So much in fact that at times it just sounds like noise. (3/10)

 

 

 

 
8.5/10 Avi
 

WRONG OBJECT, THE - After The Exhibition - CD - MoonJune Records - 2013

Led by master guitarist Michel Delville (who happens to be one of the finest jazz/rock guitar musicians around; be sure to check out our reviews of Machine Mass releases!), Belgium's The Wrong Object welcomes some new members on board for this release, including keyboardist Antoine Guenet (leader of SH.TG.N and recently of Univers Zero).

Despite being the exception in being a song (featuring Susan Clynes - whose recent release is also reviewed in this issue - as a guest vocalist for this duet) rather than an instrumental, it is actually "Glass Cubes" that we choose to describe The Wrong Object's musical identity with. There's a clear, jazzy piano phrasing driving this relatively easygoing number, but it evolves with a preset rock setting as well as a theme exploration (with avant garde ranting) that seem to be disciplined and orchestrated rather than improvised. The way this song unfolds throughout over eight minutes - while having somewhat of a naive, Karen Mantler-like vibe - contributes to its accomplishment as a progressive, climactic outing.

But then again, if you are in any way responsive to music, there must be something wrong with you if you got that far ("Glass Cubes" is the eight track) and were not convinced by then. It is enough to have one go at the opening "Detox Gruel," with its blazing and drum-punctuated yet hymnal attack of saxes (by the band's two reed players) matched and intersected by Delville's mighty guitar distortions, or at the modern Klezmer-styled "Spanish Fly" with its gurgling bass, to become addicted to this intelligently organized and equally driving music. (8.5/10)

 

 

 

 
9/10 Avi
 

ELECTRIC ZOO - Diamonds In The Sand - CD - HaRaKe - 2013

The debut album by Electric Zoo offers the kind of Retro Rock that really takes you back in time, almost as back as the late 1960s. Now, Retro Rock can be frustrating, as usually it results in no more than esthetic rehash of old, often lacking imagination and soul; but Diamonds In The Sand is certainly not that case. While Electric Zoo does restore the sounds of old it does this naturally and as a way of staying true to the original, classic rock heritage.

The songs are simply lovely - memorable, somewhat minimal and mostly fun, and they are driven by creative guitar playing and a production that allows the songs to breathe with slightly psychedelic echoes of Cream as opposed being crammed. There is the sense of freedom here that can (and does) bring forth a spot-on guitar solo that does not sound technical even for a split second, but instead acts as a mood setter for the song and the listener; and the entire joy of playing blues based rock is well apparent and commendable.

"Nothing In The World" alone should have most electric blues rock fans hooked with its flirt between The Who''s take on "Young Man Blues" and Fleetwood Mac''s "Oh Well." Who would have thought that in 2013 it would be an Israeli band who would revive the classic British rock legacy so faithfully?! (9/10)

 

 

 

 
9.3/10 Avi
 

PIXEL - We Are All Small Pixels - CD - Cuneiform Records - 2013

From the lovely, inviting statement of the opening edge "Be Mine" Pixel sounds like the promise of modern pop jazz. Actually, forget about promises - this Norwegian(!) band is the face of modern popular jazz: it is vital, it is memorable and tuned to the gently orchestrated, small ensemble jazz. Just listen to the deliciously "Edge" - Jazz''s answer to contemporary R&B (what a cool groove!) - and see for yourself.

Furthermore, all of the above is achieved while staying true to the artistic freedom of jazz in form of angular deviations as well as mellow, inspiring European jazz styled vibes. The former is evident in "Daylight," with its bright and propulsive modern jazz (and specifically, its scorching horns - make sure you wait until the end!), while the latter trait is presented clearly on the ECM flavored "Farris," which at times sounds as lyrical as Tomasz Stanko''s music with its featured trumpet.

The typically song-centered music is executed with the required technical proficiency. "Easter Song," for example, benefits from the circular breathing sax playing technique, and throughout the album leader Ellen Andrea Wang sings her lyrics in perfect interlock with the vivid horns (and she''s a lovely singer that makes you fall in love with the songs, kind of like the jazzy twin sister of former The Gathering vocalist Anneke van Giersbergen) as well as utilizes her voice nonverbally as an instrument, which enhances the openness of the entire work.

These technical aspects are never just for the sake of demonstrating technical skill - they are used naturally and effortlessly, and merely as tools to enhance the songs/compositions. Nothing here sounds forced and nothing feels like a compromise, and this is hardly ever the case with music which relies on pop sensibility as a prime attraction, and that is exactly why we consider this album truly exceptional. (9.3/10)

 

 

 

 
8.5/10 Avi
 

MUSK OX - Woodfall - CD - Indie - 2014

Led by guitarist Nathanael Larochette (who contributed to the latest Agalloch release The Serpent & The Sphere), Musk Ox is (in this album's lineup) a Canadian neofolk trio of classical guitar, cello and violin.

This second full length release by the band is an instrumental, classical music styled suite in five parts. 65 minutes of acoustic music, with no disguises and no production tricks; just the compositions and the performers' skills. Musk Ox is loyal to the original aesthetics of classical music (in stark contrast to Helen Money, whose Arriving Angels is also reviewed in this issue), and we can honestly appreciate this rare preference of clarity and perfection.

The modernity of the music is not so much in its nature as it is in its underlying, lurking rock/metal background, enhancing the appeal. In fact, the music here is of a clear romantic nature, as it relies on its overt, natural beauty, expressed through moving, elaborated yet intimate movements. The second part ("Windswept"), for example, opens with a blend of bowed strings and picked guitar that has songlike, gently hypnotising rock grip, while the fifth ("Serenade the Constellations," arguably the best section here) offers - by means of brilliant composition maneuvers separating and rebuilding unison lines - some moments striking with harmonic majesty.

Musk Ox might take another release or two in order to fully realise its compositional potential and deliver a work that is consistently fascinating throughout. Still, Woodfall is enchanting, and despite being an independent release it comes with a gorgeous booklet, which makes the CD purchase all the more worthwhile. (8.5/10)

 

 

 

 
9/10 Avi
 

FEM - Sulla Bolla Di Sapone - CD - Fading Records - 2014

The Italian band Forza Elettromotrice has a clear agenda: reviving the 70s progressive rock scene. It therefore uses an abbreviation for its name - FEM (like one of the primary Italian prog-rock exports PFM), and - just to make sure we get - it also adds "Prog band" to match it. Now, the band's use of classical music tools seems to be done by second hand transfer from the founding generation (as opposed to the direct influence which that generation absorbed), but otherwise FEM has managed to create one of the best Italian progressive rock albums we have ever heard.

Sulla Bolla Di Sapone, the band's first full length release, is based on a novel by the German author Kurd Lasswitz, and works as a conceptual piece, even if one doesn't take the Italian lyrics into account (and in case you are worried about these, they are available in both Italian and English form in the booklet for you to follow).

The sounds may definitely be considered a worthy hommage to the vintage 70s progressive rock Italian sound, especially thanks to the magnificent recreation of keyboard carpets (by Alberto Citterio), but at the same time there is a modern twist to it. The sixth track, "Incontro Con I Saponiani," adds - for the first but not the last time on the album - a prog-metal attack; "Nella Citta" offers modern electric guitar tones on top of the classic keyboards sounds, and "Reviviscenza" has a jazz-rock feature that does not at all seem out of place.

"Il Signore Dei Pensanti" is notable for its extensive orchestration, quoting from Genesis (a common thing amongst Italian prog bands) while wrapping the influences with a big and modern, symphonic sound.

In case it wasn't clear by now, there's excellent songwriting here. The music and songs are highly likely to keep playing in your head after several listens. Furthermore, FEM also has a great frontman (Massimo Sabbatini), which balances the melodramatic tendencies of old with passionate and articulate expressions. His ability to deliver the narrative is admirable (listen to "Processo Alla Verita") and makes the album all the more engaging. (9/10)

 

 

 

 
7.7/10 Avi
 

WRUPK UREI - Koik Saab Korda (reissue) - CD - Altrock - 2014

This is a confusing (but not confused) blend of jazz-rock and prog-rock. With the introduction and heavy punctuation of the opening title track the band is trying to trick us into thinking that there's a dark affair up ahead. Soon, however, the second track reveals a much more joyous offering - the age of blossom is here as the course of action takes a clearer jazz-rock direction and relies on mischievous guitar.

However, the jazz-rock ahead is not always empowering enough - the underlying fabric, despite featuring baritone saxophone and trombone - is at times not vital enough, and the guitar sound and playing feel too familiar. Luckily the next track - "Veenuse Koopas" - introduces some animal-like effects, adding color and fun to the equation.

Wrupk Urei's agenda keeps evolving as this instrumental album continues, mostly keeping a modern heading with cosmic upbeats not totally unlike Jagga Jazzist, as "Vahemalt 500 noukogude tanki" demonstrates. On both "Kriminaalne Venemaa" and "Sai Ju Raagitud!" the band is rollicking to a new millenium keyboard fabric - the first one sounds like a take on The Rolling Stones (complete with a reference to "Sympathy For The Devil"; oh and The Beatles also seems to be alluded on the album, via the tonality and composition of the closing track "Spirituaal"), while the latter features a drive that could have adorned Pearl Jam's more out there songs from "Vitalogy".

Still, there's something missing in that modern, keyboard dominated electronic texture (perhaps it's just that we still have the impressions of Mahogany Frog's masterpiece "Senna," which we reviewed for the previous issue), and we feel that it might have been advisable to give more room for the acoustic instruments in creating the underlying surface and tune down the keys a bit.

This album is quite abnormal in the Altrock Productions repertoire (even though it's getting harder to characterize the Italy-based label's releases, they often maintain a stronger progressive or avant garde identity rather than the jazz rock demonstrated here). Even physically, it is packed in an atypical (to the label) double panel cardboard, marking that this is actually an international repressing of the band's 2012 release. According to the band's Bandcamp page, it has already released a second album, and we hope Altrock will soon place it in the international spotlight as well, as we're curious to hear if and how the band managed to tweak its lively, colorful music. (7.7/10)

 

 

 

 
7/10 Avi
 

PAS MUSIQUE - Abandoned Bird Egg - CD - Alrealon Musique - 2013

This album features experimental electronic music comprising field recordings, concise and typically repetitive use of instruments as well as their manipulation, holding some eclectic grooves.

This can be entrancing (as in "The Light Inside"), weird (with "Dark Canopy" transforming into electronic oddities after its gorgeously melodic opening bass line is over), mysterious ("Something Indescribable"), sonically interesting ("You Are Who You Are"), songlike ("Modern Witchcraft" or "Esoteric Funk Classic" with its wah-wah styled effect vocalizing to the beat of drums and distortion) or any combination of the above.

If you are curious of how expressive yet seemingly impertinent sounds can be fabricated into a mindfucking listening, this one's for you.(7/10)

 

 

 

 
7/10 Chaim
 

DARKTRANCE - Pessimum - CD - Bad Mood Man Music - 2013

This one has been hanging in the balance between being thrown off the cliff and insidiously crawling into this reviewer's personal, hall of fame of music; but now, after finally listening to Pessimum for the first time with full attention, one has to admit this album has definitely got its moments. Although it isn't, by any means, a masterpiece, with Pessimum, Darktrance has secured a place in the hall of inventiveiness, by mixing genres and styles and experimenting with paradigm shifts in the very perception of metal music.

This is not how a metal album should sound; the recording has a big-label production value, everything is polished and crisp and crystalline pure, like a virgin snowflake, and thinking this is a one-man effort, the amount of technological gear that had been utilized in order to record this spacey, hazy, estranged little album was surely extensive. Solitude Productions, the mother label of BadMoodMan Music, apparently spared no effort in order to bring this recording into being. But the sound is definitely that of a Sci-Fi motion picture soundtrack - futuristic and a tad pop-oriented - and not that of a metal album. It's just too enamored with the popular culture sound of big rock 'n' roll bands playing endlessly on MTV.

But that's probably the charm of Pessimum: it sounds at times like a pop/rock album for the smartphone kids out there, yet it retains a dark and pessimistic (as the album's title suggests) halo; the interesting shift between death and black metal, through dark futuristic rock and electronica, to Goth-tinged post-punk and dark 80's pop (think of the German band Propaganda, or The Cure, for instance) - is the engine of the whole recording.

Every aesthetic, style, genre or hybridization Pessimum passes through, has its unique twist and is the personal interpretation of the artist behind Darktrance. Nothing on this album is pure breed, and even the utterly mesmerizing screams (that are only one type of singing out of several) - as unique and heartfelt as they are - are somewheres between black metal screeches and hardcore shouts; a strange brew, but one that surprisingly works here, like so many other aspects throughout the album. If separated the vocals may sound goofy, cheesy or misplaced, but once they appear in the context of the whole album (and being treated by the hands of the talented Dimitry Gubsky), these "dark spots" in the music actually sound refreshing and compliment the music well enough.

For the open-minded consumers of extreme music, Pessimum could be a nice retreat from the casual: it's sort of a crash-course through almost every extreme musical genre out there - metal, Gothica, post punk, electronica, dark pop - and it handles most of the material quite well while adding a fresh angle to every style in question. Plus, there's a saxophone, and a saxophone is always cool and welcome.

So, have you ever wondered what Alastis would have sounded like had they joined forces with The Cure, and as a conscious, collective, stylistic move decided upon being the wildest, most imaginative and outrageously subversive anti-everything metal? We know you haven't, because such petty thoughts are not of your concern... However if this review has somehow piqued your interest - Pessimum is the best "non-metal" metal album we can recommend to you. (7/10)

 

 

 

 
8.9/10 Chaim
 

ENNUI - Mze Ukunisa - CD - MFL - 2012

For a debut album, Mze Ukunisa - the Georgian duo's maiden recording on the young Russian MFL (Moscow Funeral League) label - is a considerable accomplishment. But after carefully listening to the whole album, you'd probably come to the conclusion this album is better than most out there in the absolute rather than in the relative sense. This album is a mature and profound beast of menace, a devourer of dreams, a bullet straight to the very human soul. Mze Ukunisa is a lengthy recording of the slowest dirges and the heaviest of the black, jagged sonic boulders. It is, for all intents and purposes, a long and somber prayer, not necessarily affiliated with any kind of belief system, but a prayer nonetheless - the album contains something that's insidiously religious, a ceremonial backbone, a looming spiritual aura of some kind that touches the listener and pulls him in.

Like a small child who cannot yet read the texts inside the prayer book (because they are written in a foreign and exotic language like Georgian for instance), his way of worshiping is swaying in synchronism with the human, holy acapella of mouths muttering words of faith and fear, so is the adventure of listening to almost 80 minutes found in this relentless recording. Since the texts are indeed written in the beautiful yet totally enigmatic fonts of the Georgian language (somewhat poetic English translations to the song lyrics are enclosed, but these cannot be followed, for obvious reasons - they are not the original texts), one's sit through the whole sonic excursion measures to the experience of a man who's in a state of religious introspect, almost a state of meditation, ascending with the spiritual force he has just reawakened within himself.

So there you are left, intellectually naked under a barrage of transcending sounds; pummeling and uplifting both with their crushing beyond-heavy heaviness and their gentler, stargazing moments of bliss and divine beauty. Despite the album's considerable length, the songs have been wisely constructed so as to avoid boredom or desensitization of any kind. This album is varied and interesting enough; the compositions are passing through some of the most harrowing, bleak landscapes yet carrying at all times that banner of a deep religious experience, of spiritual and pure solitude - a sense of worshiping something that is greater than all of us, combined.

Ennui are a funeral doom band of a different breed. These guys are geniuses in writing super-cool, super-intelligent songs and most of all they have patience; each song evolves oh-so-slowly, carefully revealing its dazzling beauty, one color at a time. So in the end we're left with a zenith of exploding emotions and a turmoil of clashing sentiments - a catharsis of sorts, like the one that's being felt at the very conclusion of either a deep meditation or a profound religious state of mind.

The busy yet intimate sounds are conveyed by a couple of good instrument handlers, since everything sounds organic and live - from the drums to the abysmal growls to the spellbinding keyboard strokes - and so the music inflates, powered by an engine in the form of distorted, razor-sharp, down-tuned electric guitars, until it is all around you with enormity that is hard to grasp, as the notes carry you far away from the here and now.

This patience of slowly making each song develop until it becomes a full-blown, dark, aural essence that blocks the very sunlight, demands the same patience on the listener's end, and should he/she indulge the beckoning sound waves with patience of his/her own - we guarantee a reward: one of today's most exciting metal albums. On Mze Ukunisa both heaven and hell meet to perform their annual good Vs. evil duel; all you have to do is sit back, close your eyes, open your ears and enjoy a good fight. (8.9/10)

 

 

 

 
8/10 Chaim
 

INTO DARKNESS - Into Darkness - CD - Hellthrasher Productions - 2013

Released as a demo a year prior to the CD version, Into Darkness make this first recording a gem of metallic art that is as impressive as it is crude. Given the quality of this demo, no wonder three labels had released it on three(!) different formats: a tape, a CD and a 12" vinyl.

This is some good shit, right here: ancient, corroded, dirty metal that roams the scale between doom-laden death metal and bestial outbursts of speed akin to black metal's most ferocious moments. This old-school-ish, dark album of vintage-sounding twisted metal is done by a couple of tough-looking young women and a dude, and if you think women have no place in extreme metal, or that they are incapable of handling the most extreme aspects of it - especially in the vocal department - you are strongly advised to listen to Into Darkness, for it will most likely prove you wrong.

The general aesthetic of this short album shifts between the Bolt Thrower grinding war-themed murk and the sick, rotten darkness of Asphyx; let's call this style of music "Graveyard Metal," as it is truly an adequate title for this orchestrated depravity. The cavernous, unclean death metal on display is governed by a distinctive black metal atmosphere; a volatile, granular buzzing sound that paints everything here with a monochromatic, aural starless night.

The music is rich and varied, the riffs are exquisitely potent and menacing, the speed of the songs alternates radically between the slowest, most plodding doom, to blasting black metal whirlwinds. No matter where you look, you will hear a metallic beast with a sinister agenda, obsessing over celestial bodies and grand space-bound cataclysms.

Into Darkness take metal, as if by a time-machine, some twenty odd years into the past, to an era in which the dark and atmospheric type of metal had been conceived; first by Celtic Frost and later by the aforementioned Asphyx, and to some extent also by Bolt Thrower. The latter had removed the black metal innuendos from the music completely, substituting it with the band's "grinding" approach - a relic from the its early years, as a blasting, war-time grind/death metal outfit.

Our favorite moments are the slow metallic dirges: they are so gloomy and introspective one cannot but relate to them and drink them up with utter thirst. In addition, they are interesting (for a change) and incessantly progress with an enigma unfolding, making you want to see what lies at the heart of that mystery (leading you into more mystery). So if you're a fan of any sort of grimy, authentic and vintage sounding death metal of the atmospheric yet basic kind, and love your metal guitar-driven and brutish yet intelligent, with lots of riffs, a myriad of velocities and dark moods, then this little rough diamond is where it's at. (8/10)