the underground music magazine    

issue #78 March, 2016

 


Dear Maelstrom readers,

Finally, here is a new Maelstrom issue.

Most of the material featured in this issue was ready in time for our planned release, in the last quarter of 2015. However, due to unfortunate technical difficulties with our web server, the site performed poorly in the last months of 2015, and, furthermore, I was unable to upload new material to our website. I had to take a step back and try to solve the issues (I am extremely disappointed with our hosting service, which apparently caused all of these but took no responsibility).

I would like to apologize for all the artists and labels/promoters for having to wait so long for our coverage, and to our loyal readers for not being there. Hopefully, everything is now as good as it was, and I wish you a smooth and pleasant reading.

If everything goes well, our next issue will come out in late 2016.

 

Yours truly,

Avi Shaked

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4/10 Mladen
 

CAELESTIA - Beneath Abyss - CD - Inverse Records - 2015

Good sound and good musicianship, but the rest is forgettable. Sadly, Caelestia seems to have all the ingredients needed to create a powerful, melodic Death metal album, but, song after song, one just keeps wondering what is the point!

For every part that starts bringing excitement and expectation, there is another one making the listener go "meh...". Good riff, bad riff. Bombastic part, nonsense part. The combination of (mostly) female vocals and (few) male growls could have worked, but the female vocal lines are simply not good enough. Not too good. And the growls?: if there was a point to be made about them, it evaded so quickly in accordance with their impact.

To make matters worse, there is no feeling of coherence. You could simply pull random parts out of the songs and assemble them as new songs, and that would hardly cause a difference. And we haven't even started discussing the lyrics... (4/10)

 

 

 

 
7/10 Mladen
 

STAR INSIGHT - Messera - CD - Inverse Records - 2014

We don't know if "comfortable" was what this Finnish band was looking for, but that's what their debut album is. It's not bombastic, aggressive, progressive, highly memorable or terribly original, but it is comfortable. Messera starts as if it's already been going on for a while, and then simply goes on.

Space-themed, thrashy, industrialized, blackened, half-Gothic half-melodic-Death, Star Insight found a style they enjoy and simply went along with it. While the guitars and drums are simple, the keyboards are fairly inventive, and the songs (mostly mid-tempo, with an occasional melodic line instead of growls) are well written.

It's nothing that you haven't heard before. Still, even if you are a seasoned metalhead, you will probably want to hear Messera again. It has that special "something." A bit of passion, a bit of carelessness, and very little pretentiousness. It's honest. It's nostalgic. It's what it is.

In fact, in Messera Star Insight delivers moments that reminded us of those cult bands few have heard of and, in retrospect, we can't quite understand why they never made it big: moments that make you pay attention, moments in which you wonder with amazement, and moments where you smile. And sometimes, something to make you smile is all you need. Don't wait for it to be vintage - crop it now. (7/10)

 

 

 

 
7.5/10 Mladen
 

TORCHIA - Ending Beginning - CD - Independent - 2015

This album is a killer, if played at the right time.

To this writer, this Finnish crew saved the night. After casual YouTubing to check what's going on in his native Croatia, and realizing everyone "popular" is still trying to sound like a simplified version of something between Pantera and melodic death metal, just like 10 years ago (Ed note: Mladen, you should actually appreciate that; other countries' charts are much pure Pop oriented), I played Torchia, and bingo! This is how it is supposed to be done. Even better, there's no Pantera in it.

This is classy, melodic death metal. No stone left unturned, no riff neglected, no excuses made. Just a three-track demo, but, you can listen to it with headphones, several times in a row, and still enjoy it. There's just so much detail in it; even the simple, thrashing parts are finessed. There's adrenalin but it is never cheesy, and the solos are like real solos should be - memorable.

Originality? Torchia can be put in line with At The Gates or Dark Tranquility in their early days. Furthermore, whereas the two referred bands just threw anything in their songs to make it "progressive" Torchia only threw the good stuff in, and in a wilder manner. Of course, it's still some redundant stuff thrown in, but it is hardly noticeable in the context of this three song recording. Here's hoping Torchia can make a full album out of this - all it takes is some more refinement of the compositions. But please keep the craziness! (7.5/10)

 

 

 

 
8/10 Mladen
 

KOUZIN BEDLAM - Longing for the Incomplete - CD - Inverse Records - 2014

This is what happens when you put together a guy who spent years trying to become the fastest guitarist in the world, his dreamy poetic brother, a guy who collects and sonically abuses keyboards, and a few more forest-dwelling Finns.

No, you're not getting another Stratovarius. You're getting something darker, more serious, and more intriguing. The guitarist actually developed a few other skills apart from just being fast. The keyboard collector found a lot of tasteful sounds. The dreamer can actually sing too. And Longing for the Incomplete became a steamroller of an album. With a rhythm section to match, don't worry.

There's much to hear and experience on this debut. Most of it is not happy, but it doesn't need to be. It's intelligent, well composed, sometimes depressing, sometimes energetic and at times even mocking or arrogant. One thing's for sure: it's never dull. Think of it as progressive, heavy metal with a bit of pop infused. Kouzin Bedlam has made an accomplished album for any kind of music. No obvious hits or misses, other than the lack of an emotional dimension, which is why we recommend trying before buying. (8/10)

 

 

 

 
8.5/10 Mladen
 

MINUTIAN - Inwards - CD - Secret Entertainment - 2014

Elegant, intelligent, captivating and intimate. Listening to this Finnish progressive band's second album is easy. Really easy, if you don't think too hard about it. It simply flows, from quiet to loud, from thought to hope, from experience to safety.

Or, maybe not. Take a closer look. Pay more attention, and you will notice that nothing is as simple as it seems. There's literally nothing simple here - not a straightforward rhythm or a melody on this CD. When you put your mind to it and try to analyze them, things get complicated: the guitar melodies are in strange rhythms; the drums play strange melodies; the singer's voice is powerful and the vocal melodies are excellent, but there's some kind of weird mathematics to the performance.

And yet, the things are so well composed that you will have to pay attention to notice the aforementioned traits. It's up to you to choose upon listening: do I simply enjoy or do I try to figure out what is going on and learn Minutian's methods. You can of course combine the two and get your reward from multiple listening sessions. (8.5/10)

 

 

 

 
6.5/10 Mladen
 

SUMIA - Until We Shine Again - CD - Secret Entertainment - 2014

Ahem. Love songs, and a band that is probably better understood and more enjoyed by women. But let's try. From this writer's perspective, Until We Shine Again is melancholic, full of allusions, impressions, evocations and compliments. It is modern, urban, well made and occasionally progressive. It doesn't make you feel good, and it probably wasn't the point either.

The long songs featured here range from mellow, clean parts to thrashing outbursts (relatively, that is; we're not talking Kreator-styled outbursts here) and are served with some radio-friendliness and late-night, pensive, wondering feeling that characterizes dark metal in its lightest embodiment. The vocals are clean, neither strong nor weak, and even though there is not much personality to them, they make up for it in elaboration. A few of them are quite catchy, but they're hardly original.

The same can be said for the rest of this Finnish band: it's all nice yet somehow safe. Too safe to make an impression. Sumia can get loud and heavy, but we feel that it does not help the band in manifesting its pop narrative. (6.5/10)

 

 

 

 
7/10 Mladen
 

ARS MORIENDI - La Singuliere Noirceur d'un Astre - CD - Archaic Sound - 2014

Instrumentally, this is quite an amazing album. Although not terribly original, this French man's third CD (not counting the demos) is extremely elaborated, atmospheric, and even playful in a good way (depression doesn't necessarily need to be lifeless). Artists will understand this.

It's a combination of driving rhythms, pensive moments, surreal sounds, chants, intricate parts and simple, honest parts. And even if La Singulière Noirceur d'un Astre mostly sounds quite straightforward, with no crazy breaks or memorable mental hooks, it gradually reveals itself into a monster of a story. Life, death, religion, hope, misery, defeat, darkness and glimpses of light, just to trick you.

Ars Moriendi almost made a classic black metal album. Almost, were it not for a few things. First, the vocals - the gargled growls are just not interesting, and even though the lyrics in the booklet (very nice otherwise, with plenty of old-times Black Metal mysticism) seem short, the guy is everywhere. Where there could have been a great, powerful crescendo, a gust of emotions, we get more growls. It's not always the case, but it's enough to make the listener wonder whether the next great moment will come accompanied by an "arrggghhh" or will it be allowed to breathe and fly on its own. Almost any other black metal vocal style would have been better than this. The other objection would be the occasional guitar solos doing the same thing as the vocals - spreading all over, and ruining the magic. Sometimes more is less. (7/10)

 

 

 

 
8/10 Mladen
 

WASP - Golgotha - CD - Napalm Records - 2015

With all the Christian references W.A.S.P. have been doing lately, maybe they are "White Anglo Saxon Protestant" after all? Rock style life, touring, groupies and all that - W.A.S.P are getting old and trying to repent for something done in the past? After all, "god" loves the prodigal son more than the one who never sinned, right? What a comforting thought. Russian Mafia members wearing crosses and giving donations to their church seem to think the same way too.

Apart from this, quite a good album. W.A.S.P. doing what W.A.S.P. do, and not giving a damn (oops, sorry...). The tone is set right from the beginning, with galloping drum rhythms, glowing, ecstatic guitar sound, professional solo guitar fillers, and "the" voice: Blackie Lawless sounds as emotional and poignant as ever, singing every word as he means it, and he sure knows how to write a catchy vocal line.

There is a slight storytelling fee to Golgotha, and after listening to it in its entirety - as laid back and standard as it seems - it just feels complete: you want a rock sing-along stadium anthem, Golgotha has them; you want a power ballad - "Miss You" will get stuck in your head almost as well as "Forever Free" did many years ago; You want surprises - you will get a few, and they're cleverly placed so that you will definitely notice and remember them. That's style! As safe as Golgotha is, it is an album well done. Relax, Blackie, you're not going to hell. No one is. (8/10)

 

Related reviews:
 
Dying for the World (issue No 10)  

 

 

 
8/10 Mladen
 

WARD, THE - Part of Humanity - CD - Metal Scrap Records - 2015

Wanna be impressed by something from Moldova? Nationality, in metal, can mean all or it can mean nothing. The fact that this band is from a less-well known country and that it will probably stay in the underground for that same reason, are a nice bonus. You can get a CD by a band nobody has heard about and have your own little treasure. Or just impress everyone else by playing it to them.

Part of Humanity is explosive. Powerful, bombastic, massive. It is swirling, playful (in a sadistic way) and gloomy - all at the same time. Think about Septicflesh combined with Dimmu Borgir's Spiritual Black Dimensions keyboards, Crematory atmosphere and a bit of industrial. The ideas aren't something you haven't heard before, but The Ward delivers them with such confidence that you will keep wondering who this band is, why and how they are doing this, and how come you haven't heard of them before. Well, you have, right now. If you need to hear some crushing guitars, merciless machinery blast beats, properly majestic keyboards, actually enjoyable growls and an overwhelming atmosphere of Armageddon, look no further. (8/10)

 

 

 

 
8.6/10 Mladen
 

GLORYHAMMER - Space 1992: Rise of the Chaos Wizards - CD - 1031 Records - 2015

To hell with growing up and giving up on being a nerd. It just got more extreme than ever. Maybe even too extreme for the casual bystander, but, someone had to do this. Better them than us, and all that. All we can do is sit back, enjoy, stand up, headbang, laugh, nod, hum along, sit, try to relax, get up, look for our swords, ride the dragon, kill the princess and all that, and then do it all again. And generally enjoy the power metal unicorn warhammer goblin galaxy just the way it was before the 1992 apocalypse. "1992?," we hear you asking? Let's just say it's a time warp thing, too complicated to explain, and leave it at that.

Seriously, this is deliriously great. A parody band, if you wish, with ludicrous lyrics, video game character images to match, and enjoyable songs that are more catchy and contagious than those you've heard by Rhapsody of Fire, Edguy or Helloween in the last few years. Cheesy, if you want to call it like that, but with all the powercheese, hammercheese, glorycheese and hootercheese flying around. Nerd cheese is a cheese to be reckoned with! And it's even better than the band's first album.

No, you don't have to be a devoted gamer, a dedicated troll, an academic nerd or a horny teenager to enjoy Gloryhammer. Not even a fan of fantasy. But, while listening to Space 1992: Rise of the Chaos Wizards, the uncool part of you will have a glorious time. (8.6/10)

 

 

 

 
9/10 Mladen
 

VEHEMENCE - Forward Without Motion - CD - Battleground Records - 2015

This is one of the monsters. The snare drum is used, and sounds, like a weapon. The growls and the screams are properly bestial. The bass is clearly audible. The guitar sound is as direct as if you were playing it yourself - that is, if you could play like Vehemence. And even if you could, you probably wouldn't be able to write songs like these. And even if you would, you probably wouldn't be able to memorize them. And even... OK, never mind - hopefully you got the message: Vehemence are back.

No matter what you expect or how you approach Forward Without Motion, the preconceptions are shattered after a song or two. Methodical and merciless, the songwriting grabs your attention. It stops, it goes, it blasts, but it doesn't feel like that. It's mostly in the same tempo, but it's all over your senses. Be it a thrashy, hardcore moment (we said moment! This is still clearly death metal!), or a glorious melodic outburst, all of it is exceptional and serves a purpose - in other words, real riffs. The kind that connects to you. Real songs, that stand apart. Real vocals, that don't annoy but destroy. And the drummer, with a style of his own, is playing thesm instead of just hitting them, while hitting them even harder nonetheless.

You will probably remember where and how you have heard "Murdered by the Earth" for the first time. Or that piece of weirdness that is "In the Shadows We Dwell". And there is more on this album, everywhere! For those asking if Forward Without Motion is better than God Was Created - most likely it is. It's scorching, it's scattered, yet if you look from a distance there are real songs. But it's hard to keep distance when this music is going after you. Forward without motion indeed. (9/10)

 

Related reviews:
 
God Was Created (issue No 12)  

 

 

 
6/10 Mladen
 

DE PROFUNDIS - Kingdom of the Blind - CD - Wickerman Recordings - 2015

Nice effort, although the word "effort" hints that there's something wrong.

First things first - De Profundis play elaborated, technical, blackened, melodic death metal with hints of progression. On this, their fourth album, there is a whole lot going on. Somehow, though, not a lot of it is exciting.

Maybe things are just poorly matched: the vocals are sterile and lifeless, more fitting on a doom metal album; the drums, when not doing blast beats, seem not to know what to do; the songs consist of sections, but they don't feel like song parts. This melody and that riff, one after another, although well played, don't bring much to music itself. If you just want to hear a band that plays well and fast, knows how to solo, and sometimes hints at jazz, Kingdom of the Blind is not a bad album to pick up. But if you want to hear a band that you could talk or think about, De Profundis are just not that band. (6/10)

 

 

 

 
6.5/10 Mladen
 

KAMELOT - Haven - CD - Napalm Records - 2015

This Kamelot album is a product, and one well-tailored for the target audience.

This product is mostly in mid-tempo, with so few deviations that after three songs you will forget the first one. The standard Kamelot sound, composition and vocal drama are here, together with riffs that are not catchy nor leave much to talk about. Kamelot started playing, Kamelot played, Kamelot stopped playing. That's about it.

For a band that, once, released Karma, Haven isn't much. Yes, it's technical, symphonic, melodic and at times bombastic. It was hard to make, we hear. Perspiration and effort are all well, but if there is no inspiration behind them, you are left with something that only devout fans will appreciate. Briefly - a few disjointed "progressive" riffs, a bridge, a (sometimes) great chorus as a relief, back to standard Kamelot, repeat, and the occasional ballad-break. Nobody will be terribly disappointed in Haven, but not many will listen to it too many times either. Just the target audience. (6.5/10)

Ed note: It's probably good that I gave Mladen a grab at this, as I feel even less of this release. Just contrast it with last year's Gamma Ray release (http://www.maelstromzine.com/ezine/review_iss77_6322.php) and see how pale it is, even for its target audience.

 

Related reviews:
 
Karma (issue No 6)  

 

 

 
8/10 Chaim
 

ASHEN HORDE - Nine Plagues - CD - Mandal Records - 2015

Ah, Hollywood, California, the land of milk, honey and...death metal.

The tag name on Ashen Horde's style bears the title 'Black Metal', a title that couldn't be more misleading, as Nine Plagues is nothing short of being pure death metal; not black/death, not blackened death metal, not black/thrash and not even death/thrash, neither is it 'melodic' or 'brutal' or whatever death metal; and we do apologize for not including all the hybrids, sub-hybrids and meta-hybrids of metal's most extreme sub-sub-sub styles here, trying to describe what this album IS NOT. No, ladies and gentlemen, Nine Plagues is simply death metal; it is as death metal as death metal comes. In fact, this album has captured the perfect death metal atmosphere, the perfect production and the perfect technique and until you realize this - expecting in the process something entirely different (especially if you're familiar with the band's previous work) - you're going to have some rough time trying to crack this album's code and, god forbid, even enjoy it.

Trying to fit Nine Plagues into the wrong paradigm will cause the listener to cringe; the dichotomy between the latter-day Immortal-like guitar sound and the strange, unattractive tone of Trevor Portz's vocals (that are somewhat misplaced in the context of the music) makes the music hard to swallow (plus the fact the music is too complex and technical and exhibiting too many death metal aesthetics to be even remotely regarded as black metal). The stark aesthetic dispute shown here in all its glory is a gap that is not easily mended, the styles not easily reconciled. It's like oil and water, or in the musical context, like the highly sophisticated song structures, writing and execution and the somewhat primordial (though slightly processed) vocal performance.

Only when you realize this is actually a pretty intense, technical death metal album, with vocals to match, are you going to immensely enjoy it, but only then. We know - some eyebrows may be raised at this statement, but all you have to do is really listen; listen to Portz's singing style: is it not like a marriage in hell between Carcass's Jeff Walker's and Cancer's John Walker's vocals? It most certainly is.

We get where the black metal reference is coming from; it's the guitar sound: a grittier, slightly more down-tuned sound distinctive to the above mentioned Immortal. And indeed, couple with that sound and playing style the occasionally croaky vocals - and ta-dam! A death metal version of Immortal is born. However, not every song echoes with the spirit of Immortal and besides, Immortal were never THAT technical; more epic perhaps, but way less technical. Funnily, however, the technical aspect of Nine Plagues never overshadows the music and never diminishes the intensity of the foreboding atmosphere.

When fully embracing the fact Nine Plagues is a full-blown death metal album, and putting all aesthetic disputes to rest, something will occur: you will begin to pay attention to details, and those are in abundance here. This album is one of those rare albums that are actually interesting, in the sense the music ignites within the listener the urge to discover what's next every passing second, and in addition the listener doesn't really have a clue about what's going to happen next.

Nine Plagues has got all those musical nooks and crannies, dark microcosms that are being revealed constantly and while being exposed to the light, they burn brightly only to be replaced by another surprise coming from a different angle, another bright light bearing a different wavelength. Nine Plagues is an incredibly complex work; the guitar work is ingenious and intriguing; the rhythm section is ripping, menacing and razor-sharp; and the drum work is phenomenal (it may be a drum machine, but you wouldn't know), ranging from slower dirges to hyper-fast blasts to anything in between, showing some unconventional and intricate rhythm patterns.

Nine Plagues is the renaissance of death metal; it bears the marks of old and ancient as well as wears the ribbons of modernity and beyond; like a collision of old and new, of traditional and experimental, of primitivism and intelligent sophistication; as timeless as death itself. Yes, it is like oil and water that never blend, but boy, what colors do they emit when they are coupled and in the presence of light!

Fans of complex and innovative metal, who are not intimidated by music that isn't catchy, or those who are hooked on Immortal's most death-metal-oriented moments, as well as those who dig bands such as Death (who doesn't?!), Theory In Practice or Australian StarGazer, will surely have a ball listening to this mighty recording. Coming to think of it, the rest will also enjoy it, since this is a complete, all-embracing death metal experience.

Highly recommended! (8/10)

 

 

 

 
5/10 Chaim
 

TOR MARROCK - Destroy the Soul - CD - Black Vulture Records - 2013

How do you even begin to review an album whose disadvantages equal its brilliant moments? How do you even reconcile with an album that offers you moments where you literally want to hug it, alongside moments you actually want to kick this disc's thick skull? So what happens when the brilliant meet the numskull? The average is then being spawn, and the average is the mother of all bad things.

Tor Marrock should have only played goth-rock/post-punk, in which they excel, instead of trying to mishmash the aforementioned with a second-class heavy metal/hard rock that occupies half of the record.

When the band turns its post-punk mode on, it sounds like an updated, heavier version of Killing Joke, but way darker and more sinister. Tor Marrock then creates a crowded, bone-chilling atmosphere that resonates with the listener up until the end of the track. Hints of Type O Negative can also be picked, but overall, these goth/post-punk songs sound rather unique in sound as well as in execution.

But then the band goes into its retarded phase, playing simplistic heavy metal coupled with a lack of inspiration. Then and there the band sounds pale and empty, like a dispirited Paradise Lost with very Nick-Holmes-like vocals, having some unspectacular riffs and benign guitar leads and solos. Ah, but when Tor Marock try to sound like Bal Sagoth (epic and fast, that is), the outcome is even more ridiculous and embarrassing.

This album isn't a bad one; it's just that the distance between its good stuff and its moronic parts is so vast that this very dichotomy creates a dissonance the listener will find hard to stomach, hence not able to fully enjoy the album's best sections. Nevertheless, if you want to listen to something quite unique and non-habitual, a hybrid between Killing Joke, Type O Negative and latter-day Paradise Lost, you should give Destroy The Soul a chance. If you don't mind the sub-par heavy metal fiasco and can look past that, you might find yourself immensely enjoying this album. However, if you do mind, you might not want to revisit it ever again. (5/10)

 

 

 

 
7/10 Chaim
 

REGARDE LES HOMMES TOMBER - Exile - CD - Les Acteurs de l'Ombre Productions - 2015

French Regarde Les Hommes Tomber has seemingly decided to shift their sound (permanently?) from the predominant hardcore punk aesthetics established on its excellent self-titled debut, towards a more distinctive black metal traditionalism inked with the sign of post-modernism. But being a band owning strong atmospheric inclinations, these guys have not neglected the very ability to maintain high quality and massive ambiance which is usually the exclusive domain of atmospheric hardcore/sludge outfits, and now the band's music sounds even more epic and grand, having intros, outros, instrumental passages and colossal soundscapes any band would kill for.

The recording is sparse and airy, but quite tight, and the tracks are less-crowded and a notch less intense than before. However, the ambiance is still suffocating and the tunes captivating, but not due to stark originality or songwriting artistry, but rather due to the aforementioned intense atmosphere.

Sure, you can still notice the band's atmospheric hardcore roots peeping out from intangible holes in the musical plot; you can still hear the robust hardcore punk bass lines and the long instrumental passages a-la Neurosis and such, but in the end, the depraved and bizarre 'feel' the recording emanates warps and shifts the aesthetics (and the inevitable theatrics) towards the black metal paradigm, especially when weighing this album against the previous self-titled one.

The album's dark Biblical themes come to life, being resuscitated by the music itself, and this Old Testament-centric soundtrack renders those timeless stories evermore menacing and dramatic; the atmosphere conjures an intimidating and hopeless setting, against which all the wrongdoings of man - as told in those ancient texts - and their inevitable punishments are being acted, enacted, repeated and exercised. The music perpetuates and perfects the epic tale of dark deeds and heresy, brewed in a cauldron of shimmering tribal rhythms and enigmatic chants. It all sounds mythical, magical, and so much Biblical.

Expect at least a dozen repeated listening sessions before this album's grandeur and singularity will be dawning upon you; it wouldn't be easy, as Exile does tend not to impress initially with its slightly derivative choice of style, safe songwriting and atmospheric hardcore inclinations that seem like one of this era's musical bandwagons; but make no mistakes, this album IS unique, as it delivers some of the most glorious, devouring and enormous atmospheric moments ever recorded.

Recommended! (7/10)

 

 

 

 
7.9/10 Chaim
 

SICHELSTEIN - Sichelstein - CD - Valse Sinistre - 2011/2014

Sichelstein is the brainchild of a multi-media artist by the name of Vanson, a Czech born musician who now resides in Germany and whose musical tastes and albums vary quite a bit, from electronic music to black metal to anything and everything in between. Its self-titled album, released back in 2011, was probably one of Valse Sinsitre's most interesting and accomplished releases of that very year. The style bears similarities with label-mates Hypomanie, who excel in depressive rock of the shoegaze-y type.

As a side note, Sichelstein's style might also be categorized as post-black metal, even though the shoegaze genre predates what we perceive today as black metal by at least a decade; and so dubbing this brand of rock as being post something that had not even been born when shoegaze/post punk ruled supreme seems a little absurd. In truth, this is a circular process: one style feeding off its predecessors, the successors of which feed off both and while updating the sound, they also make it sound anachronistic and retro.

Take, for example, this mini album. It could have been recorded in the beginning of what is known as the "dark eighties," feeling quite comfortable among bands such as Slowdive, My Bloody Valentine, Coil, Cabaret Voltaire, Bauhaus, Joy Division and such; but this very album, on the other hand, couldn't have been born hadn't the artist behind it known something about black metal, because it flirts with black metal so much that it practically begs the listener to regard it as such: a black metal product, with its semi-epic sounscapes, frantic and - for all intents and purposes - insane vocals, the depraved atmosphere, the skeletal tunes and the black metal-ish guitar sound. It all sounds grey here, and crumbling and desolate and empty - just the way we like it.

So basically, this album ties both musical eras - the eighties and the nineties - in a seamless bundle rather elegantly, while keeping the melodies simple and digestible, and the atmosphere dense and mysterious. This interesting recording will probably find its place in the hearts of those who have lived through both eras and have seen how the punk revolution becomes more electronics-dependent, colder and more depressing than ever before; and how that very youth angst has transformed into hate-filled, less apologetic, more in-your-face type of rock 'n' roll we recognize nowadays as black metal.

The album has apparently been given a new-ish version in 2014, with new artwork and an added bonus track. All in all, Sichelstein is still a potent musical endeavor having the potential of becoming a highly addictive musical experience. You can listen to it in its entirety on the artist's bandcamp site and obtain a copy. You need this album in your collection. (7.9/10)

 

 

 

 
8/10 Chaim
 

DELUGE - Aether - CD - Les Acteurs de l'Ombre Productions - 2015

In the beginning there was the blastbeat; like an exotic disease that has spread and become the bon ton of today's underground, a household trend that used to be reserved only to those bands who we, kids-of-that-era, referred to and reverently so, as Grindcore, ooooh...

Almost every black metal-oriented album released by Les Acteurs de l'Ombre Productions (abbreviated LADLO) sounds initially the same in that respect. After all, blastbeats are blastbeats, and even though variations do exist, nothing has dramatically changed in the blastbeat department for the last twenty years. So LADLO likes its bands fast and furious, making it hard to discern which is which, at least in the beginning.

But LADLO also likes its bands to own a certain post-hardcore-ish charm; a singular sound that has been perfected mostly by the French scene; bands such as Overmars, Celeste, Year Of No Light and the mighty Dirge (or French-speaking bands, such as Swiss band Rorcal) have forged a potent hybrid of hostile black metal and atmospheric hardcore, resulting in some gorgeously lush and bleak soundscapes that oppose yet complete each other seamlessly. That fact will be known to most only when you venture deeper and repeatedly so, into the bowels of the album, or into any LADLO Prod. album of that streak.

Given time, it's going to be rather easy to notice how Deluge maneuver elegantly between the purest form of insanely fast and galloping black metal and doom-laden tranquility wreathing with dark, velvety, hypnotizing ambiances. The shouted vocals are the only remnant of the classic hardcore punk roots, but those too often venture off into the realms of high-pitched howls. The vocalist sounds tortured, half in great pain and half filled with unbridled hatred; and when coupling the unrelenting, searing, scorching vocals with the blastbeat maelstrom, the pain is almost palpable.

Mercifully, the blastbeat wrecking machine gives way occasionally to the band's more artistic facet to emerge, in the form of atmospheric instrumental pieces that are as desolate as they are beautiful. An oasis of dark hues and storm clouds that hide the sun and offer no solace. Bass laden and aided by some field recordings, such as the sound of rain and such, these atmospheric, blissful moments occasionally build up to monstrous proportions by the funereal rhythms and guitar distortion. If only for these moments alone, this album is worthy of a lukewarm praise. These monumental tracks' zenith is the incorporation of a short blastbeat section and even some piano keys. Then and only then do you realize the true value and meaning of the blastbeat paradigm, as it creates a divine, celestial scene like no other; it should, of course, be introduced in the right context and the right timing, and knowing it - as well as practicing it - is an art form in its own right: to know when blastbeats are essential and when they are redundant is a knowledge every aspiring band should embrace.

These guys know how to do it right, and do it throughout the recording; that's why this album is so appealing and occasionally beautiful, as it captured the magic of music and it serves as a herald for music's transcendental powers, when it's done right.

In the end, comparing Aether to any other album out there would not do justice to the recording, and even though it bears the French stamp and played in the typical LADLO mode of operation, Aether is a unique album and is, dare we say, like nothing out there.

Aether owns the finesse of atmospheric gods Dirge and the ferocity of grindcore forerunners Napalm Death. Now, imagine those two expertly, artistically, tastefully blend - and witness how epic-ness without end happens. (8/10)

 

 

 

 
9/10 Chaim
 

HAAR - The Wayward Ceremony - CD - Aeternitas Tenebrarum Music Foundation - 2015

Haar means cold sea fog as it occurs on the shores of Scotland between spring and autumn, when warm air passes over the cold North Sea creating a ghost-like fog that surely was the engine behind so many ghost stories originating from those misty, mystic parts of the world.

Whether the band has registered that fact or otherwise, Haar also means 'mountain' in Hebrew, and in Haar's case, the music is indeed a mountain of flesh and might. Did we just say "Mountain of Might"? Yes, we did, and as much as this Immortal reference mentioning was purely coincidental, something in the epic factor of The Wayward Ceremony, as well as in the vocals and abrasive guitar tone does remind us of Immortal's slower and more guttural moments. But this album also brings to mind Dissection's blade running sound, somewhere between the aesthetic of black metal and that of quasi-melodic death metal; and melody - as you surely will discover soon enough - plays a major role in Haar's music, a major role.

The Wayward Ceremony exhibits complex, advanced playing patterns akin to mid-era Abigor, but unlike the latter's, Haar's music is at all times accessible and pleasant on the ear (pleasant in the extreme metal context, not to be confused with "ear-friendly"). There's nothing experimental per se here; no "what-the-fuck?" moments, no straying off from the basic, extreme, heavy metal paradigm as well.

This album is just a smooth and effortless journey through man's most cavernous places and most obscure and wicked thoughts and deeds. So familiar, so engaging, so wickedly classy. The vocalist is immense, his vocals are a darker version of Carcass' frontman Jeff Walker (hence the death metal reference), and, aided by a crystalline production that enhances every minute detail, the vocals sound exceptionally clear and cruel, and can be understood even without reading the lyrics, which are of the highest order.

The album's complexity does not overshadow the band's ability to write some classy and smooth, atmospheric tunes without any pitfalls throughout the plot; and even though Haar's treatment and handling of the black/death metal hybrid is commendable and impressive, the music itself shows a classic extreme metal motivation, not unlike stuff we've heard before. Occasionally, the band would sound like a basic, dark rock combo who likeS to play those long, brooding, atmospheric rock 'n' roll pieces of the melancholic and lamenting type.

Not everything is complex and progressive on The Wayward Ceremony though. Some tracks exhibit a rather linear and straightforward approach; some tunes are pretty simple. Those are best noticeable on the slower/slowest moments. Then and there Haar flash its black/doom hidden face - a face with which the band feel very comfortable, and which allows it to offer some of the most exquisite moments black/doom has ever seen, without being revolutionary.

Haar's Scottish origin is inconsequential in regard to the music on display, as there are no typical geographical/musical landmarks here, meaning you can only really guess where the band hails from. We've heard music such as this coming from North-American, West-European, Scandinavian and even Australian bands. The style is cosmopolitan, global, limitless and essentially timeless. It is metal of the highest order that binds together all styles, from all corners of the planet, into one macabre and nocturnal recording; the depravity and wretchedness of which are only second to the album's beautifully harsh melodies.

If you want to listen to some genuine piece of metal music for the new millennium; an album that will quench your metallic thirst for intelligent, perfectly obscure and hate-filled songs having a classic twist - The Wayward Ceremony is as good a place to start. Dive in and be completely immersed!

"There is no intervention

See all men's redemption, Sealed by their fall,

There is no intervention anymore,

See all men's redemption, Sealed by their fall"

(9/10)

 

 

 

 
2/10 Jerome
 

FRACTURED SPINE - Memoirs Of A Shattered Mind - CD - Inverse Records - 2014

Ya know, I've never been a fan of Katatonia. So why on earth would I ever consider liking this? The truth is told I can't stomach this, at all. Not only it is bad, it is tragically bad. Memoirs Of A Shattered Mind, the sophomore effort from Fractured Spine, is one of these albums that have absolutely no redeeming qualities.

The best way to describe this release is as a bizarre mix between Dark Tranquility, Katatonia, and an Emo live journal entry. If I were to sum up this album in one phrase, it would be this; "Lacuna Coil attempting funeral doom." When I want to be alone with my thoughts, I throw on The Cure. When I sat down with this one, I wanted to throw it in the trash.

With titles such as "Clock that ticks," "Deprived of Daylight" and "Suicide Problem," one can easily judge a book by a cover. It's a neverending laundry list of clichés, poorly written lyrics, and repetition we've all seen a million times before. (2/10)

 

 

 

 
1/10 Jerome
 

HEROES OF VALLENTOR - Warriors Path Part 1 - CD - Inverse Records - 2014

Oh boy, more power metal. There are only few bands that manage to pull this off well, and Heroes of Vallentor is clearly not one of those. The band's 2014 release, "Warriors Path Part 1" is so hollow, I'm begging for them to not give the world part 2. Listening to this album was a painful experience, one that I wouldn't wish upon my worst enemy.

With titles such "The Questing Knights Vow," and "Lord Of Fire" you can imagine what you're in for: repeated clichés that a Dungeons & Dragons game would call shenanigans on.

I might forgive the repetitive nature of most of these clichés, if they were done well, but nothing about this album is done well. The delivery, the musicianship, the lyrical content (with lyrics such as "We shall gut you alive/As you beg for mercy/We shall tear your hearts out" and "I am the lord of wizards/ The firestorm of your doom," you pretty much get the picture) - it is all lackluster, and quite forgettable.

Bands like this are a dime a dozen, and I still want my money back. (1/10)

 

 

 

 
7/10 Jerome
 

PYRAMIDS ON MARS - Echo Cosmic - CD - Indie - 2015

I wasn't looking forward to this album at first, since I haven't enjoyed solo guitar albums since the early '90s. Back then real musicians such as Steve Via and Joe Satriani were still at the peak of their popularity. Nowadays, I tend not to gravitate towards material such as this, but after listening to this album, I'm glad I did.

Pyramids On Mars feels like Savatage and Rising Force (albeit, without Yngwie J. Malmsteen's horrible ego) This entire album is the masterwork of guitarist Kevin Estrella. Estrella's playing abilities match the interstellar theme this album has, taking the listener on a surprising journey.

Estrella isn't reusing repetitive scales. He is an artist capable of crafting intricate works with the guitar. I highly recommend this for fans of Trans-Siberian Orchestra. (7/10)

 

 

 

 
4/10 Jerome
 

ARKADIA - Unrelenting - CD - Inverse Records - 2015

We would like to think we've progressed since the early 2000's, hoping bands would start to move away from the melodic death metal sound. This sound hasn't really been entertaining, or relevant since the release of Clayman by In Flames.

Sadly, it seems that this sound is getting revisited, this time by Arkadia. This 2015 release reeks of recycled riffs that should have stayed in the Century Media early 2000s catalogue. We'll give these gentlemen credit, though: their songs are well crafted, and display sufficient technical prowess. The flattery, however, stops there.

While we give the band a passing grade in the musicianship department, the rest of the album is as stale as a sandwich that's been left too long on the radiator. That would not have been an issue if the ideas were original, but they are not.

The lyrical content is the most problematic. The lyrics are not well written, and seem more like generic droppings from a late 90s emo band. We do hope that these guys will develop over time as they certainly have potential. (4/10)

 

 

 

 
7/10 Jerome
 

YMIR'S BLOOD - Blood Of The Ice Giants - CD - Archaic Sound - 2015

Blood Of The Ice Giants is the full-length debut from Finland's Ymir's Blood. It's only a few steps away from being one of our favorite recent releases. There were a lot of things on this album we absolutely loved, and only a few we could not overlook. Listening to this release instantly reminded us of the Hammerheart - Nordland era of Bathory.

The only issues with this release are the vocals. They don't seem to match the ferocity and driving power of the music. Aside from that, you can definitely tell this band is striving to follow in Bathory's footsteps. However, they're also a band still developing their own sound. As more releases will follow, they are bound to be something great.

It's good to see paganized metal, that isn't formulaic and generic. Keep your eyes on these guys they're going places. (7/10)

 

 

 

 
7/10 Jerome
 

FALLEN ANGELS - World In Decay - CD - Cyberdyne Records - 2015

Hailing from the mecca of American thrash movement - California - thrashers Fallen Angels present us our third album World in Decay. These guys seem to keep progressing with every release they put out.

This album has something for anyone who might happen to be a fan of this movement. It's got everything from complex leads, hooks, and the power of the days of the old bridge militia.

It's not an album without flaws, but they're quite easy to overlook. It has everything a throwback fan would kill for, but at the same time it has its original qualities. (7/10)

 

 

 

 
4.4/10 Avi
 

PRESTIGE, THE - Amer - CD - Imminence Records - 2015

Amer is the second album by the French hardcore unit The Prestige. And it is hardcore indeed.

The music is relentless, and shows no signs of hope or mercy. There are only brief hints of melody buried underneath the wall of noisy, distortion loaded guitar, pounding drums and shouted vocals.

On the sixth song, "Negligee," The Prestige finally manages to deliver something greater, as the band details a more comprehensive hardcore experience using a proper buildup and the ambience to support it. Alas!, "Ingenue," which follows, tries to further build on that with just vocals and guitar, but sounds like a rough demo track rather than an actual song (so does "Petite Mort," which also captures the band in a more naked sound that reveals its limitations).

Amer is not bad, if you want something to bang your head to, or if have some serious anger issues to handle; but it does not stand out in any department. (4.4/10)

 

 

 

 
9/10 Avi
 

PIROG, ANTHONY - Palo Colorado Dream - CD - Cuneiform Records - 2014

This debut recording credited to Anthony Pirog offers a spellbinding journey through concrete road sceneries that hold allusions to fata morgana.

Pirog, mainly on guitars but also on various keyboard instruments and electronic devices, is accompanied by Michael Formanek on acoustic bass and Ches Smith on drums, and together they detail instrumental stories that are full of imagination as well as of captivating melodies.

This music has the openness of jazz, the drive and structure of rock and the vision and sonic ingenuity of avant-garde/experimental music. All of these are combined fluently into a grandiose aural experience of a clear narrative - a narrative which is exciting and thrilling, and while it sounds pleasantly familiar it is altogether something else. Take, for example, the two minute piece "Minimalist," which concisely couples 21st Century King Crimson math-metal with free jazz; or even more so, the scenic Americana-Jazz of "Song in 5."

We simply can't wait to hear more from this artist! (9/10)

 

 

 

 
8.6/10 Avi
 

ADOLFO, ANTONIO - Tema - CD - AAM Music - 2015

Tema is a recording full of beauty. Engaging melodies are at the heart of each tune here, treated with sensitive, crafted and concise jazz playing.

Antonio Adolfo is a seasoned Brazilian artist, and he is responsible for all the compositions here (some are co-written with others) as well as the piano playing. Each of the pieces has its own melodic hooks, and these are kept even on the improvisation parts, maintaining the lyrical articulation of the music.

The opening "Alegria For All" features budding unisons of the piano with flute and electric guitar. These are a bit mischievous, and Latin flavors are incorporated gently to the percussions. The electric guitar solo (by Leo Amuedo) here is truly magnificent, so much that we just had to point it out.

The second track "Natureza" is more plaintive and fragile, but the interplay (including, one again, exceptional guitar playing) is bright and makes everything sound hopeful.

These aforementioned tones recur throughout Tema, which is a consistently elevating, intimate yet lush album. This is tuneful jazz of the highest caliber. (8.6/10)

 

 

 

 
7/10 Avi
 

ARMONITE - The Sun Is New Each Day - CD - Indie - 2015

Armonite is a progressive rock group led by composer/keyboardist Paolo Fosso and electric violinist Jacopo Bigi. The lineup is completed by drummer Jasper Barendregt and none other than bassist Colin Edwin (of Porcupine Tree fame).

While Armonite does not redefine the genre, the (almost entirely) instrumental pieces here hold a disciplined narrative and build up; and they make for an engaging instrumental journey, as there is a cinematic quality to the music. In fact, the last track (which does not appear on the band's bandcamp page but does appear on the Soundcloud version available through the band's website is a take on Klaus Doldinger's "Bastian's Happy Flight" (composed for the film The Neverending Story) and it fits really well.

The comparative intensity of the rhythm section is what sets this effort in the 21st century, and gives it further boost. Unfortunately, some of the keyboards sound a bit anachronistic with their 80s styled sound; but other than that the production is meticulous and splendorous. (7/10)

 

 

 

 
5.5/10 Avi
 

DARK BUDDHA RISING - Inversum - CD - Neurot Recordings - 2015

The latest, fifth release by Finnish Doom metallers Dark Buddha Rising holds two extensive pieces.

On the first, "Eso," the screamy vocals (about the thirteen minute) actually take away from the violent, doomsday buildup. A similar, yet more rhythmic vibe is explored in the last part of the piece (19' and on), but at a point its nailing effect is once again diminished by a blunt usage of vocal screams.

In the first section of "Exo," the album's second track, the music magnificently swirls and wraps around you, threatening to devour you. A clash signals a turn of events (which can be likened to the exposure of the monster's face) with a violent guitar line making an appearance about six and a half minutes into the piece, hovering and then merging with an electronic line of noise; and then, it's time for Hawkwind inspired vocals to read out the lyrics, with no real added value.

Dark Buddha Rising's music is ominous and dark, and at times it is even engaging in its downward attraction. But as a whole, there's not a lot of ingenuity or adventurousness here to justify the sludgy doom approach, and it lacks the cohesiveness or the climax to make it all worthwhile. (5.5/10)

 

 

 

 
7.4/10 Avi
 

DECKCHAIR POETS - Searchin' for a Lemon Squeezer - CD - Angel Air Records - 2015

This is the second release by Deckchair Poets, and it is still marketed as a prog-rock product by the label - an approach we still can't quite understand. True, there's a short proggy keyboards solo on "Quick Joey Small," but it's hardly enough to justify the progressive association (and we're actually quite liberal with that, as we wrote in our review of the band's debut in issue #75).

Like on the debut, 2013 recording, the songs on this new release are simple but effective and witty. They manifest the blues based rock approach, owing much more to Deep Purple than to Yes (of which Deckchair Poet's keyboardist Geoff Downes is also a member). In fact, Deckchair Poets can actually be the less serious alternative to modern-day Deep Purple, with its comfortable, driving rock.

Naming few of the highlights, we can mention "We're All Chasing Peter Pan," which is the band's take on Ian Dury's "Sex and drugs and rock 'N' roll"; "Everybody Wants To Live In America," which serves the guitar driven blues rock complete with harmonica and organ solos; and "I'm Gonna Tear Your Playhouse Down" which is a slow yet tasty Blues number.

There are comic interludes embedded between the full-length songs, and these are successful in spicing things up or in delivering some shorter punches, at times in offbeat musical styles (check out "People"). In a way, this feels like a take on the classic The Who 1967 album The Who Sell Out.

Surprisingly, Deckchair Poets still sounds fresh and energized on this second release despite sticking to the same formula that was used on the first album. (7.4/10)

 

 

 

 
8/10 Avi
 

GALACTIC - Into The Deep - CD - Mascot Label Group - 2015

We typically don't care much for funk, but every now and then comes a musical offering that manages to shake our preconceptions of the genre.

On paper, this release has all the ingredients to deter us. It holds festive, happy music. It uses a stellar cast of guests (we typically prefer organic units) and it uses funk as its principal vehicle. Strangely enough, we find it to be a cohesive and rewarding listening.

The opening instrumental "Sugar Doosie" brings on the funky, party music vibe with a celebrative horns section, a wrenched trombone feature and some embedded shouts of enthusiasm before the song "Higher and Higher," which features JJ Grey (whose recent release is also reviewed in this issue) on vocals, carries you higher and higher with its loopish, electro-funk / R&B grabs you.

When you think things can't get any better, the title track hits you on a different note. It's a mellow number, with Macy Gray hitting the right notes; emotionally that is.

This New Orleans band has been around for twenty years or so, and it certainly knows its craft. The following numbers keep flowing, as the album's clever arrangement continues without any setbacks. Some other highlights include the vintage rock and roll groove of "Long Live The Borgne," which relies on bass and electric guitars as well as keyboards; the sexy, modern R&B song "Right On" (Ms. Charm Taylor's vocal delivery is really tasty, and it's the kind of tracks we would not have believed we can listen to, yet alone enjoy - but we do!); and the surprisingly frightening, alien-like instrumental "Buck 77."

Oh, and you'll find another heartwarming song in the form of "Does It Really Makes A Difference" and a patient yet uplifting, bluesy, organ instrumental as the closing piece - and these help the album maintain the right balance between its party and its affectionate elements. Coming to think of it, we basically covered it all.

With Into The Deep, the joy of life just springs out of the speakers. Who would not want that? (8/10)

 

 

 

 
8/10 Avi
 

DEVO - Hardcore Devo Live! - DVD - MVDvisual - 2015

The American band Devo was formed in the 70s, and its proto-punk music corresponds with the music of Talking Heads.

The 2014 performance captured here (on DVD) finds the band focusing on its early material (which is self-proclaimed as raw and experimental, fitting titled "Hardcore Devo"), with which they began dealing with the concept of de-evolution (mankind regressing instead of evolving, in short).

The band starts seating down - a statement of its own in the rock world. Even while seating down, the music benefits from its staging, and the vocal effects on the opening "Mechanical Man" portray the number with a sci-fi feel.

The songs still sound fresh, maybe because they are primitive in nature. "Bambo Bimbo," for instance, relies on a chugging, distorted rhythm guitar that is quite metallic in nature, coupled with anachronistic keyboards, creating a rewarding effect that sounds relevant (perhaps even more than its brave lyrics). "Beehive," on the other hand, is almost pure blues, but also has its twist of being twisted.

When it is time to perform its fractured adaptation of The Rolling Stones' "Satisfaction" - the band rises up. From that point on not only they play standing up, but they also dress up in overalls (and later add masks) to perfect their stage persona. The band then demonstrates some knottier material, starting with "Timing X / Soo Bawls," which has progressive rock vibe due to its awesome (though still somewhat basic) use of electronics.

The proto-punk is evident and perfected on "Uncontrollable Urge." The song's performance exhibits proto-punk that relies on blues based rock (think of Led Zeppelin going minimal punk, possibly with a bit of The Who's stage antics).

Narration and interview footage are occasionally embedded into the songs. This was basically the only thing that could have taken away from this DVD's appeal to newcomers. Luckily, there is an option to watch the excellent, multi-camera shot concert footage without these spoken disturbances, so even if have never heard the band before (like us) we strongly encourage you to pick this DVD up and get acquainted with Devo and its effective art of de-evolution, available here as a complete audio-visual package. (8/10)

 

 

 

 
8/10 Avi
 

GRONNERT, MARIO / MONDFISH - In Two Seas - CD - Indie - 2015

Ambient music has the force to elevate you. In Two Seas, the split release by the German musician Mario Grönnert (responsible for the first two tracks) and the Japanese duo Monfish (the three other pieces), has music that ebbs and flows and carries you with it.

On the opening drone "Of Departures" you can feel the rays of light brimming through the dark. The following "...and Strange Horizons" continues similarly, yet with more distinctive sounds - a female chant, piano notes, hints of classical chamber music; all these make for an even brighter, celestial dawning.

The two aformentioned Grönnert tracks set the stage for the Mondfish material which follows in a similar vein. The intimate, low profile ambience flows back and forth, embedded with sounds. The Mondfish occurrences are bit more disturbing (compared with Grönnert's) as the sounds with which they fill the atmosphere are at times of a noisier character. The closing "Hidden Pieces" once again incorporates classicalism, this time in form of guitar playing.

In Two Seas, though a split release (36 minutes in length), sounds very much cohesive, and it is enthralling in its lush minimalism. (8/10)

 

 

 

 
8/10 Avi
 

JJ GREY & MOFRO - Ol' Glory - CD - Mascot Label Group - 2015

Ol' Glory is one of the loveliest releases we have heard recently.

JJ Grey & Mofro's music is basically a blend of southern rock and soul. While this might not sound original at first (the title track, for example, sounds very much like Atomic Rooster in its funky period, enriched with Blood Sweat & Tears / Chicago styled horn section), the result is surprisingly refreshing. It strips southern rock of its relentlessness and strips the soul influences of their exaggeration. Mofro is a great band, offering excellent guitar playing, tight grooves (the bass and drums are augmented by an organ to deliver these) as well as the occasional brass section spice - all of these ALWAYS serve the songs (check out the instrumentation on "Brave Lil' Fighter," and particularly pay attention to the regal trumpet feature towards the end of the song).

And the songs - they are so kind and hopeful, and as such they are comforting and engaging with their enwrapping joy. Mind you, it's not the crowd pleasing type of joy, but rather a joy that stems from accepting the world and yourself, even if times are rough (quoting the closing "The Hurricane": "I felt the wind blow in / I felt the rain come down / I felt the peace within / That can never be without...ride on").

On top of the fine music and its careful instrumentation (listen to the held back, sliding blues of "The Island" to get the idea), JJ Grey's vocal delivery is commendable, as it features the most consistently melodic lines (a rare thing these days!), and these make the songs stick and touch. (8/10)

 

 

 

 
9.2/10 Avi
 

LIBEREZ - All Tense Now Lax - CD - Night School Records - 2015

This latest release by the England based Liberez is one of the most impressive collages we've heard in the Eletronic/Industrial/Post-Rock department.

The album comprises finely crafted electro-acoustic numbers, split into two sections ("Of Milk," which includes the first seven tracks, and "Of Blood," which is the final track). While these benefit from a certain repetitive angle that hooks you up as a listener, there is also a vague narrative that takes you places.

Take, for example, "Grease The Axles": it starts with gentle bells, and builds on what sounds like a piano line of a dreamscape nature, with machinery gradually gushing as further buildup, while covering a sampled female voice; and it all eventually feels and sounds like a discordant symphony for stringed instruments.

"Subotica," which follows the aforementioned track, incorporates a more rhythmic element into that pseudo symphonic notion; serving to demonstrate just how creative this outfit is.

There is a strange hymnal quality to the pieces - and this is one quality you certainly do not expect to be found in dark, noisy pieces such as the ones here; but it is here. With no lyrics or clean melodic lines, numbers like "How Much For Your Brother" or "Stop Your Breathing," which is filled with interesting to mesmerizing sounds, manage to make you feel like you are listening to a song.

The closing, six minute "Of Blood" benefits from a slower vibe and a semi-crescendo development - from dry beats to a low key song drenched in atmospheric yet concrete sound; alluding to the same feel of a symphony we mentioned earlier while conflicting it with pits (kind of like a heaven and hell battle). (9.2/10)

 

 

 

 
9/10 Avi
 

MIRIODOR - Cobra Fakir - CD - Cuneiform Records - 2013

In our review of Miriodor's previous release we have acknowledged Miriodor's distinguishable compositional character. On this latest release, Miriodor proves us right again.

In a more compact form of trio, the band remains playful. This instrumental, modern, progressive music juggles around the listener as if he is visiting in an adult amusement park.

The extensive use of keyboards in various shades (all three members share the keyboards credits, in addition to the other instruments they employ - guitars, bass, banjo, piano, drums and turntables) is colorful and remains organic, portraying sceneries of exquisite marvel. As a result, the knotty music is so well articulated and detailed, so much that it becomes animated. Animated, but somewhat surreal.

The vividness of both the compositions and their performance makes up for any lack of immediacy, as although engaging melodies do visit from time to time (such as the guitar lines on the harmonious "Tandem," which at times sounds like a lush version of King Crimson) it seems like Miriodor's main intention was not to make you hum the tunes but to create a unique adventure which you will keep coming back to; just like an amusement park, we did say.

Cobra Fakir is inviting ("La Roue"), scary and mighty ("Titan"), mischievously elegant ("Speed-dating sur Mars"), leisured yet ominous ("Maringouin"); it's taunting (the mostly electronic "Space Cowboy"), and it has arcade features ("Un cas siberien"). What are you waiting for? Go buy a ticket! (9/10)

 

 

 

 
6/10 Avi
 

MUSTASCH - Testosterone - CD - Sony Music - 2015

The new album by Sweden's Mustasch finds the band's pop characteristics enhanced in comparison with some of the previous releases we've heard by the band. This is obvious straight from the opening "Yara's Song," which - apart from a very primitive rhythm - features an orchestral treatment that colors the song with kitsch.

Luckily, the second song, "Breaking Up With Disaster" manages to fix some of the earlier impression, as it is basically rawer and rougher, and has a strong chorus - the kind that sticks the first time you hear it. It serves to remind us that Mustasch is a heavy metal band at heart.

The mellow "The Rider" follows, and with its string arrangement (violins and violas) and background female vocals the kitsch returns. You might at first consider this an attempt at delivering an epic, but it's not; it's just the intro to an epic that never arrives! If in the past, the string arrangements pushed the band's songs forward, here they just emphasize how hollow the song is.

The rest of the album continues with a blend of metal riffs and rhythms, various degrees of anthems and a production that borrows pop music esthetics such as bombast and forced, pseudo song buildup. Take for example "Dreamers" - it could have been a good song as it is basically well written and has a cute folk metal lick; but the overproduction kills it with unbearable keyboards / electronic effects, and there's a point in which there is a determined drive towards a climax that is just isn't there. Same thing can be said about "Be Like A Man" whose surprising Faith No More vibe is neutralized by the falsified excessiveness. (6/10)

 

 

 

 
8.4/10 Avi
 

OXLEY, PETE AND MEIER, NICOLAS - Chasing Tales - CD - MGP Records - 2015

If you are looking for a classy guitar duet, look no further! The instrumental Chasing Tales by Pete Oxley and Nicolas Meier is just that.

You won't even need to go beyond to first track - "The Followers" - to acknowledge that. This opening track is simply stellar, with its gently driving rhythm carrying a load of dazzling guitar lines, all played with charm, ease and the highest level of interplay.

The rest of the instrumentals - all bar the last one are original tunes - follow a similar path, but Oxley and Meier manage to maintain their appeal by various techniques; some of these are sound related - as the synth and glissentar (an Oud influenced guitar by Godin) features on "Bridge" and the like demonstrate.

But even more essential to the freshness of Chasing Tales is the diversity of the written pieces, as these make them so endearing and colorful. Take for example "Tales" with its Spanish flavor, "Riverside" with its Arabic influences or the Egberto Gismonti influenced, open narrative of "Compass Points" and you'll see what we mean. (8.4/10)

 

 

 

 
6.3/10 Avi
 

PAYNE BILL, LINDAL EVA, LIEBOWITZ CAROL - S/T - CD - Line Art Records - 2015

Line Art Records is a new label dedicated to creative improvised music, and this first release by the label - the debut recording by Payne, Lindal and Liebowitz (on clarinet, violin and piano respectively) - appropriately comprises improvised, modern chamber music.

Though not discordant, the music is rarely harmonic. At times the music sounds scattered with the chances of encounter being probabilistic; a bit as if the players are merely tuning their instruments.

There are moments, however, when this works. On "Unspoken," for example the setting is minimal; and once the understated sounds establish it as spacious, the ambience seems to respond, stressing the occurrence and eventually (on the succeeding "B/E") leading into a playful interplay between the violin and the clarinet - an interplay which soars into the sky and circles around.

Truth be told, we did not find a lot of ingenuity nor did we find enough thrilling moments that justify preferring this album over the multitude of improvised, modern music out there. If anything, its attractiveness stems from its relative lightness and clean, classical music derived esthetics, as these may allow a listener new to modern creative music to absorb the music with ease. (6.3/10)

 

 

 

 
9/10 Avi
 

BJORKENHEIM, RAOUL - eCsTaSy - CD - Cuneiform Records - 2013

Until receiving this release the only other recording by the Finnish-American guitarist we knew was his 2001 Cuneiform release Apocalypso, and while it was impressive - as Bjorkenheim played his demanding piece all by himself as a virtual ensemble - it was also a bit strict (and perhaps mostly of appeal to avant rock fans). Here he is leading a modern jazz quartet, and while his guitar playing is at least as dazzling with both sonics and creativity, the real ensemble playing makes it all the more lively.

eCsTaSy is amongst the rare releases that made us go "wow" (such recordings mostly come from the brave Cuneiform Records these days). The bright sonic pallet mixes the acoustic sounds of contrabass, drums and saxophones with the electric guitar driven through various effects, always to a great effect and never as a gimmick. Bjorkenheim's electric guitar rollicking feels truly animated and spirited here, and as such has a distinctive voice.

The tonal adventure is combined with tunes filled with melodic sense; tunes whose purposeful, emotional tales are told with the suspense of active, clashing rhythmic patterns and improvisational freedom. It all sounds inventively new as a whole; and even more important, it sounds honest, energized and elevating.

At times, such as on "Sos" and "As luck would have it" - when the scorching saxophone of Pauli Lyytinen co-leads the tune with Bjokenheim's guitar over punchy rhythm section - this quartet reminded us of Markus Stauss' Spaltklang. But eCsTaSy is actually more varied than any Spaltklang release, offering a free jazz styled nature adventure on "Through The Looking Glass," a tribal dance on "Subterrnean Samba" and more.

This quartet has released a new album titled Out Of The Blue in 2015, and we are extremely curious to listen to it and hear what fresh sounds the group has concocted for us this time. (9/10)

 

 

 

 
7.7/10 Avi
 

FORD, ROBBEN - Into The Sun - CD - Mascot Label Group - 2015

The new release by guitarist Robben Ford is a sensitive, modern blues rock affair. Ford delivers simple yet effective songs, using a language that is clearly a blues dialect - direct, concise and convincingly unearthing internal, personal concerns and passions. The production and tonal shades are contemporary, providing the immediate, tuneful material a notable attractiveness that makes it all the more accessible.

Ford's guitar playing is on the brighter side of the blues, and if you wish to hear how uplifting his playing can be you better check out "Rainbow Cover" with its budding guitar melody. Ford's band is not only adept but also a creative force, and the piano and organ playing of Jim Cox, in particular, contributes to the album's shining optimism.

Quite a few artists make a guest appearance here, but it is ZZ Ward who steals the show on "Breath Of Me" - her duet with Ford. This R&B song stands in stark contrast with mainstream pop trends (which we attribute to TV music competitions such as American Idol). It is a song that does not peak, but rather breathes: Ford's guitar wails temperately to a slow, pulsating rhythm; and it is within this framework and with a suitable reservation that ZZ Ward manages to showcase her impressive talent as a soul vocalist, giving the words the feel they deserve and transforming them into an effectively affecting offering. (7.7/10)

 

 

 

 
8/10 Avi
 

ROCK CANDY FUNK PARTY - Groove Is King - CD - Mascot Label Group - 2015

Groove Is King is the second full length release by the supergroup Rock Candy Funk Party. Drummer Tal Bergman, guitarists Joe Bonamassa and Ron DeJesus, and Mike Merritt on bass - all technically proficient players - are the heart of the ensemble, with a number of guests contributing to augment its crossover funk music.

If funk is your thing then this album definitely deserves a stab. The funk pulsates throughout the release with much diversity: the opening title track mixes the funk with rock and electronic music, and "Low Tide" picks up from there with notes of late period Miles Davis styled jazz-funk, horn section included (the renowned trumpet player Randy Brecker is credited for the album's horn arrangements!).

Later, "East Village" offers a more relaxed tone in form of exquisite and sensitive guitar playing with a right amount of blues thrown in, and it is a testimony to the good taste with which the funk is typically handled here. "If Six Was Eight" is an accomplished percussive feature, while "Cube's Brick" is tinged with Weather Report styled jazz-rock.

"Don't Be Stingy With The SMPTE" adds disco into the mix, and is actually one of the best guitar based disco tunes you are likely to hear, even though it could have benefited from slight editing; and "Rock Candy," despite its title, is actually the jazziest piece, with by-the-book motif presentation followed by spot on guitars, keyboards, bass, trumpet and sax soloing.

One of the album's most surprising numbers is an instrumental cover of Peter Gabriel's "Digging In The Dirt." We have come to the conclusion that any preconception about the song should be shaken off prior to approaching it, as Rock Candy Funk Party stripped the song of its original, emotional context and simply used the tune as a vehicle for something new, resulting in one of the most festive pieces on the album.

One the downside, "C You On The Flip Side" does not add much character to the album, and the Electronic Dance Music genre representation - "The Fabulous Tales Of Two Bands" - should have been avoided (even though its The Prodigy bits are confronted with Zeppelinesque vibes, we argue that even the dedicated listeners who are acceptive of all the aforementioned crossover attempts will find this one extraneous; luckily it's the last track so you can just stop the album before the track starts). (8/10)

 

 

 

 
7/10 Avi
 

SOLSTICE COIL - Commute - CD - Indie - 2015

One step forward, two steps back. That's the story of this Israeli proggy, alternative rock band. Whereas the 2011 Natural Causes showed improvement over its 2005 debut, this third Solstice Coil release is a somewhat of a recoil.

An independent release, Commute feels a bit half baked. We got used to that fact that the band's songs typically require multiple listening sessions, but at this point it seems like an excuse. There are not enough engaging melodies, and truth be told, the vocal delivery is just not good. The ineffectiveness of the vocals can be sampled on "Meltdown": it is one of the lesser dressed songs here, relying mostly on keyboards to deliver the setting, and as such it leaves the front stage for the vocals; alas, the singing is pedestrian and does not evoke emotion.

The production is also problematic at times. Some of the songs could have used trimming, whereas the entire album ends abruptly; and a few moments seem amateur, especially on the acoustic guitar feature "Anywhere" (otherwise, a well written piece) and on "Forget You Ever Saw Us" which comes off quite messy.

But complaining aside, there are undisputed moments of beauty on this album. The aforementioned "Meltdown" has a wonderful guitar solo, and there's excellent guitar work on some other tracks, occasionally with a nod to Genesis' Steve Hackett (on the instrumental "An Oldie (But Your Kids Are Gonna Love It)" as well as on "Shuffle The Cards").

The true star of this recording, however, is keyboardist Shai Yallin (who is also a member of the metal outfit Subterranean Masquerade). Yallin shines right from the very start, supplying a lively, melodic line on the opening "New Eyes" as well as nuanced shades using his Fender Rhodes. On "Shuffle The Cards," arguably the best song on the album, he contributes an essential sense of harmony; on "Her Silent Silhouette" his work is as attentive as it is colorfully imaginative; and on "The Bargain" he provides some deadly synth firings.

While we recommend this for fans of Porcupine Tree and Marillion who are willing to take time and sink into their music, we also recommend that Solstice Coil will embrace a more naked approach for a follow-up. The band has already proved that it can richly decorate its songs - now it's time to tune the songwriting and vocal performance, and make the songs a bit more catchy for those who will not dwell on the band's albums as long as we did in order to find the curiosities. (7/10)

 

 

 

 
7/10 Avi
 

VON TILL, STEVE - A Life Unto Itself - CD - Neurot Recordings - 2015

A Life Unto Itself is the latest, solo release by Steve Von Till, who is known as a guitarist and vocalist for Neurosis. This is an intimate album featuring music that is typically low-key, and relies on Von Till's bass vocals for emotional impact.

Von Till's backing is kept quite minimal throughout. It is basically acoustic in nature (not to be confused with purely acoustic though!), and the first two songs - "In Your Wings" and the title track (on both you will find Von Till accompanied by pedal steel and viola players) correspond with folk music while their sparsity reservedly adds a dimension of darkness and ache.

The following songs mostly pick up the setting that was already established and elaborate it. On "A Language Of Blood" a more menacing curtain is maintained (with some effect applied to the guitar), with percussion and hurdy gurdy joining the aforementioned instruments. "Night Of The Moon" takes an even more electronic turn, utilizing keyboard instruments - this one sounds like a Mark Lanegan song, and while Von Till does not necessarily benefit from the comparison (as Lanegan's vocal performance, in general, has more impact), the lazy, almost nerve-racking proceeding holds and maintains not only the mood but also the artist's idiosyncrasy.

The same slow pace characterizes the rest of the material, enwrapping the listener gradually. Von Till's voice occasionally cracks, suggesting a Tom Waits reference, but otherwise his slightly monotonic delivery has a mantra-like effect that can be bewitching, depending on how deep you are willing to sink. (7/10)

 

 

 

 
7/10 Avi
 

STONE THE CROWS - Stone The Crows / Ode To John Law (reissue) - CD - Angel Air Records - 2015

The first two albums by the Scottish, 70s rock band are presented, each on a separate CD, on this reissue.

The eponymous 1970 release is a solid blues rock album that introduced the band to the world. The vocal talents of Maggie Bell and bassist Jimmy Dewar (who would later front Robin Trower's band on albums such as the 1974 masterpiece Bridge Of Sighs) are showing, even though they are not quite at peak yet, as is Les Harvey's guitar. John McGinnis, on the other hand, shows a more stable and inventive grip on his keyboard instruments.

The sonic quality is a bit shaky, most likely due to the original production that sounds raw (rather than due to inapt remastering), as it seems that the album was basically recorded as live in the studio takes. The authenticity of the music is eminent, even though it sounds a bit dated. The side long "I Saw America" is the most interesting track here, blending the band's blues rock with folk rock that is Fairport Convention derived, as well as with some jazzy licks.

The second, 1971 album sees the band honing its songcraft. The transition from the aforementioned, somewhat jam oriented "I Saw America" to more structured tunes with almost prog-rock character into them is felt from the very opening, with a detailed instrumental, proto-prog styled intro leading into the melody of "Sad Mary." Even simpler songs like "Things Are Getting Better" (which carries a bit of a Joe Cocker influence) maintain an epic sense due to a clever buildup. Similarly, on "Love" the band members explore the basic theme beautifully, with a steady pace, to a trance inducing effect. In its way, it can be considered a peaceful counteraction to the noisier Krautrock genre.

The biggest surprise here is the title track of Ode To John Law, which - putting aside the 70s production aesthetics of untampered, natural tones - actually sounds modern, and reminded us of some avant-rock chants in its vocal approach (like those practiced by Caveman Shoestore's Elaine di Falco or Thinking Plague's Deborah Perry decades later!). The playing is also more open and free, suggestive of avant garde music influence. This revelation alone might be worth the price of admission for some (ourselves included).

The bonus material - two live tracks on each CD - are culled from another Angel Air 2CD Stone The Crows set Radio Sessions 1969-72. The live take of "The Touch Of Your Loving Hand" is actually better in both performance and sound than the album's version.

(7/10 and if you're an avant-rock fan add an extra point, as you NEED to listen to "Ode To John Law," if only for its anthropological value.)

 

 

 

 
7.9/10 Avi
 

LAVELLE MATT / DESALVO JACK / CABRERA TOM - Sumari - CD - Unseen Rain Records - 2014

Like many other contemporary free jazz releases, it is quite hard to articulate the music contained here in words. There is something primordial in this music laid by Matt Lavelle (trumpets, flugelhorn and alto clarinet), Jack DeSalvo (various string instruments) and Tom Cabrera (drums and percussion); a return to the primitive sounds.

The music echoes and reflects nature. The nature squeaks, screeches, hisses and whistles through the velvet yet discordant sounds of the horns as well as through the spacious, frequently tribal sounding rhythms that are constantly active while maintaining a sense of sparsity. Such a reflection can be disastrous, but here, the players approach the recreation of primitivism with reservedness that prevents dispersal. There is a welcomed openness to the recording which invites you to be engulfed by the sonics, rather than being struck by them.

As the album unfolds, as evident on "Alternate Presents and Multiple Focus" but even more prominent on "The Gates of Horns," melodic sparks creep in, illustrating the alignment of nature to create harmonious beauty. (7.9/10)

 

 

 

 
8.2/10 Avi
 

SEDUCTION, THE - You Catch Fire - CD - Mechanical Pig Records - 2015

You Catch Fire catches fire from the start, with a fat rock sound and a tasty guitar lick.

The Seduction plays in your face, fervent and proud. The band's music has a classic heavy rock and roll drive (not unlike the retro rock of Wolfmother or Witchcraft) that blends the fast tempos of Motorhead with the guitar tones of Black Sabbath, in a more wailing and rollicking fashion. Coming to think of it, The Seduction almost sounds like a punk version of Iron Maiden.

The songs are effectively engaging: they are raw yet with clear melodic hooks; they are fun yet in no way ridiculous; their rhythm is driving; and there's enough character to the songs to keep you alert throughout. "Flavor Of The Weak," for example, benefits from its suspended, ska-like midsection, while "The Flood" has sick boogie-rock vibe into it prior to unveiling with nearly epic proportions. (8.2/10)

 

 

 

 
10/10 Avi
 

VISIT, THE - Through Darkness Into Light - CD - Indie - 2015

The Visit is the Canadian duo of cellist Raphael Weinroth-Browne (of Musk Ox, whose latest release we reviewed here) and vocalist Heather Sita Black, and the power and beauty they produce is beyond comprehension.

This duet is enwrapping with its intimacy and its well-articulated musical adventurousness. It is exotic and dark, and yet classical. The duo manages to avoid the clichés of metal and world music by assimilating only the true essence of these influence into the avant garde chamber setting.

Weinroth-Browne playing is storming yet well disciplined. It often carries a heavy metal feel, especially in the heavy, overwhelming setting it conveys; but it is of an equal appeal to modern, classical music aficionados who can appreciate the works of Shostakovich. With just one instrument, Weinroth-Brown weaves an intricate, intense plot.

Heather Sita Black is every bit as attractive as her companion. This is not a trivial compliment coming from us, as we are not ones to admire classical music derived vocals nor do we care much about symphonic female vocals when used in metal (or rock music). But Sita Black is something else. She is a true vocal artist, and she portrays emotions and turmoil even when she sings wordlessly, and she explores the music in an avant garde fashion as well as delivers it with appropriate natural beauty that brings her lyrics - poems of ache, anguish and dissolution as well as of revival - to life. Her presence is exotic, as she occasionally incorporates eastern motifs into her vocalization; as does Weinroth-Browne into his cello playing, in a perfectly befitting manner (listen to "Offering"!).

The closest thing we have heard recently that comes anywhere near the music captured on this album is Empty Days' performance of John Downland's "Flow My Tears" (read here), but The Visit's music is all original and every bit as riveting and thrilling, if not more so; and it lasts throughout the entire album. This is emotive, acoustic music that speaks louder than any distortion can get, and has a cinematic quality that will enthrall you for fifty five minutes.

Holding equal amounts of classicism and avant garde, Through Darkness Into Light is a masterpiece that is both harsh and sublime. (10/10)

 

 

 

 
8/10 Avi
 

HAYNES, WARREN - Ashes & Dust, featuring Railroad Earth - CD - Mascot Label Group - 2015

In his new album Warren Haynes establishes himself as a singer-songwriter of a high caliber.

The primarily acoustic, folk music infused songs demonstrate a strong songwriting character, while there is still a nod to the American jam rock that Haynes is typically associated with (as a member of Gov't Mule and the Allman Brothers Band). There is plenty of extended musical interplay here, especially between the various stringed instruments (electric and acoustic guitars, mandolin, violin and banjo). In fact, the album stretches for almost 80 minutes, and the songs - as surprising as it may sound when considering the genre - actually benefit from the openness and creative wandering, even if some tend to slightly overstay their welcome (beyond the point of effectiveness, that is, but hey! jam rock aficionados are not likely to complain about this!).

The country vibes as well as the sincerity and the accessibility of the songs reminded us of one of our favorite albums - East Of Eden's self-titled 1971 album; though Ashes & Dust is more laid back and overall more reserved.

Railroad Earth, which serves as the backing band here, is instrumental to the richness and wholeness of the songs, while Haynes' soulful performance has an immediate grip. This is one spellbinding journey. (8/10)

 

 

 

 
7.4/10 Avi
 

ZEVIOUS - Passing Through the Wall - CD - Cuneiform Records - 2013

Zevious is a guitar-bass-drums power trio playing hard rocking avant-rock music. The music hits you in the face, and that's no mean feat given that the music tends to incorporate some of the avant-rock sophistication of complex rhythmic patterns and maneuvers. With a background in jazz and a metallic sound (mostly the electric bass which resonates in a ravaging fashion; the rest feels more natural in comparison), the pieces come off like a knotty twist on Meshuggah.

These guys certainly know their game in terms of musical playing, and yet the pieces leave something to desired. The relentless drive feels, at times, like a cover for some undeveloped compositions.

Passing Through the Wall is an effective, punchy album, but we would like to see the band developing a more distinctive, compositional voice for its next release. (7.4/10)

 

 

 

 
3.5/10 Chaim
 

COPERNICUS - L'Eternite Immediate - CD - Nevermore Inc. - 2013

This weird recording is a marriage between jazz/fusion, blues, French chanson, wedding music and elevator music. Seriously. This, in addition to the spoken parts (no singing though), is the basis of this New York-based band, its playground where it fools around and experiment. Philosophically-driven, free-flowing, free-form and amorphous, the music of Copernicus is undefinable and overall original, but there's a big difference between being original and being appealing. Copernicus' L'Eternite Immediate is by no means appealing, unfortunately. Too goofy for its own sake, too restrained and unadventurous, this album may have got a myriad of melodies, styles and aesthetics - but none is truly engaging or interesting. It's too bluesy, too mundane, too safe and lacks passion or excitement, both invested in the music and radiated toward the listener.

L'Eternite Immediate is French-spoken (for the most part), hence irrelevant to non-French speakers who'd like to delve into Copernicus' message, or philosophy. There must be some sort of philosophy here, otherwise why bother with so much speaking throughout the recording? But a habitual listener would be none the wiser after listening to this oddball, which will in turn increase the redundancy-factor attributed to this album.

Lame and non-creative, pedestrian and unappealing, this recording is not something a good, heavy, dark, intricate or subversive music fan should embrace or enjoy. Avoid, if you can. (3.5/10)

 

 

 

 
9/10 Chaim
 

ENNUI - Falsvs Anno Domini - CD - Solitude Productions - 2015

From all places in the world, Georgia is probably the last place where one of the year's best funeral/doom/death metal was likely to be found; and yet it was found. For Ennui, a Georgia-based funeral doom/death metal band (and probably one of the very few metal bands situated in this country; The Metal Archives lists only 18 heavy metal/hard rock bands in total hailing from that former Soviet Union country) has delivered, with this third full length studio album, not only the best album in the band's short-lived career, but also an outstanding achievement in every measure and every scale, and probably, just probably - one of best extreme doom metal albums of recent years.

Ennui has shown a tremendous potential right from the get-go. From the very first sounds of the band's debut, the music immediately sparked magic conveyed by Ennui's extreme yet exquisite - dare we say original - form of cavernous doom metal. Something in the conviction with which they played; something in their songwriting methodology, their free-form compositions and their utterly dark pessimism oozing from the speakers - have marked Ennui as unique, and realization of their shining potential was a no-brainer. Then came the second hit from these somber Georgians, and some cool splits and now this, their third and crowning achievement, and their most accessible recording to date.

Listening to this monster is pure enjoyment for those who like their metal professionally done, interesting, crushingly heavy yet melodic; a recording equipped with the best production possible. The music flows effortlessly, like an oily fat worm of black goo, slowly, carefully, intently, the music flows, like hot tar, through the canyons of the mind and soul, always melodic, always engaging - toward a bleak conclusion.

This joyless, sunless wave of darkness, aided by a pristine production to match, is highlighting the band's ability to create some intriguing drumming patterns, unconventional and complex, using a very pronounced double bass kick drum and a really huge kettle drum sound, playing a major role side by side with the enormous throat performance (screams, growls, and tortured tunes howled from the throats of some banshees); and the mesmerizing guitar leads: fine, euphonious yet thorny and abrasive - Ennui's music wounds and bruises.

Despite the fact the entire recording sounds like a single indivisible piece, with little variation that might significantly set one track apart from the next, the whole album is so greatly written and executed - so much that one wouldn't mind listening to either one track over and over again or to the whole album in a single session, despite the emotional burden it generates with its subterranean and pessimistic visionary music. Falsvs Anno Domini is that good an album; every track is a world of dark hues and mysteries abound, and the entire album - a universe of somber colors and luscious compositions. Falsvs Anno Domini introduces dissonance alongside harmony; traditionalism alongside sophistication, and does not lose its grip on the listener for a single moment, remaining spellbinding with its rich funeral-esque sentiments.

An exhaustive yet utterly rewarding experience, this album - the third masterpiece in a row by the unsung Ennui - has got the impact and enormity of UK's psychedelic funeral doom/death masters Esoteric; not lesser in talent or vision, Ennui have created an album for the ages, a document of awe and tragedy. (9/10)

 

 

 

 
7.5/10 Chaim
 

EVOKE THY LORDS - Boys! Raise Giant Mushrooms In Your Cellar! - CD - Solitude Productions - 2015

Like a bunch of crazy stoners, these Russians sound as if they were abducted straight from the Sixties or the Seventies, playing that carefree, hippie, semi-psychedelic desert rock n' roll, and they even got a flute, imagine that!

But there's a twist in the plot here! Suddenly, those sun-baked, blissful moments are being covered with sonic grey clouds that render the music gloomy and transport it into the doom dimensions. Groove-laden melancholia and dark sentiments then rule, playing what little game they play in a circular, repetitive, hypnotic manner; and a trance-inducing riffage is constantly accompanied by that goddamn mischievous flute.

Then there are other unorthodox instruments on display, and while doing their thing, the music sounds like some sort of nature-worshiping, tribal song full of ethos and pathos and folklore, Siberian-style.

And just to add to the confusion, the groove-laden, amplifier-worshiping distortion converges with some mighty deep growls and a gentle, female voice; and once again, the hellish, elvish flute is flirting with everybody and everything - and the party is in full gear.

Imagine Affliction's Prodigal Sun or Convulse's Reflections joining forces with Jethro Tull, indivisible and proud, and there you have it: a groovy, stylish, folk-ish and wickedly well done psychedelic doom/death for the toughest stoners out there, rather than to the effeminate, happy, hippie stoner heads. (7.5/10)

 

 

 

 
6.5/10 Chaim
 

ORPHANS OF DUSK - Revenant - CD - Hypnotic Dirge Records - 2015

Albeit pedestrian, Orphans Of Dusk's Revenant EP may surprise those who expect a totally rehashed doom/death gothic affair. While this mini album is not devoid of that style, it does wander unto different realms of music, and that's the problem: instead of adhering to one formula that works - like the smoothly flowing Type-O-Negative-influenced dirges - the band try to be uber-cool and go for the throat and deliver some lukewarm moments of classic styled doom/death, incorporating growls and familiar riffs - and that's something Orphans Of Dusk is quite poor at handling.

Still, the melodic passages and quite gripping instrumental parts, as well as the ghostly-sounding, vintage Church-organ keyboard lines and the occasional usage of vocals a-la Peter Steele, make the layman's doom/death on display almost redeemable. That being said, the delivery is eventually uneven, oscillating between brilliant moments of sheer charm (the less-metal-oriented compositions) and moments of utter metallic redundancy.

Even though the songs are well crafted, the unevenness in quality and the poor aesthetic choice of doom/death against a wall of aesthetic brilliance portrayed by the gothic rock innuendos and the funereal, ancient-sounding keyboards spawning some unearthly tunes - these make Revenant a somewhat frustrating listening experience, as the listener would constantly wonder what would have happened had the band focused on a single aesthetic it was good at delivering, such as the gothic rock versus funereal and gorgeous ambiances drenching in mystery and nocturnal beauty. Beautiful music does not need "spicing up," or being muscled up by injecting it with faux-masculinity in the form of slowed down death metal of sorts. (6.5/10)

 

 

 

 
6.9/10 Chaim
 

SPIRALISM - Chakras - CD - Inverse Records - 2014

Released at the end of 2014 by the unrelenting Finnish record label Inverse Records, Chakras is not only a blend of aesthetics and styles - ranging from hippy rock 'n' roll, psychedelia, stoner rock/metal, traditional doom and death metal; it is also a mishmash of sentiments and qualities, showcasing a roller coaster of songwriting approaches, some of which are cool and captivating while others are pretty dull and bland.

It's not that the music itself isn't good, but rather the choice of tunes that occasionally leaves the listener indifferent, having less than the desirable impact expected from a band with such a talent. Chakras is an album containing many "almosts": almost good, almost stirring, almost engaging, almost overwhelming - almost this and almost that.

Spiralism is a quartet of Finnish musicians who strive to sound somewhere between Reflections era Convulse and Prodigal Sun era Afflicted, with instrumental post-rock vastness thrown into the mix. There's a constant oscillation between the badass moments and the "what-do-they-want-from-us?" segments, with some spacey keyboards and clean vocals versus guttural belches.

Bass-driven and tribal, the music indeed flows effortlessly from the benign to the intimidating, but at all times the general feel is that of a laid-back, sun-drenched, drug-induced, carefree environment that is most suitable as a background for a dope-smoking, alcohol-drinking party than to anything dark or sinister. We like our music dark and sinister, so in that context nothing here manages to impress us to our bones, albeit the fact the music in itself isn't half-bad.

Given the right setting and the right mind-altering substances (and enough alcohol), Spiralism's Chakras could be the best soundtrack around. In case you're looking for some truly menacing music emanating genuinely dark energies - seek elsewhere. (6.9/10)

 

 

 

 
1/10 Chaim
 

ZELORAGE - So You're A Mess - CD - Inverse Records - 2013

The Finnish label Inverse Records is sometimes over-enthusiastic. Otherwise, we don't know what this shit is all about. We don't necessarily refer to the style of music that does not appeal to us (not now, not in a million years), but it seems every aspect of this miserable album is half-baked. From the vocals (half-metalcore and half mellow nu metal soft singing) to the music (can you be more cliche?!) - this recording seems powerless and weak, on every level.

Misogynistic lyrics and mock-harsh vocals try to conceal the band's lack of genuine musical material, and the fact it's all delivered with virtually zero dynamics and energy makes this charade much worse. Lightweight and insignificant, this metalcore/nu-metal bullshit of an album has got nothing to write home about. Avoid. (1/10)

 

 

 

 
8/10 Chaim
 

DOOMED - Wrath Monolith - CD - Solitude Productions - 2015

Wrath Monolith is one pretentious album title, don't you think? Think of the expectations, delivering such a promise of being the epitome of wrath, a colossal monument of/to anger. Did Doomed deliver this time, like before? Did it meet the expectations? This time it's not that simple, literally.

Pierre Laube, Doomed's mastermind, has tried to be a tad more progressive and "advanced," refusing to stick to his familiar style and sound. The lead guitar, for instance, makes a longer appearance and is more pronounced, and so are the songs themselves: a myriad of aesthetics, some debuting on this album, arrangements and rhythms and structures and soundscapes, that were introduced for the first time on a Doomed album, an eclectic barrage of dark energies.

This new Doomed album is not something that hasn't been done before (by Abstract Spirit, for instance). There's a whole bunch of Russian and former-Soviet Union bands that play the same exact type of cavernous-yet-melodic doom metal. But Wrath Monolith is different: it's experimental, but not to the point of winning over the heaviness factor.

The album also introduces, for the first time, long progressive metal leads that, among other things, lend the album its progressive flair. But Make no mistake! This is after all a Doomed album, in all its glory and might. Absolutely dark and hungry, a hunter of lost souls, these tunes want to devour whatever is in their path, like a starving Leviathan.

Some odd, unorthodox choices were made when recording this album. However, they all, eventually, add up well. The vocals are done by at least three dudes, Laube included. The leads are exceptionally long and occasionally sound as if a full-blown progressive/art/avant-garde rock band is playing these tunes.

The songs are accessible, some are gorgeously beautiful and some lavishly ominous, and the whole set is melodic in essence. The melody goes hand in hand with the emotional burden and the somber atmosphere that is invested in and radiates from this unique, cold, cruel yet captivating album.

Mr. Pierre Laube has outdone himself. Thinking outside of the box of his own unique style of doom - a style he has so religiously kept intact on previous recordings and has now been transformed. While unraveling and reassembled as a new-ish entity, Doomed have both matured (in the doom metal sense of the word) and progressed. Borrowing from here and borrowing from there (but not once copycatting), blending and mixing something that sounds cold yet not lifeless, melodic yet crushingly heavy, Wrath Monolith holds uplifting melodic leads against a wall of madness and grime. You could hear the mechanical black heart of French industrial doom band P.H.O.B.O.S. pulsating here, as well as the '70s-inspired progressive and endless rock/metal leads of Opeth - all paths converge eventually and crash against Doomed's own trademark sound: a sound of a thousand dying humans who voice, synchronously, their final, death yell, before eternity takes command.

So is this album indeed a monolith of wrath? The fact is it is neither monolithic, as it is the most eclectic of the Doomed lot, nor it is particularly wrathful. It is dark however; inherently sinister and unsettling, in the sense its compositions are psychologically disturbing, like a recollection of a very bad dream you've recently had, that felt so realistic, you had awoken all shaken up, covered in cold sweat. Doomed's reign of mental terror continues right on this slab of blackness.

..."But when your pillars crumble, tell me who shall you command?" (8/10)

 

 

 

 
8.5/10 Chaim
 

KANTO ARBORETUM - The Prosperous Post-apocalyptic World - CD - Independent - 2015

We like this album a lot! In a nutshell, it's inspired black metal; an album full with ingenious riffs and "feel" galore. Typically, black metal is served either raw OR atmospheric, as the latter usually benefits from a shinier production than the former; and yet this album is raw AND atmospheric at the same time, using no additives. Utilizing just a couple of guitars, bass, vocals, a drum machine, and no keyboards, to create something as ambiance-inducing as this album is not something to take for granted.

Though hailing from Finland, Kanto Arboretun's type of black metal could have been recorded anywhere in the world. It is a borderless, cosmopolitan, dark rock 'n' roll, full of venom and angst. It's slightly less primordial than Dark Throne's music, perhaps more melodic in essence, and the delivery oscillates between the semi-progressive and the utterly primitive. The production is an updated version of the early second-wave-of-black-metal sound, a post-modern revivalism of that "ancient" sound, if you will; thorny yet smooth, almost mock-primitive.

The riffs are engaging and captivating. Their first, false impression is of being only grey or black and white, but as soon as the ears get accustomed to the grittiness of the production, all those colorful hooks and wonderful melodies start to emerge, and they never stop. After the initial familiarity of this typical black metal sound settles down, one will realize this is a unique recording, having a personal signature written all over its 36 majestic minutes. The music flows effortlessly here, in the form of grey and grainy waves of dark ambiance and sinister soundscapes; all elements converge and intertwine virtually seamlessly, spawning this excellent, wintery, dystopian album.

The Prosperous Post-Apocalyptic World is an excellent recording needing only a fine adjustment in the drum machine department. We simply cannot wait to listen to whatever else awaiting us within the minds of the musicians behind this intriguing, well accomplished entity. (8.5/10)

 

 

 

 
5/10 Chaim
 

LYKAION - Heavy Lullabies - CD - Inverse Records - 2015

Heavy Lullabies is missing the target by a mile, in terms of how befitting the album title is in relation to the music, as it is neither heavy nor lullabies-centric. Heavy Lullabies is a watered down, classic (i.e. cliché ridden) hard rock that flirts with heavy metal. Mostly, however, it indulges in heavy petting the abominable "alternative" rock genre. But can you take a minus and a minus and make it a plus? That is, can you take lackluster hard rock, couple it with alternative rock and hope the outcome would become even mildly appealing?

This album does not totally suck (but for the most part, it does), as there are some merits to be found here as well: the shoegaze occasional allusion, the brief, badass heavy metal aversions, and the ballads which glare with nostalgia and erotica.

But these are only fleeting glimpses into what could have been, had the band went one direction instead of the other. Why the hell does an aspiring, half-decent, heavy metal band need to incorporate the lame weakling known as "alternative rock" into their music? This foreign element is a party crusher, if there ever was one.

So whenever a cool melody has been established - one you really like and enjoy listening to - Oasis suddenly appears right in front of your face, mocking whatever hope you had for good entertainment.

They say life's too short to be spending it on bad books, bad movies and bad music. If one could separate the great from the limp and listen only to the best parts of Heavy Lullabies - this album would have been a journey of joy and wonder. But since the good is inseparable from the bullshit, we cannot wholeheartedly recommend it. Life's too short. (5/10)

 

 

 

 
6/10 Mladen
 

STONEGHOST - New Age of Old Ways - CD - Mascot Label Group - 2015

No, don't judge it by the title. This is not a Pagan album. Not even a neo-Pagan, let alone New Age. Disregard the skeleton and the goat on the cover as well unless you can accept them as a "metal" thing, nothing more than that. You don't get the old ways here.

What you get, though, is groove. Plenty of it. Blues on testosterone, Pantera in shrapnels, metal in sound, rock in attitude. That kind of a thing, if you want it.

Apart of an occasional scream, the vocals are - well, angry. What else? Angry shouts with apparently conscious lyrics about... something. Modern stuff. Drama queens and kings probably - we didn't quite get the lyrics.

The songs are fairly elaborated and stand apart from each other. There is plenty of energy here, and instant satisfaction is guaranteed. Not as much made for headphones, listening at home or any other form of serious listening, but, we guess Stoneghost's recent release would make a good background for a party or some random activity, such as physical exercise. If the songs were more memorable, maybe for even more, but, as it is, Stoneghost are just a quick fix of energy. (6/10)

 

 

 

 
4.5/10 Mladen
 

SCHON, NEAL - Vortex - CD - Mascot Label Group - 2015

Many years ago our ex-editor reviewed a Joe Satriani CD and concluded that guitar solos alone, where the rest of the band sounds as a generic backup, are boring. A few years later, I made a similar point about an Annihilator album. Simply put, albums where the guitar - or any other instrument - does everything, and the other instruments sound like a simple program, are boring! Even the best guitar solo can be made better if the bass, keyboard, or drum player participate and give it a background boost.

Enter Neal Schon - the man famous for playing in Journey - and Vortex, his new double album. The guitar is superb. Solos, compositions, moods, 18 songs in total, all tasteful, all elaborated and carefully laid into place. The man knows what he is doing.

The drummer, however, doesn't. And no, it's not a generic simplistic drummer. We wish it was. Yes, we actually said that. We wish this was a programmed, generic machine instead, but programmed by a metal guy. This one, although not a machine, is a jazz drummer of the pretentious kind - sort of "just play and sound like you know what you're doing, make it sound fancy and expensive, and sometimes try to pay attention to the song". Maybe it's not that bad and we are too harsh, but maybe it actually is. It all sounds the same. No dynamics, no quiet parts. The guy constantly has to show off with how many cymbals he can hit, even though the composition isn't asking for it. Also, it sounds like he's using every possible excuse not to play two bass drums, a galloping rhythm or just a simple straightforward beat sometimes. It's all the same. Boring jazz, and this is not even a jazz album! Man, I don't know who you are, and I'm not going to look it up [Ed note: it's Steve Smith, also a Journey alumnus], but, please, listen to some power metal before you ruin another record with this crap. You see what you did? You made us write about the drums ten times more than about the guitars, in a review of a famous guitarist's solo album. And we didn't even get to mention the keyboards or the bass. That's just wrong. With better drums Vortex would be a solid 8 or 9, but, as it is, it's a... (4.5/10)

 

 

 

 
8.2/10 Mladen
 

ARCHEMORON - Sulphur and Fire - CD - Cryptia Productions - 2015

When Sulphur and Fire starts, for a few minutes you will think that someone in Greece made a better Immortal album than Immortal did on All Shall Fall (which isn't a hard thing to do, though). When it ends, you will be thankful to Archemoron for reminding you that black metal is still the best kind of music there is. Darkness, pride, class, attitude, dignity, playful coldness, imagination, skillful solos, real riffs, commanding vocals, stop-go parts, blasting parts, old stuff, new stuff; Archemoron is on fire here.

Perfect, powerful sound, long instrumental sections, moments of wonder, moments of glory, moments of destruction, moments of desolation and emotion; you have heard some of these before, but not like they're done here. And those you have not heard, and you will absorb them as if they were the most natural thing.

Even if, some pieces sound like they were randomly stitched together, and some songs aren't quite finished, it doesn't matter. No one could finish an album like this without limiting its longevity and staying power. Therefore, it's not perfect, but you are allowed to love Sulphur and Fire even with its flaws, because the next best thing is still underneath it. (8.2/10)

 

 

 

 
5.5/10 Mladen
9.99/10 Chaim
 

WHELM - A Gaze Blank and Pitiless as the Sun (Reissue) - CD - Aesthetic Death - 2015

A sound of a band dying? Since Whelm have split up, this - its only album - might just be the sound of a band giving up.

This is nothing special, we agree, plenty of them (are no longer) around, but in Whelm's case, we can see the reason why. They didn't have much fun. And, yes, doom and sludge aren't supposed to be fun anyway, but you can vividly imagine Whelm stops trying to make sense, and, worse, there is the feeling that it could have done much more.

A Gaze Blank and Pitiless as the Sun is all atmosphere, strong and desperate one. But conveyed through music like this, it is a vague description of an atmosphere rather than an elaborate painting. To cut down the abstraction - it is mostly down-tempo chugging, with a bored drummer and too much vocals. The sound is correct. The lyrics are correct too. The first few songs are full of wailing, mournful guitar leads, but they disappear towards the end. So do the ideas, but Whelm kept going nonetheless. And the result is - a lot of the same.

If the album was half as long and played twice, the result would still be the same - correct atmosphere and not much else to talk about. And on that note, this review will do the same as the band - stop. (5.5/10)

 

 

 

 
9.99/10 Chaim
5.5/10 Mladen
 

WHELM - A Gaze Blank and Pitiless as the Sun (Reissue) - CD - Aesthetic Death - 2015

Have you ever heard one of those bands whose music creates a universe? Have you ever listened to music that is a cathedral of tears and pain? a flood of grey matter and never-ending gloomy days? Well, Whelm's A Gaze Blank and Pitiless as the Sun - originally released in 2013 and reissued by Aesthetic Death in 2015 - is one of those miserable mishaps who just make your day far worse than it's already been.

This slow, creeping death metal is layered with various vocal approaches and post-metal flirtations, sometimes in the background and sometimes in the foreground, as a sort of a musical hide-and-seek game. It is a cryptic, macabre show written and played flawlessly by a band which no longer exists - a fact we all should mourn. This album is Whelm's short-lived legacy - its glorious zenith of creation as well as its swansong.

The death metal on display is as simple as it is addictive. It is as appealing as it is alienating. This album is not about being technical or versatile or progressive; this album is about making you as uncomfortable as possible. It's a testament to the magical ability of music to steer and shake you to your very core, and when on your knees, you beg for some more of that sweet, sweet punishment.

It all boils down to sounding industrial and cold without incorporating even a single distinctive element of the so-called "industrial sound." The very bleakness and gigantic proportions of the music, its heartlessness and gut wrenching brutality of both sound and emotion - these allow this album to sound mechanical, cold and indifferent to the pain of the world.

A Gaze Blank and Pitiless as the Sun is a haunting endeavor, an epic horror show. It's one of those insane death metal albums which own a truly lunatic vibe, either created by the vocals, the atmosphere or the music; and in Whelm's case, it's all three factors combined. From the rotten-sounding vocals to the perfectly light-less melodies, to the unfathomable weight of the tunes to the emotional burden they create this album is a cruel, sonic black hole from which no light escapes.

So whether you like Mindrot's Forlorn (a timeless album in its own right) or a combination of Neurosis, Asphyx and Gorefest (blood, sweat and tears - the holy trinity of this music), caught up in a knife fight while loaded up on hallucinogenics, or just love your death metal awesome, then this life changing album is all you'll ever need.

Aesthetic Death has once again unearthed a forgotten musical gem that otherwise would have been remained buried in the great mass grave of obscurity and anonymity (which would have deprived us of the pleasure of enjoying one of the greatest albums ever recorded in recent times); and the label receives kudos from us, for proudly making another commercial suicide by releasing this nocturnal recording in the most professional manner possible; fools are those who will miss the opportunity of listening to this excellent and rare recording which is only a click of a button away, and then go grab your copy! (9.99/10)

 

 

 

 
6/10 Avi
 

WAKE THE NATIONS - Sign Of Heart - CD - Inverse Records - 2015

Undoubtedly inspired by '80s pop metal (we don't like the term Hair metal, but it might make things clearer to some readers...), Sign Of Heart is a bit anachronistic. Ten songs, mostly centered about love or lost love, attempting to sound big (think glam), relying on engaging guitars and fancy keyboards.

Still, it works. The songs are quite effective, and although some of the overdriven guitar rhythms are too basic, there is some accomplished playing to be found (check out the keyboards-guitar teaming and arrangement on "The Touch Of Your Hand," for example).

Alas, Sign Of Heart fails in living up to the high production standard of the genre. This can definitely be attributed to the popularity of pop metal in the '80s, which secured big labels' interest and funding back in the day; and the relatively limited attraction of the genre today. And while some might appreciate the slightly rough takes here, we believe that there was a room for further refinement.

Another drawback is the lead vocals spot being populated by various singers - almost every song is sung by another singer. They are not bad, but it makes Wake The Nations sound a bit generic, as opposed to being identified with a specific voice. This can be easily amended, and we recommend that it would, should the band ever approach a followup. (6/10)

 

 

 

 
7/10 Avi
 

SONAR - Black Light - CD - Cuneiform Records - 2015

The new Sonar album unfolds slowly as the nine minute "Enneagram" builds up. There is a dark vibe to the music, sounding like a restrained hybrid of Tool and King Crimson (a possible contribution of David Bottrill who was responsible for the mix, and who produced such modern classics as Tool's 2001 Lateralus and King Crimson's 1995 Thrak, to name a few).

But vibe aside, this instrumental music does not peak. It continues to float ashore instead of sweeping you into the sea.

Furthermore, the semi-repetitive / quasistatic nature of the music (which we described in our review of the band's 2014 release Static Motion) is still not as hypnotic nor as engaging as we think it should be, and yet we do feel that this Switzerland based band has matured towards accomplishing this in the future.

Still, Black Light maintains aural appeal, as the music is spacious and inviting as opposed to the aforementioned influences that can get quite overbearing; and the dedication of the quartet to its vision is admirable, as is their willingness to elaborate it with fresh tones ("Angualar Momentum," for example, holds hints of Mediterranean music; and "String Geometry" eventually hooks them with another, perhaps even more obvious crossbread of Tool and King Crimson). (7/10)

 

 

 

 
8/10 Avi
 

SCARDUST - Shadow - CD - Indie - 2015

This debut EP by the Israeli band Scardust (originally named Somnia, but forced to change name) got us overwhelmed. Overwhelmed by the band's impressive technical chops, overwhelmed by the versatile performance and especially overwhelmed by the incredible, prominent female vocals, ranging from operatic singing through natural singing to growling, bestial rants.

If you like modern metal, you really owe yourself to listen to the opening "Tantibus." The operatic vocals are proficiently and naturally blended into more visceral singing, and when Noa Gruman sings "hearing a melody trying to comfort me" for the first time - it's one of the most heavenly vocal takes you'll ever hear. This song is storming and immediate, melodic yet powerful, and has Symphony X written all over it. We do, however, feel that it ends a bit too soon, and a closing instrumental section could have come in handy.

Then, there are the three parts of the EP's central piece "Shards". The first part starts with a somewhat melodramatic vocal section that could have been lifted from a musical show, but soon the symphonic, progressive metal is restored. There are a few too many staccato-like breaks/outbreaks that fracture the melodies and introduce a typical progressive metal edge - sounding a bit mechanical and unimaginative; it would have been advisable to cut down on these technical showcases. The vocals are a bit too excessive as well, but they have Yemenite twists and curls weaved into them, making the singing attractive and exotic despite its over the top leanings.

The second part ("Shadow") has a glorious folk metal feel into it, reminding us of Wuthering Heights, and Part III features a disillusioned climax that is quite effective yet a bit messed up.

So, yes - we are overwhelmed; but we are overwhelmed mostly because Scardust chose to overwhelm us. It might be a good tactic for a first release, in order to grab listeners and labels' deserved attention, but for a longer, lasting mark we suggest that the band teams up with a good producer who will be able to balance the excessiveness in favor of the songs. Scardust is a rough diamond and with a proper polishing it can turn into a leading force in the global metal scene. (8/10)

Listen or download the album here.

 

 

 

 
3/10 Avi
 

HUNTRESS - Static - CD - 1031 Records - 2015

Static, the new Huntress album is a showy, compressed album, served with a digitized sound. Heavy metal cliches are treated with blunt force and no creativity.

We are willing to admit that at times we can actually enjoy the first two songs ("Sorrow" and "Flesh"), but then it all continues in a similar, formulaic form.

There's a lot of plain, rhythmic bashing, with almost no melodic lines to support it. Some hints of thrash emerge every now and then (for example, on "Four Blood Moons"), perhaps as an excuse to the unrefined playing; but the beautifying production leaves no place to consider these as honestly emergent uproars.

The "icing on the cake" is vocalist Jill Janus (perhaps because she IS the face of the songs, almost solely responsible for their melodic characters). Janus is quite limited in her presentation - relying on singing that borders on shouting as the nominal state (hardly a notable use for an alleged four octave vocal range), she fails to depict any true emotion (well, apart from teenage rage). Add the echoes of a digital treatment feathering her vocals on record and you can instantly feel just how fake Huntress' music comes off. It's like heavy metal pop for the masses - superficial on constant peak levels. (3/10)

 

 

 

 
9/10 Avi
 

FLYING COLORS - Second Flight: Live at the Z7 - CD - Mascot Label Group - 2015

This new live release - a DVD+2CD combo - by the supergroup Flying Colors lives up to the expectation. It is a crystal clear, crisp, professional recording that captures the synergic band in top shape, delivering songs from the two albums it has released so far with fitting energy and passion. This excellent group of musicians seems to thrive on genuine mutual respect, which allows for the talents to shine through in support of the songs, and that is a pleasure to watch and to listen to.

The added value of the live performance is pronounced clearer on the DVD version. It is not only due to the visuals - which certainly help in placing you inside the concert setting (the DVD also has two different surround mixes, to simulate different locations within the venue); but also in some interaction with the audience, which was edited out of the audio CDs (probably in support of a more fluent listening experience). The most notable of this is the live take of "Forever In A Daze" (which features an extended, funky bass solo by Dave Larue) being followed by a spontaneous interaction with the audience that results in the band playing a section again after the song had finished.

While most of the songs receive an adrenaline boost (Mike Portnoy certainly fuels the occurrences with his over the top drum assault), "One Love Forever" is strangely less bombastic compared to the original studio take, and while it might initially seem anemic, it has its charm.

Another highlight is "Mask Machine," as its live presentation features some dedicated instrumentation that makes it distinguishable from its studio counterpart. (9/10)

 

 

 

 
9.5/10 Avi
 

PROSPEKT - The Colourless Sunrise - CD - The Laser's Edge - 2013

This album by Britain's prog metallers Prospekt is one of the best prog metal efforts released in this decade so far (if not the best of them).

The music here is sweeping with force. While it does not break any new ground it effectively holds the crucial elements of progressive metal: technically proficient and tight performance of elaborated songs.

Prospekt delivers some powerful rhythmic assaults while maintaining a clear harmonic lead as well as a tense atmosphere. Check out "Dissident Priests" - a ticking inferno embedded with marvelously dazzling, neoclassical metal styled guitar - and note the band's thoughtful, naturally flowing arranging capability.

The vocals might be a bit thin with regards to their range, and yet singer (and keyboard player) Richard Marshall remains purposeful throughout. His focused performance is crucial and unique as he conveys the emotional aspects of the music better than most of his contemporaries.

A passionate and impressive tour de force, The Colourless Sunrise is an album deserved to be heard by every progressive metal fan. (9.5/10)

 

 

 

 
9/10 Avi
 

SCHNELLERTOLLERMEIER - X - CD - Cuneiform Records - 2015

Like label mates Sonar, Schnellertollermeier is a bass-guitar-drums outfit (whereas Sonar consists of two guitarists, here there is only one), and its music is similarly of a repetitive, minimal nature. In fact, it's quite interesting to note that both bands are Swiss, and so is Nik Bärtsch's Ronin - the outfit which quite possibly started the zen-funk trend.

But Schnellertollermeier's music is arguably more accomplished than Sonar's. It appeal to us might be due to the more violent nature that these guys employ, and the performance that does not afraid to be rough (and less sterile) - that's probably the most prominent feature they picked from their jazz influences. Sonar might have utilized a darker sound on its latest release (also reviewed in this issue), but Schnellertollermeier's music itself is more menacing: it does not only set to explode, it explodes! and then it explodes again, and then you realize you're in string of explosions, with the band going from strength to strength.

We tried to analyze what makes this one better than its contemporaries, and came to realize to it is the rhythmic reliance and focus of the pieces that makes the difference. On X the music constantly delivers a chugging vibe, and while it does have its melodic tidbits - these are woven into the rhythmic fabric. It's a mindfucking experience. (9/10)

 

 

 

 
9/10 Avi
 

NICHLODEON/INSONAR - Ukiyoe (Mondi Fluttuanti) + Quickworks & Deadworks by Francesco Paolo Paladino - CD - Snowdonia Dischi - 2014

This package includes an album by the Italian based ensemble NichelOdeon/InSonar (on CD) and a short, experimental film by Francesco Paolo Paladino to which the ensemble contributed music (on DVD).

We don't know Italian, but still we found the album Ukiyoe (Mondi Fluttuanti) - which relies heavily on vocals - luring. It is not an easy work by any means! It is a work to absorb with dedication. Some of the dedication might involve following the lyrics translation to English, which appears in the accompanying booklet, and revealing its dark, deranged nature.

The captains of the ship which goes by the name of NichlOdeon/InSonar are vocalist Claudio Milano (who has a 7 octave vocal range) and sound designer Paolo Siconolfi. But, in fact, this is a huge ensemble consisted of strings, horns, electronic and electric instruments players.

The myriad of instruments is apparent on the dramatic "Flower/Son of Water" which follows the opening choral piece ("Venom"). An electronic/piano trail leads, as an harmonium soon sets the stage for the baritone tones of the wind instruments and for the rustling assortment of percussions. The vocals here are painfully breathtaking.

"Sailor," which follows, relies on a rather primitive rhythm to suck you in, at first. Then, strokes of a multitude of mostly acoustic instruments weave a sweeping scenery. This song is performed in multiple voices, reinforcing a sensation not only of estrangement and ache but also of conflict (which is also well portrayed by the lyrics) and the latter prevails throughout the album.

The short "Oh Mother! Inside The Sea You Hold" continues the percussive engagement, only this time the rhythm is quite intense and pronounced to a great effect by the vocals. It ends with an impressive, mighty and slightly avant garde utilization of Milano's voice as a terrifying instrument that teams up with scorching horns; making way for the malevolent "The Fish of your Rivers."

"Sea/Evil," the album's final piece is the album's longest piece (over 19 minutes in length, split into three distinctive sections). Surprisingly it is also the piece with the fewest words, and these have a mantra-like effect to the semi drone-like music of its first section ("Tsunami!"). The second section ("Into The Waves") offers a more classical music inspired movement, featuring moody accordion playing, and turning avant garde as Milano's wordless vocals join bravely; while the third section ("Mud") continues to build up from noises and musical fragments.

And if "Sea/Evil" was about being at sea, then the accompanying movie depicts "Four people (who) find themselves in need to dock at an island due to problematic navigational conditions."

The 25 minute film by Francesco Paolo Paladino is a somewhat suggestive affair. The shots were taken using a fixed, static camera, and the result is that some of the occurrences happen outside the frame (to the point when the frame is left void). The music, by NichelOdeon/InSonar is embedded into the motion picture, as well as provides an interesting backdrop.

Demanding but at least as equally rewarding, this set (and especially its audio portion) is highly recommended for those who seek. (9/10)

 

 

 

 
8/10 Chaim
 

ALBEZ DUZ - The Coming Of Mictlan - CD - Archaic Sound - 2014

If you enjoy Danzig's occult rock but always wished it to be ballsier and darker, then Albez Duz's The Coming Of Mictlan is your definite answer for that desire. This German three-piece's occult doom rock is the best of all worlds: the heavy metal enmeshed with Gothic rock displayed on The Coming of Mictlan is certainly something to write home about.

Elegantly these Germans mix traditional, epic, doom/heavy metal with Gothica and Satanic rock 'n' roll into one indivisible recording that echoes Type O Negative, The Sisters Of Mercy, Danzig, Abysmal Grief and Count Raven: one voice, a single, unified sonic pulse.

Feverish and dark narrative lines, some classic heavy metal leads and a harrowing atmosphere that envelopes everything in a shroud of mystery and 1970s occult rock vibe, aided by some church organs and a sensually-sounding vocalist, the songs are both engaging and airtight, charged with the power to drown the listener under waves of erotic/Satanic, ritual sentiments.

The compositions are beautiful yet caustic, and the atmosphere is devouring. Even the ballad-like tracks, such as the fifth track "Drowned," own that sinister, heartbreaking quality to them, like a marriage between Swans, Death In June and A Different Kind of Slumber-era Tiamat.

The Coming Of Mictlan is an anthology of macabre, nocturnal lullabies with a strong narrative essence; a brilliant, highly enjoyable and elegant piece of doom, gloom and rituals; an album that's good enough for love-making, wrist-cutting or for transcending beyond the here and now. Isn't that what music is all about? a vehicle for transcendence? (8/10)

 

 

 

 
7/10 Chaim
 

VHOLDGHAST - Lat Oss Forbrinna - CD - ViciSolum Records - 2015

These Swedes may present themselves as a black/death metal outfit, but don't believe them. They are nothing of that sort. They may seem like a death metal band, but their music's lifeblood is tainted by deathcore, which is a horrible way to ruin what otherwise could have been s decent album, simply because deathcore, in itself, is a horrible, horrible sub-style of metal (now, is it really a sub-style of metal?). Whoever gets tainted with this bullshit style, is risking a colossal disaster, music-wise, because deathcore is like a drop of shit: contaminate a whole barrel of honey with one drop of this shit, and the whole barrel of honey is rendered uneatable.

This is exactly what could happen to any band that amuses itself with the idea of deathcore, falling flat on their noses when they incorporate that garbage into a style such as death metal, a style of metal that couldn't be more foreign to the notion of deathcore (or metalcore for that matter), which has nothing to do with either metal or hardcore, in essence.

This album is a sheep in wolf's clothes; a metallic tinfoil enveloping a pumping heart of inconsequential deathcore, which is one of the least successful hybrids the world of hard and heavy music has spawned upon those who try to distance themselves from the devouring pop culture, most of the time futilely so.

So yeah, Vholdghast try very hard to sound tough and abrasive, Swedish-quasi-melodic-death-metal-style, and here and there they succeed in being just that (like on the opening track for instance), but somehow they manage to fuck it all up with those goddamned metalcore innuendos that kill the dynamics and the heaviness for the sake of being "progressive" or "modern" or whatever...

The vocals are commendable yet not particularly unique; the riffs potent, true-and-tried yet not exclusively spectacular. The production, however, is extremely sharp and poignant, injecting the songs with an end-of-days aura, and in turn the latter emanates a sentiment of deconstruction and tragedy. In those truly captivating moments (which are not in abundance, mind you), listening to this recording is like being a spectator to the process of the world coming undone in front of your very eyes.

If you happen to like the quasi-melodic Swedish style a-la At The Gates' Slaughter Of The Soul (but think the aforementioned album is the mother-ship of everything that's wrong with extreme metal), Vholdghast's Lat Oss Forbrinna could be a reasonable alternative; not the be-all and end-all edifice of excellence due to the above mentioned reasons, but something that might quench your thirst for some good old sonic violence, Swedish-style: a gentle cataclysm flaked with some bullshit and some good stuff as well.

For the effort, this one deserves a 7 out of 10 rank, which is more than what we intended to score that album with in the first place, but listening to the album in its entirety, it contains some redeemable factors (the songwriting, the interchangeable vocals, the wise usage of keyboards, the scorching guitar sound) that render it as decent, at least. (7/10)

 

 

 

 
9/10 Chaim
 

PRESENT - Triskaidekaphobie (Reissue) - CD - Cuneiform Records - 2014

Ah, that's lovely! An instrumental rock band with a very vintage sound, playing very cool, highly energetic, cinematic music that could fit as soundtrack to either high-tension thrillers, Hitchcock-ian dark celluloid tales or Gothic horror films. Imaginative, progressive, intricate and atmospheric, Present's progressive art rock brings forth tales from the dark side. It's somber and at times tumultuous and incessant, like a very bright, yet morbid, ADHD-inflicted child.

Triskaidekaphobie, originally released in 1980, is a dramatic and sinister album, taking its influence from the unheralded Zeuhl movement (bands such as Magma and Shub-Niggurath) and from bands like Univers Zero (or the other way around, since both entities co-existed in the same timeframe and shared at least one member between them) - that is to say this avant-garde rock is anything but the habitual type.

There's nothing habitual in having the piano play the lead role and having it sound like the motherfucking end of the world. Sure, some bass and electric guitars are there, but in all truth, it's the unusual duet between the keyboards and the percussion section that sparks some dark, surrealistic magic that's hard to describe.

Triskaidekaphobie is like walking through wonderland, only that one is dark and twisted, hosting a freak-show of the highest level of grotesquerie, like something that has been dormant in the dark corners of the room for eons, becoming stale and lifeless, suddenly being resuscitated into life and attacking you from all sides with its venomous and sickening stench.

This album could be annoying at times, with all of its endless repetitions and relentlessness; but every moment is magical nonetheless. Erratic, dark and twisted (literally), this album is a roller-coaster through a myriad of colors, all dark: absurd, surreal and reaching deep down, this music is capable of shaking us to our very core, enlivening our fears.

They say there are no real magicians in the world and that there's not such a thing as real magic. After listening to Present's Triskaidekaphobie, you WILL become a believer in magic! (9/10)

 

 

 

 
5/10 Avi
 

BROKEN DOWN - The Other Shore - CD - Altsphere Production - 2016

The Other Shore is the second album by the one-man-band Broken Down (the artist's true identity is undisclosed). The band's declared musical direction is an experimental mix of industrial rock/metal with punk and pop music, and while we did not find it experimental (at least in the adventurous sense; technically, the music is indeed an experiment of blending beats, brief guitar riffage and electronic sounds) the rest is quite correct.

There is a good vibe to the music here, and it is one that we believe industrial metal fans might enjoy some of it. The title track, for example, will appeal to those who like White Zombie.

Broken Down's most prominent weakness is in the vocals department. The vocals fail to deliver any raw power, nor do they deliver any real beauty (and there is certainly an attempt to deliver these, as can be heard on "Scribble Your World" or "Mr SUN"). Efforts such as the punk/rap of "Alienated Music" could have actually worked, with its alternative metal rhythms and its authentic, in-your-face attitude, had only the vocals been more effective. (5/10)

 

 

 

 
8/10 Mladen
 

LUNARSAPIAN - A Slow, Painful Life - CD - Blackened Death Records - 2016

If A Slow, Painful Life catches you unprepared you'll be excused if you find yourself surprised and wondering if it's music at all or some random, scary noise about to go on forever.

It's not hard to get confused by the opening of the first real track (after a small intro), but, once it settles, it's not too much of a musical surprise. In essence, it's pretty much one riff, steady, doomy, pounding drums and a horror of screams and underlying basement ghostly deep voices trying to sing... something; whatever the dead are singing while decomposing, whatever your nightmares sing when they are feasting on your flesh or whatever other nasty thing you can think of.

The next track continues with heavy guitar, and this is actually heavy. Not "it's mid tempo thrash but we'll call it heavy 'cos it's what they call it" but an actual heavy, doomy, ominous guitar. Well done. So there's a heavy guitar, then; and the basement echoes continue, the screams get more ritualistic and there's another guitar playing an overlay. Nothing too complicated, nothing new at all, nothing progressive, nothing that most people couldn't do, but - and this is the whole point - it's something you have to hear. And this, dearly beheaded readers, is what the underground is about!

Lunarsapian doesn't care about impressing you, yet they do it with minimal effort and maximum attitude. To complete A Slow, Painful Life there is a piano interlude over rain and someone holding a speech, a faster but equally threatening song, a 15-minute epic that seems like it ended too soon and a closing song which somehow sounds even heavier than what any preconceptions you might have about heaviness; even though Lunarsapian plays blackened doom, the thing you will remember about them will be the heaviness. Heaviness of the deadly kind. (8/10)

 

 

 

 
6.5/10 Chaim
 

SECTION 37 - Legion - CD - Aesthetic Death - 2013

Section 37 may be Aesthetic Death Records' most non-metallic and experimental signing to date.

Some trivia first: the name of the band refers to section 37 of the mental health act (in the British law codex, we guess), which deals with the forced institutionalization of the criminally insane. It only makes sense, since Section 37, the band, are thematically obsessed with serial killers, sociopaths and everything in between.

A less dance-able VNV Nation (and much less straightforward, linear or monolithic), if you like unconventional electronic music, you will definitely dig at least SOME parts of Section 37's Legion, because some parts are downright awesome, whereas some parts vary between the standard and the lame.

Eclectic in essence, mixing sheer electronica and industrial, spoken citations that correspond with rap, an abundance of samples and studio gimmickry and cold atmosphere, the "style" of this particular album can be described as being a "Non-Style," where anything and everything was thrown into the mix and experimented with. Think of a much liquid form of Front Line Assembly's Millennium, for instance (with a much reduced metallic sensibility).

Lovers of the darker edges of electronic music, particularly those into Anne Clark, Test Dept., Wumpscut, Frontline Assembly, Skinny Puppy and such, who like their electronica varied, dark, depraved yet not too aggressive (well, perhaps not aggressive at all...), this cinematic oddity of the left-field realms of Electronica should satisfy you.

Legion is an intelligent excursion through the minds of inspired musicians obsessed with serial killers and all things wretched and vile - and those very unhealthy sentiments occasionally (not always, mind you) emanate from the loudspeakers while Legion works its black, robotic magic. This recording is therefore more of an experience rather than music in its traditional sense, and due to its mind boggling eclectic nature, everyone could find their own special moment while listening.

"My Name Is LEGION, For We Are Many..." (6.5/10)

 

 

 

 
 

 

 

 
 

 

 

 

MAIDEN UNITED
October 31, 2015 - Levontin 7, Tel Aviv, Israel

review by: %%name=Avi Shaked%%

Maiden United - the acoustic, Iron Maiden tribute project - has released three full length albums up to now. This shows dedication to the music as well as to the band's concept. Still, Maiden United's reputation might not be as high as one can expect, as the concert production of the band's scheduled performance in Israel suffered from poor ticket sales, which forced the gig's transition into a relatively small club. This transition, however, was worthwhile for the hundred people that did attend.

The Tel Aviv based club Levontin 7 might not be the ideal place for gigs, but it does consistently give stage to some of the most interesting and rewarding live music played in Israel by both local and international artists. In this particular case, the daily routine of hosting live music and the comparatively intimate setting of the club's concert floor - basically a basement with a stage and a bar - seems to have made the difference. That's not to take away from Maiden United's performance at all, though. The club supplied the right conditions, but it was the band that made the most out of them.

Frontman Damian Wilson (also of Threshold as well as on various Arjen Anthony Lucassen productions) stood out: the man is a true showman; his performance is staged without being exaggerated, and as such he managed to deliver the drama as well as the entertainment of the Iron Maiden repertoire, and do it better than he does on record (while our Gut Feeling [https://www.facebook.com/GutFeelingMusic/photos/667677003281176/] regarding the band's debut album was a bit harsh, we still believe it is an album that does not live up to the potential; but the live setting does bring more out of Wilson). Wilson knows how to work out the audience, and - making the most of the intimate setting - even stepped off the stage to sing from within the ranks of the audience (as well as to chat with the audience right before and after the show, and share his brothel experience in support of performing the two Maiden songs of the subject).

Furthermore, while we have never considered Wilson to be in the big league of rock vocalists, his vocal delivery that night proved otherwise. He was precise, yet flexible, and the natural beauty of his vocals was utilized effortlessly (or at least that's how it seemed). Apparently, Wilson is well aware of its slightly limited range (when compared with Russell Allen, for example) but he sings comfortably and beautifully within that somewhat treble range.

The set was purely acoustic (demonstrating another band-place synergy, as the band took advantage of the house grand piano, instead of the typically used keyboards), and featured a comprehensive selection of Iron Maiden material, from early numbers such as "Remember Tomorrow" through classics like "Aces High," "Children of the Damned," "The Trooper," "The Evil That Men Do" to less celebrated songs like "Futureal." It was a killer show, and one of the best metal related shows we have ever witnessed, as it was more about the details and less about the noise. If Maiden United comes anywhere near you and you're a Maiden fan - you would not want to miss it!