Tuesday, July 22, 2014

Necros Christos - Nine Graves EP (2014)

My response to Germany's Necros Christos thus far is that they rank among the more ambitious of the old school death metal throwbacks in how they incorporate loads of instrumental, ethnic vignettes as a counterbalance to the metal elements, and also have quite the eye for packaging that is no doubt responsible for a lot of hype that surrounds them. Unfortunately, I just haven't found the band's music to really live up to repeated scrutiny, being that the riff selection left a lot to be desired. Both Triune Impurity Rites and Doom of the Occult were decent albums, don't get me wrong, but I rarely found myself breaking them out to re-listen after the several mandated review spins.

So I was a little surprised when I came across "Black Bone Crucifix", because it seems like the group had examined itself and decided to get a little more in depth and charismatic with the rhythm guitars, as they weave between both occult death metal nostalgia and crawling, funereal death/doom. The riffs in this thing are both laid back and genuinely evil, the lead placement invigorating, and though they don't play with a level of extremity or saturated, obese gutturals or cavernous rhythm guitar tone that a lot of folks probably expect of that Autopsy/Incantation niche, the drums keep delightfully busy enough to give the riffs a sprightliness that amazingly does not betray their diabolism. Fuzzy and direct tremolo picked riffs give way to the slower sequences where atmospherics like organs or bells are sparingly implemented, while the solo harmonies always stick way out like patterns of candles being lit around the circumference of an ancient summoning. Vocals have a straightforward bark with a modicum of reverb, but their nihilistic tendencies weave well into the gloomy environment created by the guitars and drums. It's not like it didn't work before, it just works better this time...

As for the acoustic guitars/percussion that represent a lot of the 'temple' interludes, some purists will scoff at their presence, but I find they really place Necros Christos into their chosen context: that of the brooding, black world antiquity as seen through the lens of an early 90s death metal band. As brief as most of these are, they still seem like they required a little bit of work that they'd be catchy enough to maintain the listener's curiosity, and frankly I've always thought this was one of their more standout characteristics. But it's the meat of the matter, the death metal component, which has on this EP improved steadily, if not dramatically. The style is not much different than Doom of the Occult, it's just that note placement on cuts like "Black Bone Crucifix", "Baptized by the Black Urine of the Deceased" and "Nine Graves" itself which keeps me coming back. Quite enjoyed this.

Verdict: Win [8/10]


Monday, July 21, 2014

Cardinal's Folly - Our Cult Continues! (2014)

This was actually my first brush with Cardinal's Folly of Finland, despite it not being their first record, so I was immediately drawn in by the opening track "Chant of Shadows", this creepy atmospheric piece which lives up to its title...occult samples, gloomy multi- tracked vocals, droned out guitar feedback and thudding bass that was used like a percussive bottom end for the remainder. Sadly, once the next tune "Morbid Glory" broke out, it became evident that the intro was going to be an exception and not the rule, but even then the Finns have a slightly unusual approach to the doom medium which made for a decent, often interesting listen. The cover art definitely fired up the imagination with its more colorful approach to the ritualist orgiastic baphomety we so often associate with the tenets of Satanism in cult horror film and literature, but the music itself doesn't consistently enough cling to that aesthetic.

Our Cult Continues! is all about its massive, fuzzy guitars and louder, plodding bass grooves which both tend to dominate the recording while the wistful, everyman vocals of M. Karnstein just sort of hang in there with an accented, weird tone to them (somewhere between Yearning, My Dying Bride and Reverend Bizarre). You'll experience the simplistic, 70s-borne chord patterns so familiar in many doom and stoner rock bands traced back to Sabbath, but they also will sprinkle in some more tremolo riffing, melodic higher-pitched progressions and other elements you wouldn't necessarily expect. Unfortunately, as you might have guessed from the opening few lines, this was an occasion on which I found that the more moody and atmospheric the band became, the better the music was. Their straight out riffing patterns leave something to be desired, adequate for the style but never really standing out like the classics which inspired them. But then, when you hit a toon like "Sighisoaran" with its more soaring, sorrowful vocals and mourning guitars, or the bass-driven charge of "The Lovers Crypt", it all becomes so much more effective, and these are genuinely great songs that I kept going back to...

The album's a fraction louder and muddier than some might find comfortable in their doom, but the band isn't performing with such harrowing despair as an Electric Wizard, so instead it gives off a more garage rock vibe only if jammed out by bands like Witchfinder General or Iron Man. The vocals were real spotty for me...I realize the guy is also contributing the bass, which is an extremely important factor on this record, but when he sings it's either appropriately melancholic and melodic or just sort of laconic and sloppy sounding. Each line is a roll of the dice, really. In the end, this was one of those cases where I thought about half the album was really good ("Chant of Shadows", "The Black Baroness", "Sighisoaran" and "The Lover's Crypt") and the other half not so much, so the two sides sort of balanced one another out. But I have no question there is some promise to this band, and with only a few tweaks they'd be representing the forefront of nostalgic Finnish doom alongside neighbors like Seremonia and Reverend Bizarre. Coincidentally if you like those groups, the current wave of retro psych/occult doom, or the rosters of Rise Above and Hellhound records, then it's likely worth the hour of time to check Our Cult Continues! out.

Verdict: Indifference [6.75/10]


Sunday, July 20, 2014

Overkill - White Devil Armory (2014)

I had the inverse response to many Overkill fans over the course of the last two albums, finding The Electric Age more memorable and explosive than its predecessor Ironbound, which of course was the group's most viral effort since at least the earlier 90s, but I don't think there's any question that the incessant New York thrashers have found a new lease on existence this new decade which has catapulted them back to the levels of legend they deserve...and depending on whom you ask, have always maintained. White Devil Armory (which seems to me like it could be a syllable too long due to some last minute chickening out on the part of the band) is now the group's 17th full-length, and yet there is evidently no tiring of the joints or phoning in of much, just a solid, appreciably intense effort which throws a modicum of unused riffing phrases into the arena, but otherwise seems like business as usual, neither one of their strongest works nor worst by a long shot...

The deal sealer has always been the relationship between Blitz' pissed off, charismatic raving and the pulverizing guitars, and the bonds have been renewed here since these guys can still really knock out a verse/chorus structure without ever lapsing into tedium. That said, there are a lot of individual vocal lines in tunes like "Bitter Pill" which certainly recall older tunes, and I also believe more of a groove metal element akin to their 90s material. For instance, in that very same song there's a lot of low end thrash chugging redolent of early 90s Pantera, and in fact a lot of what Tailer and Linsk are playing on this particular album reminds me of Dimebag's technique, with the harder concrete grooves being supplemented with some melodic finesse, bluesier bluster and bar room attitude. That's not always a bad thing, unless you've got an eternal hate-on for the style, but those expecting the purest of thrash and speed experiences (Taking Over, Feel the Fire, etc) out of this disc might find parts of it to mirror an era of Overkill they don't really care to revisit. Only parts, I assure you, since so much of this is just uncaged bricklayer blue collar aggression reminiscent of the bigger label thrash masters of the 80s, with not only nods to their own legacy, but riff progressions akin to those found on records like Master of Puppets (listen closely to the picking through "Freedom Rings") Fabulous Disaster, etc.

On the production front, Overkill has rarely proven anything less than professional, and this one maintains that severely punchy, compacted rhythm guitar tone which goes for maximum impact in the listener's guts...effects are left to the atmospheric, melodies which almost always do their job of standing out due to the sound alone. The drums feel incredibly mechanical and clean, as if Lipnicki showed up with new cybernetic parts, but still human at the core. Loads of double kicks to help the and keep that harder relevance. This is not a band which has ever shunned the evolution of their medium...not that they've fully embraced it, but clad themselves in this or that technique to keep themselves 'current'. On the other hand, D.D. Verni's distinct plopping bass lines are fully intact, at this point on of their most recognizable characteristics alongside Ellsworth's singing. The leads did not always catch me, but it's obvious they try to, with scads of little licks in there that uphold the melodic ballast and variety of the rhythm guitars. However, the simpler melodies they'll toss onto a verse or bridge almost always give the music that extra something which pushes it up past mediocre.

Very few problems with this, and I can't really explain in much more detail why I don't like this quite as much as The Electric Age, but on the same fundamental level as Ironbound, beyond the fact that the songs just don't individually grip me as a handful did back in 2012. Rotten apples to squeezed oranges...it's an Overkill record, and if you've heard anything they did in the late 80s (Under the Influence, The Years of Decay) or really, EVER, then you're not going to surprised by a single second of this fucking music. If you're one of the old guard, you can crank this on your Harley while you cruise the strip in a tank top and combat boots, and still justify to yourself why this is one of your favorite fucking bands on earth and always will be. The attitude stays the same, as does much of the songwriting. Blitz and crew have never teased us with massive upswings in progression/evolution, and they're sort of grandfathered into just living up to a standard that they set so long ago. White Devil Armory is worthy of the brand, like a reliable steakhouse that you'll always fall back on when your significant other concedes a dining choice from one of her usual, eloquent and exotic Thai, Vietnamese or Indian haunts. Take a knife and fork and dig right in. Medium bloody. Wrought with iron. Just like the last few trips.

Verdict: Win [7/10] (give 'em what they're looking for)


Saturday, July 19, 2014

Empire Auriga - Ascending the Solar Throne (2014)

Much like its predecessor Auriga Dying, Ascending the Solar Throne functions far more effectively as an ambient/industrial piece than a metal one; no doubt what the Michigan duo had intended, and yet still clinging to its black metal inspiration in the use of ungodly snarled vocals and walls of heavily effected tremolo picked guitars, or raw, droning chords that take inspiration from the more suicidal, depressive black metal sources. I suppose Empire Auriga belong in the same sphere as acts like I Shalt Become or Austria's Summoning, only the thematic geography of is a long way from the former's varied-by-album concepts and the latter's Middle Earth fixation. Instead, the duo inhabits a sort of metaphysical/cosmic environment in theory, but the music felt a lot to me the ruins of burnt out, blasted industrial cities on distant world where the hostile, native environments have reclaimed the technological defiance of advanced human civilizations... Radiated memories, floating through the now-empty shells like phantoms while fields of radars still reach to neighboring worlds in hopes of a signal...anything.

Sounds pretty cool, right? If you can subordinate yourself to its sense of escapism and sense of 'background' aesthetics to a bright nightmare, then this is certainly an improvement over their debut, but it does still lack somewhat in the personality department. Walls of distorted, heavily affected guitar are used as an atmospheric cloak to the clunking, minimal sense of percussion, as opposed to the riff-centric structures we associate with most black (or other) metal acts. The vocals range from distorted black metal rasps to more wailing, edge-of-perception haunted tones that seem to blend right into the blinding, fiery ambiance of the guitars. There is no tenable bass element to the music beyond some of the deeper drums occasionally resonating off into this or that speaker, but this is not really the sort of style that would benefit from it. No, tunes like "Jubilee Warlord" and "Are You Worthy of Gold?" feel more like you've just awakened from a cryogenic sleep in a post-apocalyptic survival capsule buried on the edge of a desert, and you nearly lose your sense of sight once the airlock doors open and you behold the fiendish radiance of the sun-stroked wastes...

And then "Waste" takes the sense of foreboding even further: dissonant, raw-as-fuck filtered chords giving the impression that this nuclear wanderer is being stocked by mutant scorpions who have yet to finish proving to mankind who is the new king of the food chain. I kept thinking of the film version of Zelazny's Damnation Alley when I listened through this disc, or Fallout 3, rather than the fields of colliding asteroids and glimmering celestial bodies the band might have intended, but I guess you also do get a small whiff of interstellar radio noise being broadcast through the uncaring void. At any rate, if any of the imagery I've painted in this critique tickles your curiosity, and you'd rather have such music crafted in an uncomfortable, repulsive means rather than that of melodious warmth and harmony, then Ascending the Solar Throne is probably worth the time. It's not too heavily industrial, more reliant on the stinging static of its guitar effects than on beats, so just expect something a little more loosely defined, which leaves plenty of terror for your imagination to fill in, rather than incessantly guiding your hand through a standard pop or rock song structure. I have a feeling there is better yet to hear from this pairing, but the sophomore is undoubtedly more effective and troubling than its predecessor and consistently caustic.

Verdict: Win [7.25/10]

Friday, July 18, 2014

Provocator - Antikristus (2014)

Slovenia's resident cult black metal act Bleeding Fist has almost constantly reveled in the old 90s template of the medium, producing raw and simplistic aggression the likes of which pays homage to the 1st and 2nd waves with little consideration for the very existence of much beyond them. So it's no great revelation that their vocalist Hellscream's solo project Provocator remains within the same wheelhouse. He gets a chance here to perform all instruments, and has written what equates to stock bedroom black metal, saved from (or committed to) the fire solely by his distinct, charismastic vocal presence, since there are sadly not a lot of musical ideas or individual tunes here that really stand out...

Antikristus is more or less a collision between faster, blast-based raw black metal circa Mayhem, Marduk or certain Bathory records with an overt Hellhammer influence in the slower sequences, to the point where the chord choices are basically just paraphrased from Warrior's early 80s backlog. If this were merely the inspiration, and Hellscream created some more interesting riffs from the same building materials, then it could have been a lot more compelling. That's not to say he doesn't try once in a while here, like the doomy, disjointedly melodic front half of "7 Storms of Damnation", but even those potentially memorable moments cede to a rather generic mid-speed blast beat which a chord series that is all too predictable, so much that it in of itself is barely modified from other tracks on this very album! The rhythm guitar also doesn't do much to assist the situation, sort of just roiling along the crashier tones of the drum machine while another track seems to hover at the edge of the mix like hearing mosquitoes occasionally buzz into the ear. What leads exist are messy and don't really hit for maximum dissonance or impact.

Really thought it was silly to blatantly resurrect the 'let Jesus fuck you' intro scheme, seeing that Marduk had already done it some 23 years ago and to much greater effect; perhaps Hellscream was just being referential?! There is little or no bass presence to speak of throughout the album, and also I felt like individual tracks had inconsistent mixes, giving this a sort of 'demo collection' feel about it like Bleeding Fist's last compilation Death's Old Stench (which was good stuff, don't get me wrong). But what saves Antikristus from dropping below the level of passable to outright bad is that this guy just has so much fucking fun with his vocals...growling and snarling and groveling and sometimes (if not always) completely over the top. He's like a pack of wild dogs fighting for meat-scraps, a poor man's Attila Csihar who uses his natural accent to his advantage and never settles for just boring lyrical lines...not 'technically' excellent by any stretch of the imagination, but that is exactly what makes the disc so raw and sporadic and, once in a while, genuinely cruel, even if the music itself lacks the quality that could distinguish it against the many thousands of middling demos and albums created in this very style.

Verdict: Indifference [5.25/10]


Thursday, July 17, 2014

Emptiness - Nothing But the Whole (2014)

Belgium's Emptiness is not a band which could ever be accused of putting its roots down in one site and never moving. From the more structured sophomore Oblivion, with its frenetic and memorable death metal riffing palette, to the more loosely defined surreal black metal of Error, they've never precisely locked down one single sound, and somehow that fact has kept them interesting. With Nothing But the Whole, they sort of attempt to continue the atmospheric overtures of the latter while bringing back a more consistent and diverse riffing component, and the result might just be their most interesting and unique effort to date, notably for just how well its disparate parts flow together as a whole...

The intro tune on this thing ("Go and Hope") is brilliant; distant and eerie tremolo picked guitars accented with creepy spoken word passages and cleaner plucked guitars that help the momentum ascend into a broiling, echoed distortion and subsequent calm. It's incredibly unusual and catchy, with a similar, captivating psychedelic effect I felt on the first Oranssi Pazuzu record, and thus ran my expectations for the entire record straight up the charts. That song is not exactly characteristic of the entire album, which explores a broad range of black, death and thrash metal aesthetics in the rhythm guitar structures, some freakish and others quite mechanical, but they absolutely keep the ball within an atmospheric playing field. Dense, broiling bass lines, somnolent voices hovering above the instruments, and a near constant ambiance created through the guitars that serves up a welcome contrast to the churning and grooving riffs used to maintain the metallic balance. Most importantly, there is just always something compelling happening within the music which the ear can focus on, so even if a riff comes up short in quality, it never stands alone in the esoteric nightmare Emptiness is forging here.

A few of the songs seem so deliriously post-industrial in nature that I'm reminded of some of Dodheimsgard and Mayhem's experimentation, or the Polish band Non Opus Dei, who had a few similar albums, or maybe even a black/death metal analog to Coroner's much debated Grin, but I think a lot of Error does bleed through onto this more so than its predecessors. Particularly the vocals, which are an ebb and flow between a wall of nihilistic barking and the more sinister, cerebral garbles and whispers that help loosen the architecture of the record to something more spontaneous in nature. Upon first exposure, there was no telling what was going to happen next...for example, the percussive, meandering "The Past is Death" cedes to the haunting, escalating ambiance of "Lowland" at the close of the record, but at the same time that sort of 'completes the circle' they had set up at the start. The drums are often more akin to scene-setting dark theatrical effects than standard beats, and the thick bass is constantly concocting a subliminal groove in between the viral metallic outbreaks.

Nothing But the Whole is ultimately a pessimistic, emotional journey which shows very little respect for convention while simultaneously and subconsciously keeping those bases covered, if only by the bands' toes while they choose where on the field to steal next. It's brooding and leaves a sulphuric residue in your ears and mouth, almost like you were chain smoking to some cut-up noir film reel via projector, in which some eccentric had hidden a message of the end times you are trying to unravel. The lyrics are personal and interesting, contending with the processes of self-awareness and addiction, and while it's not perfect, it is those very imperfections which make for such immersion. My personal tastes still run towards their second album, being a riff guy that album's genius would be criminal to ignore, but Emptiness have delivered what is easily one of the most mesmerizing efforts in recent months, something I'll surely still be visiting years from now. Plus that cover...fuck!

Verdict: Epic Win [9/10] (to end up in the same cage)


Wednesday, July 16, 2014

Kurnugia - Tribulations of the Abyss EP (2013)

Tribulations of the Abyss was a two track promotional CD put out last year which caught the attention of Blood Harvest records, who are pressing it as a vinyl in summer 2014. The Kurnugia roster reads like the white pages of underground Ohio brutality, with former members of groups like Decrepit, Nunslaughter, From the Depths and Embalmer, not to mention the drummer of Soulless and bassist Brian Bergeron who even did a stint in a local Masshole black metal band (December Wolves). Just by cross-referencing what these guys have collectively written in and participated in from the past, you can kind of glean that whatever style the new project has settled on...it ain't gonna be pretty.

And yeah, this is stifling, mirror-cracking ugliness which ranks among the most rank and rotting old school USDM I've heard lately, what might occur if you were to supplant a Midwest beauty pageant with festering, shambling revenants bearing plague-carts. Take bands like Cianide and Autopsy as a reference point and then just sort of weave in hints of old Bolt Thrower, Benediction, and the first Death full-length Scream Bloody Gore. Roiling, primal tremolo picked guitars lines crush the tinnier snares and steady kick drums while the vocalist Duane Morris channels ungodly incarnations of dudes like Chris Reifert, though not as blood-hacking...no, this guy sounds like he's breathing out clouds of fucking flies after a dirt nap in a sarcophagus. The songs move at generally slower paces where the ravenous, raw guitar tones settle into harrowing grooves, and the fat bass lines can pump out enough blackened ichor to support them...but as with the second tune "Diseased Angels", they really show they can ramp up that pace to insert a little versatility.

Most importantly, while the guitar patterns aren't anything you haven't heard a million times if you're into this style of death metal, they're at least refreshing because this totally has a genuine production feel like it was written and recorded in 1987 and then just dug up recently, remixed to meet the suffering standards of this New Age of Old, Mouldering Death Metal. I'm about as jaded on this style as one could possibly be, receiving dozens of albums, demos and EPs each much that reach back straight for the roots, and yet Tribulations of the Abyss didn't annoy me in the slightest. It's not mandatory, perhaps, but you can just feel in the primal presentation that they were 'there', a bunch of maniacs who have been repressing these carnal, cavernous confessions for decades and have just permitted us to join them in a booth reeking of fleshy antiquity and ages-old murder.

Verdict: Win [7.25/10]


Tuesday, July 15, 2014

Ghoulgotha - Prophetic Oration of Self EP (2014)

Things had seemed pretty quiet on the Wayne Sarantopoulos (aka Elektrokutioner) front these past couple years, whether from the burnout of the dozen or so retro death metal projects he was part of at the end of the last decade, or some other personal reason. But in truth, he was working away in his underground laboratory on this, the latest of his many incarnations, put together with a number of other Californian musicians. Three guesses as to what this sounds like? You got it on one: old school, morbid death metal with no inclinations to sound anything like it existed beyond 1993, only this time Sarantopoulos has taken on the dual tasks of vocals and the guitar, where usually he's been a prolific drummer. And he shows no lack of competence in either area here; though Prophetic Oration of Self does encounter some limitations, ability is not among them.

All the usual corpses have been cemented into the foundation of these two tracks: Incantation, Autopsy, Pestilence, Obituary, Immolation, Deicide, Grave, etc, but Ghoulgotha scores a few points for just sounding weird. It's not that the riff structures and notes are all that infrequent, but this band churns out slightly more atonal note progressions than normal, and when they hit their death doom stride in the midst of the title track, they have an atypical way in which they syncopate the slow, crushing chords along with the vocals, that prevents them from becoming too lazy and boring. The guitar tone is ugly and abusive, reminding me a lot of the old British and Swedish records out on Earache records in the label's prime (Bolt Thrower, Carnage, Napalm Death, etc), while the growls have two pitches, a guttural and snarl which when contrasted with one another remind me of how Glen Benton used to approach his older works, only the two inflections aren't in that same sort of constant, impish tandem. At times, you'll get a whiff of some of Wayne's other, better known bands like Decrepitaph or Father Befouled, only this feels more doomy than the former, and raunchier than the latter, with slightly stranger riff selection that gives off a marginally alien vibe.

Unfortunately, though my first few passes through the 12 minute EP were interesting, it's not the sort of stuff that holds up for long in the memory, and like so much of the other claustrophobic death metal being fawned over, it seems to triumph only in how it services its influences rather than how it inspires a listener with its own potential. Certainly Ghoulgotha is not the most banal and generic death/doom band to brood nostalgic in these times, and there are hints of more uncanny structural songwriting that should be fostered and refined for future releases...though I feel like 'refinement' might run contrary to the quartet's goals. At any rate, it looks fuckin' evil, and it definitely sounds unnerving for a short time until the inevitability begins to dawn that none of the riffs are really all that great, nor are any of the other components in the music. But there's no question that if you're into some of the other band's this guy has done like Encoffination, Beyond Hell, Father Befouled, Howling and Festered, this would be worth at least some passing interest due to its refusal to conform directly to what a few thousand other bands are aping.

Verdict: Indifference [6.5/10]


Monday, July 14, 2014

Meliah Rage - Warrior (2014)

I assume at this point everyone who ever suspected Meliah Rage was just some 80s flash in the pan with a few near misses at success (via the CBS/Epic Records deal for their first two records), has now planted their moccasins firmly in their mouths; because the Boston area band has shown no signs of passing quietly into oblivion, and continues to build a solid legacy upon its great debut album. Not to mention they play a brand of what we might label 'power/thrash' that is by no means trendy, popular, or even considered relevant by generations to which metalcore, deathcore, brutal death, black metal and cheesy anthemic power metal have become the standard by which nearly everything else is judged. In fact, despite the more modern, opulent production values most bands simply can't avoid, Meliah Rage still sounds quite a lot like its earlier material, only they've gotten a fraction more varied and creative with their riffs.

The sound on Warrior, their eight full-length overall and second with Italy's Metal on Metal records, is somewhat akin to Metallica's Death Magnetic: guys in their middle years performing ball splitting, loud proto-thrash riffs rooted heavily in the NWOBHM tradition, with a bit of requisite hard rock groove and a predilection for cleaner guitar segues to balance out the harder hitting moments. It's this enormous, pounding, simplistic sort of songwriting we don't hear very often from younger bands, but at the same time melodic and emotive. Of course, even their first album was compared to that hugest metal band in history, which is perhaps partially responsible for why they never made headway with it (it didn't have the immaculate songwriting of a Ride the Lightning or Master of Puppets), but when you look at the big picture, not a lot of bands out there pursuing the style, and Meliah Rage prove here they are a match for any of them. I'm not saying the record is great, because so many of the rhythm guitar patterns fall well short of brilliance, but they at least try to pull them off in a way that is convincing, respectable and memorable enough that anyone partially/wholly stuck in the 80s mindset will not toss this one back on the slushpile without wanting a few more cracks at it.

The only major change between this and the style on the prior two outings (both of which were decent, so if you have fallen behind go check them out), is that they've brought on a new vocalist in Marc Lopes, who specializes in a cutting, sneering mid range which reminded me of the lower pitch used by legends like James Rivera, Mike Howe, David Wayne or Apocrypha's Steve Plocica. It's angry and effective, and doesn't deviate much from the Hetfield-like aesthetic introduced on the old albums by their 'classic' frontman Mike Munro. Bass lines are thick and simple, drums bold and crashing, but most people will probably be drawn most to the rhythm guitars which really evoke that sense of nostalgia and power we felt for the Big M and other bands following their footsteps. That's the area in which the Massholes are most divergent and willing to branch out, so we're treated to both the standard raging power/thrash momentum and then a lot of melodic hooks and lead structures that lend themselves to a balanced, fulfilling experience...provided you don't just write them off for not adhering to whatever sound is currently the hero of the hour, because let's be honest, Meliah Rage proudly champions not-giving-a-fuck about a sound that is heavily dated and not even popularly retro like a lot of other old speed, heavy and thrash metal.

Ultimately, Warrior, with the 1988 Kill to Survive battle-starved Native American mascot returned in an updated head shot, capitalizes on the solidarity of the two records before it while integrating a new vocalist that fits directly within the band's musical margins. It's not itself the stuff of legend like the cult classic debut, which I would heartily recommend over anything they've put out since, but this is an example of seasoned songwriting that won't disappoint the long-term fans despite the occasional clunky sounding riffs here or there, or the fact that even with 25+ years behind them, they can't even come close to escaping the shadow of the mega-band (in their prime) who they most resemble. But who in 2014 truly gives a shit about that besides nitpicking scum like myself? Here's an opportunity to bang your head before it gets scalped. If you've ever enjoyed Meliah Rage before, you might want to take it.

Verdict: Win [7.25/10]


Sunday, July 13, 2014

Mortalicum - Tears from the Grave (2014)

I was not the biggest fan of Mortalicum's last record The Endtime Prophecy, competent doom metal with some appreciable swagger but vocals that I was just not that enamored of. So there was some hesitation on my part to even listen through Tears from the Grave, the group's third album through Metal on Metal Records. But I'm glad I did, because this is an improvement over its predecessor in many ways, with Henrik Högl really starting to gel into both his roles and singer and guitarist. To be up front, this is classic doom with a lot of groove and 70s Sabbath inspiration, a Swedish analog to our own American Trouble, but with a different approach to the vocals that eschews the grating, tormented, formidable presence of Eric Wagner for something a lot smoother and I'd dare say even redolent of Bruce Dickinson on his solo albums like The Chemical Wedding or Accident at Birth...at least how he hovers a deceptively fragile timbre into something more significantly powerful. He picks the right notes this time.

Structurally they shift between boogie-down, bellbottoms-in-the-graveyard rockers like "The Endless Sacrifice" and "Spirits of the Dead" to a moodier, near-Candlemass Gothic crushing step present in tunes such as "Remember the Fallen" or "The Illusion", to some stuff which is even more melodious, and psych rock in scope, like the shining guitars and fat bongwater bass tones of "I Am Sin" which break out into those potent emotional heavy hooks which burrow straight into your memory and won't quickly let go. That's not to say the content here is necessarily original, there are quite a lot of bands who have come before and laid bare the blueprints, even some of Mortalicum's countrymen like Grand Magus, Count Raven and so forth. But the trio seems to take all of this into account, blend it up and settle back to produce songs of value as opposed to monotonous retro worship, and they do so with a sincerity that seems like it would be equally presentable in a live format without losing any of the hook quality. Högl's pitch is still far from extraordinary, it's still got that wavering, almost nasally factor, but here it just works so well with the riffing choices that its thinner nature provides for a competent contrast against the fatter, bluesy rhythm guitar.

The rhythm section is equally fit, with constantly engaging bass grooves and a nice, organic sound to the drums where the snare and cymbals have a lot of impact and it keeps your hips shaking. The darker mutes on the rhythm guitars (as in "The Passage") sound fucking awesome, and as songwriters, the Swedes keep things constantly evolving without settling too often into the same repetitive riffs. Although its lyrical subjects are presented with gravitas aplomb, and no laughing matter whatsoever, this selection of songs is surprisingly fun in execution, just as easy to get down with as to mourn over some open space in the earth in which a loved one has been interred. It's not perfect, but great production and good songs go a long way for me. Mortalicum has proven in this reviewer's estimation to be one of the 'most improved' acts here in 2014, and fans of anything from Lord Vicar and Solitude Aeternus to Burning Saviors and Spiritual Beggars will devour this.

Verdict: Win [8/10]