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Album Reviews

Ahab – The Giant

I had never been a fan of German funeral doom band Ahab, but when I received a copy of their third album, “The Giant”, I wanted to give them a fair shake. So I decided I would listen to the first two albums to help me remember what I did not like about them in the past, and see if anything had changed to the point where I might like this new album.

I remember when I saw the first album, “The Call of the Wretched Sea” that I loved the cover and the whole Moby Dick theme. I honestly wanted to like the album, but ugh, I hated it. Funeral doom is a tough genre for me to get into because of the incredibly slow pace and the vocals tend to be pretty undistinguishable in terms of forming words. This first album featured both exceedingly slow songs and vocals that sounded more like the white whale rather than a person. Then there was the cardinal sin of a crappy overly atmospheric production that just ruined anything that might have been good about the album. I actively trashed that album when it would come up in conversation.

The second album, “The Divinity of Oceans”, was a little better than the first. They fixed the production quality to the point that it was now listenable, but they did not yet grab my attention because the vocals still sucked pretty hard.

Now they have released “The Giant” and I am starting to warm up to them a little more. The sound quality is now far better than it was on “Wretched Sea” and there are clean vocals alongside the deep incoherent growls. I can get behind deep incoherent growls as long as there are other vocal styles to contrast with, so I will give them a few points for this improvement. I find it amusing that the first album was overly “atmospheric” and sounded horrible, yet this album is much cleaner and actually exudes a great atmosphere. This just proves the point that bad production does not equal atmospheric artistic license…it is just bad production.

The songs are still dreadfully slow, but there is a time and place for such lethargic music, and the fact that I can make out all the instruments and vocals gives me reason to enjoy this album. There are a lot of clean guitar parts that are way more haunting than any of the heavier sections, and then when the heavy enters the mix it is much more dramatic.

After much more extensive listening to “The Giant”, I have come to the conclusion that Ahab has finally earned my respect and even devotion. Given the right set of listening conditions, this album can totally envelop the listener and instill a feeling of awe and reverence. This album is an adventure of the mind. It is not a casual listening album, but if one is willing to spend the time to become immersed in the album, the benefits become apparent.Check out the track “Antarctica The Polymorphess” and get lost in Ahab.

Last Updated on June 06, 2012

Hits: 268

Candlemass – Psalms for the Dead

I have been a Candlemass fan for about 25 years, though I have only ever paid much attention to the Messiah Marcolin albums. Messiah’s voice truly made Candlemass for me. Which is not to say I do not enjoy the voice of Robert Lowe, I think Solitude Aeturnus is a fantastic band, but Candlemass just is not the same now, you know? The Messiah albums were released when I was a teen, so I have a nostalgic connection to them that is hard to top.

Despite that predisposition, since Napalm was kind enough to provide me with a copy of the album, I decided to pay closer attention to “Psalms for the Dead” than I had to the previous two albums. I do not know if it is just the passing of time, or my being able to judge this album on its merits alone without the earlier baggage, but damn guys, I honestly like this album.

Candlemass has always been the doom metal gold standard for me: massive, heavy riffs and thick, melodic vocals, all on a dark, epic scale. It is inspiring and depressing, both at the same time. “Psalms for the Dead” is certainly different from the Messiah era, since Robert Lowe is on vocals, but it still has so much of what I loved about them before that I cannot help but love this album too. The heavy riffs, clean, clear vocals and a stellar production make this album a worthy addition to the Candlemass catalog.

Wouldn’t you know, as soon as I come around to Lowe on vocals, he quits the band. This is supposedly the last Candlemass studio album, though they will apparently continue to play shows with new singer, Mats Levén. Leif apparently wants to go out on a high note and not put out sub-par albums. We shall see if it lasts. I will continue to hope for one more Messiah reunion album in the future. While I am at it, I will wish for a U.S. tour, as well. Yeah.

Well, just in case this is the last studio album, make sure to check it out. If nothing else, this is simply another superb heavy metal album. I believe I will give the previous two albums a closer listen to see what is going on there. Give a listen to this album’s title track below.

 

Last Updated on June 05, 2012

Hits: 317

June 4th, 2012 Reviews

American Sharks – Weedwizard 7”
I am sorry to say this is one that fell between the cracks. I do not know much about them, but American Sharks are from Austin, Texas and they play some stoner doom rock on this two-song 7-incher. They sent it to me on vinyl, and since I only have a turntable at home I kept waiting for a chance to spin it at home, and eventually it fell off my radar. I finally got around to it this weekend, only to discover, to my chagrin, a download code for the digital version while reading the liner notes. Sorry guys, better late than never right?

I listened to both songs several times on the turntable and am playing them over and over again now on my phone. I love both of these songs, “XVI” and “Indian Man.” This is how this style of music should sound. “XVI” gives a nod to Sabbath with the riffs, but there is a punk flavor too. “Indian Man” sounds a little tighter and has even more punk energy. These songs are simple, well constructed, catchy and infectious. Please tell me there is an album in the works because I would buy that in a second.

Check out the video for “Indian Man” on YouTube.



Angel Grave - Ostendere Vestibulum
Angel Grave is an unsigned progressive death metal band from the Chicagoland area and “Ostendere Vestibulum” is their first EP. These guys look really young, but they do not sound it. I do not know if this was recorded in a basement, garage or a small studio, but it was recorded pretty well regardless. It has a very lo-fi sound in that it does not have the solid chunk of a big time production, but there are a lot of death metal albums out there that do not sound half this good in terms of clarity and separation, so kudos on sound quality guys.

Progressive death metal. That means we have lots of guitar shredding and harsh vocals, as well as poppin’ bass and jazz interludes. I think I would prefer they drop the more overt prog elements and stick with the death metal, but hey, it does not sound bad. The vocals have an early Chuck Schuldiner rawness combined with maybe a little Warbringer that I am digging quite a lot. The twelve minute “Organic Algorithms” goes a little off the ranch, particularly with the clean vocals. I think if they ease back on the prog a smidge, and stick with the metal, they could go places. Relatively speaking, anyway, since metal in America is about as lucrative as starting a website that reviews metal music…well hopefully slightly more so than that.

Check out the last track on the EP, “Desolate Homecoming.”



Entropy – E3
Entropy is a Toronto metal band getting ready to release their third album, “E3.” It looks like it has been awhile since the first two albums, but they seem to still be in good form. I do not know what they have been up to, if anything, since their last album in 1995, but they are certainly back with a vengeance.

“E3” is an old-school thrash and groove style album that at times brings to mind Forbidden’s “Forbidden Evil” sound. That was one of my favorite albums back in the day, so that can only be a good thing. Entropy’s singer, Ger, has a great voice, and much like Russ Anderson, he can hit some seriously high notes. The musicianship on “E3” is top notch and the production sounds really good too. These songs make me want to come out of pit retirement and mosh things up. These days I am more of a desk-jockey headbanger, so probably a more accurate statement would be to say this album is wearing out the springs in my chair from all the desk-banging. Hmmm, that sounds slightly naughty.

Anyway, the point is I really dig this band. Check out the track “Succubus” below, and if you happen to be in or around the Toronto area, check out their album release party at Hard Luck Bar on June 23rd.



Psychopathic Daze - Psychopathic Daze
Psychopathic Daze is another unsigned band from the Chicago area, and here we have their self-titled debut. Generally, when something is labeled metalcore I pre-judge that it is going to suck. Psychopathic Daze is also dubbed groove metal, and I think that is their saving grace. Musically this is a step beyond the tired conventions of metalcore. The harsh vocals style used certainly is reminiscent of metalcore, but you know, it works with hardcore or death metal just as easily.

The music is pretty tight and the production fairly slick. The songwriting is there too. My only complaint, and a minor one at that, is the vocals could use a little variety. It sounds like he must be using some kind of distortion effect on his vocals, and while that gives them an edge, it also sort of dulls out the highs and lows into one bland middle range. I think he would sound more dynamic if he sang “clean” harsh vocals.

On the whole, this is a very respectable release. Check these guys out on YouTube below.

Last Updated on June 04, 2012

Hits: 451

Reviews for June 1st, 2012

Eternal Helcaraxe – Against All Odds
Hailing from Ireland, the land of Primordial, we have Eternal Helcaraxe with their first full-length album “Against All Odds.” The band takes their name from Tolkien’s “The Silmarillion” (which I was never able to bring myself to finish reading), but being a child of the 80s, when I see the words “Against All Odds” it brings to mind Jeff Bridges and Phil Collins songs. This album is a tad darker than all that.

Eternal Helcaraxe play black metal with melodic, atmospheric and melancholy flourishes. I enjoyed the music quite a lot, and the harsh vocals are alright, though I feel like they may have a bit much reverb on them. Fast guitar and drums lay the foundation upon which they layer melodic and atmospheric keyboards for nice contrast. I suppose the reverb-saturated vocals do help blend with the mix, but I would just like to hear them a little more dominant. Three quarters of the way through the album we get a taste of some clean vocals mixed with the harsh on “As the Snow Gathers.” It is a nice touch; I would like to hear that in more of the songs.

This is a pretty good album. Check out the track “Invictus.”



Begrime Exemious – Visions of the Scourge
Begrime Exemious is a Canadian black/death metal band and “Visions of the Scourge” is their second full album. Back in the day, I was very disappointed whenever I heard an album with lo-fi production, but as the years pass we begin to feel nostalgic for things that remind us of when we were younger. So at some point in recent years I noticed that I started feeling a fondness for albums that sounded like they were recorded years ago. Now, sometimes a low budget production sounds like shit; it can sound muddy and tracks can be placed badly in the mix. Other times, if it maintains clarity and makes good use of the stereo field, a low budget album can tickle that nostalgic fancy and win me over. “Visions of the Scourge” is one of those albums.

In some ways this album is completely mediocre. I do not expect to see it climbing to the top of any end of year lists, but musically there are some interesting songs here. I enjoy the guitars and drums working together. The vocals (or as they like to call them, deathvomits) are harsh and mostly guttural. Since I like the music the vocals are tolerable, but they could sound better. On the whole this is a pretty decent album. Check out the opening track “Incestuous Servitude.”



Enthrallment - People from the Lands of Vit
“People from the Lands of Vit” is the third album from Bulgarian brutal death metal band Enthrallment. The first thing I notice when listening to this album is how crisp, tight and punchy this album sounds. That is, in my opinion, a great sound for a brutal death metal album. Brutal death metal is so intense that you really need this kind of production to be able to appreciate all the elements of the band. Plus it helps the old deaf graybeards like me to be able to hear the music better. But seriously, I am really digging the sound of this album.

Which way to go with this album? On one hand there is nothing particularly original or innovative about “People from the Lands of Vit”, but on the other hand, if all the listener wants is some spine-crushing, skull smashing, death metal mayhem, I do not think they would be disappointed by Enthrallment. Blast beats, riffs aplenty and harsh, gravelly vocals are all on this menu. Here is the track “Psychological Storm.”



Consume the Vanity – The Joke
Now we have some metal from Istanbul, Turkey in the form of Consume the Vanity and their debut EP, “The Joke.” These guys play a hardcore/groove style metal, and do a pretty good job of it too. The sound quality of the EP is very good; I would say it is well above average for the style. This makes hardcore sound pretty respectable. The music could really fit into any number of metal styles; it is really the barked/yelled vocals that give it the hardcore flavor. And even the vocals take on a death metal like quality at times.

With such an eye-catching cover and a polished sound, Consume the Vanity sound like a band to pay attention to. I do not see anything that mentions them being signed to any label, so if they did this all on their own that is even more impressive. What they need to do now is write and record a bunch more songs for a full album. Four songs at thirteen minutes is a nice appetizer, but I want to hear more!



Kraanium – Post Mortal Coital Fixation
The title “Post Mortal Coital Fixation” really pretty much tells you what you need to know about Kraanium. That seems to be the theme of the album based on some of the song titles. Kraanium are from Norway and this is their third album.

I am not going to be a fan of Kraanium. The music is alright I suppose, with the exception of the clanging drum sound that makes Lars Ulrich’s “And Justice for All” production sound so much better. The so-called vocals on this album are the deal breaker for me. I am having Pathology flashbacks listening to this, and that is not good. I commend this guy for being able to produce these sounds without wrecking his vocal chords, but this kind of something-being-dragged-down-the-sidewalk vocal style is less about speaking words and more about unintelligible grunting. That style is just not for me. If you are into that sort of thing, then go ahead and check out one of the less coital tracks on the album, “Slammed Kranial Remains.”

Last Updated on June 01, 2012

Hits: 297

Reviews for May 30th, 2012

Allegaeon – Formshifter
“Formshifter” is the second album from Colorado-based technical melodic death metal band Allegaeon. I have heard these guys on Liquid Metal before, but have not put them under the microscope for closer inspection.

The first thing I notice about this album is the excellent sound quality. Say what you will about the atmosphere on an album, but a good production always helps. The next thing I notice is the technical musicianship. Being that I was once a string plucker that is where my ears focus first; there is some wonderful guitar playing on this album. Melodic guitar lines contrast well with the heavier music base. The vocals are harsh, but in that Swedish death metal way that leaves you able to still make out a lot of the lyrics. I enjoyed how the vocals were not buried but still left plenty of room for the guitar gymnastics to be heard.

There is so much melodic death metal being dropped on metal listeners that it can be tedious picking out which bands are worthwhile. If I were the maître d' of an all you can eat metal buffet, and you asked me for a suggestion after poring over the extensive melodic death metal menu, I would recommend the special of the day, Allegaeon, it has a nice bite to it but goes down smooth.



Marauder – Elegy of Blood
Marauder is a heavy/power metal band from Greece and “Elegy of Blood” is their fifth album. Inside the first minute of “The Great War” I am reminded of Iced Earth. Let that comparison set the tone, but do not dwell on it too much, as the impression quickly fades. Once the cleaner, more epic vocals make an entrance I have trouble thinking of similar artists.

The songs on “Elegy of Blood” are power metal in the vein that gets my blood pumping and makes me want to swing a sword. Soaring, clean, gang vocals and bombastic power chords are the order of the day and they are served up with gusto (I must be hungry with all this restaurant talk). I am known to be very picky about power metal, but I would not hesitate to recommend Marauder. This is power metal that does not leave out the metal ingredient in favor of too much melody; these songs have their metal balls intact. Check these guys out.



Bible of the Devil – For the Love of Thugs and Fools
I have listened to Chicago’s Bible of the Devil in the past and recall enjoying them, but something about their seventh album, “For the Love of Thugs and Fools” just does not click with me. The first thing that turned me off was the overly long instrumental album intro “Sexual Overture.” Things pick up once they get into “Away” but at this point I notice that the production quality on the album is rather weak. If I was feeling more charitable I would say this works out ok with their retro, stoner rock vibe, but come on, this is their seventh album; it is time to get some real production.

On the upside there is plenty of cool stoner rock guitar riffage. Lots of bands are flooding this genre and play this style poorly, but Bible of the Devil write good songs; they just need to record them better. Check out the track “Out for Blood” and see what you think.



Diseim – Holy Wrath
“Holy Wrath” appears to be the first album from Latvian death metal band Diseim. I make a lot of (often bad) judgments about albums based on the album cover before ever listening to a note, and in this case I was expecting something mediocre and poorly produced. Well, you know with that kind of lead-in that when I gave the album a listen that is not what I heard.

The production on “Holy Wrath” is not really all that spectacular; it definitely sounds like they were on a budget. But they seem to have made the best of what they had available, because the music is fairly stripped down and tight sounding making this a diamond in the rough. The vocals are harsh but are seated above and a bit apart from the music, and while they are harsh, they also have a subdued quality that gels really well with the music. The album falls mostly under death metal, but there is a heavy, ponderous aspect that leaves the door open for appending them with the doom tag.

Chalk this one up as the surprise of the day. I really enjoyed this album. Check out this YouTube clip that previews tracks from the album.

Last Updated on May 30, 2012

Hits: 257

 

 

 

 

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