Grim Gauntlet April: Day Two (2019)

Eli Litwin – The World Now (2019) – Eli Litwin may have members from John Frum, but that doesn’t mean that I loved the performance here even half as much. Obviously John Frum was a more experimental take on death metal, which I absolutely loved; but I’m no quite sure what this is actually supposed to be. Though I’m quite certain it is some level of electronica, it doesn’t even seem to suit my palette on that level. Since I am not quite a fan of this project, instead of just trashing it to all hell, I’m going to talk about the portions that I did find interesting. Opener “Stay” is quite interesting in its mix of synth and acoustics, I find a lot of chiptune influence throughout the whole album. It seems like Throbbing Gristle could be an influence as “Leave This Land” seems to indicate, though mixing acoustics, death metal and chiptune all at the same time seems like it may have lost me completely. It almost feels like they’re just throwing paint at the wall and seeing what sticks. These kinds of albums can be hit or miss respectively and I felt that The World Now was a bit of both. A clean autotuned vocal approach joins DnB on “Rising Tides” as things begin to go a bit Mega Man and then vocaloid. I almost feel like I’m hearing harsh screams and Hatsune Miku at the same time, which is no issue as I have a figurine of her on my shelf. Somehow or another a guitar solo creeps in, but it feels slightly synthesized in sections and I’m thinking of King Of Fighters themes. It’s also cut off, which is a paddling in my opinion. I can’t stand when artists are cut off mid-solo. What in the hell is going on in “Unholy?” Sure, it starts out well enough, but then there’s a mixture of cleans and synths and growls and whatever else. Are they trying to be Boris? Closer “Loathsome” just features every damn thing, starting out again on a rather calm note before some guy throws everything but the kitchen sink through the studio windows. It’s rather beautiful for a couple of minutes, but then it rolls into a mixture of electronic chiptune metal stuff and a couple of electronic blast fills that make me curious to their plugins. When all is said and done, I think to myself, “Well, that was decent enough” and am hoping that they mix be able to mix things a bit better cohesively next time around. It’s a nice experiment, but it’s definitely no John Frum.

(5 Tracks, 28:00)

6/10

Bloodbound – Rise Of The Dragon Empire (2019) – I’m not quite sure what kind of band Bloodbound want to be anymore, as they’ve had about seven-hundred different style changes since their debut. This time it seems to be more of a symphonic power metal with folk elements, but not quite like the Rhapsody influence of their previous album War Of Dragons, which I thought might have been their death knell, to be honest. Yet, these guys are still kicking with a whole slew of new material for me to cover. The opener and title track certainly feels like Sabaton as does “Slayer Of Kings.” However, they’re really starting to get the formula down and “Skyriders and Stormbringers” is just one example of that perfection. “Magical Eye” continues that approach, almost bringing with it a current era Edguy feeling. There’s definitely some classic heavy metal influence injected here which helps to give these pieces a little more testosterone and less of the sparkly stuff that we hear in power metal these days. Sure, they’re singing about knights, dragons, magic and wizards, but at least there’s a thumping bass end to give more brevity to the performance than the shimmering keys. Don’t get me wrong, the keys are just as important to this album as they would be to any symphonic power metal disc, but I’m glad that there are noticeable grooves and even a few guitar solos. “Blackwater Bay” continues the incredibly bombastic and rather hefty folk influences, while “Giants Of Heaven” continues to keep it hard and heavy. Again, I’m truly thankful for the fact that Bloodbound decided to tune down the pomp a little bit as they were rolling too far into Sonata Arctica territory and that’s just way too flashy for me. Rise Of The Dragon Empire gives us a proper amount of pomp, but doesn’t go too far overboard. Even if it sounds a lot like Sabaton, at least they’ve got the formula down and I’m quite certain that Sabaton fans will have picked this one up already if they haven’t done so yet. I can’t really knock the band for performing a style in this genre that is very popular right now and at least they’re putting their own touches on it. That’s something I just can’t say about a metric ton of bands right now. I’m actually quite happy with Rise Of The Dragon Empire, but In The Name Of Metal will still remain my favorite record in their discography.

(11 Tracks, 45:00)

8/10

Iron Savior – Kill Or Get Killed (2019) – I’d almost forgotten that Iron Savior released a new one this year until I looked at my extensive backlog. Blind Guardian fans will be especially happy to hear this one, especially judging from how great the opener sounds. If the vocal performance doesn’t do it for you, the guitar solo definitely will. I’m certainly getting a Nightfall On Middle Earth feel here and that excites me greatly. However, Iron Savior are capable of many sounds and styles beyond that which is why I love to see the classic heavy metal pumping through “Roaring Thunder.” They continue that approach with “From Dust & Rubble” and the killer “Sinner Or Saint” which just continues the awesome heavy metal onslaught. There just doesn’t seem to be a dud anywhere on this album, with a vocal performance that knocks it way out of the park every time. Not to mention the incredible guitar acrobatics, which even rival Blind Guardian’s early work. Now maybe the rest of Kill Or Get Killed isn’t quite as bombastic as it’s opener, but I’m not going to complain about a memorable heavy metal performance. Not everything has to be synths and grandeur after all, and that’s what Iron Savior went with this time around. However, there is an unexpected piece called “Until We Meet Again” which spans nearly to the eight minute mark. It is there that we’ll hear a smidgen of synth and possibly even some vocal effects which work to illustrate a story. The song also has a defined eighties rock nature and tinges on AOR except for yet another notable solo piece. This album is chock full of them and every single one is excellent. In the end, there really isn’t anything negative that I have to say about this one, as Kill Or Get Killed definitely stacks up as one of Iron Savior’s best, one among a sea of great power metal classics for the modern generation. If you love Blind Guardian and classic, thunderous heavy metal tunes, then you’re going to find exactly what you’re looking for here. This might be pushing it a little, but I personally think that Iron Savior are doing a better job of that Blind Guardian formula than the aforementioned are currently. Everything that I’ve missed from Blind Guardian’s current recordings I’m finding here and that should tell you something.

(10 Tracks, 49:00)

9/10

Mephorash – Shem Ha Mephorash (2019) – Having loved the band’s prior recording Rites Of Nullification, you know for a fact that I jumped on this one. I didn’t think I’d be reviewing it just a few days around release though, but at least I’ve got one ready for them. Unfortunately, I don’t find this recording to be nearly as memorable as their last, but it is still good in its own right. Black metal is under fire after all, so we’ve got to appreciate it where we can get it. These gentlemen had better be careful too, because all they have to do is accidentally shake hands with someone who might be a supremacist and then MetalSucks will be trying to ban them as well. “Did you see those guys, Memphorash! They might have shaken hands with a guy at a show who held supremacist views ten years ago, so we’ve got to ban them from playing!” Yes, folks – this is where we are right now. My god, I’m probably even a rebel for covering a black metal band these days. Thankfully, it’s a good one. The album begins with “King Of Kings, Lord Of Lords” and its unexpected dose of atmosphere. There are some notable gurgles in the beginning as Satan is praised along with some rather frightening riff melodies and hefty synths. As always, the vocal approach is passionate and doesn’t feel phoned in. There’s nothing about these guys that sounds trendy, but there are definitely notable influences stuffed into the mix. One could call to mind SepticFlesh and possibly even Behemoth this time around, but Mephorash certainly does their own thing within these styles. Especially when it sounds like the frontman is coughing up his guts, something we don’t get to hear quite often in this music. To be honest, he does sound like he’s coughing something up and I can’t say in all my years of metal music review that I’ve ever heard an artist literally coughing and gagging on the microphone. Even if this is just a performance piece, it fits. “Chant Of Golgotha” comes in with powerful lead melodies and a synth background that lends well to its doom-influenced plodding. The darker vocal approach seems to work well here also. That doesn’t last long though, as the piece gives way to blast beats which in my opinion kind of kills the mood. The vocal performance is still killer, but I really liked the slower approach in the beginning of the song. It felt different, which is what black metal needs right now as there are just so many bands making it in the underground areas which MetalSucks has yet to touch and we’re hearing far too many similarities. To their credit however, at least the mood changes to that of tribal theatrics and childlike chants. I honestly feel like the performance is mimicking a horror movie soundtrack at this point, which would make this track a great single for a music video. It really seems like Mephorash played up the horror factor on this one, I think they were trying to frighten religious people. Not sure if that works anymore, but I’m sure a couple of people might shirk away from it. Of course, the only problem with making “Chant Of Golgotha” a video single is that it would roll right into “Epitome I: Bottomless Infinite” even though there’s always the option of melding the two together so that around the time the guitar is brought in on this track, the video would cut off. No one would really be the wiser in that respect, especially if they haven’t heard the band nor the album before. Again, I certainly have to praise these guys for putting the dark and evil into black metal. It really feels like they focused on creating the most frightening tremolos that they could muster and that works for this album; which has a cover that doesn’t seem nearly as frightening as it should be. Midway into “Epitome I” we see a slight pause for atmosphere as thunderous synths and blasts are utilized. These guys don’t overdo the blasts, more or less making them a sort of explosive moment within the album. The disc will thrive on atmosphere until it blasts into metal, which I’ve noticed for most of the experience. Towards the end of this one, it sounds like young girls are welcoming the arrival of a demon lord, while our passionate frontman sounds a veritable clarion call. If that doesn’t get this demon lord interested, then nothing will. “Sanguinem” merely continues this admittedly creepy notion, though it adds some very tasty leads, which I’m extremely thankful for. Just because you’re welcoming in death and destruction doesn’t mean that good melodies have to be sacrificed in the process. The piano joins for a bit as well, reminding me a bit of the classic Doom soundtrack. Though I get that this is a vocal song, it’s there that I wish the piece could have just been an instrumental and jumped right into a solo. There is a chorus in this song however, which I won’t completely throw out – but vocals come into the mix at nearly the midpoint of the song and by then it feels like the impact is lost. However, the female vocal section is introduced and lends way to a magnificent atmosphere. It just felt like they added too much at one time, which make the record feel just a bit more pretentious than it should be.

Another issue that I find with the record is that is becomes a bit droning after a while. We didn’t really need the second Epitome and then you have “Relics Of Elohim” which didn’t do much for me at all and “777 Third Woe” which is a just a tad bit more traditional black metal. It’s at this point that I feel I’d heard all I needed to from the album with the exception of its no-holds-barred title track which ends the performance on a strong note. I’ve listened to the album a few times through before I wrote this review and I still feel about the same. Eight songs are a fair amount, but I feel that maybe dragging them out for as much as they did wasn’t such a wise idea. Honestly, after everything that was crammed into “Sanguinem” I just don’t see how they could have gone much further with the mood they were aiming for. Don’t get me wrong, because I definitely enjoy parts of this album but not nearly as much as their last. Mephorash have an amazing frontman and they certainly care about creating a convincing atmosphere, but I would daresay far more than a cohesive record. I love the record for the soundscapes entwined within, but it’s just a bit much otherwise. If you’re the kind of person who really likes to soak into terrifying atmospheres, then you will find this one more than just appealing; but I think it might be a good idea to dial down a bit on the atmosphere and show off a bit more of the tasteful playing I heard in areas of the album. It feels like their guitarist is getting seriously neglected here and he certainly doesn’t deserve it. I personally don’t recall even hearing one guitar solo even though there were definitely places where riffs could have evolved in that fashion. Shem Ha Mephorash is still worth picking up, but I’d definitely recommend their previous recording over it.

(8 Tracks, 74:00)

8.5/10

Victoria De Mare – HashTagTwat (2018) – Actress/Singer Victoria De Mare contacted me about reviewing her latest album and I must say that I’m a bit surprised by the amount of music offered here. The disc opens on a rather sappy pop cut called “Dreams” which works well enough for modern radio and has a catchy chorus. “I” continues that into what I would consider a nineties pop feeling, that while is not necessarily my cup of tea; shows a definite improvement in her vocal work since the previous recording. This one definitely works for me and I’m glad to see there’s a good mix of vulgarity laden within, which you wouldn’t expect for the tone of the material in the beginning. “It’s Me” is definitely one of those cuts, where nineties pop/rock flows into slight electronica and even features a bit of a harsh vocal. Yes, you heard me right. I was caught off guard, but that was nothing compared to what I discovered further into the album. The next track, “Die Die” is actually a weird mixture of vocal effects, hard-driving downtuned riffs and harsh vocals. I definitely would have liked to hear a full band on this one, but the effect was driven home. “Flip Side” comes next, but it’s not my favorite track by any means. The piece has an electronic dance feel, which is decent enough but just didn’t do much for me. I will say that it leans a great deal on its chorus, which might be a bit of a downfall in that respect. After that, we come to my favorite track on this disc, which is “Raw.” It mixes alternative pop/rock with driving metal influence in a way that I would find to be a bit more untamed than the polish of current In This Moment. The song might start out rather saccharine but soon pushes right through the wall with a sort of unexpected brutality. “Bang That” really has me lost, and I’m afraid that I don’t understand it at all. It’s a silly song but doesn’t really seem to do anything for me. The more I listen, the more annoyed I am by it; so we’re moving to the next piece. “Make Me High” is another sappy little pop tune, but she seems to be rather fond of this approach and certainly communicates it well. I can’t find any fault with that. “Melting” is a bit closer to my interests however, as it contains a much deeper sense of passion and nearly touches on darkwave. I would certainly prefer more of this than the nineties pop, but I can’t necessarily knock it too far; especially when there are some bits of vulgarity thrown in.

Victoria definitely feels like one of those “black belt chicks” that comedian Sam Tripoli was talking about in one of his podcasts. According to him (and I’m paraphrasing here), women who wear white belts are less likely to be vulgar, are very prim and proper even outside of the professional world and you have to be very careful what you say around them. Whereas women who wear black belts are more likely to be a bit crass, may not necessarily be the most mannerly outside of the professional environment; and you can be a little more loose with what you say around them as they’re less likely to take offense or may even be more vulgar than you. I’ve seen this more than you’d believe in modern society. One of the problems we have in modern society is the fact that people often get pedastalized and you feel that you have to treat them like more than any other human being. Which is frightening and a wee bit weird. You often wonder if these modern-day pop princesses have ever uttered a foul word, have ever taken a shot of alcohol or even so much as hit a blunt. That to me is a bit scary, because you find out that this pop visage is not realistic and that these people are just like you, which may be one reason why pop music is becoming a lot less clean. Thid is a good thing, cause the worlds crafted in the pop music are not indicative of our current reality. They may as well create manufactured happiness. This doesn’t mean that love doesn’t exist, it means that love simply isn’t sunshine and rainbows all the time, as Victoria has made clear through this album. Maybe Kelly Clarkson and Taylor Swift won’t utter “Fuck you, motherfucker!” and “you cunt!” in their songs, but those are definitely statements based on emotions that real people face, rather than what the sappy world of modern pop music would have us believe. For that, I greatly champion Victoria’s approach on this album.

Getting back to it, we have “You’re Pain” which again treads the line between candy pop and what sounds a little bit like the Mortal Kombat film soundtrack along with harsh, Otep style vocals. There are also a few riffs here that remind me of the Batman Beyond soundtrack. After that, we have another pop cut in the form of “The Best That I Can” which I would say is one of Victoria’s softer and more passionate moments on the album. It is definitely a welcome change of pace from the heavier material and truly shows off her improved pipes. The next one is “Last Of Me”, a nineties alt-rock track with an unexpected solo moment. It’s not my favorite cut, but there’s definitely something here for everyone. The next cut is “Lady” which is yet another powerful track, demonstrating societal progression in the form of an LGBT love song. The chorus is truly catchy and a fine place to end the album. Oh, but there’s just one more track – that would be “You Say” which carries more of a cabaret feel and ultimately takes on a raather hypnotizing nature. I’ve always loved music styled in this era, even though I feel that the instrumentation is just a bit odd here. For some reason, I keep thinking of Jessica Rabbit, though I couldn’t tell you why.

In any case, I definitely have to give proper respect to Victoria De Mare on this one because she’s broken a lot of ground in th world of music that artists with million dollar contracts haven’t even tapped into yet. While not all of these experiments work, the record definitely showcases her skills on many levels and has something for everyone. Though as I said, she’s definitely a black belt kind of woman as the record switches from clean to vulgar in a matter of minutes. The most interesting part about it however, is that these changes happen without warning. I wouldn’t buy it for grandma, unless she’s a really cool grandma.

(14 Tracks)

8/10

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