Grim Gauntlet March: Day One (2019)

Hypnotic Nausea – The Death Of All Religions (2019)The Death Of All Religions is a trippy, atmospheric, grungy sort of thing that even hinges on post metal, particularly right near the end of it’s opener, “Holy City” one of the best vocal moments out of the very few placed on this disc. That’s not a problem though, as this is a record that challenges the listener to accept more than what they’re hearing at face value. Short experiments like “Spiritual Allegiance”, “Silent Moment” and “Crippled God” help to add necessary filters between heftier numbers like The Alice In Chains influenced “Priest” and the proggy thunder of “Dogma.” The album’s title cut is a softer piece in tone and volume, which I feel lends to a great emotional impact right before the finale in “Inquietum Cor” which seems to instrumentally showcase many of the explored layers on this album, albeit in a more cohesive fashion. Hypnotic Nausea could have easily gone the grunge/post metal route, but I’m glad that wasn’t the case as a far greater level of maturity came out of it. I’m quite pleased with this offering, as it offers both a share of hard hits and contemplative moments, showing audiences that there’s more to this band than meets the eye. Or ear, in this case.

(10 Tracks, 52:00)

8/10

Warforged – Voice (2019) Warforged, a band that I think would have been much better titled as General Chaos (and come on, it fits if you keep in mind the tone of the album – plus, I know these guys are old enough to remember General Chaos on the Genesis and how much goddamned fun it was) are about to release Voice, which I also think is a pretty bad title. I would have called it The Battle For Adderall, which probably would have been more memeworthy (and as silly as that sounds, be aware that silly memes sell records these days) not to mention the fact that chaos and Adderall fit the sound here perfectly.

What we have here is definitely on par with Equipoise, showing that technical death metal is reaching some kind of unexpected peak that I haven’t witnessed since the early days of the genre. Whle not as solo heavy as Equipoise (but there are definitely some great solos here), Warforged definitely bring the fire when necessary and that’s more often than not. Those of you looking for a hallucinatory chemical experience transferred through a musical lens are going to be more than happy with the final result here as it seems to be able to pick up the listener and throw him or her directly into the blackened abyss of sight and sound. Sometimes there are wild explosions and all manner of harsh utterances, while other times we are sitting patiently, waiting for the next in a long line of onslaughts that occur long after the disc is over. There are also some real oddities here, like the jingling of bells which made me think there was a semi-Christmas theme going on here. This grand cosmic story could after all be a retelling of The Night Before Christmas albeit in the year 4000, where insectoid alien beings are trying to cobble together the great writings of the Santa Claus god and those that may have worshiped him. Whatever the case may be, such a story is told with a keen eye to detail and a technical prowess that should appeal to even the fiercest young punk in one of many unpopular opinion groups online. Trolls will scrawl across their keyboards, “Warforged is a shit band, change my mind” even though the truth of the matter is that said individual couldn’t put together an act that is even half as good as what I’m experiencing here. Now,I have to be honest and say that if this had been any other year, Warforged would not have had much competition; but lo and behold, the Equipoise album also released this year and it’s going to be extremely difficult for me to pick favorites. Ladies, you’re both pretty. I don’t know what to do here!

I can tell you that if you’re looking for an experience that you won’t throw away in lieu of another disc in the flood of metal that we get on a daily basis (yes, it’s like that now) then I would definitely recommend getting your hands on Voice. Between Warforged and Equipoise, I think the technical metal contender for album of the year is going to be very difficult to pinpoint. The Grim Tower highly recommends Voice.

(9 Tracks, 73:00)

9.5/10

Equipoise – Demiurgus (2019) – After a long time of waiting, the technical death metal experience based on Full Metal Alchemist Brotherhood (not the original series, even though I feel that Brotherhood’s ending was a bit expected if you’ve played any Shin Megami Tensei title over the past couple of years, it’s like the Japanese are obsessed with villains that want to control all of space, time and creation – evil gods, as it were) has finally released. To be fair, anime fans might be a bit letdown as there’s nothing in the album that even references the anime and being that I am a bit of an anime fan myself (and that might be putting it mildly, considering the waifu figurines I just bought, but I really wanted that Zero Two) I was also letdown in that area. However, if you’re a metal fan that isn’t into “Japanese cartoons for babies” or whatever ignorant title you want use for the medium (I’d show you people Bible Black, Starless or Euphoria and you’d be so damn offended that you’d want the whole damn medium banned, let alone Rance 01) then I can say without question that you’ll love this record.

Not only is Demiurgus composed of enough alchemical guitar composititions to open up a portal somewhere in the recording studio, but there are sections of the album where screaming solos are the rule of law – and we’re getting pummeled with them. More guitar solos than you can shake a stick at, and rather brilliant ones at that. Cynic influence in the background with Yngwie Malmsteen in the foreground and I couldn’t be happier. The vocals are also quite monstrous, sounding exactly as we should expect for thie genre, with not a clean vocal in sight. No soundclips from the series either, I don’t think Japan would have raised too much of a fuss as long as you didn’t use the Funimation dubs. I mean, we already know what’s going on with #istandwithvic so it probably wouldn’t be wise to rock that apple cart any further. Also we have to consider that the voice of Edward Elric in the anime was none other than the falsely accused. Of course, I personally wouldn’t care if we ever got dubbed anime again. Though, that’s just me.

Interestingly enough, the record also features several world music instrumentals, mostly to capture the feeling of walking along the desert, as was often done in the anime. These sections are often necessarily and break up the tension between the heftier cuts, many of which are accompanied by piano, an effort that should be highly praised. As a listener, you are getting bombarded by several different compositions; all of which should be looked upon in the same sense as any great classical piece. Equipoise may as well be playing off the same formula that Bach, Beethoven and Mozart did hundreds of years ago, albeit adapted to modern electronic instruments. Anyone who feels that metal music is too simple to play needs to give this album a listen and experience the power that this genre is truly capable of.

I’ll state with very little hesitation that Demiurgus is my favorite album of the year, even though the only singles that I could find from it on YouTube were backed by Toilet Ov Hell, whose owner does not like me very much and I would rather not promote. I’d say that we were both guilty of being unprofessional and that’s that. Sorry folks, but I’m just not in favor of knee-jerk reaction articles intended to talk down to smaller bands, even if tongue-in-cheek in nature. If I couldn’t tell, than how can some of these guys? Especially those who haven’t a good grasp on the English language. Though that’s beside the point.

I respect any kind of exposure that an album of this caliber can get and even if I don’t agree with the source promoting them; I will have as much decency to respect the volume of people that can be attracted with said source. A band like Equipoise needs as many listeners as humanly possible, so whatever helps them to get out there is welcomed. Aside from the slight drama, I can without question say that I haven’t had this much fun with an album in years and would put this up there with the now cult classic Lykathea Aflame disc, Elvenefris. In fact, Demiurgus is the best album I’ve heard since Elvenefris, which is ultimately weird because both album titles sound extremely remniscent of each other. Is Demiurgus the spiritual successor of Elvenefris assuming that we live in a simulation? I don’t know whata the truth of that is, but I know that Demiurgus is a record that will live in infamy for it’s obscenely proficient level of mastery. This is the kind of record where I have to simply wonder, where in the hell do you go from here? Cowboy Beebop? Code Geass? Evangelion? Dragon Ball? Whoops, that wasn’t quite what I meant. Although, I am rather curious as to what kind of anime Equipoise will cover next. I’d be happy with a Keijo themed disc or perhaps even Queen’s Blade. Relax, I’m kidding. After all, it’s Golden Boy that I would want as a story theme next time around; and few anime fans would argue with that. (Just don’t read the manga. Please, just don’t.) Or you know, maybe Battle Angel Alita (Gunnm) considering how popular it is now. Whatever happens, I fully trust that these individuals will knock it out of the park. There isn’t going to be another technical death metal album of this caliber for many years, so definitely pick up this beast while you still can. It’s immeasureable. The Grim Tower highly recommends the 2019 album of the year, Equipoise – Demiurgus.

(14 Tracks, 63:00)

10/10

Frosthelm – Pyrrhic (2019) – Frosthelm have returned with a more mature and defined sound than offered on their previous recording The Endless Winter, but there are still a few things that irk me, like the guitar solo in “The Sorceress” which is always too low in the mix, no matter what I’m hearing it on. Other than that, I feel that the mixture of black, death and thrash metal definitely fits here. Fans of the previous record will also enjoy faster cuts like “Serpentine Embrace” and “Pisslord” (Hey, is that supposed to be a jab against me? Haha!) which are both speedy thrash cuts with a black metal edge that simply can’t be denied. However, I really dig opener “A Gift Of Razors” as well as “Immortal Nightfall A Dreamless Lust” (which is a really confusing title) and the instrumental “Pyrrhic I: Hollow” which showcases the real axe power that these guys are unleashing, something I don’t recall from the previous disc. There are a lot of solos here and I think black metal needs it share of solos. Hell, I think that all metal needs it’s share of solos. Hell, I think that pop music needs it’s share of solos. The Japanese do it, why can’t the west? It would be great to hear a new pop song over the loud speaker at work by some band like Imagine Dragons, and all of a sudden some guy comes in with a devastating solo effort. Doesn’t even matter who it is. I’d start a petition to put guitar solos in everything if I could. Don’t tempt me on that.

Getting back to the release at hand, the vocals here are absolutely dripping with venom, like some kind of creature that was summoned to be on the mic instead of a human being. And that’s the kind of thing I want to hear. As with black metal, drum blasts are indeed utilized, though not overused and melody truly fills the air on this disc. Despite how bleak it might sound (as it should) there is definitely a certain air of wonder to behold here and I really hope that this doesn’t get sanded down in the future. Though don’t get discouraged, because the disc can still be quite crushing, the band are simply just offering more than that, and to be honest – we need more than that. You folks already know how many albums I go through on a daily basis and I can’t even count how many pieces end up thrown into the background. That didn’t happen with this one, because Frosthelm seem to have a sense of originality that other artists seem to lack these days. I mean, how much black metal do I have to hear before people decide to stop repaving over the same discs that we’ve already got on our shelves? I know that artists are really trying, but I think we need to work our way out of the box and into something a bit more than what was the norm almost twenty years ago. It’s hard to believe that this kind of metal has been around for as long as it has, and if MetalSucks have their way, it’ll be neutered down to nothing. I don’t care for extremism, but it’s not what I’m listening to some of these artists for. To be honest, I can’t tell what these guys are talking about anyway. If I’m that curious, I’ll look up the lyrics. Suffice it to say, I’m not normally that curious.

Aside from that, I think that Pyrrhic is a logical step up from the prior albums as was the observation I had from the very first cut on this album, “A Gift Of Razors” which sounds quite awesome in retrospect. Unless the song is literally about giving someone razors as a gift on their birthday. They’d better not be Gillette! Commercial aside, those razors have always been quite expensive anyway and to shave the grim beard, I use the combination of a straight razor and an electric shaver.

Again getting back to the album, Pyrrhic feels like a more fleshed out, though possibly less aggressive experience from Frosthelm that isn’t necessarily a bad thing. I’m definitely glad that they chose to go in this direction, rather than rehashing their earlier efforts as many bands seem to do these days. Definitely give the disc a listen as it is quite refreshing, which sounds odd to say for black metal, though here we are.

(7 Tracks, 40:00)

8.5/10

51 Peg – A\Void (2018) – The first album in a while from this electronic rock act, I think that some fans might find themselves confused in regards to the direction they’ve taken here. From the title track and opener, I thought that I was getting a sufficient Goth/electronic mixture (with an incredibly unexpected solo) and “No CTRL” seemed to only further my suspicions, but then “Another Nothing” came in and I was all of a sudden hearing slightly electronic radio rock. It’s not that the band can’t perform this style well, it’s just not something that I would have expected considering the previous two cuts. “Coded In Time” thankfully moves itself from the radio rock model, still with a foot enough in the electronic elements to keep me entertained. “Acceptance” follows as a bouncy electronic rock instrumental, but at least it isn’t radio rock. So I’m going to give them points for sticking to familiar landscapes, especially when the keyboard compositions are as proficient as I’m hearing here. “Prying Eyes” seems to go back to the radio rock, but it’s definitely not terrible. “SuperSpy” excels again with the key compositions, along with a powerful vocal performance that certainly works well enough. The cut is also a bit longer, so there’s more room for the band to experiment with atmosphere and they do just that. “Night Things” definitely runs back into radio rock, but iHeart radio’s rock bands aren’t as skilled with keyboards as these guys are. I’m telling you folks, it’s all in the keys. 51 Peg are a rock band that you’re going to dig especially if you love great keyboard compositions and I do.

“Parachute and Savior” continues the radio rock style, but there’s a little more thought placed in lieu of the lyrics and overall composition again, than what iHeart radio offers. For starters the song is over six minutes, which is far longer than some stations allow. “Cat Scan” continues to show the brilliance of the band’s electronic compositions, while “Now and What Used To Be” combines guitar riffs with a noticeable dance beat. “Death March” comes across as something completely unexpected, almost sounding like a mix between dark industrial and alternative rock (I know I’ve been using the term radio rock, but the two are interchangeable in my opinion) as one of my personal favorite cuts comes into play right after in the form of “ZeroZero” (is that a reference to Zero Two from Darling In The Franxx?) which is simply just a killer piece. I’d be a fool to say that I don’t like catchy music, because my phone’s playlist would rat on me in that instance. The same can be said for “Walk Through Me” which is probably one of the sappiest cuts here, but I find myself lost in that chorus. I mean, this is one that would jump right onto the radio, but it’s much better than “Thunder” or “Natural” by Imagine Dragons. A band like 51 Peg should show those guys how you actually make both experimental and accessible electronic rock music and not just some product for sale. “The Light That Lit Your Way” didn’t really leave a mark on me, but “theVoid” finishes the album with a firm footing in nearly pure electronic flair.

Folks, that was sixteen songs and very few of them were washouts. This is extremely hard to believe, even considering the fact that we have such an odd pairing in what I would consider to be radio/alternative rock music and thick electronica. Even modern radio alterna rock bands (I’m really trying to spin this tonight, aren’t I?) don’t utilize as much electronic force as 51 Peg with this release, and it’s the proof in the pudding that pleasant electronic rock can still be made. I really don’t know how popular this band is, but I’ve half a mind to inform my radio station that they could benefit from just a few of these tracks. Even though the disc came out at the tail end of last year, it’s definitely worth digging into and I’m adding a few of these cuts to my personal playlist. That statement really says it all.

(16 Tracks, 71:00)

8/10

Final Coil – The World We Left Behind For Others (2019) – As much as I lvoed the previous Final Coil release –, I Have to say without question that I was extremely bored by this one. Though before you get all upset, let me explain why. On the band’s previous album, there was more feeling and cohesion than this disc which just sounded like twelve different flavors of grunge rock. Progressive grunge rock I’ll give it, but definitely not the style that I thought Final Coil were going into. Though if you’re a fan of Tool’s grungiest era Undertow (or the latest Chevelle album –, which I considered to be Undertow II) you will find much to like here. Granted, I have to give “The Last Battle”, “Scattered Dust”, “The Imaginary Trip” and the album’s lengthy closer and title track their proper respect, but it’s a bit much to just throw on what are really two straight-up grunge rock cuts in “Empty Handed” and “…And I’ll Leave.” These cuts are also pretty short too and they could have been left off, along with “One More Drink…”. Yeah, I understand what they were trying to attempt there, but it didn’t work for me. Then when combined with “Ashes Ashes” I’m just left confused. Why are there two short pieces sandwiched together like that? A bit bizarre. They could have just been one song. “Convicted Of The Right” is also kind of hit or miss for me, as I prefer the latter part of it, but not the very beginning.

In all honesty, I couldn’t find a catchy song on this disc to save my life. Not that there’s anything wrong with that, but I found myself turned off rather quickly when I couldn’t find a single song on the disc that gelled with me this time around. Folks, I tried. I gave the disc a full listen and even respect the amount of work that went into it, though I suppose that the band wanted to go a more atmospheric route this time and throw in a few grunge cuts to smooth out the edges. The World We Left Behind For Others certainly isn’t a bad record by any means and I’d still recommend it to fans of grunge, prog and atmopsheric acts across the globe, but it just left me rather numb by the end of it, which is a first in over a decade of writing in this industry. I guess there’s a first time for everything.

(12 Tracks, 58:00)

6/10

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