Grim Observations (1/17/20)

So, the new year has kicked off with a bang and I’ve already got dozens of records to cover over the next couple of weeks. Sadly, not all of these will be covered due to simple boredom or lack of interest. I’m trying to cover many of the albums that spoke to me and might actually speak to you, instead of reassuring you that black metal can still sound the way that it has in ninety-six, with no real changes made to the formula.

The first one we have here is A Life Divided with Echoes and I need to mention the fact that these dudes are messing around with synthwave backing, which I found to be cool. There are not many bands actually utilizing synthwave aside from bands that were notably electronic to begin with. A Life Divided actually takes their modern rock mixed with a touch of emo and AOR to a brand new level with this unexpected cyberpunk combination. It also helps to note that several of the songs I found to be quite catchy, although it must be said that the atmosphere of the disc does switch to that of a straight-forward rock or classic heavy metal style closer to the end. I’ll commend them on their experimentation, because God knows that no one else is doing this shit yet and they’re doing somewhat justice to the synthwave in parts. I’ve got to give them points for that. I say once again, that so far – no one has managed to fuck up synthwave and retrowave in the heavy metal scene and I’m even (rather foolishly) beginning to think that synthwave as a whole can pair well with almost any kind of music and is about as indestructible as the Rev 9 from Terminator: Dark Fate.

Annihilator truly shocked me this year with their thrashiest album in years, Ballistic Sadistic. The band have had a hit or miss kind of legacy for a number of years now and were highly experimental when I was first handed an album from them. Now though, the band have retooled themselves to discover just what it was that made thrash metal so damn memorable in the first place. There’s even a major throwback to the glory days of thrash called “Psycho Ward” that reminds me of better days. This album is all about attitude, so much that it has a song with that title and feels like an all out call-out to various people in current year clown world and comes off like a nail spiked bat to the face. It sounds like a riot, which also makes sense as yet again – another one of the tracks is also labeled as such. As with any good album, the record also features blazing solos and what I’d find to be just plain memorable guitar work. I don’t think any of us saw this one coming, but I’m definitely glad to see Annihilator living up to their name. Don’t sleep on Ballistic Sadistic.

Dominia also releases The Withering of The Rose this year, which will be right up the alley for fans of early My Dying Bride, Swallow The Sun and Paradise Lost among others. If you love Gothic Death Doom, you’ll find something to like here within the sorrowful melodies and crushing basslines. The record isn’t just thick gravelly growls though, as it also contains clean vocal moments that manage to add a bit of depth to the performance. Additionally, it also features some groove and black metal tinges that manage to punch it up a little. This keeps the disc from being too slow, which is an issue I have with many extreme funeral doom acts. There are also a number of heartfelt guitar solos on the disc that add further structure to an album that I wasn’t quite sure about from first listen. It’s good to hear a band that isn’t afraid to show some testosterone while at the same time keeping the mood morose and you’ll hear a fine balancing act of that here. My only problem with the disc however, was that it was just too fucking long. You have to consider that the track lengths here are thicker than a corn fed country girl and that’s just a bit too much ass for me. Around the eighth cut, I’m saying to myself “the record is still going?” and that’s never a good thing. The disc is almost seventy minutes, which is just too much for a person to digest and there are definitely a few filler numbers here that could have been trimmed or nixed altogether. The band should have released a forty-minute LP and threw about three or four of these tracks on an EP later on, to give fans something more to chew on later. One of these in particular would be “The Song That You Don’t Like” which was entirely accurate. So I’ll give the band a thumbs up for that one. Though to be fair, this is a bonus that you don’t actually need.

I can’t remember if I reviewed the previous Grey Skies Fallen album, but if I did, you’ll see that review linked below in the tag. Makes things much easier. Anyway, the best way to call Cold Dead Lands is a mixture between doom metal and Nevermore. Which isn’t so off-base for Nevermore, if I’m being honest. The quality is a little rough and a bit foggy, but it fits. Keep in mind that unlike the heavy prog of Nevermore, there’s more of a “what if Warrel Dane joined a doom metal act” vibe here and the main focus of this record lies within it’s tasteful melodies and killer vocal performances. Sometimes those vocal performances include death metal growls, but there’s a completely different vibe here for some reason and I think it’s the inclusion of tasty, rather than sorrowful lead riffs. This is the kind of stuff that makes one think of Queen or maybe even Brendan Small, offering up a large amount of majesty that one just doesn’t expect to hear on a doom album. Just listen to the solo section on the album’s title track and you’ll see what I’m talking about here. If people aren’t talking about this album now, they will be. They should be. Sure, it could be drearier, but then there wouldn’t be much difference in Grey Skies Fallen and any other doom metal act. Musicianship is key here and my ears are getting a healthy dose of that. I’d be a fool not to recommend this one, there are just too many interesting numbers that I really hope don’t get overshadowed by more popular bands. Hearing music that is so tastefully done as this makes me profoundly upset that our metal media is incompetent and would rather post articles about the same four or five bands instead of bringing killer acts like these guys to the forefront.

Human Fortress have returned with a new disc as well, but to be honest I didn’t find anything as memorable on Reign Of Gold as per their previous outing. I’m actually going through the tracks for a second time and there still isn’t anything that calls out to me. This is weird, but admittedly not unheard of. I’ll admit that the record utilizes it’s classical and folk elements well enough to bring me into a fantasy atmosphere, but there’s just nothing here that really worked for me. Maybe it’s time for the band to do a bit of retooling and rediscover what set them off in the first place. Aside from the non-metallic compositions, there is little here that I find to be interesting or inventive. The vocals also feel a bit strained in some areas and maybe the band were struggling a bit with this one. I’ll respect the effort, but it certainly won’t be in my list of top power metal records for this year. I suppose I would consider “Legion of The Dead” as a standout, but that’s not saying much.

I have another power metal release here from Ironflame, called Blood Red Victory. It’s admittedly more old-school, you can hear dozens of influences here but most of them would be considered the old guard of power metal – and that’s a good thing. I’m also starting to wonder if I’m one of the only guys who covers power metal these days as I’ve noticed a lot of the zoomers consider it corny and whatnot. Whatever the case, there’s a great deal of energy here and it’s been put to good use. The record thunders in on a good note, with a potent and catchy vocal performance that reminds me a little bit of Maiden, Manowar and Virgin Steele. And when you’ve got good, memorable solo performances right at the start of the album that scream “heavy metal!” then you know you’re on the right track. But you know what the interesting thing is? These guys don’t even look like they’re a power metal act – and that to me, is a good thing. Yes, we have the old guard who try their best to look and act the part, but when you see these guys at a venue, you might expect they’re going to play sludge, deathy post metal or something more modern. Instead, these guys manage to belt out some of the most potent power metal I’ve heard in quite a while. The mix is also fantastic and I can make out every word in the performance which helps with the singalongs. Now I know that people go crazy over Sabaton (which I don’t truly understand as I never really thought they were that special when they began, but their frontman recently guested on a damn BabyMetal track, so I guess they’re famous enough to be in Metal Media’s Big Five) but I think they need to be looking at Ironflame. The only part that sucks about this album is that I’m missing the last quarter of it, which is only available on the physical disc. So yeah, you want to go out and buy that for the cuts after “Night Queen” which I’m sure are just as good as the rest of this flawless powerhouse of an album.

Kawir is next up, with their album Adrasteia. I’d consider the band to be a mixture of black metal, folk instrumentation and ritual, which doesn’t sound much different from other black metal bands but I’ll assure you that this doesn’t come off like the stuck in ninety-six garbage that I’ve been coming across for a while now. First off, there are memorable riff melodies here, even despite the occasional use of tremolos and blast beats. The record is still black metal in that sense, but there’s more focus on branching out – so much so that a completely non-metal track called “Colchis” found it’s way here and we’re witnessing a full-on ritual shoved smack-dab in the middle of a black metal performance. It’s even difficult to call opener “Tydeus” black metal, because aside from vocal rasps it seems to stick with triumphant folk metal that isn’t too far removed from a record like Ensiferum’s Iron. However, it is this kind of evolution that we need in metal to keep it from becoming stagnant. The record is definitely brackish as “Danaides” showcases, but a little bit of flute playing now and again certainly doesn’t hurt.

I was also sent the physical copy of a record called Vessels Into White Tides by and act called The River. Musically, it seems to be a form of post-metal with a female vocalist who pairs up fairly well with the musicianship as a whole. There is no real room for harsh vocals on the album and generally she lays out the vocal foreground for the album, which is largely atmospheric thump. I’d consider the record to be quite long and dreamy, which isn’t a bad pairing, I must say. Some of these pieces are absurdly long as well, with “Into White” being a full fifteen minutes in length. After that, the album slows a bit down as “Open” brings in what comes nearly off as a slight acoustic moment. “Passing” is a more reserved number, with dabs of bass fuzz here and there which lays out the structure for the album’s final cut, “Tides” which is purely instrumental. The record ends on a vibrant classical note, which comes off completely unexpected and ultimately interesting. Although the album begins with the rustic thunder of “Vessels” the disc ends on a fairly clean and quite whimsical note. Sure, there are moments when it hits hard, but there are several emotions laden within the record both melodically in the vocals and musically within both the vibrancy and heft of the experience that I find myself quite pleased with the disc as a whole. Hopefully our mainstream metal media will pick up on these guys and make them a household act, but I’m fresh out of hopes these days when it comes to the metal media.

That’s all for now and I’ll have some more observations for you towards the end of the month!

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