Grim Observations (8/14/19)

First up, I have a slew of releases supplied by Cruz Del Sur and Gates Of Hell Records, respectively. Lunar Shadow‘s “The Smokeless Fires” is the first of those, mixing a classic doom metal sound with modern progressive antics and some slightly more extreme notions, particularly in the vein of machine-gun drum acrobatics which surprisingly don’t wind up sounding too hokey (ala-Dragonforce). The vocals come off rather well, sounding almost feminine in some aspects, but it lends well to the performance at whole, which is quite complex and full of really everything that this genre needs to be. It’s heavy enough to bang your head, but doesn’t lose it’s mind in the vein of several “how heavy can we be?” bands that I’ve noted recently. This one is faith that the old sound is far from dead and has only evolved into something greater over time. The mix of black metal, doom and progressive elements certainly have me convinced that this one is the best out of the stack.

Next I’ve got Ravensire‘s “A Stone Engraved In Red” which follows the ancient doom formula quite well and reminds me of numerous old school doom classics. I knew what to expect here and wasn’t exactly disappointed, keeping my expectations low. The vocal style reminded me of a younger Hansi Kursch which did become grating after awhile, but I suppose there is something to said for overall composition. Problem is, I’ve heard all this before and Ravensire really isn’t innovating beyond anything that you have in your doom collection.

For those who really want to go back in time, I have Chevalier‘s “Destiny Calls” which sounds like a remastering of some rather ancient demos from metal’s past. The golden days that are pretty much lost on us as current trends might showcase. Chevalier played an early form of power metal, not too dissimilar from Blind Guardian’s “Follow The Blind” albeit with some harsh vocal backings and other such exprimentations that you wouldn’t have heard ages ago. I imagine that some of the harsh vocals on “Road Of Light” may even predate death metal as a whole, but I cannot be certain. The vocal remasters sound great and are quite audible despite how archaic these recordings must be. The riffs are equally discernible, melding thrash with the prog of the seventies and finely constructured guitar solos. It definitely kind of makes me think of Stranger Things and the amount of old eighties bands that they could have promoted in this style other than just Metallica. Even if you don’t want to admit it, bands like this are what really paved the way for the current power metal scene. It’s also worth noting that there’s a woman on the vocals here (Emma) and she sounds great. I think I’ve covered some of Chevalier’s records before and this is another one that definitely needed a proper remaster. I still don’t think that the interludes were necessary and it would be far better if the record had stuck with it’s raw metal atmosphere the whole way through. What’s more, is some of these interludes sound like they were recorded recently and just won’t work. Keep it classic, folks. Let’s keep this one as a reminder of their early era and not what the band may represent today. The songs are long enough as is and “Destiny Calls” can flow perfectly well without these meanderings.

Tir‘s “Metal Shock” is unique due to the fact that the band performed the entire album in their native Italian. It follows a rather classic heavy metal style, much like the previous albums I’ve covered here and should be a good fit for those looking for more classic metal, but the real difference here is the addition of a few more accessible songs in the punkish “Heavy Mama” and the old school rock of “Beat 150.” Unfortunately, the somber acoustics of closer “Memoria (Faber)” really bring the whole performance down a notch and make me question the “Play At Maximum Volume” label on the back of the disc. Sure, there are some high-flying heavy metal cuts here, but there are also a few numbers that may take listeners out of the moment, for just a while anyway.

Smoulder came next, with “Times Of Obscene Evil and Wild Daring” which is a hell of a lot of words for an album title, almost reminding me of Bal Sagoth’s “Starfire Burning Across The Ice-Veiled Throne Of Ultima Thule.” Okay, so maybe it’s not that many words, but you see my point. Regardless of that, the record is a heavily melodic doom dirge with a woman on the vocals, which is definitely something I don’t recall hearing often in this genre. Back when Chevalier was doing it, the idea of a woman on the mic sounded almost alien; but we are in a new age of mankind here and I feel that the vocal performance here is quite mighty. Now, I know that some of you guys might be turned off by the fact that there is a bit more of a traditional pop sense to the whole thing, but all the other mags and zines seem to love it and we should too. The frontwoman actually reviews discs for Banger TV, so she’s actually getting paid for this kind of work. Upon further looking, I notice that all of the album reviews there are video reviews, so maybe that is the future that the industry is pushing us into. Seems to be a case of “video review killed the written review.” I’d actually asked Central Scrutinizer for his take on the disc, to which he replied sounds like several other bands in the area; of which I am surprisingly not that familiar with. I felt it was decent enough and a lot of power was put into it, but not really the kind of disc that diverted from what I’d heard earlier and I’d still put Lunar Shadow ahead of it, due to the amount of prog and extreme metal influences popping up there.

Iron Griffin followed with “Curse Of The Sky” and yet another female vocalist, but she’s great. The only real problem I found with this one is the lack of thump from the bass. Though to be fair, it is basically a two person project much like my own band, and you have to compensate for things sometimes, usually with technology. It is definitely standard folk-influenced doom, but the main draw here is certainly going to be the vocal approach, which I found to be very catchy and in all actuality, a bit less pop-influenced than Smoulder. The vocal approach here is a bit more raw and less polished, plus she takes on much lengthier and higher note registers, which is certainly worth keeping a note of. “Dawn Of Struggle” is a fine example of that, showing that although small and less acclaimed compared to other acts I’ve covered here; Iron Griffin may very well have a good thing going for them. “Curse Of The Sky” feels like classic doom, which is why I’m so fond of it. The raw production value works in their favor, allowing the vocal end here a real chance to shine – and again, that’s the real draw of this disc.

Pulver barged in with “Kings Under The Sand” which I would describe in a very classic heavy metal sense. There wasn’t really a sense of extreme metal to be had here, but I did notice that the last couple of discs on the album were a bit more fearsome, and overly more interesting than the first few. You have “Rising Hawk” which feels very Judas Priest with a prog-jam, “Blacksmith’s Lament” which gets bonus points for the hammer hitting the anvil in the background and some threatening doom riffs, a decent title track (but nothing out of the ordinary), some confusion with “Quarinah” and finally a much darker soundscape with “Warrior Caste” which contains a few eerie riffs that remind me of Castlevania. Yes, folks – this one will get some serious brownie points with me, just for those riff structures and some harsh backing vocals too. So perhaps there are a couple of more extreme moments. Even so, it is the mix of classic heavy metal, doom and prog as well as the wonderful formula of “making each song sound completely different than the other” that really sold this one for me. I wasn’t keen on the vocals at first, but there’s just too much in this band to like. A classy instrumental follows as a the finale “Curse Of The Pharaoh” almost comes off like a completely different band altogether. You know, harsh vocals would actually work on some of these cuts, which I know sounds odd, but he’s even been attempting it with a few of the screams unleashed on this one, certainly ending the performance that way. Pulver have to be one of the few bands here that are thinking out of the box and that’s the truth. It is possible to make this genre a little darker and give it more heft than the same timed riff structures we’ve heard since the old guard. Please don’t be afraid to experiment in this genre. It’s older than I am and could use some innovation, as these gentlemen discovered and put into realization with “Kings Under The Sand.”

Skelator comes speeding in with “Cyber Metal” which is definitely more along the lines of traditional power metal and one of the more thrilling discs I’ve received in what was mostly a large chunk of doom, which is fine – but I am starting to feel about doom in the same sense that I feel about black metal, where stylistic differences are few and far between. Very much in the vein of bands like Judas Priest, Hammerfall, Helloween, Hammer King and Primal Fear, these guys definitely have the subgenre downpact. Tasty riffs, powerful vocal lines and punchy choruses work together to make this album what it is and it certainly helps to have a few tracks based on classic anime like “Akira” for example. I’ve jammed this disc a few times already and found it electrifying as far as the compositional heft is concerned, something that you don’t really see much of in the genre. A little bit of progression here and there can really help a band stand out this day and age, where everyone is trying to sell a similar can of beans.

The last one that I received in my mailbox is from Vultures Vengeance, which is still at it with yet another dash of classic heavy metal. This one is called “The Knightlore” and it’s definitely more appealing than their previous offering. It shows that the band are progressing smoothly, and that can also be said for production value, which is a great deal higher than the previous disc, which was a bit fuzzy and tough to discern. Taking a cue from Hansi Kursch again, the frontman here is able to bellow out memorable lines as the guitar weaves and shreds it’s way through these numbers like nobodies business. If there’s one thing that sells this record to me, it would undoubtedly have to be the guitar acrobatics. The axemen went above and beyond the above and beyond point as far as I’m concerned and are working to show hopefully younger listeners what this genre is all about. In an age where bands are championing brutality over substance, it’s good to see that there are bands out there who haven’t forgotten the foundation that this genre was built on. There’s a lot of promise here and I hope that we’ll hear more from Vultures Vengenace in the future.

I’m slightly less enthusiastic about Liv Sin‘s “Burning Sermons” due to the fact that it did definitely take a more pop-influenced route than the band’s previous offering, which was for the most part an onslaught. That isn’t to say that the disc isn’t thrashy, groovy or mighty; but that it definitely seems to have more of a catchy nature as I may have expected. However, there are still quite a couple of bangers here and I’d consider “Chapter Of The Witch” and “Death Gives Meaning To Life” to be among those. The latter is a great segue to the bright choruses which decorate most of this album. Though once again, it is still a great deal more desireable than anything Theatre Of Tragedy have put out in the last two decades. While some bands are definitely going the bubblegum pop route, it’s just nice to see that Liv Sin isn’t afraid to unleash the fire and fury of real heavy metal music. Though not as good as the debut, I don’t think you’re going to simply dismiss this one over a flood of similar albums that lack even half the muscle that has been offered here. Once again, there are so many musicians, especially where women are the fontispiece – that jump headlong into pop music and it’s a great thing to see that not every band is jumping into this trend. As rock itself seems to be moving into dangerous pop territory and causing an identity crisis in the process (thanks, iHeart Radio for destroying rock music) we have acts like this and many others that I’m covering, trying to keep the still burning fires of this genre alive.

In an attempt to revive the maninstream American industrial metal scene (not the industrial that I’ve covered for Maligant Records in the past) we now have 3Teeth with “Metawar.” It seems to me that aside from mixing the styles of Marilyn Manson, Nine Inch Nails, Pitchshifter and Lockjaw, these guys are doing everything that I’ve wanted from this scene in several years. The mainstream side of it, anyway. “Affluenza” sounds like a Pitchshifter track through and through, but maybe there’s a little bit of early Dope to be found as well? Comically enough, I talked to the frontman of Lockjaw a few days ago and he said that one of the other members in the band managed to get ahold of him and let him know how much Lockjaw influence there was in the band as well as the fact that they’re using the pitchfork symbol that Lockjaw used for decades now. We’ll just consider this a failure to trademark a symbol, which Century Media’s copyright lawyers are probably extremely good at and I’m sure that the guys in Lockjaw consider this to be more flattering than anything else. At least someone was able to get this style of industrial (dubbed hell rock) in the mainstream and signed, no less. It’s pretty goddamned intriguing. And for what it’s worth, the band absolutely kill on this record and I’ve jammed it more than a few times. We just haven’t heard a fury like this in the industrial music scene and I hope that this won’t be the end of it. My only issue with “Metawar” was their cover of “Pumped Up Kicks” which I found oddly tame. Now, I don’t support school shootings (which still kind of puzzles me as to how this song got so damn popular in the first place and sets off my conspiracy radar – wouldn’t people have been turned off by it? Did they write the lyrics or was it written for them?) but I actually felt that the song needed more aggression. With a chorus that literally says, “you’d better run, better run, outrun my gun, better run, better run, faster than my bullet” it sounds weird that the vocal effort would be so mellow and lethargic. I guess they didn’t want to empower any would-be shooters with a song that aggressively pushed for gun violence, but in that case they should have just picked another song altogether. Maybe “We Didn’t Start The Fire?” I think they could hit that one pretty hard. It was just kind of weak and a bad way to end the album and ruin a strangely catchy and popular pop song from my twenties. In any case, “Metawar” reminds me of some of my favorite industrial metal romps of the nineties and early ’00s, so I definitely recommend it.

Now we’re getting to one of my favorite albums of year, the new Slipknot disc “We Are Not Your Kind.” Obviously, there has been a lot of controversy over this one with some loving and other hating the disc. Poised as a mix between “Iowa” and “The Subliminal Verses” this record nearly captures the spirit of both. New drummer Tortilla Face also slaughters the drums this time around, performing on par with past drummer and fan favorite, Joey Jordison. Looking at this critically, I think that there are a slew of issues with the performance however and several of these needed to be scrapped. Namely, “Death Because Of Death” which was a waste of time as well as “What’s Next?” which would have served better as an intro for album outlier, “Spiders.” Aside from those, we have the band’s first single “Unsainted” and third single “Birth Of The Cruel” delivering everything we’d expect from the act. The former is a basher with a pop chorus, while the latter features Corey Taylor with his best Alice In Chains impression and some impressive Nu-Metal breakdowns that I haven’t heard in a long time. Really brings back memories for me. Fans seem to love “Nero Forte” and it’s rapping chorus number, but I loved “Critical Darling” and “Liar’s Funeral” far more. Some have stated that “Nero Forte” was the best song on the album, but I don’t think so as there is more depth to be found on “Liar’s Funeral” than this song would have ever dreamed of. Although, I may mention that many of the people suggesting this are zoomers who never even had a chance to grow up with Slipknot in their youth and were not around when the metal community derided them to the point of insanity. I’m serious, people used to really hate this band and after “The Grey Chapter” I thought it was over. “Red Flag” (which surprisingly doesn’t have a clean vocal chorus) and “Orphan” were the last two heavy cuts on the album right before it’s closer, the surprisingly crushing “Solway Firth” which is an odd way to finish out the album. Interestingly enough, the Japanese get “All Out Life” at the bottom of the disc, which doesn’t make much sense as the album’s title is mentioned several times within the track and seems to have been a title cut. Aside from those numbers, waste of time “My Pain” and StoneSour orphan “Not Long For This World” are two pieces that we could have done without. I would have rather “All Out Life” substituted “Death Because Of Death” as it would have made more sense structurally and would have kept the mood. “Death Because Of Death” actually could have been placed after “My Pain” because it would have kept the atmopshere that these guys were going for on that portion of the disc, rather than it being a skipper. So if we consider eleven actual cuts on the disc and eight of those worth jamming (including “All Out Life”), then I would consider the whole experience to be unexpectedly solid and much better than I’ve heard from the band in several years.

It is worth noting that Metal Hammer just released a Slipknot tribute album called “Pulse Of The Maggots” with a slew of core bands that I had never heard of. Most played the songs exactly as Slipknot would have, although one of the acts made the “she isn’t real” section of “Vermillion” far better with a background scream in addition to the clean vocal section. Again, most of these bands I had never heard of (which was surprising) and didn’t offer much in lieu of their performances, so I don’t even feel it is worthy to name them. I personally think that this tribute would have been greater appreciated had it offered some of the more extreme artists of the modern era who may have been or may have not been inspired by Slipknot. In short, Metal Hammer; I was looking for a much heavier and possibly more inventive take on Slipknot instead of what felt like regurgitations of songs that I have heard dozens of times throughout my life. At the bottom of this tribute were four songs inspired by the band, all of which amounted to pretty basic core tracks with very little interest to me at all. I would have rather the disc filled with more Slipknot covers as a couple of lesser known tracks could have found a home within this otherwise empty space.

There were two other acts who had released notable albums prior to “We Are Not Your Kind” and I found out about both of them from internet commenters. I’m always curious as to what the kids are listening to these days and I have to say that in this regard, there’s some good taste among the youth. Namely, these two acts were The Offering who released their label debut “Home” and an act called Humanity’s Last Breath, who released their latest recording “Abyssal.” The Offering released an album that blew my socks off, combining modern metal extremes with a vocal approach similar to that of Warrel Dane. I never would have expected a style of this nature to find it’s way back into the mainstream, but it indeed has and there are even some nods to Slipknot in lieu of drum acrobatics. Structually, there’s even more going on than on the latest Slipknot opus and I hate to say it, but I much prefer the Dane influenced vocal style than I do Corey Taylor’s more pop-influenced vocal style. This might work for the radio, but Nevermore was never an act that saw radio play as it was truly… (puts on fedora) art. As for Humanity’s Last Breath, a band that was once regarded as deathcore did not sound that way to me, especially here. The record was described as a descent into hell, but that doesn’t quite fit it for me as the approach is far too mechanical – industrial, if you will. It felt like a punishing sort of industrial death metal, maybe like early Pitchshifter, but with more emphasis on djent riffing, which didn’t sound too overplayed here. The single should have been scrapped in my opinion, in favor of something that shows these guys can do more than play extremely slow djent riffs, because they are capable of so much more than that. I found the record to be quite like I did a live performance of Portal, like being run over with a freight train of mechanical demon-like entities. It felt exhuasting after the first listen, like my brain had been lifting heavy weights. Certainly a promising act, I’ll say that. But would you believe that metal media failed to spam these acts all over my social media walls? Sure, I saw enough about Slipknot to plaster the walls in my house, though nothing about either of these great modern acts.

That’s going to do it for this month and hopefully I will be able to get these out bi-monthly as I’ve planned. The remaining weeks will be left for other activities, so please be patient and understand that I am not as young as I used to be. My hair is starting to fall out and I am considering a wig, to be honest. No, not a toupee. A fucking wig.

– The Grim Lord

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