“Dragonaut” mines riff territory similar to the British Steel era. The riffing is decent, but nothing to write home about, and the guitar solos leave a little something to be desired. The guitar tone, on the whole, is pretty bad. It is choked and sort of “nasal.” Next up is the title track, which sounds too much like “Hell Patrol” from Painkiller. “Halls of Valhalla,” at 6:04, is the album’s epic. Things start off with a slow, building motif that gives way to speedy riffing that is dragged down by plodding, half time drums. Perhaps the employment of double bass to break up the monotony of the kick, kick, snare and snare, kick, kick grooves would have helped. The musical highlight is definitely the classically tinged harmonized lead toward the middle of the song. The chanting chorus near the end should have been cut. “Sword of Damocles” is a musical low point. This plodding 3/4 number never rises above a slow, plodding pace. It’s also not helped by its overly repetitious arrangement. “March of the Damned” suffers many of the same problems, too slow a pace coupled with too much repetition. Next up is “Down in Flames” and finally another song with some momentum. On the whole, there is some decent riffing going on during the musical interludes and the verses, but the chorus is fairly weak. “Hell & Back” starts off with a few seconds of balladry before giving way to a rolling bassline from Ian Hill. The song’s not exactly much to write home about, but it’s a step up from some of the other slow songs on the record. Unfortunately, it sounds somewhat schmaltzy and dated.
“Cold Blooded” begins with a contrapuntal lead guitar melody which, unfortunately, goes into a plodding quasi-ballad. The momentum finally picks up a little bit around the middle of the track with a section that has some tight, locked in guitar/drum trade offs and some speedy, melodic riffing. Unfortunately, the band blow this momentum somewhere around the 4:20 mark or so when they shift back into quasi-ballad mode. “Metalizer” is 4:38 of decent speed metal. The riffs are tight, but could stand to be a little more interesting and some of the drum patterns leave something to be desired. “Crossfire” is a bluesy hard rock song that often comes across as more Whitesnake than Judas Priest. “Secrets of the Dead” is a slow, dark number along the lines of “Touch of Evil.” It’s decent, but (at 5:41) a little long. The power metal tinged “Battle Cry” is possibly the strongest track on the album as far as the instrumentation is concerned, but is one of the weakest from a vocal performance standpoint. Closing out a mostly weak album is a slow, meandering ballad called “Beginning of the End.” In a career as long as Judas Priest’s, it’s only natural that the band is going to release a few weak albums. This one will go down as one of them. On the whole, it just feels like there’s something missing. Perhaps it is fan bias talking, but I can’t help but feel this would have been better if K.K. Downing had been involved. Also, what the hell happened to Scott Travis’ chops? Is this really the same drummer that played on Painkiller and Angel of Retribution? It sounds like he’s asleep behind the kit. All I can say is that if Judas Priest makes another album, I hope it is stronger than this effort.
Key Song: Battle Cry
This Italian deathgrind quartet start their album off in a somewhat unusual fashion, with a short prog rock instrumental. The second track, “Partying at the Grave,” starts off well enough, but loses some momentum around 1:56 as the lumbering unison guitar/drum figure introduced a few measures earlier seems to drag on for far too long. The title track boasts a strange intro that consists of a harmonized blues lick. From the rapid, hammer-on punctuated riffs backing the first verse, to the harmonized tremolo picked figures, everything is played well, but the production seems to suck a little bit of the life out of the guitar tracks. “Exaltation for a Dying Victim” kicks off with a jagged, start-stop intro riff in what sounds like 12/8 before giving way to a jagged half-time 4/4 with a 16th note pulse before segueing somewhat awkwardly into an uptempo, squawky tremolo picking laden affair. The band definitely manage to pack quite a few musical ideas into a paltry 2:04. Unfortunately, none of it seems to flow very well. “Dismal Apparition” starts off with a slow, sludgy riff, but gradually builds on this foundation by introducing sporadic tremolo picking at certain points before pushing the tempo briefly leading into the first verse. The music during the verses leans heavily in the direction of sludge metal, albeit with a more guttural vocal delivery. “Ice Cold Prey” begins as fairly standard issue death metal before moving into a bluesy groove around the 1:05 mark, a strange choice. The band actually play what sounds like a variation on this pentatonic based riff (albeit in a much lower register) over a blast beat coming out of the mid sections… an odd, interesting track. Despite a short burst of speed a little toward the end of the song, “Surgeon of Immortality” is primarily built upon slow, lumbering riffs. “Siege of the Murderous Beats” picks the momentum back up a bit with an onslaught of dissonant tremolo picking and double-time drumming. “Swollen with Parasites” is a 1:11 burst of musical A.D.D. with brutally humorous lyrics. It’s short, ever shifting arrangement tells a tale of a person being eaten from the inside out by, well, parasites. Despite the primitive nature of the rhythm figures, “Naked in the Snow” offers some impressive lead guitar work. The subject matter of “Choked on a Cadaver’s Dick” is fairly self-explanatory. It’s a fast, 1:11 track about a living corpse that chokes young girls with his penis. The music of “The Honourable Society of the Black Sperm” is well put together, but I think Sigmund Freud may have something to say about those lyrics. “From the Sunken Citadel…” is too repetitive for its length and destroys the momentum built by the preceding tracks. All in all, a moderately interesting, and sometimes humorous offering.
Key Songs: Atrocious, Swollen with Parasites, Naked in the Snow
The instrumental, “Multiverse,” is a weird little ambient number that sounds like it could have been clipped from the score of some forgotten 1970s science-fiction flick. Of they myriad noise based intros that seem to plague some of these European metal releases, this was one of the more interesting ones. Unfortunately, it does a rather poor job of setting any kind of tone for the album. I was expecting some type of quasi-progressive death metal, but that was not the case. “Planet Eater” is an up-tempo, thrasy, death metal track with nicely varied arrangement that includes a catchy swing part toward the beginning and some dissonant, “angular” riffing toward the 3 minute mark. “Alien Intervention” starts off with what sounds like a phone call involving an old “ancient astronaut theorist” type talking about the Anunaki. The bulk of the actual music is built around a mid-paced, 12/8 riff with a, for lack of a better term, “bluesy” feel. It sounds like a single rhythm figure played at various locations around the guitar neck, which gives it just enough variation to keep from sounding monotonous. The title track is a fast paced atonal affair with a sort of Slayer/At The Gates-like feel to it. “Unknown Disease” holds the distinction of being the first track on the album to actually feature a guitar solo. “Terror from Beyond” starts off with a sort of atmospheric intro that builds to an ear splitting crescendo before ending in a person sort of nonchalantly saying “what the hell was that?” The actual music starts with a fast, chaotic tremolo picked riff that lasts until around 1:53. At this point, the band lock into a mid-tempo groove that few Grieg-esque melodies until at 5:02, the intro riff returns for the close of the song. “Crawling from the Crypt” is a fairly straightforward thrasher with all the trappings that entails. Tight, 4 beat drum pattern, pedal drone riffs with the occasional power chord accents. Nothing groundbreaking, but well crafted and executed nonetheless. “Beneath the Flesh” starts in down tempo, “groovy” territory, but this only lasts until the 26 second mark. The slower portions of the song show some decent drumming, and the Dream Theater-like riffing from 3:27 to 4:05 is an interesting sonic feature in the midst of such a brutal musical setting. It’s a very good debut for a band that’s only been going (according to Metal Archives) since 2012 in its current form.
Key Songs: Terror from Beyond, Beneath the Flesh
With its slow tempos, bleak lyrics, and dark, layered melodies, Earthless does a good job of crafting the image of mourners in black carrying a freshly embalmed corpse to its final resting place. With six tracks each clocking in at over the 7 minute mark, it is not an album for the easily distracted. Despite the overall sullen mood of the music, the production job is bombastic enough to make Tom Scholtz blush. The guitars are triple, even sometimes quadruple tracked, the drums are up front with a nice low end presence and the cymbals never sound sloshy. A couple of the later tracks have a tendency to lose momentum at parts and sort of collapse under their own weight, and some of the spoken word sections come across as a little hokey (e.g. “the children builds coffins, with hammers and nails, they don’t build ships, they have no use for sails”).
Key Song: White Coffins