Alright, before you start losing your marbles because there are only five albums here I need to let you all know that a day or so ago I thought about bringing down the tower completely. With work and the stresses of the job piled on so high, I didn’t think I would be able to give it the necessary attention that I used to. After some talking, I finally came to the realization that I need a smaller workload and a more efficient way to do this. Remember that I am still trying to review everything from March to August that has been sent via promo invite or band submission. So far, that’s like 200 albums. And to be honest, the tree stands pretty tall and majestic as my axe is nowhere near to cutting it down. But I have a solution, which is to do a few large reviews for the albums that I really want to get your attention on, and five sentence or less reviews for the other discs. That might cut down on the work. I’ll also have time to write up new articles and other things that I’ve wanted to do, but never had the time. Eventually, I’ll have time to do some author related work as well. I still have a book to write!
Schammasch – Contradiction (2014 SPOTLIGHT ALBUM) – First of all, thanks Prosthetic records. You’ve done well this time, finding a Swiss black metal act that really needed a strong label backing. I haven’t heard the first Schammasch record, but I can say that what I have heard from this thing is quite fucking exhilarating. This review isn’t going to be as expansive as the German Ice Cream reviewer who wrote a near short story length review for the disc (and I highly recommend you check that out to get in depth with this thing, because it’s a really good review) on Metal Archives, but it is going to sum the record up enough to describe it and give you a basic opinion. Basically, what we’ve got here is a highly occult influenced somewhat black metal band (the guy said like Secrets Of The Moon, but I don’t think I could compare them in that way) and also called it “nowadays” black metal, which I happen to like a lot more than the old days, because of records like this one; where more things are done with the genre than were back in 1996. With Contradiction I’m not getting a retread, as these two discs seem to work together to form an experience that I frankly want to hear much more than I’m going to be able to. Face it, this is one of the best records of the year and we don’t even know it yet. I think when we go into 2015, Schammasch is going to appear on a lot of lists and Decibel hopefully highlights it too, because this isn’t just the kind of fucking record that you walk by and say, “Oh, well that was nice.” It’s something far more than that, and I feel that listening to this record is like taking part in a ritual. For what, I don’t know; but it works and feels like it works. These guys did it better than the Behemoth influence they derived some of this style from, also making a bigger mark than the Deathspell Omega and Blut Aus Nord influences that helped to make the disc what it is. In all honesty, I don’t think these guys can one-up this record either. I mean, how in the hell would you even go about doing it? And even if they did, people would complain that it’s not as good as Contradiction, so if these guys one and done; it’ll probably stand as a real gem and monument to their time on this planet. Obviously, the material here deals a lot with Ceremonial High Magick and illumination, so there’s a lot of wonder and mysticism to be found here – I just wish that all this shit wasn’t being thrown in symbolically in an effort to trance the population through pop music and television and the like. As far as the ancient mysteries and the occult in general is concerned, I’ve always taken an interest in these things because people on these records just seem to be “so into it” that it seems like less of a musical ordeal and more of a ritual of self-expression and in Crowley’s dictate, “real magick.” As Ice Cream Reviewer noted, Abrahamic faiths are a large part of the ceremonial high magic belief system; which might explain some of the titles here. (Just curious why the band used JHWH instead of YHWH – seems an error in translation. But then again, some people pronounce the “Y” as a “Jah” making Yahweh sound as “Jahweh” which is probably more correct. Once again, all this stuff is fascinating to me, because I’ve seen a few glimpses of things that I can’t explain, yet I haven’t seen enough as to prove the reality of magick as a whole. In any case, if you’re looking for a ritualistic metal record that truly delivers (and gets me thinking heavily on the occult) then definitely check out Contradiction for a guaranteed burst of energy and intrigue that will certainly get you to jump out of your seat and take notice. I’m going to reiterate one more time that Contradiction is not an album that you’ll listen to all eighty-five minutes of and simply say, “Oh, well that was great. What’s next?” It’s truly a journey into the deepest parts of consciousness, both musically and lyrically. Schammasch have already made their masterpiece. But can they really do it again?
Reciprocal – New Order Of The Ages (2014) – These Californian tech-deathers are from Hollywood, which almost makes me discredit most of the anti-elite sound clips and such that are found on the record. As the album cover and many of the song titles and lyrical matter imply, these guys focused on the Illuminati and New World Order conspiracy throughout the entire record. The programming in nowhere worse than it is in Hollywood (I’ve mentioned the druid’s wand being made from holly before), so I’m not real sure if these guys are genuine. Also take in the fact that these guys are selling the digital copy for ten bucks instead of the normal seven, makes me think that all this could have been really done just for the money and I’m even more sickened by it. Unlike myself, who actually believes in this stuff and wants you to know about it for free, or whatever you want to pay. I will have to say that these guys really dial it up with the quotes and ominous atmospheres in the back, as they contrasted Obama’s pre-election speeches to his current speeches on “Tyrannicide 7:30.” But the opening track itself was a little lame, I’ll admit – with not much going on other than a slew of useless technicality. These guys sound like they’re trying to be technical just for the hell of it really, where melodies turn to mush and the drum patterns are just so ridiculously over the top that there are too many riffs and not enough structure. There’s a section in “Profit Before Protocol 5:06” when the band finally decides to slow down just a little bit and allow for groove, which makes the little solo piece sound not entirely out of character in the mix. In fact, it’s at about this point where the album starts getting good. Then you have “Guilty Until Proven Innocent 6:49” which doesn’t start getting good until the sound clips start playing. These are things that people really should know, but it’s sad that they have to wade through the needlessly complex metal tracks in order to get through them. On the other hand, fans of Necrophagist, Decapitated and Job For A Cowboy might really be able to get into it. But as for me, I only like when they slow down and start focusing more on the music itself, instead of just vapid technicality. For instance on “Illuminati 7:04” my favorite portion of the track starts at about “3:51” and lasts up until the end. Everything from the riffs, to the drumming and the vocal approach on that piece is amazing; I just wish that they could have found something better to do than they did with the beginning of the track. Not to mention the accompanying voice clip (it is a little low in the mix though guys, you may want to raise it up if you want people to understand it) which fits perfectly.
The beginning of “New Order Of The Ages 7:45” struck me as interesting, because it has that almost Egyptian/Nile-esque flair to it, which makes sense as the material in question is about an order that seems to relish in Egyptian mysticism. Here the band utilizes more groove and brutality, making for a vast improvement on anything that they managed to deliver at the beginning of the album. The solos even sound at home here, making for one of the clearest and concise tracks in the form of structure that I’ve heard on this disc yet. “Saintan 6:47” actually dials up on the heaviness even more, as Reciprocal soon becomes a rather enjoyable listen. So why did they even bother releasing the first few tracks as an effort to pander to the technical crowd? It’s a waste of time, effort and possibly even money. If I wanted a whole bunch of diddly-diddly on the guitars, I’d have listened to… well an album without the technical wankery. There’s nothing wrong with technicality, but it needs to have more function than the first few cuts this record opened with. Moving onto the next track, I now know why “Mystery, Babylon The Great, Mother Of Harlots 5:08” faded out as background music, because it’s really lifeless despite the effort. Again, all that guitar wankery is fine for someone who likes it, but even the song goes nowhere. The voice clips at the end of the track were more interesting than the song itself. Then of course, there’s “Tyrannicide 7:30” which I talked about earlier, but it does manage to prove itself quite potent and even injects some black metal tremolos into the mix. Once again, the real beauty of this track is in the voice clips. I don’t really think people realize how much of a fucking turncoat our president was and it’s imperative that people hear this. Hell, the band should just take this section and post it on YouTube, just so people can actually see how things have changed. I can say that I do believe that drones will be equipped with weaponry (but you can buy your own and fight back if you’ve played enough shmups and think you can handle flying a real “ship” so to speak) because it’s easier and more effective. As I said though, I think that as drones are bought for special manners like convenience store security or something of that nature, people will be able to buy and equip their own drones en masse. Face it, a thousand bucks isn’t half as much as people spend on some items and if that’s the down payment on your very own drone, then I think they’re going to be a hell of a lot more common. “Oblivion 3:53” seems to stand out with a few riffs here and there, but the album ends with a huge flair of technicality in “RIP (Memento Mori) 7:17” which exists as a strong instrumental at the end. Not my kind of thing really, but at least they’re doing a solid job of it. I do like the video game style melodies at the very end of the piece though. I just wish more had been done with them. You could write a whole song off those leads alone, if this were a different band. But it’s not. As much as I like the content behind the release, it just doesn’t have enough staying power for me and it feels like the best part of this sandwich is the meat in the middle. Wish the whole album could have been that way… a whole album of meaty metal.
Highlights: Illuminati, New Order Of The Ages, Saintan (11 Tracks, 68:00)
Illdisposed – With The Lost Souls On Our Side (2014) – In order to explain this latest album from Swedish melodic deathers Illdisposed, I’ll simply have to reference their review history on Metal Archives. Apparently, the band made some real waves with There’s Something Rotten In The State Of Denmark, as well as on their two latter albums, Burn Me Wicked and The Prestige. Problem is they’ve had their fair share of defeat as well. Kokaiinum didn’t do quite well, as well as anything that the band released after 2009’s Those Who Walk Behind Us. That leaves us to say that the band’s last two albums weren’t even worth reviewing, since despite the notoriety of the act; no one cared enough to even review those last two albums. But this leads us right into the act’s newest release, which does retain bits and pieces from Unleashed and Kataklysm, but unfortunately ends up sounding too much like Kataklysm did for a while back. The riffs and melodies are intact, as well as the drum pummeling and familiar death metal grunts, but the whole thing feels like something we’ve already heard before and better. Nothing really new has been done here and despite how thick and fiery the band sound at times, they might have been trying a bit too hard. It’s much better than the previous two releases, but it just seems like another Swedish melodic death metal record with no discernible difference from anything that’s already out there. It’s more of a sleeper, than a sleeper hit. Even though a few good solos and other moments appear on the disc, chances are that you already own far better albums from this band or others in the genre. If you’ve got to have it, then go grab it. But it might be better to wait for something a little bit more meaty than this. I will say that both of the bonus tracks were good enough and filled with enough solotastic might that they should have really been placed on the original pressing, with some of the weaker ones taken out completely. If there’s one good thing I can say about With The Lost Souls On Our Side, it’s that the disc is much stronger than most of the core, djent and other scene albums that have come out as of late. It beats rowdy kids and Meshuggah knockoffs, but that’s really about it.
Grave Digger – Return Of The Reaper (2014) – A friend of mine said it best, “Grave Digger is one of those bands that just won’t die.” And he’s definitely right. But this isn’t a bad thing, as we don’t want to drive the stake through the heart of this heavy metal vampire. Instead, we’d much rather it that Chris Botendahl and crew would keep making heavy metal up unto their golden years. This album, the sequel to 1993’s The Reaper, comes like a blast right out of the fiery inferno of the band’s past. Clash of The Gods released to rave reviews, due it’s return to mythology, but the record didn’t really hit for me in the way that this one did. That’s because Return Of The Reaper really sounds like 80’s heavy metal translated into the 2014 era and sticks a loud middle finger to all the latest trends and ideas that people have been fiddling around with in the years past. Songs like “Tattooed Rider 4:04” and “Road Rage Killer 3:18” sound like they came right out of the good old days, carrying that classic Judas Priest and Saxon vibe right along with them. “Season Of The Witch 5:04” is another one that comes packed with a memorable chorus, which sounds more like an epic based out of the band’s mythological based material. As for the disc as a whole, it doesn’t really offer anything new or different, but we didn’t want it to either. Since Clash Of The Gods was such a bold and grandiose offering, it’s good to see these guys not quite as tensed and delivering up some traditional steel that should appeal to both the old heads and the new. Even “Dia De Los Muertos 4:15” manages to come on strong, and with that kind of classic heavy metal thunder that’s just fucking timeless. Return Of The Reaper doesn’t claim to be anything more than a solid retread into the glory days of heavy metal, and proves that thirty years into their career; Grave Digger still manage to deliver. Raise your horns up high, by heavy metal we survive!
Gamma Ray – Empire Of The Undead (2014) – The album cover might not be all that great, but you really can’t judge Empire Of The Undead by its cover. It’s definitely one album that delivers far beyond artwork and track listing, as well as whatever you’ll find in the booklet. This is actually the first Gamma Ray album I’ve heard since Majestic, which I didn’t like all that much and it turned me off the band completely. For many years I had no interest in checking out another record from the German metal powerhouse. But when this record came in on a promo, I figured that I might as well give it a shot. And apparently the band lost some instruments and their studio caught fire while recording this thing; but it’s a wonderful effort despite all that. According to Metal Archives, the record that I didn’t like (Majestic) is even stronger than this one, but upon listening to the two back to back I surely want to raise my middle finger towards some of the greatest album reviewers and my fellow peers. You can all suck it, because this record actually managed to get me to wake up and pay attention. Several times when I’m listening to the week’s promos, I just sort of cast them into the background unless something manages to come out like this and really jar my attention. “Avalon 9:22” really did it for me, opening the record with an impressive and quite memorable number as it followed up with the crushing anthem, “Hellbent 5:23” which only continued to satiate my taste for the steel as “Pale Rider 4:25” came into play making as strong a mark as the Priestly Maiden influence of “Born To Fly 4:33” which just like every other track on the disc, managed to show off impressive vocal and guitar showmanship. In a classic heavy metal album, what more do you need? It seems like many of the classic bands are going back to their roots these days, showing their distaste for the current trends in the scene and that’s a good thing in my opinion. There were those days in the early 2000’s where some of them thought it a good idea to give these new ideas a try, but those efforts weren’t all that memorable. But I think with age comes wisdom, and wisdom shows what is right for metal. Though the production on the record seems to lack in a few areas due to various issues that the band had no control of, the record as a whole is quite strong and I’m sure that if the band hadn’t been plagued with issues this time around, then the long-awaited album would have come out much better. But you know what? I’m happy with the thing. There’s enough meat here to chew on for days and months to come, so if you’re willing to give it the benefit of the doubt, then definitely get your hands on Empire Of The Undead. It’s made me a believer in Kai Hansen’s abilities and I hope that the next one doesn’t have quite such a long gap in between it. Gamma Ray proves that metal is surely far from a state of zombification. There’s also a pretty awesome song about Jesus on here to close (I Will Return 6:57) which makes me wonder if Jesus actually likes heavy metal? Maybe Kai Hansen knows. At any rate, Christ never sounded (or shredded) better.