I really cut it close this week. But I managed to get them out as promised. We’ve got some amazing records from Fornicus, Gormathon and the legendary Sanctuary for you this week, as well as those occultists on acid, Electric Witch. A Sound Of Thunder also made it this week and I think that people who like both hard rock and power metal will be able to get into them. Stay tuned for a new shortlist next week!
Fornicus – Storming Heaven (2014 SPOTLIGHT) – Fornicus is a truly impressive mixture of death, thrash and melodic black metal from Kentucky of all places, and it’s definitely worth getting your hands on, even though I haven’t started the full review yet. Aside from the intro, every one of these songs kick a multitude of ass and also take on a slightly different style so that it doesn’t sound like one band playing the same damn song for nearly forty minutes. “We Are Sin 4:05” thunders in with black/thrash smattered with a hint of growls every now and then, and all are quite welcome in the mixture, just as much as the creepy little melody lines that also find their way into the piece. It’s a great way to begin an album that just keeps getting better. “Palium Mali 4:44” balances groove with scowls and it really pounds down into death metal territory towards the end. “King Of The Egoists 5:27” features some really great drum and guitar work right from the start, as a blackened thrash envelops right out nowhere – I’m telling you, this shit’s unreal. Then you’ve got a great melody section right near the end that delivers just as well as the song did in the beginning. I almost don’t want it to end. Obviously, you can tell who the band’s influences are immediately; but it’s definitely certain that all of these influences have been represented with a certain amount of vigor and detail as has been expressed with the performance that I’m hearing on this record. Then right after that awesomeness, “Into Obscurity 6:32” comes in with a truly memorable black and groove that isn’t afraid to throw some blasts into the mix, as well as an unexpected guitar solo. The band also manages to pull off a ripping cover of Sepultura’s “Antichrist 4:12”, as they then proceed to smash skulls into dust with the album’s title cut (5:44). Following all of this is an amazing black metal influenced closer entitled “The Beckoning 6:43” which offers no remorse in the beginning, then flows into a passionate tremolo lead that works entirely well with the repeating chorus at the end of the track. All in all, it’s a tremendously awesome release that is well worth getting your hands on. As a reviewer, you get so many bands that you hardly expect when one blows you right through the fucking wall. Yet with Fornicus, I’m still picking my teeth up off the ground.
(8 Tracks, 38:00)
Gormathon – Following The Beast (2014) – This is the sophomore effort from the Swedish melodic death metal act Gormathon and I must say that it’s definitely crushing. The whole thing looks and sounds Finnish though, which is quite odd but it doesn’t detour from the musical performance in any sense of the word. I first need to mention that two major axemen are in this band, Stefan Jonsson (formerly of Morgana Lefay) and Markus Albertson (formerly of Tad Morose) and you can certainly hear their influence, even though this is certainly not the kind of power/thrash that each are known for. Gormathon certainly dials up on the death metal, almost rolling up into Grave and Entombed territory; but with a thick accented clean vocal that sounds more native to the region and comes off a bit folkish. It’s much different than you’d expect, but works to a great extent. Songs like “Break The Chains 4:05” almost manage to echo a power metal vibe, while still sounding soaked in Swedish death which makes the whole experience both pummeling and promising. The songs are obviously quite catchy, yet quite short as nothing on the disc even so much as reaches the five minute mark. But that’s completely okay, because the Tad Morose power thrash that Markus works into the mix coupled with the Morgana Lefay solos that Stefan pumps out, truly manage to deliver on all fronts. Frontman Tony Sunnhag sports a massive smoke-colored beard which makes him look like a heavy metal wizards of sorts, almost mirroring Gandalf the Grey or Saruman the white as he belts out both thick growls as well as that accented clean vocal approach that I mentioned earlier. Both styles are a bit thick, but tracks like “In Benevolence 4:09” and “Hellbender 3:50” are catchy enough that you won’t even notice the accent. Then you’ve got “World Of Sin 3:46” which mixes a folky clean approach with what almost sounds like Black Label Society. This really is a band of all sorts, so I don’t know how much longer that “Melodic Death Metal” tag is going to hang over their heads. Additionally, I’m hearing a lot of that power/thrash influence, even though it doesn’t quite resemble any of the musicians’ former bands, making something entirely new. This is Morgana Lefay and it’s not Tad Morose. It’s sure as hell not Bloodbound either, as much as I like those guys. Gormathon is a different entity entirely, and I think that it’s time the world knew more about them. This band holds legends in their own right, playing just as well as they ever have. So whether its melody, skull-bashing anthems, or Viking chants to the high gods, everything on this record seems to deliver in spades. In my professional opinion, Gormathon are a band who are doing something new in the melodic death metal genre and that’s something I champion, especially when it’s being done right. Following The Beast is definitely one of my favorite releases this year, so I would highly recommend it to all those looking for something entirely different, yet wonderfully familiar. The limited edition comes with some more tracks as a bonus, so definitely get your hands on that. I’m betting that even the B-Sides from these guys are worth hearing!
(12 Tracks, 47:00)
Sanctuary – The Year The Sun Died (2014) – Even though it might sound a hell of a lot like Nevermore, this Warrel Dane fronted project is certainly not Nevermore. Rather it’s Warrel’s first band, the legendary Sanctuary. For those of you who are familiar with these Washington power metallers, you’ll quickly take note that they haven’t released a full length album since 1989’s Into The Mirror Black. So simple math would tell us that this is Sanctuary’s first record in twenty-five years. That being said, how does it sound? Well, if you caught my opening statement, you’d think that you were listening to a Nevermore record. That’s not to say that previous Sanctuary records didn’t sound in the same vein, but here there’s an obvious smattering of Nevermore influence and to tell you the truth, I really don’t mind at al. Because this is the sound of a band properly oiled and ready to create not only new, but entirely memorable music. The album actually begins on that single cut “Arise And Purify 4:13” which sounds a great place to open the disc, but really doesn’t bring the fire like “Let The Serpent Follow Me 4:46” does. This track is proof that the disc only gets better as you go past its single, so don’t get too caught up in “Arise And Purify.” The record is heavily, and I mean heavily structured; sounding like something that actually took a long time to craft. Some of these songs may have even been sitting on the backburner for several decades. It sounds like Sanctuary have been ready and waiting to make this fucking album, that the world needed to fucking hear this album and I’m sure that anyone who enjoys Warrel Dane’s work whether it be in Nevermore, Sanctuary or the solo project will find this record a big breath of fresh air. It seems like Warrel’s been trying to apologize for The Obsidian Conspiracy for years now (but it really wasn’t that bad of a record) and The Year The Sun Died seems to be just the album that Nevermore fans need to fill the void. But this record isn’t all about Warrel Dane by far, as founding guitarist Lenny Rutledge and newcomer Brad Hull manage to almost pick up the steam after Jeff Loomis left. It’s not quite the same, but it definitely shows that each of these men is just as vibrant a guitarist as Jeff ever was, whether the material comes for a stock of heavy riffs or more passionate material as you’ll certainly hear thrown into nearly the mix of every song, adding a great amount of depth and texture to each of these pieces. The Year The Sun Died is not a ridiculously heavy album as right after the haunting, yet melodic “Exitium (Anthem Of The Living) 4:53” and the punchy “Question Existing Fading 4:20” comes the ballad, “I Am Low 5:15” which still manages to contain a little bit of bite here and there. It’s definitely more of a thrash ballad, showing that there’s really nothing here that isn’t filled with at least some firepower even though some songs have arguably more than others. Melodies definitely deliver by the pound, showcasing some of the best work that we’ve heard from a Warrel Dane fronted project in years, especially seeing as this one is actually older than the current generation (which will probably be the last generation) on this planet. “Frozen 5:46” comes in with a barrage of thrash and enlightening melodies, with a catchy chorus that caught my interest immediately and comes off as one of my personal favorite cuts on the disc. “One Final Day (Sworn To Believe) 3:30” brings in the old acoustic guitar, but it’s not quite a sappy ballad by any means. Most of the material on this disc is actually quite dark and melancholy. The Year The Sun Died actually sounds like it comes from a man battling either his own depression or his dissatisfaction with the world at large, but Warrel Dane has never been one to bring a bouquet of flowers. We’ll save that for Yes. “The World Is Wired 5:08” comes back in with hard-hitting thrash and another brilliant vocal performance, which is definitely the best that we can and should expect from the band. “The Dying Age 4:52” is a somber piece, which inserts progressive riffs (as you’ll also hear frequently) amidst jaw-dropping solos, which you’ll also hear frequently throughout the album. This record is chock full of brilliant guitar solos and I think guitar nerds will be dissecting it for quite a while, as they attempt to learn some of these leads and solos (good luck!) for themselves. Obviously, years of experience went into this music so it’s not just going to be something that you can pick up right off the bat. Unless you’re some kind of guitar genius. There’s a slight interlude right before the album’s title track (5:33) begins, which is without a doubt one of the strongest songs that I’ve ever heard from Warrel Dane. It’s not just musically powerful, but lyrically powerful and I think about it all the time when I’m in online arguments with people who just have a bit too much damn faith and arrogance. It’s a truly powerful question posed and lyrically seems a step towards the Nevermore classic “Believe In Nothing.” But “The Year The Sun Died” is something that you certainly must hear for yourself. It represents the sad awful truth that very well could be. But after that monumental track, therein lies a bit of a problem for me. You see, the album’s actual closer “Waiting For The Sun 3:48” sounds just a little bit uninspired and tacked on. I truly feel that not only as a fan of music, a reviewer and a musician myself; that the title track would have been the most effective statement to end the disc on. After you’ve listened to that piece for the first time, it really says it all. There’s really nothing else to be said after that point. Not to mention that “Waiting For The Sun 3:48” seems like a B-Side of sorts. I would have been fine with just eleven tracks, especially with some of the powerful ones that are lodged inside of this monster. Nevertheless, that’s all nitpicking in the end, because this record does exactly what you would expect it to do and finally gives merit to Warrel Dane post-Nevermore. Whether or not we’ll ever get a new Nevermore record is still up in the air, but a resurrected Sanctuary that sounds this fucking good is definitely worth celebrating, even if the material entails a celebration of our eventual demise. The Year The Sun Died is one of the best records of the year and I’d highly recommend that you pick it up. It’s definitely one of the band’s best performances, even though they’ve never made a bad record in their career.
(12 Tracks, 53:00)
A Sound Of Thunder – The Lesser Key Of Solomon (2014) – This is the fourth album from US power metallers A Sound Of Thunder and it certainly delivers a whole lot more than I expected from it. You see, I have never heard anything prior regardless of the fact that these guys have been doing it since 2008. That being said, The Lesser Key Of Solomon certainly meets along the lines of progressive metal and Iron Maiden, of which I’m hearing a lot of influence from. Even though MA has these guys pegged in the same corner that showcases Benedictum, Mind Maze, Crystal Viper, Chastain, Accept and Anvil, I don’t think I could place the performance offered on this record along any of the same lines. There’s an obvious pop rock sensibility on some of these tracks that the metal head might not expect, yet given enough time, I feel that even they could warm up to the terrific leads, progressive textures and powerful vocal efforts unleashed on this record. Frontwoman Nina Osegueda certainly comes off like a female Bruce Dickinson at times. It is clear that she is trying to push her vocals into the same territory with tracks like “Udoroth 4:31” and “Back From The Mummy’s Tomb 8:28.” Yet she also tries to make power metal a bit more accessible, which might have a few people grumbling. “The Boy Who Could Fly 4:23” might just be a little bit too much radio for some, as “Master Of Pain 5:27” sounds like a Halestorm track in truest sense. So we’ve got a sort of battle on The Lesser Key Of Solomon, which pits power metal with alternative pop metal/hard rock. It’s definitely marketable, especially with a band that musically delivers as well as these guys do – but it sounds like they’re looking for rock stardom here and I’m not sure how power metal diehards will take it. But is it a listenable and catchy record? Of course. You’ll find a lot here to like if you’re not worried about the odd mixture of pop and power metal and apparently even the Billboard music charts think so, as this album actually wound up on it. Not bad for a band on a smaller label. But while this is all well and good, I’m not really talking about the musicianship, which seems to be one of the strongest areas of this record. Josh Schwartz’s guitar licks and Jesse Keen’s keyboards (he also plays bass) really work together to serve up an almost modernized classic sound, which traditionalist will hear and recognize immediately, even though they may feel it’s been watered down in favor of the commercial viability of the vocals. But you can’t really blame anyone for wanting to get more commercial these days, as it’s usually a majority of people that wish they could make a living from their music. However there are some certain killer cuts on the disc, like the lengthy horror story of “Elijah 9:30” or the jazzy prog rock closer “House Of Bones 8:52” which truly manages to showcase the band’s talent. In the end, A Sound Of Thunder meld alternative and power metal together in a way that doesn’t give off cheese and may appeal more to fans of commercial music, than the heavy metal listener. It’s a good gateway record into the traditional stuff, as it gives the ears a bit of familiarity coupled with a bit of adventure, and that’s never really a bad thing. The bad news is that your girlfriend/wifu will be playing the damn thing repeatedly during virtually every ride in the vehicle. Be forewarned!
(10 Tracks, 60:00)
Electric Wizard – Time To Die (2014) – UK doom fiends Electric Wizard are back, with their eighth release, Time To Die and it’s at that moment when I realized that they had been playing doom since 1995. Riffs that sound oddly enough like The Phantom Of The Opera distortions emanate forth from album opener “Incense Of The Damned 11:00” which seems to be so distorted that I can barely catch the slightly nasally approach coming from longtime frontman Jus Oborn. But the whole damn thing sounds like it’s been bathed in a sea of amp fuzz, which I guess is about as close to doom as you can be. Sometimes Jus lets loose with a couple of harsh screams, which certainly help to deliver during the thicker portions of this record. But thick is definitely an understatement here, as it feels like the whole band has been slathered in batter while smoke from cigarettes, joints, candles and incense powders waft around the room. The title cut “8:00” offers thick atmosphere that remains mostly tied to the instruments and the fuzz, as you would expect. “Destroy Those Who Love God 3:18” features some interesting keyboard theatrics and voice clips, making for a great interlude on the piece that is actually worth mentioning. “Funeral Of Your Mind 7:21” makes me feel like I’m on acid, as Liz Buckingham’s riffs sort of weasel around and affect me in all sorts of funny ways. I don’t think I’m high enough for this album to be honest, and I’m quite certain that you’ll enjoy it more under the influence, guaranteed. “We Love The Dead 9:21” thunders back into regular old doom, which is well-needed at this point and makes for a good transition from where we were (space?) during the last acid trip. You have to work for it, but “SadoWitch 4:15” gets really interesting towards the end as “Lucifer’s Slaves 8:56” brings the blues right in front of my face, without beating around the bush. But that’s why I like it, because the grooves here are just infectious as always, with Jus’s vocals weaving in and out of the mix. There’s definitely Sabbath here, there and everywhere, but as far as I see it: these UK titans continue to make doom just as their progenitors did almost a half century ago. Capping the record with the unholy, yet absurdly trippy “Saturn Dethroned 3:13” certainly makes for a gripping listen and I don’t think that Electric Wizard fans will be one bit upset about this occult ceremony. If you like your doom fuzzy, trippy, bluesy and absurdly thick, then I’m pretty sure that Time To Die will be just the kind of thing you’re looking for. It’s literally the equivalent of being absurdly high while walking into a sort of odd Satanic ritual.
(9 Tracks, 67:00)