Weekly Reviews 133 (January 27, 2015)

This week I have even more brand new releases, including the new Subterranean Masquerade effort, as well as the latest record from death metal/grindcore legends Napalm Death and black metal progenitors, Venom. We’ve also got a wonderful electronic goth project this week from Braindance frontman Sebastian Elliott, as well as a brand new effort from Belgian black/death experimentalists, Insanity Reigns Supreme. They’re all worth checking out if they’re here, because I’m all about covering those albums that “topple over the rest.” Make sure you give each one of them a good listen.

Subterranean Masquerade - The Great Bazaar

Subterranean Masquerade – The Great Bazaar (2015 Spotlight) – After a long period of waiting, the brand new album from progressive rockers Subterranean Masquerade is finally upon us. For those of you who don’t know, Subterranean Masquerade is sixties influenced progressive rock act with Green Carnation/Tristania frontman Kjetil Nordhus on vocals. Known for his gravelly approach just as well as his clean, you’ll actually hear a couple of death metal growls in the album. But oddly enough, it actually works in an interesting way and manages to capture the approach that Mikael Akerfeldt is going to end up doing on his next release, since he keeps talking about “how much he wanted to make a death metal record” and has been bitten by the prog bug. But I can’t say that I blame him, because King Crimson and Camel are pretty fucking great. Speaking of those two bands, you’re certainly going to hear influences from them and several other acts like Yes and the widely known Pink Floyd. If I could describe this album in just one word, it would be the same word that I would use to describe all of the best prog albums, and that would be atmosphere. This album contains musically a very cheery and bombastic atmosphere that feels as though it was lifted off some of the most memorable prog records of the bygone era and it attempts to bring back that classic sound and style to a new generation and with a new format. Fans of those classic acts that I’ve described will definitely appreciate the effort made here, as it is an essential attempt to fuse the classic nature of heavily experimental prog rock with the somewhat darkness of death metal. Most of the songs on the record appear to be light-hearted in nature and they fill with a world music vibe which seems to be particularly Arabic, and is only accentuated with a guest appearance from Orphaned Land’s Kobi Farhi on the album’s closer, “Father And Son 9:07.” The whole process even seems very orchestral, something that we haven’t heard from the band even on their earliest constructs, bringing the act into a sort of revitalization. Though there are truly many potent songs on the record, one of the most emotionally powerful moments on the disc appears to be “Blanket Of Longing 4:55” which not only captures the bombastic spirit of Subterranean Masquerade, but also feels like it could have adorned a November’s Doom album as a bit of a heartfelt ballad. The Great Bazaar isn’t exactly a very heavy album, but it manages to capture a feeling that’s been all too lost in modern prog. There have been a lot of good attempts over the years, but this high spirited melding of world music, prog rock and death metal appears to knock down literally every known conception that we have about rock music and it does it all in just a little over thirty minutes. Though that isn’t an awful long running time, it doesn’t need to be. The Great Bazaar makes it point and that point seems fulfilled. I’m quite happy with it and I’m sure that you will be as well. At least one thing is for certain, and that’s the sheer fact that you won’t be hearing anything even remotely like this for the rest of the year. It’s a one of a kind effort from a one of a kind act. These guys don’t make records all that often, but when they do, it’s not often that you forget them. Definitely get your hands on The Great Bazaar. It’s what we’ve all been waiting for.

(7 Tracks, 38:00)

9/10

Venom - From The Very Depths

Venom – From The Very Depths (2015) – These English progenitors of the black metal genre are back, with a noticeable sign of both age and bite respectively. I don’t really see all the hate garnered for this album and still heavily disagree with Decibel scribe Shane Mehling’s ridiculous 4/10 review. Can we save that for something contrived, like Limp Bizkit or Papa Roach? Obviously, Cronos isn’t in top form and musically this still sounds like a band on a latter note in their career, but it’s no Cold Lake effort. Yet it’s definitely not Welcome To Hell either. The pace on the record is a bit slower, just as their last few albums have been and you’d probably prefer the younger, faster clones if you’re looking for something in the vein of the glory days. That being said, there’s still enough power here to make a statement. Have you even looked at photos of these guys lately? They’re getting up there in age, so it’s awful surprising to me that they’re still at it after all these years. We’re living in the post golden age of metal where greats like Rob Halford cannot even command the same trademark howl that he built his career from, so you’re just going to have to expect a certain decline in quality over the years from some musicians. As for the album, I’m actually quite surprised by the level of guitar work on this disc, including the solo sections which feel high-spirited and seem to recall faint glimmers of the band at their best. Incorrectly, Shane Mehling called this record a speed metal record, but I don’t even hear a trace of what I would even consider speed to be found anywhere on this disc. Once again, it comes at an arguably slow pace and seems to deliver in the sort of realm that almost feels like a more brackish version of hard rock. The vocals are also heavily spirited and you can tell that Cronos really feels the material and doesn’t seem to be phoning it in. This is actually a bit better than some of their thrashier mid-era efforts and definitely more entertaining than Metal Black and Hell. From The Very Depths seems content to pound and stay a while, rather than blowing right past you and even songs that might sound a little funny at first like “Evil Law 5:13” and “Smoke 5:10” actually become pretty damn catchy the second time around. Now I’ll agree with Shane’s analysis that many of these tracks sound like a band more interested in rocking out than the speed-thrash of their early era, but they’re doing one hell of a job with that and I think that people who are looking for something a little darker than the new ACDC record (No, I haven’t heard it yet) will definitely enjoy this disc a lot more than serious thrashers. But let’s be honest, most of those people have already passed on Venom years ago and this album isn’t going to change their mind. They’re simply going to look at Shane’s review and agree with it, with not even the slightest intention of ever listening to the album in the first place. But it’s certainly their loss, because what you’ve got here is definitely a decent enough offering that’s going to hit a lot harder than something you’ll hear on modern rock radio. It’s catchy enough to be there, but it probably won’t ever make it and I guess I can be thankful for that. If you’re looking for a strong dose of heavy rock with darker riffs and overtones than ACDC, and feels like Testament at their most simplistic, then give From The Very Depths a shot. It’s essentially rock that’s been dipped into a pool of black liquid and is then sprinkled with bits of thrash. Certainly not everyone’s idea of a fulfilling meal, but it definitely hits the spot.

(14 Tracks, 53:00)

7/10

Sentinel Of Eternity - Sentinel Of Eternity

Sentinel Of Eternity – Sentinel Of Eternity (2014) – Sentinel Of Eternity is an electronic project from composer Stephane Marty who enlisted the vocal talents of Braindance frontman Sebastian Elliott and the additional female vocal touch of Salandre, who also designed all of the digital artwork that adorns the album’s cover and booklet. This is Sebastian Elliott’s first solo offering, completely removed from guitar and instead featuring a more traditional gothic element in the form of electronic gods Depeche Mode and various other acts that spun off from that particular foundation. The record is made up of several vocal pieces as well as electronic instrumentals and both approaches work rather well and come off quite beautifully. There is no dubstep to be found within this mix of what I would consider to be true electronica with a darkwave flair that should definitely appeal to a plethora of people. Most of all, there’s nothing on the record that seems too short or feels like an afterthought. Obviously, pieces like “Surrender 5:17” and “Mandragore 5:36” feel very Braindance-like; though definitely seem more suited for goth clubs around the world. But that’s exactly the album’s vibe and intention, being something that you can dance to and feel a certain sense of emotion towards. These pieces are each deep and mysterious, containing an expelling of passion and to me, the true sense of gothic music. I feel there are too many people who don’t truly understand this music, as it’s much less about the image than it is about the feeling that one gets from bearing one’s soul in a more sullen form than would be expected of cheery pop music. Even though there have been some awfully cheery love songs in the vein of The Cure’s “Lovesong” or Depeche Mode’s “Enjoy The Silence” we couldn’t exactly compare the mature sense of passion in pieces like these to these kiddie songs performed by acts like Taylor Swift and Katy Perry, for example. For the music of Sentinel Of Eternity is far deeper and contains an immeasurable sense of bleak wonder about it. I feel very much the same way towards this album as I felt towards Paradise Lost’s Symbol Of Life in so far as the approach that it contains. The music of Braindance has always been about passion and the bearing of one’s soul in an audible form, so it makes perfect sense that Sentinel Of Eternity should carry the same vibe. I hadn’t heard one track before I bought the album, but knew right away that it was going to be an electronic album with Sebastian Elliott’s masterful vocal approach and that’s why I gave the decision to buy it little thought. Without question, this is one of the best electronic and gothic mixes that I’ve ever bought and that opinion weighs over a large amount of gothic and electronic records. I’ve heard so many different acts both on samplers and other various formats and even though I’ve turned away from it a bit since the scene started to dry up and Projekt Records isn’t quite what I remember them to be; it’s great to hear something in gothic/electronica scene that actually reminds me why I first got into this kind of music fifteen years ago. Without a doubt, I highly recommend Sentinel Of Eternity and it’s rekindled my faith in the gothic/electronic scene. I’m definitely hoping to hear more from the band and I hope that they will continue making this kind of music in the future. An absolute must.

(11 Tracks, 56:00)

9/10

Insanity Reigns Supreme - Unorthodox

Insanity Reigns Supreme – Unorthodox (2015) – These Belgian death/doomers caught my attention due to the very fact that they’re experimenting far more than the black, death and doom style usually offers. Now you may say that we in Torii are black/death/doom and being a fan of experimenting, where is our experimenting? And I’ll tell you that it’s coming. But that’s beside the point. Insanity Reigns Supreme have found a way to combine several different ideas in a way that works, like the opener “Ov Fire 4:37” which begins with black metal blasting and rolls into Nile influenced melodies which are paired with a slight sense of doom and death. With a song like that, what else do you need? Well, the band thought they would show some more sides to their style off, so they added another ten tracks. Some of these are odd instrumental snippets though, like “Moonlight Sacrifice 1:12” which borrows from Beethoven’s “Moonlight Sonata” as it foolishly dashed my hopes of a full on cover. Additionally we have, “The Calling” which features almost a minute of female vocal chants. In the end though, there seem to be a lot of songs that tread the same path and that can get a little monotonous, but I guess I shouldn’t expect them to go completely out of their element with each and every song, as that would just come off as completely silly. Death metal fans will the thunderously thick growls, doom fans will love the thunderously pounding riffs and black metal fans will enjoy the furious scowls and rabid drum play at work on the album. Truly, Insanity Reigns Supreme seem more than a match for most metal fans, and I’m sure it’ll be one made right in the fiery depths of hell. The young girls who shout out “Satan!” should also be commended as I don’t think I’ve ever heard anything like that from young girls on a metal album. Hell, I think even Satan himself would approve of this one as it’s definitely a record that tries very hard to push the boundaries just as he himself did long ago, if one is to believe in the tale of the fall. While there are no xylophones, saxophones or cellphones featured on this album, there’s certainly enough of what you came here for – the fucking metal! Yeah, so maybe there are some female vocal choruses on the disc, but its things like these that will make such an act stand out. I remember how The Project Hate began with death metal, industrial and female vocals, which is what Insanity Reigns Supreme seems to be doing with this mix of black, death, doom and whatever else they get in contact with, really. These guys might even take my advice and incorporate xylophones on the next record. But therein lays a challenge, does it not? Let’s see how one might possibly be able to make a xylophone sound evil. Is it even possible? All joking aside, there’s a million pounds of promise on Unorthodox, which is truly the perfect name for album that sounds like just that. Definitely get yourself a copy of this noteworthy effort in extreme metal and I truly hope to hear more amazement like this in the future. To me, this sounds like a band that is just beginning to show what it’s truly capable of and I’m all ears gentlemen.

(11 Tracks, 41:00)

8/10

Napalm Death - Apex Predator Easy Meat

Napalm Death – Apex Predator: Easy Meat (2015) – I’ve never been that big a fan of Napalm Death. Even though they’re legends, it was always hard for me to get into anything that they’ve ever recorded. Until now, that is. You see, Apex Predator: Easy Meat is a little different than anything the band has ever done before as they blow your expectations right out of the water with the album’s intro and title cut, which is something that I would most definitely expect from industrial legends Skinny Puppy, not Napalm Death. But don’t be alarmed, as the sound that made the band is still here, albeit with more depth and structure than we’ve ever heard from them before. I guess one of the real reasons that I could never get into these guys is because they never really offered something more than the death metal meets punk approach by which they begun. But Napalm Death is made up of some highly intelligent and extremely talented artists, as we’re all by now well aware of Mitch Harris’s invigorating Menace project with Barney Greenway’s stage banner being nothing if not memorable. There are some seriously revolutionary ideas being preached in this cacophony of rage and metallic mayhem, but the vocals have been pushed up rather high on the mix and I can actually discern the lyrics. The most interesting part about the record is that it achieves a sense of awkward experimentation while at the same fucking time bashing your head into the ground just as we would’ve expected. So this isn’t by any means a departure, but rather a musical evolution of the band. Some pieces like “Dead Slum Landlord 2:00” even take on a weird otherworldly presence, as ghostly clean vocals make an appearance in addition to the familiar mouth of glass that we might expect from Greenway. While traditionalists might not like the subtle changes, every band has to move forward in one form or another, and if it takes a little bit of experimentalism and post metal influence to get these guys moving past the realm of things that they’ve already done, then I’m all for it. At the album’s core, Apex Predator: Easy Meat still holds the same kind of approach that not only made the band famous, but helped to invent the entire Grindcore genre. I truly think it’s a novel idea that these guys can go back and show bands like Anaal Nathrakh who were no doubt inspired by them, that they can also experiment in the same fashion and achieve the same level of greatness. In any case, it’s certainly made me a fan and I never thought that would ever happen. So without question, I definitely recommend that you pick up Apex Predator: Easy Meat. It’s what great metal records are made of and it will stand the test of time as being my personal favorite Napalm Death album. In a word, it’s transcendence.

(14 Tracks, 40:00)

9/10

Voices - London

Voices – London (2015) – This sophomore effort from England’s Voices is definitely something that you’d expect from the post-Akercocke outfit, as it’s an album that never seems to sit still and feels comfortable in its own little world. There’s a definite storyline here, but I can’t quite come to its understanding and am furthermore not as interested in it as I am the piece as a whole. There’s absolutely no mistake here, as Voices have made an infinitely layered album that fills with oblique atmospheres, obscure riffs and other intriguing oddball ideas. There’s certainly Ulver influence here, particularly in the band’s mid-era and you’ll notice that coupled right in with the black metal and classical influences on the record. There’s almost nothing that these guys did not achieve with the disc, which makes it a complete work of abstract art. I’m even betting that Comic author, occultist and musician Alan Moore was a reference here, as I’m hearing some of the same spoken word tone and influence that made his early works great. “Megan 6:28” seems to take a trip right into the realms of electronic atmosphere as “The Antidote 7:33” seems to combine Ulver with a style that sounds like it would fit right where Arcturus left off. It’s truly an exemplary effort, in which nothing can be known and merely suggested. I cannot tell you what to expect from the record, as the experience can change without warning. The frantic screaming that occurs in “The Fucktrance 3:59” benefits from the subtle tones of piano keys, whilst the drums feel like they’re about ready to explode and launch the band’s skinsman off into orbit. “Hourglass 3:58” even appears to go into a ritualistic moment that captures a small sampling of Dead Can Dance, as the rest of the record does well to capture the very spirit of avant-garde as a whole. For a band that hasn’t made music in a very long time, they’ve already released two albums almost literally right on top of one another and London is by far the best in their re-established career. I don’t even think that I would even be so foolish as to stack the weight of this album against the experimental death metal of Akercocke, but it does seem a good contrast to the Sun centered ideals launched forth during that time period. Voices feels like it captures the essence of the moon, night and death itself; and will certainly be a welcome addition into the home of anyone who finds themselves fond of the unknown, the unexpected and the unbelievable. This record was made for a group of individuals who already know exactly who they are, and it’s rather quite certain that they’ll be the ones buying the record without even giving it so much of a pre-listen first. Because there are those kinds of people out there and I’ve no doubt that this experience will take them literally by the hand and call out their names. So if by the odd chance London calls out to you, will you be the one to answer?

(14 Tracks, 60:00)

9/10

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