The weekly ten took a little while longer than I’d hoped this week, but I still managed to brave all obstacles and get them out on time. Next week of course, is the February Shortlist so look out for that. Death Karma rounds out the list this week, followed by Volahn, Hellish Outcast and Wardruna. Additionally, there are several other hard hitters this week like Calf, Evil Spirit and Revel In Flesh, but I just don’t have enough spotlights for them all. Virtually every album here is worth checking out for one reason or another, so definitely give them all a listen.
Death Karma – The History Of Death & Burial Rituals Part I (2015 Spotlight) – Here we have a rather impressive performance from the experimental black/death metallers Death Karma and there are few words that I can use to describe the complexity of this thing. But that’s partly because I want you to explore this grandiose monstrosity for yourself. As you might have guessed, the entire album is focused on the literal history of death and burial rituals from countries like Slovakia, Mexico, India and China among others. And as you might expect, every country has a different style imprinted onto the band’s blackened death metal approach to separate it from the others and that gives the album it’s very own feeling of originality. You aren’t getting the same damn thing with every song and I think that’s what people are looking for these days. Sometimes it’s alright to be awash in an approach you enjoy, but when a band really goes out there and delivers in this kind of fashion, you either take notice or shake your head. Not only do they deliver in the melody department, but they really know how spice things up with a full-on ritual taking over half the playtime for “Mexico – Chichen Itza 6:54” and seventies prog keyboards opening up “Madagascar – Famadihana 6:01.” But there’s more to Death Karma then that, and anyone who knows a thing or two about musical structure is going to notice instantly how complex and somewhat off the wall this album is. It’s a bit rough, but I feel that the rough nature of the recording feels right for the performance. There’s a hint of static in the air and that’s fine, as it feels natural and worthy of the ritualistic nature of the album. I don’t think rituals should feel polished and they don’t here. Additionally, there are occasional guitar theatrics used to build an atmosphere and illustrate these pieces apart from vocals alone. It even sounds like they took some influence from former British black metal visionaries, Bal-Sagoth. It’s not exactly easy to keep someone hooked on an atmosphere, so it has to be delivered with the right amount of finesse and care, which is what Death Karma manage perfectly. There is no reason why I couldn’t recommend a record with as much intelligence and artistic merit behind it as this and you definitely need to pick it up as soon as possible. It’s an experience that you surely won’t regret. I definitely cannot wait for the second part.
(6 Tracks, 42:00)
Volahn – Aq’ab’al (2015) – Volahn creates a very unique approach to melodic black metal in the fact that he adds Latin elements in the manner of beautiful flamenco pieces that you just wouldn’t expect. But there’s more to it than just that, as the guitar leads on this record consist of literally amazing passages that seem to be as artistic as they are technical, which makes for an experience that is not only crushingly brutal, but also quite spirited. There are many melodic black metal acts out there, but none of them seem to be quite as evolved as this one. This is a record that you’ll definitely listen to over and over again, for the intrinsic and complex passages that fill what are in actuality, rather lengthy tracks. Aq’ab’al is one of those records that feels much longer than it is, but for good reason and you’ll soon find yourself enveloped and captivated by the melodies, rock solos and respectable black metal performance that lies within this recording. It makes sense that the flamenco acoustics are here, because it really wouldn’t make sense for him to add the Norwegian style folk melodies to a record that wasn’t recorded in Europe. It’s this Latin approach that makes the band stand out among others and it feels authentic. Volahn put his own spin on melodic black metal and in the end; he has created a one of a kind masterpiece of an album. Definitely get your hands on this one. It’s phenomenal.
(6 Tracks, 59:00)
Demoncy – Joined In Darkness (2015) – Demoncy is a one man black/death metal project that seems to create a very dank and morbid brand of black metal, which comes off completely vile. The vocals are absolutely bloodcurdling and definitely one of the best moments available on the album. He doesn’t use the trademark growl, but we’re ever thankful for the Gollum like utterances that appear on this record, making the man seem inhuman or completely possessed by some otherworldly being. Sometimes doom will run into the mix, but it only serves to make thing even more, well… vile. With a record titled Joined In Darkness it pretty much gives you the sound of foul blackness that you might come to expect. More could be done in terms of song structure and I’m sure that even he’s aware of that fact, but for a one man show, this is certainly not a bad performance and it’s got my ever hopeful for whatever he’s going to release in the future. As I’ve noticed, artists who start out like this only seem to get better as time goes by and I really hope that he’ll continue this absolutely demonic approach for many years to come. Additionally, there are some instrumental gothic synth pieces that occur every now and again on the record and they make me think of early Cradle Of Filth, which is definitely not a bad thing in my book. If you’re looking for a fine sampling of grim darkness, then look no further than this one.
(12 Tracks, 46:00)
Atomic Aggressor – Sights Of Suffering (2015) – If you’re looking for an old school mound of death metal, then this Chilean act will have just what you’re looking for. Inspired by bands like Possessed, Deceased, Deicide and Sarcofago, these guys play it just like it was meant to be played. But seeing as they’ve been together off and on since 1985, it makes perfect sense that the formula would be down pat and ready to slaughter. Let’s not mesh words folks, this is exactly what you want from the death metal genre if you want it traditional and loud. I’ve just heard a few tracks so far on this re-listen and electron signals in my brain are assuring me that this is exactly how proper death metal should sound. The structure of the record sounds just as good as anything I would have expected from the legends, and the guitars pound out myriads of worthwhile riffs as well as some slightly out of the box ideas that only help to magnify the performance even more. There’s no doubt in my mind that death metal fiends are going to love this record and give it the constant repetitions that it desires. If you can’t tell that these guys have been doing it since the genre’s glory days, then you just aren’t listening hard enough. Sights Of Suffering is a death metal record that pulls no punches and winds up knocking you down every time.
(11 Tracks, 54:00)
Warduna – Runaljod: Gap Var Ginnunga (2015 Reissue) – If you’ve got a Viking heart and you’d never be caught dead without a sword in your hand, then you’re definitely going to love the passionate performance unleashed on this reissue. I haven’t heard the original myself, but I can say that the atmospheric and transcendental performance unleashed on this folk album is quite remarkable. I mean, I can’t compare it to anything that I’ve heard, even in terms of traditional Viking folk music. There’s something here that definitely has influence from acts like Dead Can Dance and perhaps even Qntal, bringing about a style that’s quite unique and should definitely appeal to those who are deeply entwined with Heathen beliefs. I’d even go as far as to say that it’s as deep as Enslaved, just without the metal elements. Runaljod puts me right in the center of a pagan ritual, where I can almost smell the incense and the whiff of spices from the food being cooked on the fire. It’s actually the closest thing you can get to having a personal ritual in your home and there’s no doubt that one of my ex-girlfriends would absolutely love it. The music of Warduna isn’t for everyone, but those who have heard the Valkyries call will no doubt be flocking to pick this one up on Vinyl, where it will no doubt sound even more rich and full of life that here in my digital copy. The All father commands that you pick up this wonderful piece of music and there’s no doubt you’ll enjoy it. For many, the experience in Runaljod will be far beyond that of mere listening for entertainment. For something ancient and powerful has been encased within this recording, begging for you to release it and experience the wonder for yourself. This is more than music, its spirit.
(12 Tracks, 52:00)
Hellish Outcast – Stay Of Execution (2015) – Well, these four guys surprised the hell out of me with this one as I wasn’t expecting the approach to change quite as much as it did with each track on the disc. The formula for the band is quite simple, it’s essentially thrash, groove and modern metal elements, but eventually you’ll hear some death metal and even a little bit of melodic doom. If these guys are trying to one up Trivium with this conjunction of styles, then they’ve most certainly done it with this album. It’s much heavier, grimier and definitely more true to the nature of extreme metal than an act like Trivium, who leaned more towards the metalcore side of things. You can hear the Meshuggah influence, the early Soilwork influence and the myriads of thrash entwined within a sound that is nothing more than absolutely pummeling (sans a few select cuts) and worthy of being called metal. Not only that, the band also unleash a slew of memorable solo sections amidst this carnage, so even if you’re hearing the brutal death metal approach that has been utilized on “Torment 6:43” you’re still getting a worthy solo effort as well as some decent clean lines. Yes, there are clean vocal lines on this album, but nothing so squeaky clean that it takes you out of the performance. In fact, the only truly soft song on the record, “Leave 5:17” sounds quite morbid to be honest. There’s a female vocalist on that one as well, but once again – nothing that should take you out of the performance. I am not one to fault a band for experimenting and with so many barebones approaches to metal these days, I’m always looking for bands who think outside the box. Hellish Outcast is definitely one of those kinds of bands, as they deliver a brass knuckled clobbering to your face and a slight cup of tea. But after you’ve swallowed that tiny portion of tea; be prepared to eat the fucking pavement. Rest assured, there’s something for everyone on Stay Of Execution and I was heavily impressed with it. Though it has a nuanced approach, I like the fact that it sticks to the roots of death and thrash metal and delivers a one-two punch to competition who seems content to play the same old damn thing when it comes to modern metal. Definitely get your hands on this impressive debut and I can’t wait to hear more from these guys in the future. Hellish Outcast are the very definition of promise and potential, and one of those bands that you really get excited about the first time you hear them. Acts like this are few and far between, so we raise our horns in highest support. Definitely pick up a copy of this one, you won’t regret it!
(11 Tracks, 51:00)
Alpha Tiger – Identity (2015) – The third album from these Freiberg power metallers is called Identity and it certainly seems to achieve just that, with a memorable performance from frontman Stephen Dietrich from the very start and loads of recallable melodies from axmen Peter Langforth and Alexander Backasch who seem to really light up the place with their playing. Dietrich reminds me a lot of Dickinson and if I even have to mention the man’s first name, then you’re clearly in need of a Metal 101 class. When I first caught a glimpse of “Long Way Of Redemption 5:54” I immediately thought of a young air-raid siren and perhaps on future albums, Dietrich’s vocals will become even stronger. The only problem I’m really having with this album is that the drumming really doesn’t seem to be all that great. I mean, it’s a little blunt; but I’m being honest here. There’s just not a whole hell of a lot going on back there on the kit and it makes the whole performance feel a little thin in retrospect. It doesn’t matter how great the riffs, melodies and solos utilized on the album are, or how great the frontman can belt out vocal lines with the best of them – it’s just the sheer fact that I’m not really hearing any muscle in the background and it seems to slow the whole band down there. I’ve heard it said that a band can only sound as good as its back end and this back end really seems to drag along. I almost wonder David Schleif programmed a drum machine and walked off during the recording sessions. Seriously, what the fuck happened? I think it’s a legitimate question, especially since the rest of the band sound ready to take on the world. There are plenty of hits here, but I just feel that these guys could be so much more if it all didn’t sound so thin. Apparently he unplugs the drum machine and hops behind the kit for “Shut Up & Think 4:31” which actually sounds like a meat and potatoes power metal cut, but more than half the record is labored by a piss poor attempt at drumming and I know this guy’s better than that. I’m hearing it right now. So once again, I don’t know what the hell happened and I’m rather lackluster about the whole thing. But I suppose if you want to check out what could’ve been, give Identity a chance. There are some seriously memorable numbers here like the closer “This World Will Burn 7:21” so it’s not a total wash, but it just could’ve been a whole lot better.
(10 Tracks, 49:00)
Calf – Bastards Anatomy Use A Unicorn Go To Apathy (2015) – As I begin to listen to this record from the… band Calf, I often stop to wonder what exactly it is that I’m listening to. This odd instrumental act mix extreme approaches and light approaches in a heavily progressive and truly oblique fashion that you will have to hear to believe. It’s essentially one large atmosphere, but it’s rounded with several hills and valleys and does not come off as just any old progressive/technical instrumental record. Pelican, this is not. There are actually some sections on the record where things get quite frantic and overbearing, as a drummer is displayed with a hell of a lot more going for him than the last band had. Usually I don’t compare previous acts I’ve reviewed in a week, but I think this is a worthy occasion. When the band gets heavy, the percussion becomes incredibly thick as it almost drowns out the riffs. but I’ll allow it. Even electronics make an appearance on the record, which actually help to improve the atmosphere even further. I know absolutely nothing about the musician or musicians behind this one, but from what I’ve sampled here; I would definitely have to recommend that you grab a copy of this record for yourself. It’s not all that long, but it doesn’t need to be. It manages several macroscopic atmospheres in fashion that should definitely appeal to those looking for something… else. As a fan of this kind of approach, I’m certainly quite impressed with the record and I do believe there is a great deal of promise to be had with Calf. I’m only wondering what they’ll be adding next… binaurals maybe? We will just have to find out.
(5 Tracks, 42:00)
Revel In Flesh – Death Kult Legions (2015) – The third-full length from death metallers Revel In Flesh proves that third time is indeed the charm, and it easily manages to leap right over the faults of the band’s previous outing by about a mile (even though I’ll admit that there were some relatively decent songs on that one as well) and a half. On Death Kult Legions the band manages to show exactly why they should stay in the game and they certainly bring the pain and destruction with pummeling Grave worship in the form of “In The Name Of The Flesh 3:56” as things take a turn into early Amon Amarth territory with “When Glory Turns To Ruin 4:37.” Now I don’t know about you, but Amon Amarth hasn’t sounded like this in quite a while, even though it’s not quite as Viking as you’d think. But the formula is still there, reminding me of the kind of sorrowful folk melodies that the aforementioned used to utilize quite a bit in their music. Thick groove appears in “Graveyard Procession 4:29” and we’re certainly welcoming the horror-influenced melodies here (as well as the unexpected solo) but they’re not quite on the level of Revolting just yet. Getting there, but nothing curdles my blood like their spine-tingling leads. “Frozen Majesty 6:27” slows things down a bit for grandeur, but “Hurt Locker 3:24” (is it based on the film?) manages to come right in and bring the grinding axe. Aside from certain cuts, most of the record sticks to horror-influenced death metal and there’s an awful lot of Grave and Entombed worship, as you might expect. But it’s not a complete pave over and it’s got some real merit this time. These guys are truly doing a great job with this Swedish death metal revival attempt and I feel that Death Kult Legions is the band’s strongest work since their debut recording. Definitely give it a listen.
(11 Tracks, 49:00)
Evil Spirit – Cauldron Messiah (2015) – What starts out with a slightly ritualistic introduction piece replete with chimes, slowly works its way into a dusty effort of doom metal. But there’s more to it than that, as black metal likes to peer out from beneath the covers every once in a while and when it does; it delivers just as well as the doom. There’s an especially potent manner to the drumming, as well as the vocals which can consist of melancholic moans or razor sharp scowls, depending on the style the band wants to utilize in each song. For instance, “Eye Of The Beholder 2:11” quickly reminds you that Evil Spirit are way more than a regular doom band, as blaring black metal bursts right through the seams. But then we go back to the ritualistic doom effort as showcased on “Let The Dragon Be My Guide 8:07” except that things are much different this time around as the black metal elements become more pronounced. That changes with “Reino Sangrento 7:54” however, where the band decides to flex is Sabbathy muscles for a while before it rolls right into blazing black metal again with “Push Angie Back Into The Swamp 2:35” which I’m alright with, because she’s probably a bitch. The record ends with the title cut (7:39) which seems to mix both styles together seamlessly with the added element of psychedelics and shows what this doom metal… and black metal band can really do. Make no mistake, there’s something bubbling in the pot that Evil Spirit have been tending to and I’m sure that it’s going to sound even greater when you get a taste of it onstage. I definitely recommend this one to all fans of traditional doom metal and traditional black metal, as it manages to do justice to both styles perfectly. You’ve just got to be one of those people who like chocolate in your peanut butter. If you don’t like the genre mixing though, you’ll have to look elsewhere. But hence, that’s why I decided to pick the throbbing little imp that is Evil Spirit out of the pack of promos this week and present them here for your observation. What you do after that, is entirely up to you.
(7 Tracks, 38:00)