This week we’ve got an unexpected topper from black metal legends Marduk, as well as an unexpected experiment from Mourning Mist. Following that, we have progressive tech-deathers Stargazer and one of my most anticipated 2015 releases coming in from black metallers Ascension. I’ve also done something uncanny this week and have given Japanese experimentalists Legion of Andromeda one of the lowest scores that I’ve ever given a record in years. It is quite possibly one of the worst albums I’ve ever heard. Keep your eyes open for a 2014 list on Friday, because I want to get them all out of here before summer at least.
Marduk – Frontschwein (2015 Spotlight) – Black metal vets Marduk need no real introduction and this latest effort proves that they’re still relevant today. But as you might expect, Frontschwein continues the band’s current approach of evolving with the times and offers a few things that many of you might not have expected at all. It’s actually odd for me to mention what seems to be an Egyptian or Arabic vibe on the disc’s title cut (3:12) and “503 “5:12” as well as a Satyricon “disco black metal” sort of vibe to “The Blond Beast 4:26.” Throughout the record you’ll hear bits and pieces of these styles implemented and even some slower doom atmospheres in a few places. It’s assuredly a modern approach, especially with its beefed up, yet still rough around the edges production value which makes me think that it’s probably going to turn off those who are looking for a more true to the roots style of kvlt black metal. There may have been a time where these gentlemen were known for making metal in that vein, but I’m certainly happy to hear them progressing while still keeping the spirit of their original sound intact. In addition to these nuances, the listener will also hear several pieces that will serve to remind them of the black metal beast that they remember, with blasts a’ plenty and a harsh vocal that scowls over the top of fiery tremolo riffing. Structurally it’s also a beast, because there are several different layers on display here, all of which make for a memorable listening experience. It’s rather nice to hear that they didn’t take the same approach to every song and by shaking it up a little; they made a record that doesn’t simply go in one ear and out the other. I wasn’t the biggest fan of Marduk before, but after the last few records, I’ve surely become one. The Grim Tower definitely recommends Frontschwein and I think it sets a good foundation for black metal at the start of the New Year. Hopefully, this is only the beginning.
(11 Tracks, 52:00)
Infernal Manes – Infernal Manes EP (2015) – Every once in a while an act comes along made up of members that you don’t expect. Take Infernal Manes for example, a Norwegian act made up of members of Taake, Gaahlskagg, Dead To This World and others. But instead of creating the kind of Norwegian black metal that we might expect from these gentlemen, they’ve instead crafted this small EP of tunes that definitely remind me of the bands mentioned here in the leaflet. I’m certainly hearing the Accept, Manilla Road, Accept, Maiden, Priest, and even some Dio in areas. I mean, this is literally the sound of heavy metal in its purest and undiluted form. Even the production value makes the record sound like it was made in 1985, rather than in 2015. But that’s perfectly alright with me, as we really need more bands to bring back this classic style, especially when it’s done with as much attention to detail and finesse as has been shown here. I even get a glimpse of King Diamond on the album’s closer, “Come To The Sabbath 5:04” which is definitely the band at their best. Not only does the track deliver at a vocal standpoint, but it’s got an amazing progressive rock influenced instrumental section that adds more bite than some of the other performances here. Infernal Manes still have some work ahead of them, but this EP is certainly something to remember. Even if it does nothing more than bring you back to the golden age of metal, I’m sure you’ll agree that’s it’s a rather solid listen with all the proper ingredients intact and unspoiled.
(6 Tracks, 33:00)
Jorn Lande & Trond Holter Present: Dracula – Swing Of Death (2015) – From a man as accomplished as Jorn Lande and the guitarist of Jorn and Wig Wam comes forth a monolithic effort in the form of this Dracula themed concept album. So be sure to grab your whip and ready your stake, as this is going to be one hell of an adventure. From the very minute “Walking On Water 5:58” hit, I was completely blown over the edge of no return and immediately knew that it could only get better from there… and it did. “Swing Of Death 4:49” came in with a little bit of a cabaret vibe that threw in some metal elements as well as some Irish flutes. Additionally, a backing female vocalist helped to make the track even catchier. “Masquerade Ball 3:43” continues the Dio-influenced approach that Jorn have used in their music for quite a while now (and you’ll get no complaints from me) even though “Save Me 4:30” seems to be a little oversaturated with the female vocal element, even though I’ll admit that the duet is rather nice. It’s definitely a ballad, but it serves as a rather memorable one, particularly at its denouement. Even boasting a stellar instrumental like “True Love Through Blood 4:07” in addition to several more hard hitting Jornian numbers, there’s definitely a lot to like here. The female vocal element might be a little more than some might have expected, as it does sort of make the disc seem a little brighter than one might expect for a record about Dracula, but it all seems to come off without a hitch. In the end, I think if you’re looking for a pleasant mix of heavy and melodic metal with a few bells and whistles, then you’re definitely going to enjoy the package presented here.
(10 Tracks, 47:00)
Legion Of Andromeda – Iron Scorn (2015) – I will not mince words with this one, as it’s by far one of the worst recordings I have ever heard in my life and that is simply why I must draw your attention to it. The band considers themselves a Japanese act mixing industrial and death metal elements, and a colleague and I thought that we were in for a style of music that is in the vein of the rare and spectacular Jenovavirus. But instead, we simply got what amounts to the same fucking song being played for well over forty minutes. Seriously folks, nothing ever changes. The tempo stays the same and the same hitting of an anvil effect plays throughout the entire album. The riffs stay exactly the same, the vocals utter the same lines of grunts with an additional scream in the background and there’s absolutely no change in style whatsoever. The album hasn’t even been released on the band’s Bandcamp page save for two tracks, but let me tell you that this is not worth the 2,300 yen that they’re charging for it. Heck, the cheap sword that Takumi bought in Chaos;Head for an overpriced 10,000 yen was worth more than this and it broke in half. As a matter of fact, this whole album could be a plot by Nozomi and the Committee Of 300 to dull the populous into subtle servitude. The album just drones on and on with no sign of relief, no real change in direction and no real semblance of anything other than the same droning riffs, the same grueling vocals and the sound of a hammer hitting an anvil. It’s the audio equivalent of root canal and I wouldn’t recommend to anyone on this fucking planet. You have no idea how much I dreaded this thing the first time and how bored I am by it with this secondary listen. Even my colleague began to make fun of it, as he imitated the never changing vocals and I kept making a “ting” sound whilst my fist hit my knee. Because that’s all it is, from beginning to end. I love Japanese metal normally and consider myself a definite heavy metal Otaku, but unfortunately this album is just too much for me. I do wish the best for Legion Of Andromeda. They’ve got a great name, a convincing album cover and interesting song titles. They just can’t seem to break out of the box for the entirety of this release. You know, I never thought I’d ever have to give a score like this out again, but I simply cannot stomach what I’ve heard here another time, nor could I recommend it to any of you. I’ll give them exactly one point for the effort, the thought and the composition, but I could not sleep at night if I gave them any more than that. I will not compromise myself and give into that which I feel is nearly unlistenable. I expected so much more from an act like this as Japan is full of so many outrageous interpretations of music and noise in general, that are unlike anything anyone has ever heard before. Unfortunately, Iron Scorn does not feel like one of these surreal approaches and almost lulls me to sleep. The Grim Tower highly recommends that you do not purchase this release and pay the import costs, as you will not be happy with the final product. I have never made a statement like this in the five years that I’ve been reviewing albums, but there is indeed a first time for everything.
(7 Tracks, 44:00)
Mourning Mist – Mourning Mist (2015) – Offering a mere picture of a bonfire as a representation of their band, these experimental metallers seem to revel in all things theatric and complex. What you are getting with this close to forty minute album are essentially six extravagantly well-crafted musical pieces mostly influenced by black metal, but with the addition of keyboard atmospheres as well as dozens upon dozens of riffs. But one of the best things about this album lie within its riffs, as well as what seems to be a violin. I will tell you that I’ve never quite heard a violin played in that sort of fashion and with that style of ferocity, making for an experience that seems simply like none other. The frontman also uses several different styles of vocal iterations within the recording, which can range from gravelly roars to even your Gollum-like black metal rasp. But once again, the meat of this album lies within its riffs, its atmospheres and its overall structure. This is an extremely beefed up record which seems to focus on combining classical along with hints of death, black and well… whatever else seems appropriate at the time. But I won’t knock this level of experimentation because it feels authentic. Even the production value isn’t quite perfect, but it’s pleasantly audible and serves to suit the tone of the recording. I suppose fans of Burzum might be able to find some beauty within the atmospheres laden within, but there’s just so much going on here that I can’t exactly tie it down to one simple little genre. Mourning Mist doesn’t even reflect the sort of dreary act that you might think they were at first and that is because of the sheer sense of class and musicality displayed here. You are not getting the kind of album that seeks to drone on and on as it carries you away in its dreadful, sullen misery; nor are you getting the kind of release that feels like it came from the glimmering reaches of the heavens. I feel as though I’m listening to a dark sort of play, rather than watching something as heroic as a Wagnerian opera. With every track, something different is offered and it truly comes off like a formula for greatness. We certainly have a lot more to hear from Mourning Mist and I’m certain that they’ve got a lot more to offer to us as well. Please do not let this be the first and only note in what I’m sure will be a wonderful experiment with the years to come. Mourning Mist do well to remind me why I like this sort of music and their interesting blend of instrumental prowess, captivating atmosphere and extreme heavy metal will surely see that they remain on my list of noteworthy acts. Run to the nearest record store and pick up a copy of this album; or go grab it online. Just make sure that you hear it.
(6 Tracks, 37:00)
Nangilima – The Dark Matter (2015) – Nangilima are a doom/death act quite similar to Swallow The Sun, Saturnus, Daylight Dies and several others. They offer your standard-fare mix of brooding bass riffs and melancholic leads, backed with a growling frontman and the addition of some classically influenced atmospheres. Unlike some of the other comparisons I made however, these guys prefer a much slower and less structured approach to the music that seems to give more room to the classical keyboards and guitar melodies. It does manage to bring about a rather ravishing atmosphere in that simplicity however, even though some might feel that this approach has been overused to the hills. I guess what sells me the most on this album would be its use of keyboard atmospheres, which is quite a weird thing to say; yet it’s undoubtedly true. Without these eccentric keyboard passages, this album would literally be nothing more than run of the mill doom/death and we’ve all heard that approach a hundred times over. Throughout the span of the record, Nangilima do not seem to really offer anything new however, and the only thing that really makes the performance shine are the odd background whizzings that at times make me think of a video game soundtrack. It’s an interesting approach, but I think it could use a little more work. I guess I can’t really fault them for making slow and funerary doom/death, but it would be interesting to hear them take it into a much different direction and bring even more meaning to those keyboard sections. When the best thing about your act and the only thing that really makes it stand out from myriads of others is laden within the keys and the synths, then there’s definitely a problem. I wish them the best of luck and hopefully the next recording will offer a little more than I’ve heard from this genre since it’s very inception.
(6 Tracks, 42:00)
Orden Ogan – Ravenhead (2015) – It should go without saying that I’m a huge fan of Blind Guardian, but have always been waiting for that one band to continue their sound in the much heavier direction that Somewhere Far Beyond and Imaginations From The Other Side offered. Now I’m sure that some of you who’ve already heard Beyond The Red Mirror would argue that Blind Guardian did a great job bringing back that style of sound, but I actually beg to differ on that. For as much as I liked Beyond The Red Mirror, I definitely thought that this record was just a little bit more of a metal album for me. Muscular riffs seem to back high flying vocal choruses and exquisitely sharp melodies. There’s no doubt that these guys reveled in albums like Nightfall On Middle Earth and the theatrics can still definitely be felt there, but there’s a real sense of titanic might to this majesty. I didn’t feel that I could really bang my head to the new Blind Guardian record, but I actually found myself raising my fist and doing just that to Ravenhead. Even the single alone is well worth making a fuss about, with a killer solo bursting right out of the gate as it rolls right into pounding grooves. Now that’s what I call power metal, folks! While I’m sure that some of you might like the idea of throwing a little metalcore into the mix on “The Lake 4:16” it certainly starts the track on a rather heavy note as it transforms into a definite power metal piece. Deep within the DNA of Orden Ogan I can actually hear a great number of power metal acts like Nocturnal Rites, Running Wild, Helloween, Tad Morose, Grave Digger and several more. There’s an obvious modernism going into the music as you’ll notice from the start, but it’s not something that I find I mind all that much especially when all the elements that make this power metal are still completely intact. The band even try to add a few bells and whistles in areas in order to further beef up the performance. I’m quite sure there will be a few people wondering how in the hell core riffs got into their power metal stew, but I must say that I approve of this approach far more than those core bands that only add power metal elements into their music in order to be trendy. I came across one of those a year or so ago and thought it was blasphemy to the genre, in all honesty. Orden Ogan instead make this transition seem like an authentic evolution into a more nuanced style of sound that will be as accessible to the new heads as it will to the old who remember when Imaginations From The Other Side first released to the public. Yes, there’s that kind of mystical DNA flowing through this piece. Yet in all of its bombast, it still manages to stay metal at its core as it offers a sound that’s sure to bring a smile to the face of nearly any power metal fan, sans those who like the speed metal style that Dragonforce brought back to life here recently. You can’t please everyone, but you can certainly delight as many of them as will listen and that’s just what Ravenhead manages to do. Quite simply, Ravenhead mixes the ancient sound that made power metal a genre along with a slightly newer one that might be a bit easier for some to digest. In the end, it’s a hearty soup that will surely be enjoyed by all who pick up a spoon… or in this case, an album. Definitely get your hands on this truly memorable power metal experience.
(11 Tracks, 48:00)
Code – Mut (2015) – As British comedy troupe Monty Python exclaim, “…And now for something completely different.” But that’s just what you’re going to find in this progressive post rock album from former extreme metallers, Code. Sure, I remember the black metal days and you remember the black metal days. But acts must evolve and apparently these gentlemen thought it was time to mirror a little bit of A Perfect Circle with hints of Ved Buens Ende, Ulver and something that still sounds, well… a little less than comforting. So even then, the odd atmospheres left by their former black metal days are still apparent. After all, it’s not completely unheard of for a black metal band to become a slightly more progressive one and I see this short record to be yet another sign of evolution. There are even a couple of heavy thumps on the album, as well as smattering of harsh vocal here and there, but for the most part it is an atmospheric experience which seems completely guided by the frontman’s clean vocal harmonies. They seem to be rather mysterious harmonies, quite fragile in their delivery and at times they can feel like a half-whisper. It’s very similar to Maynard James Keenan in that regard, which I would not have expected to come from this sort of act at all. I still believe that 2013’s Augur Nox was indeed the band’s peak moment and there’s no way that they (or nearly anyone else for that matter) will be able to top it. This is where I feel Mut derived, coming from the simple fact that these gentlemen thought it best to take their music in a completely different direction. Mut entails a lot of passion and emotion, which are things that we’ve always heard bubbling their way to the surface of previous Code albums, yet here it seems that they’ve finally reached the ground the level. There’s not really much else to say on the matter, as the record definitely seems expectable from its beginning to its end and offers nothing more than melancholic progressive post rock with nothing more than a slight hint of heavy metal. In truth, I really don’t know how Code fans are going to react to something like this, but I’m sure that fans of Ulver, Arcturus, Ved Buens Ende and others will have an absolute field day with it. This is actually the sort of tame record that you can listen to in public without people staring, their accusatory glares convinced that you’re in service to Satan. To the casual listener, it will just sound like weird rock and you’ll instead be accused of being a drug addict. Society is a funny thing, isn’t it? But at any rate, this oddly unexpected album should certainly suite the palette of a far different audience and I suppose they’ll be rather happy with it. It’s extremely catchy, quite beautiful and rather intelligent. If you’re prepared to embrace this new style and sound from Code, then definitely pick this album up as soon as it’s available in stores.
(9 Tracks, 35:00)
Stargazer – A Merging To The Boundless (2015) – Australian experimental extreme metallers Stargazer are finally back and with a brand new effort that should sound familiar enough to fans of Death, Cynic, Atheist and Morbid Angel, yet there are a few darker progressive moments on the record which work to put it into an unwelcoming atmosphere. The frontman observes a far different vocal approach amidst the warm and decidedly old school production as well, which can sound slightly inhuman and even a bit spiritual. A Merging To The Boundless isn’t quite as heavy as the band’s previous efforts but there are definitely some death metal sections to be found deep within this complex maze of sound and texture, as the title track (4:17) and “Incense and Aeolian Chaos 4:06” work to describe. I’ll admit that it’s going to be a little for some tech-death heads to stomach considering the large amount of progressive and avant-garde influence laden within, but those who have listened to the music of Stargazer as long as I should know to expect these sorts of things from the start. As all bands must branch, grow and evolve, so has Stargazer done with this effort. It’s not so much a record concerned with ripping your face off as it is painting an abstract landscape, but it still does manage to smash your head into the wall a couple of times throughout the listen. If nothing else, it shows us that a decidedly abrasive sound can meld in perfectly with one that is quite calming and at times even ethereal. It almost feels like Stargazer is continuing the sort of material that Cynic quit making long after 2004, and I’m quite thankful for that. No one can say as to what evolutions Stargazer will make in the future, but I would hope at least that the muscular extreme metal element of which we’ve always known and expected from them would stay intact during the advent of these new progressions. Indeed, A Merging To The Boundless is a different kind of Stargazer record, but it’s an atmosphere that I’m completely open to and ultimately willing to embrace.
(7 Tracks, 38:00)
Ascension – The Dead Of The World (2015) – You may recall my words about these gentlemen in the past, as I regarded their debut EP Deathless Light as something of an unexpected wonder in the world of black metal. I may have even used other terms in which to describe the greatness that I was witnessing from that effort. yet now has come the time for that long-anticipated full-length release and thus, it is also the time for my judgement. The album opens with “Silence Of Abel 7:26” which starts out rather slow and seems to go almost nowhere in an instant, but the disc finally seems to warm up a little when “Death’s Golden Temple 9:16” comes into the mix. Here I’m actually hearing worthwhile leads from the very start, which help to remind me more of the potent effort offered on the EP. It’s still quite slow, but there’s at least more passion in the effort and I’ll admit that the ritualism exercised in the vocals seems authentic, and not overly theatric. In many ways, it seems to convey the very essence of black metal in the current era. As the blasts finally get going and the tremolos rev up, we finally start to witness a familiar and welcome atmosphere that certainly sees the band full of fire and eager to change the song’s structure at the drop of a hat. Now this is the Ascension that I remember. For all sakes and purposes, let’s just consider that opener an introduction piece. A bit of a long introduction piece, but definitely nothing more than appetizer for the meal that is this masterpiece of grandiosity. “Black Ember 5:01” began with blasts, took a few breaks and continued on in its ritualistic rage, while “Unlocking Tiamat 5:32” seemed a little more frostbitten and melancholic. Melodies bellowed forth from the temple walls, as the frontman howled ancient chants to long forgotten beings, buried under the weight of modern religious nuances… and that’s when it truly began to feel like black metal. “Deathless Light 8:24” manages to make an appearance here as well, finding itself justified among the other tracks, but unfortunately “Garden Of Stone” is nowhere to be found. But that’s not such a big deal, especially when you’ve got the grandeur of the aforementioned to showcase one of the record’s greatest moments. However, then we have the unforeseen splendor of “The Dark Tomb Shines 8:15” which proves itself to be even stronger than “Garden Of Stone” as it continues a rather potent note on the record as a whole. Everything that one should expect from black metal is here and it’s all delivered quite passionately and sounds exquisitely brilliant. Though let’s not forget that this is an extremely dark record in all of its sharp melodies and solo efforts, as it is a black metal recording after all. The final note here comes in the form of another lengthy cut by the name of “Mortui Mundi 10:33” and from it’s very start, I already find myself mesmerized by the unexpected solo and thundering drum performance that merely sets up the piece. When it finally gets going, the song observes several changes only to roll into another supremely intricate solo which feels like it could go on forever. In a way, this seems to generate an atmosphere of itself, showing that Ascension are as dedicated to an instrumental performance as they are vocal one. Even though The Dead Of The World didn’t quite meet my ridiculous expectations, I still feel that these gentlemen delivered one of the very best black metal performances that they could muster and I do not feel that any black metal fan would be upset with this one (sans the kvltsists, but you can’t please everyone) as it offers the very essence and enigma that one associates with such a deep and enthralling style of music. Though I may never understand the ritualism on this album, I can certainly connect with those ancient mysteries through the sound crafted within this recording. I definitely recommend that you give The Dead Of The World a listen as soon as possible. Ascension has still proven themselves to be an oncoming force in the black metal scene. Take notice!
(7 Tracks, 54:00)