We have the amazing Nevermore successor (in my book) Yesterday’s Saints topping the list this week and bringing with it a phenomenal performance that you’ll remember for a long time to come. Backing that is another highly memorable performance from black/death/thrashers Frosthelm, whom even one of the members of Skeletonwitch praised today (even though I think they’re even better than Skeletonwitch) as well as longtime no hear act electronic/melodic death metal act Raunchy, who blew me away with a passionately melodic, dancey and aggressively powerful performance all at the same fucking time. Creeping up behind that is Sewer Goddess, who gave me a one of a kind approach in doom/industrial that I’ve never heard before. Taake and Dwell also offered some rather memorable performances, but there were things on that Sewer Goddess record that I didn’t even know were possible with industrial. Give them all a listen!
(Starting this week you can expect 2015 lists to appear either on Tuesday or Wednesday, depending on when I finish. I’m essentially giving myself a little more time so that I don’t need to rush and can focus more on the records as a whole. Additionally, the 2014 lists will either arrive on Friday or Saturday, which depends on when I finish them. Giving you guys twenty album reviews a week is rather taxing, especially for one man. But I’m committed to the work and will continue to perform as I have.)
Yesterday’s Saints – Generation Of Vipers (2015 Spotlight) – When I see the band photo for Yesterday’s Saints, I see four gentlemen who look like heavy metal veterans in every sense of the word. They definitely have some years on to them compared to other heavy metal acts, but with just one look, you can tell that the music these guys make is going to be worthwhile. And boy, is it ever. What these men seem to craft sounds like a mix of death and progressive power metal that seeks to make the sound and style of Nevermore and Sanctuary even heavier and far more menacing. Death growls emanate from the background, as the frontman seems to mimic Warrel Dane’s high rising vocal patterns perfectly. There’s also that Jeff Loomis influence going into the guitars, making this whole band a shoo-in for a Nevermore replacement act. But what’s different about these guys from the genuine article is their thick death metal sections. Seldom were growls ever used in Nevermore, and I’ve yet to hear them ever appear on a Sanctuary album either; which means that there’s an extra bite to the act which you won’t hear from either of the aforementioned. In other words, they’ve made a familiar sound even more devastating, while still keeping it intact. Additionally, extremely strong melody lines are utilized on the record, which seem to work hand in hand with the tactical drumming efforts and chunky bass riffs. In many ways, Yesterday’s Saints feel like the spiritual successor to Nevermore, regardless of whether they were going for that kind of status or not. That’s just how the record appears and I for one am quite happy with it. There’s not one song on the record that doesn’t seem to benefit from the frontman’s powerful vocal command, the pounding death metal moments or the storehouses of melody in appliance here. This is actually the band’s second release, proving to me that they’ve definitely leaped right over the sophomore slump and have a made an album that is truly memorable, especially if you really like power and death metal mixtures. I’ll tell you with all honesty that it’s extremely difficult to hear this style done right and I’ve listened to hundreds of bands who’ve mimicked it to no avail. Yesterday’s Saints are one of the scant view who have managed to do it right, and that’s why I simply must respect this bountiful effort and recommend it to you. Bands like this, who outperform even legends, are the very reason why I take the time out of my day to this kind of work. Definitely go out there and support Yesterday’s Saints, and go see them play a show too. Because I imagine this stuff would be phenomenal in person. It goes without saying, but The Grim Tower recommends Generation Of Vipers.
(11 Tracks, 61:00)
Dwell – Vermin And Ashes (2015) – I wasn’t really sure what to expect on this new one from Danish doom/deathers, Dwell. Well, maybe in part I was – but that’s when my perceptions became completely scrambled during a further listen of the disc. “A Collapse Sublime 6:13” started off with familiar territory and basically offered that usual thunderous hit of bass riffs and large, throaty growls. Melody began to creep in however, and after a slight acoustic we’re greeted to a little bit of synth. So it’s already beginning to foreshadow a much different type of sound from the band as a whole… but what kind of sound could that be? Well, when “Pathless and Dormant 5:27” comes in, we’re greeted with an atmosphere that isn’t very “metal” at all. In fact, it feels like the sort of thing you might hear on a film score, replete with venomous chants and a little bit of drone. Bet you didn’t see that one coming. “Vermin In My Arteries 6:16” observes more melody and vocal variation, in addition to a handful of synths and some blast beats, which we didn’t hear at all from the last two songs – but let’s not call them black metal. “Plunging Into Ash Tombs 7:10” clears the air even more, as more scowls and less growls come into place and melodies are more apparent as well as the black metal elements. But the biggest change for me in terms of the band’s sound, is in a little instrumental by the name of “Become The Void 4:29.” It’s essentially a small electronic piece that doesn’t even sound like it came from the same band, and I have a feeling that genre purists are going to hate it. But who am I kidding? The kind of music that Dwell are currently playing is anything but pure. If nothing else, the piece cements the band’s ability to craft atmospheres in a fashion that proves to be more interesting (to me at least) then their metal efforts. In all honesty, if these guys made a record that sounds exactly like “Become The Void” I would certainly be more interested in it, than I would be in Vermin and Ashes as a whole. At any rate, the disc ends with a rather dark piece called “Perdition’s Mire 8:10” which ultimately ends in the same way that the disc began. It’s unknown as to what kind of band Dwell want to be at this point and all of the experimentation here certainly proves to be good, but I believe that all of this branching out could turn away some of the band’s loyal fans, who might wonder as to what in the hell they’re doing. In any case, Vermin and Ashes is definitely worth a listen.
(8 Tracks, 37:00)
Taake – Stridens Hus (2015) – Norwegian black metal veteran Taake is back with a record that sounds uncompromisingly, like black metal. Certainly genre purists will find that “Gamle Norg 5:53” is just what the mad doctor ordered in all of its familiar tremolos, blast beasts and raspy scowls. Yet there’s also a tinge of atmosphere, which breaks into the piece just a few minutes before it ends. As we get into “Orm 6:43” a rock solo pierces through the murky mist, leaving an almost post black metal sound to appear in latter sections of the lengthy “Det Fins En Prins 8:07.” When we get to “Stank 6:19” it begins with a sort of experimental vibe in the very beginning, observes punk and then surf music. Yes, the twangs used on this piece certainly do make me want to catch a wave and lure me into a much sunnier landscape than the usual frozen wasteland we’d expect from the genre. But even so, it’s still quite frosty in retrospect; like eating a cup of shaved ice on the beach. Minus a few whispers, “En Sang Til Sand Om Ildebrann 5:06” is completely instrumental and seems chock full of interesting and unique tremolo melodies, some which seem to traverse the realms of black metal entirely. So yeah, you may want to rethink that “genre purists” statement I said earlier, because I’m not sure how well they’ll take to this (and now the track is observing an almost disco quality, so there you go) even though in essence of musical evolution, I think that perhaps they should. “Kongsgaard Bestaar 5:35” employs a few sections of dark acoustic, while album closer “Vinger 5:48” manages to bring in yet another slice of atmosphere. All in all, Stridens Hus feels like a black metal album that was made in 2015. It doesn’t sound like one that was made in 1996, or 2003 or 2010 even. It sounds like the sort of fresh approach that the genre needs to keep it from feeling stagnant, and it manages to show a progressive movement in small spurts that doesn’t detract from the traditional roots of the genre that are still effortlessly employed in the recording. Stridens Hus remains fresh while keeping its traditional value and I’m sure that there will be more than a few who come ready to embrace evolution. These guys can’t keep playing the same kind of music that they did years ago and the record is proof that forward-thinking approaches can be done right when executed properly. Certainly worth your money and I don’t think you’ll go wrong with this one.
(7 Tracks, 43:00)
Ara – Devourer Of Worlds (2015) – Ara is a technical death metal act that combines elements of brutal death metal and works towards making their music incredibly complex while bashing the listener in the head with a sledgehammer. The frontman’s normal vocal style on the record seems to be that of a hoary grunt, but he exercises the normal amount of gravel during a few sections which seem to show that the band are trying their very best to make this as intricate as humanly possible. The problem is that it’s so incredibly convoluted that it manages to lose sense of structure almost completely and becomes completely abstract. While furious, the band doesn’t really show any sign of direction and seem rather content in digging out your entrails, albeit in a much more refined and artistic fashion. Are you getting the point? There’s not much to go on from one song to the next, but if you’re looking for something that feels overloaded to the point of explosion and does manage to do just that after a while; then you’ll find something here. That being said, there are dozens of worthwhile moments on the record and they do show a band that is capable of great things once they find their bearing. The problem for me is that it all just seems to flow together and fall into background noise, albeit it is extremely brutal and potent. I’m sure that fans of technical death metal will find it quite solid and at least they are trying to step out of the box on this album and perhaps we’ll hear a sign of even greater evolution on the next one. In any case, Devourer Of Worlds is extremely weighty and does manage to carry a memorable enough vibe to remember. Check it out on the band’s Bandcamp page. It’s got some potential and it’s worth a listen.
(10 Tracks, 44:00)
Solanum/Epi-Demic – Passages To Lunacy Split EP (2015) – The first band on this thrash metal split is that of Solanum, who definitely seem to like their punk perfectly mixed in with their thrash and we’re thankful for that as it adds a little more youthful angst and realistic rage to the mix. This doesn’t sound manufactured, it sounds like real people being real pissed off about real things and I think that’s what’s important. Additionally, the music element in general is actually well-crafted so far as the first track “Friendly Civil Servant 4:42” is concerned and includes some rather intricate bits. It’s a little different for me to hear the punk vibe mixed in with finely structured thrash, but that seems to be the case here. Unfortunately, I’m putting my foot in my mouth as the Slayer emulation of the next track “Welcome To Our Homemade Hell 3:34” makes me retract my previous statements completely. But does it continue? As the next cut “Manipulated 4:44” comes into place, I start to see that intricacy coming back into place as the punk elements make an even stronger appearance. “Lunatic Tradition 4:24” actually manages to perk things up quite a bit on the album, almost making me think of a sort of Atheist meets Slayer mixed with punk. It’s not a bad crop of noise either, which definitely makes me think that there’s promise in Solanum. These four tracks might sound like a band cutting its teeth, but they make me anticipant for their next offering. Let’s just hope they stop with the direct Slayer imitation of “Welcome To Our Homemade Hell” which I would have scrapped immediately, as it doesn’t even seem to fit with the rest of the album.
The next band is also a thrash act, but these guys seem to like things a bit rougher and a little more menacing as some of the riffs tend to veer towards that of death/thrash, just without the growls or scowled vocals. Additionally, there’s also quite a bit of structure here to be seen, even though I can’t stand the frontman’s vocals at all. There’s no denying that what they do is solid, but it’s just not an approach that I find I enjoy, at least as much as Solanum. The punk influences really come in on “Nuclear Dream 2:28” and that’s when I feel I’ve had enough. Despite what they manage to offer with these tracks, it’s just not something that strikes me as memorable and will undoubtedly wind up as background music. But if you like your punk music mixed in with thrash and hardcore, then you’ll probably enjoy this.
All in all, I think that Solanum is the clear winner of this split and I’d definitely recommend that you check out this EP based on their performance alone. As I said, there’s a lot of potential there and hopefully they’ll be able to show more of it on a future LP release.
(8 Tracks, 30:00)
Frosthelm – The Endless Winter (2015) – I’ve been waiting for a new Frosthelm record for quite some time now, especially after hearing the band’s debut EP …. a few years back. Admittedly, it’s taken a bit of time for them to get everything fine-tuned and ready to go and The Endless Winter is a fine example of what happens when all of that extra time is spent wisely. Mixing black metal along with bits of thrash and death, these guys may very well have crafted one of the best albums of the year. It’s certainly better than Thulcandra’s third attempt and makes Ascension Lost look like a steaming pile of garbage. Additionally, those expecting a black/death/thrash performance in the vein of Skeletonwitch are also going to be taken by surprise with this album, because every single track on this disc sounds better than an anything I’ve heard from the aforementioned, bar none. The melodies are sharp, the drumming is inexplicably tight, and the vocals are downright threatening. In simplest terms, this is definitely one of the best extreme metal records I’ve ever heard. The record even features quite a few memorable solo efforts, which only help to further accentuate these already formidable pieces. There are very few records that I can remember from front to back and will say, “Hey, I really want to listen to that again.” and this is definitely one of those records. The atmosphere of the disc remains frostbitten and true to the nature of black metal, yet it manages to upgrade and innovate the style by offering listeners much more than what we’d normally get at face value from a black metal act. The band thrash just as well as they utilize melody and I’m very much reminded of Dissection, as I’ve mentioned before with my Thulcandra reference. The songs might not be all that long, but they don’t need to be. Frosthelm isn’t the kind of band that needs to make extremely lengthy and perplexing cuts. They’ve got enough skill and muscular musicianship to catch your attention in the first few minutes and you’re going to notice that immediately. The record itself is also very short as well, but in all honesty; I’m just not complaining. I can’t find one problem with this record, no matter how hard I’ve tried. The quality of the performance is noteworthy, the production is crisp and clear, yet still a bit erratic and the vocal approach seems to fit right in with some of extreme metal’s absolute best frontmen. Simply put, you may not have heard that much about Frosthelm yet; but you will. If no one manages to notice this album among the spring flood, then it has truly become a very sad time in metal. Don’t walk, run to the nearest record store or jump online and order this album just as soon as you can. Talent was heard and talent was respected. Skill was noticed and skill was respected. I can simply say no more about the greatness uttered forth on this incredibly grim and worthwhile release.
(9 Tracks, 34:00)
Raunchy – Vices.Virtue.Visions (2015) – I haven’t heard a song from Raunchy since hearing a single from Velvet Noise way back when, and even though I liked that single, I didn’t know that these guys were still a band. But let me tell you something, folks. Raunchy are definitely not an act to be taken lightly, even now. There’s definitely a sense of modernism on the record, but it still feels like melodic death metal and you can hear that Soilwork influence coming in amidst the electronic beats which help to remind me of the now defunct (but still awesome) Sybreed. “Eyes Of A Storm 5:17” comes out pummeling, as harsh vocals break through the thumping bass riffs and dance party theatrics. Additionally, a clean vocal section (not unlike something you would hear in current-era Dillinger Escape Plan) manages to pump through and delivers a little bit of fragility and emotion amongst the melodic muscle. “Truth Taker 5:29” seems to be a little thicker in its heaviness however, with a more masculine approach to the harsh vocals balancing out with a powerful clean vocal chorus that sticks to me like glue. But the song that really hit me on this record, and the one that I’ve been humming for the past couple of weeks now is “Digital Dreamer 4:49.” It’s a more electronically charged track, but it speeds in with incredibly potent melodeath that absolutely explodes with drum fury before the chorus comes in. That’s the same one I’ve had stuck in my head for a few days now. There’s one specific piece in the chorus that really sticks out to me the most though, and that’s “this is the age of overload” which maybe I’m taking out of context just a bit, I’m not sure – but to me, that makes me think that many of the issues we face mentally as humans, which appear as depressions and other sorts of imbalances could be a product of this age itself. Compared to other ages in history, ours is extremely complex and it’s very possible that our brains could literally be experiencing a form of “digital overload” and the side effects of this overload may show up in factors like depression or other mental quirks that we’ve all since developed in the last few decades. This is just a theory to me, but it’s what I feel the song represents. As the record continues, we are exposed to even more mixtures of melodic death metal, electronics and even orchestral fare at some points; which are fronted by familiar notions of clean and harsh vocal balance. The album is finely crafted and manages to remain both incredibly catchy and drastically heavy at the same time. I don’t know how some people will react to the electronics and dance-beats here, but if they can’t handle it, then perhaps it’s time to leave the dance floor. the listener should already be aware of what they’re getting here, and I take absolutely no issue with dance beats being thrown into my metal, as I like both genres equally and I feel that this melding has been done proper. To many, this might sound like a guilty pleasure album for me, and in many ways it is. It’s the kind of record that most manly mighty men wouldn’t tell other manly mighty men that they enjoyed, even though it’s rather quite enjoyable. There’s no doubt that a great deal of modernism was put into this record, but it honestly sounds a hell of a lot better than the stale plate of apples that Soilwork offered a few years back. Also, I guess it helps that I’m a big fan of Sybreed and Machinae Supremacy, which I’m sensing quite a bit on this record. Say what you want about electro-metal, but I’m hoping to hear more approaches like this from bands in the future. Vices.Virtues.Visions is without a doubt, electro-metal done right.
(11 Tracks, 63:00)
Torche – Restarter (2015) – Now that Floor’s back together, what’s going on with Torche? Well, if you like the sound of forward thinking post metal then you already know the answer to it… and to be honest, I’m completely reminded of the Floor album I heard last year. But you know what? I can deal with that. Because I know that there are people who’ve been fans of Torche and Floor and they just want to hear more of this kind of music. I can’t say that I blame them either, because there’s something about this experimental approach to post and doom that we’re just not used to hearing. Listen to the end of “Annihilation Affair 4:26” for example. Not the whole thing, just the last few minutes of it. To most people, that’s just going to sound like a bunch of noise. But to me, I see it as innovation. What might sound like to others as a bunch of guitar scratches, to me sounds like something new and different than we’d expect to hear from this kind of music. Perhaps I’m a fan of noise and that factors in a little bit, but I think it’s just the fact that these guys make a memorable style of post metal and I’m taking notice. The vocals are almost calming in a sense and they mix in perfectly with the torrents of massive grooves that make up this performance. It’s not for everyone, but I can definitely tell you that it’s for me and this “wall of noise” sound to others, is something that you just have to feel for yourself. If you get it, you get it. And then you’ll feel it. It’ll almost feel like a meditation, like a more lively uttering of drone and you’ll be taken away to a higher level of awareness, a higher level of thinking as you’re transported henceforth into the music itself. What’s more, is that you don’t already need to be under the influence of any sort of substance beforehand. It helps to come into pieces like “Minions 4:52” with a clear head as you drift off, rather than being on God knows what and having some sort of unexpected bad trip. The songs do change tempo quite a bit however, so don’t expect one long and thunderous drone all of the way to the exit, as you’ll have to accustom yourself to several different approaches to a very familiar style of metal music. But I don’t think that it should sound all the same and I’m sure that Torche have done albums in that vein or similar before. Obviously, it’s called Restarter which means that they wanted to do something a little different here, perhaps in the same style, but not similar to Floor. There’s not much sense in making the same kind of music that you’ve already made with another band, which is definitely what Restarter sounds like to me. If you’re a fan of Torche, Floor and others in this vein, then I’m sure you’ll be buying this record regardless of this review as you should. It’s worth hearing and manages to spice up the genre a little, which is what these guys seem to do best. Torche manages to bring us a familiar sound, while keeping it innovative and fresh. I don’t think that anyone’s going to be upset with Restarter and its ultimately a solid effort.
(10 Tracks, 39:00)
Sewer Goddess – Painlust (2015) – Boston’s Sewer Goddess are backed with a full-fledged band and a brand new (albeit short) effort in Painlust. The opening of the record begins with heavy electronics and inhuman scowls, as “My Grave 4:14” comes in to turn the Skinny Puppy formula on its head. There’s also the added element of guitar which makes this an industrial/doom record, as I’m hearing literal doom riffs in addition to a rather pained female vocal, which comes from the band’s frontwoman Kristen Rose. “Flog 5:43” distorts her vocals even further, making it seem as those she’s been fused with a machine that’s one the wane. It almost sounds like a sort of demonic machine, if such a thing can even be emulated, and combined with the threatening torrents of doom, things just seem to sound even more terrifying. They say that hell has no fury like a woman scorned and Kristen certainly sounds like a demoness of sorts here, like some sort of evil cybermancer in command of a horde of rampaging cyber demon things, probably like the kind you’d see in Doom. “Black Heart and Bones 4:32” continues to pound the doom whilst the machine keeps sputtering forward, as it slightly hisses, whirrs and seems to teleport the entire act into another realm completely. Then we have “Get The Rope 4:42” which seems to rely more on slow-paced drumming, voice clips and an odd sort of melodic humming. The disc ends with “Helena’s Mask 4:43” which brings back the guitar-driven doom elements and some rather horrific screams, amidst electronics and moans. It’s truly a sight to behold, and solidifies the act as a definite contender in this genre. I think there’s something here for both fans of metal and industrial, but be advised that there are also some very untoward soundscapes here that might affect you in ways that you do not expect. Regardless of all that, this record truly seems to deserve its title and Sewer Goddess sounds exactly as you might expect them to. If this sounds like something you would be willing to check out, then please give it a listen and support this small act. There’s definitely something here and I feel that we’re just getting a small sample of what Kristen Rose and the rest of the crew have to offer the masses. It’s a screaming, industrial doom baby that utterly demands your attention.
(6 Tracks, 28:00)
The Black Goat Uprising – Medusa (2015) – In all actuality, Medusa is the soundtrack for a horror film that never got made. I have no earthly idea why it didn’t and I’d of course have been curious as to what it was about. I actually have several “million dollar” ideas for horror films, having been a connoisseur of them over the years, and so far not one of my ideas have been adapted yet, which I guess is a good thing. Being a writer of horror just as much as science fiction or fantasy, I definitely know what it takes to chill the bones and some of the selections on Medusa manage to do just that. “Home 6:51” in particular stuck out to me the most and though it starts with a familiar dark ambient approach, the track becomes increasingly eerie as a creepy offering of light piano and a sort of demonic screeching emanates from the background. It’s quite good and makes me think of what could have been. Unfortunately, “Awakening 5:47” seems completely out of place for a film and it just doesn’t belong. It’s a normal power-electronics offering, which doesn’t come off as frightening to me. “Air 6:07” manages a dark landscape with a little bit of droning guitar, while “Eternal 5:43” sounds like something I might find in one of those metaphysical films. It sounds less like horror and more like I’m floating through the universe. “Descent 8:05” has an alien vibe, while “Isolation 9:41” seems to carry a great deal of static along with it, as well as a voice clip or two. “800 4:35” sounds like more spatial atmosphere, complete with voice-clips that sound like they’re from communicators on Earth’s surface, reaching out to astronauts on the moon. “Rise 5:11” sounds like music from the future, making me think that this film must have been some sort of sci-fi thriller (with the exception of “Home” of course, which is the sound of true horror) as “Reternal 2:43” seems to continue the universal meanderings of “Eternal.” The disc ends with “Avenger 7:50” which more or less remains in the field of power electronics, minus a few interesting bursts of mist and more voice-samples. I keep wondering to myself, “What kind of film was this exactly?” as very little of this seems to add up, and if it did, well then it would be as multifaceted as one of my novels. I’m still trying to figure out where “Home” goes in all this, because it’s the only track in the recording which seems completely out of place and can be taken entirely out of the context as a standalone track. That’s something rather bizarre and unexpected, though it’s the kind of fluke that I find truly noteworthy among the other tracks on this release. I keep coming back to David Lynch when I think about what sort of movie this was going to be, but by what I’ve heard from its creator (Johnny Psycho) it seems that it was intended to be an almost 1984 of sorts. But then what would the astral passages be? Is this where there’s talk about ascendance? The only thing that “Eternal” and “Reternal” say to me, is that we’re eternal beings and constantly return for another cycle, despite all of the horror in society that has become a constant. The whole atmosphere appears steely, and that seems to go hand in hand with what really might have been a sort of post-apocalyptic dictatorship type film, even though those are strangely popular with the youth right now in the form of The Hunger Games, Divergent and The Giver. Once again, it makes me wonder as to why exactly these films and this imagery is being attached to our minds and it might be a sort of programming in of itself. So was Johnny’s film one to break the mold? Was there a deeper understanding lodged in the confines of the film? Or am I just connecting the dots too much? A friend got onto me about that, telling me “to not connect the dots” on films like Demolition Man and Escape From LA. Apparently I’m just supposed to take them as mere films and leave it at that. But I guess that I’m cursed to not really take anything at face value and I guess it’s made me a bit nutty in that regard. At any rate, I guess I would’ve liked to see the film accompaniment more for this soundtrack, which only sounds decent as a whole. Maybe in some other worldline, in another multiverse or something, the film got made and perhaps I’ve seen it (depending on which worldline and the kind of person I was in said worldine) and readily enjoyed it. But as for this current worldline, it appears that all we’ve got is the soundtrack and we’ll have to make do with that. It’s still worth checking out for fans of industrial/power electronics (and horror as “Home” suggests) but I guess it truly is horrible that none of these will ever get to be used in a film. Of course, he could always put them into an independently developed game. There’s a million of those being made all of the time.
(10 tracks, 62:00)