My apologies for being late, but it’s finally here! In Week 137 we’ve got newcomers Sarpanitum topping the list with a record that sounds like nothing that you’ll hear for the rest of this year, guaranteed. Below that, we’ve got progressive death metallers Barren Earth taking a turn for the more sullen of atmospheres, while still packing a punch as well as Finsterforst, which have provided easily one of the best Viking and folk metal approaches that I’ve heard in several years. There’s also a lot of solid records to be found here ranging from everyone like The Order Of Apollyon to Level 10 to Uli Jon Roth, but what really caught my eye this week in particular was a small, catchy band out of Texas by the name of Secret Of Boris. I’ve had their songs stuck in my head for days now, so they’ve cemented their place… even though I’ll admit that the Uli Jon Roth record is a huge contender as well. Additionally, I’ve got a three disc compilation based on the music of fighting games from Brazilians Megadriver. So check that out as well as everything else!
We’re in the process of changing hands right now, so things are going to be a little messy until we get everything worked out proper. I’m also going to be given an education in WordPress, which I’ve partly gotten down but I’d like to be on the same level as our exiting editor, who will now serve as a mere overseer for the website. Keep in mind that I am no stranger to building webpages as I think I handled it rather well by myself on our old blog. (www.thegrimtower.blogspot.com)
Sarpanitum – Blessed Be My Brothers (2015 Spotlight) – Ah, Sarpanitum… Some might say they’re one of metal’s best kept secrets, and even Decibel overseer Albert Mudrian has apparently been jamming them for quite a while, surely leaving readers to wonder “Who in the hell are those guys?” Well, wonder no longer as I’m about to lay some ancient knowledge down upon you as I whisper into your ears the legend of Sarpanitum. First of all, the band comes from Birmingham England and is composed of members of Mithras, Cachexic, Balor and Contrarian respectively. Their style seems to be a heavily melodic form of death metal, which also incorporates a staggering amount of technicality and musicianship into the mix. I’m not sure if it’s Tom Hyde or Tom Innocenti that’s providing the majority of these killer leads, but one of the two of them definitely needs an award for the tremendous amount of work that’s been put into this masterpiece of an album. Blessed Be My Brothers isn’t all that long of an album, but I feel that it’s just as long as it needs to be and offers a memorable performance from its very beginning, to its very end. This little review just doesn’t even scratch the surface of it. I literally want everyone who’s reading this review to stop reading it right now, and instead go over to the band’s website or whatever outlet is streaming this piece, so that you can start listening to the record immediately while reading this review. I can tell you that there’s a lot of Cryptopsy and Gorguts influence to be found here amidst all the melody, but that doesn’t really do the kind of justice to this album that listening to it will do. You need to know that what I am saying is not just hype speak and that this record literally is as fucking good as I’m saying it is here in this review. To be honest, it doesn’t really take a lot of words to describe this album, because it cements itself from the first listen and starts flowing right into your bloodstream instantly. There is a slight little break in “Immortalized As Golden Spires 2:13” as well as “Homeland 2:49” but even considering those as well as the intro “Komeno 2:56” there’s still enough of a death metal experience to be had – and as far as soundscapes are concerned, these light pieces are quite good. Even though I’m rather quite sure that most death metal fans will just skip over them and consider them useless. So if we cut the fat, Blessed Be My Brothers offers up thirty-three minutes of hard-hitting and somewhat beautiful technical brutal death metal (with some of the most breathtaking solos I’ve ever heard in my life) action. Being that this is the band’s second album (and yes, their debut Despoilment Of Origin received a whopping 93% on MA) it’s definitely a good sign of things to come and in no way a sophomore slump. I literally cannot find one single thing wrong with this album and would consider it an absolute must for nearly every metal fan on the planet. The world has yet to witness the full power of Sarpanitum and this feels like a minor quarter of what they truly have to offer. If you haven’t experienced the legend yet, then there’s simply no better time than now.
(10 Tracks, 41:00)
Gnaw Their Tongues – Collected Atrocities (2005 – 2008) (2015) – Prepare yourself to enter into a world of industrially grim darkness and monolithic hatred; because that’s exactly what you’ll get with the unwelcome noise vomiting forth from this collection of one of industrial’s greatest acts. Now when I say industrial, I’m not referring to the “untz untz” movement, as these guys are definitely engrained in the more uncomfortable and atmospheric side of the sound, much like you would remember from some of the acts I’ve reviewed for Malignant records. You will undoubtedly expect thundering drones, furious torrents of static and frantic screaming that doesn’t even sound human. As much as I love the music of Theologian, Gnaw Their Tongues definitely has more of that Hellraiser vibe and you’ll almost be able to feel the industrial torture that lies within the confines of this chamber of horrors. There are even some black metal sections on a few tracks, something that you might not expect for this over two hours of harsh, nail biting material. Sometimes the music can just consist of a light atmosphere fronted by uncontrollable screaming, literally sounding like a man who is setting all of his demons lose while recording it at the same time. There’s also a section towards the very end of “Horse Drawn Hearse 9:50” that really spoke to me. It consists of a preacher discussing the need for hell and punishment. Coming from an atmosphere this destructive, such a fire and brimstone sermon seems almost natural. It’s extremely difficult to wrap up such a lengthy listen in such a small paragraph, but I believe I’ve covered it rather well. If you’re looking for a grim and doom-laden industrial experience, definitely look no further than this compilation, which shows the band doing what they do best – scaring the living shit out of you. You’ve been forewarned.
(15 Tracks, 2.2 Hours)
Level 10 – Chapter 1 (2015) – Level 10 play a brand of melodic heavy metal that has plenty of punch along with a powerful vocal affront that you’ll be remembering just as much as the leads. It’s one of those kind of straight-forward Christian heavy metal acts in the vein of Stryper, but I think these guys pack a little more firepower and it remains to see as to how they’ll evolve in the future. When I said punchy, I meant punchy – there are some definite thumping grooves whirring in and out of the piece, which seem to accent the frontman’s powerful vocal antics perfectly. As for that frontman, he’s a gentleman by the name of Russel Allen who oddly enough reminds me a lot of Adrenaline Mob and Symphony X’s Russel Allen, which you’ll notice almost instantly… but that’s probably due to the fact that we’re talking about the same guy. (Yes, I’ve got jokes.) But Level 10 is not a symphonic progressive metal band like Symphony X and keep the vibe closer to a mix of rock and metal. As a matter of fact, when I first heard the album’s opener “Cry No More 4:34” I was almost reminded of the intro theme “Open Your Heart” for the first Sonic Adventure game. The riff melodies were extremely similar and took me aback a little. The funny thing is, if these guys covered it they would be able to make it sound much better than whatever band Sonic Team hired for that track. But just because they sound similar to a track used in the intro of a popular video game, that doesn’t mean you should run away from them. Hell, most of you are probably why we’re covering Christian metal on a site like The Grim Tower in the first place. Surely we’re supposed to only be promoting the heaviest, most horrific and Christ-bashing stuff there is… right? Well, actually I always pick to review what catches my ear, regardless of the topic at hand. If this man wants to sing about Christ’s return in “No Turning Back 4:15” and the band can truly make it rock, then I’m not going to fault them. My job is to review the records that I either enjoy or am commissioned to and this album to me is certainly one of those I can readily recall among the wave of releases that I get every month. Chapter One is extremely catchy, chock-full of welcome melodies and power-packed with the sort of vocal prowess that just makes me want to sing along. There’s seldom a cut on this record that doesn’t elicit a humming, a headbanging or a sing-along session and it’s got those nice little rock n’ roll solos sandwiched in most of the songs that make you a believer instantly. Level 10 isn’t here to change the face of rock and metal music; rather, they’ve crafted a simple heavy metal and rock record that simply rocks. Say what you want about an approach like this, but it’s still much better than virtually any of the nuanced rock that you’ll hear on the radio. I dare you to prove me wrong.
(12 Tracks, 55:00)
Megadriver – Double K.O. (2015) – I’ve been a fan of Brazil’s Megadriver for years, even though many of you might not have ever heard of them. But that’s okay, because VG metal acts aren’t exactly for everyone (even though I’ve always enjoyed them). This three disc set is focused on fighting games and in particular Capcom’s Street Fighter series (Disc One) and SNK’s King Of Fighters (Disc Two) as well as other fighting games on an additional EP called Keep Fighting.
The first disc is Shoryuken and contains several different themes from the Street Fighter series. It opens up with a metalized version of the game’s title theme, followed by an original called “Born To Be Master 3:15” which has the right idea, but I still don’t feel the vocals are up to par. Nino has gotten much better at playing guitar in recent years, but ever since they’ve added vocals I haven’t cared all that much for them. I don’t mind vocals in these songs, but I just have never been able to get into the frontman’s approach. Allan Big Thunder does seem to be getting a little better though and you’ll see how he’s trying to approach the Rob Halford style in a few areas. But the meat of this disc lies in its musical compositions, which do much more than emulate the originals and offer up some amazingly worthwhile solos and other slight bells and whistles. For instance, Blanka’s theme starts off like Sepultura’s “Roots Bloody Roots.” Then you have some rather great interpretations of Adon’s theme (I’ve heard this used in fan games before, but didn’t know where it was from) which matches its counterpart perfectly. Ryu’s theme is also done rather well, as is Ken’s, which is so great that I’d like to throw some harsh vocal on there and release it as a promotion for the album. I don’t know why they chose to re-record this theme, but it sounds even better than the version they released a few years ago. And yeah, I used to use that track for vocal practice. I definitely jammed this new cut out a few times after I first heard it, as I was quite impressed and it’s always been my favorite theme from the series, overall. But you’ll also hear renditions of Guile’s theme, as well as Vega, Bison, Akuma and even Strider. Now I didn’t expect them to cover Strider since he’s not really a Street Fighter character, but it’s one that Nino’s had sitting around for years now (I’ve still got the old crusty versions on burned CD-R’s and maybe sitting around in digital format on my old HD somewhere) and I guess he felt it needed to be properly recorded. The disc ends with one of my favorite themes in fighting game history, which is Captain America’s theme from the original Marvel Vs. Capcom. Once again, not a Street Fighter character, but I won’t fault them for covering this extremely melodic powerhouse.
Disc two are themes that I’m not as familiar with, but definitely found myself enjoying a hell of a lot more than I expected. Not being very familiar with King Of Fighters, the Orochi disc was definitely a surprise. There’s an original called “Hurricane 4:24” which sounds like a cross between Maiden and Priest and that’s not a bad thing by any means. Allan Big Thunder is still trying his best, but he’s admittedly hard to hear. Orochi’s theme comes off well, as well as the Ikari Warriors theme (which is admittedly badass) and the Japan team theme among others. All in all, seven of the fourteen tracks here really caught my eye and that’s one more than on the Shoryuken disc.
The third disc, Keep Fighting is probably the least interesting of the three and features some hit or miss cuts from various fighting games in which the movie theme for Mortal Kombat was referenced, as well as some lesser known themes for Eternal Champions and Fighting Masters. “The Edge Of Soul 4:07” also appears here as an original and it features arguably the best performance from Allan Big Thunder out of the compilation. There’s also a Ninja Turtle medley here, which is rather horrible, to be honest. It just seems like something they did for fun though, so I won’t really count it against them. The band actually recorded the NES introduction for the series years ago and I was kind of hoping they would do that rather than the 80’s cartoon show theme, which just didn’t work all that well. But you can tell that just from listening to it. All in all, these three discs show Megadriver at an absolute high point and they seem to be getting better with every new release. But I know for certain that Nino recorded several Castlevania compositions in the past, and well… it would really be a shame not to do anything with them right? I definitely think it’s time for a Castlevania themed record, especially one that captures those Megadrive exclusive Bloodlines moments. Saberwulf’s theme had the right idea, but it only shows me what kind of Nocturnal neoclassical compositions that the band have been capable of for years now. It’s definitely time to unleash the vampire lord onto an unsuspecting horde of metalheads. Definitely check out these awesome recordings free at Megadriver’s website. You can also but the record if you want to support the band and get some high quality versions of all the tracks as well.
(36 Tracks, 116:00)
The Answer – Raise A Little Hell (2015) – Compared to the band’s previous record, Raise A Little Hell feels a little different in terms of style and structure. But that’s because it’s more in tune with the days of classic rock, recalling legends like ACDC, Poison, Jimi Hendrix and Aerosmith among others. The last record seemed to take more of a Soundgarden approach, which still appears in a few spots here, but for the most part you’re getting a straight up rock record that sounds just as memorable as the classics that inspired it. It really says a lot for an album when the very first cut catches you, but that’s just what I get from the start with “Long Live The Renegades 4:25.” In this day and age of singles being downloaded and the rest of the album being forgotten, it’s good to hear a record that actually wants you to listen to the whole damn thing. Tracks like “Last Days Of Summer 5:45” throw in that hippie jam vibe, while “Red 3:31” brings in the blues. Ultimately, the record is full of powerful moments from beginning to end, whether that be the more emotional “The Other Side 4:28” or the thunderous rock that makes up the title cut, there’s no doubt in my mind that Raise A Little Hell does just that. There’s a lot of new rock albums out there where the frontman whines about being oppressed and the band play simplistic downtuned riffs in order to appeal to an alternative rock crowd. But The Answer still proves that they indeed do have the answer to all of this ridiculous garbage rock. I liked their last album quite a bit and this one proves no different. As a matter of fact, I’m having a hard time deciding which one I like more. If you’ve got the band’s last album and want to take that test for yourself, then pick up a copy of this rockin’ CD immediately. These guys just keep getting better.
(12 Tracks, 52:00)
Finsterforst – Mach Der Frei (2015) – This is my first rendezvous with and experimental Viking metallers Finsterforst (not Finsterfrost as I’ve been calling them) and I’ve certainly got to say that I’m taken aback by the material offered here in Mach Der Frei. There’s a common Viking metal core, yet the music itself seems to veer off into several different directions, making lengthy cuts like the album’s opener “Schicksals End’ 14:49” more of a listening experience, than just a standalone verse/chorus number. Just listening to this piece alone confirms in my mind that Finsterforst have more than mere potential, and offer much more than mere promise. In simplest terms, it’s one of the most potent and vibrant folk metal tracks that I’ve ever heard and it sounds like they’ve encapsulated an entire epic’s worth of material into a one single piece. After that, we have the furious thunder of “Zeit Fur Hass 9:44” and the melodic majesty of the album’s title cut. I think that fans of Borknagar and Heidevolk will certainly find something to like in this monolithic folk metal piece, which even includes a light period of instrumental reflection, like something one might expect from a progressive rock band. But you won’t be able to deny that it works and far better than you’d ever imagined. “Reise Zum… 5:33” slows things down a little for a more metaphysical experience, as the album’s closer and band moniker “23:54” give us nearly twenty minutes of incredible instrumentation and cements itself as one of the most progressive folk metal offerings I’ve ever heard. This is even better than material I’ve heard from larger bands like Borknagar, Enslaved and Tyr, making Finsterforst a literal force to be reckoned with. I’m not the biggest fan of this kind of Viking folk metal, but I’ve certainly enjoyed every offering on this release and I truly hope to hear more in the future. I’m not even sure if they’ll be able to top this seemingly grandiose performance, and it very well might be true that Mach Der Frei is my personal favorite folk metal album of the year. That remains to be seen, but for now it’s safe to say that fans of Viking and folk metal absolutely cannot go wrong with this masterpiece.
(8 Tracks, 73:00)
Secret Of Boris – Your Ghost (2015) – Secret Of Boris are a catchy electronic rock band out of Texas, and boy have they got potential. They’ve got the crunch of modern rock bands like Breaking Benjamin and Chevelle, yet they’ve also got some heavier sections in addition to the electronics that you’ll hear sputtering throughout the record. Ryan Byrd showcases himself as a powerful guitarist as he even manages to throw some nice solos on top of his memorable lead melodies and that works well with Ryan Ragus’s bass licks and the pounding that emanates forth from Ryan Arthur’s kit. Noticed something yet? Well, just in case you’re blind, these three Ryan’s really get together and kick some ass. Fronting them is Cameron Taylor who commands a glassy vocal approach with a side of whiskey as well as little bit of harsh vocal utterances and even a growl or two. But don’t be mistaken, because these guys are a hard rock act and not a metal one. Yet that’s okay, because they’re a damned good rock act and if you can’t tell that by the catchy compositions, then you can certainly hear it within the structures of the songs themselves. Your Ghost is a catchy record, but it’s not the kind of catchy record where every song feels like you’ve already heard it before it. I’m a little reminded of the radio rock of my teenage years, but there’s something more to this record that you might not gleam from the surface. It’s got spirit, it’s got passion and it doesn’t sound like a band trying to emulate anyone else. It’s also one of those kinds of records that I’ve listened to so many times that I don’t mind the earworms crawling through the concaves of my brain. I’d much rather have sections of tracks like “Vivus”, “Lost In A Daze”, “The Difference” or “The Watcher.” stuck in my head than anything from Fall Out Boy or some other talentless hack of a rapper. Your Ghost is a catchy album that also has substance and that’s a rarity these days. If you like hard rock music and you want to hear something that sounds like a little more than what the modern rock stations are offering, then give Secret Of Boris a shot. If there’s any secret that I can discern from Boris, it’s that these guys definitely do not suck! Listen to them right now and that point will surely prove itself.
(12 Tracks, 46:00)
Barren Earth – On Lonely Towers (2015) – Progressive death metallers Barren Earth never cease to amaze me and their latest album, On Lonely Towers is anything but lonely. Those of you wishing that Opeth would go back to this mixture of explosive death metal and potent prog need look no further than this record and furthermore, this band, for a replacement. It’s safe to say that they’ve not only managed to emulate the traditional progressive death metal style that Opeth helped to create, but that they’ve also put their own unique spin on it, making it even fiercer in some ways as well as more atmospheric. So really, you’re getting the best of both worlds with this one as “Howl 5:40” opens up with a very familiar style of melodic riffing, which eventually rolls into clean vocals as it heads further into a furious torrent of death metal. The style here is much faster than anything Opeth ever utilized in their golden era, yet it brings in the solo and clean vocal choruses in just the same way that you’d expect from the aforementioned. “Frozen Processions 4:52” changes things up a bit to allow more clean vocal influence as it totally melds progressive melodies and keyboards with much heavier sections, almost bringing in a Steven Wilson sort of vibe. To be honest, there’s definitely more of a classic progressive rock sound being utilized here than I’ve ever heard on any Opeth album, which definitely sets these guys apart from that which influenced them. Violins make an appearance on “A Shapeless Derelict 7:33” which marks the first of the album’s six lengthier tracks, which go on anywhere from a seven minutes dirges to eleven minute epics. As for this track in particular, it seems to add more doom and opera elements as well as thick growls and the background influence of a violin. I’m definitely thinking that Swallow The Sun and Saturnus could’ve influenced this piece and it’s good to hear that kind of unexpected style creeping its way out from beneath its hoary crypt. Proggy keyboards eventually come into lighten the dark crypt a bit, but the song still remains it’s doomy operatic vibe. “Set Alight 7:27” also welcomes slower dirges, and keyboard theatrics which ultimately shows a band who can match the skill of darker acts like Hooded Menace and then turn the whole damn thing into a King Crimson freakshow. Surprisingly, many of the tracks from this point on seem to mirror this same territory, but still manage to contain enough musical muscularity (as well as some truly captivating and monumental solos) to not seem like complete retreads. Eventually “Chaos The Songs Within 7:45” rushes into one of the album’s most crushingly potent sections as it literally threatens to bash your head in, which is a welcome thought for death metal and one that I am glad to see is still intact here. For in all of the prog that they fiddle around with on the album, it’s nice to see that there are still sledgehammering sections of pure death metal and hopefully that side of the band won’t fade away in years to come. The final piece on the record is a little different than you might expect however, but “The Vault 11:07” really puts the cap on tightly with its definite nods to several aforementioned melodic death/doom acts and throws in a little bit of Pink Floyd in there as well, which no one should be complaining about, as it’s the first time I’ve heard doom/death and Pink Floyd mixed together with folk instruments on a metal record before. If anything, that’s the very definition of innovation and evolution, which is exactly what these gentlemen have achieved here. On Lonely Towers isn’t quite the kind of album that I was expecting to hear from these guys, and it’s just as depressing as the album’s title might foreshadow. But there’s still a lot of progressive kick hidden within all of that murk and that’s when I began to take notice. I don’t think that it’s caught on just yet, but I definitely think that a vast majority will consider On Lonely Towers to be one of the best death metal releases of 2015. That means that you’d better get your hands on it as soon as possible! Don’t miss out on this masterpiece of sorrow and stargazing. It’s pretty damn remarkable.
(9 Tracks, 64:00)
The Order Of Apollyon – The Sword And The Dagger (2015) – Parisian blackened death metallers The Order Of Apollyon are back with a brand new album after five years of silence. But just in case you’re unaware of these guys, they’re made up of members from Aosoth, Livarkahil, Temple Of Baal, Decline Of Sanity, Genital Grinder and many more. In fact, to call these guys veterans is a bit of an understatement and this record proves that perfectly. While The Sword And The Dagger is a death metal record at its heart, it also incorporates some rather experimental ideas that help to mold and change the overall flow and style of the album. The drummer definitely pounds the hell out of the kit, while the guitarists lay on the melodies and the frontman summons his throat demons to the very best of his abilities. But there’s a deeply ritualistic vibe here, which seems ultimately to consist of Satanism and is explored through chants and at times even full on rituals like you’d expect from Acherontas. Take the Dead Can Dance influence of “Al 3ankabout 5:13” for instance and you’ll see what I mean immediately. Maybe the sound of bells and female vocal chants might not sit well in the realms of death metal to you, but combined with black metal antics and furious vocal growls, it seems an interesting mixture that packs enough firepower to even throw off the skeptics. The bottom line here, is that The Sword And The Dagger successfully blends the ferocious sound of thundering death metal together with the frost-bitten essence of black metal, while at the same time mixing in several ritualistic elements that almost seem alien to the performance as a whole, even though we have heard other bands implement these ideas in the past. Perhaps they’ve still got some exploring to do within their style, but it’s safe to say that The Sword And The Dagger is definitely a step in the right direction and I think that most fans of black and death metal mixtures will find it to be pretty solid. Compared to the band’s almost mediocre MA score of 66% for their previous album The Flesh, let’s hope that some of the rather strict reviewers over there will decide to bump this one up by at least ten or twenty points. It’s obvious that a lot of hard work and effort went into the recording and that’s easily noticeable from the start. If you’re up for giving these guys another shot, then definitely pick up The Sword And The Dagger as you might find yourself quite impressed. Hopefully, anyway.
(11 Tracks, 46:00)
Uli Jon Roth – Scorpions Revisited (2015) – Uli Jon Roth, who served as the Scorpions guitarist from (1974-1978) has decided to return to his roots with this two disc Scorpions Revisited collection. Both he and vocalist Nathan James prove to be a wonderful team, combined with the strength of all of the other musicians on the record which amount to an unstoppable force that completely blow me away with the first hour of the compilation. Here, some of the Scorpions more dynamic tracks are featured and they elicit a great deal of experimentation into prog and other realms that I didn’t even know that the Scorpions ever ventured into. They also cement the sixty-year-old guitarist as without a doubt, one of rock’s biggest and most important legends. He sounds absolutely incredible at his age, making for a record that doesn’t even sound like it came from this generation. But that in itself is a good thing, because I feel that this generation really needs to make contact with these classics as they finally experience what rock music is supposed to be. From “The Sails Of Charon 9:10” powerful compositions all of the way up to the closer “Dark Lady 8:36” there’s much to found and discovered within this recording. Even the groovier tracks like “Virgin Killer 4:06” have that same sort of blues influence which helped to influence acts like Dio and Sabbath. The roots of heavy metal itself can definitely be found within this album, which definitely means that it is an absolute necessity for the heavy metal fan and rocker alike. Now as we get to the second disc, I find I (personally) am not too wavered by it, for it seems to elicit a more poppy style that I don’t find all that enjoyable. That’s not to say that Uli Jon Roth’s riff melodies are no longer as potent as on the first explosive record, but it just doesn’t seem to attach to me quite as well. There are still strong songs to be found here, like “We’ll Burn The Sky 8:50” and closer “Fly To The Rainbow 12:00” but I could really do without hearing “Hell Cat 3:07” again in my life. All in all, it’s a rather solid compilation that shows the man doing what he does best and it definitely opened my eyes to a band that I really didn’t know all that much about. It served as both a history lesson and a good time, which are two words that you seldom hear in the same sentence. Without a doubt, Scorpions Revisited is one musical lecture in the world of rock history that won’t have you falling asleep in class.
(19 Tracks, 109:00)