Tuesday, 26 April 2011

#045 Cruachan - Blood on the Black Robe

This was another album I was looking forward to greatly. Judging by the fact that, despite pre-ordering it, it was still sold out before I could get one, a lot of other people were somewhat excited too. Upon listening, there is good reason for this. This album is like a transformation, a "leveling-up" of Cruachan. No longer the accessible, duet vocal folk work, with a black metal influence occasionally poking it's head round the door. In this album, the black metal influence came straight through the door, poured itself a whiskey, and made itself comfortable. And damn does it sound good.

The album wisps in, as if on a breeze, with a short instrumental, but then bursts into black metal life, with the foot-stomping, anthemic "I am Warrior". This seems one of the albums greatest strengths, with the sheer strength of black metal merging excellently with the catchy, storytelling nature of Irish folk music. The album becomes progressively heavier, as the journey continues, with raw tracks such as "Pagan Hate" and "Primeval Odium" being unrivaled in Cruachans catalogue by anything, in terms of sheer heaviness. This album certainly has the most blast beats, and other staple black metal features than essentially anything they have done before. In Cruachan's traditional style, an earlier track is re-done on this record - In this case "Brian Boru's March" which is a somewhat heavier re-working of the earlier "Brian Boru" from the bands debut "Tuatha Na Gael".

This is definitely very different to Cruachans "middle-era" releases, such a "Pagan". Mostly gone are the female vocals, and many of the melodic vocals all-together, replaced by the, until this album, underused black metal vocals of frontman Keith Fay,  which contribute greatly to the albums heaviness. The album feels to me like the spiritual successor to their debut, "Tuatha Na Gael" which is their only album other than this one to swing so far onto the black side of the bands black-metal/folk composite sound, which gives the impression, backed-up by the band itself, that Cruachan are going back to their roots, and they are sounding all the better for it. The musicianship is the best the band have exhibited in a long time, especially the drums, which are faster, more intricate, and tighter than I have heard them ever before.

 All in all, there is little to complain about in this album. Those who preferred Cruachan's more mainstream sound, of course, will not be too happy, but those who have always preferred their black-metal edge will be delighted, as this is the heaviest, blackest album they have ever produced, and yet is still excellently retains their folk influence.

This album is 8/10. It met, and exceeded, my expectations.

Cruachan on Myspace
Cruachan official site

Saturday, 23 April 2011

#044 Enslaved - Below the Lights

Enslaved have a fairly extensive and varied back-catalogue of material. "Below the Lights" is vaguely mid-career, an album of Progressive-black-metal, but not, as some of their earlier material, particularly viking metal, although that influence is still definitely detectable in their sound. I've not (yet) listened to every enslaved album, which, admittedly, would be quite a task, but below the lights is certainly the album which reeled me in and made me fall in love with their music.

Enslaved create an album brimming with atmosphere, in a way which soaks through into every little movement of the album. It is an atmosphere which flows, but is like a mercenary, with a different direction on each track. The beautifully mournful, apocalyptic atmosphere on "As Fire Swept Clean the Earth" is one of the most beautiful songs I've ever heard, with it's huge wave of sound, which overtakes you and immerses you, like a blast wave... A wave of... Fire, sweeping clean the earth, perhaps. It is broken up by a tiny, beautiful squeal of guitar, which I cannot fully explain, but which brings tears to my eyes, especially the two, slightly longer, more elaborate parts towards the end of the song. I've never heard such a little part, recurring throughout a song, provide so much beauty.

The album is very varied, with a lot of different black metal, and progressive things going on throughout it, most of which is used very effectively to evoke a strong atmosphere. "Havenless" for example, has a nordic chant for an intro which is immensely powerful; As soon as I hear it, I'm practically standing at the prow of a longship, gliding over some deep blue Nordic sea, and in that context, the viking-metal roots very much remain close to Enslaved's heart. The progressive tinge to the album is complimentative, as opposed to the effect it has on some bands. The synth work, especially, works well in tandem with Enslaved's black-metal core. The acoustic-sounding material, in songs such as "The Crossing" also work extremely well, and the bands musicianship as a whole is top-notch.

It took me a while to get into this album, as the songs are heafty, progressive, and complex. While it is still far from conventional black-metal, Enslaved's earlier material, such as "Vikingligr Veldi" was much easier for me to get into, and thus, I'd perhaps not recommend "Below the Lights" as an introduction to Enslaved, although it was mine, and thoroughly drew me in, albeit after I'd spent a while waiting for the moment, and for the courage to listen to it properly.

Below the Lights is easily worthy of an 8/10 rating.

Enslaved on Myspace

Wednesday, 20 April 2011

#043 Silent Lapse - Birthright

One of the benefits of running out of money for CD's is that I end up looking for bands which give away their material for free,which, as you have no doubt noticed, many of the recent reviews have been. If you look, you can find some excellent material, and many of the bands I have discovered have been rather enjoyable to listen to. Silent Lapse, I'm glad to say, were among the pleasing ones. Being progressive, they we're a bit difficult to get into, first listen, but they grew on me, as they seem quite unique, and are musically tight.

Silent lapse appear to be doing quite well for themselves, judging by the number of results I found on google. Listening to their music, I can understand why. The band have sophisticated style, only natural for progressive metal, however, they achieve a high level of musicianship and depth without sacrificing the soul of their sound; The music is still evocative, and thoroughly organic. Songs like "Reach" jump out at you with a sort-of soaring majesty, and the feeling it evokes matches it's title very nicely. The musical parts match up well, and the band sounds very cohesive, which the production also compliments excellently. It's a versatile album too, with a bit of everything. Plenty of softer parts, such as the beginning of "Solitude" in contrast with other, heavier parts. Overall, however, the album has quite a mellow, floaty feeling in it's wake,with nothing which truly roars at the listener, although there is a lot in the mid-range in terms of heaviness.

The songs on the album are immensely varied, with everything from hugely progressive, floaty keyboard pieces, and some more traditional sounding, hard-rock like pieces. This variety, however, all seems to "fit" into the bands sound, with  everything seeming quite in-place, nothing coming as a sonic surprise. As such, this debut is a very solid one, and would suggest that the band are well aware of their direction, a direction is a bouquet full of styles. The album has everything from small instrumentals, to an soulful 10-minuet epic, something which, frankly, no band should be without. This album is certainly very well-rounded and pleasing on the ears.

The vocals are immensely accomplished, but, nonetheless, sound a little bit like a large percentage of all of the mainstream bands out there at the moment. Silent Lapse, however, manage them with a lot more style, and puts the vocal style in a musical vehicle where it can be truly enjoyed.

I give the album a solid 8/10.

Silent Lapse Official Site (They offer up the album for download here)

Monday, 18 April 2011

A Thankyou

When I started doing reviews, One of the first bands I reviewed was an unsigned American Thrash/Power metal band, by the name of Krystos. They were, in fact, the first band to which I gave a 10/10 rating, and deservedly so, as they were, and continue to be, exactly what I love about metal. The band themselves, not long after I had written it, discovered the review, and, since then, Vocalist and Lead-guitar, Billy Thornock, has sent me a signed copy of their debut album "Walk through the Inferno". I'm delighted to own such a fine album, and my compliments and deepest thanks go to Billy, and the rest of the band, for their genorosity. As I stated at the time, the album is excellent, and I still recommend it to anyone.

My profound thanks to Billy, and the rest of the band. 

Sunday, 17 April 2011

#042 Venom - Resurrection

Forever unsung-heroes of the NWOBHM, Venom have had their ups and downs over the three decades they have existed. "Resurrection" certainly represents a high point, with the original lineup, and some superb songs, announcing a relentless return to form for the band, in a very thrashy style, which they themselves had helped to pioneer some twenty years before.

Resurrection doesn't sound much like the the Venom of old. Neither, for that matter, does it sound like the albums which the band have released since. The production, for one thing, is incredibly crisp compared to Venom's norm, which adds a different dimension to the music, making it sharper and angrier. The technical abilities of the band seem also to have increased with age, as all the musicians seem to outperform their previous selves. The guitar work is very impressive, with excellent crunchy riffage, and the most well-placed pinch harmonics I've heard, possibly ever, as well as very solid solos. The song structures, while not groundbreaking, are quite different to Venom's older material, which adds a degree of character and uniqueness to the album. It's certainly not just "More of the same", and for a fourteen-track album, there is substantially less filler than might be expected.

The vocals, too, are quite different. While, of course, they are performed in typical Venom style, in many places they seem much more tuneful than usual, such as in "Leviathan", which has some ridiculously catchy, melodic sounding lines, which are among the best on the album. The drumming, the essential third member of Venom's "Power trio" of musicians, are also good, far better than in the bands early material. The sound suggests that the drummer has taken in a lot of influence since the early days, and the drum-work sounds very modern, with a lot of double-kick work, which is often simple, but extremely effective, with a lot of energy, and at some points, ridiculously high tempos, which makes the band sound youthful, despite their, at the time, twenty-years of existence.

The songs on the album may all be short and to the point, and not the most varied songs ever - They all follow a similar style, but they also share a certain anthemic quality, which will have them stuck in your head for days at a time. I'd go as far as saying that this is one of my favourite Venom albums ever, It's fiercely modern, but it's also unapologetically Venom.

This album is easily an 8/10.

Venom official site
Venom on Myspace

Saturday, 16 April 2011

#041 Akelei - De Zwaarte van het Doorstane

Ooooh, Pretty colours! Thought I, as I gazed upon the cover of this album, so generously given away for download by the band for free. In this case, far from warning of a venomous sting, pretty colours entice, and the music is brilliant too. Convoluted, surreal opening sentences aside, Akelei are a Dutch atmospheric doom-metal band, and their debut, De Zwaarte van het Doorstane, is one of my favourite discoveries of the recent few weeks.

"Akelei" Google-translate tells me, means "Columbine" which has some pretty dark connotations. "De Zwaarte van het Doorstane" means "The Gravity of the Weathered" which is quite awesome, in an interestingly translated way. They vocals themselves, and song-titles, are all in Dutch, as far as I can tell, which means they could be about more-or-less anything. Whatever the lyrical themes, the vocals are truly beautiful, with a melancholic and echoey feel. They're almost like classical vocals, in their style, and beauty, especially on songs such as "Duett" which features amazing female vocals working together with the male vocals. The vocals are, I must admit, among the most beautiful I've heard in metal. Ever.

Driving the vocals forward, the guitars are very evocative, and, as is doom-metal's wont, slow paced. Each chord slams into the song, as if in slow motion, and sends the listener tumbling through a gorgeous, melancholy yet uplifting soundscape. Behind this crushing rhythm guitar is some interesting, slow and even more evocative lead work, which adds the "Atmospheric" to the band's "Doom". Songs like "Verlangen" which means "Desire", are the ones which hooked me into the band. Each song feels like a journey, each one with it's own flavour and feeling, although all of them are without a doubt excellent. There are five songs on the album, each weighing in at around 9-12 minutes in length, which means they've got plenty of time to work their effect, and I found myself truly being able to think while they were playing, and to become lost in my own mind.

The songs are long. Very long, as you may have noticed. These aren't the kind of songs you can listen to for a quick musical break. Listening to them is so rewarding, but, as the track lengths dictate, takes a lot of time. It is so utterly worth it though. I'd recommend Akelei to anyone, even if they don't listen to much doom-metal, heck, even if they don't listen to much metal in general.

This album is easily 10/10.

Akelei on Bandcamp (They give away their material for free here)

Thursday, 7 April 2011

#040 Bolt Thrower - Warmaster

I've not taken many forays into death metal, which is a fact which, upon hearing Bolt-Thrower, I Immediately regretted. However, to look at it another way, Bolt-Thrower, I am told, are about as old-school as they come, and, therefore, a good place to start. Thus, I purchased and listened to "Warmaster". It was good. So very good, and I wish I'd discovered it earlier.

As I emphasised, I don't know much about what makes "Good" death-metal, and can only judge this album on what I hear. I very much enjoy what I hear. The music is quite fast, and the riffs are crushing, heavy, and tightly-played, while retaining atmosphere. The first few songs have essentially become my schemata of "what death-metal-sounds-like" and every song after that felt like a new and pleasing discovery, of something new, something good.  The drumming and guitar combine well, with powerful double kick, which infuses well with the pulsating, heavy riffage. blast beats are not absent, but they are rare, and feel like a very special treat when they do show-up, which, if I recall correctly (I no doubt don't) is only in one song on the album.

 The vocals too, are pleasing, with a harsh, but not incoherent vocal sound to which I am quite partial, and they compliment the music well. Certainly, heavier things have been made, but nothing I have listened to quite encapsulates heaviness the way this album does, which has shown to me what I can only describe as a "new" kind of heaviness. I knew of the speed of thrash, the attitude-drenched sound of groove, and the screaming, blastbeat-lunacy of black metal, but this is something unlike any of these things. I can only hope that this can explain and allow you to forgive my clumsiness in reviewing this album. On top of that, the bassist is female, which is ridiculously badass.

Overall, I feel that I couldn't have wished for a better introduction to death-metal, as this band have a little of most of the aspects; Brutality and heaviness, but also is very technically skilled, with riffs that soar, as opposed to stumbling along the ground. I can't think of many criticisms, especially for an excellent band, from a genre I know little about, so I shall not make any.

I give this album 9/10. Death-metal addiction may follow.


Tuesday, 5 April 2011

#039 Hangman - The Gallows

The number of metal bands, when juxtaposed with the small population of Finland, could quite easily lead to the impression that evereone in Finland is a metalhead. While this, of course, sadly, is untrue, They do produce copious numbers of good bands, in a multitude of styles unrivaled by any country of it's size. Hangman were (and to an extent still are, as they seem to have reformed, at least in part) a Finnish traditional metal outfit, and their debut, and only, full length album, "The Gallows" is available to download for free, and is a rather fine work.

What you get with "The Gallows" Is a pleasing, fairly short listen, composed of mainly three to four minute songs, in a mostly traditional style, although theres certainly a bit of power-metal thrown into the mix, taking into account some of the styles, and indeed the level of heaviness. The band seem to have gotten the balance right, with regards to this, as the music is up to date, heavy, and well produced, but without compromising the bands traditional edge, which prevails throughout the album, despite the occasional harsh near-screamed vocal, or power-metal piano augmented intro. The catchiness of traditional-metal is a great strength of the album, and the songs can become stuck in ones head quite easily, and are seldom annoying when they get there.

For a genre which has been around for what feels like eons, Hangman still manage to do their own thing with it, which is impressive, and creates an album you want to listen to from start to finish, just to see what the next song brings. The album has a lot to offer, with sudden twists and turns, such as the transition from the smooth, power-metal of "Face in the Shadows" to the thrashy, adrenaline pumping "Last Breath" which shows the other, heavier sound of the band, but does not compromise the catchy, traditional aspect, which runs strong in one end of the album and out the other side, despite the transitions in style across the album.

The style of the album is somewhat fickle, that much is true. While traditional is dominant, there are elements of thrash, power-metal, and even rock. This doesn't do to much harm to the album, but makes it's direction seem interesting, and even a little confusing, but it's still an album well worth listening to, as it brings a fresh new take on traditional to the table.

All in all, I give this album 7/10. To find out why, download the album.

Hangman on Myspace
Download "The Gallows" on Jamendo!

Monday, 4 April 2011

#038 Evile - Enter the Grave

Evile are one of the better-known bands among the "new" thrash bands, which represent the resurgence of the genre, somewhat. Musically, their first album "Enter the Grave" sounds somewhere between Venom, Master-of-puppets era Metallica, with maybe a sprinkling of Anthrax thrown in for good measure. Evile certainly go for a retro style with their sound, and, indeed, their cover art. This, however, is done relatively tastefully, and does not lead to much, or any, cheesiness.

Through the first couple of tracks, I pondered who on earth the vocalist reminded me of. For a while I thought he sounded a lot like Tom Araya, however, listening more closely, I settled upon Cronos, the vocalist of Venom, especially reminiscent of Venom's later material. The vocals are of quite a typical thrash style, harsh, but not extreme. Throughout the album, they exude a youthful energy, with well thought-out, catchy-structured vocals in most songs, which work together with, as opposed to on top of, the guitars, which, incidentally, provide a very solid sound, which is fairly riff orientated, and is unrelenting throughout the album, creating a work of great strength and ferocity.

However, to say that the riffs are the mainstay of the album is certainly an exaggeration. Songs such as "Killer from the Deep" showcase blistering solos which stand tall with anything which the golden-age of thrash, in the eighties, has to offer, and, unlike many of the newer thrash bands out there, the soloing actually has a fairly unique sound, albeit slightly resembling Slayer and Metallica, which is understandable, when you consider how much of an influence these bands must have. An interesting thing about the album, too, is that there are actually a few lengthy songs, quite a rarity, and in great juxtaposition with what one might expect. Evile, however, do this very well, and at nearly eight-minutes "We who are about to die" showcase the band excellently, with machine-gun drumming, fantastic riffage saturated with attitude, and varied and excellent solos.

It took me quite a while to get around to listening to this album, and that, as far as I can tell, is because the . the first two tracks don't really do much for me, They don't seem to show much of the bands character, while, essentially, all tracks beyond and including track three are fantastic, and show a degree of originality, as opposed to the openers, which feel a little generic. I have yet to hear Evile's second album, but I can only hope it is as good as this, and that the third, which they are working on, continues this trend.

I give this album 8/10. It grew on me, one heck of a lot.

Evile on Myspace
Evile official site