Monday, December 16, 2013

Shadecrown - Chained (Independent, 2013)

"Chained" is the second release by Shadecrown this year, following up on their first self-titled effort released in January, and even though it only contains four tracks it still becomes very clear that they have continued to develop their sound such is the improvement in just twelve months.

Despite its brevity "Chained" is almost a tale of two halves, the first two tracks "Far Off Innocence" and "Tear-Stained Heart", are more aggressive whereas "Longing For Sleep" and "Drown Pain Drown" settle into a more morose, doom inspired state. It is melodic death metal at its core just not the upbeat kind, somewhere in between Insomnium and Swallow The Sun, two bands that come to mind quite readily.

In any case, there is a lot of muscular guitar work as a solid base over which well-placed keyboards and sporadic clean vocals add a welcome atmosphere without watering the songs down. In fact, these are the areas where Shadecrown have developed the most on "Chained", there may only be four songs but it's definitely a case of quality over quantity with no weak moments to be found.

I must admit, I do admire the fact that Shadecrown aren't jumping straight into a full length from the beginning and are honing their craft as it is clearly paying dividends as the marked improvement between their two releases shows. That they have done this independently is all the more admirable as "Chained" looks and sounds great and I am keen to see what they can come up with next, particularly if they continue to develop.

Pestilence - Obsideo (Candlelight, 2013)

From what I can tell, I was not the only one disappointed by the two albums that Pestilence have released since their reformation. Of course it doesn't help that they were responsible for such classics as "Consuming Impulse" and "Testimony Of The Ancients", it was always going to be a difficult task to match them, but it didn't help that both of their more recent efforts were somewhat bland and uninspiring, not terrible but not too memorable either.

For a band that released such unique and ground breaking early albums Pestilence seemed too content to build around simpler songs that, whilst certainly heavy, lacked the finesse and complexity that made them stand out from their peers. Thankfully that has changed for the better, the songs are still short and heavy but the actual song writing has regained some of the aforementioned complexity and, as a result, "Obsideo" is a much more satisfying outcome.

It is likely that those who had written Pestilence off based upon recent output will actually enjoy "Obsideo" as it shows that they didn't lose their touch after all, it just took them a couple of attempts to rediscover it. We all know that bands progress and change, a necessary part of creating music, and that is something that Pestilence were renowned for so it is somewhat ironic that what makes "Obsideo" work so well are the references to their earlier works.

It probably isn't entirely fair to hold any band up to the standards of their past, or expect them to continually recreate it, but it also disappointing when they completely lose what made them unique in the first place. I'll admit, Pestilence were on the brink of losing me but "Obsideo" has offered evidence that they have finally found a more modern sound that still touches base with the past, hopefully this is something that continues as it better reflects who they are.

Monday, December 9, 2013

Paradise Lost - Tragic Illusion 25 (Century Media, 2013)

Paradise Lost have been one of my favorite bands ever since I discovered "Gothic" all those years ago and while I haven't always agreed with the direction they have taken, such as "Believe In Nothing", they have certainly formed a consistent part of my listening habits over the years. To celebrate their longevity, 25 years to be precise, they have just released the aptly titled "Tragic Illusion 25", a compilation of rare tracks that is quite diverse.

Opening with "Loneliness Remains", a new song that sounds somewhat different from their usual fare, there are two cover versions (Spear Of Destiny and Everything But The Girl) that are interesting interpretations and a number of songs from various sessions including two orchestral versions of "Last Regret" and "Faith Divides Us - Death Unites Us" both of which readily lend themselves to this alternate style.

What really piqued my interest was how the re-recordings of "Gothic" and "Our Saviour" would turn out but both work well sounding close to the originals, albeit with a more modern production, and, for me, they are actually the highlights of the compilation. They also show that, even in their early stages, Paradise Lost were onto something and both songs hold up just as well twenty years later.

Regardless of whether "Tragic Illusion 25" finds its way into peoples collections, and I think there is a fair argument for it to be of most interest to long-time fans of the band, there is no denying how important Paradise Lost have been and the influence they have had on heavy music. In some ways this feels like a rather modest way to acknowledge a quarter century but that has always been their nature, hopefully there are many more years to come.

Sunday, December 1, 2013

Mephistopheles - Sounds Of The End (Willowtip, 2013)

Mephistopheles are another band I have only recently discovered, having missed their previous album "Ascension Aborted" which was released in 2006, but that oversight has been rectified with their second effort "Sounds Of The End" which has recently been released by Willowtip.

I must admit that I was somewhat underwhelmed after my first listen as the myriad of complexities present in their take on death metal went over my head but I learned long ago never to judge an album on the first listen. A couple more spins and it has me hooked, still perplexed at times, but hooked regardless.

While all the requisite elements are present, challenging riffs and rhythms as well as complex time signatures, there is still something different about Mephistopheles and it goes beyond mere technical ability. Considering how much is going on at any given time it is an achievement that all of the elements fit so well, in lesser hands it could quite easily have ended badly.

When all is said and done "Sounds Of The End" can be a bit disorienting and will not be easily comprehended however, like many albums of this style, the reward is there if you take the time to find it. Success or failure will of course depend on your degree of patience but I doubt that Mephistopheles would have it any other way and, in the realm of technical death metal, is is clear that they have a great deal to offer.

Licrest - Devoid Of Meaning (Independent, 2013)

I am often wary of solo projects, simply because I have been burned a few times where there is a lack of quality control resulting in the end product being less than it could have been. Licrest, which is the work of Armon Nicholson, certainly does not succumb to this pitfall on "Devoid Of Meaning" and it is a commendable effort.

If the album title didn't give it away, Licrest is an effective form of depressive, doom inflected death metal that tends to sound quite familiar from the outset but reveals its own merits as it proceeds. Conceptually bleak but never without some semblance of light in the darkness, what makes "Devoid Of Meaning" work is the strength of the ideas and the execution.

The riffs and rhythms are suitably heavy and direct, though not always slow, but it is the embellishments that have been added that make it works so well. Whether it is the more melodic moments, both musically and vocally, or the somber piano and cello that make an occasional appearance, each song is well thought out and performed.

One of the challenges with this type of music is making it interesting despite its morose disposition and, with Licrest, Armon has shown an ability to achieve this and it makes me want to hear his other projects, Only A Shadow Remains and Yfel. In any case, "Devoid Of Meaning" is well worth the minor investment or, at the very least, a cursory listen via Bandcamp.

Tuesday, November 19, 2013

In The Burial - Born Of Suffering (PRC Music, 2013)

"Born Of Suffering" is the debut album from In The Burial, a band I admittedly had not heard of until recently, and an impressively brutal and disorienting effort it turns out to be, low on subtlety but big on intensity.

One thing that becomes apparent from the opening title track is how fast In The Burial play and just how precise their death metal actually is, so much so that after a short time you could almost lose sight of the fact that this is played by mere mortals. By that I don't mean to insinuate that there is an abundance of studio trickery at work here, just that it is all so clinical and accurate that the outcome is almost inhuman.

Thankfully that doesn't mean that In The Burial lose sight of their deathly purpose and, whilst the music does constantly twist and turn, there is ample aggression and rhythmic intensity throughout. If anything, "Born Of Suffering" packs a lot of ideas into its half hour duration and it certainly doesn't hurt that it has been mastered by Jens Bogren as the hefty production really lets the nuances shine through.

In The Burial do show their lighter side, and I use that term loosely, through a healthy dose of melodic guitar work, particularly in the solos, but for the most part they are quite happy to inflict a sonic beating on the listener through a series of short, intense songs that bring to mind Dying Fetus, Cryptopsy etc.

Normally this isn't the type of death metal that I readily enjoy but In The Burial have won me over with "Born Of Suffering". Maybe that is just me being parochial given that they are an Australian band, if only to a small degree, but I would still recommend it to anyone who enjoys technical death metal performed to a high standard without hesitation. 

Sunday, November 10, 2013

Thrall - Aokigahara Jukai (Moribund, 2013)

The obvious first question that comes to mind with Thrall's recently released third effort "Aokigahara Jukai" is the meaning of the title. Put simply, it refers to a forest at the base of Mt. Fuji ("Jukai" translates to "Sea Of Trees") that is also known as the forest of suicides where many go to end their lives or, perhaps more disturbingly, leave the old and infirm to die in a practice known as ubasute.

With that in mind the music that Thrall have created obviously takes on a whole new dimension and it successfully reflects the tortured minds of those who regularly enter this forest and never leave. The turmoil and bleak outlook of the subject matter is discernible in each song without losing one iota of aggression, even if you don't immerse yourself in the concept this is still ostensibly a black metal album of merit.

If anything it is the direct nature of the compositions that makes "Aokigahara Jukai" so effective, Thrall play black metal yet still manage to create a sound of their own both discordant and disconsolate in equal measure. It remains a visceral album at its core with a more considered tone underneath resulting in the music working on two interrelated levels that gives it great depth.

This is a harrowing, yet engrossing, listening experience but the way in which Thrall have tackled such a solemn subject with intelligence and respect is clearly to their credit. Metal, particularly black metal, is all the more intense when it taps into real emotions or pain and that is exactly what Thrall have done here to great effect, frighteningly so.

Monday, November 4, 2013

Twilight Of The Gods - Fire On The Mountain

It is probably common knowledge that Twilight Of The Gods started out as a Bathory tribute, hence the name, and is comprised of well known musicians but, in some ways, that raised more questions than answers. Would their debut release "Fire On The Mountain" make the transition from tribute act to fully fledged band and how would their take on traditional heavy metal fare?

After the first listen I can confidently state the answer, extremely well. This just pure heavy metal performed with clear conviction and it demonstrates that the simplest ideas are often the most effective. There are always moments throughout where you could reference their influences, Bathory being just one, yet each song is, thankfully, more than just an exercise in nostalgia.

When you consider the music each member creates in their respective bands it is admirable how they show restraint and utilise their talents to collectively pay tribute to classic metal. As metal continues to head in a multitude of directions and evolve it is easy to forget how exciting it was "back in the day" so it is great that Twilight Of The Gods are here to remind us all just how memorable and magical it can be.

The obligatory sticker on the front states that "Fire On The Mountain" is "true heavy metal the way it was meant to be played" and I must admit, for once, this isn't a total exaggeration. There is nothing flashy about the way in which Twilight Of The Gods play their trade but it is damned effective, showing how the love of heavy metal remains a powerful and moving thing, even today.

Monday, October 28, 2013

Broken Hope - Omen Of Disease (Century Media, 2013)

I could almost swear that it is the early nineties again given the number of thrash and death metal bands that have reformed and put out new albums this year, not that I am complaining mind you. One that I didn't see coming was Broken Hope who are back with their first release in fourteen years.

Only two original members remain, Jeremy Wagner (guitars) and Shaun Glass (bass) but they have put together a pretty good lineup with Chuck Wepfer (guitars), Mike Miczek (drums) and vocalist Damien Leski who has a suitably deep and virtually undecipherable growl not too dissimilar to original growler Joe Ptacek who sadly committed suicide in 2010.

Musically little has changed, "Omen Of Disease" sounds like you would expect a Broken Hope album to sound though it could be argued that the music has been stripped back to the simple formula with which they began. Brief songs short on melody, completely lacking in subtlety but with ample helpings of filthy brutality and a more modern sheen.

It isn't rocket science by any means, "Omen Of Disease" is nothing more or less than Broken Hope doing what they do best and, taken for what it is, it is one of those albums where you can leave your intellect at the door and just enjoy what is thrown at you. Their return may be overlooked with the attention given to the resurrection of Gorguts or Carcass but Broken Hope obviously function on  a different level and are still worthy of attention.

Tuesday, October 22, 2013

Brutality - Ruins Of Humans (Ceremonial, 2013)

As someone who always felt that Brutality were somewhat underrated when it comes to considering their contribution to death metal I was quite excited to see that they had a new release "Ruins Of Humans" available. I was also intrigued to see how they would sound after all these years, as it turned out there was nothing to worry about there.

They certainly don't give things away too early, the opening title track takes time to build, but once things kick into gear it is almost like they never left. Brutality always had a unique style of their own based around the fluidity of their riffing, prominent solos and complex rhythms and that is all present here as both of the songs on "Ruins Of Humans" could easily have been released the first time around.

Of course this may have something to do with this being the full, original line-up and it doesn't hurt that it was recorded at Morrisound with Jim Morris though the production is a bit flat and could use more weight. 

Usually a mere two songs, however lengthy, don't really give enough of an opportunity to assess what may come next however, in this case, they are more than informative. Despite the time that has elapsed Brutality have returned with their distinct sound intact and they clearly still have something to offer, hopefully this will be realised on a new full-length sometime soon.

Monday, October 14, 2013

Annihilator - Feast (UDR Music, 2013)

Annihilator can be considered both an admirable exponent of persistence and dedication to the metal cause, nearly thirty years and fourteen albums up to this point, as well as a frustrating example of inconsistency. It probably didn't help that they released an absolute classic with "Alice In Hell" and have never quite managed to match it since, though the follow up "Never, Neverland" did come close, constantly struggling to get it right yet stubbornly refusing to give up trying.

Unfortunately their latest effort "Feast" continues this trend, though I will say it is a marked improvement over their previous couple of efforts, where there are some undeniably potent songs that remind you just how good Annihilator can be when they nail it but there are also those contrasting moments that leave you wondering what they were thinking.

"Feast" actually gets off to a pretty good start with the first few songs, all of which are pure Annihilator, and they give "Feast" some much needed impetus to get going, even the funkier "No Surrender" works quite well. Where it comes slightly undone is the juvenile "Wrapped", featuring lyrics and vocals by Danko Jones, and the ballad "Perfect Angel Eyes" which, whilst competently performed, really doesn't work and feels misplaced.

And that brings me to the bonus disc "Re-Kill" which, as the name would suggest, features re-recordings of fifteen songs from their past including all of the obvious choices. It always makes me nervous when this is done, rarely does a band add anything the second time around, but it works pretty well here. All are played pretty close to the originals but what does become clear is how strong the material is when heard in succession, almost like the definitive Annihilator album that we never get to hear.

I do admire Jeff Waters and his unwavering endeavors throughout the years, which is probably why I keep coming back, and I truly hope that one day Annihilator cane put the complete package together. I'm certainly not asking for "Alice In Hell" all over again, that will obviously never happen, but would be great to listen to a release that captivates from start to finish. "Feast", a couple of missteps aside, indicates that this isn't completely out of the question and is worth the purchase for "Re-Kill" at the very least.

Thursday, October 3, 2013

Evangelist - Doominicanes (Doomentia, 2013)

Evangelist have returned with their second album and, for those who heard their debut "In Partibus Infidelium" , little has changed in their quest to enlighten the masses. If the band name didn't give it away then the album title, "Doominicanes", and the label, Doomentia, will certainly let all and sundry know what they are about.

I will admit that I have a propensity for epic doom when done with conviction and Evangelist fall into this category quite readily though their music could be quite heavy going for the uninitiated. Musically they play it true to the style with slow, heavy riffs and rhythms whilst utilising religious iconography and a penchant for Latin that adds an almost overbearing tone worthy of their name.

"Doominicanes" does flow a lot better than its predecessor over the course of the five lengthy songs, culminating in the thirteen minute "Militis Fidelis Deus", and Evangelist thankfully do the sensible thing and keep the duration to a manageable forty five minutes. Showing such restraint works in their favour as there is ample time to get their point across without wearing out their welcome, easily done with albums of this style.

All things considered, the nature of epic doom is unlikely to offer any real surprises, if anything there is a strong tradition to adhere to, so it ultimately comes down to execution and Evangelist have certainly succeeded in creating an enjoyable release. I am still try to determine on which side of the good vs evil equation they sit, however, messages aside, "Doominicanes" achieves what it sets out to do and is a solid album of epic doom for the chosen few.

Sunday, September 22, 2013

Gorguts - Colored Sands (Season Of Mist, 2013)

I first discovered Gorguts with their second album "The Erosion Of Sanity" which remains a personal favorite to this day. Even then there was something unique about the way they conducted themselves and with each successive release their unique take on death metal continued to evolve. After a lengthy absence of over a decade it is great to see that "Colored Sands" continues that progression.

Initially it appears that little of the music here follows any lineal paths or obvious directions yet, despite the numerous twists and turns, it is possible to make sense of it all eventually if given adequate time and attention. No surprises there, it would have been foolish to think that Gorguts were going to provide an instant death metal fix that would be easily digested so there is no other option than to savor what they have created and broaden the palette.

A major strength is the current line-up that founding member Luc Lemay has put together, Kevin Hufnagel (guitar), Colin Marston (bass) and John Longstreth (drums) are all highly experienced and talented musicians not only capable of performing the complex music put before them but also making their presence felt in their own right.

It is also telling that there are two songs where the music has been written by members other than Luc Lemay yet they fit seamlessly into the music as a whole. This is a credit to the cohesiveness that comes with the aforementioned experience and you can clearly discern that there has been a lot of preparation and refinement undertaken prior to these songs seeing the light of day.

Perhaps I am being a bit premature trying to review "Colored Sands" considering that despite repeated listens it continues to defy classification and refuses to fully coalesce in my mind. Still, it is obvious that Gorguts have returned with a release, let's just call it death metal for the sake of it, that meets the high expectations that preceded it  and that I shall be returning to quite often in the future if only to comprehend it further.

Saturday, September 14, 2013

Grave - Morbid Ascent (Century Media, 2013)

For someone like me, who purchased their debut "Into The Grave" as one of his first death metal albums many years ago, a new Grave release is always cause for celebration, even if it is merely a five track effort like "Morbid Ascent".

"Morbid Ascent" gives us two new songs ("Venial Sin" and the title track), a cover of the Satyricon song "Possessed", that in all honesty ends up sounding like a Grave song, a remix of "Risen From The Grave" and a new version of "Reality Of Life" that originally appeared on their "Sexual Mutilation" demo in 1989.

There really isn't much more that needs to be said, Grave just keep rolling on without remorse and "Morbid Ascent" serves to keep that momentum going. Chances are fellow fans of the band will know exactly what to expect and are hardly likely to come away disappointed, a release such as this is generally aimed at the diehards in any case.

My only complaint, and this comes from a CD obsessive, is that "Morbid Ascent" is only being released as a digital download or on vinyl. I can't bring myself to invest in the former and it could get expensive if I start collecting the latter again though I will have to make an exception just this once as it is Grave after all.

Monday, September 9, 2013

Watain - The Wild Hunt (Century Media, 2013)

It has been interesting reading the divided opinions regarding the value of Watain. They vary from the derisive, from those who feel they lack in substance and credibility, through to acclamations of greatness and saviors of black metal. Personally, I would have to put myself somewhere in the middle and their latest release "The Wild Hunt", whilst an interesting listen, does little to change this view.

Perhaps Watain are their own worst enemy, often coming across as overly arrogant in interviews, yet one could argue that such bravado has always played a part in black metal and some degree of ego a necessary evil. Then again, I somehow doubt that they would pay much heed to their detractors in any case.

Much attention has been paid to "They Rode On", and rightly so as it is a lengthy ballad that actually works surprisingly well, but each song on the album introduces a more expansive sound than in the past. Watain haven't completely moved away from the style that gained them so much recognition up until now, far from it, they have merely used the aggression as a base for something more.

The thing that strikes me most about "The Wild Hunt" is the complete absence of any danger in the music even though it sees Watain pushing their boundaries much further than on previous releases. There is nothing inherently wrong with what is presented here, in fact it is a quite enjoyable album with a lot of substance, but it is also unlikely to sway many who have already written them off.

Fleshgod Apocalypse - Labyrinth (Nuclear Blast, 2013)

I recall reading somewhere, prior to the release of "Labyrinth", that Fleshgod Apocalypse were indicating that their latest album would be bigger than its predecessor in every way and I found myself questioning if this was even possible. To their credit, and my surprise, they have actually managed to do so and the results can be quite overpowering.

The truth is, if Fleshgod Apocalypse had of chosen to simply be a death metal band without all the embellishments they would still have been intense yet the manner in which they successfully build up the various layers only adds to this intensity. Mixing orchestration and metal isn't exactly new, Septicflesh are another fine example, but integrating them properly takes some skill and that is something that Fleshgod Apocalypse continue to get better at doing.

"Labyrinth" is certainly successful at achieving such balance and a great deal of thought  has been put into each of the compositions otherwise it would collapse under its own weight. The orchestration, choirs and operatic vocals combine with the metallic elements perfectly and the production gives the music ample heft without coming across as too polished.

It is said that there is a fine line between insanity and genius and that might be the case here. What Fleshgod Apocalypse are doing will not appeal to everyone, particularly those who like their death metal in a more rudimentary form, but there is no doubting the potency of "Labyrinth". It borders on sensory overload at times but that is just part of its charm and you wonder how much further they can push this sound in the future.

Monday, September 2, 2013

Dichotomy - Paradigms (Independent, 2013)

Dichotomy could quite readily be described as a technical death metal band however they are not taking it to the level of a band such as Necrophagist or Obscura. Don't get me wrong, there are clearly strong musical abilities spread throughout "Paradigms" that are there for all to hear, yet it also becomes clear that Dichotomy have shown admirable restraint in doing what is best for the songs themselves.

There are definitely plenty of complex moments yet they feel like they are meant to be rather than just being included for effect or ego and there is never a drop in the intensity, particularly when the more direct riffs make their presence felt with force. In fact, it is satisfying to see that Dichotomy can take a style that often teeters on indulgence and show that the primal undertones that make good metal so compelling are equally relevant.

Dichotomy also make another intelligent move, that other new bands often fail to realise, by keeping the length of "Paradigms" to a succinct half hour thereby ensuring that the music can make an impact yet it never risks losing impetus or becomes overwhelming. As you would expect there is a lot going on but there is also a melodic foundation that underpins everything and ties it all together. 

There is definitely something precocious about "Paradigms" given how good a debut it is, some bands will try for years to come up with a release on this level and some, sadly, never will. Obviously there is still room to develop further but you have to give Dichotomy credit for what they have achieved in such a short time, hopefully they can build on this and gain some well-deserved recognition.

Wednesday, August 28, 2013

Frigoris - Wind (Hypnotic Dirge, 2013)

One of the great things about metal is discovering new bands, not just those placed in front of you by the bigger labels but those lesser known artists who deserve to be heard. Likewise, it is also important to support the smaller, independent labels who toil away in relative obscurity yet show a clear passion for the music.

My point? Thanks to Hypnotic Dirge, a label who always impresses with their shrewd choices as to who to work with and the quality of their output, I have had the opportunity to discover Frigoris and their excellent second album "Wind" which, in all honesty, is one of the best releases I have heard this year.

Following an intro that perfectly encapsulates the album title and pastoral cover art, almost bringing it to life, one of the major strengths that is apparent throughout the album is the way in which Frigoris blend light and shade. Quieter moments play just as important a role in the music as the more aggressive metallic moments yet each carries equal weight. Sure, this technique is anything but new however it is cleverly managed here and the transitions are always seamless while never sounding forced.

"Wind" is one of those albums that stands up to repeated listens and it no doubt works best when consumed in its entirety, allowing it to weave its magic. The music sounds very organic at all times and Frigoris are not afraid to let each of the songs build naturally, something that really works in their favor. 

I can't speak highly enough of what Frigoris have achieved here, "Wind" clearly demonstrates their talent and propensity for memorable songwriting that balances metallic fury with a melodic, melancholic undercurrent. I've never been a big follower of pagan/folk metal bands, with the odd exception, however this is one such release that has me firmly hooked and offers a reward to those who take the time to seek it out.

Monday, August 12, 2013

Taberah - Necromancer (Dust On The Tracks, 2013)

A few years ago, completely out of the blue, I received a copy of "Live..ish", an E.P from a young Tasmanian band called Taberah to play on my radio show. I recall finding it an interesting effort with a lot of potential. Taberah followed this up with "The Light Of Which I Dream" in 2011 and now they are about to release their second album "Necromancer" through German label Dust On The Tracks.

"The Light Of Which I Dream" contained a lot of variety musically resulting in it taking some time to fully comprehend yet my first impression of "Necromancer" is that Taberah have really refined their sound to a potent core so all of the songs have an instant impact. Taberah have always been annoyingly catchy, but it only takes a single listen to this new set of songs to hear that they have taken this to a whole new level.

It is tough to describe their music but the easiest way to do so would be simply heavy metal, albeit metal with a healthy dose of classic rock and an attitude to match, never coming across as being too serious or self-involved. This isn't to say that Taberah don't take what they do seriously, there is certainly an attention to detail, but listening to "Necromancer" is simply a fun experience, it is one of those albums you can just put on and enjoy.

"Necromancer" is the sound of a band coming of age. Taberah have always had a grasp on how they wanted to sound, and there is a common thread through each of their releases, but it seems that they are now far more confident and their ideas are much better executed overall. 

"Necromancer" will soon be released for all to enjoy, in September to be precise, so be sure to grab a copy when it is available.

Monday, August 5, 2013

Silent Knight - Masterplan (Independent, 2013)

Much to my shame, it took me quite a while to invest in a copy of "Masterplan" the debut album from Perth band Silent Knight and after quite a few listens I can say, for a first effort, they have created an excellent album which makes my tardiness in acquiring it all the more regrettable. 

Power metal, as we all know from experience, is a style that can either be eminently enjoyable when performed well and with passion or downright embarrassing when it isn't, thankfully Silent Knight are clearly proponents of the former. Each song is well played and, whilst they adhere to the musical formula you would expect, there is an obvious enthusiasm at work that provides "Masterplan" with a palpable energy.

The musicianship here is first rate, equal parts heavy and melodic, with plenty of memorable moments that mix the classic gallop of Iron Maiden with the more intense, modern style of a band like Iced Earth. Prime examples of this are "Evil Is Thy Name", even the title says it all, or the title track which is one of the standouts. (See below)  

My only issue, and keep in mind this is minor, are the vocals of Zoran Cunjak which, in other reviews I have read, have been described as everything from a powerhouse to an acquired taste. For me, the reality lies somewhere in between. He certainly does an admirable job but there are occasions, such as on "When The Fallen Angel Flies", where it sounds like he is struggling which does detract from the music to some degree.

Still, the odd misstep is forgivable given that this is their first effort. The requisite quality is clearly present, and you can't help but feel that Silent Knight could really take this even further if they are able to build upon and refine what they have achieved here. I for one will certainly be interested to see what happens next as "Masterplan" should provide them with the momentum required to make their presence felt in what can be an overcrowded scene.

Sunday, August 4, 2013

Eternal Oath - Ghostlands (Black Lodge, 2013)

It has been eight years since Eternal Oath released their previous album "Wither", now they are back with "Ghostlands" and, despite repeated listens, I am still unsure whether it works or not.

The basis of it all is melodic death metal, with atmosphere created through the use of keyboards and occasional female vocals, but there are also elements of gothic metal throughout and a hint of doom in the longer songs such as "Stolen Innocence". 

Therein lies the problem as "Ghostlands" doesn't have a natural flow or direction to it, the potential is there but it is almost too much variation for it to gel overall and it sometimes comes across as though Eternal Oath were trying to capture a multitude of ideas after a long hiatus.

Despite this, all of the actual songs are well written and performed, coming across far better than its predecessor "Wither", so the issue isn't so much with the content as the overall balance of the album. If Eternal Oath can get the disparate styles to coalesce more effectively they really could be onto something.

Orphaned Land - All Is One (Century Media, 2013)

I first discovered Orphaned Land with their debut "Sahara" which, at the time, was very different from most doom/death albums thanks to the incorporation of Middle Eastern instrumentation however I only rediscovered the band years later with their previous album "The Never Ending Way of ORwarriOR".

Unfortunately it didn't make quite the same impression on me that the debut did, it came across as over involved and almost indulgent, but I was still prepared to give their latest "All Is One" a chance. I am certainly glad that I did given the improvement they have made and how unique and impressive this album is.

Living in a relatively safe western society the sentiments expressed here, unity of all despite religious or political differences, might seem simplistic until you put it into the context of their country of origin, Israel, and the ongoing conflict in which it has been involved. Based upon this it can be appreciated a great deal more.

Admittedly, "All Is One" is certainly not the heaviest release you are likely to hear, "Fail" does reference their earlier days, however this is never a problem due to the emotive song writing, steeped in the sounds of their native land and orchestration, and the sheer positive energy throughout which is exemplified by the opening title track (see below).

I realise that Orphaned Land may not be to everyones taste however "All Is One" is ultimately rewarding if given the chance to work its magic. I doubt there will be a more heartfelt release this year and the overall sentiment that is being conveyed is certainly admirable and worthy of consideration.