Saturday, August 19, 2017

Sinister - Syncretism (Massacre, 2017)

We all have those bands that have been a consistent part of our listening habits over the years, holding a special place in our metallic hearts even as our tastes evolve. For me, Sinister are such a band, I would easily rate their debut "Cross The Styx" as one of my all time favourite death metal albums, so it is somehow very appropriate that their latest effort "Syncretism" has impressed me so much a quarter of a century later.

Based on that opening one could suspect an element of bias, and that may be true, but listening to "Syncretism" will quickly demonstrate that, even after all these years, Sinister are still a force to be reckoned with. There is clearly no compromise in what they do and it is this stubbornness that has kept them going for such a long time, through numerous line-up changes, without losing their identity or their aggression, both of which are prevalent here.

Sinister have always had a distinct sound and that is still the case here but there are subtle embellishments such as keyboards which are used to add texture to what is a suitably intense, riff heavy album with a production that adds a degree of power to songs that were never lacking in that facet in the first place. In fact, this is the best that they have sounded for quite some time and there is an energy here that comes through, even making them bold enough to attempt an ambitious thirteen minute song, "Unhallowed Blood", on the two disc version.

It has been a pretty good year for death metal so far and "Syncretism" can be added to the list of releases that ably demonstrate that the "old guard" can still show the new generation how death metal is meant to be. If, like me, you are a fan of their early works then Sinister have provided a truly powerful reminder of what they are, and have always been, about without merely resorting to nostalgia, in the process proving they certainly still have plenty to offer even after so many years of existence.

Wednesday, July 26, 2017

Aeternam - Ruins Of Empires (Independent, 2017)

Like many, I initially discovered Aeternam through their debut album "Disciples Of The Unseen" which was released by Metal Blade in 2010. Even though it was a solid first effort the union between band and label, for whatever reason, didn't last beyond this album and, after releasing "Moongod" on Galy Records five years ago, they have gone the independent route for their latest endeavour, "Ruins Of Empires".

Over the years their sound hasn't changed but Aeternam have certainly honed their skills and manage to balance the intensity of the metallic side of the music with sweeping flourishes of orchestration and the use of choirs to create an epic atmosphere. Interestingly, each of these sides are given equal standing and there are songs such as "The Keeper Of Shangri-La" that forego heaviness for an almost cinematic feel and, rather than interrupting the flow, it somehow fits perfectly.

For an independent release everything about "Ruins Of Empires" is of the highest quality, the production is clear and balanced to such a degree that it all comes together perfectly which is necessary given the way the songs are constructed. Furthermore, Aeternam manage to do it all without any song sounding forced or amateurish, if anything the soundscapes they have composed help in setting the  scene for the interesting tales that they tell and their death metal remains forceful.

I'm not sure the reasoning behind the split with Metal Blade but it has not in any way hindered Aeternam, quite the opposite as they are operating with complete freedom and controlling their own destiny. Of course, an album as good as "Ruins Of Empires" is certainly worthy of label support to assist in gaining wider exposure but that doesn't alter the fact that Aeternam have created something very special here, in the process demonstrating their ability to thrive and forge ever onward. 


Wednesday, July 5, 2017

Ancient Ascendant - Raise The Torch (Candlelight Records, 2017)

Ancient Ascendant are another one of those great bands that have gradually built up their profile the old fashioned way, through releasing consistent, strong music and plain hard work. Of course, as far as I am concerned, they probably still don't get the recognition that they so clearly deserve so hopefully their latest effort, "Raise The Torch", will help in that regard and it should given the degree of quality shown here.

One thing is for certain, describing what Ancient Ascendant do is never any easy task, at their heart they could readily be considered a death metal band but such a tag really doesn't fully capture their sound. Sure, it provides the base upon which all else is built and there is no lack of aggression to be found here but "Raise The Torch" also has a great deal of melody throughout and plenty of groove for good measure.

Even though the music is never really overly complex it more than makes up for this through the constant barrage of strong riffs and varied tempos that are assembled seamlessly, each flowing into the next while remaining on task. Truth be told, this was always a major strength of Ancient Ascendant but it seems that on "Raise The Torch" they have somehow found a way to take it to the next level.

In some ways, "Raise The Torch" is a very apt title as Ancient Ascendant proudly extol what is great about heavy metal and there is a palpable sense of enthusiasm that comes through in the music, even at its darkest moments. If you are at all familiar with what they have done before then there is no reason to hesitate, this is sure to satisfy as the consistent thread that has always been present remains intact, making this yet another excellent album worthy of attention.

Wednesday, June 21, 2017

Frowning - Extinct (Black Lions Productions, 2017)

With a name like Frowning there is a fair indication of what to expect musically from "Extinct" which is the work of one man, Val Atra Niteris, who performs everything on the album. The follow up to the debut "Funeral Impressions", which was released on Solitude Productions three years ago, is the bands first release for the ever reliable Black Lion Productions and it proves to be a funeral doom album that is worthy of attention.

The challenge that always presents itself with funeral doom is achieving that balance between the slow, despondent undercurrent inherent in the style without losing the listener to boredom in the process. Of the four original songs, that run between nine and twenty minutes, all are so well constructed that their duration is forgotten and the inclusion of Frederic Chopin's "Marche Funebre" fits the album perfectly.

If you are at all familiar with funeral doom then it is easy to find your bearings as each of the songs are deliberate and move at a slow pace, the harmonies are dour yet melodic while the lyrics are delivered in a cavernous, yet somewhat decipherable, growl. That said, Frowning assemble all of these elements in such a way that "Extinct" flows and manage to create a palpable sense of atmosphere throughout that adds to the overall impact.

I would be the first to admit that funeral doom is probably a form of metal that is unlikely to appeal to everybody and is definitely a niche market for the initiated, Frowning definitely have plenty to offer such individuals. I believe the first press has all but sold out so hopefully there is a second as "Extinct" is such a strong release that stays within the parameters of the style, as would be expected, yet does it so well that it stands out in any case.

Wednesday, May 17, 2017

Fjoergyn - Lucifer Es (Lifeforce, 2017)

Let's face it, as hard as one might try, and as much money one spends, it's obviously not possible to keep up with all of the bands that are releasing albums these days and inevitably some get missed as a result of the glut. For me the latest example is Fjoergyn, a German band that has already released four albums prior to "Lucifer Es" yet I have only managed to discover them now, though I am hardly complaining as it has proven to be a revelation

Fjoergyn originally started life as a purely orchestral project but they have evolved into a fascinating band that takes this as a base and incorporates it into a black metal framework where each element adds to the impressive whole. Admittedly this is not a unique combination by any means but the way that it is done on "Lucifer Es" differentiates it from other such releases and shows Fjoergyn to be a cut above the masses with their sophisticated outlook.

Despite its complex compositions and broad scope "Lucifer Es" still manages to exude a gloomy darkness throughout and the use of their native tongue definitely adds to that overall feeling. At times it feels like Fjoergyn are channelling classic gothic rock as well, particularly on "Dinner Met Baal", giving the music additional dimensions and a different perspective on things which only adds to the charm of the album.

I know that it is early but we are near the midpoint of the year already and I am certain that "Lucifer Es" will continue to be a highlight and is sure to make the end of year list such is its degree of quality. Fjoergyn have managed to achieve something quite difficult, a unique identity within a style that has obviously been done to death, and have somehow created an excellent album that retains the core elements of black metal but offers far more.

Wednesday, March 29, 2017

Ultar - Kadath (Temple Of Torturous, 2016)

I discovered Ultar while listening to another fine band released on Temple Of Torturous, Eternal Deformity, and, as one Youtube link led to another, I found myself watching the video for "Azathoth" from their debut album "Kadath". Having seen them described with the "post-black metal" tag, a description that means very little, this single song still provided enough incentive to invest in a copy of the album and explore a growing form of metal that, in all honesty, had passed me by before now.

"Kadath" may be their debut but Ultar are certainly not novices, having released two albums under the name Deafknife, and that experience comes through here as they have clearly put a great deal of attention into how it flows, which is important given the manner in which they do things. Ultar don't go for an immediate impact, instead they let the songs build at a deliberate pace that, even in its harshest moments, retains a strange sense of warmth.

The vibrant, atypical cover artwork that adorns "Kadath" successfully makes a strong first impression and gives a visual indication of what is to come. Given there are only six songs, two of which are short instrumentals, Ultar still manage to successfully incorporate eerie atmospherics and quieter respites amongst the more aggressive metallic moments, culminating in the fifteen minute title track that serves as a perfect synopsis of the album.

One thing is for certain, "Kadath" is not an album that lends itself to instant assimilation and it works best when listened to in its entirety, allowing each song to flow into the next, which I strongly suspect is the way it was intended to be. Russia has quite a prolific metal scene, particularly on the darker side of the spectrum, and Ultar are a fine example of the level of quality that is on offer, regardless of whatever description may be placed on their music.


Thursday, January 19, 2017

Ade - Carthago Delenda Est (Xtreem, 2016)

I initially discovered Ade through their second album "Spartacus" and it didn't take long for their intense death metal to leave its mark though it probably didn't hurt that they base their concept around the Roman Empire which appeals to the history geek in me. Still, concepts are one thing but it would all be for naught if the music was lacking and this clearly not the case with Ade as their unrelenting assault more than matches the underlying themes they have chosen to explore.

Now signed to Xtreem Music, a label that knows a thing or two about death metal, their third album, "Carthago Delenda Est" ("Carthage must be destroyed"), continues the sound of its predecessor, refines it and then takes it even further. There is still plenty of complexity in the way Ade construct their songs but they also have the ability to build things up or let the elements that give the music depth an opportunity to shine through, "Annibalem" and "Scipio Indomintus Victor" being prime examples of how well this works.

One of the major strengths is the production of the album which carries the heaviness that would be expected from a death metal album while retaining enough clarity to ensure the complexities and orchestration are easily heard. That isn't to say that Ade are lacking in the basic elements as, truth be told, the songs without these embellishments are just as potent, proving that everything else is merely a bonus that provides additional value to the music rather than creating it in the first place.

There are of course comparisons that can be made, Ex Deo for the subject matter, Nile for the incorporation of these influences musically, Fleshgod Apocalypse for the potent orchestration, yet Ade can certainly hold their own among such company even if they are not as well known. "Cartago Delenda Est" is an outstanding death metal album on every level and it will be interesting to see if Ade can continue their development on the next effort though, based upon what they have created here, there really isn't that much more that needs to be done.

Tuesday, January 17, 2017

DGM - The Passage (Frontiers, 2016)

DGM have always been one of the finest progressive metal bands though it also seems that they don't get the recognition that they truly deserve, other than those who are familiar with their impressive body of work up to this point. "The Passage" is album number nine so it really shouldn't be a surprise that it is up to the usual high standard, but there is also a real sense of rejuvenation that comes through in the music as well.

While DGM are quite readily described as progressive metal, it is certainly not in the overly technical or flashy sense as the music on "The Passage" proves to be more melodic than complex. Of course, underlying everything are flawless performances by all involved and there is no doubt that they have the ability to push things further but, to their credit, there is a balance to the music that enables it to resonate with the listener in a way many progressive metal albums struggle to do.

No doubt it comes down to the years of experience, DGM are obviously not novices when it comes to such things, but it is still impressive just how focused yet natural it all sounds. "The Passage" may be their first release for new label Frontiers but it certainly seems to be a perfect match, even though DGM are probably heavier than most of the bands on the roster but their ability to create dynamic, catchy songs allows it to make complete sense and it has hardly been to the detriment of the music, if anything it will hopefully help them gain a wider audience.

Much to my shame, I nearly didn't give this one a chance as it somehow slipped off the radar but that doesn't change the fact that "The Passage" turned out to be one of the best progressive metal albums of the year just gone. If, like me, you didn't get an opportunity to hear it by now then by all means track it down as DGM have done an incredible job and "The Passage" can clearly be considered a highlight of what has already been a solid, if underrated, career up to this point.

Monday, January 9, 2017

The Best Releases Of 2016

I always find it interesting to read the multitude of lists that are created at the end of each year, particularly when there are laments of just how bad or disappointing the previous twelve months have been in the world of metal. Perhaps that is due to the fact that I never seem to have any difficulty in finding positives when I look back, there has never been a year when I have come away disappointed or without new albums that will be with me for some time.

Of course, the following list is certainly not definitive and only covers those releases that I actually purchased over the year, the list of those I still need to get is a long one and it is highly likely that something there would have made the grade if given a chance. With that in mind, here is my top ten international releases, in alphabetical order as it would be too hard, or I am too lazy, to rank them.

As a long time fan of Exmortus, "Ride Forth" was always going to make the list but it does so due to its quality as well. While there hasn't been as big a change in the music as has been the case on their previous releases, more a case of subtle refinement, their fluid mix of thrash and classically influenced shred is still hard to ignore.

If there was one album that I would classify as my absolute favourite of the year this would be it. Hyperion have created an outstanding debut, one that perfectly captures that classic melodic black/death sound so prevalent in the nineties yet they also manage to bring it into the present as well resulting in a release that I haven't stopped listening to since it arrived.

While I have never been disappointed with anything Katatonia have released, choosing instead to embrace their inevitable changes rather than resist them, there was still no denying that "The Fall Of Hearts" is their most engaging and focused album for some time. 

Another band that has never let me down, the formula on "Rulebreaker" doesn't differ from anything that Primal Fear have done before yet it is executed perfectly and with an energy that made it stand out as the power metal album of the year.

Sure, the obvious references to King Diamond, both in concept and music, are the first things that can be noted when it comes to Them but, thankfully, there is more to "Sweet Hollow" than being a mere tribute to the great man. Dig a bit deeper and they have a great deal to offer in their own right.

What turned out to be the final new arrival of the year also proved to be one of the best as the melodic, atmospheric doom of Trees Of Eternity is so well composed and performed with an added sense of solemnity overshadowing proceedings due to the untimely passing of vocalist Aleah Stanbridge prior to its release.

I only discovered Vanhelgd on the previous album but that was enough to make them one of my favourites in the recent wave of Swedish death metal, mainly due to the fact that they acknowledge the past but also move things forward while remaining truly dark and imposing. That hasn't changed on "Temple Of Phobos", it has merely been reinforced.

Thrash refuses to die and with good reason when there is a band like Vektor leading the way. Much is made of their complexity and expansive nature, both of which are clear strengths, but they are also capable of letting rip with the best of them and "Terminal Redux" balances both sides of the equation perfectly.

The gothic horror tales that were always the basis for "The Vision Bleak are still there in all their dark glory but "The Unknown" sees the duo of Konstanz and Schwardorf increasing the heaviness and intensity, taking what was already an evocative formula and giving it even great impact without losing their ability to tell a good story.

Even though this is their third album, "Maestro" was my introduction to Winterhorde and it proved to be one of the best discoveries of the year. While it is melodic black metal at its dark heart, it is the flair for the dramatic and theatrical that helps this effort live up to its grand title.

The Album That I Am Still Trying To Come To Terms With

It isn't that I was unfamiliar with the previous albums of Oranssi Pazuzu, nor was I expecting anything less than challenging, but "Varahtelija" confounded me when I first listened to it and continues to do so. I know that I like it, the question is just how much, and I get the feeling it will take time to fully comprehend.

The Biggest Disappointment Of The Year

The first Serious Black album, "As Daylight Breaks", was a excellent example of melodic power metal created by experienced musicians and fronted by one of the great voices in Urban Breed. Unfortunately, somewhere along the way they lost something and the follow up "Mirrorworld" lacked everything that made their debut so enjoyable, coming across as half baked and incomplete.