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.