Sunday, March 29, 2015

Ketha - #​!​%​16​.​7 (Ep) [2015]

I've not ventured as far deep into this Ep as to understand the meaning behind its affably ungrammatical title, or the artistic nihilism behind the geometric anomaly of the cover art, a full-fledged banner of abstruse, almost kaleidoscopic triangles painted chrome-metal black, but judging by the nightmarish and unique penumbra offered by the music itself, I imagine there is some sort of vague, even philosophical statement about the conceptual preferences of these unfrazed Poles which have come to produce the second most inventive metal experience I've heard thus far in 2015 (first place goes to Solefald's latest). Certainly when you thought you couldn't devote another second to anything Meshuggah-related, these Poles come to seize the day with music more irrationally addictive than the title itself, a masterful performance straddling the straits of death, progressive, avatgarde, jazz, groove and 'math' metal for a price that's cheaper than a pack of cigarettes (€2, yo!) and a run-time that'll be over before you've even had your third fag.

Grooves. With a capital fucking 'G'. Ketha's got 'em, and they're not afraid to use the methodical precision of surgical math metal impetus is certainly immensely riveting, as they're played with spectacular staccato grooves during some of the more percussive moments of the Ep, something of a progressive metal fixation, or just on a more atmospheric basis when they're hoovering above the vocals. Songs like ''Multiverse'' or ''K-boom'' explode with such incendiary tempo patterns and hooking chords and mutes that they make comparisons to Meshuggah at once irresistible and equally difficult because the momentum here is something far more avantgarde in nature. The slugfest of rhythm guitars and bedecked with spiraling, dizzying segments of queer melody and effect-laden lead guitars, but there is an even more compelling feast of sounds and atmospherics manifested through the saxophones which blare vociferously throughout the Ep. The command of the sax over the groundwork is just huge; there is more to them than just arbitrary appearances like on a lot records as they display clear pungency for the majority of the disk, providing some of the best jazzy dissonance you'll hear anytime.

Guitar effects are certainly high in supply, with anything from the convulsive wah-wahs of ''Airdag'' to the fading, algebraic lead riff of the 36 second track ''3C 273'', but pianos, electronic influences, sheer industrialized punishment, saxes, rowdy radio voice-overs and trumpets are exerted at such rates of variety and unabashed playfulness that the Ep reaches Mr. Bungle levels of eccentricity, or CSSABA levels of tension, and that's no easy feat. The tracks are ridiculously short, the longest one being some two and a half minutes and the others ranging typically below the 1-minute mark, and they flow into each other like a meticulously adjoined potpourri of musical freakishness. And yet what a well-rounded offering it is... vocalist Maciej Janas appears occasionally, and harnesses the power of both deep death metal growls and some more distinguished, individual inflections that disperse themselves across the record at his will. And if you're asking about the drums; they're equally impressive, with enough fills and tenacity as any high-brow jazz performance.

12 tracks, each unique, and it's only fucking fault that it's too damn short. And like all other beautiful things, ''#​!​%​16​.​7'' ends up biting its tail much too prematurely. Forget any other musical reservation you've made in recent times and purchase this, since your planned purchases are likely to be dross anyway. Tension. Trauma. Unprecedented, wallowing Lovecraftian evil in the form of the architectural aberrations witnessed by Arctic explorers in At The Mountains of Madness. Ketha don't care if you like Meshuggah or not, and they care less about your lighthearted opinions. There is evil abound; our only reconciliation is to fight evil with evil.

The Sounderiad
Crink Crank

Rating: 88%

Saturday, March 28, 2015

Melechesh - Enki [2015]

Ex-Israel black/thrash pundits Melechesh have managed to create some of the more unique recordings of the 21st century with records like ''Emissaries'' and ''Sphynx'' which sought the desert for a predominantly oriental sound with flavors of occult mysticism and panoplies of preposterously busy guitars, ultimately boiling down to their so-called 'Sumerian Metal': the larger part of the metal community is bound to either gravel a heap full of praise on the enormity of the music, or just simply refer to them whenever the concepts of heavy metal and the Middle-East intertwine. Yet  so much more than simply cramming your head with Middle-Eastern folksiness just for the whole 'Sumerian' effect, these desert roamers make their oblique preferences form an integral part of the ferocious black thrashing frenzy which has always been their main premise... With ''Enki'' the Sumerians conjured another incantatory experience that comes close to the band's peak around the mid-2000's, but unlike the more divisive attitude of those records, it plays out a little closer to the belt.

One of the two philosophies that comprise this album is the image of hookah smoke drizzling slowly into hazy Eastern sky with richly textured ottomans, keffiyehs and Turkish rugs galore, with oriental dancers moving softly, seductively across the sand to tunes of ouds and piping flutes... the other one is an unabashed parade of gigantic riffs thrashing on a ground of uncircumcised black metal, with masterful grooves conducted as effortlessly as spreading wildfire. ''Enki'' is the sort of record which, like its forebears, retains a relatively primal splendor through the manifestation of bands like Absu, Watain, Impaled Nazarene, and even some traditional Swedish black metal (although the clinical force of this record in huge compared to the likes of Arckanum) and of course there is the folk metal texture akin to Orphaned Land and even Austria' masterful Hollenthon. At any rate, Melechesh is providing us with a suitably more atmospheric detachment from Nile's Egyptian brutal death metal hypnosis, and there's certainly nothing that fails to stagger with the percussive power of this album. Ashmedi and his henchmen have more than enough riffs stocked underneath their shoals, be it grooving Arabic death/thrash rhythms, some more technically wrought pieces or straightforward black metal tremolos penned and played with uncanny precision; this is a record which doesn't shy away from pounding the listener with obtuse riffing for a moment (except on the bizarrely folksy ''Doorways to Irkala''). There are traces of death metal here and there, like the chugging mania of ''Multiple Truths'' which remind of some riff borrowed from a Polish death metal outfit but ''Enki'' remains loyal to its blackened thrash roots throughout the majority of the run time, like myriad knives and daggers concealed under the band members' cloaks, ready to be flung.

For a record of its brutality, the figments of melody served in ''Enki'' certainly make one desirous for more, especially like those on ''The Pendulum Speaks'', one of the best which the album has to offer, or the more swerving and pungent innuendos on ''Lost Tribes'', and swaying rhythms portrays a balance between chords and singular notes which make up for perfect devilish arabesques. The drumming and crisp production levels ensure that none of the riffs go amiss, and as long as they have sufficient variation, most of them are memorable enough to elude becoming undone in a pallid sandstorm. Ashmedi's vocals, upfront and granular as ever, emerge as the epitome of what I would hesitantly dub as 'black/thrash' vocals, raw unflinching, yet vigorous enough to appeal to aficionados of both ends of string, so you really can't go wrong with it. In the end, all told, ''Enki'' gives way to 2-3 humdingers in terms of sheer songwriting excellence, and imprints itself into the listener's mind more effectively than other bands who would continue to make new records without challenging the norms of their previous outings, and so while it's true that this is an album that suffers from creative drought, it still kicks ass, it doesn't the keep the band tied to the ground. Of the levels of musical conformity challenged with mystifying, somber choral reverberations the endless philippic slew of riffs, I am a fan. Not to mention the 8-minute oriental instrumental ''Doorways To Irkala'' which is one of the most well-crafted Middle-Eastern pieces I've heard from any artist, a haunting desert swansong to accompany desolate Bedouins and their laden camels... Sometimes the songs dragged for too long, and this may not be the best they have to offer as a whole, but it's clearly one of the finer efforts I've heard thus far from 2015, and one that'll stay with me for a good while. The Mespotamian lyric goodness is just the cherry on top.

Metatron and Man
The Pendulum Speaks
Tempest Temper Enlil Enraged

Rating: 82%

Sunday, March 22, 2015

Délétère - Les Heures de la Peste [2015]

Canada is in no shortage of bile-spewing, frigid, grisly French black metal, and Deletere is yet another one of Quebec's presents to the global scene via Montreal's very own black metal entrapment camp, Sepulchral Productions. The label has consistently delivered some of the most minimalist yet enjoyable black metal records of the past 2-3 years, ranging from the folksy atmospherics of Gris, the frostbitten winter tapestry of Neige Eternelle or the harrowing tides of despair which Sombres Forets emulate; and all these bands produced rather excellent works which appealed to the reductionist quotient of second wave traditionalism, making them one of the main reasons I continue to listen to contemporary black metal. Quebec itself has engendered so many of these primal practitioners of rabid evil that it's almost as through it broke out of Canada to be united with its linguistic homeland far across the Atlantic. Deletere's work on ''Les Heures de la Peste'' (that's ''the hours the plague'' for you, though my French is shaky) is not a far cry from any of the aforementioned bands as it does not try to expand upon its genre parameters as such revolutionary acts like Peste Noire or Blut Aus Nord, but carves a simpler wall of grief, mourning and iciness.

The names of the tracks correspond to various depictions of the plague, and with song titles like ''Une Gartre Venale'' (A Venal Bitch) I'm bound to compensate a few points for the duo's fresh (relatively) take on themes. The frills aside, though, this is a truly uncompromising experience of gritty, grimy guitars, cramped production values and the kind of nocturnal synergy we all look forward to in our Quebecois/French black metal, though there isn't a huge amount of eccentricities here (Darkthrone-worshiping has long lost its hipness) like the kind of folk-induced mysticism of Gris or vibrant acoustic interludes of Sombres Forets, in fact I've found this record to be mostly a stripped down version of what bands like Austere or Drudkh would have produced. Of course the band does move beyond the simplistic barrage of redundant tremolos: it's abound with dissonant torturous notes, like blood running down the walls of an ancient forest cavern under a moonlit sky... not only that but the duo occasionally employs medieval choral chants here and there to espouse the thematic ghastliness of death and disease. The vocals are harrowing, as one may imagine; though they reverberate with satisfactory howling, they're nothing out of the ordinary, I can tell you that. 

Unfortunately the dynamic range of this album is about as comprehensive as its armory of riffs and progressions, which is pretty meager in supply. There are genuinely haunting moments on the album - songs like ''Vepres - '' justify this with shifting tempos and riveting discordance - but this is not exactly on par with Monarque, Gris, or some of the other Quebecois outfits, nor is it as cold as the eponymous Neige Eternelle disc. There was an almost oddly psychedelic take on the songs at times, but they never lasted long enough to establish a proper basis of miasma or spiritual oblivion - Deletere misses out on both the din of winter frost which I would naturally expect from a band of their image to grasp, and on the more heavily bolstered brand of black metal which would have been a fair flee from the woods for the duo, at any rate. It's stuck somewhere in between, and though it has its moments, it didn't encapsulate me the way I'd want a musical grimoire to. So you get the idea. It's still some drowning, pestilential music, if you're into that stuff at all. Fostered by the Bubonic Plague. Can you imagine people's reactions to this if it was released in the middle ages? They'd be receiving all kinds of piss... literally. But enough of that: if you're enamored by any of the classic Scandinavian nasties, this one's for you, a gush of woeful malady, and don't sat I didn't warn you.

Vepres - Architects de la Pes
Laudes - Credo II
None - Le Lait de l'essaim

Rating: 70%

Saturday, March 21, 2015

Keep of Kalessin - Epistomology [2015]

Nestled deep in Norway's forbidden woods (or maybe not so deep?) are bands who actually seek to achieve something further than the genre-standard second wave black metal bound by the laws of their immortalized forebears, and one such act is Keep Kalessin. These Norsemen have been going strong for years now, hot on the wheels of ''Reptilian'' and ''Kolossus'', of which the former garnered somewhat mixed reactions in the public opinion as a desultory exhibition of 'modernized' black/death metal. Keep Of Kalessin is the perfect starting point black metal beginners to rally at, with epic overtures and accessibly hooking voracity eschewing much of the grimness of traditional black metal, and it remains within these boundaries which they've conventionalized that we see ''Epistomology''.  Safe to say that on this record the Norsemen traverse within the well-known paths, hardly straying from the safe harbor, kind of like a bunch of grounded black metal teenagers nicely buckled up and ready to be taken to a trip to the forest... if you don't fancy the notion, never mind, because ''Epistomology'' still delivers the kind of potent black/death wizardry many fans were asking for, just without a whole lot of twists to the tale.

This is a much less opaque offering than most of other Norwegian black or black/death exports I've heard, with walls of generously spasmodic tremolo ascensions and descents weaving up with ferocious percussive backbone, almost like what Behemoth would have sounded like in the mid/early 2000's with a wash of production sheen. Keep of Kalessin have always had some interest in dragons, mythology and similarly fantastical themes woven out of a power metal flair, but these themes work rather deliciously with a background of lunar overtures and choirs balancing the atmospheric adherence of the record. Surely enough songs like ''The Spiritual Relief'' or the title track play out these atmospheric tendencies with some delicacy albeit with exhaustive longitude. The clean vocal delivery is something which went strangely amiss for a guy whose always been a fan of wooing and emotionally powerful cleans in black metal (bands like Enslaved or Nokturnal Mortum with their folksy attitude perfect this trend) but the hovering balustrades of grandiose vocal delivery on the record don't always fall into that category of uplifting glory which the band seeks to channel as a veritable juxtaposition of the taut harshness of some of the more death/thrash oriented riff work, though they still manage to capture a certain degree of luster and aural satisfaction in the listener. In fact, choral sequences like that of ''The Spiritual Relief''' lack very little to remove them from a Dragonforce chorus... not the most desirable of prospects perhaps, but in general it works out because the raspier vocals always induce some level of excitement.

That said, the major selling point for me on this record has been the accumulation of tracks like ''Dark Divinity'' or ''Introspection'' which combine the delectable thrashing ooze of modern Destruction or Exodus with with nearly post-black metal dissonance, making for some listening value if I was to evaluate things so pragmatically. The final tracks are short and fast as fuck, like proper grindcore songs fed power and death metal until their veins overflowed. The masters of the Keep are not just seamless combiners of modern black and death (it's probably a good idea to downplay the influence of the 'black metal' tag since there's as much black metal on this album as there is sunshine in Norway, which shouldn't be too much) but practitioners of technicality with sufficiently athletic riffs to make length of some terribly long songs worthwhile, at least to a degree. This isn't Spawn of Possession or Necrophagist we're talking about, but a far more melodic output redolent of, well, itself. All told, the songs are never good enough to subsume a high proportion of your attention, but there 2-3 individual pieces that will certainly be repeated for some time. At times the redundancy of songs with 9+ minutes of run time can feel like the a long, boring wait at the dental department while someone is rubbing gossamer against your ears. Moments of sheer blandness are very scarce though, and in general, even though this is not on par with ''Kolossus'' or such, it is a good record, yet in remembrance of what I said at the beginning about its accessibility as a black metal record, it will probably get you stabbed with an iron cross if you ever try to show it to your local corpse-painted black metal purists.

Dark Divinity

Rating: 75%

Sunday, March 15, 2015

Deivos - Theodicy [2015]

Poland has proven over and over again that it simply will not endure a lag in the standards of its death metal. The country has, beyond the universal acceptance of Vader and Behemoth, housed a myriad explosive death metal acts trenchant in some of the most brutal, hammering trends the 21st century has yet to offer, displaying skill, technicality and pulverization on all grinding fours with bands like Lost Soul, Decapitation, Calm Hatchery, and most lately, Deivos, whose 2010 opus ''Gospel of Maggots'' blew me straight out of the water for the phenomenal cultivation of this stylized form of sonic smashing that it was. Naturally I found such a dynamic compendium of brutality as a fresh breath of air from the humdrum of other death metal banalities in the business. Come 2015, though, I was excited for a new wave of shattering guitars, but the result was not exactly what I had in mind...

...that's to say the Poles' latest ''Theodicy'' isn't a far shout from its predecessors, and there I certainly cannot voice any complaints, but it didn't instill me the extent that the sophomore did either. All of a sudden these benefactors of brutality have turned oddly... metallic. They always bore some impregnably systematic sound to their bashing guitars and non-stop drumming, but hell, even the cover art's morphed from a beautiful portrayal of their music with vividly insane color palettes and artistic rapture to some grey and dry dust bowl with skeletal goat horns and an equally uninteresting title font. I'm not one to evaluate art, but that shit looks like they had to borrow an amateur artist the last second or had to design the cover themselves (the latter is more reassuring). Either way,  everything about this record is up for the brutal/technical contingency, except for the dynamics. As always, the riffs are abundant and crushing, a slew of hammering torpedoes and lethal chords and tremolos coming right at the listener's ear drums like riffs taking off the maw of a motherfucking whale. That's how heavy this is. Unfortunately, the Poles can't reconcile the blandness of the texture with 39 minutes of mindless fisting.

''Theodicy'' stores nothing of genuine, hooking worth except perhaps the shock value of the riffs, which admittedly, even at this dry stage, are staggeringly well constructed, proggy but punishing mutes delivered in staccatos, spiked with pinch harmonics here and there. The band somehow tries to flavor their sound with oddly dissatisfying, yet thankfully short experiments which generally create an overriding industrial motif. There are clinks and clicks, odd buzzes, but the listener is completely unaware of their destination and purpose, (so too is the reviewer) and some of these quaint ambient sounds like those at the end of ''Amor Sui'' are decidedly taken from the sound of a train just before leaving. This isn't a train station dammit! It's a fucking death metal record! I am grateful for some individual riffs which grappled my attention, and the vocal delivery of Angelfuck is not bad, if anything, preserving the 'death' in death metal in a record which I felt had run its course by the time I had spun it the third time.

Is Deivos skiving its duty? How come ''Theodicy'' didn't rule like its precursors? The answer may be startlingly anticlimactic, but it's probably no surprise that the Poles ran out of fuel after ''Demiurge of the Void'' and ''Gospel of Maggots'', but that's not to say it's a terrible record, in fact it can still kick some ass on rare occasions(the bass lines on ''Parasite'' stand out rather marvelously), and some serious ass provided you're one to drool all over this musical niche in particular, and it's definitely still undiluted Polish death metal with its roots in the best sort, but I'd rather bang my head to some Vader or Decapitation and immerse myself in a wonderfully sonorous clusterfuck.

El Shaddai

Rating: 57,5%

Saturday, March 14, 2015

Frosttide - Blood Oath [2015]

It's hard not to accept folk metal's hit or miss status given how protean a genre it could be, with so many bands incorporating it into sturdier sounds that usually revolve around melodic death or black metal. Folk metal's intrinsic hasn't quite been acknowledged as a separate sound dialing its own unique pool of musical elements, but has been consistently favored by bands ranging from Ensiferum to Drudkh. So in essence there isn't really a record or band which I'd cite as the apex of the folk genre, although a few acts like Finntroll come pretty close. Long story short, its obliqueness is what makes new outfits into the field rather hard to categorize or affiliate with other motifs. Hence Finland's Frosttide becomes a rather generic entrant into the folklore derby, with a nice bucolic theme set against an expansive sound that somehow joins the epic formulations of Ensiferum, Wintersun and Turisas in a rustic melting pot of overripe synthesizers and thrusting melodeath rhythms. ''Blood Oath'' chugs at the same kind of folk imagery which the aforementioned bands had already perfected a decade ago, though its instantaneous appeal of 'rural battle metal', campfires, autumn leaves and wintry breezes is for me, as it has always been, a bit hard to ignore.

''Blood Oath'' initiates with the assumption that a little Ensiferum or Wintersun emulation should never go amiss. To wit, the pulpy, synthesizer-induced ''Prologue'' is simultaneously one of the most exciting sonic deliveries of the album and a frolicking number which, I imagine, managed to get quite a few dungeon synth/D&D fans hard against its epic unfolding. ''Blood Oath'' doesn't have a whole lot of tricks up its sleeves, and the primary formula seems to be a rough, headlong barrage of melodic death tremolos and fierce chords playing out next to a fluid current of melody, perhaps redolent of Amorphis, and no matter these Fins are doing, they've always got a barrage of dreamy synthesizers for you. With the vocals at the fore, the band manages to pull off powerfully emitting tracks  like the 8-minute ''Gates of Asylum'' which combines all these elements with somewhat Wagnerian overtures plummeting and cascading. The vocals are rabid, but they pose a primary problem: while the variation between harsher growls and folksy anthems is one that I appreciate, the growls never captivated me to the extent that Ensiferum did, and the group shouts were buried under the mix to be heard effectively. Yet despite this the band seems to be on the verge of some tempo mastery; coordinated past-picked sections mold into moving interludes which break out into awesome choruses. So there's plenty of spurious fun to had here.

I also admired the range of the band's folk influences which weren't just confined to ballistic synthesizers/violins but a broader palette of instruments including pianos, eerily pleasing flutes and others which the band members must have all been familiar by now. To be sure, there's enough melody, percussive melodic death metal and metallic coitus running through this record to rectify the removal of the 'pagan' or black metal tag which folk bands are so frequently infatuated. If any distinction must be made within folk bands it should be the division of more atmospheric acts like Arkona, Drudkh, Windir and Moonsorrow, and other, arguably more accessible bands like Frosttide, Ensiferum and Wintersun. But enough digression. ''Frosttide'' does possess the essential elements to be in the latter group, but ''Blood Oath'' is by no means an ambitious sophomore, nor one that sticks to mind even after half a dozen listens. For one thing, I found the rhythm section on this record to be quite lacking, and the blast beat sequences like on the beginnings of ''Traitor Within'' or ''Blood Oath'' felt out of place. There is an enjoyable lead section and the overall coherence of the instruments deserves some praise with a fairly dense spectacle of sounds bursting out at the same time, but I felt myself far more attracted to the synthesizers and aural majesty of the album than its guitars or vocals. By the 5th track I felt these guys were in need of a break, and the superfluous, 11-minute ''New Reign'' did not justify this. And in case you wanted more, there are two bonus tracks? Um, no thanks, I'm good. So clearly, this isn't a record without its faults, and ones, in this this tenuously busy modern metal market, that aren't easy to correct. Nevertheless, if you have something going for 'fairy metal' (but without the female vocals) or just some pastoral, melodic frivolity, have at it.

Traitor Within
The Gates of Asylum

Rating: 63%

Sunday, March 8, 2015

Enforcer - From Beyond [2015]

To be frank, I wasn't too enamored by Enforcer's ''Death By Fire'' simply because it didn't click with me the same way ''Diamonds'' did, as if their slippery grasp on maintaining quality 80's speed/heavy traditionalism in the 21st century was finally going astray. In retrospect, it's amazing that the Swedes had the guts and aplomb to full of such a feat in the first start. Pulling off a sound hearkening 25-30 years back to the genre's more formative years with some actual sturdiness beyond the simple speed/thrash cliches in no easy task, folks (although the fact the guitarist/front man Olof was an ex-member of Tribulation definitely helps) and with ''From Beyond'', the Swedes' latest export through Nuclear Blast, I found a suitable amount of reconciliation of the deficiencies of the previous record, while still keeping things crystal-lucid with that irresistible old school flavor.

One might appreciate the over-the-top image that Enforcer is trying to fit into; with hairy flare and hair sprays galore, plenty of tight jeans and even a logo beckoning the 80's - depending on whether you're appreciative of the whole hair metal scene. Enforcer appeals to a little more than just Angel Witch and Judas Priest since there's a fuck ton of proto-thrash or speed/power like Jag Panzer and Liege Lord to go around, and of course a more than enough dosage of ''Kill 'em All''. Bands like Enforcer and their counterparts White Wizard seem perfectly tailored toward the roiling audiences with evident 'sophisticated metal' acalculia, but I'd like to think that Enforcer stretch those boundaries slightly furthered than the majority of generic speed/heavy/thrash junkies in a way that they actually feel like a genuine part of the 80's scene (except with less muscular guitar tones). To be sure, the Swedes cultivate a sound that's been processed by bands like RAM, Steelwing, Skullfist, Katana and the like for the last decade or so,and while this by no means serves as a major deviation from their source material, it does give the music a somewhat fresh edge.

The titular opener ''Destroyer'' is easily one of the best songs on the album, with a classy speed/thrash verse riff, a head-pounding chorus as well as a follow-up of excellent thrashy rhythms roving effortlessly, and the second track ''Undying Evil'' is arguably even better, unfolding instantaneously with a harmonious barrage of banshee vocal duties and overall texture that reminds me of songs like ''Midnight Vice'' on ''Diamonds''. There album is also bedecked with a superb slew of frenetic solos, and, if anything, the emulation of melody seems more prominent than anything else in the band's backlog. The title track narrows down the mood to a drowsier, somber, almost ballad-esque flavor, with its misty chorus and luring melody hooks that plod on a slower pace than usual: it's obvious that by now Enforcer is trying to cast a wider net on an overripe niche which they've been plodding for the last 6 years, if not downright experimenting with alienating atmospheres or effects like the most recent offerings by Swedish pros Trial and In Solitude. That said, there's no denying that much of this record is still crafted for a specific demographic - and they're certainly not shamed about it.

Olof's vocals are fiery and youthful as always, and on that I have zero complaints. Enforcer is far too mature and commercially successful at this point to be scrutinized as another vulture feasting on the same diseased carcass, even if most new bands wind up being given more or less similar labels, though didn't tickle my nostalgia as much as ''Diamonds''. One could argue they were trying to 'darken' their sound with slightly more ambitious ambiance (the title track plays some role in this) or the 6-minute finisher ''Mask of Red Death'' which doesn't just add some intuitively Gothic Poe charm into album (especially with its folksy melody licks) but resonates as the moodiest song in the whole platter; but no matter how serious Olof's crew is going to get they're going to be 80's-bound as long as they're still high on track titles like ''Destroyer'', ''Hell Will Follow'' or ''Hungry They Will Come'', and their transition in the same vein as those of Trial and In Solitude is still one which I'm titillating over, if we're ever to witness that transition. Overall, some exceptions, namely the 'Poe' track, but the trencher is generally loaded with dishes straight out of the 80's, big hair, leather, and campy themes for all the geezers out there. It's Enforcer: it's still pretty awesome; headbang away.

Undying Evil
Hell Will Follow

Rating: 75%

Saturday, March 7, 2015

Crypt Sermon - Out of the Garden [2015]

Given the jaded state of doom metal, it's impressive enough that we're given the chance to hear bands like Crypt Sermon, who, without betraying their subscription to primal masters such as Saint Vitus or Candlemass, can almost seamlessly bring a great, exuberant servicing of doom, delectably packaged. It's pasty enough that these guys are on Dark Descent Record' roster - one of the premier 'traditional' metal labels you'll find today - but the medieval imagery and 11th century mysticism of this whole album gave me such a worthwhile hard on that I realized I might not have been this excited about a new album for a considerable time, let alone the doom genre. A great big 'fuck you' to the flocks of floundering sludge and heaving doom metal bands who are on to making a buck out sheer heaviness and songwriting conundrums, ''Out of Garden'' is a real treat to say the least, an entertaining jousting tournament that appeals to both the bright color palette of the album, as well as its shadier counterpart.

I knew I would love this album the moment I heard ''Heavy Riders'', easily one of the catchiest and most excellent pieces of medieval heavy metal anthems in existence, if there ever were any. The song unbuckles with cavorting, cryptic (har har) riffs that draw heavily on Candlemass, with great, jumpy oriental melodies sandwiched in between the heavy, mid-paced chord progressions as well a superb thrash metal chug, and the verse is just so damn catchy that it seems like the perfect nighttime tune to accompany a group D&D nerds playing by an archaic furnace:

It's a cruel world huddled 'round the fries
Sharpening our swords and our spears
Hopin' and prayin' and the holy men are sayin'
There's nothing to fear

But that merely emerges as the fastest song out of the album (and my favorite). There's not a huge pool of influences that these guys borrow from, and aside from the usual suspects, this is genuinely original doom metal that's equally epic in its choral sections as it is hauntingly foreboding during the majority of its glorious run-time. The guitars, despite some inherent constraint in the riffcrafting department, exercise a varied slew of riffs from standardized, trudging crawls to more melodic or harmonious progressions like on ''Byzantium'' that eke out a lot of doom metal's traditional redundancy.

The vocals retain an aspiring balance between frenetic over-the-top banshee howls a la Atlantean Kodex - though Crypt Sermon is far more somber and ominous than the latter to plod on a continually epic, atmospheric vein - and a more controlled inflection, though they are always great and prominent. ''Will of the Ancients'' mates the uncannily creepy melody of the rhythm guitars with his effortless voxing - needless to say, I'm a fan. In retrospect I would have appreciated the use organs or keyboards more frequently if at all, but only because the whole album is crammed with so many good riffs and memorable moments that ambiance seems like only thing amiss... But even that is partially fulfilled with ''Into the Holy of Holies'' which not only rocks with swaying, leaden doom riffs but an excellent, atmospheric chorus above the vocals. A truly 'holy' piece, and not to mention that it has just one of the many guitar solos which hold more instrumental oomph than half a dozen sleazy doom/sludge acts combined. I enjoyed the drums as well, thanks to a more-prominent-than-usual sound and a loudness that punctuated the riffs nicely. 

Even the songs have managed to truncate themselves in suitably small portions, (with only one song running at 8 minutes) finding some magical solution to one of the biggest problems I whine about in metal music: length. As always, I'm not going to hold back the fact that not all the riffs were mesmerizing or had the same level goosebump-givability, and despite the variation it became somewhat clear that the riffs that were in circulation were more or less the same, but with songs like ''Heavy Riders'' or ''Will of the Ancient Call'' I can hardly call that a major gripe. In fact, I found myself enthralled by the sheer static and gloomy quality of the serpentine guitar riffs at least half the time. Unarguably, there were some tedious moments, who doesn't have them nowadays? This is obviously not a particularly fastidious boxing of doom metal, but it is pure and proud, and it proves that traditional doom stringer has still a number of jewels in its treasure trove, and so long as gnarled, medieval, Gothic fanaticism persists we'll never really run out of good bands... What else can I tell you? The music speaks for its self. Grab your shield and lance; mount up. And hell, if these guys merely stepped out of the garden with their debut, who knows what they'll be walking into on the sophomore?

Heavy Riders
Out of the Garden
Will of the Ancient Call

Rating: 85%