Monday, January 31, 2011

Review: Akentra - Asleep (2010)

Akentra [ Website | MySpace | Facebook ]

Taking their name from a seemingly obscure genus of tropical carnivorous plant, France's Akentra are throwing their hat into the female-fronted rock ring with their debut full-length Asleep. The dark riffs from Habib Mas and Thomas Boileux combine with the no-nonsense, Pat Benatar-esque vocal style of frontwoman Lucia Ferreira to produce an overall sound that straddles the line between the Gothic rock/metal of bands like Lacuna Coil and the straight-up ass-kicking of bands like Halestorm. Mid-paced for the most part, Asleep will certainly appeal to a wide range of rock fans. Such an appeal can be a double-edged sword, however, when sticking to well-charted waters results in a sound that could be dismissed as being too generic.

The down-tuned riffs are executed with precision and, for the most part, contain a fair amount of drive. Mas and Boileux tend to prefer simplicity over innovation, though there's nothing at all wrong with that since the six-stringers get a little flashy here and there with their solos - particularly on "Alive" and "Alone". A little experimentation does seep into Akentra's songwriting on "New Game" which, besides being the speediest track on Asleep, finds the keyboards contributing a bit more than just background atmosphere. Ferreira also dabbles with Auto-Tune toward the latter moments of the song, which results in a bit of a pop flavoring that is thankfully limited to this one track. The rest of the album finds Ferreira delivering a strong, mid-ranged performance with only occasional layering. She's definitely got the chops to front a rock band and knows how to use her range to her advantage.

Asleep is a good, safe album. So safe, in fact, that it's been quite difficult to put together a meaningful review. On the one hand, the album is almost flawless. Ferreira is a strong singer, Mas and Boileux deliver riffs that are easy to absorb, and the rhythm section of Stéphane Rayot (bass) and Steve Tilmant don't miss a beat. That being said, aside from "New Game", Asleep doesn't offer much in the way of variety. So is Asleep worth purchasing? If you're a fan of female-fronted rock, you won't regret picking this one up. The production is pristine, the packaging first-rate, and the music enjoyable.

Track Listing
2Do My Best4:39
3Gimme Your Gun3:32
5New Game3:53
8Make Up3:35
9Just Close Your Eyes4:42
10Follow Me3:51
11My Left Foot4:30
Total Runtime50:28

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* Cassandra Syndrome - Of Patriots and Tyrants
* Ghetto Puppet - Songs From the Floor
* Public Parking - Pavlov's Dog

Sunday, January 30, 2011

Video: Death Angel - River of Rapture

Long-running San Francisco thrashers Death Angel have released a video for the song "River of Rapture", which comes off their latest full-length Relentless Retribution.

For more info: Website | MySpace | Facebook | Twitter

Saturday, January 29, 2011

Concert Review: Avenged Sevenfold with Stone Sour

The major drawback to living in the Bluegrass State is the crippling lack of decent metal shows to attend. Every now and then a tour will slip through Louisville or skirt the state with a stop in Cincinnati, but it's a truly rare event for Lexington to play host. Such a notable happening took place yesterday when Avenged Sevenfold and Stone Sour (along with Hollywood Undead and New Medicine) hit the stage at Rupp Arena as part of the Nightmare After Christmas Tour. I'm by no means a fan of Stone Sour, and Hollywood Undead's Limp Bizkit routine isn't necessarily my poison, but when a metal/rock show reaches these parts I feel that it's my duty to attend so as to help show that Taylor Swift and Alan Jackson aren't the only acts that can sell tickets around here.

First up last night was Minneapolis' New Medicine, an alt-rock act that I'd never heard of before the tour was announced. Their rap-rock style is nothing that hasn't been heard on the radio a million times before, though they are technically proficient. As is perhaps too typical for the first warm-up act, New Medicine tried a bit too hard to be "cool" and ingratiate themselves with the fans (even hawking their CDs in the crowd after their set) which ultimately distracted from their music.

Hollywood Undead is likewise light on innovation, but they more than made up for it through sheer energy and genuine confidence. Clearly a hit with the Hot Topic element in the audience, their infectious rap-metal style does have a way of getting under the skin (in a good way) and drawing you in. "Everywhere I Go" is simply a fun listen, and "Undead" bounds you with it's groove and swirling riffs.

As I said, I am not a Corey Taylor fan by any means (Slipknot has forever tarnished his reputation in my eyes) but I was willing to wait through Stone Sour until A7X hit the stage. Perhaps that's a bit too harsh since I do like "Say You'll Haunt Me", so I was looking forward to that bit of the show. Corey didn't disappoint fans of his between-song bantering, commenting on his hair growing out  and other irrelevant matters, but his grip on the crowd's attention was undeniable. Stone Sour belted out the rock radio favorites in what was, I assume, typical fashion for the band. For me the performance was lukewarm, but I'm sure my bias has something to do with that.

Avenged Sevenfold's portion of the show was, by far, the highlight of the concert. Sure, they're the headliners and it's on them to really bring the goods but we've all been to concerts where that just didn't happen. The stage props were pretty wild, with plenty of flash pots and appropriately eerie lighting. The dude hanging himself from the rig as "Nightmare" kicked off the set was a bit over the top, though. M. Shadows engaged the crowd immediately with jokes about the previous night's Rascal Flatts concert and held on to their attention with numerous references to fallen drummer Jimmy "The Rev" Sullivan. Recent on-tour replacement Arin Ilejay (ex-Confide) was extremely impressive behind the kit, especially considering that he's been with A7X less than a month. The band rolled through a strong set featuring "Welcome to the Family", "God Hates Us" (in direct response to the abundance of religious songs at the Flatts show), "Danger Line", and "So Far Away" before a moving encore dedicated to The Rev. I was surprised that "Almost Easy" wasn't on the set list, but the show certainly didn't suffer for it.

Overall the Nightmare After Christmas performance was good. Understandably a little weak at the start (you never want your opening act to kick the headliner's ass), Avenged finished strong and were the cause of pits galore on the floor. The band has routinely made Lexington a stop on their tours, so here's to hoping that more acts follow suit.

* fan-shot footage of the January 28th Avenged Sevenfold concert at Lexington's Rupp Arena.

Friday, January 28, 2011

Review: Onslaught - Sounds of Violence (2011)

Onslaught [ Website | MySpace | Twitter ]
Sounds of Violence

Any serious student of metal history knows that the emergence of thrash in the early and mid-'80s spawned not only first- and second-tier bands like Metallica, Megadeth, Exodus, and Venom, but also countless lesser bands who simply got lost in the shuffle. Most of them came and went like proverbial flashes in the pan, with precious few persevering through the hair metal and grunge eras. Bristol, England's Onslaught was one of horde that released a couple of albums and disappeared from the scene. Although Onslaught originated as a hardcore punk band, their 1985 debut Power From Hell was considered a solid contribution to the thrash movement. The band followed up that release with 1986's arguably superior The Force, but then the wheels began to fall off. Frontman Sy Keeler left Onslaught in 1988 and was replaced by Steve Grimmett (of Grim Reaper fame) for the band's third album, after which Onslaught was dropped by their label and ultimately disbanded. A reformation in the mid-'00s led to 2007's resurgent album Killing Peace, which received praise from both the old-school and neo-thrash camps for its blend of generational styles.

Now, four years later, Onslaught unleashes another old-school/modern mash-up with Sounds of Violence. Since the band's previous release, and in a move that has proved to be positive, guitarist Alan Jordan and bass player James Hinder were replaced by Andy Rosser-Davies and Jeff Williams (respectively). Rosser-Davies steps up to the plate admirably in his complimentary role to original six-stringer Nige Rockett. Sounds of Violence overflows with intricately punishing riffs and creative leads that are clearly inspired by the band's roots, but that also harness the punch that fans of modern thrash (and the thrash revival) have come to demand. Speed for speed's sake often gives way to riffs that are thoughtfully crafted and, as a result, possess greater staying power. The Middle Eastern flair to the twin-guitar riffs on "Antitheist", for example, serves as a refreshing break from the heightened aggression of songs like "Godhead" and "Suicideology". It's obvious that the guys of Onslaught are serious about writing good music, not just rehashing the "glory" days or copycatting what passes for modern metal.

Keeler's varied vocal performance also contributes to Onslaught's ability to deftly navigate the often-polarized thrash fan base. His primary style of gravelly shouts is pretty typical for the genre, but on many occasions - such as during "Born For War" and "Code Black" - he dips into more of a death metal growl to lend the moment some extra weight. His performance on the standout title track really caught my attention because of the similarities to the style of Ministry's Al Jourgensen. Even after more than 25 years, Keeler still has the pipes to really deliver the goods.

Tacked on to the end of the album is Onslaught's cover of Motörhead's "Bomber". The band doesn't deviate much from the original, but guest appearances from Motörhead's own Phil Campbell and Sodom's Tom Angelripper make for an interesting listen - gimmicky as it is.

Onslaught does a commendable job drawing inspiration from both sides of the fence and as a result, though it doesn't chart unknown waters, Sounds of Violence is a quality addition to any thrash fan's collection - be their tastes old-school like mine or more "contemporary".


Track Listing
1Into The Abyss1:10
2Born For War6:05
3The Sound of Violence4:14
4Code Black6:32
5Rest In Pieces4:53
10End Of The Storm1:40
Total Runtime49:39

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Thursday, January 27, 2011

Video: Serenity - The Chevalier

Austrian melodic metallers Serenity have released a video for the song "The Chevalier". which features a guest appearance by Sirenia's Ailyn. "The Chevalier" comes off Serenity's upcoming third album Death & Legacy, due out in Europe on February 25th via Napalm Records.

For more info: MySpace 

Wednesday, January 26, 2011

Review: Battlelore - Doombound (2011)

Battlelore [ Website | MySpace | Facebook ]

Doombound, the sixth full-length from Finland's Battlelore, is the perfect example of how an album can fall victim to a misguided media campaign. Billed by the label as "extreme, epic fantasy metal", most of the press Doombound has thus far received has been fixated on the fact that such a description is a stretch - at best. In order to understand what Doombound is, and is not, the label-fed categorization must be thrown aside and the music given a chance to speak for itself. The album is a bit epic, a bit extreme, somewhat fantastical, but mostly it's solid (albeit familiar) dark power metal with alternating male and female vocals. Battlelore can therefore be easily lost in a crowd of similar-sounding bands, with Lacuna Coil and Leave's Eyes quickly coming to mind, but a couple of aspects to the band's sound set the Finns slightly apart.

Formed more than a decade ago, the septet has consistently refined their sound with each release. Having lyrics based entirely upon J.R.R. Tolkien's Middle-earth, though deliberately not referring to names and locales, you could definitely say that there's a fantasy element to Battlelore's music. Doombound is a concept album inspired by the obscure Tolkien character Túrin Turambar, which Tolkien himself based on Kullervo, a personality from Finnish folklore. In addition to the subject matter, the abundant use of keyboards - courtesy of Maria Honkanen - also helps build a magical, sometimes epic, atmosphere. Like other dark, Gothic power metal bands, Battlelore places just as much emphasis on keyboard contributions as they do on the guitars. At times, such as during "Last Of The Lords", the keys take center stage and all but bury the fretwork of Jussi Rautio and Jyri Vahvanen. Apart from those few instances, the two axemen craft riffs that aren't necessarily jaw-dropping but still manage to keep things interesting. The latter half of "Kärmessurma", for example, features a groovy little riff accompanied by cello and keys. This particular bit of songwriting, and the fact that the song is sung entirely in the band's native language, sets "Kärmessurma" as one of the more interesting points of Doombound.

With some interesting riffs and lush keyboards as a foundation, Doombound is musically a fairly satisfying listen. Vocally, however, Battlelore manages to reach both ends of the quality spectrum. Indonesian-born chanteuse Kaisa Jouhki, with a style quite similar to that of Liv Kristine, is surprisingly good. "Enchanted" is a mid-paced track where she performs the lion's share of the vocal duties and, if you didn't know better, sounds very much like a Leaves' Eyes song. The majority of the songs on Doombound feature Kaisa to one degree or another, which is good, but the wheels fall off nearly every time frontman Tomi Mykkänen steps up to the mic. He tries to offset Kaisa's soothing voice with a gruff, sinister style in order to harness an "extreme" aspect but usually ends up sounding simply horrible. Tracks like "Bloodstained", "Bow and Helm", and "Last Of The Lords" suffer terribly form Mykkänen's off-key efforts. "Olden Gods" finds his voice a little more steady and a lot less distracting, but Rautio and Vahvanen introduce some melo-death breakdowns that could otherwise have been left off the album entirely.

I really wanted to like Doombound because I think it has been getting a bum rap. Everything I discovered that I liked about it was, however, usually countered by Mykkänen's vocals or some ill-advised metalcore buffoonery. Kaisa Jouhki is the real deal, and there are some rather fantastic moments of atmosphere to be heard here, but until those aforementioned anchors can be weighed Battlelore is doomed to languish as an also-ran of the power metal genre.

Track Listing
2Iron Of Death4:45
3Bow And Helm3:58
6Olden Gods4:23
7Fate Of The Betrayed5:09
8Men As Wolves4:40
9Last Of The Lords5:45
Total Runtime54:24

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Tuesday, January 25, 2011

Heavy Metal Tuesday: January 25, 2011

The steel mills were double-shifted this week and the result is a vast selection of new titles for you to spend your hard earned dollars on. Check 'em out!

Architects: The Here And Now
Another Century Media metalcore release, The Here And Now is the fourth full-length from the British band Architects. More progressive than most releases of this style, The Here And Now certainly has its moments and may be a bit too complex for the Hot Topic crowd.

The Bronx Casket Co.: Antihero
The brainchild of Overkill bassist D.D. Verni, The Bronx Casket Co. has been delivering Gothic-tinged thrash for over a decade. Antihero, the band's fourth album, blends a number of influences for a sound that will appeal to a diverse fanbase. If you're into Rob Zombie and Marilyn Manson, you'll want to get your hands on this one.

Cavus: Fester & Putrefy
The debut full-length from Finnish black metal outfit Cavus, Fester & Putrefy is a rather doomy excursion into the Satanic belly of the genre. More accessible than raw, those even mildly interested in black metal should look this one up.

Cold Snap: Perfection
Croatia is rarely a place one thinks of when looking for up-and-coming metal acts, but Cold Snap is attempting to remedy that fact. Perfection is the band's second album of groove-oriented metal that will appeal to fans of Disturbed, Soulfly, and Korn.

Deathspell Omega: Paracletus
France's Deathspell Omega has always defied categorization (and explanation) with their seemingly directionless style of blackened avant-garde metal. Paracletus, the band's fifth album, is just as hard to digest as their previous works.

Demonic Resurrection: The Return to Darkness
India's Demonic Resurrection is an up-and-coming death metal outfit with two previous full-length releases under their belts. The Return to Darkness, which completes a loose conceptual trilogy, finally receives a North American release after having been "on the streets" for a year now.

Eastern Front: Blood On Snow
Hailing from Great Britain, Eastern Front is an atmospheric black metal band that builds their imagery and lyrical content around World War II's Eastern Theatre. Blood On Snow, the band's debut album, finally reaches North American shores. Check out our review.

Horned Almighty: Necro Spirituals
Another 2010 release getting proper distribution this side of the Atlantic, Necro Spirituals is the fourth full-length studio album from Danish black metallers Horned Almighty. Pretty straightforward, blasphemous stuff here.

Bruce Lamont: Feral Songs for the Epic Decline
Led Zeppelin 2 and Yakuza frontman Bruce Lamont ventures out on his own with Feral Songs for the Epic Decline. A metal album this is not, but an otherworldly journey perhaps best absorbed by dedicated Lamont fans.

Magnum: The Visitation
Long-running British prog-rockers Magnum (formed in 1972) return with their 16th album of melodic AOR. Not revolutionary by any means, The Visitation will nevertheless be a worthy addition to the collections of band and genre fans.

Nadiwrath: Nihilistic Stench
The debut album from Greek black 'n' rollers Nadiwrath is a heartfelt nod to thrash of the old school variety, updated with sickening vocals and an unmistakable punk attitude. An interesting, if sometimes disjointed, release.

Obsidian: Point of Infinity
Dutch progressive death metal outfit Obsidian returns with their sophomore release. Point of Infinity is, ultimately, pretty unremarkable as far as prog death goes but fans of the style will want to harness this one.

Order of Apollyon: Flesh
Featuring members of Cradle of Filth, Akercocke, and Trigger the Bloodhsed, the debut album from Britain's Order of Apollyon is by-the-numbers black metal. Genre fans will undoubtedly want to get their hands on this one.

Psycho: Pain Addict Pigs
The debut album from Singapore's Psycho, Pain Addict Pigs is a cacophonous amalgamation of death, black, and even punk rock - all with an underlying horror theme. A tough listen, but worthy of exploration by the more adventurous metalhead.

Rhapsody of Fire: The Cold Embrace of Fear
The Italian outfit Rhapsody of Fire has become established as a force to be reckoned with in the halls of epic European power metal. The Cold Embrace of Fear is an EP encompassing one 35-minute theatrical song, divided into seven parts, that fans of the genre will do anything to get their claws in to.

The Shadow Theory: Behind the Black Veil
Somewhat of a prog metal supergroup, The Shadow Theory was founded by Psychotic Waltz frontman Devon Graves and includes members of Threshold and Pain of Salvation. Behind the Black Veil is the project's debut album and is a must-have for fans of Dream Theater and Fates Warning who have a place in their hearts for Jethro Tull.

Tuck From Hell: Thrashing
Sweden's Tuck From Hell is a five-piece outfit that strives to harness the Bay Area thrash sound on their debut album, the simply and appropriately titled Thrashing. There are no surprises on this one. Thrash is what you get and if thrash is what you want, then get Thrashing.

Ulcerate: The Destroyers of All
For death metal that matches brutality with technicality, look no further than the third full-length from New Zealand's Ulcerate. The Destroyers of All won't turn the genre upside down, but does deliver the discordance with surgical efficiency.

The Very End: Mercy & Misery
The sophomore album from German modern thrashers The Very End is a pulsating assault built upon aggressive riffs and thunderous double-kick. Mercy & Misery is a decent, if unsurprising, album for modern metal fans.

Volture: Shocking Its Prey
The debut EP from Richmond, Virginia's Volture is a traditional metal extravaganza. Featuring members of Twisted Tower Dire and Immortal Avenger, Volture is a band that should be on the radar of any old-school, chains & leather metal fan.

Monday, January 24, 2011

Video: Signs of Darkness - Envy

Belgian melodic black metallers Signs of Darkness have released a video for "Envy". The song appears on their latest album The Fall of Amen, self-released in 2008.

For more info: Website | MySpace

Sunday, January 23, 2011

Video: Helheim - Dualitet og Ulver

Norwegian black metallists Helheim recently posted a video for the song "Dualitet og Ulver", which translates to "Duality and Wolves". Based on Nordic mythology, the song tells the story of Hati and Skoll, two wolves who attempt to swallow the sun and the moon.  The underlying message is that there can be no light without darkness, no day without night.  "Dualitet og Ulver", which features an appearance by Taake's Hoest, comes off Helheim's mini-CD Åsgards Fall (available now via Dark Essence Records).

For more info: Website | MySpace | Facebook

Saturday, January 22, 2011

Review: Falkenbach - Tiurida (2011)

Falkenbach [ Website ]
Napalm Records

Ever since I first heard 1998's ...Magni Blandinn Ok Megintiri... I've been sold on Falkenbach's majestic Viking metal sound. Vratyas Varyas - the heart, soul, and only full-time member of the band - has consistently delivered albums that have evoked images of  misty fjords and Nordic might. Unlike other folk metal outfits that draw inspiration from the Dark Ages, such Ensiferum and Turisas, Falkenbach relies more heavily on folk melodies and instrumentation than pure blackened aggression. Varyas' songs are, therefore, typically mid-tempo compositions with clean vocals though the black metal elements are not entirely absent.

Tiurida is Falkenbach's fifth full-length album and the first new material in over seven years (Heralding - The Fireblade was released in 2005 but consists of material originally written and recorded a decade earlier). With such a long span between albums, it's not unreasonable to expect a stylistic shift or at least some sort of variation on the core Falkenbach sound. Tiurida will disappoint anyone hoping for such a change, but will fully satisfy those (like myself) who are perfectly content with Varyas' vision thus far.

Everything that distinguishes Falkenbach from the others in the Viking horde are clear and present on Tiurida. The trademark war horn that opens the album, combined with the sounds of waves lapping at the shore and ominous thunder in the distance, blends seamlessly into the first proper song of the album. "...Where Ravens Fly..." relies on flute and vocal cadence to develop its Scandinavian folk atmosphere, with Varyas' clean vocal style similar to that of ex-Týr frontman Heri Joensen. Simple, groovy riffs repeat throughout the course of the track to keep the song from drifting completely away from metal. This basic Falkenbach formula returns on "Runes Shall You Know" and "Sunnavend", with the former song harnessing some nice post-rock guitar ambiance and the later relying on mandolin and flute interplay to produce an interesting Baltic flavoring.

Separated by the medieval-sounding instrumental track "Tanfana", "Time Between Dog And Wolf" and "In Flames" are the two songs on Tiurida that venture deepest into the realm of black metal. Though both are mid-paced with simplistic riffs, the guitar tone is darker than on the other tracks and carries with it a sinister weight. Varyas adopts a raspy style, foregoing his softer baritone to give the lyrics an icy edge. Even with an increased black metal presence, the guitars manage to forge plenty of atmosphere so as to not leave behind the mood developed by the more folkish songs.

In the end, if you're a fan of Falkenbach you can blindly pick up Tiurida and won't be disappointed in the least. Folk metal aficionados will also find this album to be a worthy addition to their collection, but if you're looking for black metal to dominate then Tiurida is not the release for you. As a fan, I'm happy with Varyas' latest product and hope his next album won't take nearly as long to see the light of day.

Track Listing
2...Where His Ravens Fly...7:26
3Time Between Dog And Wolf6:02
5Runes Shall You Know6:01
6In Flames7:56
Total Runtime40:28

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Friday, January 21, 2011

Video: Dalriada - Hajdútánc

Hungarian folk metal outfit Dalriada has posted a video for "Hajdútánc", which will appear on the band's forthcoming album Igérét. Set to be released (in Europe) on February 18th via AFM Records, Igérét is Dalriada's sixth album since forming in 2003.

For more info: Website | MySpace

Thursday, January 20, 2011

Video: Pushking - I'll Be OK

Long-running Russian hard rockers Pushking have posted a video for "I'll Be OK". The song, which comes from the band's forthcoming star-studded career retrospective The World As We Love It, features none other than ZZ Top's Billy F. Gibbons and Extreme's Nuno Bettencourt. Also appearing on the album (due out February 1st via Armoury Records) will be Paul Stanley (KISS), Alice Cooper, Udo Dirkschneider (Accept), Joe Lynn Turner, Graham Bonnet, and many others.

For more info: Website | MySpace | Facebook

Wednesday, January 19, 2011

Review: Eastern Front - Blood On Snow (2010)

Eastern Front [ MySpace | Facebook ]
Blood On Snow

With a black and white photo of a World War II-era tank adorning the cover of their debut album Blood On Snow, song titles like "Unleash the Panzer Division" and "Battle of Smolensk", and promo photos in which the band members sport full-on corpse paint, it's very easy to make the mistake of dismissing Eastern Front as one of hundreds of war-themed Marduk clones. The truth is quite the contrary, as this relatively new band (formed in 2006) hails from the United Kingdom and possesses an atmospheric sound more akin to that of Agalloch than the skin-peeling fury of bands like Impaled Nazarene and the aforementioned Marduk.

The lyrics to the songs on Blood On Snow do in fact derive from the band members' interest in World War II and the effects the conflict had on the European dynamic, specifically the 1941 struggle for the (then) Soviet Union. All is not about war for war's sake, however, with primary songwriters Nagant (vocals) and Holocaust (guitar) focused on conveying the horrors and deprivations of battle from the soldiers' perspectives. The result is a combination of fury and finesse, as vicious black metal shares time with traditional metal riffing and even post-rock guitar effects.

Black metal is the pulsating heart of Eastern Front's sound, however, with every song firmly entrenched in tremolo riffing, hypersonic blastbeats, and sickening shrieks. Opening with the sound of - if I'm not mistaken - Katyusha rocket launchers, Blood On Snow starts as one would expect a black metal album to start, though by the end of "Stalinorgel" the bass lines of Destroyer bubble to the surface of the mix and the guitar tone takes on some serious atmosphere. The album holds interest through strong songwriting, with sensible tempo changes and layered influences breaking up the tedium of the more extreme moments. The sorrowful theme riff that propels the first half of the title track, for example, gives way to a latter half of doom-inspired groove that is complimented by clean spoken-word and grind vocals to go along with the requisite shrieks and howls. Nagant shows his versatility throughout the course of the album, though he's obviously more comfortable burning ears with his straightforward blackened style.

While Blood On Snow was intriguing from start to finish, I found that "Where Warriors Once Fell" stood out from the rest of the songs as being the most experimental of the lot. The track opens with a haunting Russian folk melody soon followed by acoustic guitars and sampled effects. The ethereal leads, traditional riffs, and significant bass presence pull this track in a direction most like that taken by bands such as Agalloch and Fen. The black 'n' roll of "At The Gates Of Moscow" and the imagery of "Dvenadtzat Kilometrov Ot Moskvy" (literally "Twelve Kilometers from Moscow") also stand apart from the rest, but overall Blood On Snow is quite a cohesive effort.

For a debut album, particularly in the crowded black metal genre, Blood On Snow has enough variety and quality songmanship to claw ahead of pack. Although not groundbreaking, since Eastern Front's stylistic blend has been heard before, this album is nevertheless recommended for extreme metal fans who want their brutality served up with a side of class.

Track Listing
2Battle Of Smolensk5:28
3Blood On Snow8:45
4Unleash The Panzer Division4:25
6Dvenadtzat Kilometrov Ot Moskvy3:54
7At The Gates Of Moscow7:14
8Where Warriors Once Fell9:30
Total Runtime51:22

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Tuesday, January 18, 2011

Heavy Metal Tuesday: January 18, 2011

The third Tuesday of 2011 is going to be pretty extreme, considering the brutality of the releases hitting the streets. Check 'em out:

Acid Witch : Stoned
The horror flick doomsters are back with their second full-length of fuzzy, groovy doom. Inspired by classic slasher flicks and old-school doom metal, Stoned will appeal to fans of Orange Goblin, Rob Zombie, and just about everyone in between. Check out Harvest Moon Music's review.

Black Witchery: Inferno of Sacred Destruction
Florida blackened death metal outfit Black Witchery return with their first full-length release (their third overall) since 2005's Upheaval of Satanic Might. Originally unleashed by Osmose in September, Inferno of Sacred Destruction finally gets a North American release. Comes with a bonus live DVD.

Grave Desecrator: Insult
Released to the rest of the world in late 2010, the sophomore album from Brazilian blackened death outfit Grave Desecrator finally reaches North American shores. Drawing on old-school South American death and grind, Insult will find a home with fans of Sarcofago and early Sepultura.

Inquisition: Ominous Doctrines of the Perpetual Mystical Macrososm
That's one helluva title, isn't it? Appropriate, I suppose, for the fifth full-length from Columbian black metallers Inquisition. The band - Dagon and Incubus - rely only on the guitar and drums to create their blasphemous cacophony. Raw and stripped down, this one's for the black metal purists.

Stratovarius: Elysium
Finnish power metallers Stratovarius have become synonymous with their chosen genre, having helped pioneer it at the dawn of the '90s. They are back with their 13th full-length of majestic melodies and technical precision. If you've heard of Stratovarius (and really, who hasn't?), then you know what to expect from Elysium. Check out Harvest Moon Music's review.

Monday, January 17, 2011

Review: Dark Matter - Adrift (2010)

Dark Matter [ MySpace | Facebook ]

Dark Matter is an instrumental three-piece from Limerick, Ireland whose members have cut their teeth in thrash and Gothic metal bands. These stylistic influences come through loud and clear on their debut EP Adrift, a four-song compilation that marks the guys of Dark Matter as bright songwriters and musicians.

Consciously eschewing vocals because they feel it restricts their creativity, Eoin Crowley (guitars, keys & synths), Mike Leonard (bass), and Dave O'Dowd (drums) instead opt to experiment with complimentary synth and guitar melodies to fabricate mood and atmosphere. There's a lot of post-rock inspiration at work on Adrift, particularly on the galactic "The Persistence of Memory", which calls to mind bands like Thrice, but by and large Dark Matter leaves no doubt that they are a metal outfit. "Compression Syndrome", for example, kicks out some seriously heavy riffs and double-kick to go along with the wistful synth and melancholy piano. The dark piano and undeniably Gothic atmosphere of "Monolith" would be the perfect canvass for some doom/death vocal artistry, but nevertheless stands strong in its current incarnation.

The one aspect of Dark Matter's sound that causes Adrift to stumble, albeit infrequently, is Eoin's lead work. On occasion he comes across as a bit hesitant, pensive, and self-restrained. A minor gripe, to be sure, and one that will easily be erased as Dark Matter refines their sound.

Adrift is a good, diverse and interesting start from a band that isn't afraid to challenge the "norms" of heavy metal. I'm looking forward to their next work to see how far they can stretch the boundaries.

Track Listing
2The Persistence of Memory5:18
3Compression Syndrome3:59
Total Runtime18:12

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Sunday, January 16, 2011

Video: The New Black - The King I Was

German hard rockers The New Black have posted a video for the song "The King I Was", which will appear on their forthcoming sophomore album II: Better In Black.

For more info: MySpace

Saturday, January 15, 2011

Review: Stratovarius - Elysium (2011)

Stratovarius [ Website | MySpace | Facebook ]
Armoury Records

In the latter half of the '80s, the world of European power metal was forged by bands like Helloween, Gamma Ray, and Finland's Stratovarius. Those names became synonymous with the genre as each group - and many others after them - released album after album of galloping, keyboard-laden metal. Being such a fixture, it serves little purpose for me to delve into a history of Stratovarius other than to mention the fact that the group seemed to have run out of steam early in the new millennium. All was not well within the band either, as primary songwriter Timo Tolkki was ousted in 2008. Polaris, released in 2009, was a highly anticipated album as power metal fans were eager to learn the effect Tolkki's departure would have on Stratovarius' elite status. The album received a lukewarm reception, though it was an improvement on previous releases. The band is back in 2011 with Elysium, and fans once again look for Stratovarius to return to their roots.

That's not going to happen, at least not on Elysium. The album is good. Stronger than Polaris and light years ahead of the Elements series, Elysium is nevertheless just good but isn't great. Talent and skill abound, that goes without saying, but after the epic closing track fades away there's little staying power to speak of. Matias Kupiainen, who stepped in after Tolkki left, is a stellar guitarist and lays down some mighty riffs from start to finish. His solos are plentiful and ambitious, particularly on "Infernal Maze" and the title track. Something that stuck out as a negative, though, was the occasional tendency to lose Kupiainen's riffs behind the orchestrations of keyboardist Jens Johansson. On "Darkest Hours", for example, the keys are used nicely but they blur Kupiainen's fretwork during the choruses. This occurs again during "Fairness Justified", but to be fair (pun intended) there are far more instances where Kupiainen and Johansson complement each other. The heavy riffs of "Lifetime In A Moment", which make this a particularly weighty track, work well with the AOR atmosphere created by the keys. The strong gang choruses help make this song a highlight of the album.

In addition to some nice, anthemic choruses, the vocal performance from frontman Timo Kotipelto is as solid as the musicianship shown by the rest of the band. Kotipelto's middle range is ideal for the sound that Stratovarius is going for on this release, though there are a couple of smudges to an otherwise remarkable effort. "Infernal Maze", a prototypical European power metal track, finds Kotipelto sounding a little thin when he reaches for the upper limits of his range. During the waning moments of the lengthy "Elysium", the pace of the track slows to a crawl and Kotipelto's vocals get to be a little rough on the ears. Those moments aside, there's very little about the vocals to give pause.

Overall, Elysium has almost more of an AOR feel to it that straightforward power metal. Tracks like the slow-burning "Fairness Justified", the power balladesque "Move The Mountain", and the various movements of the standout title track eclipse the scorching pace of "Darkest Hours" and "Event Horizon". A return to the early days of Stratovarius this album is not, but it does once and for all alleviate the concern that Stratovarius' ability to delivery remarkable albums was at an end. Elysium is perhaps not the best choice for those who have yet to experience Stratovarius (try Dreamspace instead), but for fans of the band and the genre this is an album that deserves space on your shelf/hard drive.

Track Listing
1Darkest Hours4:58
2Under Flaming Skies4:39
3Infernal Maze6:20
4Fairness Justified5:08
5The Game Never Ends4:41
6Lifetime In A Moment7:26
7Move The Mountain6:21
8Event Horizon5:11
Total Runtime1:03:38

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