19 Dec 2017

HarmDaud - Blinda Dödens Barn (Self-released - 2017)

HarmDaud is a one-man black metal act from north Sweden who has produced a strong debut in ”Blinda Dödens Barn”. Featuring both somber and aggressive passages as well as some really strong vocals.

I bought my digipack of this album directly from the band, and while I was a bit disappointed to find that it didn’t feature any booklet containing the lyrics and whatnot I must say that it’s a good looking release nonetheless. The CD face itself features only the HarmDaud-logo which has only been printed in the negative space between the logos outlines, leaving the blank surface of the CD visible in a way that felt particularly old-school. 

I’m glad to hear that opening track titled ”Vägens Slut” isn’t a pointless intro carpeted with synthesizers and sound effects. On the contrary, HarmDaud gets to the point rater immediately with blistering blastbeats and a plucked guitar riff. The high-point of the track is when this one man show lets his guttural vocals take the stage. Throughout the whole album the vocals are on the darker side of the spectra when it comes to BM-vocals, but when multi-instrumentalist Andreas Stenlund really dives into the depths is where he shines. Certainly a opening track that got me interrested in more. 

Second track ”Själens Vanmakt” is bit more upbreat and throws me off to some extent with an opening track has me thinking more of Gothenburg style death metal than anything I was expecting from HarmDaud. It is rectified with a couple of blasts and more brutal parts however, but all in all it is probably my least favourite track on the album and a suprizing choice as a second track. 

Following that is the title track ”Blinda Dödens Barn”, and we’re back on the heavier track and darker in mood. Once again Mr. Stenlund displays some fantastic vocal capabilities as his voice really carries the opening sections of the track alone. It cannot be stressed enough how excellent his growls are. In this track some synthesizers make an appearance, they are however not overbearing. Not even to me, who holds a deep resentment to them. There is a small interlude with plucked strings that give me a strong vibe of Vintersorg, and after reading the liner notes and finding out that as the man himself has been involved as a producer I cannot do else than assume that they were an addition from his side. Worth to mention is that the one man show that is HarmDaud used the play live guitars for Vintersorg in the years following the shift of the millennium

My favorite track on the album is "Slagregn", which is incredibly aggressive and draws my mind towards the likes of Mörk Gryning. Some really on point black metal riffing is served up, both on the higher strings as well as darker in the verses. In the middle Andreas uses his most guttural voice and sounds like he could devour solar systems whole. If I would have had a say in the track order here, this would be the opening track, or at least replaced "Själens Vanmakt" as a second. Highly recommended, and definitely the first track you should check out if you're curious about HarmDaud.

"Andetag" follows up and has a more somber tone to it. The track is somewhat dreamy and has a hypnotic repetitiveness to it, a nice chance to catch your breath after the onslaught of "Slagregn". I believe that I can hear some more V-sorg influences here as well in the way the track is put together. It's the longest track on the album, clocking in at just short of seven minutes, and besides a harpsichord interlude in the middle it never breaks its swaying, hypnotic rhythm.

We arrive back in more aggressive territories with "Till Glömskan" which attacks with a mid-tempo blastbeast and the vocals kicking in almost immediately, but the chorus keeping some of the somber tone from the previous track. A long break with harmonizing guitars then leads into a doomier passage. I was hoping for it to maintain more of the aggressive touch from the opening for the sake of variety, but it doesn't kill the overall experience.

"Vemodet" starts of heavy and dark, with the harmonies less prominent to instead give room for the vocals. It also has some more interesting rhythms to the guitar riffs in contrast to the constant tremolo riffing or tremolo picked chords from previous tracks. This is also a track I would say deserves a earlier spot on the album, then again it features some grandiose strings and horns that's fitting for an epic finisher. And it's also a wise choice to spread out the choice cuts throughout the meal.

Distorted drums fade into the finishing track "Memento Mori" before kicking into a furious blast with a classic "angry wasp" riff. The chorus shows some more inventive ways of using the guitar that I really enjoy and the tremolo leads throw in some nice drills on the guitar strings that are a nice touch that you don't notice immediately. I suspect that this finishing track might be the last track written for the album as well, and it shows a lot of variety that would have been welcome in the some of the earlier tracks as well. A strong finisher that shows promise for the future.

Productions wise there is nothing to complain about, Mr. V knows exactly how to handle this type of music. And lo and behold: the bass is audible! A commendable feat in this day an age if anything. Overall everything blends perfectly, be it the guitars, strings or vocals, everything sits exactly where where they should in the mix. The drums are obviously programmed, but HarmDaud does not try to mask that with any made-up drummer with a fake name.

This is a fine debut with some small identity issues that I think will be figured out on later releases, HarmDaud is obviously still getting warmed up here. The vocals are some of the best I've heard in a while, especially in the lower register, but it is the variety that really gives them the little extra. The guitars and composing is handled well by Andreas Stenlund as well, certainly in the more varied tracks. The album has some highs and lows, but quality throughout, and I will definitively keep my eyes open for more from this project. "Blinda Dödens Barn" earns: 7,2/10

HarmDaud on Facebook
HarmDaud on Bandcamp

29 Aug 2017

Eternal Champion - The Armor of Ire (No Remorse Records - 2016)

"The Armor of Ire" by Texas's Eternal Champion is one of those albums that went completely under my radar during the year that it was released and instead reached me by word of mouth later on. And it's no surprise that word traveled regarding this album, as it is indeed one of the strongest I've come across in quite a while. 

I've only just began to familiarize myself with No Remorse Records, and so far they seem to be churning out a lot of good stuff. I've gotten "The Armor of Ire" on a good looking vinyl release, including a map and description of vocalist Jason Tarpey's fictional universe in which some of the lyrics take place. Now if that isn't delightfully nerdy I don't know what is! In fact, from now on if a band does not include a map of their fictional universe, I will consider it measly and underwhelming.

And army marches out of my speakers as the monumental "I am the Hammer" leads the way into the realms of Arginor and the Western Isles (better get that map out!), all layered under ominous keyboards. Epicnes aside, this one-minute intro is probably the only skipable part of the album, luckily it's the first track and that's easily done without you having to lift and place down the needle on your player in the middle of the sides playing time. Jason's vocals have a cavernous reverb applied to them that adds to his hollow singing style. His voice took some getting used to for me, but my now I wouldn't change it for anything, he even bursts out the occasional high-pitched "Ah!" à la Jon Oliva which is absolutely charming. The song is slow and monumental and rather minimalistic without getting monotonous or boring, in fact it usually requires several listens before I can move onward onto the next track. The lyrics are well-written and the chorus is absolutely fantastic.

Following that ten-pointer of a number is the title-track, "The Armor of Ire", which features melodic riffing in a manner that actually draws my mind to the 8-bit Mega Man games, and I mean that in the absolutely best way possible. The fast riffing and tight drums are glued together by the drawn out vocal melodies, and there is a lot more going on in the background than what you notice at first listen. You hardly notice that five minutes have passed before the song is over, it's just that seamlessly put together.

"The Last King of Pictdom" is a bouncier track that opens with drummer (and multi-instrumentalist) Arthur Rizk pounding a marching beat on the snare before moving into a triplet-riff. The twin guitar melodies and triplet riffing actually makes me think about Thin Lizzy, especially when the lead guitar melodies after the final chorus kicks in. I believe that it also Arthur that deals out a fine guitar solo during the tracks climax.

Lo and behold! I am about to not encourage you to skip an instrumental interlude, which is my typical reaction to these kind of tracks. Instead I must admit that during my first listens to "The Armor of Ire" I wasn't even aware that they were there, because they are actually woven into the tracks as an integral part of the music instead of annoying interruptions. "Blood Ice" is an instrumental interlude done right and doesn't overstay its welcome in any way, and when listening to my vinyl record it serves as the intro to side B. It also features some interesting pieces of music instead of just a carpet of synthesizers that are supposed to "set the mood" before the next track.

The interlude moves into "The Cold Sword" without any interruption, a galloping affair with some Maiden-esque guitar leads, but which manages without becoming some sort of cheap rip-off. This is the song on the album that has the most drive to it, and Jason shows that he can have bit more of a roar to his voice from time to time.

After moving past the greatness of the opening track, "Invoker" quickly became my favorite song on the album. It's a very dynamic number, and I hope a given part of all of Eternal Champions live sets. Once again it has be mentioned that the lyrics are very well-written, as it oh so easy for this type of lyrics to become beyond cheesy. Instead they are captivating and interesting, and nowhere is it better demonstrated than here, where an assassin waits to strike at a summoning ritual before they raise the old gods of H.P. Lovecraft's mythos. It you're a fan of sword and sorcery, this will be right up your alley. The song switches between clean plucking verses and inventive riffing in the more intense parts. The chorus is among the greats, the final guitar solo though sounds like it could use a couple of more takes.

"Sing a Last Song for the Valdese" is the longest of the album, and accordingly epic and worthy of its six minutes. We finally are treated to some flashier bass parts (also performed by Arthur), a thing that I would gladly have heard more of this during the previous songs on the album. There's a lot things going on here. The band seems to have played around a bit with their song formula here instead of going for traditional verses and choruses, but in no way does it sound amiss. The track is in no way a contender to the opening, but no less epic either way and a fitting last song before we move on to the outro.

"Shade Gate" is a short instrumental outro with a simple, repeating, guitar melody and surprisingly features a quite from Skeletor in the Masters of the Universe movie from 1987. It fit's the overall tone of the album, but nothing that I listen to each time I give the album a spin. Instead I'm probably busy flipping the record over to start over from the beginning.

Arthur Rizk seems to be a jack of all trades as I found out that he is also responsible for the engineering, mixing and mastering. He's done a fine job with all of his undertakings here, with the album sounding warm, yet crisp here it needs to and not unnecessarily loud. In my natural fashion I would have liked the bass to be a bit louder in the mix during the regular riffing, but it manages to cut through well enough the times it does something out of the ordinary.

This album has an overall aura of being very honest and genuine. There's a lot of bands doing this style at the moment, but the dedication of Eternal Champion shines through in such a way that you know that they are the real deal. Believe me, I searched hard and long to find something point out that I wasn't entirely satisfied with, but beyond the intro and outro being somewhat skipable there is really nothing to complain about. "The Armor of Ire" feasts upon 8,2/10 nations blood.

Eternal Champion on Facebook
Eternal Champion on Bandcamp

22 Aug 2017

Dreadful Fate - The Sin of Sodom (Iron Fist Productions - 2017)

Dreadful Fate is a newly formed band from Sweden paying tribute to the Teutonic thrash metal of old. Their debut demo was released on cassette by Iron Fist Productions and while it could use some more variation, one cannot help to wonder what they would come up with when given a longer run-time.

The demo kicks off with the aptly named title track "The Sin of Sodom", which quickly demonstrates what this demo is all about: pure, old-school black/thrash. Drummer Corpse Skelethor (AKA: Per Karlsson) is one of my favorite drummers in the Swedish scene, due to his past work in Nominon, and although the material here is very straight forward and does not call for any flashy drumming there is something very precise about his performance that always speaks to me. His cymbal-work is top notch during the double-kick parts and his fills are chaotic, while still calculated. The song also features some tight riffing from another favorite in the scene, Death Ripper (AKA: Johan Jansson), as well as a delightfully awful guitar solo. All in all it's a fine track, with a chorus that's easy to remember, but in the end it's outshone by the following track.

"Unholy Lust" offers up more of the same furious thrash as the track before, but dials down the tempo a tad, with no loss of effect though. The chorus where vocalist Bestial shrieks "Satan's hammer hits again and again!" has some cool rhythms and breaks that get stuck in my head every time I listen to it. Towards the middle the track moves into mid-tempo territories and really gets my blood pumping. The same type of atonal solo leads into the last chorus of the track that definitely is my favorite on the demo.

Last into the fray is a cover of Kreators classic "Tormentor", which is done with what seems like absolutely no effort at all. The cover is however played without any changes made to it and therefore I would probably rarely put this version on rather than the original, but I guess the urge to pay tribute to the old masters was too appealing for the band to give up the opportunity. I have to give them that the track has a really good energy to it with the fattened-up sound and backing vocals in the chorus. A fitting track for the demo, but I wouldn't re-record it for a full-length album.

I'm glad to hear that the demo isn't overproduced in any way, but also not UNDER-produced. Both drums and vocals sound honest, the guitars are crisp and the bass manages to cut through the mix, it's all very good for a demo. The cassettes seem to be high quality as well and didn't add that much noise at all during my first listening. A lot of other bands paying tribute to the days of yore tend to go a bit overboard with the shitty productions, Dreadful Fate instead gives a good example how to get that garage-sound while still making it sound as good as possible.

It's not much to go by, with only two original tracks and a cover song, but I'm excited to see what Dreadful Fate comes up with next and what type of variations they will throw in to keep things interesting on a longer run-time. I'm personally keeping my fingers crossed for some slower, mid-tempo tracks along the lines of what Sodom sometimes offers up. "The Sin of Sodom" is somewhat of a one-trick-pony, but that trick is done with admirable results. Given the members of the band, and the quality of the demo, I assume it won't be long until a label picks them up and we'll hear more of Dreadful Fate. Until then "The Sin of Sodom" earns 6,8/10 signs of evil.

Dreadful Fate on Facebook
Dreadful Fate on YouTube

16 Aug 2017

Interview: Michael Stavrakakis (Doomocracy)

Earlier this year Doomocracy released their album "Visions & Creatures of Imagination" through Steel Gallery Records. I've now had the honor of speaking to vocalist Michael Stavrakakis about the album, the Greek scene and record collecting.

Interview conducted on 2017-08-15:

Hey Michael! First of congratulations on your latest album "Visions & Creatures of Imagination", you must be very satisfied with the response you have received at this point? I myself suspect it will place quite high on my best of 2017-list. 

Hey David, thank you for your kind words. Our new album "Visions & Creatures of Imagination" has indeed received wonderful reviews from all over the world. We've worked hard to compose and record this album and we are very satisfied with the reception of Magazines e-zines and fans. I think it is a step forward for Doomocracy to more heavy and eastern paths while maintaining the doom metal elements present at all times. We have been picked as album of the month in several important magazines so I do hope we will be in the top lists for 2017.

To my knowledge you are responsible for a large part of the songwriting for Doomocracy. Did you face any challenges with writing a follow-up album this time? It usually involves some more time constraints than writing for a debut that you basically could have been working on for several years even before forming the band. 

I write both music and lyrics just like every band member of Doomocracy. The music you hear in both of our albums is based on teamwork and everyone in the band helps with ideas, riffs, melodies and lyrics. The challenge we faced writing music for our second album was big, as I think our debut album "The End is Written" had set a high quality standard for Doomocracy. We did not rush (as you saw we released our second album two and a half years after our debut) as we wanted to promote our debut album in the best possible way, including more than ten concerts around Europe. When we started composing music for our second album, we were a bit stressed but in a good way, as to which direction to follow in order to compose a worthy successor to "The End is Written". So basically the challenge we faced was to take our music a step further in all aspects (compositions, production, promotion, artwork), a challenge which I think we faced in the best possible way. We spend many hours in the studio to work all songs to the final detail and I am confident to say that we have produced an album worthy and even better than our debut.

Your lyrics seem to always have a story to tell, among others I sense some Egyptian themes this time. Do you do a lot of research for historical- or mythological lyrics in order to be accurate? Or is it more often stories "out of your own mind" so to say?

For us writing lyrics is an important process. We don't just write lyrics to get the songs going. We have many lyrical concepts in the new album, but not a certain specific concept. In other words "Visions & Creatures of Imagination" is not a concept album, but contains different stories, some fiction and some experiential. We used themes from Egyptian mythology for the song "Lucid Plains of Ra", which is a very important song in our album, as it was the main influence for the album cover as well. The lyrics of the song were written by our guitarist Angelos Tzanis and I know that he did some research before writing the lyrics as he also loves Egyptian mythology. For the rest of the songs we have lyrics influenced by Greek mythology, religion and life itself with all its agonies and anguish.

You mastered the album at Morrisound Studios. A place I mainly associate with Savatage- and related projects and above all: death metal albums of the 90'ties, but not so much doom metal. What made you want to work with Jim Morris?

We mixed and mastered the album at Morrisound Studios with Jim Morris, a man who is responsible for milestone productions in heavy metal for major bands like Crimson Glory, Savatage, Iced Earth and of course Death. We love his mix in all those bands and especially in Death. Working with him was a learning process for us and we are satisfied 100% from the mixing and mastering process. As for the reason why we decided to work with Jim Morris other than his great productions overall... we actually wanted a different approach for our mix. Not that we weren't satisfied with the mix of our debut album, but we wanted to try a production that is less compressed and has a more live feeling to it. Nowadays most European productions seem to be over compressed and that is something we did not want for our second album, as like I said we wanted to give a more live feeling to the mix. With the great help and guidance of Jim Morris we were able to achieve this.

I'm glad to see that the album is released on several formats this time around, both digitally, on CD and vinyl. Particularly vinyl is close to my heart, is this something that you guys in the band pushed for? And are you personally a collector of physical releases as well?

We are trying to release our albums in all possible formats. There are people who download albums through iTunes, amazon and so on, so although it is not our preferred music format we wanted to include that option as well. Of course we released the album on CD, but our main passion and effort was, and will be to release our music on vinyl. We are all vinyl collectors and we love its sound and everything else that comes to owning an album in vinyl. I was personally touched as I just yesterday received the vinyl records for "Visions & Creatures of Imagination". From my point of view the new vinyl is amazing both in sound and artwork and is a must for every vinyl collector. We will always do everything possible to release our music on vinyl.

Speaking of the productions, and the vinyl format: have you done a dedicated vinyl mastering for the album, or is the mastering for the CD- and digital platforms fit to be used on the LP as well?

We discussed this with Jim Morris and he told us that the mastering he did is ideal both for CD and vinyl. We did a test pressing just to make sure that the sound would be good, which it really was. So we used the same mastering after all.

Is there any releases in particular that you collect? Bands, genres, albums from certain regions, or do you just in general prefer to have your music collection on physical formats?

I collect all kinds of good music, especially heavy metal of course. But I don't just collect doom metal albums for example. I don't buy music in digital format and I usually buy the vinyl version of an album, unless there is no vinyl version so then I buy the CD to support the band.

Are you happy with the way your label, Steel Gallery Records, have handled your releases so far? Can we expect to see you continuing to work with them? Must be nice being signed to a label in your home country. 

We are very happy with Steel Gallery Records, which is why we chose to renew our contract with them. Working with a Greek label has many benefits as by doing this we are also supporting the Greek heavy metal scene, but we also have great communication with Kostas Athanasoglou, Steel Gallery's owner which is a crucial factor for us in choosing a record label and Kostas is doing everything he can to promote our music. If we receive a better proposal from a bigger record label we will discuss it within the band, but for the time being we are very satisfied with our current record label.

People seem to have a tendency to throw around Candlemass-comparisons when speaking about Doomocracy, but I think there is more beyond that. Do you think that you guys have any influences that usually go over the head of the press and first-time listeners? Be it influences from other bands or anything else. 

It's natural for people who have not listened much to doom metal music to just say "these guys sound like Candlemass". By all means it is not a bad comment to say that we sound like Candlemass, as they are one of the best doom metal bands of all time. Just as Candlemass's main influence was Black Sabbath or Trouble for example. People tend to do this: Instead of describing the music, they just say “they sound like this or that”. It's the easy way. People who have listened to a lot of doom metal music understand that, of course we are influenced by Candlemass and Solitude Aeturnus (and many other bands) but we have developed our own personal style in sound and compositions taking our music a step further. The more albums we produce the more this will be more evident. It happens with all bands you know… with their first albums people compare them to other bands. But as the bands produce more albums they develop a more personal style, so fans-critics stop doing this.

According to the information I've found online Doomocracy is your first venture in the realms of metal, have you been involved in any other musical projects that have released albums before?

I was involved in some Greek cover bands in rock, metal, funk and blues music. After a while I recorded an album with a Greek alternative metal band called Master Reset, which started with a different more progressive metal concept but developed into a more modern style. So right after the album release I quit the band to find another music direction. Thank God, I met my good friends Minas Vasilakis and Angelos Tzanis (Doomocracy's drummer and guitarist) and we formed a new doom metal band called Doomocracy!

I can't say that I'm very well versed in the Greek- or Crete scene. Do you have any bands, present or past, from your area that have inspired you? If not musically, in any other way. 

We have some great metal bands in Greece and the Greek Metal scene is going through a long spring period the last years. Just to name a few bands you might already know: Sacral Rage, Dexter Ward, Wardrum, SiXforNine, Pulse R, Diviner, Inner Wish, Suicidal Angels, Immensity, Exarsis and many more. You should really invest in the Greek Metal scene as you will find many gems in all genres. In Crete we had some very good bands but right now they are all in quiet mode. Still be aware for new releases by Winter Crescent and Chaos Eternal in the coming future.

Thanks you very much for your answers Michael, I hope to hear more from you and Doomocracy soon! Is there anything you would like to add?

Thank you very much for this interesting interview and your support David! Be sure to check out the vinyl release of our second album "Visions & Creatures of Imagination". We will tour Germany in December 2017 so we hope to see our fans there. We are already composing music for our third album and it sounds really good. So be assured Doomocracy is here to stay! Thank you for your support! See you on the road!

Doomocracy on Facebook
Doomocracy on YouTube

31 Jul 2017

Dråp - Roten Till Allt Ont (Xtreem Music - 2017)

Dråp grinds away on a furious rampage, infused with Swedish death metal and crust punk, but also elements of atmospheric black metal, which when spoken out loud might seem like a mish-mash thrown together rather incoherently, but actually fits together rather well.

This CD was released by Xtreem Music, a label I seldom frequent releases from. To my understanding the LP was supposed to be released through Swedish Bloodsoaked Records, but to my surprise it is marked with the Xtreem Music logo as well. It might be some sort of licensing deal going on, but no mention is made of the Swedish label on the outer sleeve. As far as I know Xtreem Music rarely does vinyl releases (which might be the reason I rarely come across their albums), but I would be glad to see them do more.

"Roten Till Allt Ont" opens up with "Ner på Knä" (On You Knees in Swedish), which immediately attacks with blistering blastbeats. The guys in Dråp are obviously angry as all hell, and want you to know that it's your fault. The song has some really cool synchronized breaks, and drummer Emil Leijon gets to show of some real capabilities here. Grinding away like a madman, without missing any of the sudden breaks.

"Ärrvävnad" has more of an atmospheric feel to it, but don't worry, there is a lot of grind going on here as well. In-between the occasional blasts the guitars set aside the tremolo picking for longer, dissonant chords and plucking on the high strings and in the chorus we can hear vocalist Joachim Lyngfelt shouting "Ärrad för livet" as if standing on the other side of a large canyon. The song moves into a neck breaking chug before abruptly stopping.

We are treated to more traditional crust with "Hat För en Livstid", here Joachim is joined by David Nilsson from Swedish deathsters Feral on vocals, and the dual vocals as well as the punk attitude of the track draws the mind to bands like Totalt Jävla Mörker. Davids vocals are more in the background of the mix and distorted, the vocal lines are however alternated between the two throughout the whole song. There's a long interlude towards the end of the track which once again leans more towards black metal.

"Övervåld" makes sure that you are aware that you are listening to a Swedish death metal band, as it has a lot of the classic elements of that style. Dråp manages to cram in a lot of changes within the just over two minutes of a track, d-beats, blasts, breaks and black metal chords, all to keep things interesting.

The title track "Roten Till Allt Ont" is the heaviest on the album, and actually has a little of a thrash metal feel to it, with a lot of tight guitar work from Jimmy Mattsson and Jesper Ekstål. The verses are heavy as led before Dråp picks up the pace again later on. The track moves into some small, simple leads towards the end, and I can't help to feel that it would have been appropriate with a guitar solo there instead. But that's not the way that Dråp rolls I guess. 

"Yttersta Domen" opens really heavy before offering up more guitars in the same vein as "Ärrvävnad", and features a really punk-sounding chorus with Joachim shouting about the world that humans have created with back-up vocals that filling in the gaps. I think it would have been a lift with the rest of the band chiming in on the chorus instead of what I suspect are overdubs done by Joachim as well. 

Next up is an instrumental track called "Eremit", which opens quite Slayer-esque. The track has a lot of air to it and gives the listener a chance to take in the production which is actually really good, even if the gets a bit muddy in the more intense parts. But that's a part of the genre. "Eremit" cycles the intro riff a couple of times before moving into the final track of the album.

"Nederlag" is the longest track on the album, with it's almost six minutes. Instead of alternating between genres here Dråp serves up a crust punk riff with a black metal lead over it. It get's a bit ear-numbing after a while at high volume (and that how you should listen), but if you were expecting anything else you were most definitely looking at the wrong place. To my surprise the guitars manage to squeal out a solo towards the middle of the song. Nothing pretty, nor should it be, and I would gladly hear more of this from Dråp in the future. After the solo the track switches gears, and basically becomes an whole other song (that's probably how they managed to get the long playing time). More of the classic swe-death chugging before we are drenched in guitar chords and double kicks and the track fades away.

"Roten Till Allt Ont" is as violent as a bare-knuckle fist fight, with teeth and blood flying everywhere. It's all performed with great passion, and if you are versed in the Swedish language you can tell that the lyrics hit close to home for the band. The production signed to William Blackmon is stellar and fitting the release. The black metal elements are not really my cup of tea, but aren't so overbearing that they ruin my enjoyment. The songs themselves are such an assault that feel a bit out of breath even before reaching the total of thirty minutes of the album, but if you want to be completely crushed "Roten Till Allt Ont" does is better than most and earns a solid: 7,6/10

24 Jul 2017

The Curse - Come Forth (Imperium Productions - 2017)

After Morbid Angel effectively turned into utter crap, The Curse from Sweden steps in to fill the void of blasphemous death metal played with immaculate precision. "Come Forth" is a  debut EP featuring seasoned veterans from the scene and members from other prominent bands, and sounds accordingly.
My interest was peaked regarding this band as soon as it was announced and I became aware that it featured members from Swedish Kaamos (RIP) when they were to open up for Hypocrisy at a show in Stockholm. That was 2013 and two years later, in late 2015 they released their first EP in digital form and now in 2017 it is finally also available in vinyl format through Imperium Productions.
Ominous chanting starts of the opening track "Morbid Mass" and just before you are about to release a deep sigh over another "spooky intro" to a metal album The Curse blasts you with a relentless onslaught of double kicks and tremolo guitar work. The song continues in similar fashion, with Karl Envall's voice sounding familiar from his days in Kaamos. His growls have never been one of those that I consider the best within the genre, but it has to be said that they feel very honest. Very little reverb and compression is used on them (compression is a death metal vocalists best friend in the studio) and what you hear in here is what he also delivers at live shows. The track alternates between heavy interludes and the aforementioned fast parts before moving into a more atmospheric part in the middle with marching snares and guitars with a lot of effects on them. Karl bellows about "fire and brimstone" and other appropriate themes while we move into the final chorus.
Next up the title track "Come Forth" which wastes no time and moves directly into the chorus. Here there is no mistake about the Morbid Angel influences, with dissonant chords quickly swirling over the neck of the guitars while drummer Victor Parri tries his best to pound his kit into dust. Victor seems to be playing in almost every band from Sweden right now, dealing in everything from doom- death- and black metal, and he really shines here. I assume that even Pete "The Feet" Sandoval would be in awe of this performance. The Curse are good at changing things up and becoming an endless blastbeat orgy, just don't expect any experimental interludes, but a lot of breaks, shifts in tempo and chord-styles to keep things fresh and interesting.
The title track fades out before the drums kick off "Azazel", a mid-tempo number who initially draws the mind to the likes of Bolt Thrower or Asphyx before becoming a complete thrash-fest in the verses. This track has a captivating groove to is and the chorus will get you hooked immediately (if you don't have an odd aversion to catchy death metal). The drums that introduce the song are a bit obviously triggered when singled out like that, and if I had engineered the album I would have removed the trigger for just that part, but altogether the sound is fine and I won't be a stickler about triggered drums in this type of death metal. I'll merrily scream "Azazeeel!" along with the track until the needle finally has grinded away the grooves on my LP.
"Of Darkness Born" offers up several different types of blastbeats in shorter time than most bands do in a lifetime, something that more bands "of the blasting kind" should try out instead of continuously sticking to the classic grind every time. It offers up some needed variety as I find that tracks with an endless grind throughout it are a complete bore. This track keeps a high pulse throughout without going for a heavy interlude in the middle and barely reaches over the three minute mark before finishing off.
If the previous track was the most intense on this EP "INRI Stigma" is the most laid back, and I am using this term very loosely here. Laid back in the terms of The Curse is still more energetic than most. Here we get the only proper guitar solo within these tracks, and while it is nothing completely mind-blowing I would gladly welcome more as the band seems to have two capable lead guitarists in Fredrik Hernborg and Nicklas Eriksson. And yes, they each play a solo back-to-back in this track, as a band should when having two guitarists. This is a very heavy track with the occasional bursts of hyper-aggression who also doesn't go on for barely more than three minutes.
My favorite track on the EP is "Ancient Curses", even if it serves up the "spooky intro" that we nearly avoided in the opener, luckily it doesn't drag along for more than ten seconds here either. A phased guitar introduces the main riff before we are completely carpet-bombed by the full power of The Curse, if this doesn't get your neck moving you must not have one. The band takes a short break to scream the title of the track from the top of their lungs, only to repeat the whole process again immediately afterwards. Meaning that we get to hear this fantastic riff start off with a "Uh!" two times before the intro is over, absolutely fantastic. The verses are very atmospheric and dark, and if you thought the chorus to "Azazel" was catchy you're in for a ride here. This track has been on constant repeat in my head more times than I would care to admit, and not due to being trivially simple, but due to being of utmost quality. A riff heavy as any leads out of the track, as well as the EP in whole, as The Curse gradually slows down in the final measures and the final sound we hear is a stone slab shutting the lid of an ancient tomb.
As stated earlier I won't rag on triggered kicks here as it is as much part of the genre as distorted guitars at this point, and Parri's drumming is nothing else than commendable. The mix is fine, with a nasty guitar tone that fits the mood and a honest vocal performance. I could go for having the bass louder in the overall mix, but since Karl handles both vocals and bass duties at the same time I have a hunch that there isn't a lot of flashy bass tricks going on that we are being robber of behind the wall of sound.
"Come Forth" is a high quality offering throughout and absolutely ends with a bang, and the strong choruses from the time of Kaamos has not gone MIA since their heyday. As one can demand form musicians of this caliber, the EP leaves little to want even after a careful examination. Since it was initially released in 2015 I really hope that they have something more to offer soon. Until then "Ancient Curses" will probably keep me going for some more time yet. "Come Forth" emerges from its tomb with: 7,9/10

17 Jul 2017

Avatarium - Hurricanes and Halos (Nuclear Blast - 2017)

Avatarium seem to have moved away further from their doom metal roots with each release, in favor of what I would call classic rock. This being their third album, and fifth release all in all, they seem to be all but gone by now. While the album isn't bad per say, it doesn't really scratch the itch that I had either. Then again, I simply might not get it.
I've been an Edling-oholic for quite some time. Simply put: if I hear that Leif is involved, I see the chances of me liking that album increase dramatically. I can't help to wonder if his decreasing involvement in, and now apparent disappearance from, the band is the reason to why I simply can't get into the latest Avatarium album as much as I had expected to. I can't find any clues to that he would still be involved as a "ghost writer" of sort for the band in the LP inlay, and to my surprise the songs on the album are not registered in the database of Swedish STIM either, so no luck there in finding out who's responsible for writing the tracks. Needless to say, I suspect that this album is completely Edling-free and that he along with keyboard player Carl Westholm was exited out of the band without any announcement.
Anyway, the album opens somewhat strong with "Into the Fire / Into the Storm", an upbeat affair with a catchy chorus much in the vein of 2015's title-track "The Girl With the Raven Mask". I'm glad to hear that the entrance of organist Rickard Nilsson has made the organ take a more prominent role in the production, and he riffs along with Marcus Jidell's guitar without breaking a sweat as well as offers up a nice solo in the middle of the track. The track draws my mind to songs like "Free'n'Easy", "Easy Livin'" or "To Scared to Run" by Uriah Heep, and fuels my suspicion that there won't be much of doom metal up for grabs within the grooves of the golden double LP that I pre-ordered.
Next up is "The Starless Sleep" that almost has a dance-music element to it, had the steady drum beat by Lars Sköld been replaced by a thumping bass this track wouldn't have felt out of place at a nightclub. The same goes for the vocal melodies in the chorus. I take it that this track will be a regular at Avatarium's live shows to come, considering the placement in the album track list and that it was released as a video on beforehand, for me it falls flat though. A redeeming quality is Markus solo, that he along with all of the rest of the band are extremely accomplished in their instruments is a fact that I cannot argue. It's an early point in the albums playtime for me to start loose interest though.
"Road to Jerusalem" opens with some country-sounding acoustic guitar, backed up by fuzzy electric instruments. The track does a great job in conveying the mood of a long trek through the desert, and is oddly enough one of my favorite tracks within "Hurricanes and Halos". Jennie-Ann Smith's voice fit these type of songs extremely well, and it is solidified after the break in the middle where the drums enter and she backs herself up with some classic "aah-aah" vocals and beautiful harmonies in the chorus.
Heavy drums lead into "Medusa Child" and my hopes are staring to rise that we're getting into the realms of doom, but are snuffed before we've even get passed the first of the songs nine minutes. It's not that the verses here aren't heavy and moody, but the track is quite awkwardly put together with sudden changes that don't quite fit together. I'm all for variety, but it has to fit together coherently. Once again however Rickard serves up a cool organ solo before the song drifts of into more experimental territory in 60's/70's fashion for a couple of minutes to finally fade away in the end.
"The Sky at the Bottom of the Sea" once again draws the mind to Uriah Heep, especially with the vocal harmonies in the verses, Hensley-esque tone and rhythms of the organ and use of the wah-wah pedal. An extremely tight shuffle beat on the drums makes this track bounce onward without one noticing that the time has passed, and the chorus is large and stadium-like. Definitely one of the better tracks on the album.
"When Breath Turns to Air" has a jazz feel to it with colored guitar chords, soft vocals and a lot of ghost notes on the snare drum, Avatarium clearly has no problem with handling these elements either. Very well played once again, but we're getting back to the point where this simply isn't anything that interests me. 
We are finally treated to a heavy power-chord riff(!) with "A Kiss (From the End of the World)". Jennie-Ann handles this very masterfully as well and shows that her background isn't solely based in jazz and soul, but that she's no stranger to Ronnie James Dio either. If you were looking for doom metal, this is what you'll get, as the track later moves in to more experimental parts with guitar solos in the same manner as "Medusa Child" did earlier.
The title track "Hurricanes and Halos" is more of an outro than anything else, and after my first listen I haven't felt the urge to play it again other than for the sake of this review. Guitar harmonies are stacked on top of each other for three and a half minutes before the track finally disappears.
The production of "Hurricanes and Hales" is stellar, especially the drums, organ and vocals. From time to time the guitar is a but too fuzzy for my taste, but this has been the case with Avatarium since after their self titled debut. The organ has that great roar to it when needed and the drums are organic and dynamic. You can really hear that there is no studio fakery needed for these seasoned musicians, and an extra mention must be made of Markus's solo capabilities that have always been top notch as well as Jennie-Ann's broad vocal scope.
Avatarium obviously know what they are doing, but moving into the tired and over-done realm of retro rock was something that was really hoping that they wouldn't do. Granted, there is still some elements of doom metal here, but always in the form of what I would call "doom ballads" or upbeat heavy metal tracks, nothing in the vein of the absolutely crushing riffs on their debut. If this is due to Leif being missing (or if he even is gone), one can only guess. But I have my suspicions. "Hurricanes and Halos" isn't bad, but not what I wanted. In fact, it is very well played classic rock with some jazz- and soul elements thrown in there for good measure, and If you're in the mood for that, this album is definitely for you. Maybe I can be blamed for having preconceived expectations of what I wanted, but "Hurricanes and Halos" earns: 6/10

10 Jul 2017

Doomocracy - Visions & Creatures of Imagination (Steel Gallery Records - 2017)

Doomocracy from Greece deals out a brand of very melodic, and somewhat progressive, doom metal with a lot of eastern-sounding melodies and atmospheric keyboards. "Visions & Creatures of Imagination" is a step-up from their debut in 2014 when it comes to song writing and shows promising development for the future.

I own Doomocracy's debut "The End is Written" on both CD and on a signed LP that I proudly display even if it was quite badly damaged while shipping. I always prefer to own an LP if available, and only bought the CD because no vinyl was available at the time. This time however I am waiting for the vinyl to release as it was announced at the same time as the rest of the versions. My digital copy has had serve as a stand-in though as I could not wait to hear if "Visions & Creatures of Imagination" has taken the band on the path I desired, hoping for more memorable songs rather than a few that stand out among the many.

Opening track "Ghosts of the Past" sets the bar really high for the rest of the album, immediately showing which type of melodic riffing we can expect from the band. The song features incredibly heavy drumming from Minas Vasilakis, who throws in rapid kick-bursts leading into the hits, creating that dragging sensation while still being completely on point. Michael Stavrakakis's vocals soar above the very rhythmisized riffing, gluing it together with long notes and languished vocal melodies. This is a very catchy number, with each riff being "hummable" and memorable and I can imagine singing along with the "aah-aah" part in the middle of the song at live shows. To my knowledge the track features keyboards arranged by Miguel Robaina (ex-Memento Mori), either way they add a lot of atmosphere to it.

"Lucid Plains of Ra" dives even deeper into the experimental rhythms and progressive realms after some oriental instruments has set the tone of the track. The hi-hat work is extremely well done and the kicks are well coordinated along with the bass lines in the intro. Michael offers shorter vocal lines in the verses here, rather enhancing the unorthodox rhythms than gluing it together as with the opener. It's all very precisely played and doesn't get so progressive that it's hard getting into or to enjoy, a very thin line that has to balanced between showing off your skills and creating enjoyable music instead of masturbatory self-indulgence. The track climaxes at the four minute mark where a well executed falsetto scream leads into the solo, and what a solo it is! If guitarist Harry Dokos or Angelos Tzanis is responsible I do not know, but the solos on this album are fantastic, carefully balancing the same thin line as just described above.

Opening with a heavy break interlude with harmonized guitar leads "My Bane" sounds like something you could have found on the last album by Solitude Aeturnus in 2006, the same type of leads and rhythms that I associate with the band are used here. The verses take a step back to simpler, chugging guitars. A welcome break from the tracks that have demanded more from the listener, with less layers to the music you get a chance to lean back and nod along to the riffs. Doomocracy makes sure you don't loose focus for too long though, as they make a point of fooling you that the song is over before once again diving into chorus a final time. Overall a simpler track, but no less a great one.

Doomocracy decides to put the "epic" into "epic doom metal" with the intro of "One with Pain", which completely crushes the listener under the weight of planet-sized meteors crashing into the earth only to lead into a freight train of a double bass riff. This track reaches over eight minutes and fits its demeanor of anguish just right. The chorus riff is slow and heavy, with a unison attack of all instruments. The lyrics does however rhyme in a way that feels a bit shoehorned, but the overall power of the chorus is not lost. After a short clean interlude, the track leads into another of my favorite solos on the album. The outro/final chorus of this track takes two minutes to get through before it fades out... as already stated: Epic.

"Guardian Within" somewhat of a power metal-feel to it, with mid-temp galloping guitars and many melodies thrown in. Once again the lyrics rhyme in a way that makes me feel a bit uneasy though. I can imagine that this track would work well live as it is rather short (for doom metal) and shakes things up a bit, and putting it here after the longest track on the album was the right choice. It is however the most skippable track on the album, one has to be right?

Title track "Visions & Creatures of Imagination" opens strongly with Doomocracy demonstrating all that I have previously commended them for, also with a church organ adding to the weight of the riff. Once again they make use of interesting rhythms, this time much heavier though with the guitars and drums sounding like they're limping forward as if wounded while the vocals soar above. Michael seem to have gained more control over his voice since the bands debut, and nowhere is it better showed off than in this track. The bridge quickly jumps into more up-beat drums before a chorus worthy of a title track. Worth mentioning is that someone made the wise decision to dust of their wah-wah pedal for solo as well, which is done way too little dese days.

"Trinity of Fates" takes a more classic approach to doom metal, with a dead heavy main riff that is later stripped down to the bone once the vocals enter, only to reappear again later. The snare drum patters on a marching beat in the background, where the dynamics between a hard hit and the softest strokes well audible and shows that Minas has a good ear this kind of playing. As well as that the production has had to have this in mind while mixing the drums. After all, conveying emotion from just a snare drum would be hard if it was triggered or compressed to oblivion. The chorus is delivered with an admirable passion, and is probably one of my favorites on the album. The song ends way before I am finished listening to it, meaning that I usually have to give it another spin before moving onward to the last track.

Closing the album is "A Taste of Absinthe" and finally bassist Manolis Sx gets some room, albeit for a short while. I can't seem to say enough that the bass should be mixed louder in almost all albums released these days, especially if you have such a nice tone as Manolis has here. I have had a different experience with the bass though where it is much louder on certain sound systems, for example in my car, rather than in my headphones. It's always a hard thing to get mixes to sound the same in different systems. This is a dreamy track which features a lot tom-work from the drums, the vocals are very soft and the bass plays a couple of leads in the background before the somber chorus kicks in. "Visions & Creatures of Imagination" does not end with a bang even if this final track picks up the tempo later in the middle. It rather slowly drifts away, and I guess that was what they were going for, to create and album that you should best enjoy while sitting down and having a proper and dedicated listen. If so they succeeded even though I think "Trinity of Fates" would have been a more effective finish.

When you spit out the term "epic doom metal" most people will immediately think of the mighty Candlemass, and rightfully so. Doomocracy however has taken somewhat of their own twist on the genre to revitalize it and avoid becoming a full-on clone. Taking a few tricks from bands like Tad Morose and maybe Savatage they have created something that sounds like Doomocracy. For the sake of this review I have listened extra closely to the album, and it has actually grown from the process as there are many layers to the music to explore, rather than become boring after multiple spins. "Visions & Creatures of Imagination" demands a lot from the listener, especially with a playing time of more than fifty minutes, but it is worth it even if a small amount of fat could be trimmed off. I sure do hope that Doomocracy does not end up as overlooked as the bands that seem to have inspired them, I for one will be buying the LP once it is available. Depending on how the album holds it's own during the months to come, this is a strong contender for the end of the year lists. "Visions & Creatures of Imagination" earns 7,8/10

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3 Jul 2017

Crawl - Worship Death (Bloodsoaked Records - 2016)

Crawl delivers crust punk infused death metal and as fit doesn't worry for a second about sounding pretty or polished. "Worship Death" is a fittingly titled EP released by Bloodsoaked Records which offers varied material and displays all of the bands sides within the three tracks it contains.
"Worship Death" was released as a 7-inch vinyl in a limited run of 500 copies, of which I snagged myself one rather immediately. The package was of high quality and included a large embroidered patch featuring the cover art. Clocking in at just barely over ten minutes, and me being unfamiliar with their first demo release, I was expecting something along the lines of short, blastbeat-ridden numbers, and not much more. Crawl does however have more tricks up their sleeve.

When the needle of my turntable hits the spinning 7-inch Crawl lays down the law before I've even managed to take a seat in my designated listening chair. Vocalist Joakim Mikiver barks out a classic "Uh!" as  perfectly crunchy guitars, topped of on HM2-steriods, rings out in frenzied feedback noise. Mid-paced and catchy death metal marches out of the speakers, all very tightly held together by the stable beat of Ämir Batar's drums, but in no way polished or prettied-up. In fact the whole soundscape has a garage-like aura, which fits the music just perfectly. The chorus in the opener "Altar" makes you want to down fifteen cans of Swedish folköl, in true punk fashion, and bellow along as Joakim shouts "the bodies reek of death, fucked by the altar".

The track seamlessly rings into the following "Drenched" which surprisingly opens with a riff you wouldn't be shocked to find on the next album by Sleep or Electric Wizard, this infused with Crawl's already mentioned sound makes the mind wander to the likes of Autopsy. It doesn't take the long for the band to dive back into the realms of death metal and crust punk again though. This alteration continues throughout the whole track, keeping the listener on his or her toes. I don't know if Joakim is the sole person responsible for the vocals or the high-pitched screams thrown in between his low grunts are backup vocals lain down by guitarist Martin Sjögren or bass player Adam Andersson, if so they are not credited. They are frequently used in all tracks though, and contributes to a lot of Crawl's attitude.

A riff heavy as anything you could imagine leads into the final track "Endless Grave", which has more drive to it than the previous song with it's chugging guitars. The verses here are a bit thrashier and lead nicely into the heavier sections of the track, and man are they heavy. Crawl manages to keep the tracks short and effective even when trudging forward in a somewhat leisurely tempo, in fact no track here reaches four minutes, and some little more than three.

"Worship Death" leaves me hungry for more, and is a good exhibition of what Crawl has to offer. The humble playing time is not an issue as the songs are varied enough to warrant a couple of listens in a row before moving on. Since the release of the EP Joakim and Adam has left the band and they have instead been joined by Joachim Lyngfelt of Dråp on vocals, leaving the bass chair vacant. To my knowledge they are working on a full length release, hopefully they will manage to keep my interest peaked on a longer running time as well. "Worship Death" makes me go "Uh!" 8/10 times.

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26 Jun 2017

Puteraeon - The Empires of Death (Self-released 2017)

Puteraeon is a death metal band in the classic Swedish tradition, a genre which has had a long-enduring resurgence. In fact, such a long one that I refuse to call it a trend or revival, Swedish OSDM is obviously here to stay whether you like it or not. After three full-length albums, with one clearly following the line of the other, Puteraeon hits us with an EP containing their strongest material to date. 
Puteraeon has managed to put out three strong albums, and in quite rapid succession at that. If you count their demo releases (which you should), which are long enough to be regarded as full length albums as well, Puteraeon has put out an staggering amount of songs between the years of 2008 and 2014. To my surprise though, things went silent for three years after the release of "The Crawling Chaos". The band later announced in 2017 that they were going to self-release their new material, and in the format of a thee track digital EP, an unexpected turn of events if anything. And now with the announcement of a physical version of the EP on the horizon (only vinyl is real!), it's high time to talk about this EP.
That these guys love for all things H.P. Lovecraft shouldn't have passed under anyone's radar, this time the man himself even adorns the cover art. Jonas Lindblood's well of HPL-lyrics seems to inexhaustible and by this time I would have a hard time imagining a Puteraeon that didn't worship at the grave of the man at night.
Speaking of the grave or Mr. Lovecraft, "Providence" is the opening track of this EP. Tastefully named after the quote "I am providence" which embellishes his headstone. Puteraeon has always had very strong productions, and to my surprise that has not changed here. Even though they this time around employed the reigning world champion of overly compressed- and ear numbing productions, Dan Swanö, instead of Andy LaRocque who has worked on previous albums. This song is extremely well put together, and no part lingers for too long before changing it up. Blastbeats are intertwined with melodic breaks and chugging guitars in a way seems very thought through. One listen to this song often results in at least two more in order to hear your favorite parts again, the true mark of a great track. I do somewhat miss Jonas's deep and guttural voice though. The change in vocal style was in my understanding due to his old approach being hard to replicate live, and I can't argue with that reasoning. The vocals are more articulated here than ever before, and in the end the change is probably for the better. After all, Jonas has lost none of his vigor while bellowing over the epic guitar breaks in the middle of this song.
"At the Altars" follows in a slightly more melodic fashion with the guitars of aforementioned Jonas and guitarist Rune Foss harmonize skillfully and just the right amount without going overboard. The song also features a well played solo, echoing over a cavernous riff-landscape. While "Providence" is a swirling vortex of madness (in the best possible way), "At the Altars" is a more catchy affair with parts that get stuck in your head and vocal lines you can anticipate to scream along to at a live show. As with the previous track they change things up at just the right moment to keep your interest peaked, and this goes to show that you can still write this type of death metal as long as you're smart about it. Good musicians will still write fantastic songs even if it's a genre that's been done several times before.
Closing song "Epitaph" opens with a blast, in the most literal sense, quickly changing between it and the most classic of Swedish guitar rhythms which continues into the verses. And by this point drummer Anders Malmström has proved that he has more than mastered everything that is to be expected by a death metal drummer, though it would be nice to hear some other form of blastbeat other than the classic grind here and there. This is a short, and to the point, track that is over before you know what hit you. A perfect closing number that leaves you hungry for more.
It was a great relief the hear this EP having as good a production as it actually does, the guitars are warm and powerful, the drums sound very organic instead of the castanet-sounding kicks I was fearing. One note I'd like to add is that I would have preferred to have the bass louder in the mix, but that is something I could say about just about any release nowadays. The whole sound has a lot of air and room to breathe even though all instruments are going full throttle basically all the way through.  
Puteraeon seem to have gained a lot from taking some extra time to refine the material before release, and after all three years is not an atrocious time to wait for quality. If we're lucky they have more tracks in the bank already, and maybe the next release will be an offering with a longer runtime. Either way, I'll be happy to hear more. If you don't like this, you probably don't like death metal, and if you're tired of the genre, you probably weren't that into it to begin with. The ghost of HPL bestows "The Empires of Death" with: 8,6/10

19 Jun 2017

Monasterium - S/T (No Remorse Records - 2016)

Monasterium is the side-project of a couple of the mysterious members of Evangelist and both these bands feature many of the same elements. What Monasterium has to offer that Evangelist has not got already is a slight pivot towards the realm of heavy metal, not a far leap from the safety of Epic Doom Metal, but an ever so effective one non the less. This self-titled debut starts- and ends strong, with a slight dip in the middle and features very fine bass work throughout.

I've been a fan of Evangelist since the release of their second album "Doominicanes" in 2013, and have been eagerly awaiting a follow-up as I felt that album was stronger than their debut. While I don't know how many of the Evangelist members are involved in Monasterium, other than that they obviously share the same vocalist, due to Evangelist deciding be one of these anonymous acts of late. I was still excited to see a new album released from the same creative minds.

Monasterium sure chose the right song to open the album. "Christening in Blood" is a very effective number with incredibly heavy riffs that even manages to get to the first chorus before the time meter hits the minute mark, a remarkable feat for a doom metal band if anything. It also doesn't take long to hear that vocalist Michał Strzelecki is an obvious fan of Messiah of Candlemass fame, and no one can blame a doom metal vocalist for this. Though Michał's vocals does sound a bit "throaty" and almost at the brink of being strained at times. Luckily he seems to be very aware of where his limit lays and never bites of more than he can chew, even though it sounds like he is very close to at certain times. When he hits the notes in the line "a lost offering of life" in the chorus, it is with a great passion and seriously goose-bump inducing. A special mention needs to be made of Filip Malinowski bass work as well, who doesn't fear doing his own thing behind the wall of riffing guitars instead of just following the rhythm guitar, neither here or in any of the other songs. Which is something that plagues doom metal of this type, and metal in general. Filip does instead seem to have taken a page from Geezer Butler's great book of bass playing, rather than Leif Edling's (there's truly enough of Leif to be heard on this album anyway).

"A Hundredfold Cursed" opens with power chord riffing, and we get better insight in the instrumentation that Monasterium has to offer with a dynamic shift into the clean verse, with even more great bass lines. The drum production fits this dynamic composition very well, and has a sound that can carry both heavy riffing, clean interludes and double bass lines, all demonstrated in this song. The chorus here is far from as powerful as the song before, but somber and languishing, even more so towards the end of the song where they scale things down to bare minimum. I tend to more often get the double bass riff that follows the chorus stuck in my head rather than the actual chorus.

Dirty sounding guitars lead into "The Pharisee's Tongue", playing a dissonant chord before proceeding into another power chord onslaught. This song has a good drive to it, and features exciting drums  and energetic vocals in the verses, I am however not a fan of the dissonant elements to the guitars in this track, which kind of kills it for me. The guitar solos could also use some work, as they get the job done but doesn't really raise any eyebrows neither here on or the rest of the album, with a few exceptions.

Tribal drums echo under ominous synthesizers as we enter "In the Shrine of the Jackal God" and are treated to the heaviest riff on the whole album. Monasterium then dives into an oriental sounding heavy metal riff that fit's the theme of the track just perfectly. And when the first word of the line "twelve names of the demons" hits, shivers run down my spine. With a bit more energetic chorus this would have bumped down the opening track as my favorite track on the album, but now falls a bit flat. The guitar solo on here reaches the highest point of the album, with some extra harmonies and even more middle-eastern sounding melodies. Guitarist Tomasz Gurgul seem to do his best lead work when keeping it simple and effective.

Things pick up again with the monumentally titled "In Hoc Signo Vinces", another track leaning toward the heavy metal-side of things with a jumpy riff and somewhat upbeat attitude. The lighthearted demeanor is quickly rectified though when the crushing verse rumbles into the song like a slow-motion avalanche. What I have yet to mention is how much I like Monasteriums lyrics, which are very well written. Especially in regard that English is not their first language, or is even taught in regular school programming in Poland to my knowledge and speech in foreign movies is overdubbed to Polish.

"I will tremble the walls of Rome, in the Orient I will raise my throne
All the west I reclaimed and Byzantium shall carry my name
Apparition in heaven above, divine light descending like a dove
This God I invoke, to perdition I sentenced my foes" 

That's some well-written stuff if I've ever seen it. This song has an excellent chorus, beautiful clean interludes and a short and effective solo, even if Tomasz tries some flasher stuff. Do yourself a favor and go listen to it, as it is available for streaming both on the Monasterium's YouTube channel and their bandcamp page.

"Moloch's Uprising" takes the tempo down again into doomier realms, but sadly disappears a bit among the other strong finishing tracks on the album. However, since this is not an overly long album, which actually clocks in on the rather perfect forty minutes and the song itself is the shortest on the album it doesn't disrupt much and gives you a chance to take a breath and gather your thoughts before the finish. "Moloch's Uprising" feature parts that are what I usually call "Iron Man-esque" where the vocals and guitar work in unison on the same melody, this is something that I rarely appreciate. Luckily the whole song is not written like this.

Finally we ascend "Into the Mountain of Power", a Conan - The Barbarian inspired number (the movie, not the short stories), and I am all for that. A bass intro leads into this full blown heavy metal epic, which draws to mind Manowar's more grandeur moments, like "Gates of Valhalla", "March for Revenge" or even "Battle Hymn". Michał even gives his best shot at a falsetto scream á la Eric Adams in the end, which I would gladly welcome more of. Drummer Maciej Berniak experiments with some interesting tom work and syncopation in this track, and it all feels very tight and like the instrumentalists are well rehearsed and aware of what the other guys are doing instead of just focusing on their own parts.

Lets call this is a very good "debut" from Monasterium, even though at least some of the guys have released albums together in the same genre before. It features a very good production overall with a clearly audible bass (thank the gods of doom that we don't miss any of these bass lines), excellent drum sound, clear vocals and crisp guitars. The lyrics are very well written, although Michał's accent takes a bit getting used to if you haven't listened to eastern European bands before. The guitar solos could use a bit of work from time to time, but always gets the job done. No one can complain over the quality of the guitar riffing and song composition though. Monasterium's self-titled album shall conquer in the sign of: 7,8/10

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12 Jun 2017

Cerecloth - This Temple is a Grave (Bloodsoaked Records - 2016)

Cerecloth plays death metal with a sound akin to Bolt Thrower or Cancer, but other influences can be heard once the obvious has been stated. "This Temple is a Grave" is their debut demo which leaves little more to want, other than more material.
Remember 10+ years ago when every new band didn't have to call their low budget demos a "debut EP" in a desperate attempt to make it sound like a professional release? Cerecloth sure seems to at least, which was what first caught my eye. Being released by Bloodsoaked Records, which has a keen ear for finding underground gems both around their native Sundsvall and other places also increased the chance of this being a demo worth getting. Needless to say, the logo patch packed along with the cassette (yes, cassette) now proudly adorns my battle vest.
Opening track "Strangling the Saint, Strangling the Prophet" doesn't waste time introducing each instrument one at a time, but instead kicks right off into the verse riff which is a melodic affair of Bolt Thrower flavor. Followed by a crawling bridge and chorus with un uneasy aura which draws the mind to early Morbid Angel's heavier material. This feeling is further cemented by Mangus Ödling's  lyrical themes, and once the first solo on this demo hits your ears even more Morbid Angel influences seems to be heard in this at-first-glance Bolt Thrower tribute. The lead guitar work here, and throughout the whole demo, is superb and backed up by a really stable foundation by the rest of the band.

The title track "This Temple is a Grave" also wants to give you your moneys worth as soon as possible and dives into an incredibly groovy riff, much made so by Emil Leijon's kick drum capabilities and syncopated cymbal hits (he also delivers some of the patented Bolt Thrower "double-kick-drum-and-syncopated-snare-beat" later in the song, but lets end the BT-comparisons here). This track has more drive to it than the previous and moves into a nice melodic interlude after the solo, played tightly on muted guitar strings. And Magnus bellows "This temple is a fucking grave" with an admirable conviction before the shortest song on this twelve and a half minute demo comes to and end.

Last out is "May your Corpse Become the Instrument", and here Cerecloth treats us to a more traditional intro sequence before moving into yet another groovy kick drum carpet-bombing that basically continues until the last note rings out. Here is where I'd say there is a bit room for improvement as the verses in this track feel a bit anonymous, especially after the two first songs, nothing that makes me rewind my tape before the track is over though.
I am a firm believer that a demo should be allowed to sound like a demo, and don't expect new and unestablished bands to be able to barf up thousands of euros to hire famous producers. Sure, the guitars sound a bit muffled, the cymbals are somewhat splishy-splashy, but I'd be damned if it doesn't get the job done! Looking at their lineup, these guys has obviously been in a studio for larger productions with other bands before. But "This Temple is a Grave" feels like a very honest debut done with the means available, and neither does try to, or needs to be, more than it is.

I for one am looking forward to further releases from Cerecloth, and I believe that their plans are to release more demos before going for a full length. I do hope for some more variation, and I realize this is rather minimalistic death metal, but I am not proposing acoustic or orchestral interludes between the songs. But some more significant changes in tempos and lengths between the songs would be a welcome addition. In short, the material here is very strong, I just want to hear more of what the band has to offer. "This Temple is a Grave" rightfully earns: 7/10

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Below - Upon a Pale Horse (Metal Blade Records - 2017)

Below plays Epic Doom Metal in the vein of bands like Candlemass and Solitude Aeturnus. "Upon a Pale Horse" is their second full-length album, and offers some improvements in certain fields. If the album manages to grow over time in the same way as the debut, the minor problems it suffers from will be all but forgotten.
I really enjoyed Below's debut "Across the Dark River" which had a few songs at really grabbed me right away on my first listen, and the rest grew on me a lot as time passed. I was naturally quite looking forward to the follow-up, having pre-ordered the silk-grey marbled vinyl as soon as it was available. So, how does it hold up?

"Upon a Pale Horse" opens with an ominous intro, clocking in at just over one minute, while it sets the mood just fine for the music to follow I cannot say that an intro of this type is something I listen to more than the first time playing the album. Even lifting my tone-arm over it when playing my LP.

The album then descends into the real opening track "Disappearing into Nothing", which was released as a music video before the album release. The track has a great chorus that will get stuck in your head immediately and the song is fairly representative of what this album has to offer, with heavy riffing and soaring vocals. The first thing that strikes me is that Zeb's vocals have improved quite a bit since the album before, and they were pretty damned good already back then. He seems to have mainly developed in his high register, delivering several high pitch-perfect screams throughout the whole album that lends a power-/heavy metal approach to his vocal style, which is a welcome addition as he doesn't go overboard with it either. This goes to show that there is always room for improvement, and came as a happy surprise. The guitars have a huge and hollow sound that fits the style perfectly, and the overall production is an improvement from last time as well. Very warm sounding without becoming muffled.

If there is one qualm I would have with the production though, and this is a minor one, it would be the drums. In this day and age of drum triggers and precise compressors it's hard to say, but either the drums are triggered (albeit, quite tastefully so with good sounding samples) or Doc is a very hard-hitting drummer. Now, being a hard-hitter is a good thing, but in this type of dynamically written songs I would like for it to not sound like the drummer is trying to pound the snare into dust while the guitarists are plucking cords on clean guitars and while vocals are more laid back. This is best represented in the following track "The Coven". I do believe this is a production issue, because I hear a lot of tastefully played ghost-notes on the snare in this track as well, but I miss a little of the "middle ground" between ghost-notes and pulverizing blows on both kick and snare as I don't get the same impression from the toms.

Sadly the title track "Upon a Pale Horse" is the one I had the hardest time getting into. The verses are fine and have nice interludes between the vocals with some really stable kick-drum work and the bridges are epic with church choir-like vocals. But there is something awkward about the chorus to my ears and it doesn't quite stick to my head. This track clocks in at over nine minutes, which is fitting for a song about the end of the world, but I must admit that this is the track I have skipped the most on my several times listening to the whole album. A sad fate for a title track indeed, though things are about to pick up after this.

"Suffer in Silence" is a up-tempo offering (at least by doom metal measures), and the whole of Below really shines in this track, the drums are coordinated with a stable bass line and driving the track forward with some really cool hi-hat work in the bridges. Berg and Paud play interestingly colored chords in the verses while Zeb gives it all he got, later going in to a perfect doom metal chorus. The track finally ending with one of the aforementioned high pitched screams, just perfect.

The song seamlessly transfers into "Hours of Darkness" without the listener noticing, pulling the tempo down again when the unison verse kicks in, drudging onward relentlessly. A very melodic refrain is offered with high quality vocal melodies over some as good guitar leads. To top the track off we are also treated to the best guitar solo on the album, I am however unaware if it is Berg or Paud who is responsible. The song fades away with a kind of cheesy "Yeah, yeah, yeah, yeah" that I could live without, but it's a small price to pay for a track of this overall quality.

The absolute highlight of the album is the heavy-as-a-truck-of-bricks "1000 Broken Bones", the lyrics are ferociously spat out over a catchy riff, and the church choir from "Upon a Pale Horse" makes a return with the same epic results. The track might be a bit repetitive, but if you can't handle that you are probably not into doom metal. It's simple and effective, even utilizing a key signature increase towards the end.

For me personally, the album could have ended here and I would have been fully satisfied. But we get one final offering with "We are all Slaves" which picks up with some clean guitars. That the guys in Below are fans of the Tony Martin-era of Black Sabbath is no secret, having been stated in interviews and with them even playing a cover of "Headless Cross" at live shows. This is very apparent in the vocal delivery in this intro, just listen to the phrase "The faceless masters pulling strings" and try to say that that sliding glissando and vibrato is not straight from Mr. Martin's songbook. This is a somber track, and the band gets a tad political with addressing the problems with todays society in the lyrics. The chorus is grand, but much in the vein of previous songs, and we get another fine guitar solo before the song descends into a two-minute outro.

"Upon a Pale Horse" is a fine album, and earns the same score I would give "Across the Dark River" after the album has had the chance to grow on me for three years. Meaning that if this latest album from Sweden's Below manages to grow in the same way during the year we have left it will be a strong contender when the summary of 2017 is to be made. Even with some very minor hiccups in the production, and some parts I found to not be as catchy as others "Upon a Pale Horse" earns: 7,5/10

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