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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