By on 4 March 2011

Want know which albums got us in a frenzy, and which made us wanna do a puke… then read on!


‘Before The Night Takes Us’
WARNING: This review contains vomiting. What’s this? Another turgid act trying to get fat from a slice of metalcore’s Killswitch Engage-baked pie? From the borefest of chug-a-chug  beatdowns to the wailing vocals that won’t leave your brain, ‘Before The Night Takes Us’ stinks of putrid banality. Doing themselves no favours – the track names are about as inspiring as undercooked toast – you can take your pick from the riff-driven yawn of ‘Song For The Hopeless’ or eight of the other ennui-inducing numbers. Despite the fact the musicians can clearly play (no excuse, you’re in a band and that’s a given) and the inclusion of some interesting electro-synths that swell, soar and perform the loop-the-loop, all Across The Sun have really accomplished is some faux intensity and an over-polished lesson in what is wrong with modern metal.

‘Black Blood Flux’
Just as the devastatingly brutal contents of 2006’s ‘At Least We Will Die Together’ were masked by cover art that yelled “Emo!” at several paces, so the contents of ‘Black Blood Flux’ might wrong-foot anybody expecting a similarly gnarled assault. That is not to say that Allfader’s second album is more palatable or even commercial- far from it – but the band have advanced and refined their death metal style. The traditional Allfader aggression and crunch remain intact, but it’s now intricately weaved into a more complex framework. The opening gambits are intricate yet concise; in spite of their experimental hue there is nothing but meat on the structure’s bones. There are times when the overall pace is slowed, but that simply allows the band to up the pummel factor. An interlude from aggression it isn’t! In short, ‘Black Blood Flux’ is an album that, instead of immediate damage, takes you on a journey, inflicting its scars bit by bit.  

Chicago four-piece American Heritage have been cranking out chops-laden heavy rock since the late ’90s and, glowing reviews and “cult appeal” notwithstanding, are probably best known in the wider scheme of things for doing a split seven-inch with Mastodon shortly before the latter accelerated away, sales-wise. ‘Sedentary’, their sixth album, probably won’t do much to change their day-to-day activities, but only because the world is unkind – this is pretty top-drawer brain-battery if your tastes lie along the Big Business/Melvins/Mastodon axis. It often runs at an exhilarating pace; ‘Fetal Attraction’, which features Bill Kelliher from (yes, you guessed it) Mastodon, is like d-beat hardcore given a tech-metal overhaul. Yet affairs are always disciplined and drilled across these 11 tracks, even on something like ‘Slave By Force’, where five tunes seem to be simultaneously fighting for supremacy. An early contender for year-end list status, the intensity and proficiency on ‘Sedentary’ is best summed up by one of its songtitles, ‘Morbid Angle’.

‘The Local Fuzz’
So The Atomic Bitchwax, once second home to now ex-Monster Magnet axeman Ed Mundell, have stepped over the line to come up with a single forty-two-minute instrumental song packed with more than fifty riffs. Over-indulgent? You betcha. But the real problem is that ‘The Local Fuzz’ is too late for the party as fellow Tee Pee artists Earthless have already smoked all the kush. If the San Diego trio got away with it by going full-throttle and taking no prisoners, TAB are too middle-of-the-road to sustain one’s attention for such a lengthy period of time, especially without any song structure to hold it all together. You may tap your feet to that great, but all too brief, melodic hook around the eight-minute mark or notice the shift of mood from 70s fuzz rock to spacey soundscapes about halfway through, but in the end, ‘The Local Fuzz’ feels more like background music than the visceral trip it wishes it could be.

‘Inhale The Sacred Poison’
CODE 666
While not as revolutionary or creative as other folk black metal bands who have braved this path in recent years, French quintet Folge Dem Wind do offer a courageous and individual take on the genre. They call what they do animist black metal (Google it!), and even if the album opens with fairly straightforward, Helrunar-like BM-from-the-woods, the curveballs soon start coming. Songs are long and slowly shift moods, from eerie stargazing moments with whispered vocals to full and surprisingly raw assaults, yet it’s these transitions that don’t always work so well. In fact, it’s when Folge Dem Wind are going all out that they seem more comfortable, and despite that rawness, there’s a bizarre angular nature to those parts, with some crazy extreme shrieking from vocalist Kilvaras that sets them apart from most other bands of this ilk. Otherwise they’re trying a bit too much, too soon, it seems, but the potential is there.

‘Shrines To The Warhead’
If you’ve chanced upon this damaged Kentuckian trio previously, it’ll most likely have been via their self-titled 2008 album, also released on the Jerusalem-based label Totalrust. Being as that consisted of a single, 54-minute track of extremely horrid and slothful tarpit-dwelling sludge-doom, and that follow-up ‘Shrines To The Warhead’ boasts a poptastic four tracks averaging about ten minutes each, you might ponder whether Highgate’s extremity has wilted. More likely it just suggests that you really only need to make that kind of album once, as Boris, Sleep and Monarch would probably agree. They’re still crossing off pretty much every square on the slo-mo sludge bingo card, mind: the consistently flatlining tempos, Greg Brown’s vocals (imagine Warhorse’s Jerry Orne fronting a black metal band), the lengthy sample that kicks the album off, concerning snake-bite rituals in obscure Christian sects and the feeling that although they’re only in thrall to Winter and Grief right now, they might stand on par with them in the future.

‘Without Support’
Imagine the sound of the carefree psychedelic ’60s turning helter-skelter as perceived by three quarters of Forgotten Woods. With female singer Ida Helleboe replacing the now prolific Neige, these equally depressive songs enchant, flowing from the sounds of The Velvet Underground to Bob Dylan and The Beatles through to garage rock, Psychic TV and Sub-Pop. The barbiturate-clad comfort zone is all-too-wrong here, as vocals are often monotonous and totally “joyless”, and even with the normal upbeat accompanying sound of the harmonica, harmonies are warped and bereft of life. The words “Have you ever felt like this is the best day of your life?” are met with a resounding “NO”! This is the sound of overdose, with the accompanying mocking radio sound resonating around the hearse carrying you on one last trip to the funeral home. Still, it’s impossible to listen to without a rigormortis grin, and is addictive candy which will haunt all the way to the grave.   

‘The God Album’
Changing tack from the prog metal space operas that have been their recent stock in trade, Monsterworks have set phasers to atheism (or robust agnosticism at the very least) for their latest opus. With ‘Album Of Man’ apparently pencilled in for 2012, it’s tough to approach this without recalling The Ocean’s 2010 double-barrelled, grand concept monument to Darwin, but that hardly seems fair when these guys’ hybrid style isn’t even passingly similar. There’s room for all in the church of polite, well-reasoned heresy and the German collective never thought to use their liner notes to reassure anyone who might wish to “masturbate into a sock or eat pork or forget to put on your funny hat”. The musical convergence between melodeath and power prog is leagues better than that description makes it sound, and while the hint of Devin Townsend to the vocals invites unflattering comparisons, this is a creditable tilt at the divine windmill.

Flutes up everywhere in this biii-aaaatch. If you’re unfamiliar with Northern Oak’s 2008 debut, ‘Tales From Rivelin’, then chances are you can still hazard a guess at where this Sheffield sextet’s musical heart lies. Luckily, while sophomore full-length ‘Monuments’ initially threatens to tail off into some tedious mixture of Moonsorrow and the theme tune from that weird kids’ TV programme from the ’90s called ‘The Riddlers’, it actually matures into something quite tolerable, if a bit predictable. Martin Collins’ gruff vocals give the relatively lightweight riffing some much-needed backbone, but where the ‘Oak trip up the most is in the rather naff spoken-word segments, which brings the initially promising ‘Sun God’s Wrath’ to a flat-lining climax and makes ‘Gawain’ sound like a recording from a GCSE drama session. It’s not a lost cause though; ‘Silvian Lullaby’ is an enjoyable romp and, if nothing else, ‘Monuments’ is good for a laugh. Although that probably isn’t really the point. Oops.

‘Reinventing The Past’
The bio claims that completing and releasing ‘Reinventing The Past’ is the realisation of a long-time dream of Swedish metal superman, Dan Swanö. Some of us have dreams of the lottery providing us with an employment-free life, finding our soul mates or finally tracking down and completing our collection of all of Venom’s ‘Assault’ EPs. Swanö has apparently been spending his REM sleep cycles all these many years pondering the possibility of covering a bunch of his all-time favourite songs. And those songs include both the expected and unexpected (everything from Candlemass and Rainbow to Depeche Mode and Sandra), and are streamlined in that signature melodic, progressive style. Tacked on is Odyssey’s self-titled, three song EP from 1999, which is mostly a high-brow mess of baritone vocals and riffs and melodies that border on aristocratic, but cross the border when it comes to boredom. Swanö has his disciples, and they are many. This is strictly for them.

‘Dark Meditations In Monastic Seclusion’
Their moniker doesn’t exactly make them out to be the sorts you’d invite around when looking to contribute to a rousing get-together, and with titles like ‘Sullen Murmur Of Oppressive Stillness’ and ‘To Glisten In All The Colors Of Distress’ it’s probably a good thing these dudes aren’t working side gigs at the suicide hotline (we hope, anyway). But their manner of capturing innate sullenness is mildly quizzical. Track one (‘Seeing One Last Ray Of Light’) is a mostly acoustic track reminiscent of Mason Williams’ ‘Classical Gas’ with off-key clean vocals adding a sensibility lying partway between off-hinged mentalism and karaoke amateur hour. From there the album sways between depression-seared atonal black metal and a folksy serenity, though note we’re talking more along the lines of Woodstock/protest/American folk as opposed to Scandinavian/prance-around-the-woods folk, with ‘Parting Of The Way’ containing one of the most harrowing-sounding speech samples set to music you just might ever hear. Zoloft users, keep 50 metres back!

‘Death To All Nations’
It may seem petty on our part, but when your drummer is a dead-ringer for actor/comedian Zack Grilfin… Zack Galifin… the guy in ‘The Hangover’ with the beard, what comes to mind are humorous misadventures, not incendiary speed/heavy metal of the truest order. Luckily, Patrick Seick’s bandmates sport enough denim, black shirts and bullet belts to pick up his avuncular slack, and fortunately for everyone involved, this Seattle-based unit write songs that are equally as melodic and powerful as they are audacious and arrogant. If you own any album along the Iron Maiden/Judas Priest continuum, with bell curves bulging around 3 Inches Of Blood and Enforcer, then you’ve heard what Skelator have to offer, but ‘Death To All Nations’ employs a compositional robustness and ridiculously overt metal clichés that should turn heads. They may be the millionth band to have a song called ‘For Death And Glory’, but their energy is infectious as they chew nails and put the power back into power metal.

Here’s an album engulfed in tragedy. Space Eater’s original vocalist and spokesman Boško ‘RNA’ Radišić was such a truly dedicated metalhead that when speaking to Tez in late 2007 around the release of  their debut ‘Merciful Angel’, he revealed he briefly deserted the mandatory Serbian military service to attend the band’s prime influence, Agent Steel’s, first ever gig in his own country. Alas, upon the completion of the demo version of this, Radišić tragically died in a fire on June 3, 2009, leaving the band’s future in jeopardy. That ‘Aftershock’ nevertheless materialised eighteen months later alone would have made it quite an achievement, but that it’s one of the best pure thrash albums of the moment makes it even better. Under those harsh conditions, the band built a frantic, yet extremely controlled, Bay Area-influenced killer cut around Radišić’s demo recordings, but that the two extra tracks where he’s been replaced by lead guitarist Luka Matković are as good as the rest speaks volumes about their dedication.  

‘Og Wairwulfs And Bluotvarwes’
These epic sword wielders have been channelling the strength of tight leather pants and flowing, willowy locks into slick power metal over the course of twenty-two years and nine albums. By the sounds of ‘Og Wairwulfs And Bluotvarwes’, these Germans haven’t changed a bit since time immemorial (aka forming in 1989). In keeping, it would appear that whoever is responsible for their cover art is also using a version of a computer art program and skill-set from that time as well. This album may sound cleaner and have been mastered to satisfy present-day listeners’ hearing deficiencies, but progression and moving forward are obviously foreign concepts to Wizard, which is fine – one needs a certain amount of heavy metal in their heavy metal – but if you’re not going for any newness in your sound, some rabid energy should seep in there, and this is where Wizard come up short. The songs are quality metal a la Accept, Priest’s ‘Painkiller’ and Grave Digger, but a little too finished-puzzle-perfect and safe.


About Miranda Yardley

I'm Miranda. Bite me.

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