CD Review: “Fornaldarsagor” by Manegarm

Swedish metal trio Manegarm’s ninth release, Fornaldarsagor, is a meld of melodic folk metal and black metal. The opening track “Sveablotet,” commences with dissonant black metal riffing and several rhythm chances before slowing down during the palatial chorus. Guitarist Markus Ande steals the show with his ability to meld hellish tremolo picking with grandiose riffs. “Hervors arv” continues the fast paced tempo of the previous track. Bassist and vocalist Erik Grawsio’s harsh vocals sound like those of a viking fighting on a snowy battlefield. Manegarm’s folk influence is more prominent on this track, especially during the midsection. “Slaget vid Bravalla” is a ferocious track with drummer Jakob Hallegren’s unceasing double drums intermixed with slicing blast beats. The crushing chorus riff is underscored with gargantuan double drums. “Ett sista farva” is an anthemic folk metal ballad with tranquil guitars and soothing female vocals. The chorus is memorable and evokes images of vikings seated around a campfire singing of their victories. “Dodskvadet” is a serene folk song composed with stringed instruments and acoustic guitars. A fitting end to a heavy album.

Fornaldarsagor features eight tracks each with an average length of five minutes. However, the songs do not drag on as the tracks are both catchy and maintain a degree of complexity. The folks elements are not cheesy or insincere, which is evident on “Dodskvadet.” The folk instruments and Swedish lyrics grant a greater degree of authenticity on this record.

Manegarm did its ancestors proud with Fornaldarsagor. Fans of Amon Amarth, Amorphis and Heidevolk will enjoy this record with its heavy, yet catchy songs and folk elements. Long live the Viking Age.

Check out the band’s website:

http://www.manegarmsweden.com/

CD review: “The Door To Doom” by Candlemass

The doom metal luminaries in Candlemass return with the band’s newest release in seven years, The Door To Doom.

The gargantuan riffs on “Splendor Majestic Demon” leave no doubt that the listener is in store for a heavy experience. Original vocalist Johan Langquist makes his triumphant return after a 33 year absence. His soaring vocals have not faltered and carry the same demonic majesty as they did on the band’s 1986 debut Epicus Doomicus Metallicus. “Splendor” features a crushing galloping riff that explodes during the track’s chorus.

“Under The Ocean” commences with a dreary, psychedelic riff before it is interrupted with a colossal riff and ground shaking drums. Drummer Jan Lindh keeps a stomping mid-tempo for the duration of the track. The following track “Astorolus-The Great Octopus” delves deeper in to the seas of doom as none other than heavy metal progenitor Tony Iommi guest stars on this track. This slow, haunting monody imbues a sense of hopelessness as Langquist laments of a great sea monster that will swallow the earth. Iommi’s bluesy solo serves as fitting music as the planet is devoured.

“Death’s Wheel” is notable for its circular, galloping riff like a carriage traveling to hell. Guitarists Lars Johansson and Mats Bjorkman’s riffs drip with sludge and the double drumming during the song’s chorus heighten the song’s heaviness. “House of Doom” is another highlight with its ripping guitar riff and spine tingling organ during the song’s midsection. Candlemass conclude Door with “The Omega Circle”, the longest track on the record, clocking in at over seven minutes. The trudging tempo and mammoth riffs transition to a soft acoustic passage as Langquist sings of a satanic dream before things turn heavy again. A mighty end to a mighty record.

The Door To Doom is not a door, but a lofty gate that once opened strikes the listener with crushing riffs and operatic vocals. The members of Candlemass do not rest on their laurels and prove why the band is so revered. Bassist and key songwriter Leif Edling creates the perfect balance between heavy and soft as the band never over does it. The record’s softer moments are not just rest areas for listeners but good pieces of music. Of course, when the band plays heavy, the earth shakes and the demons listen. Door is forty-eight minutes of doom metal played extremely well. While the lyrics are awkward at times, they barely detract from the quality of this record.

Candlemass has not lost its step since its formation 35 years ago. The Door To Doom is a stellar record that should please fans and those new to the band. Open the door and revere the colossal splendor before you.

Check out the band’s website:

http://www.candlemass.se/

CD Review: “Spirits Of Fire” by Spirits Of Fire

Metal super group Spirits Of Fire’s self titled debut album is a cauldron of prog, power and thrash metal that unfortunately is slightly generic.

The quartet is comprised of metal legends Tim Owens, Chris Caffery, Steve DiGiorgio and Mark Zonder that are masters of their respective crafts. However, the band is too restrained on this record, dampening the excitement and preferring to play on cruise control.

There are some solid tracks like “Temple Of The Soul” with its driving guitar riff and Zonder’s constant rhythm changes. Chris’s bluesy lead perfectly fits this track while Owens soaring vocals reach the heavens.

The title track comprises of a stomping tempo that transitions to a rolling beat that encircles the listener before reverting to the main riff. The song twists and turns but moves forward with standout guitar leads and interesting time changes. However, other tracks fall short like the seven minute long song “The Game” which is both platitudinous and tedious. The track is a run of the mill epic metal track that falls short of the band’s potential.

These guys played in bands like Judas Priest, Death, Savatage and Fate Warning, thus the bar is high when it comes to creating epic metal material. It is a downer when the band play it safe and sound like an above average American progressive metal act. Album closer “Alone In The Darkness” redeems this record albeit slightly with a somber clean guitar riff, however Owens’ vocals fall a bit flat which diminishes the power on this track.

Spirit Of Fire were burdened with the expected task of releasing a high quality metal album. Sadly, the band play it self and there are few ear grabbing moments on this record. Steve DiGiorgio is one of the greatest metal bassists and his role is greatly diminished. Tim’s vocals vary track by track as he sounds great on one track but drowned out on another one. Caffery’s guitar work is the one consistent element on Spirits, a pity as it suffers due to naff songwriting.

Spirits Of Fire sadly does not live up to its title. There are some fiery moments on the record, but ultimately it is by the numbers prog/power metal. It is a shame as Spirits have the potential to play some ear ripping metal. Perhaps the band will pull out all the stops on its sophomore effort.

Check out the band’s official Facebook page:

https://www.facebook.com/SpiritsOfFireBand/

CD review: “Trapped In Chaos” by Dust Bolt

Dust Bolt expands its horizons on the band’s fourth album, Trapped In Chaos. There is greater depth to the songs, while the band retains its signature thrash sound.

Album opener “The Fourth” transitions between aggressive, blistering drums spliced with slower, grooving riffs. Frontman and guitarist Lenny Bruce’s vocals are a bit tepid, however it does not take away from the track.

“Dead Inside” the initial single commences with a crushing, plodding riffs and machine like drums, before speeding up after the first minute of the song. Guitarists Bruce and Flo Dehn play some colossal riffs while drummer Nico Rayman maintains a heavy groove with some impressive double bass.

A warped psychedelic riff opens “Rhythm To The Madness” before the band accelerates in to thrash mode. The track’s midsection slams like a caged animal before the tempo speeds up at the song’s conclusion. The tracks “Shed My Skin” and “Killing Time” are straight up thrash numbers with a pinch of hardcore that get the head banding. The latter has a couple of ripping guitar leads that reaffirm this band are not a one trick pony.

“Another Day In Hell” is the third single off Trapped and has a dark atmosphere punctuated with haunting clean guitars and a slow beat. This is certain to become a fan favorite and shows the band’s growth as songwriters. Album closer “Who I Am” ends things on an aggressive note with a sped up galloping riff that transitions to a slower bottom heavy groove that fades in to noise.

Trapped In Chaos is Dust Bolt’s experimental record, which will draw detractors because the band plays softer, slower tracks. There are some thrashing tracks on here, but the slower, acoustic parts provide depth the songs and a contrast to the faster songs. This is expected as the band does not want to release the same record over and again. However, there is the concern that Dust Bolt would all but abandon its thrash roots in favor of short, mainstream songs. Fortunately the band does not do that here. The vocals are a bit shaky and at times the band seems a little reluctant to move too far. However, this record may be the turning point for Dust Bolt as it melds its sound in to something more cohesive. Slayer did it with Seasons In The Abyss as it combined the best elements of South Of Heaven and Reign in Blood. It seems Dust Bolt wants to do the same thing.

Trapped In Chaos is a nice dose of thrash metal to ring in 2019. It is a mix of old and new that should satisfy most of the band’s fans. This is not the band’s Turbo album, but some fans may be let down by the softer tracks on the album. Still, bands progress and Dust Bolt want to add more panache to its music. This is good, or else the band would be trapped.

Check out the Dust Bolt’s official website for more information.

CD Review: “Slaves Of The Shadow Realm” by Legion Of The Damned

Dutch metal quartet Legion Of The Damned have unleashed its unholy seventh record, Slaves Of The Shadow Realm.

Album opener “The Widow’s Breed” is a blistering track with chainsaw guitar slicing through thrashing drum beats. The lyrical imagery of African witchcraft is especially interesting and a wonderful departure of the conventional satanic/anti-Christian themes.

“Nocturnal Commando” continues with the African lyrical content the previous track as a tribute to Ogun, the God of Iron in the Yoruba religion. Guitarist Twan van Geel’s unrelenting riffs easily keep pace with Erik Fleuren’s ferocious drumming.

Things briefly slow down on the “Charnel Confession” which maintains an uneasy rhythm throughout the song’s duration. There are numerous guitar fills that complement “Confession’s” fierty atmosphere.

“Slaves Of The Southern Cross” is a demonic grooving tune as the band plays in the pocket before speeding things up during the midsection. The chopping guitar riffs and double bass drums conclude the track in hellish fashion.

“Warhounds of Hades”commences with a colossal drum pattern before descending in to a crushing thrash number. Geel’s aggressive double picking in the main riff drives this track, and the midsection will arouse a mosh pit.

“Priest Hunt” features a haunting symphonic sample that segues in to a galloping pattern and a meat hook guitar riff. A contrast from the thrash fused black metal on prior tracks, yet it still fits on Shadow Realm.

Album closer “Dark Coronation” is the longest track on the record at a shade under six minutes. There is a hardcore punk influence on this track that elides with some complex guitar riffs making it a killer album closer.

Shadow Realm is a collision of black, death, thrash metal and punk but Legion pulls it off for most of the record. Some songs are a bit too long, causing the record to drag. Luckily, Legion’s musical prowess compensates for the album’s few low moments. The production is on point, especially on tracks like “Priest Hunt” with the extra scoop on the guitars. The band also experiments with symphonic samples and a melancholy piano intro “Slaves Of The Demonic Mind.” There are a few good surprises on this record.

Legion Of The Damned bring the goods on Slaves Of The Shadow Realm. Fans of Goatwhore and fellow Dutch metal band God Dethroned will appreciate the band’s melding of metal subgenres. However, this album falls slightly short on some tracks. Still, it is a very good album to lead us in to 2019. The dark gods will appreciate this offering.

Check out the band’s official website:

http://www.legionofthedamned.net/

Top 10 Heavy Metal Albums of 2018

We’ve reached the end of 2018 and it is time for me to unveil my list of the top 10 metal records of 2018.


Jungle Rot – Jungle Rot 

– Jungle Rot’s tenth album encapsulates what we have come to expect from the Wisconsin death metal act. The band’s signature groove seamlessly melds with breakneck thrashing riffs, showing that Dave Matrise and company always have an ace up their collective sleeves.


Behemoth – I Loved You At Your Darkest

Behemoth’s newest release shows the band pushing its creative boundaries drawing both praise and criticism. It is simplistic yet complex record that opens numerous musical avenues for the band’s future releases.


High On Fire Electric Messiah

This high octane tribute to Lemmy is as heavy, gritty and vicious as the late metal legend. A relentless slab of pugnacious punk fused metal that would make Lem proud.


Soulfly – Ritual

Ritual continues the creative kick Max has enjoyed over the past decade. Ritual is replete with hardcore speed and crushing riffs.


Judas Priest – Firepower

– All hail the Metal Gods as they only improve with age. Firepower contrasts with its predecessor Redeemer of Souls, as it features shorter tracks that aim for the jugular. One listen to the title track reaffirms the band’s greatness.


Krisiun – Scourge of the Enthroned

A contraption of blast beats, pulverizing guitar riffs and serpentine rhythm changes. Scourge shows the death metal trip firing on all cylinders.


Powerwolf – Sacrament of Sin

A bombastic release with classical guitars and gothic themes. Sacrament is an underrated record that deserves several listens.


Pig Destroyer – Head Cage

A distorted, disturbing grindcore release that is as introspective as it is brutal. Head Cage is a fitting album title for a record that is filled with numerous images and sounds.


At The Gates – To Drink From The Night Itself

The band that launched a thousands melodic death metal acts. This record sounds like the soundtrack of a horde of vampires. An eerie production accentuates the baroque riffs on the record to haunting effect.


Sirenia- Arcane Astral Aeons

Emanuelle Zoldan’s operatic vocals convey a sense of urgency on tracks like “Love Like Cyanide.” Arcane is an accessible record while still blending several metal sub-genres like goth, power metal and even black metal.

‘Vigilance’ EP by Steep Steps

Steep Steps is an indie-electronic project by producer Tony Correlli, featuring vocalist Athena Hiotis (Rêve, Circuit Villains), whose debut EP, Vigilance, was released in November.  While not a band, per se, these two have composed a thrilling four-song collection perfect for movies and television.  After listening to it myself, it’s not surprising to me that, in one mere month from its release, Steep Steps was nominated as Best EDM Artist at the Maryland Music Awards.

Considering the short nature of this release, and the project’s intent for its songs, let’s break this down tune-by-tune.  The opening track and debut single from Vigilance is called “Sophia.”  The beat and electrobass chug along as the dual vocal harmony swims hauntingly through the air, cascading over the ears, wrapping around each nook and cranny.  Correlli opened up to me that “[Sophia] was inspired by a chapter from the ancient Book of Enoch that personifies wisdom as a woman searching for a dwelling among the children of men – and not finding a place.  Still true today!  But what if?  What if we looked for wisdom rather than vengeance and other emotional reactions that have caused so much pain and death for as long as our history has been written?”  The video released for this song paints the latter vividly, and features stunning videography to match the omnipresence of the music.

Following this we have “Comatose,” an eerie song in which bass notes scrape the bottom of the audible spectrum, vibrating the air.  Static buzzes, alternating from ear to ear alongside the echoed hammering of an object dropped upon the floor.  Athena’s voice cuts through, paranoia setting in, pushing forward down halls in this forgotten space.  “Namaste” is a change of pace, and the chorus’ peaceful, airy, layered vocals are reminiscent of Devin Townsend’s Epicloud.  The drums continually pound forward, while fingers dance ascending and descending lines upon the keys.  A smile definitely cuts wide across my face each time this one spins.  Closing out the release is the song “Outlines” from the film Butterfly Kisses, returning once more to the eerie; yet powerful.  Athena’s voice stretches out and lingers, ushered forth by unnerving keystrokes and otherworldly string vibrations.  If you’d like to up the ante, check out the accompanying Steep Steps video.

I’ve been a fan of Tony Correlli’s work as a producer at Deep End Studios for years now.  But while I’ve continually had the pleasure of listening to other peoples’ projects he produced, and perhaps played on or co-wrote with occasionally, this is my first opportunity to hear his own creative juices leading the charge.  Frankly, what he and Athena Hiotis have done with Vigilance is beautiful, even when hauntingly so.  One of these four selections has already found its way into a movie soundtrack, and the others could easily do the same, but all of them are enjoyable as standalone listenings as well.  So whether you’re director looking to elevate your cinematic experience, or merely a fan of music, consider Steep Steps.

 

For an added bonus, take a listen to their Game Of Thrones / Stranger Things theme song mash-up, and come out to Baltimore to see their debut live performance at the Metro Gallery on January 18.

Buy Vigilance at: iTunes | Amazon

For more on Steep Steps, visit:
Official Website
Facebook
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iTunes
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CD Review: “Storm The Gates” by Venom

The devil’s favorite metal trio from Newcastle returns with its fifteennth studio album, Storm The Gates. “Bring Out Your Dead” opens the record and is the initial single. It is a straight forward track with a stomping groove and a plodding guitar riff. Cronos’s signature raspy vocals are in diabolic effect and guitarist Rage throws out a chaotic lead to top it off.

“The Dark Lord” shifts between a dissonant, dreary psychedelic riff and a grinding mid-tempo riff. Venom proves it is capable of writing strong material and this is a top track. The crunching “100 Miles To Hell” commences with a simple guitar riff before the drums kick in to high gear. It is a no frills headbanging track. The ax swinging riffs on “Destroyer” complement drummer Dante’s slow galloping beat while Cronos sings during the fills about demons and the apocalypse.

Things speed up on “The Might Have Fallen” as Dante’s relentless drumming surprisingly does not let up. Rage’s buzzsaw riffing is primal black metal and reaffirms Venom as the fathers of the sub-genre. The title track concludes the album with a sloppy punk edge mingled with NWOBHM guitar riffs, as it should end.

Venom were notorious for playing bad and lacking the musical prowess of its contemporaries. This is unfair, as the band can certainly play complex music, which is evident on tracks “The Dark Lord” and “Immortal.” However, this is black metal, which is devoid of the pretentious pomp found in other metal sub-genres. Storm The Gates is straight forward, Satanic metal with a fusion of punk for good measure. Some tracks are a little weak, but the overall product is Venom.

Fans of Venom will enjoy Storm The Gates with its 13 tracks of unfettered, diabolical fun. However, if you never liked Venom, this record will not change your mind. Folks new to black metal should check this record out to understand its origins. Venom stormed the gates and were victorious.

Check out the band’s official website here:

http://www.venomslegions.com/

‘Rise Among Rivals’ by Rise Among Rivals

Transcendent Events always sets up great concerts featuring a stunning array of Baltimore-area bands. I had the pleasure of attending their Halloween event about three weeks ago, and more than a few bands turned my head. One of those acts was a new group called Rise Among Rivals, a hard rock band whose self-titled EP became available just this summer. Despite only recently emerging on the scene, it was evident that they are not suffering for a fan base, taking stage to an immediately ecstatic crowd. I quickly understood the rationale, as energy erupted off this foursome, delivering an emotional, yet precise, performance.

I did myself a favor and grabbed a copy of their singular release to get a better idea of what makes this band tick. What I found were six extremely catchy, well-played tracks; tightly executed rhythms, powerful bass presence, and passionate vocal phrasing. “Left Alone” is a particular favorite of mine, with whistling pipe organs laying the groundwork for David Gascon’s [vocals] emotive vocals to warble overtop, as though they’re passing through a cascading sheet of water, before the dual-guitar sledge of Gascon and Jim Poggi crash down upon us. Jamey McElroy’s immense basslines shake us from underneath, jutting upward with the heartbeat of Christopher Tepper’s percussion. There’s a computerized effect during the song, seemingly imitated by the guitars through slides and other fretboard pyrotechnics, which adds even more flair to an already enjoyable experience. This focus on the second track isn’t meant to diminish the others. I certainly want to address tracks like “Bliss,” with its delicious, bass-heavy launch from the starting gate, the use of both a traditional kit and electronic drum samples to widen the flavor palette, as well as the dynamic see-saw of soft and heavy sections. This last point draws the ear to the spacious verses as well as the explosive chorus, and emphasizes both that much more.

Lyrically, Rise Among Rivals largely focuses on relationships that have overstayed their welcome, along with a bit of self-reflection for good measure. While this is certainly not your soundtrack for a happy-go-lucky romantic comedy, there is a note of positivity throughout in the fact that the protagonist of this story is aware of the problems they face and are doing their best to get out of them (the only exception being “Bliss”). And, as I’ve already noted, Gascon is solidly expressive from start to finish, easily drawing the listener into this world to connect with the music.

Rise Among Rivals’ first release is tremendously enjoyable. They have garnered well-deserved attention through six songs that are powerful and catchy, and have shown themselves to be a heavyweight contender during their live shows. If they continue this trajectory, having already accumulated quite the following in less than six months, I would not be surprised to see them start to support national acts before much longer. I’ll definitely be paying close attention to what this foursome chooses to deliver in the future, because I have no doubt that it will be fantastic.

Purchase Rise Among Rivals at: iTunes | Amazon | CDBaby

For more on Rise Among Rivals, visit: Facebook | Twitter | Spotify | YouTube

CD review: “Extinction(s)” by Unearth

Metalcore Massachusetts act Unearth reach lucky number seven with its newest release, Extinction(s). The four year gap between Watchers of Rule and Exinction(s) has not dulled the band’s penchant for breakdowns and hardcore growls. The riffs are particularly pounding on “Dust” and Survivalist.” The former is an aggressive track showcases Unearth’s ability to meld the melodic guitar conventions of Swedish death metal with the dynamic brutality of American metalcore. Drummer Nick Pierce drives this track with relentless double bass and crushing groove. The latter track “Survivalist” shifts from breakdown to mid-tempo that will certainly incite multiple mosh pits at the band’s show. However, this track is rather generic especially since Unearth are capable of better songwriting. “The Hunt Begins” wades in to sludge metal waters with its thick guitars and slow tempo. Album closer “One With The Sun” is a fast paced affair with notable guitar work. However, the naff breakdown underwhelms an otherwise strong track. The droning choir provides a haunting effect that almost compensates for the song’s midsection.

Extinction(s) is a heavy record, but also a generic record. We have heard the riffs and breakdowns on hundreds of records. Unearth can write good music, but it seems the band dialed it in on half the tracks. This record has some strong points like “Dust” and “Sidewinder” but very little on Extinction(s) grabs the listener. Unearth need not reinvent the wheel, but on this record the band tried to keep things too simple. The album’s production is very sharp providing a thick wall of sound.

Unearth fans may like Extinction(s) if they need their fix of Unearth after a four year wait. People new to heavier metal should check it out, just know this is not Unearth at its best. Unearth still stand head and shoulders above its peers, which is why this release is a slight disappointment. The band is not going extinct, but needs to utilize its full capabilities to avoid endangerment.

Check out the band’s official Facebook page for news and tour dates:

https://www.facebook.com/unearthofficial/