CD Review: “Bloody But Unbowed” by Halcyon Way

Atlanta metal band Halcyon Way soldiers on with its fourth release, Bloody But Unbowed. It is a fitting title for a band that formed 17 years ago and continue to wave the metal flag down South. The opening track “Deevolution” starts with a stringed section fused with industrial percussion before the guitars and drums kick in. It is a minute-long song that catches the listener off guard. Drummer Aaron Baumoel’s bass drum drives the title track and is accompanied by some thrashing riffs from guitarists Jon Bodan and Max Eve. The guitar leads are a bit weak for such a grandiose track, but overall this is a strong song that must be played live. “Blame” is the lead single on Bloody and is notable for its pulverizing riffs and mechanical drumming which contrasts with frontman Steve Braun’s soaring vocals. There is a tinge of industrial on “Slaves To Silicon” which is appropriate considering the title. This track is a bit slower than the previous songs and has a groove during the song’s verses. “Superpredator” is a bit clunky with its palm muted riffing but is saved by Baumoel’s monolithic drumming. This track is a bit cheesy, but it is still a fun song. “Primal Fear” is an aggressive, dynamic cut with some interesting guitar phrasing that weaves like a maze.

Bloody But Unbowed walks the thin line between seriousness and mirth. Power and progressive bands are known for bombastic and ostentatious musicianship and songwriting (as I have stated in other reviews) but here, the band is clearly having fun. The guitarists are throwing out some nice leads and riffs but do not get too carried away. Braun’s voice is strong and clear, yet goes over the top from time to time. There are hints of Pantera, Dream Theater and Metallica on this album. However, do not expect to hear a song like “One” “Cemetery Gates” or “Pull Me Under.” Halcyon Way does a good job of offering enough variety for everyone. The production is great and special kudos to the drumming production on this album.

Well, Halcyon Way has accomplished its mission on Bloody But Unbowed. It is the fun-loving little brother to Fates Warning and Dream Theater that deserves mention. While grizzled prog and power metal veterans may pass this up, this album is a good introduction to these subgenres. Keep marching on Halcyon Way.

Check out the band’s official Facebook page:

https://www.facebook.com/halcyonway

CD Review: “Creatures Watching Over The Dead” by Charred Walls Of The Damned

Heavy metal supergroup Charred Walls Of The Damned returns with its third record, Creatures Watching Over The Dead. Creatures is the band’s first record in five years, which is understandable considering the busy schedule of its members. Bassist Steve DiGiorgio currently plays in Testament and guitarist Jason Suecof is one of the busiest music producers in the metal genre. Suecof produced records for Battlecross, Deicide and Death Angel these past five years so his plate was full. Creatures is not a serious record, and the guys are having fun. The vibe on the album is laid back, but still carries a degree of intensity. The initial single “The Soulless” combines thrash with 80s power metal resulting in a catchy metal anthem. Richard Christy’s double bass drumming is lockstep with Suecof’s jackhammer riffing. Vocalist Tim “Ripper” Owens’ operatic vocals soar like a falcon and do not seem out of step with the music. “As I Catch My Breath” is an interesting blend of clean guitars and a dissonant main riff. Musically, the track recalls Fates Warning and Megadeth due to the progressiveness of the music. The technical thrash of “Reach Into The Light” hits with the precision of a guided missile. Owens’ high pitched vocals are again in top form, but do not take away from the music.

Creatures is not an exhuastive record and that is a plus. The band does not waste time playing eight minute opuses, opting instead to play shorter songs. This keeps the songs interesting and the listener will not drift off or reach for the “skip” button. As I mentioned earlier, the band is having fun on this record. There is no need to make a 70 minute long album with long, drawn out epics for the sake of pretentiousness. Suecof produced the record and it is loud and clear. There is not much to pick out except that Steve’s bass should be higher in the mix.

Creatures Watching Over The Dead is a good metal record. It should satisfy fans of technical death metal or progressive metal that are not looking for something too deep. This record may get lost in the shuffle due to the other high profile albums coming out this year. However, one should not overlook Creatures as it definitely holds its own.

For news check out the band’s website at http://www.metalblade.com/cwotd/

CD Review: ‘Akroasis’ by Obscura

Obscura’s fourth record, Akroasis, is a metal mindtrip. The long awaited follow up to the critically acclaimed Omnivium, is a progressive musical journey of death metal, jazz and classical. The seven minute long “Sermon of the Seven Suns” is a metallic roller coaster with numerous twists and turns. “The Monist” is a hermetic cut, with its arabesque baseline and grinding guitar riffs. The guitar lead forces its way through the musical collage like a space vessel escaping a black hole. There is so much going on that the listener is pulled in several directions, yet the song is cohesive. The title track is a musical tour de force due to its fast paced nature and virtuosity. The word “akroasis” is Greek and means “hearing or listening.” Well, listening to this track, one can hear the elation the German quartet derives from playing. The band showcases its thrash roots again on “Ten Sephiroth” with its pulsating drums and jazzy basslines. This is one of the more accessible tracks on the record, based on its straight-forward structure. The sludging “Ode to the Sun” recalls mid-period Morbid Angel with its lava riffs. Obscura is not riffing off Trey Azagthoth’s legendary band, but rather paying homage.

 

The musicianship is extremely strong on this record. This is not surprising as numerous talented musicans have played in Obscura. However, Akroasis has amazing songs not pieces of musical showmanship. The band plays well together and each member knows when to show off and when to relent. This mutual respect makes the record interesting because you do not know what the band will do next. Production wise, it is a bit tinny at times and I wish the production was meatier. However, it does not overshadow the stellar songwriting or musicianship on this album.

Well after five years, Obscura has not lost a single step. The band retains its spot as one of metal’s most technical acts and continues to set the bar. Akroasis is a challenging record, but an enjoyable one. Technical death metal bands will have to push a little harder when Obscura keeps releasing albums like this. This is a good thing as bands will continue to push the envelope in extreme music. Give this one a listen.

For news and tour dates check out the band’s website: https://www.realmofobscura.com/

CD Review: ‘Codex Atlantis’ by Serenity

Serenity keeps its songs short and sweet on Codex Atlantis. One of my main grips with progressive and symphonic metal bands are the tedious song lengths. That is not the case on this record, as every track is under six minutes. Thus, the songs are fairly dynamic and never drag. The driving “Follow Me” pushes along with simple riffs and clean vocals. The stringed instruments and choir samples add to the uplifting feel of this song. Things get heavier on “Sprouts of Terror” which opens with a trashy riff leading to an explosive symphonic crescendo. This is a headbanging piece designed specifically to incite a circle pit. The bombastic “Iniquity” is the antithesis of the track’s title. It is majestic and regal with a stirring guitar solo. The tranquil piano and violins on “My Final Chapter” contrast with the morbid subject of death on this track. Here, the narrator is ready to sleep eternally and the end is a peaceful one. The peace abrutply ends on “Caught in a Myth” with its galloping riffs and hard hitting horn samples. The occult lyricism on this song regarding the search for truth complements the epicness of the composition.

Codex Atlantis is a strong record because of the song compositions. The tracks are well written and do not deviate into Pretentious Prog Land. You will not hear Serenity play the same riff for 8 minutes and call it “prog metal” on this record. The production is crystal clear and frontman Georg Neuhauser’s vocals are a highlight on this record. The classical samples are so good it sounds like a real symphony played on this record. The band also successfully balances its metal sound with symphonic flair.

Progressive metal fans will enjoy Codex Atlantis. It is a good record with some great tracks and solid musicianship. It may be too soft for people that prefer their metal with blast beats and guttural vocals. However, the band knows what its fanbase wants and it delivers.

For news and tour dates, check out http://www.serenity-band.com/

CD Review: ‘Winter Thrice’ by Borknagar

Borknagar continues its progressive push on the band’s tenth record Winter Thrice. The band keeps its black metal roots to a minimum. Instead, there is a greater shift towards folk metal and even power metal. The result is a multi-textured record that draws from diverse influences. The opening track and lead single “The Rhymes of the Mountain” meshes pounding drums with baroque style guitars to stellar effect. Vintersorg’s vocals change throughout the song. First, his voice soars like a hawk over a mountain and then morphs into a hellish shriek. The title track blasts through the speakers in galloping fashion. Again, the vocals are a high point as Garm from Ulver takes the lead on this track. The song contrasts between heavy and serene, making it one of the best tracks on the album. The band is more straight ahead on “Cold Runs The River.” The progressive elements are downplayed in favor of bombastic guitars and blastbeats in the middle of the song. The song is not monotonous at all thanks in no small part to the wah-wah guitar leads and gothic chord progressions. The classically structured “When Chaos Calls” pushes through like whips and twists like a winter storm. The double bass drums and dissonant guitars holds the song together while Vintersorg howls like a wolf atop a hill.

The greatest strength of Winter Thrice is the diversity in the songwriting. There are acoustic guitars, blastbeats guttural vocals, and a slight hint of electronica. Borknagar is unconventional in this respect making the album unpredictable but enjoyable. Fans of European metal will probably appreciate Winter Thrice, with its emphasis on melodicism and its classical influence. The record is heavy, but not like the brutality of American death metal. That does not mean American metalheads will not enjoy this record. However, the acoustic guitars and electronic elements may not appeal to some of them.

Winter Thrice is a solid record from one of Norway’s greatest metal bands. The band’s musicianship is amazing and the production is lushand clear. Borknagar are not the same band it was 20 years ago, but that is a good thing as the band continues to push itself. Fans of Children of Bodom, Amorphis and Insomnium will enjoy Winter Thrice. It is the perfect soundtrack for the Winter season.

For more in for on Borknagar, check out the band’s website http://borknagar.com/