Sunday, August 18, 2019

Nebraska Metal: Borealis

I was at a concert a few weeks ago and these CDs were being handed out for free at the front door.  Not one to pass up free stuff, especially if it is an album from a Nebraska metal band, I grabbed one.  This is kind of an odd one to pop up between Borealis no longer exists and this EP was from 2009, but that's not a problem.

Borealis is from Omaha and previously went by the name Frozen Embers.  Neither band was on my radar at any point, but that's not a problem.  The cover art definitely makes an impression.  This is some very brightly-colored and very disturbing artwork.  I was not really sure what to expect musically, maybe some kind of stoner doom/death metal fusion.  That is definitely not what this sounds like though.

Borealis is much closer to a thrash metal band with some melodic death metal tendencies.  The music is generally fast-paced with a load of riffs.  Second track "Darkened Lights of Affinity" has some pretty awesome leads and soloing going on in the early moments before breaking into something akin to At the Gates-influenced metalcore groups like Killswitch Engage, Darkest Hour and Trivium.  The energy is infectious and I frequently found myself nodding along to the riffs.  The album is dynamic too, with slower sections breaking up the ever-going riff-fests in the faster tracks.

What is really surprising about this release is how polished it sounds.  It is crisp and clear and sounds terrific.  This is no raw recording of a brand new band.  Even though this is the first release from this group, it is clear they have real talent and have honed their abilities somewhere along the way.

It is kind of a shame I am just now hearing this band.  I would have enjoyed seeing them in concert. 

Saturday, August 17, 2019

Abigail: Intercourse & Lust (1996)

I have been exploring the Japanese metal scene little by little over the last couple of years.  I have long been familiar with groups like Sabbat, Coffins, Gallhammer and Sigh.  Lately though I have been furthering my exploration of the scene, focusing on the early works of the aforementioned Sabbat and Sigh, but also checking out Loudness and X Japan.  I have also checked out this album, the debut release from Abigail, a band that rivals Sabbat for productivity.

Abigail considers themselves the most evil band in Japan, and their music definitely lives up to that billing.  The band is likely named after the first solo King Diamond album and takes their influence from Mercyful Fate, Motörhead, Venom, Bathory and the early German thrash metal bands.  The music is fast and aggressive, filthy and raw.  Despite this, the songs actually vary widely in sound.  Opening track "A Witch Named Aspilcuetta" is a blazing fast bulldozer of a song.  Later songs take the Motörhead influence and run wild with it, actually managing to sound like the band with blast beats and shrieking vocals.

The most interesting song on the album is "Hail Yakuza".  The song is the most dynamic on the album, consisting of several movements, including some slower spots.  In addition, the music is complemented by several sound clips from what I will assume are Japanese movies.  I really have no idea as I do not speak Japanese. 

This album is terrific.  I highly recommend it for fans of black/thrash/speed metal in the vein of the early pioneers of the black metal scene.  There are a lot of terrific metal bands from Japan, and Abigail is definitely near the top of the list.  I definitely need to check out more of their stuff.

Friday, August 16, 2019

Darkthrone: Old Star (2019)

I am not really sure what Darkthrone is anymore.  Of course, during the Norwegian duo's long career, it has often been hard to really nail them down.  This is the band's 18th album and that is incredible.  At one time, they created the blueprint for every single lo-fi and bedroom black metal band with Transilvanian Hunger.  But despite that, Darkthrone has never really released the same album twice in a row.  At this point in their history, Darkthrone releases a new album every few years and remain champions of underground metal (the band did after all have a hand in the emergence of Ghost from obscurity).

Old Star sees Darkthrone utilize their standard format.  Fenriz and Nocturno Culto each contributed three songs to the album, and it is often somewhat easy to tell which song was written by which member.  Fenriz's songs generally exhibit more of an old school metal influence, while there are moments in the Nocturno Culto tracks that call back to the more black metal style of the early days of the band.  There is also a lot of German thrash and Celtic Frost influence in some of the riffs.

The biggest musical shift on this release is the heavy doom metal influence.  Fenriz did boast that the album had a lot of Candlemass-style riffs, and that is accurate.  The songs on this release tend to be much longer and slower than on albums that have come before.  There are a couple of much faster tracks, with some impressive galloping riffs, such as on "Duke of Gloat" and "The Hardship of the Scots".  Of course even Candlemass had some faster songs, so this is not totally foreign to doom metal. 

It is not all positive however.  Some of the songs do tend to drag a little bit, and in general the Fenriz tracks are not quite as good as the ones penned by Nocturno Culto.  Several songs are on the longer side, and the slower tempo make them seem even longer.  Obviously a big part of this is the doom metal influence, which is a little new on a Darkthrone album.

I try to check out every new Darkthrone album, but I have missed several.  That being said, I love the classic metal influences Darkthrone has been incorporating over the last several releases.  This is a terrific release, though I do still prefer Circle the Wagons for latter-era Darkthrone. 

Thursday, August 15, 2019

Malevolent Creation: Stillborn (1993)

Ah, the days when Roadrunner Records actually had legitimate metal bands on their roster.  The early '90's saw Roadrunner as one of the leading labels in releasing death metal bands.  And Malevolent Creation was one of many.  Malevolent Creation was always one of my favorite band names, but I have not really gotten into much of their music.  Not really sure why that is. 

I decided recently to check out one of the band's earlier releases to see if I could see why they are revered in the death metal scene.  This is the band's third release, and it does not have very good reviews on the Metal Archives, so I may have missed the boat here, but if this is a bad early Malevolent Creation album, then I definitely need to hear the good ones.

I love this album.  The riffs are rabid and hard-hitting and the vocals have an incredibly aggressive bark that is captivating.  There are some damn impressive riffs here that stand out from a lot of the other bands in the Florida death metal scene and the solos absolutely slay.  The vocals are not the typical early death metal fare, bearing more resemblance to brutal thrash metal than death metal. 

The only real issues with this album are fairly minor.  The production is a little murky, but that is not unusual for death metal of this time period.  And the album tends to sound a little too much the same at times.  There are not a lot of melodic moments, with Malevolent Creation preferring to just bludgeon the listener.  But again, these are minor complaints.

This is just the third album I have picked up by Malevolent Creation, and I think I need to check out more.  Next stop will be the first two albums I think.

Wednesday, August 14, 2019

Destruction: Mad Butcher (1987)

I talk about German thrash metal a lot.  Well, I am a huge fan of thrash metal, and despite discovering German thrash significantly later in my life, I actually prefer it to Bay Area thrash metal.  In general.  There are obviously bands such as Metallica, Testament and Exodus that I love, but I really do tend to like the more aggressive, rawer style of the German bands. 

There are of course three primary bands that most thrash metal fans know of as the German Big Three.  Of the German Big Three, the only sure thing is that Destruction is my least favorite.  My views on Kreator versus Sodom change almost daily, but Destruction generally lags behind.  That is not to suggest in any way that I dislike them, I just like the other two more.  I love Release from Agony, and I believe Destruction is probably the best of the three currently, but those early albums cannot be ignored.

That brings us to today's review, Destruction's Mad Butcher EP.  This was released shortly after the band's sophomore release and it featured two new members who were extremely technically proficient at their instruments.  That is likely the reason the members were brought on as Destruction sought to distance themselves from the raw and dirty sound of their countrymen.  It worked reasonably well as Destruction is generally known as the better musicians than Kreator or Sodom.

There are just four songs on this release, including the title track, which has become something of an anthem for Destruction with the Mad Butcher basically becoming the band's mascot.  The song acts as a showcase for the new members and the band's new direction.  The second track is a cover of a Plasmatics song, which is emotionally-charged.  I am not familiar with the original version, but the song is impressive.  The third (and last real song) is a slow-burning one with more advanced composition than anything the band had done previously.

This is an impressive EP.  It is not really a vital release, unless one is a huge fan of Destruction (particularly in light of its combination with the previous album into a compilation), but it shows the band maturing and is an interesting step in the band's progression. 

Tuesday, August 13, 2019

Crossfire: Second Attack (1985)

I could be wrong about this, but Crossfire may have been one of the first metal bands from Belgium.  Forming in 1981 in a country not exactly known for the genre, it is a pretty good guess.  This is sort of a hidden gem of an album.  I first found out about it seeing it in some forum posts and kind of took to the album cover.  I mean, just look at that, it is simply awesome.  Eventually I tracked a copy down.

Crossfire's sound takes a lot of influence from the NWOBHM and groups like Judas Priest and Accept.  This is the band's second album, as could be guessed by the album title.  I am not familiar with anything else as I targeted this album first, so I do not have much point of reference compared with any of their other material.

The songs are generally somewhat fast-paced with riffs that are mostly in line with the hard rock and metal styles at the time.  "Highway Driver" for instance is reminiscent of Deep Purple (the classic "Highway Star" is the obvious comparison).  It is more of a hard rock, driving (no pun intended) song with muscular riffs.  Then there is the frantic "Atomic War" which is much more of a speed metal track with blazing fast riffs and a catchy chorus.  There are a few slower moments, such as the sort-of ballad "Running for Love".

This is neither a well-known album, nor band, but is a lot of fun.  It is a great example of good heavy metal from the 1980's.  Unfortunately this was mostly it for Crossfire.  They released a live album and a split later on, but never released another full-length.  As such, this is a hidden gem.

Monday, August 12, 2019

Running Wild: Under Jolly Roger (1987)

It took me a long time to discover Running Wild's music.  I had always heard about them of course, the German band is a major influence in the power and speed metal genres.  Running Wild is often mentioned in the same breath as Blind Guardian and Helloween when discussing the origins of power metal.  But so much of their material was hard to find and out of print, so it took a long time to find anything.  That started to change last year and this is now the third album by Running Wild in my collection, joining Death or Glory and Blazon Stone.  This is also the earliest of the albums in my collection and was one of my primary targets when I began looking into Running Wild's music.

This album may be Running Wild's first to take on the pirate theme that the band would become well-known for.  I could be wrong about that, but it is certainly when the theme became the most obvious.  This is obviously different than groups like Alestorm, who take the pirate theme to the next level, but Running Wild did have a strong lyrical theme about pirates.  It showed through in the title track here which also featured various sound effects to sound like cannon blasts.

The songs are here are melodic, yet heavy and catchy as all hell.  There are a number of fist-pumping choruses that make the listener stand up and take notice, including the obvious "Raise Your Fist" and then "Beggar's Night" and "Raw Ride".  The riffs take obvious influence from the likes of Accept, Iron Maiden and Judas Priest and there are some incredibly impressive galloping guitar solos as well.  The guitars are of course the major drawing card on this album, but the rhythm section shines through as well and is a bit of an underrated part of the band.  The vocals are delivered in kind of a sneering snarl, but are still quite melodic and powerful.

I am still in the process of discovering Running Wild, but this is my favorite album to date.  It packs a punch while retaining an infectious melodic sound.  The pirate theme is not all-consuming at this point, as only a couple of songs deal with pirates.  It is an interesting theme, and at the time was definitely unusual.  This album is a lot of fun and is influential for a very good reason.  This is a great example of what power metal from Europe used to sound like, back when "power" was the operative word.  I will be continuing to explore Running Wild in the future, I have a long way to go.

Sunday, August 11, 2019

Knotfest: August 8, 2019

Yes, I went to Knotfest, Slipknot's annual (?) traveling roadshow.  That may come as a little bit of a surprise for people who have been reading this blog for a long time, because I generally have not had many positive things to say about Slipknot.  I liked them in the early years, when the self-titled album was released, but felt there were diminishing returns on each of the two follow-ups.  I never picked up anything after the third album because I simply did not like it, other than a few songs.  So why did I go?  Because the other bands were Volbeat, Gojira and most importantly, Behemoth.

Unfortunately, the night was a huge disappointment.  Due to circumstances beyond our control, my wife and I were late in arriving and missed the first band.  That band turned out to be Behemoth, the primary reason I wanted to attend the concert.  We had some issues getting to the venue, the Pinnacle Bank Arena in Lincoln, Nebraska, due to road work and the fact that we both had to work that day and we live two hours away.  And for some inconceivable reason the concert started at 5:30.  Plus, my wife insisted on listening to Disney music on the way down, so there was that.  I guess I misjudged the popularity of Volbeat, thinking there was no way they would be playing anywhere other than first that night.  So, when I figured out that we had in fact missed Behemoth, I was pissed.  I seriously considered calling it a night.  But, I did not think that was a reasonable response so I tried to make the most of it.

There were some definite things working in favor of enjoying the night.  My wife looked amazing first of all.  Secondly, we got the tickets for free, and were in the luxury suites, thanks to my dad who got the tickets from his company's lottery.  The company he works for built the arena so they have a luxury box.  There were free snacks and drinks provided, and I was able to enjoy the high quality meat from the meat and cheese tray provided (I am on a bit of an unusual diet and mostly just eat meat these days).  So the seats and snacks were great.

The first band we saw perform was the terrific Gojira.  I am not great about checking them out every time they release something new, but the albums I have checked out have been amazing.  I was a bit disappointed they did not play "From the Sky", which is still my favorite song from the band, and one of the heaviest riffs ever.  But their performance was amazing and with any luck, their exposure on this tour should help increase their popularity.

Next was Volbeat, who I have seen previously when they opened for Megadeth and Rob Zombie a few years back.  I like some of their stuff and own one of their albums, but their more recent material has been less than impressive.  Their eclectic mix of metal and rockabilly is a lot of fun when it is working.  I will say they put on a great performance and definitely got the crowd going.  My wife really enjoyed them, even though she kind of hated them the first time we saw them.  Although I don't think anyone on Earth enjoys them as much as the guy in front of us did.

Finally, Slipknot took the stage.  I do not know if it was because I was annoyed about missing Behemoth, but they just sounded bad.  All you could really hear was the percussion, which sort of makes sense since they have three percussionists.  But Corey Taylor's voice sounded off, and the riffs could barely be heard.  And with nine fucking people running around, you would think the show would be more exciting.  I still cannot figure out the official job of the one idiot who spent half the show walking around on a conveyor belt while flailing his arms around.  I could not see his mask close enough to identify which one he was.  They also sounded a little flat, without much energy.  I was annoyed enough that we ended up leaving about three quarters of the way through their show.

Despite the huge disappointment at not seeing Behemoth, the reason I wanted to go to the show, it turned out to be a pretty decent night.  Hopefully I will have another opportunity to see Behemoth again soon.  My wife suggested going next weekend to see Knotfest in Kansas, but I feel like they got enough of my money Thursday night.

Saturday, August 10, 2019

Corrosion of Conformity and Crowbar: August 7, 2019

This has been a pretty busy week for concerts.  I went to shows on both Wednesday and Thursday.  And that could have been even more if not for my wife's sister's birthday on Saturday, otherwise I could have seen Decrepit Birth as well.

Wednesday's show was the better of the two as it was headlined by Corrosion of Conformity, a band of whom I have been a fan since I was just getting into metal.  It also featured the legendary Crowbar and a couple of opening acts.  The venue was The Slowdown, which is quickly becoming one of my favorite venues in Omaha.  The fact that it keeps getting the best shows in the area certainly helps.

The opening act was a group called Lo-Pan from Columbus, Ohio.  Their sound made them fit in quite well with the two lead acts as they played a style of stoner metal/rock music.  The fact that the band is named after the villain in Big Trouble in Little China is just a big plus.  They had some catchy songs and a terrific vocalist.  That vocalist was the highlight of their show.  He had some massive lung support and had a very melodic, crooning style.  The drummer was also damn impressive.

The second band was called Quaker City Nighthawks.  They were more of a rock band and looked like throwbacks to Lynyrd Skynyrd.  The vocalist had long hair, a cowboy hat and rose-colored glasses.  They were decent, with a Southern rock style that called to mind a mix of Skynyrd, Johnny Cash and ZZ Top.  Not bad, but not my particular style.

Next up was Crowbar.  Now, my first exposure to Crowbar was Beavis and Butthead.  And for some reason I have never really gotten into them that much.  I enjoy their music quite a bit, but I have not often gone out of my way to pick up new albums.  But after their concert, that may change because holy shit did they put on a great show.  Kirk Windstein (who was involved in Down, still my favorite supergroup) complained that his voice was a little off, but with his vocal style, having throat issues just made it sound that much better.  They played a shockingly energetic set given their general downer style.  Crowbar was probably the highlight of the night.  And hey, I got to shake Windstein's hand after their set.

Next was Corrosion of Conformity.  Pepper Keenan returned to the band recently and the band returned to their Southern metal style from his tenure on their latest album.  The show was likewise primarily covering Keenan's time in the band instead of their earlier crossover/hardcore style.  I still believe that one of the greatest three-song openings to an album is the first three tracks off of Deliverance, and all three were represented in the concert, with "Clean My Wounds" being the encore selection.  In general the band played all of the songs I expected and even included "Vote with a Bullet", a highly underrated song from Blind, the Karl Agell record, though it features Keenan on vocals.  It was one of the more energetic and crowd-engaging concerts I have seen in awhile. 

Honestly, this is going to rate highly as a favorite concert this year.  Both Crowbar and Corrosion of Conformity were on top of their games that night, and the songs sounded great.  I never considered skipping this concert even though I knew there was going to be another show I would attend the next day.  I'm damn glad I didn't because I missed C.O.C. a couple times recently.  And seeing them with Crowbar was just that much better because the two bands complement each other quite well.  This was a terrific show. 

Friday, August 9, 2019

Demolition Hammer: Tortured Existence (1990)

This may be one of the heaviest thrash metal albums I have ever heard.  I have been well familiar with this band, and even this album, for quite some time, having acquired it in a two CD release covering all of Demolition Hammer's music.  But there is nothing quite like having the album in its original format.  It feels more natural that way, the way the album was supposed to have been heard.

Demolition Hammer released just three full-length albums, and the last one was supposed to be released under the name of a new band, so really, they only had two albums.  This is the band's debut and it is a terrific one at that.  The band is still very raw, but their unbridled aggression and brutality shines through.  It is because of this rawness that this album has gained a cult following among metalheads. 

The songs are fast-paced and intense with neck-breaking riffs.  I love the sound of the bass, which is a massive part of Demolition Hammer's sound.  It is clearly audible, driving the riffs and playing some complex rhythms at times.  It is one of the better bass performances in thrash metal, though not quite on the same level as work by Steve DiGiorgio or Cliff Burton. 

The only complaints I really have about the album are the somewhat limited production and the vocals.  With regard to the production, it would have been nice to have a meatier sound with the heavy, bass-driven riffs.  The vocals are just sort of plain for the genre and do not really do enough to stand out.

This is yet another thoroughly underrated thrash metal album.  Demolition Hammer straddle the line often between thrash and death and end up with an amazing, brutal thrash metal album.

Thursday, August 8, 2019

Reevalutating To Mega Therion by Celtic Frost

First off, I am never going to claim that I did not care for this album at any point.  This has always been my favorite album by Celtic Frost.  And it has never been particularly close.  The album is legendary and for very good reason.  There are multiple classic songs here, songs like "Circle of the Tyrants" and "The Usurper".  And so it has earned its legendary status.

The album stands as a landmark in the creation of a number of extreme metal genres, including thrash, death and black metal.  What I have realized however, is that it may contain some of the very first death/doom metal tracks.  Death/doom is largely considered to have started in the early 1990's with groups like Paradise Lost, My Dying Bride and Morgion.  But several songs on this release (and several on the criminally underrated Journey Into Mystery by Dream Death) have all of the elements that came together into the fusion genre.  Songs like "Dawn of Megiddo", "Necromantical Screams" and the aforementioned "Circle of the Tyrants" all sound like something that could easily be on an early Paradise Lost album with their slow and lumbering, yet massively heavy riffs.  And the tone on the guitar and bass during the riffs is something of which Asphyx would be proud.

Finally, I think that "Endless Summer" is one of the most underrated songs in the entire Celtic Frost library.  It never seems to be mentioned among the band's many classic songs, but it absolutely should be.  That opening riff is absolutely amazing and it is one of the heaviest and fastest songs the band has ever released.

I am by no means saying anything controversial when I refer to this album as a legendary release.  It gets massive amounts of credit for its influence on death and black metal, I just think it is equally important to the genesis of death/doom as well.

Wednesday, August 7, 2019

Whiplash: Ticket to Mayhem (1987)

Despite the kind of ridiculous album cover on this one, I have been looking for it for a long time.  Whiplash is kind of known for having a few ridiculous album covers.  Their debut puts this one to shame.  This is one of those hugely underrated thrash metal albums that has been a target of mine for quite some time, just like Wargasm's Why Play Around? and a few others that I have picked up recently. 

After an introductory track featuring the sounds of intense warfare, the band immediately kicks off into some high-octane thrash metal on "Walk the Plank".  Right off the bat, it is clear that this is a much more aggressive and brutal type of thrash metal band than many of the Bay Area bands of the time period.  Whiplash is from New Jersey, but they are also more aggressive than the Garden State's favorite thrash metal band, Overkill. 

Despite a somewhat slower, yet still very intense, second track, the album generally continues in the same fast-paced and aggressive style throughout most of the rest of the album, other than a few slower melodic moments.  Whiplash write some damn catchy riffs which often sound like a mix of Bay Area and German thrash metal bands.  Something of a mix of Exodus and Destruction.  Several of the songs are highly infectious and should be thrash classics if this album was better known.

This is a terrific thrash metal album from the 1980's, but it just fell by the wayside in a big scene.  That is a shame, but it has gained cult status among old school thrash metal fans. 

Tuesday, August 6, 2019

Decoryah: Fall-Dark Waters (1996)

Back when I was in high school or early college, I don't remember which, I picked up a Metal Blade sampler CD at a used music store.  I was not familiar with many of the bands on it, though I had heard of a few, but I viewed it as a way to discover some new music.  Back in the late 90's, there were not too many ways to really do that as a metalhead.  That CD led to me checking out groups like Mercyful Fate, Immolation, Desultory and Crisis.  But late in the compilation came a track by a group called Decoryah, whose song "Fall-Dark Waters" quickly became the highlight of the release for me.  It was atmospheric and mesmerizing, and its lack of aggression made it stand out from the rest of the album.  I filed the name of the band away, figuring I would check them out eventually.  But for a long time, I never got around to it.

Until now.

It is kind of hard to describe this album.  It is unlike virtually anything else I have heard.  It is also tough to express what my expectations were for it, given the unusual nature of the title track.  Metal Archives has the band listed as "gothic metal", and I guess if I HAD to place it in a genre, that would be the one to pick, but it is overly simplistic.  I do not think it has much in common with many groups often lumped into the gothic metal category.  If I had to pick the closest comparison, it would be Tiamat's A Deeper Kind of Slumber, but I like this one much better than that one. 

There is very little structure present here, the sounds seem to flow freely from one to the other without any real rhyme or reason.  Many of the song titles reference water in some way, and that seems very appropriate because listening to the album is almost like floating down a calm river without much in the way of a real direction or destination in mind.  There are a lot of strange elements thrown out along the way, such as crooning, female vocals, keyboard noodling and occasional oddball instruments like flutes.  It is often trippy and one never knows what to expect next, even after repeated listens.

Despite the unusual nature of this release, I quite like it.  It is incredibly soothing and calming, unlike virtually anything else in my music collection.  It is a good album to listen to to relax and just drift off. 

Monday, August 5, 2019

Heathen Fury: Heathen Fury (2011)

Here is a one-man band from West Yorkshire, England whose sound is derived almost completely from the early days of black metal.  I am not really sure what is currently happening with this project.  This demo was released back in 2011, and there has been no follow-up since.  The sole member has about 20 other projects going so it is entirely possible that this was meant to just be a one-off.

The cover is a tad misleading.  One would think with the colorful cover and the font and everything else that this would more likely be a a traditional metal album or at least a viking metal sound.  Instead, this album has much more in common with early black metal artists like Bathory, Mayhem and even a little Master's Hammer.  Opening track "Russian Winter Sacrifice" in particular sounds like an early Master's Hammer track, due to the weird groove it locks into.

The sound is raw and primal, with heavy, galloping riffs.  Several of the songs have a very retro sound to them.  "The Power of Mighty Thor" for instance sounds like something that an early doom metal band (think Cirith Ungol or Trouble) would produce.  With the gang vocals (where did those come from by the way?), it is easily the catchiest song on the demo.  "Valkarye" then is the slowest and most melodic track on the release, but with a deep sense of unease.

This is an intriguing demo.  It would have been interesting to see something more from Heathen Fury, but I really think this is probably it from them.  It was a Hel of a ride.