Thursday, January 11, 2018

Metallattorney's Annual Late Top 20 of the Year

Yeah yeah.  I am late to the party.  As usual.  I actually prefer doing my list around the first of the year because I often pick up something late in the year that might make the list.  That was actually not the case this last year, but it helps to plan for that possibility.  So, without further ado, here is my Top 20 of 2017.  I will be doing a couple of other year in review posts in the next few days as well.  But here is the big one.

20.  WITCHTRAP: TRAP THE WITCH
Leading things off is Colombian blackened thrash maniacs Witchtrap, a group that I have been following for several years now.  Witchtrap is the very definition of a Hells Headbangers band, playing filthy Motorhead-meets-Venom-style metal with whiskey-soaked vocals.  Hell, the first song on the album is even called "Lemmy".  There is nothing really original or ground-breaking here, it is simply sleazy and dirty heavy metal.  There is always something to be said for that. 

19.  BELL WITCH: MIRROR REAPER
The winner for Album Cover of the Year is this amazing piece of artwork here.  It would be a shame if the album itself did not live up to it.  Luckily, it does.  This is an amazing, somber sonicscape that really takes time and patience to truly appreciate it.  The album is one 85-minute long song and is one of the best funeral doom metal albums I have heard in a long time.  It does not quite reach the heights of the band's "I Wait", but it is an incredibly impressive work of art.  Just like the album cover.

18.  DYING FETUS: WRONG ONE TO FUCK WITH
Dying Fetus remains one of my favorite brutal death/slam bands.  They were the first such group I truly got into and they still put out some of the best albums in the genre.  But after over 20 years, some of the energy the band once had was starting to wane on their last album.  The new album title and artwork though promised uncompromising brutality, and it definitely delivered.  This is the most fresh and vital as the genre as a whole has sounded in years.  Dying Fetus is definitely back.

17.  NIGHT DEMON: DARKNESS REMAINS
I love a good traditional metal album and finding a band that combines the aesthetics and sound of early 1980's Iron Maiden is usually a pretty damn good thing.  Night Demon is unapologetically retro, in the best way possible, but still manages to find their own identity.  The songs are catchy as hell too.  Night Demon is more than just another New Wave of Traditional Heavy Metal band.  They have the ability and songwriting skills to stand out.   

16.  PALLBEARER: HEARTLESS
Pallbearer took the metal world by storm a few years back with their breathtaking debut album.  The doom metal band is capable of some truly heartbreaking melodies while still maintaining a metallic edge.  The band has become a little more progressive this time around, but the doom riffs still shine through.  I do not like this one quite as much as their debut, but it is still a seriously impressive release.

15.  SUFFOCATION: ... OF DARK LIGHT
In what is likely to be a running theme, Suffocation released one of their best albums in years.  This happened with several bands this year.  Suffocation does not do anything new on this release, they just continue to pummel the listener with their trademarked technical brutality.  The band brought in two new members which have really helped the band rediscover some of the energy that made them one of the greatest death metal bands of all time.

14.  SINISTER: SYNCRETISM
Sinister has never gotten the respect they deserve.  They have simply put out terrific death metal album after terrific death metal album for almost thirty years.  And yet, many people do not have any idea the band even exists.  Sinister remains one of the most evil-sounding death metal bands going, a quality they have had since the very beginning.  They simply have a knack for this sound.  This time around, they sound rejuvenated by the addition of a couple of new members.  It results in a very strong album.

13.  SKELETHAL: OF THE DEPTHS...
Oftentimes the best death metal comes from completely unexpected sources.  This is not the best death metal album of the year, nor even the best debut album by a death metal band, but it is a damn good release.  The French death metal group Skelethal is at their best when they are playing fast-paced, grinding songs, and their slower stuff tends to bring things down a little bit.  But this album is mostly full of the high-energy, frenetic riffing that the band does best.  And so it is that this debut album makes the list.

12.  IMMOLATION: ATONEMENT
There are still a lot of imitators coming out these days, but Immolation remains an incredibly original and influential death metal band.  They have also been one of the most consistently amazing bands in the genre.  Every single album is great.  And yet, this is one of their best ever.  

11.  ENSLAVED: E
Of course Enslaved is going to make my list.  I honestly did not expect them to this time around.  For some reason I do not really get excited about new Enslaved albums, though I will pick them up every time and I always enjoy them.  This one in particular is one of the better prog-Viking metal-era Enslaved albums.  The album starts off a little bit slowly, but it turns around quickly and becomes a terrific release from the band.

10.  KALOPSIA: ANGELPLAGUE
This is the best album of the year that was sent to me from a band or label.  Kalopsia plays an old-school style of occult death metal that is recommended for people who like Sinister, Angelcorpse, and others.  I am damn glad this label found me, because it introduced me to an incredible death metal band that I otherwise would not have come across.

9.  MEMORIAM: FOR THE FALLEN
Rising out of Bolt Thrower's ashes, Memoriam pays tribute to the band and its fallen member in a variety of ways.  Featuring both slow-burning tracks and faster-paced songs that bulldoze the listener, Memoriam does a terrific job of making up for the loss of the influential band it was born out of.  The band is a little more dreary and it is clear that loss drives this album, but it is still as sharp and vital as anything Bolt Thrower ever did.

8.  NE OBLIVISCARIS: URN
I have seen a lot of negative reviews of this album from people who have been big fans of their previous material, but this is the first release I have heard from them, and it blew me away.  I am not the biggest fan of progressive metal, but this one really got to me.  It has some beautifully crafted songs with complex structures.  There is a lot going on on this album and it is worth listening to over and over to hear everything.

7.  SOULROT: NAMELESS HIDEOUS MANIFESTATIONS
2017 must be the year of the death metal debut because this Chilean group is the second debut to make this list.  It is obvious by the name of the album and the album cover artwork that this band's specialty is Lovecraftian themes, and the music definitely fits.  Soulrot's sound is more rooted in Immolation with a little Morbid Angel for good measure.  It is a hideous, beastly sound.  The band has been pretty prolific in their short lifespan, and I am definitely keeping an eye on them. 

6.  SEPTICFLESH: CODEX OMEGA
I am starting to enjoy Septicflesh even more than their Greek countrymen Rotting Christ.  Their last couple of albums have definitely been better than Rotting Christ's last couple.  Septicflesh has perfected the sound of symphonic extreme metal, surpassing Fleshgod Apocalypse, Dimmu Borgir, Carach Angren, and others.  They are now the leaders in the subgenre and now, ten albums into their careers, they have quite possibly released their masterpiece.

5.  TEMPLE OF VOID: LORDS OF DEATH
Now this is what death/doom should sound like.  Temple of Void's sound calls to mind the progenitors of the genre.  Toss in some elements from the debuts by Paradise Lost and My Dying Bride, add a little Celtic Frost and Asphyx, and there you have it.  The music is full of crunching, chugging riffs and deep, growled vocals.  Temple of Void is still capable of putting together some haunting melodies to contrast with the roaring, beastly riffs that make up the majority of the album, and these are the biggest highlights.

4.  NECROT: BLOOD OFFERINGS
Here is the Debut Album of the Year.  There have been a ton of great death metal debuts, but Necrot takes the cake.  One of the many bands that I have seen live this year, Necrot blew me away and this release carries that forward.  Necrot's style calls to mind a combination of the slow, grind of Bolt Thrower along with the buzzsaw riffs of Dismember and other early Swedeath bands.  It is quite simply the best death metal album of the year.

3.  CRAVEN IDOL: THE SHACKLES OF MAMMON
In a year without a Destroyer 666 release, this is as close as it gets.  Featuring some razor sharp riffs, this blackened thrash metal band from the U.K. creates a maelstrom of chaotic noise.  This has long been one of my favorite styles of metal and Craven Idol does a damn good job of stepping into the shoes of some of the Aussie groups that have quit (looking at you Atomizer).  But Craven Idol are not simply imitators, they bring their own style to the genre.

2.  VENOMOUS MAXIMUS: NO WARNING
Mastodon's "Show Yourself" was probably the catchiest metal song of the year, but doom metal band Venomous Maximus's "Spellbound" is really fucking close.  Sounding something like The Cure playing Black Sabbath, this album really came out of nowhere to completely blow me away.  Featuring some of the most infectious riffs I have heard all year, plus some terrific crooning vocals, and fantastic songwriting, this is a great album from start to finish.  

1.  POWER TRIP: NIGHTMARE LOGIC
I struggled with this decision for awhile.  I have never had a band be the Album of the Year more than once and Power Trip took my Album of the Year honor back in 2013.  But, this album is head and shoulders above any other release from 2017.  It is an absolutely crushing release with fantastic riffs and some great songs.  And so, for the first time ever, Power Trip takes home their second Album of the Year from this blog.  And it is well-deserved.

Albums that barely missed the cut:
Accept: Rise of Chaos
Nightbringer: Terra Damnata
Void Ritual: Heretical Wisdom
The Black Dahlia Murder: Nightbringers
Jordablod: Upon My Cremation Pyre

Friday, January 5, 2018

Sinister: Syncretism (2017)

Dutch band Sinister is one of the great, overlooked bands from the early 1990's death metal explosion.  A lot of that is due to geographical isolation.  There just has never really been a massive metal movement from The Netherlands, particularly in regard to extreme metal bands.  There are a lot of symphonic and power metal bands, but not a ton of great death metal bands, though those that do exist (Asphyx, God Dethroned, Pestilence) have been incredible.  And yet, Sinister still flies under the radar.  This is Sinister's 13th album, a surprising total for a band that has not achieved much of any notoriety.       

Sinister has always possessed a particularly evil, hostile sound and that is on full display throughout this release.  This is one of the band's strongest albums in years.  In fact, the band sounds rejuvenated after a couple of somewhat weaker releases the last few years.  A large part of that would likely be the addition of new members at guitar and bass.  The band's aggressive, grinding riffwork hammers on the listener, and the pounding drums and brutal vocals add to the experience.

Even after all of this time, Sinister still has something left in the tank.  They are veterans of the death metal scene, but still sound as fresh and vital as they did in the early 1990's.   

Thursday, January 4, 2018

Septicflesh: Codex Omega (2017)

Septicflesh is a band whose back catalog I have been exploring in depth this year.  I have been into the Greek symphonic death metal band for several years now and typically come on strong in my end of the year lists.  This release is no different.

Always at the forefront of the symphonic extreme metal genre, Septicflesh has managed to release what is quite possibly their strongest album to date.  And I say that as a big fan of the band.  They have mastered their craft after all these years, a seemless blend of brutality and beauty.  There have been a few missteps along the way, although they have typically confined them to individual songs, rather than entire albums.  But this is their strongest album overall yet. 

The biggest improvement in the band has been their songwriting.  It is harder to tell now whether this is a symphonic band incorporating metal elements or a metal band incorporating symphonic elements.  The songs are simply crafted so well that the elements of the band's sound blends together perfectly. 

I cannot stress enough that this is an excellent album by the band.  I have been a big fan for years and this year delved way deep into their prior releases, including demos and EPs from their early years.  This is the best I have heard from them, and that is a very high standard.

Wednesday, January 3, 2018

Possession: Exorkizein (2017)

Yesterday's post declared Necrot's Blood Offerings the top debut full-length of the year.  This is possibly the closest competitor, and this is a damn good album as well.  Possession is a blackened death metal band from Belgium, of all places, who have a number of EPs and demos under their belt.  Previously, the best band I was aware of from Belgium was Aborted, so I am pretty excited to find a new, quality band from the country.

Possession sounds a lot like Behemoth circa Zos Kia Cultus.  It is a blasphemic, dark and evil sound, complete with foreboding organ music opening the album and filled to the brim with hateful, black metal-styled riffs and some heavy low-end.  The album kicks off with a needless intro, but quickly moves into the monstrous "Sacerdotium", the highlight of the album.  The vocals are delivered in more of a black metal-esque rasp, but deeper.  "In Vain" is another highlight with the first doom metal-esque riff that eventually segues into a faster-paced section. 

There are only a couple of minor missteps.  The band utilizes some samples for atmospheric effect that could have been skipped, especially at the beginning of "In Vain" where the organ music leads into a spoken word section that is completely out of place.

Possession is a very promising blackened death metal band.  This is an impressive debut full-length for the young band.

Tuesday, December 26, 2017

Necrot: Blood Offerings (2017)

I have not yet put a ton of thought into this, but it seems very likely that the best debut full-length album of the year for 2017 was this one by the Californian death metal band Necrot.  It also has one hell of a disturbing album cover too.

Necrot's sound is grounded in old school death metal but with a crust-punk edge to some of the riffs.  It is a style reminiscent of old Bolt Thrower and Dismember.  In fact, opening track "The Blade" sounds a lot like "World Eater" by Bolt Thrower, and since I love that song so much, I am fully on board with this track.  The sound is fast and intense, with pummeling drums, and fast and heavy riffs.  The vocalist delivers his his lines in a rasping grunt.  It is a short, sharp shock of an album that is an assault on the ears.  The songs are short, but memorable.  The only real problem with the album is that it is over in the blink of an eye, clocking in at under 40 minutes. 

I had the opportunity to see Necrot live, as one of the opening bands for the Suffocation/The Black Dahlia Murder concert I attended this Fall, and they blew me away.  They were easily the most impressive band that night, and beating out a group like Suffocation is tough to do.  I was so impressed that I picked up a t-shirt and later ordered The Labyrinth, a compilation of demos and EPs on cassette as well.

This is an incredible death metal release.  As I said, it is easily the best debut full-length of the year, though the band has had some other shorter releases.  I am definitely going to be keeping an eye on this band. 

Monday, December 25, 2017

Ne Obliviscaris: Urn (2017)

Sometimes I like to take a chance on a band that I have no idea what to expect.  Sometimes that works out incredibly well.  Destroyer 666 is a very good example of this.  I picked up a CD in a used record store based entirely on once reading something vaguely positive about them.  And sometimes it backfires badly.  I can name a half dozen or so nu-metal bands, but the band that sticks out the most to me is Tribes of Neurot, a Neurosis side project that is a big reason why I still have not really checked out Neurosis.  And so here we have Ne Obliviscaris, a band whom I have never even heard of before deciding to check out this release.

Now, I am not the biggest progressive metal fan in the world.  It is a style that I enjoy a few bands (Opeth, Symphony X, Fates Warning, Queensryche), but typically do not go outside those parameters to check out other groups, unless I hear something extremely positive about a band.  I heard no such thing about Ne Obliviscaris.  But they may be able to join those other prog metal groups in terms of checking them out in the future because this album is amazing.

Ne Obliviscaris is an Australian band.  Now, Australia is not really well-known for melodic metal styles.  So this is another surprising aspect to the band.  The band features two singers, one a harsh vocalist, and the other a clean vocalist.  The clean vocalist also plays violin, which is featured prominently in the band's songs as well.  The songs are expertly crafted, with extremely beautiful sections countering harsher sections.  The vocalists play off each effectively as well, giving the band the ability to do pretty and ugly in alternating moments. 

This is absolutely a contender for the top albums list.  Every time I listen to it, I notice something I had not noticed before.  It is easily the most impressive melodic metal album of the year and is a lock to make it somewhere on my end of the year list.

Sunday, December 24, 2017

Memoriam: For the Fallen (2017)

Bolt Thrower were one of the most influential death metal bands of all time.  Unfortunately, the band never released a follow-up to their 2008 album Those Once Loyal, despite a few attempts to do so.  But then, after the unexpected death of drummer Martin Kearns, the band gave up the ghost and went their separate ways.  Iron-throated vocalist Karl Willetts formed Memoriam in tribute to the former drummer and the band has released a few singles and demos before finally releasing this full-length album.

There are a couple of competing expectations one would have upon seeing this album cover and knowing the story of the band.  On the one hand, the album cover with the drab colors and imagery of the funeral procession would seem to indicate that this would be more of a doom metal album.  On the other hand, Willetts is in the band and Bolt Thrower was a very aggressive death metal band, dealing mostly with warfare.  So which side would win out?

Ultimately, they kind of both did.  This is very clearly a death metal album, but the violent and aggressive nature of Willetts's previous band was tempered somewhat with more of an emphasis on slower, grinding riffs and precision.  It is less focused on the glory of warfare, but about the atrocities and, of course, those who do not make it back.  This is amplified by the more restrained, yet still razor-sharp riffwork and the downcast lyrics.  Willetts's voice has aged as well, giving his sound a more bleak and dreary tone to it that matches well with the somber concept.  This is not to say that Memoriam do not bring the speed occasionally.  Songs like "Corrupted System" and "Flatline" do sound more like they would have been at home on one of Bolt Thrower's prime albums.

I feel like I have mentioned Bolt Thrower entirely too often in this review, and maybe I have.  But for now, Memoriam remains inextricably linked to Willetts's former band.  They were formed as a means of paying tribute to the band's now deceased drummer, and sound sonically similar, if a little slower.  This was a very hyped album and it definitely delivered.

Saturday, December 23, 2017

Immolation: Atonement (2017)

I am pretty sure I actually missed out on Immolation's last album.  That seems very odd, given that the band has been one of my favorite death metal bands since checking out their 2007 album and then delving into their back catalog from there.  After hearing some of the hype for this one though, I was determined that I would not miss out on two in a row.  Not to mention that it has a badass cover.

Immolation has always been one of the more interesting death metal bands out there, but they have often been kind of lost in the shuffle.  Not as grimy as Incantation.  Not as occult as Morbid Angel.  Not as progressive as Death.  Not as groovy as Obituary.  But Immolation has always done their own thing and they do it quite well.  Their latest album, the one I never checked out, was considered a bit of a misstep, and to be fair, the one before that one was not particularly memorable, though Immolation has never out out a bad album.  But whatever flaws those two albums contained were fixed with this one, because it is easily on the same level as Shadows in the Light.

From the first track, it is quite clear that Immolation's angular riffing and take-no-prisoners approach to death metal has returned in full force.  The performance on this album is incredible.  Each of the songs is memorable in its own right and each individual member of the band has such a huge part to play in the overall sound.  And of course this would not be an Immolation album without the incredibly dark atmosphere.  They expand on that element with several slower segments throughout the album, giving off that much more of an ominous tension in the sound.

This is quite possibly Immolation's best album in years.  That is saying something because they have always been one of the most consistently amazing death metal bands out there.  I also had the chance to see them live for the first time this year and I can honestly say, as good as they sound on record, they sound even better live.

Friday, December 22, 2017

Father Befouled: Desolate Gods (2017)

I am not sure how this band has existed for almost ten years and escaped my notice.  It is not even as if the band has not put out many releases.  This is their fourth full-length amongst several other splits and EPs.  I am a big fan of grimy, dingy death metal, and Father Befouled has those qualities in ample supply.

Father Befouled at times touches on death/doom, sounding somewhat similar to a mix of Asphyx and Incantation, both of whom I am a huge fan.  They have a generally gloomy, dark and hostile sound with low-tuned guitar riffs, heavy bass, and deep, rumbled vocals.  Occasionally, a brief guitar solo shines through for a rare melodic moment.  But for the most part, this is an incredibly bleak recording.  The standout track is "Ungodly Rest" which is probably the most melodic song and features a very powerful slower section in the middle.  The two part punch "Vestigial Remains of..." and "Desolate Gods" is also captivating, building very slowly thoughout the former and then releasing into a frantic opening riff for the title track that is the fastest and most energetic the band sounds throughout the entire album.

Father Befouled sort of falls into the trap of playing an old school style of death metal.  There are quite a few bands these days doing that, but Father Befouled's point of reference is a little bit different, choosing to sound more like Incantation than Death.  What does set them apart from other bands that worship Incantation though is the recording quality.  While murky itself, at least the instrumentation is easy to hear and the album actually sounds fantastic.

I really enjoyed this album.  Father Befouled does not bring anything really new to the table, but builds on what others have done before them.  That being said, they do it extremely well and the album's production sets it apart. 

Thursday, December 21, 2017

Enslaved: E (2017)

Enslaved will always hold a special place in my heart as they were the opening band in the first extreme metal concert I ever attended (Opeth was the headliner).  It was also the first real metal concert I saw with the woman who would become my wife, I am not counting the Trans-Siberian Orchestra concert here.  On top of that, the band has simply never really disappointed me.  So each time the band releases a new album, I pick it up quickly.  Here we are again.

Now, at this point in their careers, Enslaved have fully embraced the progressive elements of their sound while all but completely ditching their black metal influences.  The only signs that this was ever a black metal band are the occasional raspy vocals.  Growth is fine when the band is able to continue to put out interesting material, and that is where Enslaved excels.

I had a little bit of a concern that this album would not be quite up to snuff.  It definitely does not start out strong.  The first song opens with a couple of minutes of meandering noise, and my concern grew.  But the concerns were quickly dashed when "Storm Son" turned out to be an incredibly compelling and powerful song.  It is a longer track, but features most of the necessary elements for Enslaved's progressive metal output, and the heavier moments are particularly captivating.  Then the second track, "The River's Mouth" kicks in, and it is easily one of the best Enslaved songs in years, and THAT is saying something.

If anything, this is one of the catchier Enslaved albums.  The aforementioned songs, as well as "Axis of the Worlds" are some of the band's most infectious songs ever.  And I say that as a huge fan of the band.  They do tend to carry on some sections a little longer than I would prefer, but that is really something that the band has always done.  It is a little more restrained this time around though.

Despite the rather slow start to the album, honestly this is one of my favorite albums the band has released since departing from their black metal roots.  And again, that is really saying something, because this band has released some excellent albums.

Wednesday, December 20, 2017

Electric Wizard: Wizard Bloody Wizard (2017)

With an album title like that, it is pretty clear that the band is making some type of homage or reference to the great Black Sabbath.  And it is obvious that Electric Wizard have created a much more retro-sounding album, one that would have sounded perfectly natural if it had been released in the 1970's. 

Electric Wizard has never really been one of my favorite bands.  I have certainly enjoyed them in small doses, and I still love the song "Dunwich", but I have been mostly reluctant to get deep into their prior catalog.  Their psychedelic brand of stoner/doom metal simply does not speak to me as much, though I can definitely see the appeal others might see.  I have really been turned off by portions of songs where the band simply meanders along with their slow, fuzzed-out riffs for several minutes at a time.  But that is where this album mostly differs.  Electric Wizard have tightened up their sound significantly and delivered their most cohesive record, at least of the ones I have heard.

The only real problem is that the band is unable to reach the heights of some of their earlier material.  There is no "Dunwich" on this album.  No song that stands head and shoulders above the rest as a true highlight on this album.  And there are still a couple of throw-away tracks, including "The Reaper" which disappointed me greatly.  I was hoping my dog would have a new theme song (yes, his name is technically The Reaper).

None of this is to suggest that this is a bad album, it just does not really grab attention.  Electric Wizard will likely continue to be more of an occasional treat for me, which is mostly a shame, because I really want to like them more than I do.  I love their mystique and image, the music just does not totally grab me.   

Tuesday, December 19, 2017

Craven Idol: The Shackles of Mammon (2017)

Anytime I come across a blurb recommending a band for fans of groups like Destroyer 666, Gospel of the Horns, and other groups of their ilk, I have to check it out.  That was just the case with Craven Idol, a British blackened thrash metal band on their second full-length release.  I am damn glad I did.  This is a contender for Album of the Year here.

Apparently, the band has undergone a bit of a stylistic shift coming into this album.  Where previously they had been more of a traditional/speed metal band, now they have amped up the black metal influences resulting in a sound similar to the Australian "war metal" sound that I love so much.  That certainly does not bother me one bit. 

Much of the music is fast-paced with lightning-fast riffs, pounding drums, and the psychotic shrieking of singer Immolator of Sadistik Wrath.  The true star of the album though is dual guitar work of Immolator and Obscenitor, particularly the soaring lead guitars that come out of nowhere to lend an epic feel to the songs.  The songs are also infectious as hell.  Picking one best song is damn near impossible, but if pressed, I suspect I would name "A Ripping Strike".

This is an absolutely epic slab of blackened thrash metal.  It is exactly the kind of style that I have spent a lot of time tracking down, without being too derivative as to be a copycat.  Craven Idol does have their own spin on the sound, but still captures a lot of the elements that make the style so fascinating.  And that makes it a top contender for Album of the Year.

Sunday, December 17, 2017

Carach Angren: Dance and Laugh Amongst the Rotten (2017)

Despite the fact that groups like Dimmu Borgir and Emperor were among my first exposures to black metal, and later checking into groups like Luna Ad Noctum and Limbonic Art, I quickly grew out of symphonic black metal.  But when a band comes as highly recommended as Carach Angren, I have to at least give it a shot.  So, recently when picking up some random albums from Season of Mist, I decided to take a flyer on the latest from the Dutch group.

I did have to get past a couple of things in order to check this one out though.  First of all, the cartoonish cover art looks like a particularly twisted Scooby Doo episode.  Secondly, the name of the album does not exactly sound like a black metal band, but much more like the kind of band Hot Topic-loving mallgoths think is edgy.  So there are a couple of issues with this release that almost made me not check it out.  But I always hear such good things about Carach Angren that I decided to take a chance on the album despite the obvious problems.

It starts off in fairly predictable fashion, with an eerie piano melody, before delving into the true songs on the album.  The subject matter of the songs is mostly ghost stories and hauntings, and the use of strings amplifies the sinister tone of the album overall.  One song deals with the legend of Charles Francis Coghlan, an actor whose body supposedly went missing for seven years after dying in Texas to be found swept away by a storm near his actual home thousands of miles away.  Some of the songs sound a little cheesy, with ridiculous lyrics, such as "Charlie", but for the most part, they are effectively spooky.

What does set this band and album apart from other symphonic black metal bands is that the symphonic elements do not feel tacked on.  The songs are crafted with the string flourishes and rhythms written in.  That aspect makes the songs feel much more cohesive.  It also gives some of the songs an epic, bombastic feel, particularly "In de naam van de duivel" and "Three Times Thunder Strikes". 

This is an impressive release.  I am not sure where to rate Carach Angren among their symphonic black metal brethren, but it is a pretty good album.  Unfortunately, I just think I have outgrown this genre, at least for the more cartoonish groups like this one.

Thursday, December 14, 2017

Acid Cross/Sardu: Metalpunx from Beyond (2017)

I need to get caught up here.  I am going to try to finish a bunch of reviews for 2017 releases in the coming weeks before dropping my Top (Whatever) Albums by the end of January.  I like to wait until well after the first of the year to cover all of the new albums I might hear in the year.
This is pretty much the quintessential Hells Headbangers release, which is why it is so weird that it is not from that particular label, not that there is anything wrong with that.  In fact, I only bring it up because I am such a fan of that label's output, so it makes sense that I would like this release.  This is a split album and both bands feature a very heavy punk influence to go along with their own twisted brands of black/thrash/speed metal, hence the name of the split.   Both bands are also from Canada, and I have made it clear that there is some surprisingly great metal coming from the Great White North.  Yet another reason to look into this split.

Acid Cross is the first band on the split.  Their sound is an unholy blend of Motorhead, Venom, and Bathory.  It is beer-and-whiskey-soaked rollicking metal with a punk sneer.  The vocals are snarled and raspy, sounding as if the singer just downed a pint of acid before taking the mic.  "The Glowing Ones" is the standout track here with some damn infectious, neck-breaking guitar riffs.  I could have done without the extended movie sample at the end of the last track on the side, which just saps a lot of the energy the band built up previously.  This might have been better earlier on in Acid Cross's material.

Up next is Sardu, and with a song name like "Metal Punk Exploding Master", you can tell that this group is not exactly super serious.  Sardu has an interesting back story as members of the band also created a cult zombie film called "Walking Among the Dead".  The vocals are a little more black metal-styled than Acid Cross, but the riffs are even more rooted in Motorhead and punk rock.  Their side is a little more even, without any truly weak moments, but they also do not quite reach the heights of the Acid Cross side.

What I usually like to do with splits is pick my favorite side.  Both of these bands capture the drunken mayhem spirit of Motorhead and mix it with some sleazy blackened thrash metal.  Both bands put on an energetic performance.  But, even though I will be interested in following both bands, I think I slightly prefer Acid Cross, mostly on the strength of "The Glowing Ones".