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".

Sunday, November 26, 2017

Bell Witch: Mirror Reaper (2017)

First of all, I have to say, this is the best cover art I have seen in years.  It is incredibly creepy and imposing.  I would have probably bought this album just for the cover alone.  It looks so much better on the double gatefold vinyl sleeve.  But there is also the music, as Bell Witch has been rising as one of my favorite funeral doom metal bands over the last few months after picking up each of their recorded releases (including their demo) on cassette and vinyl.

Bell Witch's third album is an exercise in patience and attention as it is technically just one 84 minute long song called "Mirror Reaper (As Above, So Below)".  Several bands have attempted the one-song album over the years with some impressive results.  Just look at Edge of Sanity's Crimson, Sleep's Dopesmoker, and Insomnium's Winter's Gate, for examples of projects done well.  And Bell Witch have added their name to the list with this sprawling epic. 

It is not just the length of the album that requires fully immersing oneself into the music however.  As a funeral doom metal band, the music is painfully slow (in a good way) and drawn out.  There are no hooks, no memorable choruses, no real melodies.  It is just pure melancholic dread set to eerie, atmospheric, monolithic music.  Bell Witch accomplishes this task with just two members and no actual guitarist.  Their sound is bleak and massive without being heavy and loud.  It is a tribute to a former band member who had died.  In fact, one of the most poignant moments on the album is the use of previously unused vocal tracks recorded by the now-deceased band member, giving that much more weight to the heavy theme. 

Bell Witch have put out one of the great funeral doom releases with this.  It is so much more than just a terrific cover.  The music really fits in with the cover art and the music is dark and complex.  In my own opinion, it is much harder to make terrific slow music.  Bell Witch have made it an art form.

Saturday, November 18, 2017

Jackyl in Sioux City: November 17

For now, my concert experiences have come full circle.  The very first rock concert I ever attended was Jackyl back when I was a junior or senior in high school.  At the time, Jackyl was going on an ambitious plan to play 50 shows in 50 days and they were playing a free concert in the parking lot of the local record store, back when we still had those in my hometown.  It was free, so I went, despite not knowing a ton about Jackyl.  I was a little late because I was at a basketball game before going, but I managed to catch six or seven songs, and again, it was free.

Now, Jackyl is not a metal band, but I figured I would make an exception for the blog, mostly because my wife really wanted to go to this one.  They were playing at the Hard Rock Casino, which makes three weekends in a row that I have attended a concert there.

The opening band was a group called Screaming for Silence from Omaha, Nebraska, and it is just like Nebraska to produce a band that is 15 years behind the times.  They were about as stereotypical a nu-metal band as you could possibly get, complete with guy with weird-colored hair, guy wearing sideways baseball cap, jumping around while playing, and vocalist wearing flannel shirt.  The green-haired guitarist was pretty decent, but by and large, the band was ultimately forgettable.

Jackyl took the stage next and played through all of the songs one would expect the band to play.  "Dirty Little Mind", "When Will it Rain", "Mental Masturbation", "Down on Me", and "I Stand Alone" are the band's biggest hits and were all played last night.  Jackyl sounded damn good for being a band that has been around for 25 years.  Their brand of southern hard rock has aged well and they can still bring it after all this time.  Jesse James Dupree's voice is as bourbon-soaked and raspy as ever.  Of course the band closed things out with "The Lumberjack" complete with chainsaw accompaniment, which was to be expected as they did the exact same thing when I saw them almost 20 years ago. 

I have never really been a big fan of Jackyl, but they do put on a pretty good show.  My wife really enjoyed it, which is the important thing.  I do kind of owe after that whole Mayhem concert thing.

Tuesday, November 14, 2017

Mayhem in Omaha: November 12

Well, this one was certainly interesting.  If you had asked me even a year ago if I ever thought I might see Mayhem live in concert, I would have laughed.  I never expected the band to come anywhere near here, yet there they were at The Waiting Room in Omaha last night.

Black Anvil was the opening band, and I honestly was not familiar with them.  I had heard the name of the band before, but maybe I had them confused with Black Tusk or something, because I had no idea they were a black metal band.  I was actually pretty impressed with them.  Their sound was definitely hateful and aggressive, but they are clearly not a pure black metal band.  There were a lot of hardcore and thrash influences in their sound, which is borne out by reading into the band's history, coming from Kill Your Idols.  They also had some softer moments reminiscent of the latest Watain album.  Black Anvil was definitely impressive.

The second band was Immolation, who have been a favorite death metal band of mine for many years.  They played a diverse set covering a number of their albums.  Immolation is mostly well-known for their jagged riffs and chaotic sound, and that was definitely on display on Sunday night.  Combining that with the fact that Ross Dolan is still one of the better death metal vocalists out there made this one of the better death metal performances I have seen.  My wife though was less than impressed and seemed annoyed with the facial expressions of guitarist Alex Bouks, commenting that duck lips had no place in metal, other than Steel Panther's Lexxi Foxx.  I did not notice.

After a long wait and a message about not using flash to take pictures so as not to upset the atmosphere, Mayhem was up.  The band definitely got some use out of their fog machines and burned some incense, which also annoyed my wife.  She says she has been sneezing all day.  Singer Attila Csihar was mesmerizing, with his theatrical movements, and his varied vocal styles.  He was wearing corpse paint and at one point moved around the stage holding what looked like a human skull.  At times, Attila seemed to be attempting to channel evil spirits on stage.  I was a little disappointed that his mic was not turned up a little higher as he was sometimes very difficult to hear.  Mayhem played the entire legendary De Mysteriis Dom Sathanas album, which ended up being their entire set.  I was happy about this as it represents the best of Mayhem's catalog.  Between the fog, lighting, and the intense music, this was probably the darkest atmosphere for any concert I have ever attended.

This concert was probably one of the most memorable concerts I have ever attended.  It was truly an experience to see Mayhem live.  As much as I enjoyed the Immolation and Black Anvil performances, Mayhem's performance was incredible.  This was a concert I will never forget.

Saturday, November 11, 2017

Arch Enemy and Trivium in Sioux City: November 10

For the second time in less than seven days, I found myself at the Hard Rock Casino in Sioux City, Iowa for a concert.  This time it was a co-headlining show with Trivium and Arch Enemy.  I have seen Trivium once before, so the reason that I chose to go to this one was to see Arch Enemy.  My wife did not come to this one with me.  She had to dog-sit for her parents this weekend.  I am not sure I care much for going to concerts alone. 

The opening band was Fit for an Autopsy, a group that has started to make some waves.  I did not care much for their brand of deathcore personally.  The entire performance was basically one long breakdown.  There were a couple of decent songs, but this is not likely a band I will be seeking out in the future.  The second band was a metalcore group called While She Sleeps.  Now, this is a band I likely would have enjoyed quite a bit more in my early 20's.  They had some decent material and the singer was undeniably charismatic on stage, but again, I am not likely to seek them out further.

Arch Enemy was next on stage and they performed a fantastic set, dedicated mostly to their material since Angela Gossow took over as vocalist and extending into the Alissa White-Glutz era.  White-Glutz is a powerful vocalist, but the true highlight of the entire night was the incredible guitar performances by Jeff Loomis and Michael Amott.  Those two really put on a show.  Arch Enemy was absolutely worth seeing.

Finally, Trivium closed things out.  They played a little shorter set than I expected, and certainly shorter than last year's set.  They have a new album out, which I have not heard yet, and which I am not sure I will be checking out.  The new songs they played were catchy enough, but not as good as some of their earlier material.  Matt Heafy sounded as if he might be suffering from a little bit of a cold as his melodic vocals were not quite up to snuff.  But, Trivium had some impressive songs, just not as impressive as Arch Enemy.

This was only the second time I have ever gone to a concert alone.  Quite frankly, I do not much care for it.  Maybe if it had been a better lineup I might have liked it better.  Trivium sounded a bit off and neither of the opening groups were really impressive.  Arch Enemy was pretty much the only really good thing about the night.

Monday, November 6, 2017

Gwar in Sioux City: November 4, 2017

Well, I finally had occasion to see Gwar over the weekend.  I have missed out on several opportunities in the past to see them, but I decided that it was not going to happen again.  Of course it is a little disappointing to see them without the great Oderus Urungus fronting the band, but Blothar still does a pretty damn good job.  This concert occurred at the Hard Rock Casino in Sioux City, Iowa a venue I have not previously been to.  My wife was a little interested in this one too, given Gwar's theatricality.

The opening band was U.S. Bastards, a band fronted by Gwar guitarist Brent Purgason, aka Pustulus Maximus.  Their style is drenched in dirty, raw, Motorhead-influenced punk rock 'n roll.  To drive the point home, they even covered the Motorhead classic "Killed by Death".  I enjoyed them quite a bit more than I thought that I would honestly.  I am not sure my wife agreed.  She did not look up from her phone once during their set.

Up next was Doyle, a band named for bandleader, former Misfits guitarist and certified gigantic human being Doyle Wolfgang Von Frankenstein.  Misfits were a rarity, a punk band that I truly loved listening to, due to their infectious songs, presence of Glenn Danzig, and crossing over into metal on occasion.  Their later material with Michale Graves was very close to metal and Doyle's solo band continued in this style.  Oh, there is still quite a bit of horror punk, but a lot of metal riffing as well.  Singer Alex Story introduced almost every song with "This next song is a bit of a love song, you can dance to it, if you like", a joke which got a little old after about the third time.  My wife liked Doyle, the guitarist, for reasons other than his musicianship.

Ghoul came next, and honestly I was more excited to see them than Gwar.  I just generally enjoy their music more.  This is where things got more theatrical as two people in costumes began doing a skit about finding some sort of portal to another dimension and talking specifically about the band, who then showed up, complete with burlap masks covered in blood over their faces and decapitating one of the people, spraying the crowd with blood.  Some of the prop usage left a bit to be desired.  One of the "soldiers" clearly had no idea how guns were supposed to work.  The show went on like this, eventually peaking with a Nazi-esque leader discussing building a "bigly wall" to keep out all the aliens before beating one of the Ghoul members with a nightstick.  Yes, the music was damn fun too.  Ghoul's sound is a mix of thrash and grind with very few moments of melody.

Gwar was next on the stage and they delivered exactly what I was expecting.  Lots of costumes, some sick humor, lots of body mutilation and fake blood spraying into the crowd, and some damn catchy songs.  They played a lot of material from the new album, but peppered in classics like "Black and Huge" and "Saddam A Go-Go".  Gwar brought out a Trump character as well, before disemboweling him and Blothar taking over as President of the United States.  About the only down side was that Gwar no longer feeds the World Maggot on stage.  But they still put on one hell of an entertaining show all the same.

This show was a lot of fun.  I am not a huge fan of any of the bands for their music, but Gwar and Ghoul in particular are bands that must be experienced live.  I am definitely glad we had the chance to go.  My wife enjoyed it quite a bit as well.

Wednesday, October 25, 2017

Suffocation and The Black Dahlia Murder in Omaha: October 24

Technically, The Black Dahlia Murder was the headliner at this show, but Suffocation is getting top billing in this post because that was the band that I really wanted to see.  Not to say that The Black Dahlia Murder is not a good band, I actually really enjoy the band's brand of At the Gates worship, but I would likely not have attended just for them.  Luckily, Suffocation was one of the openers, and three more bands were coming along for the ride.  Unfortunately, a couple of unwelcome surprises diminished the show a little bit.

The venue was The Slowdown, one of my favorite venues, though it was just the second time I have been there.  Exodus played there a few weeks ago.  The bar has a decent-sized stage and a nice bar area where, while you really can not see anything, at least you can easily hear.

We were just a little bit late again, as a result of having to drive two hours, but the opening band was still on the stage when I walked in while my wife ran out for ice cream, she was not super excited for the death metal-heavy show.  Wormwitch was the opener and they were incredibly impressive, playing more of a black metal mixed with later Entombed style.  They had some damn catchy songs and I may just have to check out their album.  Necrot was the next band on the stage, and I was fairly familiar with them, having recently picked up their Blood Offerings album, which is a fantastic slab of old school death metal.  I was so impressed, I picked up a t-shirt.  Both Wormwitch and Necrot had the kind of poise and presence as bands that have been around for decades, yet each of them have just recently released their first full length albums.     

The first unwelcome surprise came next.  Decrepit Birth was supposed to be at this show.  I have really enjoyed some of their albums, though I have not kept up with them lately.  Unfortunately, apparently their guitarist had some medical issues crop up last week and the band had to cancel the rest of the tour. 

Suffocation was next and unfortunately brought out the next unwelcome surprise.  Apparently, it is fairly well-known at this point that vocalist Frank Mullen no longer tours full-time with the band as he has a job that pays him well enough that he simply cannot afford to do so.  I did not know that, so I was a little surprised when the vocalist was clearly not Mullen.  It took some looking, but it apparently was Kevin Muller of The Merciless Concept.  Muller absolutely did a fantastic job filling in for Mullen, but it was still a little disappointing not to see the full lineup in action.  Their show was terrific though and they played a nice mix of stuff from the new album and classic songs such as "Liege of Inveracity", "Pierced from Within", and "Effigy of the Forgotten".  It was absolutely worth seeing Suffocation live.

Afterwards, I got a chance to meet this guy:
My wife took the picture.

Finally, The Black Dahlia Murder took the stage.  TBDM was very unfairly lumped in with the metalcore bands despite the fact that their sound was clearly melodic death metal a la Slaughter of the Soul-era At the Gates.  They played a blistering set and because their songs are so short and fast, they were able to fit 20 or so songs in to a little more than an hour.  They sounded damn impressive, playing a lot of stuff from their fantastic new album as well as some classics like "What a Horrible Night to Have a Curse" and "Miasma".  One of the more entertaining things occurred during TBDM when their merch guy was playing Connect 4 with some other guy.  My wife found that very amusing. 

This was a great concert, despite the surprises.  I would have liked to see Decrepit Birth and was disappointed Mullen did not perform for Suffocation, but all of the bands were very impressive. 

Tuesday, October 10, 2017

Accept: The Rise of Chaos (2017)

Despite the band's high status as German metal pioneers, I have never really gotten too much into Accept's material.  That is not to say that I do not like the band.  Quite the opposite.  I love "Balls to the Wall" and "Midnight Mover".  I also really like "Losing More than You've Ever Had".  But for some reason, I never picked up my first Accept album until 2010's Blood of the Nations, a monstrous return to form for the band.  Maybe it has to do with the fact that Udo Dirkschneider is no longer with the band, but after getting that album, which admittedly took some time to grow on me, I have finally started to really open up to the band.

That brings us to this year's The Rise of Chaos.  This one is very similar to the 2010 classic, but unfortunately slightly pales to it in most respects.  The songs are not quite as memorable.  The riffs are not quite as sharp.  The vocals are not quite as savage.  That is not to say that this is a bad album, far from it.  It is a terrific slab of traditional heavy metal, it just does not live up to one of the band's greatest albums.  There is absolutely nothing wrong with that at all.

One of the biggest issues I have with the album is that some of the lyrics are a little bit laughable.  I doubt they are all to be taken seriously, but songs like "Hole in the Head" which repeats the refrain "I need you...like a hole in the head" is positively juvenile.  I was also not sure quite what to make of the title "Koolaid", until seeing the lyrics, after which I came to enjoy that track quite a bit.  I can though really identify with "Analog Man" as I also prefer the old ways of vinyl and cassettes to our current computer-driven society.

Despite some of my minor gripes, this is still a very strong album.  Several tracks like "Die by the Sword", the title cut, and "Worlds Colliding" stand up quite well to any of the band's prior classic songs.  This is a band that has been at it for over 40 years at this point (two original members remain), and yet, they still sound fresh and powerful.  That is damn impressive.  Accept really should be on the same pedestal as contemporaries like Iron Maiden and Judas Priest.

This is a terrific album that just does not quite live up to one of its predecessors.  Again, this is not necessarily a bad thing, as this album stands up quite well on its own.  One thing this album did do though, is convince me to go back and find their older releases.  I have a lot of catching up to do.   

Friday, October 6, 2017

Nightbringer: Terra Damnata (2017)

American black metal is kind of an odd beast.  There just are not that many long-lasting black metal bands from the U.S.  Certainly not many that have made a huge impact on the black metal genre.  Absu is about the only one that I can name off of the top of my head.  Many bands have been able to blend black metal with death or thrash metal for example, but very few great pure black metal bands have come from the U.S.

Well, Nightbringer is definitely a high-quality American black metal band.  Emerging from the harsh, desolate landscape that is Colorado, Nightbringer's sound is absolutely fucking hostile.  This is actually the band's fifth full-length album, though it is my first exposure to the band.  Things start off with a bang, with the highly caustic "As Wolves Amongst Ruins".  From there, chaos is the name of the game throughout the album.  There is absolutely nothing pretty or soothing here.  Even when the pounding drums and crashing riffs are not ruling the sound, the lead riffs or keyboard lines are ugly and foreboding.  And of course there is no respite with the vocals which are often delivered in a typical black metal harsh rasp. 

Nightbringer is proof that there is some incredible black metal coming from the United States.  The band's newest release is an eerie and cruel album.  I love it.

Thursday, September 28, 2017

Night Demon: Darkness Remains (2017)

Honestly, my tastes have been evolving in recent years.  I have noticed it.  I am less and less interested in the extreme metal genres than I used to be and much more into the more traditional styles.  Thrash metal is still my personal favorite, but metal owing its roots to bands like Judas Priest and Iron Maiden are more and more appealing to me.  So it was with great interest that I jumped on this release, particularly after seeing others rave about it.

Night Demon has been making some waves in the underground metal scene since releasing their debut EP in 2012.  This is their second full-length album and it was subject to a lot of hype.  The band is truly a rising star among the other traditional metal bands.  The style has been enjoying a resurgence over the last decade or so. 

The band definitely wears their Maiden influence on their sleeve and the song "Maiden Hell" is Exhibit A in that.  That song references a ton of Maiden songs and their career in general.  Other than that, there are of course the galloping riffing style, heavy bass, and smooth and clean vocals.  There is also the visual aesthetic with the horror-influenced cover art.

But the album is not all Iron Maiden references.  Night Demon does forge their own identity, even if their sound is fairly derivative of other bands.  They do just enough to stand out from the pack of other trad-metal bands.  And they can definitely write some damn catchy hooks. 

Monday, September 25, 2017

Stone Sour and Steel Panther in Omaha: September 24, 2017

Okay, this one was not on me.  My wife is a big Steel Panther fan.  So big, that earlier this year we traveled to San Antonio for the sole purpose of going to a Steel Panther concert.  Little did we know that several months later, the band would be playing much closer to home.  They recently began a tour in support of Stone Sour and played the first night of the tour in Omaha.  And so, we went and saw Steel Panther for the second time this year.  I am not a huge fan of either band, and this was definitely not the kind of concert I would have liked to have seen, but my wife wanted to go, and she does go to a lot of concerts she would prefer not to attend.

The crowd was about what I expected.  Some genuine metal heads, a lot of people just there to have a good time, frat guys, poseur metal heads.  The funniest thing I saw was one individual dressed all in black, with long hair dyed black, wearing a black hoodie, with the hood pulled over his face, trying to look scary and badass.  News flash: you are not scary and badass when you look like that at a fucking Stone Sour concert.  You just look like a fucking idiot.

Opening things up was an erotic performance art dance group called Cherry Bombs.  This proved to be a very popular opening act.  The girls danced, and performed various stunts.  Honestly, I could not see part of their show due to where we were in the venue.  This part I assume had something to do with pole dancing.  The women were scantily clad and very attractive.  As I said, this was quite a popular performance, though maybe not with most of the women in the audience.  The music played was mostly late 90's gothic/hard rock.  The weird thing was that the performance at one point simply ended, though the music kept playing.  There must have been some miscommunication somewhere.

Steel Panther was next on the stage.  They played a shorter set than they did the previous time we saw them, but that was due to the fact that they were not the headliner at this show.  Nevertheless, they did play a number of their live staples, particularly those that required audience participation, such as "Girl from Oklahoma" and "17 Girls in a Row".  Of course the banter between the members was present, Satchel making old man jokes about Michael Starr, Lexxi generally being derided for being a little dim, and the typical sex jokes.  Steel Panther do put on a fantastic live performance and really should be seen.

Next, the headliners arrived.  Back in my nu-metal phase, I will admit I liked Stone Sour a little bit.  I have not paid attention to the band in years though and honestly did not know they were even still going.  Their stuff really did not do much for me last night.  There were a few songs I recognized, such as "Get Inside" and "Through Glass", but the majority of the songs were new to me.  My wife and I left before they did their encore performance.  They were not bad, they just were not all that impressive.

As I said, this concert was not for me.  However, Steel Panther does put on an electric show and really should be seen.  Stone Sour on the other hand...meh.

Friday, September 22, 2017

Dark Tranquillity in Sioux Falls, SD: September 21, 2017

Well, I am really not sure about going to Sioux Falls for a concert more than once every few months or so.  Particularly if it is on a weeknight.  Not to say the experience was bad, but getting home at 3:00 a.m. and having to get right back up in a few hours is definitely tough on me.  I'm getting old.  Anyway, last night Swedish melodeath pioneers Dark Tranquillity appeared at The Icon Lounge along with Warbringer and Striker, and a couple local bands.  It was a long concert, but it was still a lot of fun.

First on stage was the unfortunately-named local band Tons of 'Em.  They were playing when we walked in and played only two songs that we saw.  The sound was interesting enough, somewhat technical, and a little doomy.  The most interesting aspect of the band was that the two guitarists and bassist were all in their 20's, while the drummer appeared to be in his 60's.  I made the joke to my wife that it was nice of the band members' dad to play drums for them.  Apparently that is partially correct.  He is only one of the members' dad.

The next band was Traverscion, a prog-death metal band from Sioux Falls, led by a Sheldon Cooper-lookalike and a Thor lookalike, which thrilled my wife by the way.  This band I really enjoyed.  Their sound had kind of a Lovecraftian murkiness to it and the three vocalists complemented each other quite well.  The times when they would play more melodic sections were the definite highlight.  I will be keeping an eye on this group.

Side story: I made a comment at the Kreator show to my wife that there would probably be some scary-looking guys there.  She responded that they are probably more scared of her than she is of them.  The ratio of men to women at most of these concerts probably bears this out.

And we are back.  Canada has become quite the fertile ground for traditional metal bands over the last decade or so.  And Striker is just one example of this.  I have heard one of their albums and quite enjoyed it, so I had a decent idea of what to expect, but for some reason I thought they were thrashier than they actually are.  They played a blistering 20 minute set with some of the catchiest songs of the night.  They definitely looked like throwbacks to 1980's metal too.  I will have to check out more of their material.  I wish they had had a t-shirt with their Armed to the Teeth album cover on it.  I would have grabbed it quickly.
Where was this t-shirt, Striker?
Hell, my wife would have bought one!

Next up was Warbringer.  I saw them about five years ago when they were an up-and-coming band in support of Overkill.  They played their entire new album Woe to the Vanquished.  A little unexpected, but that is a monster of a modern thrash album, so it was damn good.  Of particular note is the absolutely infectious neck-breaker "Remain Violent".  They looked like they were having a blast too, which was true of each of the five bands of the night.

And finally, Dark Tranquillity took the stage.  I have been a big fan of the band since I was in college, though I preferred their heavier material prior to their more gothic metal-influenced melodeath (my favorite of their albums is still the Of Chaos and Eternal Night EP).  That being said, they have some damn great songs and they played a lot of that material last night.  Mikael Stanne was a very charismatic presence and explained some of the stories behind some of the songs.    My wife stated that Santa Claus has a lot more tattoos than she remembered, referring to bassist Anders Iwers, who does bear a resemblance to a badass metal Santa.  The best song was "ThereIn" from the Projector album, which surprised me at its inclusion.  The band played in front of a projected screen that played music videos the band did, which also surprised me.  They were in top form last night and sounded just as potent as they do on their albums.

I was definitely glad I went, though my wife was not nearly as pleased.  It was a damn late night, but seeing Dark Tranquillity for the first time was well worth it.

Tuesday, September 19, 2017

Dying Fetus: Wrong One to Fuck With (2017)

Dying Fetus was one of the first brutal death metal bands I got into.  Much like Suffocation, the band has always existed somewhere on a continuum between grooving slam death and technical brutal death metal, but they marry the two seemingly disparate styles quite well.  I always make it a point to check out new releases by the band, but they have been away for about five years prior to the release of this album.  And there was quite a bit of hype for this one.

A few things were immediately apparent which did not even require listening to the album to be able to tell that this was going to be a very strong release.  First off, the band brought back their early band logo that has not been used since their demo days.  Secondly, the gory album cover, promising violence.  And third, the name of the album itself.  Dying Fetus has never really been subtle, but those three factors raised my hopes that this was going to be one hell of an album.  Dying Fetus did not disappoint.

From the beginning of this album, a highly technical lead riff leading into a pummeling opening track, it was clear that the time off has been just what Dying Fetus needed in order to rejuvenate their sound.  The rest of the album follows suit with equal parts technicality and brutality.  The production is crisp and clear, allowing each of the instruments to be heard well, which helps emphasize just how impressive John Gallagher's guitar leads are, the punishing throbbing of John Beasley's bass, and how impressively Trey Williams plays the skins.  Dual vocalists Gallagher and Beasley continue to complement each other well, barking their vocals in their own distinct extreme styles.

This is a damn impressive album.  I have been a big fan of Dying Fetus for about ten years now, but this is easily their best album they have released in that time.  Everything about this grabs attention and refuses to let go.  This is an absolutely punishing, uncompromising slab of metal that forces itself to be heard and does not let go.

Monday, September 18, 2017

Goatwhore: Vengeful Ascension (2017)

Goatwhore is quickly becoming the Motorhead of extreme metal.  They are amazingly consistent, yet most of their songs are fairly similar in structure, and led by rumbling riffs.  Speed and intensity are the name of the game.  They have become one of my personal favorite bands and I jumped at the chance to see them live earlier this year.  I also had to put their new album on pre-order as soon as I became aware of it and looked forward to it.

Unfortunately, this album was something of a letdown.  The band did not truly alter its sound in any way.  The album is very much in line with Goatwhore's releases that came before it.  The problem is that this particular album sounds a little phoned in.  It is too similar to the stuff that came before it, without much growth, and certainly without anything that stands out and demands attention.

The first track is something of a plodding crawl, at least as far as Goatwhore is concerned.  It is a somewhat slower track and not the most dynamic of openers.  Several of the following songs were more mid-paced and tended to blend together a bit.  A lot of the breakneck speed from earlier albums has been replaced with more of a rumbling groove.  Not to suggest that Goatwhore is suddenly trying to become Pantera, but they were always at their best when they were thrashing all around.  This is much more relaxed.  That is simply not something I am used to from Goatwhore.  "Mankind Will Have No Mercy" is probably the closest thing to the the sound I would expect from Goatwhore.

There is nothing really bad here.  All of the elements that one would expect from a Goatwhore album are present.  From Ben Falgoust's demonic vocals to Sammy Duet's Motorhead-inspired riffing to Zack Simmons's insane drumming, the band is every bit as talented and crushing as ever.  Unfortunately, they seem to have mostly become complacent in their songwriting.  Every band has a misstep, hopefully this is just that, and the band will return to the fire and fury of their earlier works next time around.

Sunday, September 17, 2017

Suffocation: ...Of the Dark Light (2017)

After the last couple of albums, it appeared that Suffocation was mostly just spinning their wheels.  They still have yet to release a bad album, but most of their releases of late have been mostly the same.  Still good, but mostly unmemorable.  So it was with a little bit of trepidation that I checked out this latest release, their first since 2013.  But, this has to be the best Suffocation album in a very long time, which is saying something.

There are certain fundamental elements that are expected for a Suffocation album.  The first of these is definitely brutality.  Suffocation is not a subtle band and does not rely on melody.  Crushing, yet technical riffs, blastbeat-driven drums, and deep guttural roaring vocals are the band's calling cards.  Their music is violent and intense, but their best material is also infectious.  That has been the one thing that has been lacking of late, truly memorable material.

This is Suffocation's strongest album in years.  It contains some absolutely memorable songs, such as "Clarity Through Deprivation", "The Violation", and "Some Things Should be Left Alone."  The band has really not done anything differently musically on this album.  It just comes across as a tighter sound, with more energy and passion.  The band sounds rejuvenated somehow.  Perhaps this is due to new members Eric Morotti and Charlie Errigo at drums and guitar respectively, neither of whom had even been born when Suffocation released their first album.  Whatever it is, the band sounds better than they have in over a decade.

This is without a doubt, Suffocation's strongest album in years.  The band has re-captured the spirit and energy that made them one of the greatest death metal bands ever.  

Thursday, September 14, 2017

God Dethroned: The World Ablaze (2017)

God Dethroned is back!  The Dutch blackened death metal band has split up twice now, only to reform just a couple of years later.  Most recently, they split up in 2012, some time after I saw them in concert as one of the supporting bands for Overkill.  They were not gone too long as they technically reunited in 2014, but this is the first new material since then.

God Dethroned has found something of a niche in crafting their albums around the atrocities of World War I.  It started with their amazing Passiondale album in 2009 and continued with Under the Sign of the Iron Cross.  This is their third release in that vein.  This is never more apparent than on the terrific, heart-pumping "On the Wrong Side of the Wire".  Ah, trench warfare.

The lyrical content is not the only thing that has been re-created on each of the last three albums.  The general sound of the albums is also very similar.  No one will ever accuse God Dethroned of being mainstream-friendly (talking mainstream metal obviously), but the music is similar to the lighter material by Behemoth and tends more to melody than brutality this time around.  It is like the band took some of the more epic, dramatic moments that appeared on Passiondale ("No Survivors"), and stretched them out into an entire album.  Most of the black metal-leaning elements have been stripped from their sound, leaving a more streamlined approach similar to the melodic death metal stylings of Amon Amarth, just with a different historical period as a focus.  They have been trending in this direction for awhile now and this is definitely the closest to mainstream-friendly as God Dethroned has ever been.

The band can still dial things up when they really want to, and a lot of the time, they still sound like a well-oiled machine of warfare.  "Annihilation Crusade" is a loud, bulldozer of a song with riffing that sounds like heavy artillery firing.  And as mentioned, "On the Other Side of the Wire" is a monster track, with a fantastic lead melody.  The vocals are delivered in Henri Sattler's standard gruff bark throughout the album.

I enjoy this album quite a bit, though it is not as impressive as Passiondale.  It is a strong comeback album, even if it is significantly more melodic than we are used to from God Dethroned.

Wednesday, September 13, 2017

Sepultura: Machine Messiah (2017)

Way back in the summer between my freshman and sophomore year in high school, I gravitated toward Brazilian metal legends Sepultura.  It was the first extreme metal band I was ever really into.  Of course this was at the time that Roots was released.  I picked it up and then quickly picked up a number of their other releases, including singles, EPs, and other oddities (including one bootleg).  Now, I recognize their earlier material as their best, but Sepultura was a very important band in my evolution as a metalhead.  Then, Max Cavalera left the band and after being very disappointed with the album Against, I stopped picking up new releases by the band.  Until just recently.

After Derrick Green took over vocal duties from the departed Max Cavalera, Sepultura cratered for a while.  Their sound went in more of a hardcore direction and the passion was simply not there.  It seems apparent now that the band was often following trends: evolving into a groove metal band when Pantera hit it big and then nu-metal when Korn was the flavor of the day.  Then when extreme metal came back into popularity, the band once again shifted in that direction.  That being said, the quality of the band's albums has been gradually improving over the last several years, to the point that I was actually impressed enough to pick this one up.

Things get off to kind of a weird start on the opening title track here.  Sepultura is not really known for their melodic sensibility, and we have a more subtle, softer sound on this track for the first few minutes.  Green eventually starts screaming, but the tone of the song remains more melodic and somber than their typical rage and anger.  It returns to that rage and anger from the second track on.  "I am the Enemy" definitely has more of a defiant punk edge to it, and the simple, groove-laden riffs certainly help.  The band still utilizes some tribal drumming ("Phantom Self"), an element that gained the band mainstream notice in the mid 1990's.  For the most part, this album is more of the same groove metal that the band has been playing for the last several years, but there is something much more savage and bestial this time around.

The album is something of a concept album, about technology taking over people's lives, and the problems that would likely arise from technology taking over.  Think Terminator.  I have not spent any time reviewing the lyrics to look at the story of the album, I just know it is there.

This is easily the best album Sepultura has released since Max left the band.  That really is not saying that much though.  It is probably better than Roots, but maybe not as good as Chaos A.D., so of course the older stuff still blows it out of the water.  Still though, it is nice to hear something decent from the band that I loved so much going into high school.

Tuesday, September 12, 2017

Exodus in Omaha: September 11, 2017

A few weeks back I talked about Bucket List Bands, bands I would love to see live some day.  That particular conversation was about Iron Maiden, which was definitely a band that qualified.  I went about formulating a list, and one of these days I will share it.  But one of the bands that made it onto the list was Exodus.  Now, I am not a massive fan of Exodus's entire catalog, but I have previously said that I believe that Bonded by Blood is one of, if not the, greatest thrash metal albums of all time.  On Monday night, Exodus came to Omaha, and my wife and I made the trip to see them.

The show was at the Slowdown, a fairly new venue, at least it appears that way.  It was a very nice venue and I hope to see more shows there.  Opening up for Exodus were a couple of local bands, one of which I have previously seen and the other of which I have heard before.

We were a little bit late, but did not miss much.  Orpheus was already on the stage when I walked in, while my wife decided to go for some ice cream.  I saw Orpheus as one of the opening bands at the Goatwhore concert a few months back.  I was pretty impressed with their brand of death/thrash metal at the time.  I was even more impressed this time.  Their music was fast and brutally intense and they were the biggest surprise of the night.

Narcotic Self is a Nebraska band that is reasonably well-known.  I would argue that they have the feel of a band that is right on the cusp of making a big name for themselves.  On their most recent album, they managed to secure the guest vocals of Soilwork's Bjorn "Speed" Strid.  And their brutal thrash metal sound is damn impressive as well.  They also have a very strong stage presence and really got the crowd into their set.  This band could be going places.

Exodus was next to the stage and they played a blistering set that covered much of their history.  Bonded by Blood was well-represented, as it should have been.  The band also played select songs from their most recent album (which I love) and the Atrocity Exhibit albums (which are not as impressive).  The band sounded like a band half their age.  There was a ton of energy and enthusiasm and some damn impressive riffwork.  Steve "Zetro" Souza sounded great as he screeched out his vocals and he kept the crowd involved, though some people got a little too into it.  One person had to be escorted out after getting into a fight in the pit.  "The Toxic Waltz" was a particular crowd favorite and really had the pit moving.  Overall, Exodus was terrific.  They were well worth the wait, though I am not sure my wife agreed.  

Sunday, September 10, 2017

Pallbearer: Heartless (2017)

Doom metal has been going through a massive resurgence over the last few years.  One of the top bands in the center of this resurgence has been the Arkansas natives Pallbearer.  Pallbearer released a monster of a debut album in 2012 and are on their third album with this year's Heartless.

Pallbearer's sound is epic, slow-moving, melancholic, and melodic.  The songs are typically longer with rather atypical song structures.  The songs are not in standard verse-chorus-verse compositions, and in fact they typically do not have choruses at all.  Therefore, the songs are not really catchy in the traditional sense.  Rather, they are infectious in their own ways.  The songs are typically dreary, with clean, heart-wrenching vocals and razor-sharp guitar leads.  The album is incredibly heavy and yet heart-breaking.  The vocals are so pained and tortured and the guitar melodies are so somber, that the emotion is impossible to not be contagious.  It is beautifully tragic.

The only real issue is that the album does tend to drag in places.  This is mostly to be expected with such a slow-moving release that is focused more on sorrow.  By and large, the depressive tone works quite well with the dragged out songs, but on occasion it seems to lose focus and meander a bit.  But the band does a great job of pulling things back together quickly.

It took me a while to get into Pallbearer initially.  There was a lot of hype for their debut release which often tends to turn me off.  But once I checked them out, I was hooked.  And this album hooked me almost instantly.  It is a terrific doom metal release with a ton of heaviness and emotion, two things that are often difficult to combine in such an effective manner as Pallbearer does here.

Friday, September 8, 2017

Kreator: Gods of Violence (2017)

I covered Overkill yesterday, so it is time to cover another thrash metal titan, this time Germany's Kreator.  I had the opportunity to see Kreator live earlier this year and see them play some of the songs from the album.  I will come right out and say that the band generally sounds even more ferocious live than they do in recordings.

Kreator's sound has changed a little bit over the last few albums, since their more experimental period came to an end.  Their sound has embraced more melodic death metal elements over the last few releases, and this has become a major part of their sound on this album in particular.  Some long-term fans have cried foul over this, but the band pulls it off fairly well.  It is simply a fact that the take-no-prisoners brutality of their 1980's material is not going to be revisited.  The band has matured and keeping up that level of aggression is not easy.

The band still has songs that bring to mind the Kreator that released "Endless Pain" and "Pleasure to Kill".  "Satan is Real" and the title track certainly have that kind of anthemic, fist-pumping, neck-wrecking energy.  Vocalist/guitarist Mille Petrozza has been the band's MVP for a long time now and his vocals sound just as pissed off as they always have.  His snarling has long been the band's most identifiable characteristic and it retains its power here.

Kreator is never going to release another "People of the Lie".  We need to learn to accept that and embrace the band that they have become.  They are more melodic these days, but they can definitely still break some necks.  This is a damn fine album for a band that has been going for nearly 35 years.

Thursday, September 7, 2017

Overkill: The Grinding Wheel (2017)

I have never really been able to stick to a concrete list of my favorite bands.  My tastes are constantly changing and one bad album, or an exceptional album from a different band can tend to completely throw a wrench into things.  But Overkill has to be among my top bands because they are so insanely consistent.  That is not an easy thing to find in the world of thrash metal in particular.  Sure, Overkill did the groove metal thing for a little bit after Pantera success shocked everyone, but even those albums were great.  And so, when a new Overkill album is released upon the world, I have to pick it up.

Now, just because I said the band has been consistent does not mean that there is not a weaker album here and there.  Weaker in the sense that it does not reach the heights that other releases do and tends to be a little more middle-of-the-road.  Not weaker in that it is a bad album.  Overkill has never released a bad album.  Unfortunately, this is one of those slightly weaker albums.  It is not as dynamic as some of the band's other albums in this era of their careers.  It does not have the same ferocity as say, Ironbound, which was a true monster of an album and their best since the early 1990's.

The album definitely starts off strong, with the anthemic "Mean, Green, Killing Machine", which I imagine will be quite the popular song at their concerts (it has been several years since I have seen Overkill live and they did absolutely slay).  Unfortunately that song does kind of overstay its welcome over its nearly eight-minute run time.  And that is a lot of the problem with this album in a nutshell.  There are only two songs under five minutes, and those are just barely under.  It is hard for a band to maintain intensity over that long of a run-time, particularly a thrash metal band known more for speed.  The songs tend to meander a little and lose focus.  Now, Overkill has certainly made long albums before, but this album just loses something.

Now, again, this is still a damn good album.  It just does not quite hold up to the standard set down by the band over the last 35 years, which is a long time for any band to keep up this level of quality.  And Overkill has been consistently putting out great thrash metal throughout their career.  It is only natural that some albums will hold up better over time.  This is just not one of those.

Wednesday, September 6, 2017

Power Trip: Nightmare Logic (2017)

Since I have been doing this blog thing, no band has taken home Album of the Year honors twice.  Now, I really have not been doing this THAT long, and it is not as if bands have not been in the Top 10 more than once.  This year, that COULD change.  Power Trip's debut album was my Album of the Year in 2013 and this follow-up is definitely a contender for 2017.

Crossover is a genre that I have really gotten into in the last few years, and a lot of that has been due to Power Trip, who sounds like Nuclear Assault on steroids.  Power Trip manages to stick a little closer to thrash metal than punk on this release, but maintains the punk aggression and attitude.  The riffs are straight out of the early days of thrash metal, but are delivered with a fresh and modern flair so that the music does not fall into the trappings of the retro thrash wave of a few years ago.

Second track "Executioner's Tax" is led off by a fucking steamroller of a riff.  It is the clear highlight of the album, though Power Trip never wavers in intensity and each song is a neck-breaker.  This is a relatively short release, at just over half an hour in length and with just eight tracks, but it is a non-stop, crushing album from start to finish.

Nightmare Logic is a worthy successor to Power Trip's monstrous debut album, further refining their take-no-prisoners approach and contending for Album of the Year on this blog once more.

Friday, August 25, 2017

Nethermancy: Magick Halls of Ascension (2017)

Black metal has become such a varied beast over the years.  Other genres have seeped their influence into bands.  Regional styles have popped up.  There is just very little that sounds like the more known sounds of the early 1990's in Norway, which in itself was really the second wave of black metal.  There are certain styles of black metal that appeal to me, and certain styles that do not.  I generally prefer bands whose sound is based in thrash metal riffs with hateful-sounding vocals.  And luckily, Nethermancy is exactly that type of black metal band.

Nethermancy's sound is based in the old school.  It is the kind of black metal sound you would expect to hear from Norway in the early 1990's, with a little bit of early 90's Swedish black metal thrown in for good measure.  The riffs are tremolo-picked, repetitive riffs, played over blast-beat driven drums, with the occasional keyboard flourish.  The vocals are delivered in a throaty rasp.  If I had to pick one band to refer to for a point of reference, it would be the most aggressive stuff from Ancient.  The lyrics deal mostly with occult mysticism, similar to the works of Absu or the black metal output of Satan's Host.

This album manages to hit all of the right notes for me for a black metal album.  It is fast, aggressive, and intense.  The lyrics are dark, the vocals are definitely hateful.  The fact that this band came from Portugal and not Scandinavia is shocking.  It is less surprising to know that the band has been together since the mid 90's.  Their style definitely suggests they probably date back to that time period.  This is a very good, old school style black metal album.  I highly recommend it to anyone looking for black metal the way it used to be.

Wednesday, August 23, 2017

Scarlet Records Round-Up Post

I am going to try to catch up on the label submissions.  Not that some of these albums do not deserve their own posts (all of them do), but I am way behind and would like to start reviewing some of the albums I have sought out myself.  Here are the last of the Scarlet Records releases:

My Regime is a Swedish thrash metal band, featuring legendary Spiritual Beggars singer/songwriter Spice and several other members from other Swedish metal bands.  Swedish thrash typically has a distinctly different sound, with an often cavernous guitar tone.  For some reason I have never gotten quite as into Swedish thrash as the German style.  My Regime's sound is rooted in late 1980's prime-era Slayer, with punk-like intensity, snarled vocals, and fast, crushing riffs.  My Regime has only been around for a couple of years now, but I definitely like their sound.  I am looking forward to more.  "The Sound of Dying Dreams" is the best song on the album.

Italian band Sinheresy apparently started their career as a Nightwish cover band, and it shows.  Keyboard melodies and operatic female vocals are in heavy supply throughout this album.  As far as a Nightwish era that the band most resembles, I would probably suggest their earlier period, before they became famous.  There is an intensity and distortion in the guitar riffs that is more similar to that period.  The songs are catchy as hell, with some impressive vocal interplay between singers Stefano Sain and Cecilia Petrini.  I do not really listen to much Nightwish these days, so this album is a bit lost on me, but I can appreciate the songs on it.

You do not see too many Viking-themed bands come from Italy, but apparently that is what Ulvedharr is going for here.  This is a Viking-themed band in the vein of Unleashed or Amon Amarth, meaning that even if the theme is Vikings, the music is far more aggressive.  Ulvedharr play fast and intense thrash/death metal with pounding drums, sharp riffs, and growled, death metal-style roaring vocals.  This album could honestly sneak into my Top Albums of 2017.  

Tuesday, August 22, 2017

God Root: Salt and Rot (2017)

Reading through the description of the album, I came across the section "For fans of", which listed bands like Swans and Neurosis, and I realized that I am probably not the target audience.  I have never gotten into groups like Neurosis, and I have tried.  I have an open mind, but things were not looking good for God Root.

This is just a four-song EP, but it clocks in at just over 30 minutes.  I tried to keep an open mind, but after the first track was nearly six minutes of occasional drumming and meandering chords, things were not really looking too promising.  The second song started off well, but then eventually tailed off into the same guitar dissonant chord progressions, with shouted vocals.  The sound is definitely sludgy and eerie, but it is simply not doing enough to keep my interest.  The drumming is probably the highlight of the album, with some interesting complex rhythms.  The atmosphere definitely has a creepy vibe due to the dissonance and shouting, but there are no real riffs through most of the album and the songs mostly wander from movement to movement without a lot of structure.  That is likely the idea, and while it may appeal to a number of people, it is simply not for me.  The third track is mostly distortion and feedback picking up where the end of the second track left off, along with some drumming.  The final track is a slow burning ramp up into loud feedback and shouts.  It is probably the most interesting track here, but it too is mostly devoid of riffs until closer to the end.

Ultimately, post-metal simply does not do enough for me.  I suppose if you like Neurosis, you will likely enjoy this EP.  I personally never understood the love for Neurosis, so I do not personally care for this one.  

Kalopsia: Angelplague (2017)

Holy shit.  I have often talked about certain death metal bands having a quality, a certain intensity, that is hard to define but nonetheless makes the band an absolutely spell-binding listen.  I have attributed this quality to bands like Thornafire, Cenotaph (Mexican band), Apophis, and a few others over the years.  They are bands that I absolutely believe should be much better-known and are therefore criminally underrated.  Well, I am here to argue that Kalopsia should be added to that list.  This is one of the best death metal albums I have heard this year, if not the best.

This is an album of uncompromising old-school-style occult death metal in the vein of Immolation, Angelcorpse, Sinister, Morbid Angel, and others of that ilk.  The riffs are thrashy and aggressive, having much more in common with the earliest death metal bands, when the style was just starting to come into its own than many of the current bands going.  Perhaps it is this riffing style that is really the quality I am looking for.  The drumming and bass are thunderous and captivating.  It is clear that both musicians know their old school death metal.  The vocals are also steeped in early death metal style, delivered in a deep, blood-soaked roar.

All of the tracks on this album are incredible, but I want to specifically bring attention to "Scorched Earth and Blackened Skies".  When the band starts into the more melodic bridge sections, they come damn close to crafting the absolutely perfect death metal song.

The only complaint I have about this album is that it is too short.  Kalopsia are definitely front-runners in the death metal album of the year for 2017.  

Monday, August 21, 2017

Sacrificial Slaughter: Generation of Terror (2017)

California's thrash/death metal band Sacrificial Slaughter has been around for nearly two decades now, but have gone through a ton of lineup changes over the years and have been fairly inconsistent in releasing new material.  They have released just three full-length albums, and this EP is their first release in four years, which is a shame, because this is a hell of a good release.

There are just six songs on this EP and it clocks in at under 20 minutes long, but during that short period of time, the band exhibits break-neck intensity, crushing riffs, and psychotic vocals.  Sacrificial Slaughter fly through this release like a band possessed.  The band only changes gears on the Carnivore cover at the end of the album.  But even that song fits in just fine with the rest of the proceedings.

I am going to have to start looking into Sacrificial Slaughter's back catalog.  This short EP was terrific.

Epi-Demic: Malformed Conscience (2017)

Ah, here we go.  It is good to get away from the power metal stuff for a little while.  Epi-Demic is a Canadian thrash metal/crossover band releasing their second full-length album.  Canada has a reputation for some amazing metal bands, particularly thrash metal.  Slaughter, Sacrifice, Razor, and Voivod have all emerged from the Great White North, so I was pretty excited about this one.

Epi-Demic's sound is definitely more on the crossover side of things with a lot of punk energy and shouted vocals, very much like early Corrosion of Conformity, among others.  Guitarist Adam H.'s riffs are aggressive backed by pounding drums and throbbing bass.  The songs are all fairly short, with only a couple reaching three-and-a-half minutes and the entire album flies by in the blink of an eye.  The production is raw, emphasizing the ugliness of the sound.  This is absolutely not a melodic metal album.

Malformed Conscience is a non-compromising, angry slab of metal that is unrelenting in its assault on the listener.  There are no melodic interludes, no breaks in the action to catch breath.  It is pure, unadulterated violence from beginning to end.  Even the short instrumental is a fast-paced riff-fest.  I was definitely impressed with the release.