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All reviews - Music (31)

Katatonia - Brave Murder Day

Posted : 4 years, 1 month ago on 23 May 2013 10:34 (A review of Brave Murder Day)

Swedes second album including Anders `Blakkheim` Nystrom (Opeth, Diabolical Masquerade, Bewitched) is often considered the band`s best, though I`ve as yet only heard this one, reissued with `Sounds of Decay` as bonus (an EP`s worth of material released shortly after `Brave...` in the same vein, though not quite as strong).

`Beautifully flawed` is how seen this album described and it`s a pretty apt way of summing up my feeling towards it. The `sixth form poetry` lyrics as well as the occasional lapses in grammar and phrasing are likely attributable to the band`s young age at the time of release, as well as English not being their first language. These flaws give the album a naive charm, however, rather than severely hindering any of the 6 tracks. The musicianship is exemplary, as is standard with Swedish bands of this ilk, and the mature arrangements belie the band`s tender years.

`Brave Murder Day` was in the unenviable position of being released in the same year as releases such as `Aenima` and `Through Silver in Blood` and was overshadowed somewhat in the context of those more influential rock/metal releases. The album is tagged `melodic death` `doom`, and even `goth` but to my mind is actually an elegant mix of all these styles. It may not get the same play-time as the aforementioned albums, or even other 90s `death metal` standards in my household, but it`s introspective vibe, unique atmosphere and well crafted songs make it stand out, and is a release I`d be remiss in not recommending.


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Judas Priest - Painkiller

Posted : 4 years, 1 month ago on 22 May 2013 11:39 (A review of Painkiller)

`Painkiller` is a milestone album for a seminal band, albeit one that has endured recurring criticism in the 20+ years since it`s release, much of it warranted. Firstly, this is a frequently cheesy album, one scan of the liner notes showing that it's not above shooting for the lowest common denominator lyrically, the `lightning in the dark/with a burning heart ` couplet being an obvious example; the band even stooping to `fire/desire` (groan) at one point - and these are not isolated among the 10 tracks. The infusion of `thrash` into the band`s sound resulted in `Painkiller` being the band`s heaviest release to date, though to many it was a contrived shift which attempted to chase some of the popularity and cred of bands like Slayer and Metallica. Indeed, the aesthetic the band adopt on `Painkiller` sounds rather self conscious in the context of the metal releases that preceded it, and perhaps the harshest comment I can make is that despite being released over a decade later, it hasn`t aged as well as the likes of `Stained Class` and `Sad Wings of Destiny`.

The good news is that `Painkiller` encapsulates much of why this band is held in such high esteem and has many of the hallmarks of a great Judas Priest album; Rob Halford`s soaring (and searing) vocals, the formidable Tipton/Downing axe-work, and not least Scott Travis, who is a force of nature behind the drums. There is a very good argument to be made for the line-up on `Painkiller` being the most talented the band has ever had.

The songs themselves are a tasty crop with only a few bad seeds. `Between the Hammer and the Anvil` and the blistering title-track are testament to what bloody good songwriters Halford & co are when they put the mind to it, while `Nightcrawler`, `All Guns Blazing`, and `Metal Meltdown` stay on the right side of things - these songs being cheese - albeit `tasty` cheese. I`ll forgive `A Touch of Evil` for nostalgic reasons, though `Leather Rebel` and `One Shot at Glory` are crimes against HM and best avoided lest the good name of this band be sullied. Overall, the quality-to-dreck ratio is a vast improvement over the 2 albums which immediately preceded it, which admittedly isn`t saying much.

`Painkiller` is not the greatest heavy metal album ever, nor is it even the best from Judas Priest, though many would argue with both these sentiments. To my mind it is an enjoyable but slightly hollow release from a band versatile and talented enough to produce quality music whatever path they choose to tread (and the band has changed stylistically several times since it`s inception). Sadly it was downhill after this.




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Watchtower - Control & Resistance

Posted : 4 years, 1 month ago on 21 May 2013 10:59 (A review of Control and Resistance)

Though never top tier, these Texans tech-thrash debut `Energetic Disassembly` was an enjoyable mix of Slayer-meets-Rush aesthetics, hysterical vocals and memorable songs which, while far fetched, covered themes having resonance in the current state of world affairs (war, oppression, nuclear meltdown).

The social commentary is upped on their second album; Chernobyl, criminal propensity and maintaining social order some of the subjects covered. The perceived shift toward a more `mature` approach enamoured many with the band, some claiming it superior to the debut. Truth is, I was never convinced by `Control & Resistance`, and rediscovering it years later brought back the bugbears I had when I first heard it; namely the pompous lyrics, the dearth of flair and energy and - with the exception of the title-track - the widdly and awkward arrangements. It`s almost as if the band were content to let the themes and commentary themselves do all the talking, rather than making an effort to craft some really good songs.

When a band as promising as Watchtower creates an album as mediocre as `Control and Resistance` it can only be considered a disappointment. I would point anyone interested in hearing this band to the aforementioned debut, as this superfluous sophomore release is destined to go in one ear and out the other.


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Alchemyst - Nekromanteion

Posted : 4 years, 1 month ago on 21 May 2013 04:07 (A review of Nekromanteion)

Sounding like the musical account of an estranged voice stranded in Hell with the devil`s own choir, this album eschews conventional song structures and follows it`s own left hand path, the shouted vocals relaying themes of fire, blood, snakes and the underworld atop some very infernal sounding blackened death metal.

Standout for me would be the stark centerpiece `Circle of Elements` but the whole album is jarring, in a good way, and it`s a stretch to put into words just how malevolent this is. Alchemyst aren`t a band that strive to sound evil - they just DO.

That said, `Nekromanteion` isn`t for everyone, and due to it`s inaccessability (even in extreme metal terms) even those who DO jibe with this will probably find themselves playing it sparingly. Those with the inclination and patience to look past the murky exterior, however, will likely find a diabolical gem beneath.


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Obtained Enslavement - Witchcraft

Posted : 4 years, 1 month ago on 20 May 2013 04:14 (A review of Witchcraft)

This is a well played and atmospheric symphonic release with each of the 7 tracks having enough drive and fury to stop them sounding trite. It may lack the lyrical flair of Emperor (the most obvious comparison) and the Gollum-like vocals are definitely not to my taste, but the excellent musicianship largely masks these deficits and the album is a good stab at evoking the the trance inducing qualities akin to `Anthems to the Welkin at Dusk`.

A safe bet for aficionados of symphonic black metal.


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Absu - Tara

Posted : 4 years, 1 month ago on 18 May 2013 05:24 (A review of Tara)

Perhaps the biggest challenge the Texans had to face on this - their fourth album - is that `Pillars of Mercy`is such a brilliant opener it was always going to be a tall order to fulfil the promise of that first track - an `Angel of Death` for black metal. To the band`s credit, they are relentless in that pursuit and there are plenty of gems in the Slayer-with-Ishahn-on-vocals vein here to get get your teeth into - `From Ancient Times`and `Four Crossed Wands` spring to mind, but there is nary a duff track amongst them. As it turns out, Absu leave one of their best songs til last; `Stone of Destiny` is slower and has a more epic feel than the other songs on the album, even adding some high pitched Halford-esque vocals for good measure. Possibly the release`s most interesting aspect is the esoteric lyrical content, the liner notes containing a comprehensive lexicon of mythological terms.

Usually I`m not wild about bands who fall under the hybridized `black/thrash` banner as they often lack variation and atmosphere, and while some of that criticism can be applied here, Absu bring enough intelligence and flair to the table to be well above the norm. The band has a long and varied back catalogue which I have yet to check out, so only time will tell whether their other releases are as worthwhile. Regardless, `Tara` is a keeper.


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Vorum - Poisoned Void

Posted : 4 years, 1 month ago on 16 May 2013 03:09 (A review of Poisoned Void)

While the packaging for `Poisoned Void` is crappy (a monochrome digipak bereft of lyrics, photos or liner notes), thankfully the music contained within is not. As well as being tight as a nun`s chuff, the album is a deft mix of impetuous and crawling, baleful passages, venomous vocals and a lo-fi production that does wonders for the raw, old school vibe.

There is, however one fly in the fetid ointment which stops me giving this higher than 3 stars - namely the rather congealed songwriting, the 8 tracks on offer not being as distinct as they should be. The impression is of an album often less than the sum of it`s parts, and while it has enough tempo changes, variety and quality riffing to make it enjoyable once it`s playing, it`s hard to remember much about individual tracks once the disc stops spinning.

Still, the Finns filthy brand of organized chaos has a lot of potential, and this is (not counting their first ep) only a debut, so it`s quite conceivable they could hit the bullseye on their next release. Indeed, I can see Vorum unleashing a real monster one of these days.


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Krypts - Unending Degradation

Posted : 4 years, 1 month ago on 15 May 2013 08:04 (A review of Unending Degradation)

Finnish death metal debut which wisely avoids falling into the trap of making their songs too long, a weakness such bands with a doom-y slant are often guilty of. The vocals are generic but serviceable, and the ancient atmosphere nicely complements the lyrical content.

The result is a satisfying heavy and tastefully executed album which may lack enough x factor to be premier league, but is a worthwhile underground purchase nonetheless.


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Necrowretch - Putrid Death Sorcery

Posted : 4 years, 1 month ago on 15 May 2013 07:47 (A review of Putrid Death Sorcery)

It`s satisfying to hear a band that is not ashamed to plunder it's genre's roots without coming across as contrived or calculated, and possibly the biggest strength of this French band`s debut is how authentically `old school` it is - even my jaded death metal ears could`ve been fooled into thinking this came out in 1990 instead of 2013. As well as some sinister and uncannily sounding `Left Hand Path` parts, I`m reminded of old Swedish deathsters Merciless, not least because of the blackened vocals; a resemblance which is further exemplified by the t-shirts in the band`s promotional pics as well as the blurb for this release describing it as `merciless` and `bestial`. However Necrowretch have enough OSDM floating around in their DNA to stop them sounding reliant on any 1 or 2 bands.

On the downside, the sheer lack of dynamism hurts the replayability of an album destined to be returned to sporadically rather than as a mainstay on the death-deck.

Still, `Putrid Death Sorcery` is a satisfyingly sour offering from a band who have their (black) hearts in the right place. And while it`s not diverse or memorable enough to make it on many end of year `best of` lists, it`s a nice try all the same.


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Darkthrone - The Underground Resistance

Posted : 4 years, 1 month ago on 15 May 2013 01:14 (A review of Underground Resistance)

Like all the best bands, Darkthrone have long had a deep well of musical inspiration to draw from and they wear their 80s metal influences on their sleeves again here, much of the joy in this album (their 15th) lay in picking them out, be it vocally, lyrically or even, for example, in the introduction to opening track `Dead Early`; a dead ringer to the beginning of `Voivod` by Voivod (and 80s metal aficionados will likely spot at least one other big nod to Snake and co on the disc **). Celtic Frost and Minotaur are some other references (that I detected), while the (surprisingly lavish) liner notes point to Iron Maiden and even Pentagram.

Some will quibble over the amount of tracks present (a meagre 6) but with so much going on (not least the number of `kick-ass` riffs (to quote matyrofevil's review of same album) it doesn`t feel like an insubstantial or laboured release. Long time fans of the band may continued to feel bemused or cheated at the direction the band has taken on their last few releases (A Blaze in the Northern Sky this aint), but converts to recent Darkthrone are unlikely to be disappointed.

`The Underground Resistance` is a clever release from an iconic duo whose very best material might be long behind them, and even though they are a very different band to when they started, they are still pretty damn good at what they do.


** blow the reactor!


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