Friday, August 31, 2012

Primal Fear - Unbreakable

Since the beginning of their career, Primal Fear has always had the elements to make a great power metal band. From having a major player in the German heavy metal scene on bass (Mat Sinner), to making heavy use of harmonized guitars with glorious double bass sections underneath, Primal Fear was on the right track. In fact, they even have a man who can clone Rob Halford on vocals; after all, if you can’t sound like Bruce Dickinson, why not go for Halford? But somehow their music didn’t quite captivate me all that much. There are great songs here or there, but in general, the albums were too long to sustain such an intense style of songwriting. This may have changed before “Unbreakable” (I’m a bit behind on my Primal Fear history), but it can be said that “Unbreakable” is the first album I've heard of the band’s that is really a classic.

Unbreakable” starts off like any other Primal Fear album: fast, epic, and with guitars that soar like the eagle that dawns the cover. Luckily, however, the band does add some variety. There are plenty of moments that focus on a more straightforward heavy metal sound, not unlike what bands like HammerFall and Gamma Ray have done in recent years. Raging songs like “Bad Guys Wear Black” and “Blaze of Glory” hearken back to the huge riffs that Judas Priest unleashed on “Painkiller”. The classic Primal Fear sound returns with “And There Was Silence”, which is the absolute highlight of this record. The chorus is a majestic display of Ralf Scheepers’ vocal skills, and the guitar gives a similar magical atmosphere. One of the stranger tracks on “Unbreakable” is the extremely accessible “Metal Nation”. It is not often that a band this heavy would write such a happy track. It almost feels like it should be on a Freedom Call or Power Quest album. That’s not to say it’s bad; in fact, it is one of the more appealing songs, but if you think the term "flower metal" has any meaning, you probably won’t like it. In addition to this poppy track, there are two lighter songs on “Unbreakable”. “Where Angels Die” infuses slow, fantastic melodies with crunchy guitars in the background, while “Born Again” is the only true ballad on the album and once again is an opportunity for Ralf Scheepers to wow everyone with his singing.

Like in the past, Primal Fear has delivered an album of solid heavy metal. This time, however, they have combined crunchier guitars and a better vocal performance with much more inspired songwriting to deliver one of the best albums of the year. If this is any indication of what’s to come, Primal Fear will be joining Helloween and Gamma Ray as one of the best German power metal bands!

Be sure to check out and like Primal Fear on Facebook!

"And There Was Silence"
"Where Angels Die"
"Blaze of Glory"

Final Rating
4.25/5 or 85%. 

Written by Scott

Wednesday, August 29, 2012

Gospel of the Horns - Ceremonial Conjuration [EP]

If you're a fan of black/thrash then you should already be very well acquainted with this band, as they are easily one of the best in the genre. If you're not, you've probably heard me throw this name around a bit when reviewing other Australian bands, because along with Destroyer 666, these Aussies have set the benchmark for what Australia and extreme metal are all about (For newer releases that is). The four tracks on Gospel of the Horns' brand new EP "Ceremonial Conjuration" are better than most of today's newer bands' material on their absolute best day.  After listening to this EP a few times, I realized that I was incredibly satisfied with what I heard, but also a little torn, because a full-length from these guys would have been amazing. Nonetheless, these guys have knocked yet another release way the fuck out of the park. 

Anyone who's heard the band's previous releases will not be disappointed with the effort on these four tracks. The band is clearly still sticking with the same formula that brought them this far, as the majority of riffage could be traced back to the forefathers in Bathory, (early) Kreator, Hellhammer, with the occasional metalpunk moment sprinkled in here and there. There's a great balance between the songs as "Sorcery and Blood" and "Ceremonial Conjuration" are both punishing, intense tracks that level the listener with a wall of sonic destruction, composed of black/thrashing riffs, pummeling drums, and the familiar, evil growls from frontman Howitzer. "Awakening" and "Conquering Self" are both midpaced tracks that don't really stray away from the plodding pace, and the way that the riffs (simple punk-influenced chord progressions) are constructed guarantee that the listener will be banging their head throughout. "Ceremonial Conjuration" has a terrific amount of heaviness, evil, speed and memorability to be listened to over and over again, much like any of the band's previous releases. This EP did exactly what it was meant to do, and that was to have me waiting anxiously for a full-length release, as well as show the metal underground and many of today's young acts trying to take their stab at this type of music what it takes to crush skulls and break necks, and for that I salute Gospel of the Horns

Be sure to check out and like Gospel of the Horns on Facebook!

"Ceremonial Conjuration"
"Conquering Self"

Final Rating
4.3/5 or 86%. 

Monday, August 27, 2012

Morbus Chron - A Saunter Through the Shroud [EP]

If you've been keeping up with one of the best new death metal acts in Morbus Chron, then you're more than likely well aware of their recent changes, like signing with one of the biggest metal labels in the world, Century Media. There was a small part of me that was skeptical about the whole move given the majority of Century Media's roster being shite bands, but after listening to "A Saunter Through the Shroud," I have no worries about the band altering their sound for the label. In fact, the band did change their sound, but I'm sure it wasn't to appeal to their new label, because anyone who listened to the band's excellent debut "Sleepers In the Rift" can tell that there's a natural evolution of sound taking place on these three songs. The eerie aura and general weirdness of the group's last full-length is well noted, and on this EP, the band tapped into that sound to see just how far they could take that "abstract" factor in their brand of death metal. 

Morbus Chron's newer material might take a few listens before the listener can absorb everything, because there is a lot going on in these thirteen minutes. The riffs seem to change constantly, as the majority of them wander the fretboard and show glimpses of the band's more technical influences. On the previous record, there was a very healthy dosage of Autopsy in the riffs and overall sound, but on "A Saunter Through the Shroud," it seems like the band is channeling the great Chuck Schuldiner a bit more. "Black Orb Reverence" has plenty of melodies and riffs that remind one of Death on "Human" and their later progressive material as well, but the Swedes never really take their music so far in one direction, allowing them to weave in some other influences and bring their own feel to the music, making any comparisons involving this group multi-faceted and never just to one single band. "The Place of Four Hundred Volcanoes" is an absolutely deranged track that will please fans of their previous material that embraced the eerie atmosphere, while simultaneously retaining a ruthless sound that is easily capable of sending shivers down the listener's spine. In addition to the riffing and structures of the songs, Robba's vocals also possess a lot of Chuck Schuldiner, only a lot more savage and disturbed, making their presence one of the highlights of the band's music. I'm almost positive that there are going to be people out there who loved the band's previous efforts, but may dislike this one because of the slight changes in the overall sound. The band has clearly shown where they intend to take their music on their next album, and I for one cannot wait. This material is still insane and Morbus Chron is in the perfect position to continue pressing on as one of this generation's best death metal bands. 

Be sure to check out and like Morbus Chron on Facebook!

"Channeling the Numinous"
"Black Orb Reverence"
"The Place of Four Hundred Volcanoes"

Final Rating
4.25/5 or 85%.

Saturday, August 25, 2012

Striker - Armed to the Teeth

The amount of new bands who are channeling the Gods that bestowed heavy metal upon us don't seem to be stopping anytime soon, and I am absolutely fine with that. For every handful of newer acts that tread along the same mediocre path, there is another band taking the high road and releasing quality music. Bands like White Wizzard, Cauldron, In Solitude, Trial and Enforcer have all ushered in a new era of the '80s heavy metal sound with their brilliant releases, and now Striker is looking to join the upper ranks of today's scene after releasing their second full-length "Armed to the Teeth," ten songs full of soaring vocals, heavy riffs, stellar melodies and solos, and a large dose of fuck you, old-school rock n' roll attitude that has been missing from a lot of today's acts who focus on sounding occult or epic. 

Much like most of today's newer traditional metal bands, the majority of riffs and other rhythm instruments just aren't too significant as far as the memorability of each track goes when standing on their own. Most of the riffs gravitate towards typical midpaced riffs and the occasional thrashy, speed metal type riff, but I don't recall many of the riffs themselves, but that's not really a problem given the rest of the band's efforts. Dan Cleary's vocals are one of the major highlights on this record, and a major reason why "Armed to the Teeth" possesses any sort of memorability. Not only are his vocals soothing and pleasant to listen to, but they mesh with the riffs and everything else effortlessly and they make the rest of the music better. Cleary's performance and delivery also allows for the music to resonate in the listener's skull, as he can wail away and hit high notes, sing beautifully with the melodies or put on a total rocker front which gives the music an awesome Scorpions or Judas Priest kind of feel, while Striker forges on with their own sound simultaneously. 

Unlike a lot of the riffs, the melodies and solos found throughout this record are entirely amazing. "Fight For Your Life" and "Feed My Fire" both retain such a high amount of replay ability because the guitar duo's use of melodies serve as the ideal backdrop for Cleary's vocals to come in and ingrain the music in the listener's brain. "It Could Be Worse" is an infectious track that is sure to be a live favorite with its catchy rock n' roll influenced riffs and very air-guitar-worthy solos. After a few listens to "Armed to the Teeth" it's no surprise as to why Striker is gaining a lot of momentum in today's scene, as this album is exactly the kind of game-changer that can propel these Canadians to a higher level. If you're a fan of any of today's better newer traditional metal acts (Cauldron and White Wizzard in particular) then there should be zero hesitation in checking these guys out, and even if you don't, it still won't be enough to stop the rush...

Be sure to check out and like Striker on Facebook!

"It Could Be Worse"
"Fight For Your Life"
"Feed My Fire"

Final Rating
4.3/5 or 86%.

Friday, August 24, 2012

Black Hammer - Darker Days Will Come [EP]

2012 has already seen its fair share of black/thrash albums, demos and EPs, with some being terrific and a lot more ranging from mediocre to decent. So when encountering the new EP from France's Black Hammer, a band that I had not heard of before, there was plenty of room for skepticism about where "Darker Days Will Come" fit in. After giving these four tracks a few spins, it's blatantly obvious that this one-man project is better than a lot of the newer black/thrash acts who have fallen short of bringing anything memorable to the metal underground, though not quite as good as some of the phenomenal acts that have already spread their blasphemies. However, it really doesn't matter how The Iron Messiah's project measures up to other groups, because the music on this EP is good enough to keep the listener focused on Black Hammer and nothing more. 

While playing at insane speeds with punishing intensity seems to be the prevalent sound for many bands of this subgenre, Black Hammer's music is dark, plodding and evil, sticking to the aesthetics that were set forth by the masters in Hellhammer/Celtic Frost (though with a lot better production). The guitar tone is excellent to say the least. The already slower and murky riffage has a very doomy overtone (check the title track) to it that reminds one of "To Mega Therion," as a majority of the music crawls along in the darkest fashion. When the pace does pick up, you're more likely to come across some routine tremolo sections than you are violent, thrashy riffs. The closing track of the EP "Walking Through Fire" would definitely have to be the outlier of the four songs, as it does have some thrashier moments, yet it's still the most haunting song here, showing that Black Hammer can also pick up the pace without sacrificing the evil aura. The vocals are actually pretty typical black/thrash rasps that don't have much range, but suit the music fine. The rhythm section is solid, but nothing too exceptional. Overall, "Darker Days Will Come" makes for a fun listen when the mood for something a little slower comes up, and provides a nice alternative to the speed freaks who have taken their stab at this brand of music. 

Be sure to check out and like Black Hammer on Facebook!

"Metal of Doom"
"Darker Days Will Come"
"Walking Through Fire"

Final Rating
4.2/5 or 84%.

Bonded By Blood - The Aftermath

In the past couple of years, Bonded By Blood has taken a few huge blows. Vocalist Jose Barrales left in 2010, and was followed by lead guitar player Alex Lee in 2011. Personally, I’m a huge fan of Barrales’ style. He has one of the more unique voices from any newer thrash band and his delivery really took the band to the next level. Likewise, Alex Lee was a fantastic shredder. In songs like “Episodes of Aggression” and “Necropsy”, he proved to be a worthwhile asset to the band. With that in mind, it’s quite clear why many fans (myself included) were extremely skeptical of a new Bonded By Blood record. The bad news is that Barrales proved to be irreplaceable, but the good news is that “The Aftermath” is still a killer record.

Bonded By Blood has always been about quality riffs, and “The Aftermath” follows suit. Right from the beginning, you are pummeled with a seemingly endless number of crunchy, fast, riffs. These riffs aren’t as memorable as those found on the previous albums, but that might be because there are so many of them. As if Juan Juarez’ rhythm playing wasn’t punishing enough, he delivers one of the most impressive lead performances I've heard in a long time. Any skepticism I had about this becoming a one guitar band is now gone. In fact, the lack of rhythm guitars underneath the solos actually makes for a unique sound in thrash. During songs like “I Can’t Hear You” and “Repulsive”, Juarez shreds non-stop, and does so with some unique melodies.

My other concern with this record was the vocals. In any other circumstance, Mauro Gonzles is more than a competent thrash vocalist. He has a harsh raspy attack, not unlike his predecessor; however, it is this slight similarity that makes me thing what could have been if Barrales was still on vocals. Still, he gets the job done, and I do see a lot of potential in his voice. I think he’ll make an even bigger impact on the next Bonded By Blood album. The drumming on “The Aftermath” is seriously tight. The snare is similar to that high-pitched sound found on the “Feed The Beast”, but doesn’t suffer from the common “tinny” sound. The bass pops out more often than on other thrash records, though it’s mainly used for adding some creepy sounding bass lines (such as on the title track).

The songs themselves are fairly similar. With the exception of the strange, but well-covered Rage Against The Machine song, “Killing In The Name”, every track is an assault of rhythm and speed. Sometimes, the band interjects half time chugging, but they are often thrashing with full force. The opening of “The Aftermath” hearkens back to the title track from Exiled To Earth”, but everything else is relatively straightforward. If you enjoyed the previous two albums, “The Aftermath” is an enjoyable follow-up. Like most bands with lineup changes, Bonded By Blood may need a bit of time to get back to their best, but this album is still going to be hovering around my top 10 this year.

"I Can't Hear You"
"Shepherds of Rot"

Final Rating
4.25/5 or 85%. 

Written by Scott

Thursday, August 23, 2012

Degial - Death's Striking Wings

Every metalhead who hunts around the internet looking for the best music around knows exactly what it feels like to stumble upon a band they've never heard of, yet they give the band a chance and are blown away. That's exactly what happened upon my random encounter with the Swedish death squad Degial, a group who should be one of the most common names in the metal underground right now. Their debut record "Death's Striking Wings" doesn't sound like "Left Hand Path" or "Into the Grave," in fact there's very little that these albums have in common, as Degial doesn't play a re-hash of the d-beat riddled, chainsaw-toned death metal that hundreds of bands around seem to enjoy so much (Hell, I enjoy a fair amount of it myself), rather their brand of death metal possesses plenty of thrashing violence, sheer brutality and a healthy dosage of evil that would put plenty of today's metal bands to shame. 

Degial channel plenty of different influences throughout "Death's Striking Wings," bringing a great variety to the table as they were able to create eight tracks that were all notable for standing out while retaining a sound that could only be described as incredible. With the absence of traditional Swedeath trademarks, the music found throughout can be compared to many different bands in the metal spectrum as there are songs on this album ("Swarming" and "Black Grave" in particular) that conjure up some morbid melodies and tremolos that could easily be traced back to Swedish black metal groups who made a living tormenting listeners with chilling and sinister melodies. These Swedes also seem to have a love for thrash that they're not afraid of showing in their music as the riffs in "Serpent's Tide" and "Chaos Chant" that make a lot of today's thrash acts look like silly metalcore acts, as these riffs are the personification of violence. 

In addition to the thrashing and the evil aura, Degial also reminds one of groups like Angelcorpse and Impiety due to their insane and devastating sound that seems to pummel the listener into a pile of insignificant dust. It's truly an amazing experience when you can admire the group's ability to create music that's not only intense and explosive, but also precise and memorable (look no further than the epic title track for proof). Along with the variety of different influences that one could pick out of the music, there are other parts to the band's songs that deserve some attention. For one, the drumming is spectacular. There's plenty of fast action that speeds up the music, but there are also a lot of fills that capture the listener's attention throughout the duration of the record. The vocals aren't overly special, they're a little typical for black/death bands actually, but not as bellowing and low as some. The guitarists deserve a lot of credit for their work as well. The solos aren't mindblowing, in fact I'm sure I'm not the only one who pictured Kerry King when the solos came into the song as they're usually composed of random noodling with some whammy pillaging. I couldn't have been more pleasantly surprised with how brilliant "Death's Striking Wings" is. If you're a fan of any of the other bands that were alluded to here, then this record is for you. It's already a serious contender to be one of the best albums this year and Degial has now found themselves in a tough spot as it will not be easy to top this record, though I'm sure these guys are more than capable of delivering another onslaught of the senses, and I can't wait. 

"Serpent's Tide"
"Death's Striking Wings"
"Black Grave (The Gateway)"

Final Rating
4.5/5 or 90%.

Wednesday, August 22, 2012

Ex Deo - Caligvla

Ranging from dragons to pirates, and vikings to Egyptians, metal’s lyrical themes are getting ever more expansive. With their second album, “Caligvla”, Ex Deo continues to explore the largely untapped market of Roman history. It might be because this imagery is relatively new territory for metal, but this band is a refreshing change of pace from the current death metal scene. Likewise, their music is also quite different form the convoluted brutal and technical styles that plague metal. Even though the band is considered to be symphonic death metal, they don’t sound anything like Fleshgod Apocalypse. Instead, the keyboards are used in a less busy manner, preferring to accentuate the other instruments rather than overlap them. The keys are often the main melody, with slower tremolo-picked sections underneath, but this stomping, epic approach greatly compliments the lyrics. The drums enhance this sound by incorporating plenty of slow double bass sections. Surprisingly, there isn’t a single blast beat on this album.

After some triumphant fanfare, “I Caligvla” begins the album. Though this song is somewhat catchy, this is one album that doesn’t quite work on a song-by-song basis. None of the tracks are bad, but the experience is much better when listening to it in full. There are a couple of efforts to make certain songs stand out. “Divide et Impera” brings in some clean female vocals, and several other tracks feature frontman Maurizio Iacono doing some talking (more like screaming though) parts, presumably directed at the lower members of the Roman Empire. The guitar work on this album is quite enjoyable, despite being less active than in other death metal bands. There aren’t a ton of solos, but the ones that are there fit perfectly. Likewise, this album isn’t a monolith of riffs, but the combination of keyboards and guitars reduce the need for more intensive guitars. The real highlight of this record is the outstanding vocals of Mr. Iacono. His growl is deep, but understandable. He truly does sound like an angry emperor giving orders.

If you have any interest in finding a band that is just a little bit different than the rest, Ex Deo is for you. While the Roman imagery is still relatively new and enticing, it is the overall performance that makes this record worth having. If this sounds like something you’d be interested in, mount your steed and prepare for war!

Be sure to check out and like Ex Deo on Facebook!

"I, Caligvla"
"Divide et Impera"

Final Rating
4.0/5 or 80%. 

Written by Scott