Thursday, May 29, 2014

Maze of Terror – Skullcrusher

From Lima, Peru come extreme thrashers Maze of Terror. “Skullcrusher” is their first release, and is the musical equivalent of being punched in the face for 25 minutes. There are some thrash bands that are great because they write memorable songs, but this isn’t the reason for Maze of Terror’s high quality. Instead, it is the sheer tenacity with which they constantly bombard you. The second track, “Hatred and Repression” is by far the best example. This song reaches some pretty insane tempos, and the delivery of the vocals does justice to the “hatred” part of the title. Vocalist Leviathan has some truly disturbed grunts. He utilizes the relatively popular blackened snarl that many of their South American counterparts love. Instrumentation-wise, this song is probably exactly what you expect: pounding drums (almost to the point of overkill), and vicious guitar riffs. There are also a surprising number of guitar solos, not just on this track, but on the entire EP. 

The other four tracks continue in a similar fashion, but none ever reach the heights of “Hatred and Repression”. Nevertheless, “Skullcrusher” remains an exercise in brutality. The drum tone ensures that the pummeling of Hammer’s snare is never forgotten. My typical complaint of this style of metal is that it’s often too repetitive and gets boring quickly, but Maze of Terror manages to avoid that for a few reasons. Firstly, this release is only 25 minutes; there simply isn’t enough time or material to get boring. The second main reason this release is great is because of the aforementioned guitar solos. They inject just enough variation into the remaining sonic destruction that you won’t find your interest waning. Finally, “Skullcrusher” is brilliant just because of the absurdity of it. Sometimes bands play so fast and with so much hatred and aggression that it’s almost comical. While I have no doubt that the band takes their music and lyrics seriously (as they should), this style of metal is perfect to throw on without having to think too hard. In a metal world where ever-increasing complexity seems to appeal to most, Maze of Terror shows that simplicity is best. “Skullcrusher” is a major winner, and is highly recommended for all fans of more brutal thrash metal.

Be sure to check out and like Maze of Terror on Facebook!

"Damned To Eternal Pyre"
"Hatred and Repression"

Final Rating
4.4/5 or 88%. 

Written by Scott

Sunday, May 25, 2014

Legionary – Once And For All

With one full-length and an EP to their name, New Jersey death/thrashers Legionary set off to record another EP. This release shows the band taking another step forward in terms of upping the quality of their unique brand of extreme metal. Typically, death/thrash bands tend to sound like thrash bands that are pushing the limits of the genre so far that it spills over into death metal. By contrast, Legionary plays thrash metal, but in a death metal context. What I mean by this is that “Once And For All” is an endless bombardment of thrash riffs, but each riff is surrounded by highly precise drumming that is almost mechanical in nature. Add in vocals that skip right to the mid-90’s, and you have almost no thrash influence outside of the riffs themselves. This style of metal is actually really effective because it adds a lot of emphasis to the percussive nature of the riffs.

The four tracks on this EP tend to be pretty similar. The only deviance is the opener, “Marching Towards Ascension”, which, as the name implies, is a militaristic instrumental preparing you for the upcoming onslaught. “Once And For All” is the strongest of the three full tracks, mostly due to the fact that it is the most memorable. The riff that breaks out a couple minutes into the song is sure to get some violent pits going when played live. Additionally, it ends with a shredding solo that also shows some melody, and ultimately caps off a pretty enjoyable experience. The instruments on the EP all have a great tone to them (vocals included), though the mix isn’t ideal. The drums and the vocals are a bit more at the forefront than the guitars, and there are a few moments where great riffs are buried. Rest assured, however, that as soon as a lead pops up, the guitar volume increases to be in line with the drums and vocals. In this respect, I’d compare the mix much to a typical live performance of any metal band. With that said, however, this issue isn’t too damaging to “Once And For All”. The riffs can still be heard well, especially when there are no vocals or blast beats. 

Overall, Legionary has provided an EP that will definitely get a lot of heads banging. The proprietary blend of death and thrash metal that the band plays is reason enough to check out this release. “Once And For All” is certainly not perfect, but it shows a band that has an excellent understanding of what makes their style of metal enjoyable, and it seems like their future releases will only be better if they keep this up!

Be sure to check out and like Legionary on Facebook!

"Once And For All"

Final Rating
4.0/5 or 80%. 

Written by Scott

Thursday, May 22, 2014

Vicious – First Drop of Venom

Canada is no stranger to traditional heavy metal, and newcomers Vicious are bringing this sound to the east coast of my homeland! “First Drop of Venom” is their debut record, and is an extremely mixed bag. The overall sound is consistent throughout, but the quality of riffs, vocal performance, and songwriting are very up and down. While there are obvious standout tracks, this applies even within tracks. Take the opener “Cruisin’”, for example: the lyrics are a bit cringy, and the main riff sounds a bit childish (in other words, it isn’t particularly offensive or energetic), but then the chorus comes in and is wickedly catchy, showing some awesome pipes from singer and drummer Jake Gracie. As a whole, Jake tends to be a pretty good singer. His voice sounds pretty natural, and not like it was trained, which is definitely a good thing for this genuine style of metal. He even has the ability to his some of those ear-piercing screams, such as on the chorus of “Wildcat”. In fact, they sound so great that I wish he would do it more often. As enjoyable of a singer as he is, the vocals are enhanced when gang shouts are used. This is most noticeable on tracks like "Free Man" and "Wildcat", but occurs fairly frequently.

From a musical standpoint, Vicious brings all of the trademarks of heavy metal. Pumping riffs, harmonies, and catchy melodies. “Engage The Blade” opens with a killer Accept-esque riff that is sure to get some fists pounding live. I think where the song, and the record as a whole specifically falters in this aspect is that there doesn’t seem to be enough attitude in the performance. The production is somewhat laid-back and doesn’t accentuate the heaviness or the speed of the riffs. This is why, as mentioned earlier, I think the gang vocals are so effective on the album: because they bring in that aggression I’m looking for in this album. Additionally, while there are some good guitar solos present, they aren’t quite as frequent one might hope. Adding in truly insane solos at every opportunity would be another compliment to increasing intensity. The latter half of the record shows many of its best tracks. “Free Man” is painfully catchy, and it opens with some wicked Iron Maiden-esque riffs. The following track, “Bring Down The Hammer”, marks another highlight in that it will also force you to sing along after just a couple of listens. In fact, with some different track placement, the band could have given a substantially different effect on this record.

Despite the fact that this review has sounded pretty negative, “First Drop of Venom” is actually a really good record. Often times it is easier to ramble on about a band that is on the precipices of greatness. Vicious has a lot of the elements down, but it doesn’t come together perfectly to create a brilliant record. It might be a bit discouraging seeing how others like Skull Fist and Axxion came out of the gate with brilliant debuts, but a lot of other bands have gotten better over time, and I see Vicious being a band that will improve considerably with each release. If you dig traditional heavy metal, this is a band to keep an eye on, and “First Drop of Venom” will definitely still appeal to you.

Be sure to check out and like Vicious on Facebook!

"Engage The Blade"
"Free Man"
"Bring Down The Hammer"

Final Rating
3.75/5 or 75%. 

Written by Scott

Tuesday, May 20, 2014

Severed Receptors – Severed Receptors

Severed Receptors is a 5-piece female fronted black metal band formed from the ashes of Psychobliss. Their self-titled demo is the band’s first release under this new name, and provides 5 full tracks (plus an intro) of black metal with varying influences, including but not limited to symphonic black metal, atmospheric black metal, and more straight forward sounding black metal. One of the major distinctive forces of the band is lead vocalist Kyla Stollings, who is able to easily switch between clean and harsh vocals. Her harsh vocals are fantastic; they have that classic black metal rasp. While not as potent as someone like Abbath, they are somewhat similar in tone. The clean vocals, on the other hand, are a bit of a mixed bag. From a technical perspective, she definitely has the ability to notes and control her voice, but it sometimes feels like she isn’t going after the right notes. Perhaps this is meant to enhance to atmosphere, but these clean vocals sound just a bit off. 

The rest of the band is pretty standard given the genre, but offer just enough diversity to be interesting. They abuse tremolo picking and blast beats (as they should in this style). Luckily, however, the entire album isn’t just blasting. In fact, there is quite a bit of variation in the drumming. Another way this release is a bit more memorable than your typical black metal record is through the use of interludes. Quite a few songs use them in various parts; for example, the outro to “Nothing Remains”, and the intro to “Blood Descendants” both feature nice symphonic pieces. The riffs occasionally deviate from speedy numbers, such as on the opening riff to “I Become The Night”, which shows some chugging of dissonant notes. In terms of songwriting, none of these tracks are amongst black metal’s highlights. While “Blood Descendants” is certainly the best track, even that song is unlikely to bring you back to this demo time and time again unless you are a big black metal fan. Whether or not this says more for my taste for the genre is up for debate, but ultimately, Severed Receptors is appealing because of their somewhat unique identity rather than their songwriting.

Be sure to check out and like Severed Receptors on Facebook!

"Blood Descendants"

Final Rating
3.5/5 or 70%. 

Written by Scott

Sunday, May 18, 2014

Dust Bolt – Awake the Riot

Awake The Riot” is the sophomore effort for German thrashers Dust Bolt. For those unfamiliar with the band, they play a truly vicious brand of death/thrash, not unlike their German forefathers. Their debut record was a promising release, but it only hinted at their true potential. With “Awake The Riot”, however, it really can’t be said that the band is taking any steps forward. In fact, the only thing that really differentiates this record from the first album is the fact that it has more songs and is consequently longer. Much of the sound remains identical, and the songwriting is about on par with what the band was doing before.

Opener “Living Hell” sets the tone for the album. It features thrash riffs of every speed, rhythm, and variety you could want. The band isn’t stuck only playing at warp-speed, nor do they consistently substitute speed for groove. Instead, Dust Bolt manages to put a wide assortment of different thrashy riffs into a single track. This is complimented by blistering solos, and shouted vocals that lean slightly towards the harsher side of things. Take this excellent formula and repeat it 10 more times, and you have the vast majority of this record. Sometimes there is the occasional oddball, such as the higher-pitched scream that opens “Soul Erazor”, but Dust Bolt does not reinvent the wheel. Gang vocals are aplenty on this record, and harmonized guitars even show up once in a while (“Beneath The Earth”).

Where this record takes an interesting turn is on the last track, the cover of Evildead’s “Future Shock”. This cover is great for a couple of reasons. Firstly, they do the song great justice. The insanely heavy stomping part of the track is somehow even heavier than the original on this cover. The second reason this is really a brilliant cover is because of the song choice. Evildead is not a particularly well-covered band, and even if they were, “F.C.I./The Awakening” and “Annihilation of Civilization” seem like slightly more obvious song choices. This out of the box selection of “Future Shock” really caps off the record nicely. 

Typically, I would be a bit harsher on an album this long and this repetitive; however, “Awake The Riot” is compelling on two levels. If you use this album simply as background noise, there is never a dull moment. Nothing will catch your attention in a bad way, and you can continue headbanging along to whatever else you’re doing. On the other hand, if you invest a bit of time into the album, you see that it truly is loaded with an unbelievable number of great riffs without those riffs being one-dimensional. Overall, “Awake The Riot” is an impressive second effort, despite the fact that it doesn’t show much growth musically.

Be sure to check out and like Dust Bolt on Facebook!

"Living Hell"
"Soul Erazor"
"Agent Thrash"
"Future Shock"

Final Rating
4.0/5 or 80%. 

Written by Scott