The symphonic extreme metal band Shade Empire released its fifth full-length over a month ago, but time flies when vacationing.
The previous work from the Finns was Omega Arcane, released in 2014. The album was something of an opus within doomy symphonic black/death. With Poetry Of The Ill-Minded, however, the band moves in a slightly different direction, albeit not very far.
As after a change of government where the symphonic instruments have received the majority of the votes, they have used their mandate to replace parts of the cabinet.
The former governing segments of The Deadly's Senate have been pushed further out to the side of the centre of power, while the Orchestral Middle Party has entered into coalition with moderate fragments within the Spike And Nail Association and a closer alliance with the Jazzy Parliamentary Federation.
Shade Empire's music is closer to symphonic black metal now, but appears as rather calm, soaring and comfortable. Although the Finns are more harmless than before, and a harmonious atmosphere dominates, there are still tensions and frictions internally that now and again comes to the surface. These controversies, however, don't create the largest headlines. In any case, the music is neither anaemic nor toothless, and definitely not monotonous.
Parallels can (once again) be drawn to acts like Dimmu Borgir and Carach Angren, but it will give a misleading picture of a an overall congress if you don't also take the gentler factions of the National Assembly into consideration. More mellow unions, such as Fjoergyn, Be'lakor*, Ne Obliviscaris or Draconian*, for instance should be included in the calculation (without direct comparison) to create a credible overall picture.
With a lot of good melody and mood, intricate orchestral management systems, a comprehensive structural governance and frequent variation from the party political department (“wobbling” according to the opposition, “necessary change of course and adjustment of objectives” according to the commanding establishment), I can record another victory for the Metallic Parliament of Finland to the protocol. Rating: 5
Iron Bonehead, 28.07.17 Urn's fourth album comes as a positive surprise for one who has never encountered Urn before. The press release presents the band as one of the Finnish underground's longest-running yet best-kept secrets, and at the same time as a highly anticipated album.
The band was founded by former Barathrum guitarist Sulphur and Infernus and Pimeä from the same band in 1994, and plays a kind of dirty-melodic black/thrash.
After the third album in 2008, the trio fell apart and disbanded. It's taken time to rebuild from scratch, but The Burning is proof that Sulphur has succeeded.
I imagined the front man swearing to the trio format when the press release only mentioned guitarist TooLoud and drummer Revenant (both from Sacrilegious Impalement) as a new associates. But one must not forget lead guitarist Axeleratörr.
Based on a few random samples from the past, the Finns may not be quite as rabid as before, but a few more melodic shades suits the songs and gives them stronger signature. Thus, the band might actually differ slightly more from the majority of frenetic necro-thrashers than before. Another aspect that suits the material is the sound. The album is recorded in Wing Studios, and produced by Sverker “Widda” Widgren, with airy dynamics, soil under the fingernails and fireballs surrounding the speakers.
The biodiversity on The Burning actually surprise me a bit. Not to say that they overarch a wide range of styles, but I was expecting a narrower expression. Among other things, this blackened speed-thrash'n'roll ensemble can be said to have inherited a thing or two from Motörhead, something that is particularly evident in Hail the King. At its outset, you'd almost expect Lemmy to rise from the grave and stretch his neck for the microphone.
Already during the next song, Morbid Black Sorrow, the style changes from raw, unpolished and energetic to a more epic expression with Viking-spirited tunes that gradually shift my thoughts towards Bathory. Elements from rock, heavy metal, primitive speed, diabolic black/thrash and other rough sorts of thrash meet both folk and viking elements on its 40 minute ride, and as mentioned, the band ain't afraid to incorporate melodies. Diabolical melodies, mind you. As the album enters its final phase, some of the aggression is put to sides for yet another tankard-raising anthem with a smell of vegetation and a view of the horizon across the untamed surges of the sea.
Unlike the countless generic thrash and re-thrash releases with colourful cover art and harmless content, Urn has this sadistic evil smile on the sly. The vocalist show his teeth and rasp while the guitar shrieks and the drums thunder. This is ass-kicking adrenaline-filled fun that generates devilish mood, energy and an unquenchable thirst for beer and blood. Rating: 4+
Transcending Obscurity Records, 05.08.17
The big Swedish sewage pipeline Paganizer is ready for a new emission, and even for those who don't know the band in depth, an elaborate explanation of style and expression should be superfluous.
I belong to those who don't have an in-depth knowledge of the Swedes myself, but I still know exactly what I have in store when Land of Weeping Souls erupt and pollutes the atmosphere.
In this land, butterflies and unicorns don't have access unless they are washed up alcoholics, with one foot in the grave.
Pure, undiluted and unpretentious death metal, characterized by death, corruption and all kinds of depraved moral decay, is what you get. It's served by experienced veterans who know their way around and who deliver impeccably tight instrumental and vocal performances. That the sound is juicy and powerful, is granted as a matter of course. I appreciated the anniversary compilation 20 Years in a Terminal Grip, celebrating 20 years in the service of death through 46 songs and 2.5 hours back in 2014. The loyal patriots of death, lead by Rogga Johansson, deliver solid craftsmanship in virtually every aspect. Just as expected.
However, there is one aspect that eventually starts feeling rusty. Among others because no days go by without a new release in the same worn out genre. That aspect is the material. The riffs are tough as an external volvulus, by all means, and the music is to some degree hypnotic. I'll give 'em that. But there is nothing new under the dying sun. Innovation is of course not the most tempting option for those who worship the genre the way it is and always has been, and change can quickly lead to irreparable damage in the form of Gothenburg metal, deathcore, porngrind, slam-groove-gore metal or whatever worse is out there.
The downside is that Land of Weeping Souls follows the stereotypical recipe by the numbers, and appears as dime a dozen among an infinite number of albums cast in the same mould. The biggest problem is that the compositions don't offer anything out of the ordinary. I don't demand spectacular surprises that'll jerk the listener far out of his comfort-zone-coma. I only require something memorable, rather than forgetful standard riffs and predictability. Albeit the word “generic” has a negative connotation, I'm afraid mediocre, nondescript and run-of-the-mill is the very definition.
Paganizer serves safe (and sound) death metal in a conventional manner. There's no killer riffs that remain glued to the brain. No unexpected antics. No noteworthy hooks. No distinctly moody moments to write home about. Is this good death record? Insofar as the tried and tested does the trick, than sure. Is it extraordinary? By no means, I'm afraid.
I actually considered rewarding the album just 2 strong point, but felt I was being too strict. Judge for yourselves! Rating: 3-
There's something about the Russian language that really fits dejected music. Finnish and Russian are frequently used languages in this genre, and both suits tearful song material perfectly although they belong to two different language groups and I don't understand a single word of any of them.
The opening track Двери is heavy and woeful, with strong melody lines that makes for an exemplary single track. The album opens strongly, on par with Mourning Beloveth, Mourning Dawn, Откровения Дождя*, or who ever you may choose. Paradise Lost around Draconian Times / One Second sometimes feels like a natural reference, though absolutely not at all times. Gradually, the Russians unfortunately reveal aspects of their musical work that differs from my comfort zone.
The following Прозрение also ain't directly poor, but synthesizer and clean vocals have a vague poppy character that don't bode well, but which I still try to ignore. When the third song arrives, this suspicion is strengthened furthermore. Pure, poppy Eurovision Song Contest vocals manifests over calm acoustic plucking and long melancholic guitar tones with a string quartet in the background. The song is better at the end, though, but the tragedy is a fact, and from here on my impression basically spirals downward.
There's a lot of nifty music, and strong sequences appear several times along the way, but I'm never able to shake off the underlying pop moods that time and again floats to the surface like a corpse you don't seem able to get rid of any time soon. These huge and unwelcome contrasts leave me so ambivalent that rating the album with a representable grading becomes difficult. The band writes melodic gems that it seems it takes longer and longer between each time you come across, and the metallic performance is impeccable. The dilemma is the poppy aspect, lead by the excessively clean vocals and spread further through an effect similar to contagion, that eats into the compositions as a virus, leaving all consumed material deboned and toothless. Nor does it help that the album never seems to end. After 80 minutes, bonus material takes over.
First, a cover of In Flames, of all things, then what seem to be two older songs in new versions. Чёрный океан 2.0 comes from a single with the same name. I can't find any references to Солнце 2.0, but it contains some fiddle of the beautiful, almost soaring Asian style that you could recognize from My Dying Bride. Not until 96 minutes have passed, На пути к забвению finally ends. It turns out to be a double album, not surprisingly. It's been recorded in Russia, and final stages of the production is handled by Jari Lindholm (Exgenesis*, Enshine*). The sound is loud and clear, and as such good, but it's very loud in deed, as the dynamic range hold lamentable DR4*.
What begins so good, and that could have become a beautiful friendship, is largely destroyed by excessive gentleness. The music is basically very fine and relaxing. Thus I don't want to lower the rating any more even though I'll probably never return to this album. If you tolerate this kind of mellow mildness, the album is highly audible. You might even call it excellent. If not, steer away. Finally, an instrumental version also exists, for whatever reason. Rating: 3-
Prosthetic Records, 28.07.17
London-based Abhorrent Decimation, a band I have no previously knowledge of, has recently released its sophomore album. The band was formed in 2013 and released an EP the same year before the debut Miasmic Mutation came out in 2015.
On The Pardoner, the band embarks on a conceptual journey. The album is based on the cynical, fraudulent and deceitful character the Pardoner from the book The Canterbury Tales by the English author and poet Geoffrey Chaucer, often referred to as «the father of English literature».
The album opens with The Soothsayer, which refers to the figure known as the Summoner in the book. The Summoner belongs to the ecclesiastical church court, the Catholic Church's own legal system, and assists the Pardoner in a classic two man operated scam, where the first spreads anxiety and turmoil amongst religious people, causing them to fear the consequences of their sins, whilst the other (much like a quack) sells indulgences to faithful fools so that they can pay for forgiveness and be “certain” of salvation. I haven't read the lyrics - nor the book - but the quartet is said to be quite loyal to Geoffrey Chaucer's original manuscript, albeit adding some of their own imagination, just as many authors more or less successfully have built on the saga.
Musically, Abhorrent Decimation is kind of a cross between death metal and deathcore, with both melodic and brutal attributes present and symphonic seasoning on the side. I've mainly got a serious allergy to everything that reek of core, but for some reason, the flavouring works in this context. The rich (albeit compact) sound and intense drive, along with eerie moods and aggressive vocals, gives The Pardoner an instant appeal. Despite the fact that timeless riffs and guitar lines are blended with a so-called modern and groovy style on parts of rhythms and guitar technique, I get carried away by the amount of vital variation and gloomy melodic moods that the band reels off.
The band's death(core) metal has plenty of technical features, and approaches the limit of brutal death without exceeding it. The music often has a restless touch with ants in the pants. Frenetic punch is blended with calm sequences in well-composed songs, sometimes with subtle orchestral undertones. Everything is flawlessly and tight performed, bursting with details and intricate percussion. 50 minutes doesn't just provide a lot of music, it also yield a shitload of content.
Theoretically speaking, The Pardoner doesn't belong on my street, but Abhorrent Decimation has moved into the neighbourhood nonetheless, and adjusted just enough to make it work. That fact alone is almost as impressive as the music itself, and earns them my deepest respect. Rating: 5-
G.U.C., 01.08.17 Deny The Urge should have been a well-known name in deadly waters, but the Germans haven't always had fate of their side. For art, one often has to suffer, and in some ways it may be beneficial to face a bit of adversity.
Those fight hardest who struggles against the stream, and after almost 20 years as an underdog, at least the guys have proven their determined stubbornness to endure, earning integrity along the way.
The band's history extends almost 20 years back in time, but for various reasons it's been almost ten years since the previous release.
The band was started by four guys in 1998, including guitarist Henrik Osterloh, and grew to a quintet after the recording of the first demo in 2002. After the release of their second album in 2008, the vocalist has to resign, and Henrik takes over vocal responsibilities after having served as backing vocalist for several years. The following year, Max Hunger replaces the band's departing bassist, and a few years later, these two are the only remaining members of Deny The Urge. Prior to the recording of this third album, the band was lucky enough to recruit Vader's drummer James Stewart.
EDIT 07.08.17: I've been informed that a few of these details don't quite match the reality. Henrik Osterloh didn't join the band until 2001, and took over vocal duties in 2005, a year after the debut release.
It was apparently after the band's first album that the Germans, inspired by American death metal acts like Morbid Angel and Malevolent Creation, assumed a stronger approach to the Florida style. An old-school approach they still conform to on As Darkness Falls. Without sounding generic for that reason. Quite on the contrary, in fact.
Admittedly, the album opens (after a shrug of an intro) with a few tracks with a lot of straight-forward go-for-the-throat downpour of the kind that can quickly become similar sounding, but riffs, expression and sound is nevertheless ass-kicking and it's not devoid of certain intricate shades. After having warmed up both ear canals with one song and about three minutes on each ear, the listener is sufficiently beaten up and ready for more ingenious subtleties. And it's this secret weapon that makes As Darkness Falls stand out as a sure winner among the tides of hopeful death-mongers who dump albums onto a crowded market.
The intricate details of the songs gives the compositions a dynamic vitality that few matches. Of course, it wouldn't have worked without James's striking rhythms, Max's distinctive take on the bass, Henrik and Max's hefty riffing and fiery solos, or Henrik's basement-deep and diabolical vocals. The guy's interaction is tight as canned anchovies and oozes of testosterone (not of anchovies). Nor would it have worked without juicy sound. The production could have been more dynamic, but the wall of sound is loud and clear, thundering and fleshy. The guys have recorded the work in Grindstone Studios in England before handing it over to Jost Schlüter for the finishing of the production in pure sonic studio.
It is, however, the many compositional nuances and technical attics that form the biggest difference from other talented acts. As Darkness Falls can't be said to be ground-breaking, as others have delivered similar quality, but in these days it's quite a while between each time you come across such refined death metal. The music is, if not innovative, at least quite original and unique, packed with idea-richness and high-octane energy.
If lethal metal by the school of the elder is what you crave, you can do considerably worse than checking out As Darkness Falls. I'll go as far as to say that if for some reason you only need one old school death metal release this year, you might as well go for this one. As a curiosity, it can be mentioned that both the cover art for this disc and Axis Mundi below are created by the same visual artist, Dan Seagrave. Rating: 5+
Agonia Records&Nuclear Blast, 21.07.17
California's deadly barbed wire troubadours Decrepit Birth started out in 2001, and released three albums between 2003 and 2010. The band has now released its fourth disc after a longer interval without releases.
The band offered pure brutality on the debut, but soon developed into a more technical direction with more melodies in the guitar lines and a progressive slant.
With album number four, Axis Mundi, Decrepit Birth summarize their own works by fusing all the elements of their repertoire into a showcase of brutal technical extravaganza.
Thus, the title Axis Mundi is also quite fitting, as the meaning is (the idea of) a vertical link between various cosmic levels, such as the Earth, the underworld and cosmos. Connections that, according to some beliefs, are located on various holy places.
The quartet consists of experienced gentlemen. Behind the coarse rut-roars of the bull Bill Robinson, who, for a while, did live vocals for Suffocation, we find the riff-machine Matt Sotelo (Deprecated). These two have formed the core since the inception. Sean Martinez has handled live bass for Decrepit Birth for a number of years, but became a regular member just a couple of years ago. He has also thundered live for Decapitated and Malevolent Creation. Also rhythmic maestro Sam Paulicelli participates on his first recording with the band, after having been employed practically since the previous album was released. The guy is about to turn 30, but has already got a long merit list.
Over heavy, yet light-footed and changing riffs, dazzling finger-playing dance like flickering flames in breeze of altering direction. The drums are as intricate as they are strikingly fast. The bass, with a few honourable exceptions, don't run off on some kind of solo race, but fills all the void in the gap between riffs and rhythm while by its best efforts attempting to conjure up a solar eclipse to cast a bewitching darkness over the event. And in front, the roars of the Minotaur. The sound, apart from its terribly low dynamics, is naturally well-produced and powerful. The album was mixed and mastered by Stefano Morabito in 16 Cellar Studio.
The song material is dyed by wittily melodies, but appears less melodic than the previous two albums. Axis Mundi has a more brutal appearance, but also intricate structures characterized by technical features. The instrumentation is vital and labyrinthic, sometimes with manic tangled antics. The band still sew it all coherently together. Thus avoiding to torture the listener into a psychotic breakdown with utter berserk schizophrenia. We're still verging on the breaking point of what an already warped mind can withstand. The music is at its best when gorgeous solos with a scent of Egyptian mythology shimmer like grains in a sandstorm. The song Hieroglyphic, that you can hear below, is just one of several good examples of this.
Selected physical versions, such as Agonia Records' double vinyl and the Nuclear Blast digipak CD, are equipped with three unnecessary but joyous cover songs after the album concludes with short, melodic and unexpectedly symphonic Embryogenesis. First out, Metallica's Orion, followed by Sepultura's Desperate Cry. Two eminent songs that are performed so true to the originals that practically only the sound separates them apart from their originators. Of course, there is also a significant difference between the vocals of Bill and Max Cavalera. Decrepit Birth's version of Suffocation's Infecting the Crypts seems to be equally loyal to the original. I'm not as familiar with this song, but can still testify to the sound differing significantly from the initial version.
Although the material offers both melody and variety as nifty accessories to bloody, emotionally blunted violence, the album can't really be said to be neither innovative nor ingenious beyond what we're used to. The hooks of its substance doesn't protrude any deeper than that they'll fall out as soon as the album fades out. In the moment, however, this very well played metal kicks ass all over the place. All in all, I'd say that Axis Mundi is a most enjoyable album, and that it can be safely recommended to fans of said genre. Rating: 4