Saturday, January 17, 2015

Auðn - Auðn

When it comes to Scandinavian metal, especially black metal, most people automatically think Norway. Although not technically part of Scandinavia, Iceland is starting to produce some good metal bands.  Auðn, an atmospheric black metal band is a new band that I discovered  while scanning Bandcamp and my life is much better because of it. They seem to remind me of Vinterbris as they are quite good at producing some great atmosphere without the use of keyboards or effects. Their debut self titled album is a blast of melody, aggression, and atmosphere that makes this band one to watch for because I predict big things for them.

The atmosphere of this album sets in immediately with the album opener "Klerkaveldi." Clean eerie sounding guitars set the mood then lead into some heavy riffs. This band doesn't seem to need to rely solely on blast beats because this is a mid paced song with loads of heaviness but also with plenty of melody that provides an eerie atmosphere. The English translation of this band's name is Desolation and that's the atmosphere they are pulling off. The vocals are a black metal rasp that's not too screechy but also add to the atmosphere they are trying to convey. "Sífreri" uses some blast beats and killer tremolo riffs in the beginning but slow it down in the middle with some softer clean guitars that build to some epic riffs to wind up the song. It's that type of atmosphere that makes you actually feel the cold and grimness of this album. Being from a cold and grim place this bands is a perfect representation of what Icelandic metal should be.

"Feigð" is just over five minutes long but shows the bands entire dynamic in this epic song. Clean guitars that display that cold and eerie atmosphere kick this song off as it builds to some blast beats and tremolo riffs while still having those beautiful melodies that gives this song such and epic feel. The middle of the song blasts faster with some awesome tremolo riffs that just add more to the epic atmosphere of this song. As I listen further to this album it is becoming more apparent that, although this may not be a concept album, this is an album that must be listened to in it's entirety rather than focusing on individual songs. This band seems to put all they have into each song making them more like compositions than songs. "Þjáning Heillar þjóðar" is another of those epic numbers that flow with all the beauty and all the aggression of the previous songs but with something extra that I just can't pin point to really go all out for the "goose bump" effect. Once a band gets me to that point, I'm hooked.

The album closes with the title track and they just go balls out epic on this one. Clocking in at close to nine minutes, this song just grabs you from the very star, holding nothing back. This is epic, this is aggressive, and this is absolutely beautiful. The melodic lead guitar that enters the song about a third of the way in is the icing on the cake. This band is capable of adding so many different elements into each song and that, to me, is a sign of great songwriting. My only complaint about this album is it's length. I feel like an album that is this epic should last a bit longer than thirty-six and a half minutes. If you enjoy epic, melodic black metal than this album is essential. It has all the ingredients of a classic. As I said, I am predicting big things for this talented band.


Night Demon - Curse of the Damned

They say that imitation is the sincerest form of flattery and in some cases it's true and in other cases it's not. There has been a major influx of metal bands that are considered "throw back" because of the stripped down productions reminiscent of the 80s as well as the actual music itself. Some bands pull it off real well while others are an epic fail. So it is with pleasure that I introduce you to Ventura, California's Night Demon. They pay homage to the NWOBHM with a sound that is a lot like a mix of early Diamond Head and early Iron Maiden but with their own identity and sound. The songs range from speed metal to straight up rockers with massive riffs and infectious melodies that make this one enjoyable album.

Curse of the Damned is their debut full length album and there is a major punch packed into this just under 45 minute slab of true metal. "Screams in the Night" kicks it off with a speed metal sound and with a vocal sound that sounds a bit like Sean Harris while not being a total rip off. The melodies compliment the speed metal riffs to create a fresh take on a classic sound. There is no shortage of speedy numbers like this as "Full Speed Ahead" keeps it going with a riff that almost sounds like they are ripping off "The Prince"....almost. Instead it pays homage without being lazy. There is some nice dual leads sounding like it could have been on Maiden's first two. The title track slows it down to a mid pace but with some really nice riffing and catchy melodies. The lead work on this and the rest of the album is old school almost going in a proto-metal direction. There is very little wankery here hearkening back to the days before everybody was trying to sound like Malmsteen. Yes, you heard that saying that wankery is not always needed to be a good solo.

"The Howling Man" is a track that would be considered the epic track on the album, clocking in at almost seven minutes. It starts slow and eerie with a bombastic sound before it picks up the speed with the riffs kicking in after about a minute and a half. Once again the vocal melodies are catchy as fuck. Jarvis Leatherby, who provides the vocals as well as the bass, has a good voice that gets the job done without having to have a ridiculous range or having to hit the highest notes known to man. Instead he lets his melodies do the talking...I mean singing. The song slows down with a clean melodic part then leading to a bombastic finish with some really cool old school riffing. "Heavy Metal Heat" is your typical "metal" anthem that should grace any album of this kind. I'm sorry but as cheesy as this may seem, this does not get old. Massive metal riffs, gang vocals, and lyrics about metal...I fucking love it!

"Masterrmind" is a song that sounds like it's been done a billion times over but these guys seem to do it with a class and style that makes that just fine with me. From it's strong intro to the opening riffs to the vocalist singing over just the bass before the riffs kick in again, it's the melodies of the verse that shows the abilities of this band to do something that has been done plenty of times before but also sounding fresh and new. This is actually becoming my favorite song on the album. The album closer, "Save Me Now," starts off with some eerie keyboards leading into some mid paced epic riffing. The chorus is catchy with some great melodies.

Yes, this is a case of imitation truly being a sincere form of flattery. This album is just pure 80s metal fun. No frills and nothing over the top. Instead you get heavy metal that may sound dated to some but in actuality is full of hooks and melodies that make this album irresistible to any fan of classic metal.


Thursday, January 1, 2015

The Year in Metal 2014

2014 was a great year for metal. I was exposed to some incredibly good new bands that just blew me away with their sound and their ability to execute amazing metal songs. Other highlights do actually include some great albums by established metal heavy weights. There were even more albums that I listened to and did not get to review but were very solid. This was actually a hard decision to make because of the quality year it's been. There were a few disappointments but not enough to make a huge difference. Due to so many great releases that not only will there be a top 10 but I'll expand to 25. But first, the top 10 albums of 2014...

10. Falconer - Black Moon Rising

Falconer seems to have found that magic that made their first two albums so special. The riffing, the solos, the melodies...all the things that defined this band are here.

9. Anubis Gate - Horizons

This was my first exposure to this band and what a great thing I found them. This album is prog metal done properly. The balance between melodies, song structure and wankery is perfect. This is still a regular in my play list eight months later.

8. Stormwarrior - Thunder & Steele

This album is just plain kick ass speed metal. Nothing flashy or innovative...and they have not gone over to the pretentious side to become something they are not. Instead they do what they do best, they play kick ass speed metal and they are one of the best at it...period.

7. Halberd - Remnants of Crumbling Empires

So what do you get when a few guys from the Metal-Archives forum, living on different continents, get together to make some music? In this case, perfection. This is some bad ass death/doom. The songs are excellently written and the execution is flawless. Some of the best solos of the year are on this album.

6. Vinterbris - Solace

This is another one of my 2014 discoveries. This album is really good. It's melodic blackened epic metal. Damn, a new genre? Seriously this is an album that caught me by surprise. One of a on...

5. Hoth - Oathbreaker

So here we have another band and album that completely caught me by surprise. This is epic as fuck and another album that I would throw into the epic blackened metal category. Actually it is quite hard to place this band into any one genre because they are all over the place. This album is nothing short of brilliant.

4. Vader - Tibi et Igni

This band is so consistent that you could almost guarantee that a new Vader album will be just a brilliant slice of death/thrash. It's almost as if they are incapable of putting out a truly bad album. All these years later and Vader is still creating top 10 worthy albums. That's consistency.

3. Galneryus - Vetelgyus

Symphonic Euro-power metal has always been one of my favorite genres of metal and when the bands that defined the genre are letting me down, leave it to these talented guys from Japan to deliver. This is fast and melodic with a truly classy neo-classical sound. 

2. Vintersorg - Naturbål 

Everything that Andreas Hedlund (Vintersorg or Mr. V as he is commonly known) touches turns to gold. His ninth solo album is no different. This album is truly a masterpiece that only Mr. V. can produce. Haunting and beautiful with just enough of the folk element this album touches on the darker forces of nature.

1. Opeth - Pale Communion

When Opeth announced that they were giving up on the death metal elements to concentrate on the prog rock sound that they have always had buried beneath the metal, this shit storm that followed was partially justified when they released Heritage. However, they redeemed themselves a hundred times over. This is nothing short of a brilliant album and is officially my album of the year for 2014!

11 though 25 was a bit harder for me because, although the top 10 are untouchable, these were very close to being as good and in no way means they are any less essential.

11. Primalfrost - Prosperous Visions
This is amazing shit! This actually could be my Find of the Year...of there was such a thing. This young Canadian is a seriously talented guy and I would love to see what comes next for this band.

12. Noble Beast - Noble Beast
Another of of the fantastic new bands that I discovered in 2014. I still stand by everything I have ever said about this band. They are talented songwriters and they execute it brilliantly.

13. Unisonic - Light of Dawn
This marks the second album of Michael Kiske's return to metal. I actually think this is better than the debut and possibly Kiske's best performance.

14. Abigor - Leytmotif Luzifer (The 7 Temptations of Man) 
This marks a return to form for this Austrian band. This band once had Silenius of Summoning fame and this album actually has him and his Summoning partner Protector providing guest vocals. This is pure evil black metal.

15. Accept - Blind Rage
This reaches back to the 80s and shows that this band still has a lot to say. This album is a bit more laid back than the previous two but still a great release from one of my all time favorite bands.

16. Misery Index - The Killing Gods
This is a great album by a band that went unnoticed by me for years even though they are from my hometown of Baltimore. There is more death metal in this album and sees a departure from their grindcore roots.

17. Behemoth - The Satanist
This album caught me by surprise. I was not expecting to like it since I'm not the biggest fan of later era Behemoth but this album is very good. This is epic and full of killer riffing.

18. Dead Congregation - Promulgation of the Fall
Another new find, Dead Congregation play old school death metal and they do it really well. This album is loaded with riffs and solos and down right evil vocals. This is death metal how it's supposed to be done.

19. Iskald - Nedom og nord 
This is some really good black metal that teeters on the edge of progressive black metal. The riffs are huge and the songs are really good. I've become a huge fan of this band.

20. Alvenrad - Habitat
This band adds a new dimension to folk metal. They infuse traditional metal as well as prog rock and, of course, folk music to create a really cool album. I'm looking forward to what comes next for these guys.

21. Iron Savior - Rise of the Hero
Another quality release from a veteran of the business. There is not much in the German metal scene that does not have Piet Sielck's fingerprints all over it. This band has released quality albums time and time again and this album is no exception.

22. Kampfar - Djevelmakt
This Norwegian pagan metal band his been quite consistent and this album is more proof of the quality of songwriting that shows on each of this band's albums. A bit more progressive than their previous releases, this is still a damn fine album.

23. Elvenstorm - Blood Leads to Glory
This was an unexpected find but Elvenstorm's sophomore release was very good. This is a female fronted band but not in the Nightwish style but more in the Crystal Viper/Warlock style. Piet Sielck has a hand in the sound of this album as does Lars Ramcke since they are both behind the knobs for this one.

24. Grave Digger - Return of the Reaper
The name Grave Digger is synonymous with heavy metal and this album actually solidifies that. This is such a great album of in your face heavy metal riffing. There is still a lot of life left in this band and this album proves it.

25. Helstar - This Wicked Nest
Last, but in no way the least, is Helstar's ninth full length album is a crushing collection of in your face heavy metal. James Rivera is an absolute GOD....he just can not stop sounding in top form. Another great album from a criminally underrated band.

Disappointments of 2014

Of course, the year wasn't perfect. There were a few disappointments this year. I was really looking forward to the new HammerFall album after they released the teaser clip, "Hector's Hymn" but what the album wound up being more of the same shit they've been releasing but with Hector's Hymn thrown in to make us think they released a good album. Same with Sonata Arctica. They hyped up their latest as a return to form but instead the just fell flat. Judas Priest released another album of them trying to hard to be true metal rather than making good songs. Timo Tolkki's Avalon was just horrible...but, just like Judas Priest, I wasn't expecting it to be much. So what was the most disappointing album of 2014?

Turd of the Year...

Harmony - Theatre of Redemption

This album should have been incredible. This is my first exposure to this band and even though Harmony are a third rate prog metal band, this album could have been much better. Why such disappointment in an album by a band that I've never heard? Daniel Heiman was the guest lead vocalist on this album. His melodies and range is one of the best in metal but it was not enough to make this album good. In fact, it's down right boring. The product did not match the hype.

Well there it is, the year in metal 2014. From what I understand, 2015 may turn out to be just as good. We shall see.