Friday, April 26, 2013

Arsis - Unwelcome (2013)
After a run of rather mediocre, overly straightforward melodeath albums, Arsis have finally returned to their original style which mixed technicality and melody so well. It's a very aggressive, very heavy album with bass drums flying all over the place and cool riffs throughout. It's mostly a pretty catchy album though it does tend to sound samey and by-the-numbers in some parts. However, it's still nowhere near the levels sunk to by the new Hypocrisy and Sodom albums which truly bored me and left me utterly disappointed (sorry to fans of those albums). So, overall it's a pretty good listen and I suspect it's a grower.
Persefone - Spiritual Migration (2013)
Much like Ne Obliviscaris' debut album blew people out of the water last year with its insane technicality, epic songwriting and sheer uniqueness, so too I think will this album send ripples through the metal community. Combining the melodic sensibilities of Opeth with the raw technical power of bands such as Between the Buried and Me and Spawn of Possession, this is technical metal par excellence. There is not a single wasted moment or bad riff on the whole album. The band are clearly bursting with creativity, but they manage to direct it in purposeful direction so that you feel blown away but not overwhelmed. There's always some sort of beautiful, melodic moment in each song that bursts through the technical wizardry and ties the track together. It's incredibly rare to find a band that writes such well-constructed songs, but when they come along it's an incredible breath of fresh air with so many generic metal bands out there. Please do yourself a favor if you're a prog fan and listen to this album. It might just be the prog metal album of the year (barring the new Dream Theater and Ne Obliviscaris releases).

Thursday, April 25, 2013

Deep Purple - Now What?! (2013)
After 2005's good, but inconsistent, "Rapture of the Deep," the hard rock titans have returned with a knockout album that is, in my opinion, the best of the Steve Morse era and possibly the best one since "Perfect Strangers" all the way back from 1984. From the great riffs to the phenomenal guitar/keyboard solos to Gillan's vocals (which have held up surprisingly well), this is a much-awaited return to form. Besides these trademark features, there's also a good amount of experimentation especially with classical elements which adds a lot to the atmosphere and really complement the riffs well. Probably the best example of this is in the absolutely epic track "Uncommon Man" which features a rousing intro and is one of the most ambitious things the band have attempted yet. Another example of the band's experimentation is on the semi-prog track "Above and Beyond" of which the main riff could have been used on a Yes song. My highlights though would have to be "Out of Hand," "Apres Vous," and "Body Line." All those songs pretty much stand shoulder to shoulder with the band's classic work. They're really that good. In all, this album has surpassed my expectations and shown that even on this band's 19th album there's still plenty of creativity to be had.
The Ocean - Pelagial (2013)
The Ocean's latest release sees them at their most progressive and varied while still retaining their trademark heaviness and sweeping atmospherics. It's a kind of concept album with each track representing a deeper section of ocean than the last (similar to Precambrian which explored geologic time scales). The instrumentation is excellent with some nice indirect references to early Mastodon, and the vocals, both clean and harsh, fit perfectly. I'm not sure if it's actually my favorite Ocean album as I need more listens to see how it ranks, but it's definitely up there. Along with the new Cult of Luna and, most likely, the upcoming Mouth of the Architect album, this is a sure contender for post-metal album of the year. It's great to see how such a talented band have progressed their sound so much and I'm looking forward to seeing what they do in the future.
L'Ordre du Temple - In Hoc Signo Vinces (2007)
And while I'm at it, I might as well mention this great Summoning-esque album I found recently. As you might have guessed, this one-man Italian band is focused not on Lord of the Rings but on the Knights Templar in the Crusades. Whatever your opinions are about those individuals, this is an excellent piece of symphonic black metal that is both more folky and more aggressive than most of what Summoning have put out. Very solid album and definitely worthy of your time if you're a Summoning fan.
Summoning - Old Morning's Dawn (2013)
The legendary symphonic black metal legends are finally back again after a seven year break with yet another epic adventure through Middle Earth. There's a dearth of incredible, beautiful melodies that soar right through the heights of your imagination (excuse the hyperbole there). The choirs, synths and flute all fit so well with the churning guitar ambiance that you could hardly imagine them apart from each other. The vocals haven't lost their viciousness after all these years and the drums are as hypnotic as ever. In all, this is one more excellent album to add to this band's amazing discography. Yet another contender for black metal album of the year.

Wednesday, April 17, 2013

Lustre - A Glimpse of Glory (2010)
As part of the ambient black metal scene, Lustre really stands out from the one-dimensional BM bands who simply blast their way through songs and try to be as "brutal" as possible. Admittedly, I do enjoy that style every now and then, but when I hear something like this, I realize how shallow that kind of music is. "A Glimpse of Glory" is a gorgeous album with beautiful, haunting synths and nature sounds throughout along with light guitar work and eerie harsh vocals in the first two tracks. It's pretty much the perfect thing to show people who think black metal can't be beautiful. However, if there's a fault with this album, it's that some parts are overly repetitive but it isn't anything that'll significantly detract from the overall quality. All in all, this is an absolutely majestic album that shouldn't be passed up.

Monday, April 15, 2013

Skepticism - Stormcrowfleet (1995)
Skepticism, along with Thergothon, are one of the founders of the funeral doom genre and, after hearing this album, are among the best. The symphonic/atmospheric parts immediately brought to my mind the epic black metal band Summoning. The key differences though are the unearthly growls, non-programmed drums, extremely slow tempos, and a bass-heavy mix. For me, the atmospheric parts sound just as good in funeral doom as in black metal. They make the music that much more epic and emotional whereas other bands such as Evoken and Esoteric rely on clean melodic leads which, while still awesome, don't quite pack the emotional punch of orchestral synths. Ahab might be my favorite funeral doom band, but Skepticism are pretty close. I would call this album an essential staple of the genre and a must-listen for any one curious about funeral doom. 

Friday, April 12, 2013

Amorphis - Circle (2012)
Topping a great album like "The Beginning of Times" is no easy feat for a veteran band like Amorphis, but they somehow managed to pull it off. "Circle" takes all the elements the band have incorporated into their past albums and condenses them into an epic concept album about an individual struggling with his place in society and eventually realizing the strength within himself. Such an uplifting story requires uplifting melodies of which there is no short supply on this album. In fact, the melodies are almost instantly catchy and are some of the best I've heard on any Amorphis album. The folk sections also blend seamlessly into the songs and are all exquisite. Of course, there are still heavy, death metal parts, but there are also less of them than on any other album (don't quote me on that though). Death vocals being used quite sparingly might generate a bit of controversy with the fanbase but I'm alright with it since I think they're only used exactly where they're needed. Perhaps the heaviest song on the album, "Shades of Gray" is a monstrous tune that is already one of my favorite Amorphis songs. Other highlights include "Hopeless Days," "Nightbird's Song," and "Enchanted by the Moon." But there's really no weak moment on the album. Everything is absolutely top-notch and I don't see much room for improvement. I need time to see how "Circle" stacks up against the band's other albums, but it's certainly one of the best metal albums I've heard so far this year and will feature prominently on my 'Best of' list at year's end.

Thursday, April 11, 2013

Moon - The Nine Gates (2013)
Moon - The Nine Gates (2013) 
Along with the new Paysage d'Hiver album, this underground gem is a sure contender for black metal album of the year. Much like Xasthur, it's eerie, haunting and otherworldly with almost inhuman vocals, dark atmospherics and an overall doominess. The main difference between the two is in the lyrics. Whereas Xasthur focuses on depression, Moon is an occult project with such track titles as "Sabbat" and "Astral Blood." The music in this case matches up with the themes perfectly as it is not so hard to imagine this mysterious, arcane music as some kind of ritual meant to conjure up a demon. In any case though, this is a spellbinding, darkly beautiful album that will hopefully gain more recognition in the metal community 

Falls of Rauros - The Light That Dwells in Rotten Wood (2011)
It's been a while since my last black metal review so I might as well do one for this beauty. Falls of Rauros are yet another atmospheric black metal band, but they seem to have a slightly more subdued approach than usual with gorgeous folk passages a la Agalloch and October Falls as well as solid, doomy riffs and excellent vocals. It's pretty much everything you could ask for from an atmospheric BM band so I highly recommend this one. I'll definitely be looking into the band's other two albums.

Wednesday, April 10, 2013

Iron and Wine - Ghost on Ghost (2013)
Sam Beam continues to branch further away from his folk roots and really shows how versatile a songwriter he is on this album. The influences here range from jazz to pop to funk to soul, but somehow it all blends to make a coherent and beautiful collection of songs. In fact, that's one of the things I really admire about him. He's not afraid to experiment with new styles and move out of his comfort zone even if this is a process that takes several albums to fully achieve. While this is definitely not my favorite of his, "Ghost on Ghost" does contain some potentially classic Iron and Wine songs such as "Caught in the Briars," "Low Light Buddy of Mine," and "Baby Center Stage." In all, this is another high quality release from a very high quality artist and will hopefully pull in even more fans who will appreciate Mr. Beam's eclectic musical stylings.
Abyssal - Novit Enim Dominus Qui Sunt Eius (2012)
Here's an album I've been wanting to listen to and review for a while but only just go to it. If you like chopped and screwed extreme metal such as Portal and Deathspell Omega then this should be right up your alley. The atmosphere is brutal and suffocating, and the vocals sound like they come from the lowest level of Hell. The riffs and song structures are very unorthodox, and there's almost no melody at all. In fact, it does get quite monotonous at times so it's pretty difficult to listen through the entire album. But it still has plenty of good moments and I think the atmosphere is the main selling point so if you put in that context, the monotony is fairly manageable. I probably wouldn't listen to it again for quite a while, but it was decent enough.

Anciients - Heart of Oak (2013)
And out of nowhere comes a phenomenal band with an extremely impressive debut album that is sure to win them prominent touring spots and much metal press coverage. But besides those external factors, "Heart of Oak" is an incredibly well-written, hard-hitting album that blends together a whole host of great influences including Opeth, Agalloch to a degree (especially in the folk parts and harsh vocals), Baroness, and especially Mastodon. This means that there is a good deal of heavy, punchy riffs as well as beautiful, intricate melodies that's sure to please pretty much any prog fan. At the same time, I can't help but think that the band might be exhibiting their influences too obviously, and that there's not enough innovation. However, that's really a minor concern of mine with the music as good as it is. But you can judge for yourself and let me know what you think about that. Anyways, this is a band that, in my view, have hit it right off the bat with this album. Check it out as soon as you can. Last note: The album art is some of the best I've seen in a while. Hats off to the band for that too.


Tuesday, April 9, 2013

Byzantine - Byzantine (2013)
Progressive thrash almost seems like a contradiction in terms given thrash's very straightforward, relentless sound, but I believe that it is the perfect descriptor for this amazing album. It deftly combines the heavy, groovy riffing of Testament with the melodic sensibilities of Opeth. Their songwriting is so tight and the vast array of influences are incorporated so well that there's never really a dull moment on this album. If there's a metal sleeper hit for 2013, this has to be it.

P.S. Thanks to H.P.L. on TheRushForum for recommending these guys to me!

Sunday, April 7, 2013

Shining - One One One (2013)
After hearing about, but not listening to, the much acclaimed "Blackjazz" album, I decided to get myself introduced with the band by listening to their latest release "One One One." Shining have a very intriguing sound which reminds me somewhat of Meshuggah but less heavy and with much more explicit jazz influences. Yet, despite this very unique sound, "One One One" is a mixed affair with too many mediocre songs to make it a great album. Some tracks did stand out, especially the last one "Paint the Sky Black," but overall it's a grower. I'll have to check out and review "Blackjazz" at some point so stay tuned.

Altar of Plagues - Teethed Glory & Injury (2013)
Post-black metal band Altar of Plagues' first two albums featured some of the most apocalyptic, gut-wrenching music I've ever heard so my expectations were pretty high for their new release. After being disappointed by the first song/video released, I am quite pleased to say that the album as a whole stands up to the quality of the first two albums. It's quite a different proposition for this Irish trio with electronic elements featuring prominently, sparse clean vocals, and a less focused or structured approach, but at the same time the core of the music and the emotions behind it have not really changed. As the album cover suggests, the band have taken an even more experimental and unorthodox route on this album - literally contorting and transforming their tried-and-true sound. It's a highly fascinating, unpredictable affair that demonstrates the incredible versatility and creativity of this underrated band. And let me add that Dave Condon's vocals sound absolutely vicious in parts which is one of the main strengths of this album in addition to the music itself. In all, this is a chaotic beast of an album that takes black metal in new directions and cements this band's legacy.
Ghost - Infestissumam (2013)
Notable Swedish occult rockers Ghost made quite a stir after their debut "Opus Eponymous" with its unabashed Satanic lyrics and the band's provocative dress. It seems that these rising stars are bound to become one of Sweden's most popular bands (if they haven't achieved that status already) after their dazzling sophomore album "Infestissumam." The songs are somewhat catchier/poppier than on the debut, but the music is just as good and those who have high expectations for this album will not be disappointed. Like their counterparts in Ancient VVisdom, Ghost manage to make evil music that doesn't sound evil. In fact, it's so catchy that one would be forgiven if one thought Papa Emeritus was singing about flowers and hippies rather than the various aliases of Satan or what have you. Anyways, this might just prove to be the "pop" album of the year for me and no matter what your religious persuasion I can't recommend "Infestissumam" enough.

Thursday, April 4, 2013

Volbeat - Outlaw Gentlemen & Shady Ladies (2013)
Volbeat's fourth album, featuring ex-Anthrax guitarist Rob Caggiano, doesn't show much in the way of innovation or progress for the band, but it does fulfill the band's artistic purpose which seems to be writing catchy, rockabilly-inspired metal tunes. Indeed, pretty much all the songs on this album are very catchy and sure to make tap your foot or hum along or whatever it is you do when listening to catchy music. On the other hand, the album does get a bit samey and repetitive after a while which is why it might not be a good idea to listen to the whole thing in just one sitting. But again, this is still a really solid record with lots of good riffs and hooks. If you want straight-up, no frills metal then this band/album should be one of your go-tos.

Wednesday, April 3, 2013

The Knife - Shaking the Habitual (2013)
The Swedish experimental electronic group The Knife have returned with what may be their most bizarre and eclectic album yet. While there are catchy moments, especially on tracks such as "A Tooth for an Eye" and "Ready to Lose," most of the album is opaque, unconventional, and quite mind-expanding. No clearer example of the band's predilection for the weird can be found than the Nurse With Wound-esque track "Fracking Fluid Injection" whose title hints at political protest and whose music seeks to subvert the status quo. With "Shaking the Habitual," The Knife have once again not only proven their artistic worth, but have truly shook the habitual approach to electronic pop music in ways that only a handful of other artists have done (Bjork and Atoms for Peace come to mind here). If you're interested in hearing challenging, inspiring/inspired electronic music then I very highly recommend giving this album a spin.
Koenjihyakkei - Angherr Shisspa (2005)
If you need any more proof of the incredible vitality of modern Japanese rock, then I submit to you this wonderfully bizarre album. If there's any genre that's not over-saturated nowadays, it's zeuhl. And why's that? Because it's so incredibly hard to play and requires so much creativity and open-mindedness that one would be hard-pressed to see anyone interested in playing it at all! But lo and behold, master drummer Tatsuya Yoshida and co. aim to recapture the kooky magic of Magma, Univers Zero and others and make it their own. There are abundant jazz fusion stylings and a good deal of improvisation a la Ornette Coleman or King Crimson. But for the most part, it's pretty structured and not completely random. Rather what makes it weird are the rapid time changes, bizarre vocal stylings, and insane drumming. It's certainly not an easy album, but if you're an experienced fan of prog and fusion, then it shouldn't be too hard to get into it. And once you do, you'll have yourself a very rewarding and fun listen.
Corrupted - Paso Inferior (1997)
And if you're looking for more extreme doom/stoner a la Boris or Sunn O))) then I recommend this ugly, filthy piece of drone metal. The first half is filled with the most evil, sludgey atmosphere you can imagine as well as some hateful growls to go along with it. Were there melodies, this would certainly qualify as funeral doom. The second half, on the other hand, is an eerie dark ambient piece with chilling wind samples, ethereal vocals, and slow, brooding synths. It's certainly one of the finest examples of drone I've heard, and is yet another excellent achievement by the oft-ignored Japanese metal scene.
Elder - Dead Roots Stirring (2011)
If you're a psychedelic/stoner fan, then this is a must-listen. Their hazy atmospherics and Sabbath/Hendrix-esque, chugging riffs are a winning combination for them and call to mind such weedian bands as Astra, Ancestors, and Kyuss. It's nothing especially innovative, but it's sure to please fans of the genre. Overall, it's one of the best stoner albums I've listened to recently.
Blut aus Nord - Ultima Thulee (1995)
On first listen, one would hardly believe that this masterpiece of atmospheric/Viking black metal was made by the same band that made such albums as "The Work Which Transforms God" and the "777" trilogy. Indeed, there's no trace on "Ultima Thulee" of the industrial coldness the band would later incorporate and make their signature sound. Instead, this is something more in the vein of early Bathory with a bleak guitar tone, agonizing screams, haunting synth melodies, epic riffs, and tales of Viking heroism. Perhaps some of the most poignant moments on the album are the medieval Gregorian chanting of "My Prayer Beyond Ginnungagap" and the incredibly adventurous "The Last Journey of Ringhorn." Though I've only listened once, it is quite apparent that this is an underrated classic belonging in the same class as Bathory's "Blood Fire Death," Coldworld's "Melancholie" and Paysage d'Hiver's "Winterkalte." Black metal fans: this one's unmissable.