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2009 Album Reviews Housecleaning: Obscure Names, Unknowns, & Under The Radar



The following reviews were done by Mark Gromen.

Firenote - Firenote
Label: IVK Music
Format: CD download
Released: 2009
Rating: 6/10

Suomi power metallers, with the Finnish affinity for keyboards, think Stratovarius, or current Sonata Arctica. The singer can hit the stratosphere: flashback to Triumph’s Rik Emmett circa “Allied Forces” (‘Suddenly’), or Andre Matos on the Angra debut. Accented, his pronunciation is suspect. While using words like ‘dis’ yet mispronouncing ‘sweat?’

In ‘Speed Freak’, he sings ‘My heart is beating, my palms are sweating,’ yet in making it rhyme, says “sweeting”. In some countries, that might be permissible, but with the plethora of Finnish acts dominating metal these days, inexcusable. ‘Heartbreaker (With High Heels On)’ is up-tempo gem and there’s a Hammond organ flare in ‘Sara LaFountain’, while ‘My Love Will Never Die’ is a piano begun power ballad of reacquainting with an old flame. Most of these numbers are mid-tempo, apart from the aptly entitled ‘Speed Freak’, and a concluding, comical ‘She Stole My Speedos’, which could have been written by Tobias Sammet/Edguy.

A bit too sappy, at the expense of ballsy rock.


Prodigal Earth - Zenith II Zero
Label: Pitch Black Records
Format: CD
Released: 2009
Rating: 5.5/10

Leading metallic outfit from Cyprus! Despite the geographical isolation, Prodigal Earth ticks off all the requisite boxes: twin guitar quintet (with odd nod to Maiden), high-pitched singer and lively power metal style.

‘Disaster 121’ kicks things off in good fashion. Even though ‘Broken World’ sports something of a synthesized brass section, it still works overall, as does the syncopated dance beat begun ‘Lonely Gods’, which bears a resemblance to Fates Warning. The acoustic tinged ‘Once Upon A Crime’ swirls to life, lyrics targeting corrupt politicos (apparently a problem worldwide).

The most traditional metal structures belong to ‘Crossroads’, although the more lively ‘God’s Children’ features soaring vocals. Unfortunately, all the good will established early on is eaten up by a morose ending trio (actually just two songs, as ‘Pro Defunctis’ is offered in male, then female vocal renditions, with cello/violin and acoustic guitar). The later two are "ballads", for lack of a better word, have no metallic bone in their bodies, while a soft-spoken ‘The End (Ashes Of Desire Pt 1)’ ballad might have been fine, by itself. As it is, it’s just the start of an overblown slowdown. Judicious editing and or sequencing would greatly benefit future outings. Rating would have been at least ½ a point higher with a better conclusion.


Warganism - Centipede
Label: Taine
Format: CD
Released: 2009
Rating: 5/10

Look carefully, it’s not the 80s Boston area thrashers, but rather Romanian metal from their capital, Bucharest. Not at all what one expects from the accompanying visuals.

The first sounds are acoustic guitar, then gruff, yet discernible vocals (joined by clean voice on the chorus), atop easy melodies. ‘The Strangest Thing’ being somewhat akin to Sentenced, rough, but harmonic. A strong tuneful sense resides throughout the twelve tracks (eleven originals, plus a duplicate/remix of the concluding ‘Shadow Boxing’), as does that acoustic guitar: popping into the electrified/razor gargled intonations (an odd combination of blackened/death vox) without warning and usually for just sporadic notes. Old gypsy habits die hard in the modern ear, I guess.

A rather triumphant sounding ‘Live The Unique’ (apart from gargled vocalizations) employs cooing female back-ups, acoustic and even a brief smattering of piano. ‘Golem’ rides an infectious White/Rob Zombie-meets Zakk Wylde rhythm. ‘To The Forest’ again opts for electronic influence. Just when you think they’ve abandoned metal (as much as can be acoustically), in favor of rock, Warganism come storming back with ‘Crowded’. Keyboards are only the province of ‘Story Down’ and ‘End Theme’ is a fitting instrumental minute, solely of acoustic guitar.

Not gonna light the world on fire, but good to know metal not only survives, but is taking strides in originality, in some of the globe’s more difficult spots.


Siegfried - Nibelung
Label: Napalm
Format: CD
Released: 2009
Rating: 5/10

Sorry Roy, but I fear the first effort from Siegfried since ’03 (third overall) is destined to fall on culturally deaf ears this side of the Atlantic, and not just due to the entire project possessing lyrics in their native Austrian tongue. Sharing a linguistic Germanic root will open the door to more peoples on the European continent, as well as the opera-inspired format of employing a trio of character voices (gruff male: Hagen, angelic female: Kriemhield, played by Napalm labelmates Elis’ Sandra Schleret, and normal male range, the titular hero).

Mostly, the disconnect boils down to the storyline, built around the classic Wagnerian opera Der Ring Des Nibelungen. North Americans are undoubtedly more familiar with the Bugs Bunny-Elmer Fudd adaptation of said piece than the real McCoy, so such lofty Euro goals will almost certainly fall flat here. The music is epic, symphonic strings and synthesizers atop the various voices, sometimes in union, sometimes solo. Each track is dedicated either to a character in the four-part Wagner saga, or one of his compositions in total.

Can’t fault the execution, just the rationale in mass marketing to plebian tastes.


Hazy Hamlet - Forging Metal
Label: Self issued
Format: CD
Released: 2009
Rating: 7/ 10

Apparently four years in the making, this decade-old power metal outfit finally has released their 10-song debut (nine songs and ominous spoken intro-oratory). Killer cover art, the full color booklet, complete with lyrics and photos, belies the self-financed economics of this single guitar foursome.

Featuring a singer from the Chris Boltendahl (Grave Digger)/Merrit Mutz (Sacred Steel) school of vocal prowess, these traditional leaning Brazilians also yearn for the occasional foray into the proto-thrash realm ‘Black Masquerade’. Trying their hardest to get recognized beyond the massive borders of their homeland, the acoustic fade out of ‘Metal Revolution’ is preceded by a manic guitar frenzy. In contrast, the opening to acoustic tinged ballad ‘Field Of Crosses’ is nearly operatic (by a decidedly non-operatic throat)! Do I hear some Lunarium bellowing amongst the multi-voiced chorus? A little Maiden-ish bass lead melodies on ‘Chariot Of Thor’.

Decent stuff (production warts and all), hope it doesn’t take another ten years for a follow-up.


Lars Eric Mattsson - No Surrender + Live
Label: Lion Music
Format: CD download
Released: 2009
Rating: 6/10

Has it really been twenty years since laying ears to the initial release? Time was, the late 80s, a heyday for guitar shredders (MacAlpine, Moore, Via, Satriani and countless other Shrapnel signees, as well as wannabes). Trying to recreate the lightning in a jar of countryman Yngwie Malmsteen, enter unknown neo-classical guitarist Lars Eric Mattsson, years before the renown his countrymen now enjoy in metallic circles.

Lar’s actually turned his passion into a business, signing other likeminded shredders and metal outfits to the label he founded, Lion Music. Whereas many of the aforementioned issued instrumental platters, Mattsson’s was a full band offering, with the odd full-blown voiceless track. ‘Crocodile Walk’ is one such run-through, utilizing the guitar-keyboard interplay popularized by the Laiho-Warman tandem in Children Of Bodom, more than a decade later. Sure the Casio keys sound a little thin and dated, such was the technology of the time and the singer isn’t anything special, but all the window dressing was really just an excuse for Mattsson to show off his chops.

An interesting trip-back-in-time for those that weren’t there for the first go round and the five live bonus tracks might get a few old-timers to pony up the dough for another copy (or update the vinyl to CD).


Delany - Blaze And Ashes
Label: Music By Mail
Format: CD download
Released: 2009
Rating: 6/10

Odd collection of vocalists for this prog project, including Pink Cream 69/Voodoo Circle’s David Readman, Davy Vain (ex-Vain), Lana Lane, alongside originator Volker Leson (bass) and mastered by Dennis Ward. Guitars are the province of Jamie Scott (Vain/ex-Vicious Rumors) and Dano Boland (Leson’s bandmate in Wizard).

This is a musical adaptation of prolific and acclaimed German author Wolfgang Hohlbein’s novel Chronic Of Immortals. Undertaken by Leson, eleven tracks were written by the vocalists, spilt as evenly as possible, Readman scoring the majority (five), Lane and Vain (Train In Vain?) a trio each. As if to signal the departure from their respective day-jobs, ‘Blood And Ashes’ opens the disc with symphonic strings, although it is not a sympho-rock album. Lane’s ‘Love Tears’ sounds like a 70s Heart outtake, while her other contributions are slow, piano/keyboard-laden ballads. The climactic ‘London Bridge’ sees Readman’s voice double tracked, accompanied almost exclusively by piano and synthesized strings, not exactly a rousing capper to the album.

Plans call for special editions to be released, pairing the book with this CD.


Angel House - The Gun, The Love & The Cross
Label: Escape
Format: CD download
Released: 2009
Rating: 6/10

Birmingham, UK based hard rock trio features two Easthope brothers. Not sure of their ages, but pretty sure no one under 30 has heard music like this. Not that it’s bad, but few band have tried this style beyond the bar/club circuit in the last couple of decades, let alone get a deal and release an album.

Classic guitar driven, blues based rock, with raspy throated singer. These were a dime a dozen when I was growing up, but as the number of weekend venues goes the way of $1.50 gallon of gas, we appreciate what we once had (even from afar). ‘House Of Law’ is as close as they get to proto-metal, one for nostalgia seekers and/or old-timers. ‘Hit The Target’ is guitar lively, but ‘Heaven Tonight’ borrows its opening riffs from Brummy neighbors/Metal Gods, Judas Priest.

Not bad, just in today’s market, when the only adventurous purchasers (notice I didn’t say downloaders?) are connected to the metallic community, not sure anyone will care without serious promotion or extraneous PR. Hats off for the honesty, although the goofy Brits have something called ‘The Last Song’ which doesn’t close the album.


Sangre Eterna - Amor Vincit Omnia
Label: Sleaszy Rider
Format: CD download
Released: 2009
Rating: 6/10

The title of this short 6-song debut (which includes the ‘Eternal Sleep’ instrumental) from Serbian black metallers Sangre Eterna translates to “love conquers all”. While the vocalizations are of the evil (not quite gremlin) variety, the music is a little too happy to be convincing. Not that it’s bad, just have a hard time believing that at this late date my Norwegian friends will find the Tubular Bells infested gruff throats and choirs to be legitimately blackened. Although the keys drive the melodies, that’s not to say ‘Ad Vitam Aeternam’, (which segues into the closing ‘And Fallen One (Marty’s Grace)’) isn’t a good tune. Late to the western world and even moreso the music, these Serbs are taking leaps, but there’s more to the music than keyboard accented guitars, gruff vocals and the occasional scream (plus odd voiceover).

Not bad, just not yet major league caliber.


Highlord - The Death Of The Artists
Label: Scarlet
Format: CD download
Released: 2009
Rating: 6.5/10

Fifth release by melodic Italian metallers (although three years removed from “Instant Madness”) features nine new up-tempo selections. Not quite power metal (although ‘Canticle Of The Flesh’, particularly the opening, comes close, same for ‘Slave To Darkness’), but certain to appeal to those fans.

The opening ‘Simple Man’ is on the pop side of things, but once the guitars of ‘Every Thrash Of Me’ kick in, there’s no deny the stylistic approach Highlord favor. Unfortunately, too many of these homegrown Italia outfits lack a sonic punch, betrayed by sub-par production, which makes everything sound thin/distant/muddy, not crisp, thick and potent. Shame. While ‘It Takes Some Passion’ for some reason reminds me of the latest Stryper platter (the vocals?), both ‘Dance In A Flame’ and the title cut opt for a progressive flare, the former with a (failed) high-pitched opening scream and the later being a heavier, speed driven number. Adequate, if unimaginative.

The Japanese version of the album will also include two bonus tracks: a cover version of Billy Idol’s ‘Rebel Yell’ and, as it is now usual for a band which has always attracted large followings in the Far East, a new version of ‘Zankokuna Tenshi No Teeze’, the song originally included in the renowned Anime-movie Evangelion.


Avulsed - Nullo: The Pleasure Of Self-Mutilation
Label: Ibex Moon
Format: CD download
Released: 2009
Rating: 5/10

Eighteen years of obscurity for the Spanish gore fiends: take a licking and keep on ticking. Normally, I don’t promote such anti-social behavior, but the final six tracks are re-issued from the aptly entitled ’05 “Reanimations” Ep (which included a perceptible dip in sound quality for two new songs ‘River Runs Red’, ‘Foetal Consolation’ a re-working of their own ‘Unconscious Pleasure’ and Chris Barnes inspired gurgling, under-produced and nearly indistinguishable covers from Exodus, Gorefest and, most paradoxically, W.A.S.P.).

Strangely enough, the first sound hear on the disc is a moaning cello, but any such class quickly dissipates. Been at least a decade since last making contact with Avulsed and while the lyrical content hasn’t matured, they no longer rely solely on speed and belching, as moments (literally) of subdued/tuneful can be found within the ten originals (‘Killing After Death’). Even the riff-riot ‘She’s Hot Tonight (In My Oven)’ offers a refreshingly Carcass, OTT sense of humor, rather than the usual explicit, serial killer offal.


Black Moor - The Conquering
Label: Diminished Fifth
Format: CD
Released: 2009
Rating: 6/10

Jumping out of the package sporting Iron Maiden riffage, Nova Scotia’s initial entry into the metal stakes (at least to these ears) shouldn’t be confused with Spain’s similarly monikered (but better known) Dark Moor. Undoubtedly inspired by the success of likeminded Can-knuckleheads from the opposite coast, 3 Inches Of Blood, this foursome just aren’t there, yet. ‘Warshark’ is a post-apocalyptic tale, while ‘The Human Disease’ opens and closes with an otherwise absent piano. Cool finishing instrumental section in that one. Acoustic guitar, fades into double leads, to start ‘Fiend’ and that familiar bass rumble greets the ‘Breath Of The Dying’ finale. An expansion of the repertoire seems in order, rather than blatantly auditioning for Steve Harris (‘Acid Biker’), the band needs to claim their own identity, built on the altar of the (obviously) revered Brits.


Contradiction - The Essence Of Anger
Label: Limited Access
Format: Download
Released: 2009
Rating: 5/10

‘Perfect Combatants’ kicks off the disc with part of George Bush’s anti-terrorism speech, then ‘bam’, the German thrashers explode, issuing a dozen tracks, highlighted by a pair of guest appearances by Dew Scented guitarist Leif Jansen (‘Domesticated’ and the title cut). Apart from the solo sections, this shouted aggro leans closer to the simplistic punk model than pure metal, think Nuclear Assault rather than the Bay Area masters. ‘Start The Action’, which is basically a call to arms in the mosh pit, utilizes gang vocals for the chorus. A moderate, mid-tempo invades ‘The Spectator’ (and briefly ‘Reign Of Fear’, while snare rolls and gradually faster riffs introduce ‘Death Is Now’. By ‘Life’s End’, they seem bored, speaking the lyrics that aren’t whispered in a droning monotone and ‘Collateral Carnage’ are pretty much the only words in the entire 3:43 song.

Competent, if unexciting Teutonic thrash. Purists only need investigate.


Antagony - Days Of Night
Label: Deepsend
Format: Download
Released: 2009
Rating: 4/10

Three years removed from the “Rebirth” debut, this Oakland, CA based outfit issue their sophomore effort, for a second label. No Bay Area thrash, Antagony opt for a deadlier sound, mixed with the odd hardcore influence (especially the use of two barking vocalists). The pedestrian moments of ‘The Truth Will Be Known’ featured pained voices. Subtleties and spirited playing are evident within ‘Voyage’, just not when lyrics are presented. ‘Exhale Her Poison’ vacillates between death growl and sinister, high -pitched black metal shriek at the drop of a hat. It’s followed by the 52 second dulcet tones of a lone cello ‘Interlude’.

‘El Banquete’ closes with an acoustic guitar (it also kicks off the title track, which reintegrates cello). ‘Outro’ features just 2:06 of sporadic piano notes. So there are elements of musicality buzzing in their heads. Now if only they’d listen. Back to the drawing board.


Expulsion - Wasteworld
Label: Deepsend
Format: Download
Released: 2009
Rating: 6/10

10 song debut (plus opening 26-second ‘Avidya’ and wild, instrumental title track) from the Netherlands, Expulsion are thrash metal, with a penchant for short blasts, routinely keeping things under four minutes. Just speed, speed & more speed (‘Promise Never Made’)! As such, the approach gets a bit monotonous, little to differentiate one blazing onslaught from the next (wicked lead break in the 2:57 ‘Necronomicon’, ‘Martyr’ goes nearly silent about a minute from the 4:10 end, which is also one of the longest cuts, while both ‘Spirit Emission’ and ‘Police State Tranquility’ veers close to death metal, vocally as well as musically), but that’s how some like it! The lyrics frequently are little more than shouted repetitions of the titular phrase, although there are a couple of authoritarian, narrative voiceovers.

Talented, if unspectacular.


Steely Heaven - Far Beyond Heaven… Right Before Hell
Label: Self financed
Format: CD
Released: 2009
Rating: 5/10

Second album from Brazilian power metallers sees them offer nine proper songs (plus ‘Lexicon’ intro), including the massive 10:30 ‘Holy Light (The Final Battle)’. Apart from the hollow production overall, things begin regally enough, with the aforementioned keyboard laced introduction, but there’s too great an importance placed on the synthesizer (too up front in the mix as well and at the expense of a second guitar) and the vocals lack presence.

Reference the Italian retro-power metal boom of the late 90s. Not sure if Robb St. had an epiphany, but there seems to be a heretofore unnoticed religious connotation running through several tracks, including the good triumphing over evil spin on ‘Battle Of Angels’, ‘Dark Fate’ (which contains the line "God Save My Soul"), and the behemoth mentioned above.

Elsewhere, there’s plenty of talk about trying to survive, physically and mentally (spiritually?). ‘Flying With An Angel’ adds female voice to the lone piano ballad. Some decent guitar breaks in the Maiden inspired gallop of ‘Face The Fear (Turn To Gray)’ and particularly ‘Dark Fate’, but not enough to recommend over the shortcomings.


Gates Of Slumber - Hymns Of Blood And Thunder
Label: Rise Above
Format: CD download
Released: 2009
Rating: 7/10

Call it doom, stoner, sludge, whatever , but at their best, like the opening ‘Chaos Calling’, Gates Of Slumber are this generation’s Saint Vitus, mixing some speed with their heavy, sometimes belabored riffs. Sure the old masters are still around, playing sporadically, but these Midwesterners hit the concert trail more frequently, have better distro and undoubtedly will be many a youngsters introduction to this style. That’s not necessarily a bad thing. A little bit of Scott “Wino” Weinrich in the voice too. Nice tip of the hat to all the old-timers in ‘Iron Hammer’, where classic song titles are employed within the lyrics. Killer upbeat riff to boot.

The 2:21 male-female ‘The Mist In The Morning’ is basically an a cappella duet filler, while the similarly short (2:50) ‘Age Of Sorrow’ is an all-guitar instrumental. On the other hand, ‘Decent Into Madness’ (10:45) is a full-scale production, complete with sound effects, voiceover and 60s Sabbathy drone. The title cut, ‘Death Dealer’ and 8:35 ‘The Doom Of Aceldama’ are tuneful bludgeonings.

The early part of the record is superior, seemingly the best tracks moved forward.


Wodenthrone - Loss
Label: Bindrune
Format: CD
Released: 2009
Rating: 7/10

Reminiscent of the atmospheric, 90s era pagan releases by Ved Buenes Ende, In The Woods, Fleurety and even Burzum, the Germanic pronunciation of Oden/Odin (i.e. Woden) need not be labeled "avant garde" (as were their predecessors), but still an unusual mix of soothing, synth/symphonic sounds punctuated by off kilter screams and the occasional babbling brook (in the 12:42 ‘Black Moss’).

Half of the Englishmen’s eight tracks are at least ten minutes in length! The opening ‘Fyrgenstréam’ starts with chirping birds and acoustic guitar, never exceeding more than a spoken tone voiceover. ‘Leódum on Lande’ begins with the distant gremlin throat and symphonic strings backdrop. ‘Heófungtid’ is the first glimpse at exaggerated constructions (just 8:14) but lays the groundwork for the regal/triumphant orchestral passages that follow, albeit intertwined with black metal voice and guitarwork. A few pipes creep into the mid-section of ‘Upon These Stones’, as well as the acoustic accompanied instrumental ‘Pillar Of The Sun’.

Throughout, the only "extreme" element is the hellish vocals, as musically, could be a soundtrack.


Evarest - Fear
Label: Farvahar
Format: CD
Released: 2009
Rating: 6.5/10

Female fronted Czech quintet offer ten tracks, plus a pair of alternate versions on the American release (including paradoxically a shorter version of ‘Reqiescat’ in their native tongue, rechristened ‘Pohroma’) and a video for the title track. Neo-classical power metal is the choice here, with helpings of synthesizer between the wild guitar runs. Think of a neophyte Rhapsody, early in the Italians’ career. The production levels are a little low and there are times Eva Markvartova’s voice could be better separated in the mix (but given the economies in recording Fear, that’s not unexpected). Still, it’s just a minor drawback. ‘Lost Race’ employs male voice at the start, as well as tire squealing car chase effect later on, meanwhile, the guitar blazes away. The pedestrian piano/synth-heavy ballad ‘For Goddamned Love’ is not their strong suit and at 5:48, is only eclipsed by three others. Ushered in by two and a half minutes of instrumental intro, the 7:35 ‘Requiescat’ uses dual sexed voices and lots of Iced Earth rolling triplets. An interesting introduction from an area of Europe just rounding into its metallic prime.


Wildhearts - Chutzpah
Label: Backstage Alliance
Format: Download
Released: 2009
Rating: 5/10

Those UK rock chameleons are back. The best part of any Wildhearts album is Ginger’s lyrics, part comedian, part social orator, always pissed, or taking one. Musically, it’s a long way from the punk-meets-metal of their stellar Earth Vs, these ten tracks a mix tape on their own, flowing effortlessly between sounds and styles.

The opening ‘Jackson Whites’ contains the line: "I want to be alone, like the Jackson whites", apparently referencing the turbulent Brooklyn (also mentioned) neighborhood! Chutzpah? You bet! It’s the Wildhearts. ‘Plastic Jebus’ has a more modern staccato, Janes Addiction vibe, while follow-up ‘The Only One’ could be an alt-rock staple, circa ’97.

Elsewhere ‘John Of Violence’ and ‘You Are Proof Not All Women Are Insane’ have simple, infectious melodies, Lennon and McCartney with overactive imaginations. By contrast ‘Tim Smith’ is full on screamed grunge, apart from the saccharine (“Hallilujah”) chorus. Classic piano introduces ‘Low Energy Vortex’, then disappears. Think Cheap Trick, aside from the synth chorus. ‘You Took The Sunshine From New York’ is a break-up song with landmarks within the lyrics. ‘Mazel Tov Cocktail’ (great title!) is a convertible top down summertime pop anthem in waiting. The first half of the closing title track is a combination of danceable electronica, complete with echoing, ABBA inspired chorus and an intense, punk delivery. Later, it trots out piano and relaxed tempo, fading out to guitar solo.

Only the most adventurous need apply, or in another word, those with the chutzpah to buy/try.


Agony - The Devil’s Breath
Label: Cinismo
Format: Download
Released: 2009
Rating: 5/10

Not the 80s Swedish thrash outfit (The First Defiance), but from the previously unheralded metal hotbed of Columbia and the province of one-time Soulfly bassist Cello Dias. The dozen tunes is mixed by Logan Mader (Gojira/Divine Heresy/Cavalera Conspiracy). Given the aforementioned particulars, it shouldn’t come as a surprise that Agony offers shouted vocal, staccato modern tinged metal-core anthems (opening ‘Path To Armageddon’). ‘Lost’ both in terms of hardcore flavored presentation and lyrics recalls Carnivore, while the title track is closer to death metal than screamo-core. The closing ‘Morning Star’ slows to a crawl, just pizzicato strings, wah wah effects and brushes on drums, completely otherworldly to its surroundings, apart from a fleeting moment of ‘Faceless Death’.


Dagon - Terraphobic
Label: Bombworks
Format: CD
Released: 2009
Rating: 7.5/10/p>

Imagine Shagrath or Dani Filth fronting Amon Amarth, that’s what the opening ‘Cut To The Heart’ sounds like, gremlin voiced melodic death metal, housed in the most eco-friendly 4 panel digi packaging known to man (no plastic whatsoever, yet still with all lyrics, individual photos and colorful artwork).

Actually, Michigan-based foursome Dagon employed two male vocalists, used in succession and in concert, alternating predominance. When one form dominates, as in ‘Full Speed Ahead’, which over-utilizes the gruffer intonation, the material becomes one dimensional, even with the spirited guitars. Speaking of string bending, ‘Demons In The Dark’ features twin leads, (including tapping), as does the closing ‘Ocean Metal’, the only tune with high-pitched vocals. ‘Into The North’ gallops on a heretofore unnoticed reliance on power metal melodies (and odd drum structures). Must be interesting band/songwriting meetings, as the guitars belie much of the music (‘The Last’), which almost exclusively deal with aquatic themes.

Hopefully Dagon will get noticed and make the jump to a higher profile, as they’ve got a musicality sorely lacking on many a bigger label product.


Skyfire - Esoteric
Label: Pivotal
Format: CD
Released: 2009
Rating: 7/10

The first album in five years sees the Swedes with a new vocalist and embracing the musical trends that have been popularized in their absence. The ‘Deathlike Overture’ opens the disc with a symphonic touch, complete with piano and brass fanfares. The title track follow-up also offers a hint of piano as its cued up, but quickly turns to decidedly deadlier fare (interrupted by multi-voice female choir) although random hints of orchestral interludes fly in and out throughout.

Skyfire avoid easy categorization, melodic death metal is a catch-all phrase, but the harmonies herein originate from the classical realm (try ‘Under A Pitch Black Sky’ or ‘Misery’s Supremacy’). Seems sort of what Mark Jansen is trying to create with Epica, although he’s approaching it from the power metal world, adding deathlike characteristics, whereas Skyfire are the mirror opposite: harsh, discernible vocals, aggressive guitar and sweeping synth backdrop, sometimes in unison, others separately. It’s poly-rhythmic and at times a disconcerting listen. The CD booklet simply lists the lyrics, the only photo on the tray card. Even with ‘Within Reach’, labeled as a bonus, the paying public deserves more in this downloading age.

Intriguing in small doses.


Split Heaven - Psycho Samurai
Label: Blower
Format: CD
Released: 2009
Rating: 6.5/10

Mexico, like the continent to its south, seems to embrace polarizing ends of the metallic spectrum (especially when it comes to domestic practisoners), with little room in the middle. It’s either uncompromising death/black metal, or old-school traditional. Split Heaven is firmly rooted in the later camp. There’s a charming naivety in a hungry band playing music, apparently unaware of slick marketing campaigns (or even decent photos in the CD booklet). Like Japan’s Metal Lucifer, a rudimentary grasp of English creates unintended moments like the pro-metal/pro-drinking, ‘Steel Liver’ (mispronounced "leaver"): "Headbangers, groupies and drunks destroy it all and mosh! Metal maniacs all around united by alcohol…"

Mostly guitar oriented, with high pitched vocals, which recall the off kilter warbling of John Cyriis (Agent Steel). ‘Metalblade’ has a strut akin to early Ratt, the only such inclusions amongst the ten tracks. Actually, the guitars are the true calling card here, lifting everything else to a reasonable level (the band represented Mexico at Wacken 2009).


Ecthirion - Apocalyptic Visions
Label: Soundmass
Format: CD
Released: 2009
Rating: 6/10

UK trio of musicians who employ guest singers for their 5-song debut Ep. Actually, it’s four songs and a monumental opening ‘Dawn Of The Great Apocalypse’ instrumental. The label claims the sounds are “"Orchestral Viking black metal, recommended for fans of Dimmu Borgir, Turisas, Freedom Call and Far Beyond.”" Odd assortment!

‘Warmageddon’ breaks the silence with a cappella choir voices, then rides orchestral strings (violins/cellos) before abruptly switching to sinister gremlin throated black metal mixed with a symphony. Sort of like divergent minds, each vying for a different ear. The 7:02 ‘Anthem For The Brave’ gets a little preachy about mankind destroying nature and animals, while the closing ‘Veritas Vos Liberabit’ is a legitimate orchestral piece, sans rock influences.

Creative, if not completely coherent, more of a classical music lover’s transitional album to investigate metal than the other way around.


Darkology - Altered Reflections
Label: Rock-a-holics
Format: CD
Released: 2009
Rating: 6/10

Loosely tossing around comparisons to some of today’s top-flight American contemporaries (Nevermore, Iced Earth, etc.) is a tricky proposition, especially for a debut (!), to say nothing of pantheon dwellers like Priest, Megadeth and Pantera. Then again, this new Greek label is trying to make a name for itself. Michael Harris has been something of a B-grade guitar virtuoso since the 80s (half a dozen solo efforts to his name, when not playing with David T. Chastain, his alumnus Leather or most recently, Russian keyboard wunder-kid Vitalij Kuprij’s band). His brother drums for Firewind and Kelly ‘Sundown’ Carpenter cut his teeth on some prog oufits (most notably Beyond Twilight), even appearing at the ’09 ProgPower tribute to departed Crimson Glory vocalist Midnight.

Following the 26 second ‘Microcosm’, Carpenter unleashes his best Tim Owens for a ripping ‘Violent Vertigo’, which is the style they do best (as opposed to the mid-tempo, "spooky" atmospheric stuff, like ‘Nobot’). Can hear bits of moody Jon Schaffer and Wade Black inspiration on ‘Dark Energy’. Since all the participants have their fingers in multiple pies, will be interesting to see if Darkology will develop legs to stand on its own, or be deemed just another line on the resume.


The Cold Existence - Sombre Gates
Label: Kolony
Format: CD
Released: 2009
Rating: 7/10

14 blackened melodic death offerings from a dual guitar Swedish foursome. Vocally, Jan Sollander bears a similarity to bellowing countryman Johan Hegg (Amon Amarth). ‘Apocalypse’ with its buzzsaw guitars is what they do best. ‘Crawling’ is a 1:37 instrumental intermezzo, leading into a speedy, voiceover begun ‘The Hellfire’. ‘Forsaken’ is another winner, while the underpinning of the ‘Wrath Of Sekhmet’ closer is a revved up Middle Eastern rhythm.

One to watch, as there’s enough talent and musicality to keep heads bobbing, without losing a sense of melody, to warrant future investigations.


Grave Forsaken - This Day Forth
Label: Soundmass
Format: CD
Released: 2009
Rating: 6/10

Third full-length by Christian thrashers from Down Under (no, not Hell) and the lyrics take a slightly more covert approach. The first of eight tunes, ‘No News Ain’t Good News’ is almost comical (punky music), with the speaker ruing his decisions in life upon attempting to enter Heaven: “Polar ice caps are melting, global financial system in crisis, we’re in a living Hell. You think you know what Hell is? You’ve got no idea! Well God. I didn’t know this is where I would go, back when I was alive. I thought you were a lie.” Pretty much forgetting the rhetoric, ‘Mother Of Harlots’ storms straight ahead, ripping a drum roll/guitar/vocal cue from Slayer (I kid you not), while the spoken diatribe atop thrashing rhythms of ‘Wasting Power’ is a frequent Dave Mustaine (Megadeth) tactic. ‘Death Undone’ and the start of the disc ending condemnation of material wealth, ‘Affluenza’, both take a plodding pace. /p>

A better overall musical platter than “Destined For Ascension” (’08).


Hellrazor - Into The Wild
Label: Heaven & Hell
Format: CD
Released: 2009
Rating: 6/10

Believe it or not, North Carolina is becoming a bastion of traditional metal and Hellrazor are one of the leading homegrown exports. The title cut kicks off this proto-thrash act’s debut, complete with wolf howls. Vocalist Alan Rueda is equally adroit at high-pitched yelp (‘Possession’/’Stacked Up’) or smooth, whiskey hoarsed rasp (‘Darker Days’). Guitarist Charlie Shackelford splits time with doomsters Daylight Dies. Rather than just speeding to the end, Hellrazor write some quality twin lead guitar melodies (‘The Passing Hour’), yet also have the party anthem ‘3AM’ and the speeding ‘Ride Or Die’ amongst the nine tracks. While the studio recordings remind one of Omen (particularly the debut), they take on a decidedly more vicious edge live.


Trail Of Tears - Bloodstained Endurance
Label: Napalm
Format: CD
Released: 2009
Rating: 7/10

The circle of life is complete as Norway’s Trail Of Tears return to a female fronted act, now completed by symphonic strings and blackened death male counterpoint. Of all the fem-metal bands, the sound comes closest to vintage/lilting Gathering, with modern staccato riffs, however the opening ‘The Feverish Alliance’ recalls Lacuna Coil at their metallic best. Built on violins and an infectious changes in dynamics, the title track and ‘Farewell To Sanity’ stand atop the eleven inclusions. Double tracked female voices adds a new dimension to ‘In The Valley Of Ashes’, while the piano, synthetic strings and operatics of the ballad ‘A Storm At Will’ could be Nightwish, circa Tarja Turunen’s involvement.

The initial half is stronger than the close, but still worthy of investigation.


Adagio – Archangels In Black
Label: Listenable
Format: CD
Released: 2009
Rating: 6/10

During a four year hiatus David Readman (ex-Pink Cream, now ex-Adagio) was replaced and now the progressive, neo-classical French metallers return with a new (Finnish) vocalist, Chris Palin, and a more aggressive direction.

‘Amphyri’ buzzes on a modern adrenaline rush, but doesn’t forsake classical piano interlude and Stephan Forte’s skills on six strings. As if to drive the point home, the otherwise ethereal and symphonic underpinned (sweeping strings and the odd woodwind) ‘Fear Circus’ opens with a riff straight off a Pantera record (never to be heard again). For the purists, ‘Undead’ wanders the keyboard/guitar path with only a brief foray into death vocals, otherwise clean. The nearly nine minute ‘Codex Oscura’ starts with tinkering with various orchestral instruments, like a film score, before adding more metallic options, although the mid-section slows to a piano/guitar/voice respite, before Forte struts his stuff once again.


Amberian Dawn - The Clouds Of Northern Thunder
Label: Suomen Musiikki
Format: CD
Released: 2009
Rating: 8/10

Sophomore effort from female fronted Finns fulfills the promises hinted at on the debut. While many dismissed this outfit as just another entry in the fem-metal sweepstakes, or worse, a coattail rider of countrymen/woman Nightwish (although those longing for the operatic days of Tarja can find solace in the disc closing, ‘Birth Of The Harp’), the aggressive guitars on the likes of opener ‘He Sleeps In A Grove’ and video single ‘Kokko-Eagle Of Fire’ stake claims to highly stylized individuality. Heidi Paviainen’s lilting/cooing tones are joined by male counterpart for ‘Incubus’. ‘Willow Of Tears’ and the aforementioned album ender are thankfully the lone forays into ballad-ville amongst the dozen tracks. Keeping the tempo upbeat is the key, apparently this winning strategy finally Dawned on them!


Kathaarsys – Anonymous Ballad
Label: Silent Tree Productions
Format: CD
Released: 2009
Rating: 6/10

Third offering from this Spanish outfit on this heretofore unknown label (fourth overall, including ’05 self-released "Portrait Of Wind And Sorrow" debut, which saw North American issuance under Concerto Records banner). As if the decaying monolithic structures on the cover aren’t warning enough, here’s an odd collection of five “songs”, all lengthy ideas, connected thematically, from moody prog-jazz (the sporadic notes and brushes on cymbals of the 6:05 ‘Thoughts About Worthless Things’) to instrumental sections punctuated by death metal vocals (‘Sadness And Hopelessness’), and all styles in between (acoustic, clean vox, voiceovers, shrieks, seemingly all within the 9:46 closing ‘Darkness’).

A few too many drunken/hallucinogenic nights with early Opeth, VoiVod and Emperor CDs, me thinks! Interesting listen, once or twice.


Nahemah - A New Constellation
Label: Lifeforce
Format: CD
Released: 2009
Rating: 6.5/10

Spanish prog-metallers’ sophomore effort for Lifeforce (fourth overall) resides somewhere between blackened thrash and Pink Floyd, especially the ethereal, synth/saxophone/female spoken word of the 1:57 short mellow instrumental ‘Air’. Predominately hoarse screams as vocals, it’s the drums/(ab)synth and occasional oddball instrumentation that give it the progressive quality. Just to keep things off balance, there’s a jangly, disjointed keyboard/horn undercurrent to ‘Absynthe’ (somewhat fittingly, given the title). ‘Reaching The Stars’ begins by playing ping-pong between the right, left and center channels, then offers (briefly) one of the album’s few passages with clean voices. Start-to-finish ‘The Perfect Depth Of The Mermaids’, with squawk box and clean guitar is the closest Nahemah comes to a complete prog track, although the 7:12 ‘Under The Mourning Rays’ has a spacey jam section in its latter half.

Interesting.


Lost Dreams – End Of Time
Label: Reartone
Format: CD
Released: 2009
Rating: 6/10

Heretofore unknown Austrian blackened death outfit offer a dozen tunes on their third CD for this four year old label, who average about one album a year, so not quite sure how Lost Dreams made the cut. Nothing inherently wrong, just a bit of a tweener, stylistically.

The bio sheet accompanying this release claims, "Lost Dreams stands for melodic dark/death metal. You can hear influences from different metal genres (dark, death, thrash and black metal). It’s a mixture of melody, groove and high speed parts, peppered with deep growls, aggressive screams and catchy vocal lines." All true! Melodic death, ala Gothenburg sound (thus they went to Studio Fredman to mix), with a guest appearance by countryman/Serenity keyboardist Mario Hirzinger, who adds the occasional ivories and clean vocals to Erwin Wibmer’s gruff tones (he of the bright red Mohawk, pierced through lip and each temple). ‘I Curse You’ rides a rhythm not too far afield of old Dark Tranquillity or early In Flames, although the repetitive, guttural lyrics belie such sophistication. With swordplay and horsemen effects, ‘The End Of The World’ stands apart, both infectious and displaying a vicious conviction missing elsewhere.


The Legion - A Bliss To Suffer
Label: Listenable
Format: CD
Released: 2009
Rating: 6/10

Third full-length offering from yet another Swedish outfit formed by ex-members of Marduk, in this case, drummer Emil Dragotinovic. Not to be confused with former Marduk frontman, who went by the name Legion (and his new band, Devian), these guys are fronted by Lars Martinsson, who recently relinquished bass duties to Magnus "Devo" Andersson (of Marduk. Boy, are these black metal outfits incestuous!). The otherwise sinister voiced ‘The Luring Depths’ opens and closes with a church choir and pipe organ.

Overall, adequate black metal, with the odd slow bit, Cronos-inspired voiceover (‘A Curse For The Dead’) or catchy chorus (the opening ‘Shining Redemption’), yet ultimately nothing (apart from the historical connections) to separate them from the glut of similar minded outfits.


Eat The Gun - Super Pursuit Mode Aggressive Thrash Distortion
Label: Limited Access
Format: CD
Released: 2009
Rating: 6/10

The cartoon cover art depicting zombies and nuclear annihilation, plus the hyperbolic title all belie what’s inside. This trio of German youngsters offer up their second full-length, a combination of AC/DC simplicity and crossover punk/proto-thrash. Sort of Junkyard for the 21st century, in sound, if not sight (even though the other act recently reunited). ‘Tendency To Sin’, ‘Solitary Sinners’, ‘Walk Out On Me’ and ‘Renegade’ come closest to this comparison. Hell, even the titles could have been penned by the Blooze crew, whereas ‘Blood Shining Black’ utilizes a squawk box.

Fun, jump around party music.


Luctus - Jauciant Pabaiga Arti
Label: Ledo Takas
Format: CD
Released: 2009
Rating: 6/10

A tri-fold digi, with 16 page CD booklet is quite a step up for Luctus, the Lithuanian one-man, black metal band that is the province of Kommander L. Unlike previous recordings, there’s a strong sense of melody running amongst the insanity. Rather than sing about demons and anti-Christian rhetoric, Luctus’ blackened vision surrounds war and occupation. At least that’s what I can make out of the bleak, blood stained charcoal drawn visuals, as the entire eleven-track disc is sung in the native tongue.

Musically, it’s a mix of Scandinavian noise and early German punk-thrash. Think Sodom’s "In The Sign Of Evil" with better production. The tail end of ‘Akimirka Pries Mirti’ sees a brief, almost acoustic section, within the tuneful, yet fast and brutal riffs. Ditto ‘Paskutini Karta’, with its distant hail of gunfire and military bombing campaign that segues into the death grunted ‘Lapkricio Speigas’. ‘GZR’ ends in a slowed, staccato instrumental section lasting more than a minute. Good to know the metallic spirit is alive and well in the remote corners of the world.

If all the proceeds went directly to the Kommander, I’d suggest everyone buy the disc, to foster an even bigger scene, but who knows.


Dark Moor - Autumnal (Scarlet)
Label: Scarlet
Format: CD
Released: 2009
Rating: 7/10

Baron Rojo, Tierra Santa, Dark Moor… at one time or another each Spanish entity threatened to finally crack the English-speaking metal market. Alas, it’s yet to come to pass. On album numero seven, the Dark ones open with ‘Swan Lake’ a 7:59 adaptation of the famous ballet piece that utilizes the signature melody metalized with guitars, keyboards and dual sexed voices. No, original singer Elisa Martin hasn’t returned to the fold, but rather Itea Benedicto, a soprano from the band Niobeth, handles backing duties. Bass heavy and aggressive, particularly for a speed obsessed, neo-classical/symphonic outfit, the eleven songs retain an infectious rhythm that no amount of embellishment can diminish.

The ethnic melodies within ‘Phantom Queen’ must also split time with snippets of death vocals. Same on the lively, appropriately entitled ‘Faustus’. The ballad ‘An End So Cold’ and ‘The Enchanted Forest’ fail to keep up the maniacal pace. A very Nightwish tempo ‘The Sphinx’ mixes in locale appropriate themes, before Autumnal ends with ‘Fallen Leaves Waltz’, a straight, thankfully short orchestral piece, ends the album on a rather atypical note.


Martyr - Fear The Universe
Label: Rusty Cage
Format: CD
Released: 2009
Rating: 6.5/10

Not to be confused with the progressive French Canadian deathsters, this is a re-issue of the Dutch outfit’s ‘85 debut album (“For The Universe”), augmented with a new 5-track Ep, entitled “Fear”. While it sounds like a ton of music (and it’s being sold as a double disc digi) in reality, there are just ten songs total, plus a titular instrumental and concluding reprise that combine for another 3:46. The original material owes a good deal to Iron Maiden, lots of voiceless guitar sections, with galloping bass lines. The best example of this is the well metered ‘The Awakening’. Unfortunately, the newer stuff takes a different tack. While an undercurrent of twin guitar interplay resonates on these slower/heavier cuts, the vocals feel more common to someone like Alan Tecchio (Hades/WatchTower), particularly his work with likeminded Non-Fiction.

 
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