ALBUM REVIEW: Sylvaine – Nova


 

Sylvaine is the pseudonym of Norway’s Kathrine Shepard, a classically trained composer, singer, and multi-instrumentalist. Since 2014 Shepard has been releasing albums as Sylvaine, of which Nova (Season of Mist) will be the fourth (not counting a 2020 split with Unreqvited).

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ALBUM REVIEW: Rolo Tomassi – Where Myth Becomes Memory


They say no band is really an “overnight success” in the music industry. Like most cliches, that one has been ridden into the ground by lazy people. Rolo Tomassi has been a band for over fifteen years at this point, and if their ascent to the top of the underground metal genre has taken you by surprise, you just weren’t paying attention. The band has been DIY (with some proper distro mixed in) the entire way, making music on their own terms, gathering forces of fans and waves of respect. Wearing many musical masks and expertly jumping from Grindcore, to Thrash, Hardcore, Pop Rock and even Blackened extremism, the band has always sported loads of talent and great songs. For their debut album for MNRK Music, Where Myth Becomes Memory, the band is determined to change your perception of the band, even if you are a longtime fan.

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ALBUM REVIEW: Gatecreeper – An Unexpected Reality


Not content with being hailed as one of the leaders of a New Wave of Death Metal bruisers (NWODMb anyone?) taking inspiration from the founding fathers of three decades past along with Blood Incantation and Tomb Mold – a pack that looks likely to be joined by impressive newcomers Frozen Soul and their glacial Bolt Throwerisms – Arizonian quintet Gatecreeper have taken it upon themselves to mix things up and show some gnarly dexterity in style and idea, and try and shake things up a little in response to the current COVID landscape and restrictions.

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Remembering Vinnie Paul Abbott, Metal Drumming Legend 1964-2018


The world lost an amazing drummer and by all accounts a great person when Vinnie Paul Abbott passed away on 6/22/2018 at age 54. As the drummer of Pantera, he formed the battery of the band that would put the metal genre on their backs in the 1990s. Often imitated and never duplicated, Vinnie was heavy influenced by legends from his childhood like Black Sabbath, Metallica, Slayer, Judas Priest, Iron Maiden, and KISS. However, what he put down behind the kit for more than 30 years was a major source of inspiration for a legion of drummers that followed.Continue reading


The Body And Full Of Hell – Ascending A Mountain Of Heavy Light


The Body and Full Of Hell are no strangers to collaborations or to each other, as both acts have teamed up in the past together and individually with some of the undergrounds best bands (Thou, Code Orange, Krieg etc). One Day You Will Ache Like I Ache (Neurot) was an assault on the senses, and you’d expect nothing less from both bands, but with Ascending a Mountain of Heavy Light (Thrill Seeker) they look to push the boundaries of what qualifies as music even further.Continue reading


Mantar – Ode to the Flame


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Hamburg Germany’s Mantar claim that their blend of extreme metal is an amalgam of black metal, doom and punk. And without a doubt there are glimpses of the three on their latest LP, Ode to the Flame (Nuclear Blast). So does Ode live up to Mantar’s “kill, destroy, fuck shit up” mantra?

Short answer is I guess. The music on display on Ode to the Flame is a simulacrum of what bands like Anaal Nathrakh and Kvelertak have already finely honed. ‘Era Borealis’ and ‘The Hint’ are supposed to be doomy in nature but they don’t have the solid riffs needed construct memorable songs. The punk bits lack speed or sneer. And as far as the black metal quotient only ‘Schwanenstein’ feels authentic with its short spurt of blastbeats and (albeit melodramatic) keyboard outro.

With nothing really designed on the initial 17 minutes to keep you awake (more on that later), the listener has ample time to realize how monochrome Mantar’s sound really is. And I concede that it’s a fairly spartan act with Hanno Klänhardt handling guitars and vocals and Erinc Sakarya on the drums. That said, there is no excuse for Sakarya’s flat style. His contributions on ‘Born Reversed’ and ‘Carnal Rising’ can be distilled to just keeping time. Plus not having much in the way of atmospherics or a rhythm section expose Klanhardt’s lack of vocal range.

While Ode to the Flame is habitually rote for most of its duration, there are some positive (and frustrating) breakthroughs. ‘Oz’ and ‘Born Reversed’ have proper stoner/sludge riffs and swagger to warrant a good song. ‘I, Omen’ pisses in the wind musically for about a minute and a half before settling on a meaty groove.

Mantar aren’t quite the metal wrecking crew I expected, but certain fans will find enjoyment in their limited, but loud aesthetic.

5.0/10

HANSEL LOPEZ

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Vardan – Between the Fog and Shadows


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There’s prolific, then there’s this bloke. Staggeringly Between the Fog and Shadows (Moribund) is the thirteenth full-length release in the last two years, and the seventh this year alone, from Italian blackheart Vardan. Given that, you’d think that his sound would be somewhat generic and withered by now but, save for a somewhat ungraceful production which has hissing riffs and atmospherics duelling with polished keys and drums, initially this isn’t bad.

That this is Black metal, there’s no doubt: the shimmering riffs and frozen rasps in abundance from the outset. There’s a mournful pace throughout, however; the opening title track possessing a tag-line riff that is hypnotic, rather repetitive and with little in the way of blastbeats or fast-picked tremolos. As layers are gradually added the track is saved from a certain tedium as the now-monotonous ostinato becomes ever-more dwarfed by effects and pain-filled shrieks.

A dulled, twanging lead and intriguing drum pattern gives the ensuing ‘Solitary Death of a Forest Spirit’ a curious and unexpected beginning. The subsequent explosion of icy wastes and a more prominent vocal is a welcome edge and, although the gentle rhythm suggests something intrinsic is missing, a forlorn, haunting beat is retained. This lack of speed does, however, highlight the tiresome structure, becoming even more noticeable as the track lengths stretch.

The opening rhythm of closer ‘Of Dead Dreams Through Funeral Eyes’ bizarrely brings the Manic Street Preachers ‘A Design for Life’ to mind, as a brief flare of fire dwindles to the almost sedentary, melancholic meander governing the album. In truth those flashes of sparkling riff and harsh aura detract from the fact that, in the background, very little changes: even in the hostile, emotive, yet achingly slow second movement of an almost interminable nineteen minutes.

There’s nothing particularly bad about the album. In reality however, only Psych or Prog metal can get away with unflinching patterns of this length, largely due to the promise of twists and turns along the way. Sadly there’s no such surprise here: only the irritation of decent sounds being undermined by an unvarying tendency to drift.

 

5.5/10

PAUL QUINN


Dew-Scented – Intermination


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Having been in the game since the early 90s, right about when thrash burned itself out and bands attempted to diversify, with predictably awful results (no-one needs an Exodus cover of Elvis Costello in their lives), Dew-Scented have steadfastly refused to sacrifice their intensity and heaviness. However, leaving aside the rather weak gimmick of every album title beginning with the letter ‘I’, they have never done anything to make them stand out from a densely populated crowd. Tenth full-length release Intermination (Metal Blade/Prosthetic) does little to change that.

After a brief melodic intro, the quartet launch into a fifteen song, fifty-three minute blitzkrieg of jacked-up thrash riffs that chug and shred with the best of them, thunderous drum beats that keep things tighter than a sealed tin can, and harsh, bellowed vocals that tell of their frustration in a violent world. It’s technically flawless; chock full of massive grooves and ripping guitar lines that just scream “Wacken Circle Piiiiit” and the band don’t miss a beat throughout. Standout tracks include the majestic solo and furious blastbeats of ‘Affect Gravity’, the razor-sharp thrash assault of ‘Means to an End’ and the primal neck-snapping brutality of ‘Power Surge.’ The Repulsion cover at the end (‘Radiation Sickness’) is a suitably feral way to close proceedings.

Unfortunately, there is simply too little variation between songs to justify there being so many of them. Dew-Scented are so far in their comfort zone that they’re on autopilot and have been for some time now. Intermination is one hell of a powerful and aggressive record, but it has little staying power and nothing to make you revisit it a few months down the line. German efficiency may get the job done, but in a totally soulless fashion.

 

7.0/10

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JAMES CONWAY


Macabre Omen – Gods of War – At War


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Light the torches and raise the cries as pagan black metal band Macabre Omen return after 10 years with their follow-up to their debut studio album, 2005’s The Ancient Returns (Obscure Abhorrence). Coupled with the ominous cover, the name Macabre Omen brings up visions of cheesy melody lines splattered with lashings of awkwardly placed black metal. This is not a band that should be judged by their cover however, and while they may only be on their second album with just a handful of splits filling the gaps, the band have had a solid twenty years since conception to perfect their craft.

It’s a call to banners as ‘I See, the Sea’ opens the album with rousing calls reminiscent of ancient armies making their way into battle. Gods of War – At War (Ván Records) certainly has a touch of the epic about it, even as the melodic folk-inspired lines give way to more aggressive blasting under scream by vocalist Alexandros. While the opening track remained distinctly melodic, the album takes much darker turns, particularly on the title track where the black metal is dialled up. ‘Man of 300 Voices’ takes a different tone however; an acoustic opening to the track barely seems out of place, particularly as more traditional instruments make an appearance before moving into epic vocal lines that dominate the song.

Pagan black metal can be a hard genre to master, but Macabre Omen have managed to produce a sound that plants itself somewhere between the more Bathory and Graveland. Despite maintaining a consistent sound throughout, Gods of War – At War has successfully walked the line creating an album that has enough variety between tracks, but still maintains an identifiable sound that brings the piece together. While it may not be breaking any ground artistically, it certainly would hold its ground on soundtrack heading into battle.

 

7.0/10

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CAITLIN SMITH


Marduk – Frontschwein


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One of the longest serving and reliable bands in black metal, Marduk are a Swedish institution, a machine that just won’t quit. While they may rarely top the bill at festivals and even their most well acclaimed albums will get scant mention in any ‘best of’ list, their bloody single-mindedness and raging intensity has acted as a blueprint for the second wave of BM, and now an entire generation after they formed, still show no signs of slowing down. Thirteenth full-length release Frontschwein (Century Media) offers few surprises and takes no prisoners.

Named after the grunts of the armed forces during the two world wars who were first over the top and destined to die either in a hail of bullets or shamefully as a deserter, Frontschwein continues Marduk’s obsession with death and armed conflict, long ago discarding the cheesy supernatural themes of early releases. The opening title track begins proceedings in a firestorm of tremolo picking and light speed blasting all competing for attention with the grotesque croaks of frontman Mortuus. Next track ‘The Blond Beast’ employs a catchy, mid-paced riff with just a tinge of post-punk to horrify the purists before normal order is restored on the scorching ‘Afrika.’

The most obvious comparison to previous albums that springs to mind whilst listening to Frontschwein is 1999’s classic Panzer Division Marduk (Osmose), a record of similar aggressive and militaristic traits. Like that hateful half hour, Frontschwein is straightforward, exhilarating black metal utterly devoid of gimmicks, although the occasional change of pace such as on the eerie, marching riffs of ‘Wartheland’ and the mournful dirge of ‘Nebelwerfer’ ensures that proceedings don’t stagnate. However, it’s the raging triumphalism of the eight minute plus ‘Doomsday Elite’ that shows Marduk at the peak of their powers with Morgan’s searing guitar licks threatening to scorch all and sundry.

Just as we are constantly reminded that war is hell and must never be forgotten, Marduk’s veteran status demands respect and their continued quality output proves that they still have plenty more gas in the tank.

7.5/10

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JAMES CONWAY