Obsidian Sea – Strangers

Whilst steadily garnering a reputation in their native Balkans, Bulgarian trio Obsidian Sea finally saw some US action in 2016 with a repress of second album Dreams, Illusions, Obsessions (Nuclear War Now! Records). Third album Strangers sees a Ripple Music release that will undoubtedly propel the psych-Doom outfit further. Continue reading

The Grotesquery – The Lupine Anathema

It’s always a musical cause for concern whenever an Extreme Metal band feels the need to sensationalize their genre (or subgenre for that matter). The Grotesquery referring to their sound as “Occult Death Metal” gave me plenty of uncertain pause heading into The Lupine Anathema (Xtreem Music). Continue reading

Avatarium – Hurricanes and Halos

Two fingers to convention, I’m jumping straight to the reveal: Avatarium are a superior breed of band that you’d be mad to overlook and Hurricanes and Halos picks things up where the sultry excellence of The Girl With The Raven Mask (both Nuclear Blast) left off. Fashioned from the music of yesteryear, don’t be fooled into thinking this is “just another” Retro outfit, or an “Occult Rock” band; this is the mastery of the music of a fifty years ago, not to be cool, or hip, but as a means of producing powerful, diverse and strong songs. Continue reading

Avatarium – The Girl With The Raven Mask

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Leif Edling is an unsung, underrated, talented bastard, and a legend. Part-responsible for some of the finest, melodramatic slow and mystical metal known to man across the first four Candlemass releases, his seat and decanter of wine at the table of legacy and honour is assured. Founding member of one of the founding fathers, as his main gig has become more of a part-time, festival turn, two years ago he celebrated the year of his 50th anniversary on earth by putting together Avatarium.

Leaving behind the doom bent of the ‘mass to feed the muse of progressive, heavy retro-tinged rock, and allowing the 60’s and 70’s bands of his youth to influence his writing, at their very best Avatarium are transfixing. The Girl With The Raven Mask (Nuclear Blast), the second band’s full length, is retro without being Sabbathian, fuzzy without being stoner, more Hammer than Occult (any bandying around of the term “occult rock” in this direction is being  incorrectly applied for no limp or quaint quasi-folkisms abound here) and progressive without losing focus or atmosphere.

‘The Master Thief’ is Opeth-style progressive luxury and ‘Pearls and Coffins’ is a simply magnificent track, seguing from bare, Western-tinged Tarantino soundtrack led eloquently by stunning vocals into a swirling Deep Purple vortex of an org(an)asmic post-chorus coda; its’ seven minutes an epic sway. And speaking of the Purple ones, in ‘Hypnotized’, Marcus Jidell channels the spirit of pure Blackmore with a majestic mellifluent magic carpet ride of a solo.

The Girl With The Raven Mask does not crush you with weighty riffs, but instead mesmerizes, with singer Jennie-Ann Smith a rare, enigmatic and captivating talent who sparks when the songs are sparse; reminiscent of Nancy Sinatra’s version of ‘Bang Bang (My Baby Shot Me Down)’ (sorry Cher). Given more room than on either their self-titled début, or last years’ All I Want EP, Smith is magnificent. If she had been a solo artist in the late 60’s she would be revered amongst the Joplin’s of history.

A diverse and intriguing marriage of stripped back and the grandiose, of top-level psychedelia and rock, all carried out to sea on the beguiling voice of Smith, for a while I feared The Girl WithThe Raven Mask was doomed (sic) to be one of those releases where the idea was better than the reality, but, while not every track hits the heights of the true moments of genius, the swirling, epic qualities draw you in.

 

8.0/10

 

STEVE TOVEY

 

With The Dead – With The Dead

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Dorrian. Bagshaw. Greening. One band. Shall we just stop now?…

Given the press surrounding the marriage of ex-Electric Wizard (and please can we not forget Ramesses?!) members to Rise Above founder Lee Dorrian, you’d be forgiven for thinking that we’re about to experience our own version of the mid-90s East-West Rap war. So let’s forget all that nonsense and focus on Doom supergroup With The Dead’s eponymous debut album.

With The Dead (Rise Above) ploughs a similar furrow to their West Country rivals yet delivers a filthy edge to whirling vocals and Tim Bagshaw’s riffs which energises the sound somewhat, and lifts it above that over-trodden path. The crushing riff of opener ‘Crown of Burning Stars’ is lightened ever so slightly by a slow groove, slightly fuzzed production and a Psych effect to Dorrian’s bellow which doesn’t dilute its lascivious, malevolent sneer. The ensuing ‘The Cross’ possesses a lively yet portentous structure, sonorous rhythms performing a lazy American smooth with the mind, the groove almost catching but never testing the gravitas.

Whilst the occasionally bloated ‘Nephthys’ falls into the same stodgy moss as Witchsorrow, a Sludge mentality gives the titanic, crawling ‘Living With The Dead’ an early fire: first flattening with oscillating guitars and roars, then dropping to a gentle, sparing rhythm. The explosion is coming however, and in true Hammer Horror-drenched fashion: the hypnotic yet mournful crush swaddling the listener in a diseased cocoon. The head-nodding, slow rut of ‘I Am The Virus’ is decorated with cosmic effects and more cavernous roars, those brief flashes of lead and hulking drums enlivening some rather clunky lyrics. In an unbearably tense finale the crushing weight of closer ‘Screams From My Own Grave’ gradually imbues the sense of claustrophobic, crawling terror that is so obviously the intention.

With The Dead is yet another 2015 Doom album that won’t win prizes for originality, and one wonders how much further this particular twig of the branch has left to grow. It’s an album that does, however, possess enough variance, power, identity and nefarious intent to be a worthy addition to the annals.   

 

7.0/10.0

 

PAUL QUINN

Sabbath Assembly – Sabbath Assembly

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Breaking from the embracing arms of The Process Church of The Final Judgement sees Sabbath Assembly reborn, emerging from their cocoon blinking into the light with fresh purpose and a redefining self-titled release. Although officially the bands fifth release Sabbath Assembly (Svart) really does sound like a new beginning for an act reinvigorated by pursuing a modified philosophy. Whether the freedom comes from stepping away from the scriptures of others, or through the musical progressions and developments they’ve chosen to make, nonetheless the evolution is welcome.

No longer tethering themselves to releasing the hymns of The Process Church, Sabbath Assembly sees nine wholly original compositions that, while occult in reference and dark in musical style, transposes their previous work into a new entity. Musically, while influences and styles are clearly rooted in yesteryear, the move to increase the presence of distorted guitars and the proliferation of NWOBHM breaks and passages amongst the Trouble-ed moments is a celebrated addition to their genealogy, meaning the band no longer sit under the “Occult Rock” umbrella, but embrace now their own, more distinctive, sound.

Jamie Myers adds a stronger, more dominant tone of Hammer Horror idiosyncrasy to her previous geniality, as quasi-ritualistic poetic intonations add to an overwhelming atmosphere of 1700’s witchcraft made flesh. Her new approach dovetails with the inherent upbeat catchiness of tracks ‘Confessing A Murder’, ‘Ave Sathanas’ and ‘Burn Me, I Thirst For Fire’, while Kevin Hufnagel’s 80’s influenced guitar work segues from Candlemass dripped doom-shaking to Satan (the band) esque gallops. ‘Only You’ teases a Mercyful Fate bolt, settles into a darkened brood, before racing to the end in a bounce of classic heavy metal riffery. Traditional metal solos enhance and embellish the album throughout, as do the melodic Witchfinder General touches and leads.

Taking an atmospheric turn for the latter third of the album means, dynamically, Sabbath Assembly feels a little strange; not quite tailing off, but as if emerging out the end of a night-time ritual into the stillness of the darkness before dawn as ‘Sharp Edge Of The Earth’ and the beautiful, folky ‘Shadows of Emptiness’ are reflective and breathy.

Of course this isn’t a “new band”, but neither is this a representation of previous ideology, either musically or philosophically. Whatever the impetus for the change in Sabbath Assembly, the culmination of the transformation is overwhelmingly positive in terms of their artistic growth.

 

7.5/10

 

STEVE TOVEY

Ghost – Meliora

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It is testimony to how far our favourite Scandinavian Satan botherers, Ghost, have entered the heavy metal consciousness that that much of the internet chatter regarding their latest album of curiously hummable tunes – the enigmatically titled Meloria (Spinefarm) –  is magnificently divisive. Meloria, apparently, is proof of another “masterpiece” or, by contrast, it’s proof that they are blowhards and charlatans of the highest order.

When did this happen? When did the release of a new album from a band seemingly force everyone into Camp A or Camp B- that bands are either geniuses of the highest order or they are all steaming piles of horse manure?

This curious one-upmanship of “my band is more amazing than yours” can only end in a depressing ever-decreasing circle of self righteous stupidity which also belie the facts – not every record released is a classic and not every record you don’t like emanated from the stable yard.

Whatever happened to having, as Geddy Lee once put it, an open mind and an open heart?

Having set this mindset firmly in place, Meloria can be righteously ticked off as a really good album; in parts, exceptionally so. This is the album where Ghost have consolidated the tricks and tropes that drew us into their strange vaudevillian universe to begin with and the album that will hold us there for some time more. It is a lot more focussed than its expansive predecessor, the often brilliant but occasionally uneven Infestissumam (Sonet/Loma Vista) and is much closer in tone and outlook to the band’s debut the brilliant and otherwordly Opus Eponymous (Rise Above).

Earlier this year, in what has now become part of the annual ritual underpinning the Ghost circus, the band replaced – for the second time- the band’s lead singer, Papa Emeritus II, with, yes, you’ve guessed it, Papa Emeritus III. His “younger brother”, apparently. Whether you give a monkeys about this sort of thing is very much a personal choice but the new vocals sound, well, like Ghost. Plus ca change, plus la meme chose.

Aesthetically, Meliora (roughly translated from the Latin as the “search for betterment”) has many 1970s rock influences – there’s a dash of Black Sabbath here, a nod to AC/DC there and it’s all imbued with that occult-lite that they have become renowned for (and which tends to get up the nose of those who take this sort of thing very seriously indeed). Where Infestissumam decided to go on artistic flights of fancy, Meliora is a much more direct affair and one’s response to it will depend on whether one regards classic song structures and tunes a hindrance. This writer doesn’t.

As a consequence, Meloria sees Ghost honing all their tricks into one accessible and often infectious package. The Hammer horror stylised intro to the crunchy guitars of ‘Spirit’ sets the tone well – the drumming sounds uncannily like Bon Jovi’s ‘Lay Your Hands on Me’ which may or may not be a compliment, depending on your world view. ‘From the Pittance to the Pit’ is a ridiculously hummable call and response tune that will be many people’s earworm for some months to come. ‘Cirice’, the lead off song for this album is an absolute corker of a riff with all the expected tropes firmly in place; the faux satanic undercurrents, the impending sense of doom, the inveterate twinkle in the eye.

Ghost, photo credit- Spinefarm Records

Ghost, photo credit- Spinefarm Records

Elsewhere, the enigmatic string led instrumental of ‘Spoksonat’ and its companion piece, the love letter to Satan of ‘He Is’ are both highly evocative, properly entertaining and ever so slightly spooky, which one suspects was entirely the point.

‘Mummy Dust’ brings the tempo and the direct aggression up a notch or two and ‘Majesty’ will have Angus Young cocking an inquisitive ear in search of the culprit who nicked that riff from his mid 80s period. ‘Devil Church’ is a playful if lightweight instrumental interlude which presages the album’s two strongest cuts – the moody heavy ‘Absolution’ and ‘Deus in Absentia’.

‘Absolution’ could easily have cropped up on Opus Eponymous, it’s all eerie and plaintive piano but with a chorus bigger than Donald Trump’s ego. ‘Deus in Absentia’ sounds like the distillation of all the tricks and lessons of Ghost to date – big chorus, epically styled structure, choir, rolling piano. I suspect that a portion of Beelzebub’s kitchen sink is in there as well. It is completely ridiculous and completely absurd. You will, naturally, love it.

It would be disingenuous to suggest that Meliora is a massive step forward on an artistic level; it patently isn’t. However, it is absolutely a record that has plenty of vim, vigour and occasional flourishes of inspiration. Meloria will not convince the naysayers but will doubtless build the Ghost congregation and, for that alone, we can all praise Papa.

Meloria is an aural pantomime for Edgar Allan Poe fans. And yes, PR guy, you can quote me on that.

 

8.0/10

 

MAT DAVIES

Prolific Horror Actor And Metal Musician Sir Christopher Lee Dies At 93

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Legendary British actor Sir Christopher Lee has passed away at age 93 due to complications from respiratory failure. Lee, renowned as a character actor made over 250 films such as the classic Hammer Horror films as Dracula of the 1950s and 60s, 1973 classic The Wicker Man, and massive pop culture and SciFi epics such as a James Bond villain in 1974 (The Main With The Golden Gun), The Lord of The Rings Film Trilogy films and Star Wars Episode II: Attack of The Clones and Star Wars Episode III: Revenge of the Sith. His film legacy leaves a mark on a generation of fan, especially musicians who have referenced his work for decades such as Iron Maiden. Lee also released four albums and 3 EPs worth of music, mainly rock, folk, and symphonic metal music. His last release was 2014’s Metal Knight. He was said to favor Black Sabbath, Judas Priest and other classic doom bands, classic rock and classical music.

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Satan’s Wrath – Die Evil

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Say the words ‘black/thrash’ and the images are instant; bullet belts, leather, re-heated Venom riffs and a slightly worrying pre-occupation with witches, necrophilia, the devil and his merry pals. Greece’s Satan’s Wrath is no exception. They heartily embrace all the clichés of this dirty genre and probably view musical progression like an invitation to a Christian poetry reading. However, they are blessed (by Satan, naturally) with a fiendish musical talent  and with third album Die Evil (Metal Blade) have pretty much recorded an unofficial soundtrack to Hammer Horror classic The Devil Rides Out if it were ever to be re-made with Fenriz as the director.

Led by former Electric Wizard bassist Tas Danazoglou, a man with more facial tattoos than Britain has Lib Dem MP’s, Satan’s Wrath, as previously mentioned, deal in serrated blackened thrash riffs that race along like bats out of hell, gruff, barked vocals aided by a liberal dose of reverb, and the belief that metal became irrelevant when more than a dozen people became aware of Bulldozer’s existence. However, they have cast their yellow eyes a few years further back than the mid 80s as demonstrated by the strong NWOBHM influence captured throughout Die Evil, ensuring things don’t get too one dimensional. This is best demonstrated on ‘Coffinlust’, which shamelessly recycles the riff to ‘Two Minutes to Midnight’. Of course, it’s catchier than the common cold.

Whether it’s the frequent over-the-top guitar solos that erupt like grasping hands from a shallow grave, the rampant, galloping riffs on the likes of ‘Raised on Sabbaths’ and ‘Satanic War’ that defy you not to headbang and claw the air like a 14 year old kid who’s just discovered Slayer, or the goofy, trashy horror vibes that just don’t stop being old, Satan’s Wrath may be a one trick pony, but they’re one that gives one hell of a kick. Forget progress, just stick on Die Evil and submit to Satan. It’s the only way.

 

8.0/10

Satan’s Wrath on Facebook

 

JAMES CONWAY

Electric Wizard – Time To Die

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As Dorset’s premier exponents of unrelenting heaviness Electric Wizard have never had it easy. Those familiar with their monolithic dirges will be aware of the turmoil the band has undergone since its inception with more line-up changes since recording 2010’s ‘Black Masses’ with drummer Mark Greening entering and rapidly departing the fold due to more issues with substance abuse and a lengthy legal battle with former label Rise Above to say that Time To Die (Spinefarm) has undergone a difficult conception would be an understatement.

All the hallmarks of Wizard’s sound remain present yet there is definitely a feeling that some ideas have been recycled with some familiar patterns reoccurring. Satan and the Supercoven are reprised in the lyrics but this is one bad trip that’s hard to get out of.

An epic peon to infamous acid murderer Ricky Kasso who allegedly cut out his victims eyes in a drug induced satanic ritual back in June 1984. ‘Time To Die’ is a vicious and negative record which starts slowly but lures you into its murky depths. The sinister hallucinogenic organ work which permeates ‘Destroy Those Who Love God’ delivers all the nocturnal Lovecraftian evil with its fitting samples from documentary ‘The Devil Worshippers’ to good effect. ‘Funeral Of Your Mind’ drags you into the vortex with a nasty tumultuous riff and Jus Oborn’s anguished vocal lurking beneath the sea of feedback and percussion which producer Chris Fielding (Conan) has done a bang up job in retaining the feel of the bands early work while allowing for some of the greater tonal clarity the later work has enjoyed.

Trance inducing repetition has long been the bands calling card and the ethos of tune low, play slow and worship Satan is adhered to with rigid stoicism. The organ adds atmosphere to the oppressive terror on ‘Saturn Dethroned’ yet this is a fairly typical effort from Osborn and company which neither tarnishes their legacy nor will increase their ‘Witchcult’ greatly in size. A consistent album which falls short of reflecting the majesty of their live ceremonies.

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7/10

 

Electric Wizard On Facebook

 

ROSS BAKER