Friday, 22 May 2015

Starlight Ritual – Starlight Ritual (2015) / 85%

Ritualistic offering to the starstruck god


Starlight Ritual is a new quintet from Montréal and they just gave birth to their first child. Labeled as an extended play, it should be a full length in my opinion. It's forty minutes long and it's totally professional. This length is totally justifiable for a LP and has been since the dawn of metal time! Shenanigans aside, the four songs album is one of the best debut I heard this year.

The first thing you'll really notice is the tremendous vocals. Damian definitely has the pipes to fight his way through heaven and hell against the strongest contenders for Dio's throne. He's freaking awesome and it's impressive that this band is (to my knowledge) his first foray as a recording artist. Maybe he was waiting to achieve a high level of quality as a vocalist? Anyhow, his strong delivery and great range are what a traditional metal band needs to compete with the best of 'em. He's able to unleash some powerful melodies and screams like Russell Allen used to do before turning into a boring groove metal machine. The awesome vocals are combined with mystical, well written yet simple lyrics that are more allegorical tales than your pure Fantasy sword & sorcery sort of stuff.

Most of the songs are quite long, they even open with the fourteen minutes “The Triangle” and only “
Civilization Lost” could be considered to be a typically built track with its almost six minutes duration. The tracks are busy with a ton of excellent solos emanating from the two guitarists and there's no boring moments to be found. One of the guitarists is actually Athros (he's using his real name here, J-F Bertrand) from well known black metallers Forteresse, Brume d'Automne and some other projects and it's fun to hear him play something else, he's surely good at it too! The leads all have this old school flavor to them with some NWOBHM tendencies and even some middle-eastern influences (see the ones midway through “Astral Flames”). These solos are one of the strengths of the band, they keep the songs grounded and interesting. I think the bass has a good place in the overall mix but I think it could be more thundering and heavier at times even though it's noticeable enough.

While I usually love long songs and this band is good at them, I think a full length album could benefit from having a bunch of shorter, punchier tracks. An album like Iron Maiden's comeback classic
Brave New World managed to pull off. It had fantastic epic tracks like “Dream of Mirror” while also making sure to include rippers like “The Mercenary”. I'm sure Starlight Ritual could make this work too. Nevertheless, that's only my suggestion, it's quite fine like it is, guys!

Well, since these guys sure dig Rainbow's Rising and its proto progressive metal approach so much, the long song formula isn't an obstacle for them as it wasn't for Blackmore and company either. They manage to write compelling songs with enough dynamite and variations to keep us entertaining while never actually changing their formula too much by including useless atmospheric” moments to justify the extended length of a song. The first track starts with a short but needed introduction but it's not syrupy or disposable.

Before I actually heard the band, I thought they were gonna be some sort of stoner rock/metal due to their imagery. Speaking of this, I don't think the cover art, while lovely, fits their music, it doesn't have the epic traditional feel their songwriting has. I was surprised to hear the actual style of the band, a full bodied heavy metal machine ready to explore many different continents. Starlight Ritual is certainly a varied band, there's some doom, stoner and hard rock flourishes alongside the heavy metal core and this gives a fresh sound to the band since it's not a very common blend of ingredients. I mean, the closer “Seal the Light” is basically epic doom. Damian is taking a more somber tone on this track and it works like a charm. Like the whole band, he's a versatile singer and has a lot personality.

I think the fact that they mostly explore heavy/doom territories is giving them a lot of latitude. I like this style since it's mostly mid-paced and isn't afraid of incorporating flashy musicianship into the fold, think of a band like The Gates of Slumber as an example. The doom component somewhat ensures that the album doesn't fall in a overly cheesy disaster.

They're mixing “Heaven and Hell” era Black Sabbath with a bunch of other influences and it's super legit. I can't wait to see these guys live, they're about to start doing gigs and that's pretty good for our metal scene since they fucking rip and do something different from what we're accustomed to. They're a vivid proof that the Canadian and Quebécois metal scenes are truly diversifying themselves. Starlight Ritual is a band that everyone with an interest in heavy metal or doom should follow.



Thanks to the band for the review opportunity. The CD is available for a meager 5 bucks plus the shipping, just contact them on their Facebook page.  I think they're still considering a way to sell it more easily online as well.

Listen to the full EP on Youtube:



Thursday, 21 May 2015

Papa Bear Tony's doom metal podcast - May 2015



DOWNLOAD THE PODCAST: ON DROPBOX




Tracklist:

Band – Song – Album – Year

Witchfield – Heart of Soldier - Sabbatai Zevi – 2015
Blind Witch – Black Witch Cauldron – Burn Witch Burn – 2014
Inside Charmer – Spilt – Inside Charmer – 2012
Alucarda – Temptress of Evil – Raw Howls – 2015
Valkyrie – Temple – Shadows – 2015
Monolord – Died A Million Times – Vaenir – 2015
Pohjoinen – Luovuttaja – Pohjoinen – 2015
Abrahma - Kapal Kriya - Reflections in the Bowels of a Bird – 2015
Akasava – Black & White Lady – Strange Aeons – 2015
Majesty in Ruin – Remembrance - All Light Shall Fade... - 2014



Wednesday, 20 May 2015

Interview with Jean-Pierre Abboud (ex-Borrowed Time, current singer of Funeral Circle)

Live photo taken at Wings of Metal 2014 by Wayne William Archibald
Jean-Pierre is an American musician known for his involvement with the excellent heavy metallers Borrowed Time and more recently, the Canadian epic doomsters of Funeral Circle. I'm glad he took the time to answer these questions.

Metantoine's Magickal Realm: First of all, what's the situation with Borrowed Time? Is the band over? Their status has been mysterious for a while. If the band is done, is there any plans to come back to the heavy metal genre with some other people? I speak for myself here, but I totally adored the self titled full length! The band is without guitarists right now, maybe you're looking for new musicians?

Jean-Pierre Abboud: I stopped doing Borrowed Time as a choice. It was actually quite difficult to fulfill our show obligations at the end of 2013, but with the help of great guys and players like Derek DiBella, Justin Henry along with Matt Preston, we came out and did some great last few shows (one in Chicago with ZuuL and Dawnbringer another with Raven…), and recorded a cover of Savage Grace – Bound to be Free which appeared on a comp with Ostrogoth, Attacker, Jack Starr, Paradox, Satan’s Host and other old school killers. At times it’s my favorite recording ever done under the BT name. After all of that, Matt Preston moved to Pittsburgh for a job and although he gave me his blessing to continue, I decided it would be wise to look for something new. Matt did a TON of work on the self titled record, and I didn’t feel it would be right to continue without him. Things could have gone a lot more smoothly in 2013, but if you’re on a bad path, band politics can become implacable. I completely include myself in that statement. 

Borrowed Time's self titled album, released in 2013
MMR: What can you tell me about the inspiration behind the artwork of Borrowed Time? ( read my review of the album  There's this fantasy vibe but it's way more classy and less cheesy than most “sword & sorcery” metal bands. What's your process when dealing with artists and illustrators?

J-P: Paperback versions of LeGuin, Moorcock, airbrushed LP covers, 17th century pamphlet art and crazy convoluted images that I create in my head. The two artists Borrowed Time predominately worked with were Seth Bennett (who designed the logo, Fog in the Valley 7 inch and several shirts) and Tim Jenkins (Acid Witch, Shitfucker), who did the jacket for Black Olympia and the S/T as well as a logo update. At the very end the guy who did the art for Black Magic – Wizard’s Spell created a pretty rad shirt image as well. The demo release had these awesome skeleton clarinetists drawn by Mike Tuff (Acid Witch, Temple of Void) who played on the Fog in the Valley EP and was BT’s lead guitar player from 2010-2012. We kicked around the earliest versions of BT riffs in 2009.


MMR: You talked about moving to Montréal when we met, is there still some plans
concerning this? We definitely need more awesome trad metal musicians in the city! Based on your experiences, what's different here than in the US? What's better and what's worst?

J-P: Haha, thanks. It’s difficult, the way things can change. I know one of my main flaws as a person is that I can get really excited about an idea and just…live in it, for a while. Ya know? I really love Montreal Quebec at large because they function at a higher standard regarding their citizens than much of North America. You don’t find people forced to live like refugees, but I’m not ignorantly fluffing all of Canada here (Calgary, lookin’ at you!). I can see much more clearly why there are separatists in Quebec from my experience playing in and skulking around different cities across the continental span.

Jean-Pierre (Sarcofago shirt) with
Funeral Circle at Wings of Metal 2014 in Montréal.
Picture by Max Be Te
MMR: You played Wings of Metal (with Funeral Circle) but from a fan point of view, what was your most expected performance and what was the highlight of the festival for you? Are you attending this year?

J-P: DEFINITELY attending this year, got my tickets two months ago! My most anticipated performances were ADX and Dream Death. Trouble or The Skull were totally crushing the night before as well as Bolzer. Seeing Occultation again was a delight (they were a late addition); one of the best memories of our lives (and I can speak for all of us) was touring the west coast in 2013. We could have grown further from what was achieved on that tour, but aforementioned band politics were just rough.


MMR: Can you talk about your heritage? Jean-Pierre is a pretty French name for an American! Is it transposed into your lyrics and music, if so, in what manner? What are the other influences in your lyrics, I think they're particularly well written compared to most metal around!

J-P: I am an American of Semitic origin. I was born in Cleveland, Ohio in 1986, at a time when it still kind of rocked. I am of Lebanese heritage, my French name and Arabic surname come from that. I had moved every year of my life all over the country (and once to Germany) before settling in Michigan at 17. Feeling like an alien, or feeling unable to relate to people and the anger or sadness that can come from that has followed me for a long time for various deep seated reasons. Dio was a huge, huge influence for me, and the lion’s share of his work was about real life. In his work, fantasy is an allegory for self-preservation and survival, for dealing with human emotions and social problems or speeding at night.

MMRWhat's the future for Funeral Circle? I recently learned that Matthew Barzegar (lead guitar) has sadly left the band. Will you continue with the other members under the same name? Your performance with the band at Wings of Metal was awesome and it would be a shame to end the whole thing. Your voice was a great fit to the epic doom genre!

J-P: Yeah, we have no intention of stopping right now, especially with show obligations like Covenant, stuff in August and Hammer of Doom in November. Matthew Barzegar’s decision was tough, and we all discussed how to continue forward. I am a full time member of Funeral Circle, along with Graham McGee (lead and rhythm guitar), Matthew Kaufhold (bass guitar) and Phil Fiess (drums). In 2014 we got together, rehearsed for a couple weeks and toured across Canada. Enthusiasm and precision are character to each individual within the band. We developed natural chemistry and we get along well, so this year will definitely see more 
classic and dirty FC Doom.



Funeral Circle/Gatekeeper split, to be released soon.
MMR: There's a split with Gatekeeper coming up, what can you tell me about it? Artwork, lyrics, music...

J-P: The new split features our song “Hades Triumphant,” which we performed last year. The lyrics and vocal lines were collaboration between myself and Matthew and the artwork is another rad piece by Karamazid. Phil and Matt K are entirely responsible for the churning rhythm section that in my opinion makes this particular track. Not to mention the Gatekeeper song (“Bell of Tarantia”) completely kicks ass and comes from the same sessions as their split with Eternal Champion.



Listen to "Hades Triumphant"

MMR
: You recently wrote a short story called “
Journey in Somnamblia“for the Swords and Sorcery book alongside Howie Bentley and Byron A. Roberts. I have yet to read it, I need to get my hands on this book! Do you plan to publish some more stories or even novels anytime soon?

Mataera Nom, character
from J-P's short story.
Illustration by
Eva Flora Glackman-Bapst
J-P: I would love to, but I’m taking it slow! Back in the roaring nineties, I was published at a very young age and from there on I had a pretty spotty track record in dealing with artistic discouragement. I would say this lasted until about age 22. But last year, getting in contact with Dave Ritzlin (DMR Books) and hearing his idea to create a 70’s style swords and sorcery anthology with Metal musicians-- it blew my mind. I wrote “Journey in Somnamblia” on tour last year; currently, I’m writing the next chapter to my story concerning the self-exiled warrior Mataera Nom, set to appear in the upcoming second edition of “Swords of Steel”. This next one contains more exposition along with an inward narrative, with heightened action compared to the first.





MMR: What are the bands, movies, TV series, books or anything else that are inspiring you these days? Do you still feel deeply linked with the metal culture?

J-P: Well, my fiancée and I live Metal every day. We both have working class jobs taking care of the developmentally disabled (who I tend to like a lot more than the empty corporatist yuppies they tell you to worship on TV or in blog content aggregation). We live in a vainglorious metal castle of our own in a post-industrial butcher town disguised by a university and deplorable state politicians. These days I’m always feeling inspired to sing (on a recording or all day really) as well as playing piano, acoustic, electric guitar and bass just to play or to come up with ideas. There is a love in my life where, at this point I’ve watched this person stick by me through some murky times. With the same eyes that haven’t changed, a change I’ve seen before and know too well; it’s something one can’t let go. “Can’t let go” and “Nothing to lose” are both great cliché song titles, these days I prefer the first.

Listening-wise, Dio’s extremely underrated Tracy G/Jeff Pilson era, early Solstice, Russ Ballard, Strawbs (thanks to Barzegar!), Samael, TNT, Thin Lizzy/Lynott/Grand Slamm, Solitude Aeturnus, old Blind Guardian, My Dying Bride, Golden Earring, BOC, Savatage, City Boy, Zep, Fates Warning…

MMR: Are you looking forward to something in the future? Gigs, etc..

J-P: Going nowhere (to stay Metal) and everywhere (to make Metal). I may be joining one of my favorite classic acts, but even if that doesn’t work out, a more migratory existence is in order. Absolutely can’t wait for Covenant fest and Hammer of Doom. Going back to what you said about feeling ‘deeply linked,’ honestly – more than ever!! The grindstone is our (heavy metal) hamster wheel. I don’t understand why people decide the establishment will suddenly be there for them, but all I can say is good luck and hello China.


MMR: Anything else you want to add?
J-P: I am deeply grateful to everyone I’ve gotten to work with and share experiences, good or bad. The sum of events and the resulting education negates any moral qualifiers – this is the real world. Can’t wait to jam with my mates in Funeral Circle, leaving nine days from now!





QUICK QUESTIONS

Pentagram or Saint Vitus
Pentagram, but I really love them both
Iron Maiden or Judas Priest
Priest, and same
Angel Witch or Satan
Satan, and yep
Beer or wine
Beer
Lovecraft or Tolkien
Tolkien
Star Wars or Star Trek
Warp Drive >>>>>>>>>>>>> “light speed”




Armed Cloud – Obsidian Desert (2015) / 83%



Sweet Dutch prog dessert



Just by looking at the artwork, I knew this was gonna be a good album. Sometimes, you just know. The cover art reminded me Dream Theater's seminal album Awake with the wide array of details and the odd characters. I think it's charming and represents their genre pretty well as it's intricate and nuanced. Fortunately, the album lived to my expectations and it's one of the best progressive metal record I heard in 2015. Obsidian Desert, the debut album of Armed Cloud manages to be a modern yet interesting and fresh take on classic progressive metal/rock. The quintet has all the ingredients to play this complex form of music, an engaging bass presence, super talented guitarist and keyboardist, a singer who can actually sing very well and a versatile drummer who's not afraid to use some blastbeats.

While they're obviously technically skilled and that's proven at numerous occasions by the guitar solos
and the way the keyboard interacts with the rest of the instruments, they're very emotional and has this frank desire to write compelling songs instead of flashing their technicality, a concept often plaguing their peers, like the later Dream Theater work to give an obvious example. They have a symphonic flair intertwined with some pop tendencies but it's thoroughly enjoyable and it's not saccharine. I think the ballad “Meltdown” is really beautiful and fits their identity as it remains highly atmospheric.

Daan Dekker has a particular voice, powerful and with a lot of range but it's also soft and rich. A track like “My Own Kind” is a good showcase of his abilities. For some reasons, I thought of Ray Alder when I first heard them but I enjoy him more than the Fates Warning frontman who never managed to beat John Arch in the heart of many. The vocal melodies are well written and the addition of some aptly placed back vocals add an epic touch to the songs (see “Pyramid of Charlatans”). In fact the band reminds me of the American legends from Connecticut in their capacity of mixing technicality, songwriting and emotions in one solid package. There's also some influences from progressive alternative rock like Muse, Gazpacho or later days Marillion in the vocal department and considering I'm a big fan of these bands as well, it's a big bonus for me.

Augment their formula with obvious nods to the more progressive side of power metal (see Kamelot or even Angra) and you have a very solid mix of influences. Furthermore, compared to many progressive metal acts, their songs are cohesive and on the shorter side except perhaps the eight minute closer “Wasted” and the excellent “In Your Mind”. Sometimes, it feels like they're a more streamlined version of some of Ayreon's stuff. There's no fluff as the album is a little bit under a hour and it doesn't feel this long either. There's no self indulgent long ass instrumental track but there's a serene, symphonic one before the last track and it gives the listener a break and a change of atmosphere.

To conclude, If you like your progressive metal with solid solos but still in possession of its soul, Armed Cloud is a band that you should check out.



Monday, 18 May 2015

Ufomammut, Usnea + Tunguska Mammoth and Show of Bedlam, May 17th 2015 @Bar Le Ritz PDB in Montréal



On this warm Sunday evening, the metal fans of Montréal and its surrounding all met on Jean-Talon boulevard for a night of doom of epic proportions. It was my second evening in a row at this cool venue after the excellent gig of Chilean psychedelic rockers Follakzoid but this time, it was jam packed. The Farnham and Trou du Diable beers were cold as ice and managed to put everyone in a good mood. Even though it would had been nice to get Sons of Otis on the lineup (they played the Toronto gig the night before), we got two legit Montréal based openers.

Show of Bedlam are one of the favorite local opener for metal gigs in Montréal these days, I've seen them several times including a great performance back in March when they opened for Enslaved and Yob but it's always cool to see them again. Their debut full length (initially released in 2012) was recently reissued by PRC so I grabbed a copy (5 bucks!). The band is working on a new album and their live performances got tighter and better than before, their blend of stoner, sludge, doom, noise or post-hardcore is interesting, intense and original. It's like a mix of Neurosis and Swans! Paulina's stage antics are always frivolous, spastic and insane, she's a pretty cool frontwoman. They always use some strange projections (including some grinding teeth or weird nature images) and this is really adding another layer to their live presentation. Kudos to the many promoters putting them on their bills, they're always worth it.

8 /10
Check them out: Facebook

Tunguska Mammoth were the second local openers and their name was more than adequate to be on this bill! I've seen them before so I know what to expect. The quartet plays a form of stoner/sludge with semi harsh vocals. They mix Mastodon and High On Fire into a coherent and catchy mix and are somewhat similar to bands like Red Fang. They played a new composition and it sounded better than their debut album, a bit more original too. I think they rely a bit too much on simple riff progression to unnecessarily stretch some of their songs but overall, it's enjoyable and groovy enough to keep the ball rolling. It's not a style I really dig these days but it's well done and there's not a lot of Montréal bands playing these styles so they're definitely an appreciable bonus when they open for international bands.

6,5/10 
Check them out: Mammothbook


Usnea from Portland, Oregon is currently touring North America with Ufomammut and they were an appropriate choice since they're crushingly heavy. Their blend of funeral doom, doom/stoner, doom/deathwith some slight black metal overtones (especially in the vocals) is quite good and even though they're all over the place musically, their long compositions work fine. The band also slight psych and spacey influences and it gives them an entrancing atmosphere. Their dual vocal approach is also quite fun, Justin Cory (guitars) handles the high, screeching black metal ones while Joel Williams (bass) handles the deep, cavernous ones typically used by funeral doom bands. Excellent band.

8/10


Picture taken on Ufomammut's Facebook page.

Ufomammut were the definite “pièce de résistance” of the evening. I've been following these guys for a while and I was anxious to see them for their first Montréal gig. The band played Victoriaville (the FIMAV festival) last year as their sole North American gig and being a broke soul, I couldn't attend this show. I was expecting the band to be truly heavy but damn, they exceeded my expectations. The Italian trio are masters of psychedelic doom/stoner, they're the real deal. Massive riffs, an elephantine bass tone, slow but thundering drums and buried but fuzzy and hallucinatory vocals.

Bands often use a projector as a way to add something to their performance, the aforementioned Show of Bedlam do it and I really liked The Ocean's videos. Ufomammut, on the other hand, integrates the projector so effortlessly that it's like a fourth member. The band is also a visual art collective under the name Malleus (they handle all their artwork) and it shows. They have a perfect control on how they present themselves and that's yet another proof that they're a terrific band. During their ninety (??? I've lost track of time, to be fair), they used a wide variety of psychedelic visualizations ranging from stalactites to mysterious priests and intense volcanic flames. It's really well done and fits their heavier than thou music like a glove.

The trio played their whole new album “Ecate”, it was enjoyable and mesmerizing. They have a pretty good discography without any truly flawed albums but it's fun to hear a veteran band play their new material so convincingly. They came back from a short break after the album and played some older material like Stigma from “Idolum”. I'm not quite of the other trackssure since I was completely out of energy near the end, they really drained me in the best way possible.

Ufomammut were one of the most spectacular bands I've ever seen, this set goes directly in my top five of all time. I doubt I'll see a heavier band this year.







11/10




Since I don't have a great camera and can't call myself a great photograph, you can use these two wonderful articles.





2 pictures, credit goes to Amarilys Way:

Vita of Ufommamut


Urlo, Ufomammut