Sunday, 30 June 2013

Motorspandex - Torment Star (2007) | 85%

NWOFHM #4 : ''I gave you metal, I gave you light''

Please refer to my reviews for Krypt Axeripper and Arkhamin Kirjasto for some context.
Krypt Axeripper's review
Arkhamin Kirjasto's review

Motorspandex is another fucked up experimental project from Jussi Lehtisalo, the mad and prolific genius of Ektro Records. I have a very soft spot for the body of work of this dude, be it his progressive and psychedelic rock in Circle or his punky metal in Steel Mammoth. I consider this EP to be part of a quartet of bands that are/were successfully integrating experimental into a more traditional heavy metal formula. The others being Krypt Axeripper, Tractor Pulling and the most active one Arkhamin Kirjasto. In fact, I think the 3 projects released in 2007 and 2008 were a prelude to the formation of Arkhamin Kirjasto, a band who's also incorporating extreme metal influences into their sound. For now, it's all about this weird ass release.

7 songs, 10 minutes of pure head scratching music, the songs are all pretty short and under 2 minutes. All snippets of awesomeness. It's very catchy and all the songs are quite fast. Compared to Krypt Axeripper, it's a bit more harsh and less accessible. There's both clean and harsh vocals but more of the later. The vocals are not harsh like a death metal band, they're quite understandable and insane. They're deep, manly and rough and then the clean vocals of a song like ''Creepy Rabbit'' took me by surprise with its melodic edge.

''The ghost of nothing/ The knight of everything/Side of the stars/Endless silent''

The sound is a mix of heavy metal and some really really lo-fi thrash metal. Like putting old school Voivod in a blender with some ice and vodka. Despite being lo-fi, it's not amateurish, Jussi is a musician with a clear vision of what he wants and how it would sound like. You're moved into a different world for 10 minutes, wandering and wondering how it managed to sound like that, trying to figure out your footing on the uneasy but unavoidable ground but the sound will grab you by the balls and make you discover a new musical realm,

It's almost build like a grindcore album but it's nowhere near as simple, the riffs are resonating well and the leads are as weirdly produced as in the other projects. Despite the genre and the length of the songs, they're not incomplete. It could be perceived as such but only because it's so charismatic but I think the 1 minutes songs are a definite part of the charm. The replay button is being clicked on a lot with this release overcompensating for the short duration. Nevertheless, it doesn't have the same appeal that Krypt Axeripper or Arkhamin Kirjasto (who really impressed me with their first album and their new EP). It has the same original and totally distorted with reality feel but it's not as accomplished. Not as extreme as AK and not as elaborated as KA. Maybe it's the vocals, Jussi is not an exceptional vocalist despite being a good multi instrumentalist and the fact he's not the singer in AK make the band stronger.

To be honest, I can't dislike this, it's freaking awesome, everything is pretty cool, the name of the band (say Motorspandex five times), the song titles (Frantic Slave, Steellicker?) and the imagery (Jussi naked near an iceberg, dafuq?) are awesome. It has this sense of auto derision about metal that I can get behind,

If you followed my review series about the New Wave of Finnish Heavy Metal, a term applied to all the heavy projects of Jussi Lehtisalo, you know what to expect here. Pure madness. Dive into the scene if you think you're mad enough.

The Earls of Mars - The Skies Are Falling (2012) | 85%

I discovered this band thanks to Orange Goblin, they brought this new project with them to tour the UK, the excellent Admiral Sir Cloudesley Shovell was also on the bill. I added the band to the Archives and here I am, reviewing their excellent first demo. Formed in 2011, not much is known about the lineup except that it's led by Harry Armstrong who's also in The Winchester Club and End of Level Boss and like all his projects, it's pretty impressive stuff.

This three songs demo is quite weird, mixing progressive & symphonic rock with doom metal, psychedelic rock and even stoner. The album starts with ''Cornelius Itchybah'', almost seven minutes, the track is showcasing everything the band can do. The ominous keys and piano are opening the song. It's an amazing crescendo with simple keys, distorted guitars and fun bass licks, almost similar to their countrymen of Porcupine Tree but that's before we can hear the powerful vocals of Armstrong. Romantic and somber like Albert Witchfinder, emotional and weird like Lee Dorrian, it's one of the most powerful vocal performance I heard in 2013. The song is progressing till an awesome heavy metal solo near the end and the keyboard always remain a main instrument. Infectious and groovy, the band shows the extent of their genre on the second shorter track, a bit more traditional than the two others and perhaps more metal. The instrumental approach of the band is more than pleasing, from loud bass to doomy guitars and horror movies keys, the identity of the band is already complete after one demo and that's impressive. It's uplifting music full of atmospheres and truly original. I can't really pinpoint an overshadowing influence. Their sound is fresh and captivating and I cannot wait to hear the full album that they're recording right now.

Their spacey and trippy atmosphere fits very well with the dark doom metal. It's out of this world but so satisfying, the atmosphere is joyfully macabre just like the album art, I have no idea what it's representing but eh, there's a devil licking a baby ! It's fucked up but if you like adventurous music, it's gonna be a fourteen minutes well invested. They're a special band and you'll have to take my word and check them out! The demo is a free download on their bandcamp so you have no reasons to be lazy

TEoM's Bandcamp

TEoM's Facebook

Krater - Nocebo (2011) | 92%

With Hands Towards Mouth

The most important thing in black metal is the creation of atmospheres. Gritty, dark, mournful or even romantic are all worthy choices and Germany's scene is one of the best at it. The rich cultured country has been producing its fair share of extremely good and diverse acts such as Nagelfar, Desaster or Darkened Nocturn Slaughtercult. Krater is no exception, their music is extremely well crafted and it's one of the best modern black metal albums I heard. It has the right cohesion between aggressiveness and atmosphere and while it doesn't deviate much from the norm and it's not creating a 666th sub genre, it's pretty damn amazing.

I somewhat had this restraint towards traditional black metal a while ago, I thought the whole schtick wasn't inventive enough and that some innovation should be encouraged. I'll admit it was a foolish way of thinking. Black metal has reached new grounds recently and saying that it's stagnating is simply bad attitude. Plenty of bands are pushing the boundaries without sweetening the genre to death into shoegaze or progressive territories. Pushing towards unorthodox might, rapacious decomposed essays of traditionalism or even punk, hardcore or crust heavens, the scene is nowhere near his final potential and while there's conservatism in the scene, I'm slightly positioning myself in the middle. Numerous reinventions aside, the question is why should it deviate ? Why should it progress towards abandonment of the roots ? I'm all for pure black metal when it's that accomplished. Mediocrity has many shapes and more often than not innovation leads directly to it.

Nocebo, despite its name, didn't harm me at all. Evil and dark without falling into self parody of satanism that I often find lacking in originality. Building their shadowy atmosphere out of misanthropy, hate and everything dark enough to be wrote about ! There's two songs in English but the rest is in German and I must say the Germanic intonations really suits their music in a weirdly martial way. The vocals are pretty memorable and varied, murmured on the fifth untitled track and thoroughly screamed on the others. It's a big part of how good Krater is and the vocal melodies are well articulated and understandable, too bad I don't understand German. It has this sense of mournful melody that the gifted Polish project Mgla has, this same sense of tragedy and majesty that an album like With Hearts Towards None has. The last twelve minutes track Zerrissen really reminds me of that album with these melodic yet cutting like butcher knives leads and these powerful hopeless vocals.

While they have some atmospheric moments such as the intro and the last minutes of the final track, they managed to embody the hatred so well with their riffs alone. Fast paced like on ''Parasit'' or slow and unorthodox. The songwriting, restrained and exploded at the same time is perfect. Rooted in traditionalism, the album is still undeniably modern in its sound and catchiness. I defy all the black metal fans to not get moved by their fast tremolo riffs and the furious, vivid vocals.

A true example of how to write challenging and competent black metal this decade. interesting and grabbing you by the deepest memories of your soul, the crackly hands are gonna open your mouth and justify the foray of molding darkness into your larynx.

Krater's Facebook

Saturday, 29 June 2013

Days of Yore - The Mad God's Wage (1997) | 93%

A bright jewel out of Québec's metal mines

I'm ashamed to say that I discovered this band due to a Danish friend who showed them to me. No one can always be a prophet in his country, eh ? I was really surprised by the quality of this album as I'm not really a fan of the Québécois power metal scene even though bands like Forgotten Realm or Icewind are quality but it's a bit too cheesy for my taste. Released in 1997, an era not well known for its power metal, especially this side of the Atlantic, The Mad God's Wage is a really and rich powerful album with a lot of nuances.

For some reasons, I thought of a mix of Rhapsody and Virgin Steele to describe Days of Yore's only full length album. They have the bombastic approach of the Italian LARPers and the intelligent and conceptual side of Defeis' seminal band. The album has 18 songs and it's a bit under an hour but there's seven songs under two minutes. These interludes are all pretty good and interesting, nevertheless, the album would had been stronger without that much clutter. An album like Symphony X's masterpiece V has a much stronger sense of progression and use a similar concept. Sometimes the short songs could just be integrated into the ''real'' ones such as the pretty useless ''Essence of God'' and its 36 seconds.  Despite my criticism on the format of the album, it's still a very good album and a pretty worthy example of epic power metal done well.

An unique quality of the album is the vocals, Jérôme Parent's delivery is high pitched and pretty powerful. While he could be more diverse, he's still enjoyable albeit somewhat tiring. He's an acquired taste but I don't hink most fans of power metal will have a problem with him. The vocals are pretty much non stop and aggressive when they're present, there's a certain sense of urgency to them. The vocal melodies are simply superb such as the ones in ''The Visage of Doom''. Unfortunately, he apparently refused to sign the contract the band got from Metal Blade and their last demo was released with the vocals of Sylvain Giguère, one of the guitarists. I'm not very knowledgeful about the scene back then but I can hypothetically say that this kind of music didn't have a lot of support, not like the situation is any better today. 

Both the lyrical themes and the atmosphere of the album are well presented and epic as fuck. Never bordering the cheesy kingdom of europower with their inane lyrics that would make J.R.R Tolkien lose his shit. The songwriting is shiny thoughout the course of the album, it's speedy and full of technical but feelsy solos such as in ''Imperilled Kingdom''.  The duel guitars (brothers Martin and Sylvain Giguère) are excellent, garnishing the music with awesome leads that are never superfluous and are always justifying the need for instrumental interludes. The bass is quite audible playing tasty licks and is a good counterpart to the guitars. The orchestrations are great and totally professional and can outclass the likes of Michael Romeo, it doesn't feel cheap and it's full of refinement. The production for a first album of a band outside of a vast scene is pretty much perfect, the guitars, the bass, the keyboards and the drums are all rightfully placed and nothing is overshadowing anothing. Melding fast paced power metal and deep and luscious neoclassical, the band succeeds at creating an epic aura of magnificence demonstrated by the magnum opus of the album, the six minutes ''Clash at Dawn''. Combining heavy solid riffs with a true sense of melody and sophistication is what Days of Yore were doing, not unlike other Canadian power bands like False Witness, they have the honesty to stay heavy even though they're integrating progressive and symphonic influences. Definitely an influence of the underrated American power metal scene. 

Saying this album is underrated is an understatement, the musicality is impressive and the songwriting is top notch. Listen to this album, my friends. A true shame it was their sole full length release, it's yet another case of a band that deserved a better career.

Nuclear Hellfrost & Tetragrammaton split (2013) | 80%

A combination of crusty, thrashy and unorthodox black metal

What we have here is a split between two American black metal bands and just like USBM is, it's two pretty different projects but they still fit together. Nuclear Hellfrost is from the midwest and Tetragrammaton is from the sunshine state of Florida. While I'm a bit outside of my comfort zone with this release as it's pretty raw black metal, I can definitely enjoy the music as it's damn nice stuff. The release is very short, only twelve minutes for five songs but it's worth a look.

Nuclear Hellfrost's side is 3 songs including an Hirax cover and they play a very punky/crusty form of black metal. It's trashy as fuck too. The members are also in Nak'ay who are more of a grindcore band with shorter songs, they're pretty interesting as well if you like the style. Nuclear Hellfrost's vocals are what you could expect from a lo-fi band, they're screechy but not without their charm. The crust influence is also more present than in the riffs. The production is crap but I really don't mind, the riffs are pretty audible anyway. The second track ''Necrotic Upheaval'' has a very good riff reminding me of Nifelheim a bit but played with the means of a vegan punk living in a hippie community. It also has some interesting samples at the beginning, I'm not a fan of them but it worked at creating a spooky atmosphere.It's very infectious and I appreciate heir very fast paced approach and their punk influences. They're a band worth your time if you like your black metal with a crust and some thrash filling.

Tetragrammaton on the other hand is more on the traditional black spectrum. I'm reviewing this split because of the band's submission on the Metal Archives. I approved the band sent them a message due to their interesting imagery and name. They agreed to send me the tape in exchange of this review and I'm grateful for it. Their sound, albeit quite fast as well, is darker and more laid back. It has a semi unorthodox feel, not enough to piss off the detractors of the style though since it's not quite technical. The material on their 2012 is a bit better in my opinion, it's not as dark and wicked though, it's slower and almost doomy. Nevertheless, on both releases, they play a melodic approach to raw black metal and it's quite fun. The riffs, fast and furious, are natural and in the front of the production burying the vocals. The two songs on the split are somewhat more punky, definitely not as much as Nuclear Hellfrost's tracks of course, but you can feel a crust tendency especially in the way it's produced. A very good band overall, I'm interested to hear what they'll do next.

Two good bands complementing eachothers very well is what we have here. A punkier and thrashier band on one side and a riff hungry fast paced unorthodox black metal band on the other. Recommended for black fans who like things to be different.

Listen and download the split for free on their bandcamps.
Tetragrammaton's Bandcamp

Tetragrammaton's Facebook 
Nuclear Hellfrost's Bandcamp

Friday, 28 June 2013

The End of Six Thousand Years - Perpetuum (2012) | 85%

Tomato sauce constellation

Oh Italy, the land of pasta, expensive cars and chest hair. The legendary country also has a vivid and varied metal scene and TEoSTY is one of the most diverse band I heard recently. Modernity has its fair share of good things and I believe the genres the band succeeded at mixing together is pretty interesting.

Their sound is not divided into snippets like many progressive bands are doing. Ah, a black metal part here and then a three minutes acoustic interlude before a keyboard solo ? Nah, not here. The mix of melodic death metal, black metal, progressive sludge, post hardcore and even crust is a well digested amalgamation. It almost sounds like Cult of Luna fighting with Amon Amarth. Imagine that, sludge hipsters with dress shirts fighting fat vikings.

It may sound like metalcore sometimes but that's perhaps due to the combination of many distinct genres than to the will to play this kind of music. I'm not trying to justify that I like that because it's not metalcore but it doesn't feel like they're in the same ocean as many of the contemporary core bands. They prefer to dive into the sea with the likes of The Ocean (haha) or the aforementioned Cult of Luna but with a much more concise and heavier approach because of the death and black metal parts. The influence of post metal giants like Neurosis and Isis is also present in their sound but It's much more aggressive than your usual post band too due to these extreme tendencies. 

The vocals remind me of Aaron Turner a bit mixed with a death approach, they're well served by the solid and modern production and are rightfully in your face. I guess we could compare them to one of the other metalcore band I can appreciate, the German band Heaven Shall Burn but add the post hardcore elements to the equation. They're certainly one of the highlights of the album, strong and powerful they're a good complement to their music. The band made me think of At the Gates if they were hipsters and were fans of post metal.

The album, like I said, has a clear direction and while we can identify the many components of their sound, there's no obvious moments where you say to yourself : ''HA, Neurosis influenced that part!!!! ''. The genres are mixed so well that it's hard to qualify at first. It's still pretty dreamy in its own way, a darker approach embellished by thoughtful sludge and some black metal riffing such as in ''Cygnus''. The music is not technical, it's groovy and emotional, it has some pretty enjoyable almost shoegazey breaks such as in the longest track ''Gemini'' and the last almost Alcest-like track.

They're a pretty cool band with good songwriting skills that putting the atmosphere first and the technicality second. It's better than their debut too which was more core-ish and less influenced by post metal/hardcore, perhaps because it's four years ago and the band changed a lot since then. It's an evolution that I can get behind though! If you want to hear a band influenced by many metal schools that's succeeding at building their own sound. If you're not scared by their diverse approach, you'll appreciate Perpetuum.

TEoSTY's facebook

Thursday, 27 June 2013

Millarca - Drunstall (1996) | 90%

The Nihonzaru Made Me Blush

The musical world is cruel and nasty. It's so immense and not often rewarding. Who's choosing who gets big and well known? Satan? Jesus? Brian Slagel? I have no idea. One thing I know is that Millarca deserved a better fate than this. They released two great demos before falling even deeper into obscurity.  Dig, dig, dig into the ground for some doom sustenance and you'll rarely regret what you'll found.

Surprisingly from Japan, Millarca plays epic doom metal and they were pretty good at it. It's super fun that a bunch of Japanese dudes decided to truly go against the grain and play this kind of music instead of silly Visual Kei, thrash or black metal or anything else that was trendy in the Japanese scene. Released in 1996, the same year Boris released their debut and Corrupted was about to release theirs, this demo is truly interesting. Perhaps we can see that the scene was evolving and getting more varied but I don't want to be an historical revisionist. There's always been pretty unique bands and while Millarca certainly wouldn't had been out of place amidst the American or European doom scenes, they were in Japan.

Drunstall, their second demo is the more potent one. The four songs are all interesting and they really knew how to play their style well. If there's a band that needs a reissue of their stuff, it's them. They're a true gem of the doom underground and a label like Shadow Kingdom should pick them up just like they did with Epic Irae (Quicksand Dream's previous name). It's the second time I mention this label in less than a week but I really like their direction, they're a great benefactor to epic metal. Come on release a compilation of their two demos!

The greatest influence is perhaps Candlemass. The tone of the vocals is definitely an obvious nod to the Swedish giants. Kotetsu Kimura's delivery is exceptional, it's almost a tragedy that he never joined or formed other projects. Nevertheless, you could say ''Hey Tony, a Japanese band with a clean vocalist, it will sound like shit !'' No, dude, not with this project. His vocals on ''Devices'' are stellar. They're not too deep and not too high, he has an awesome non cheesy and clean voice that can convey the dark feel of the music without the need for an harsh throat. You can't really hear a thick accent and the parts where you can, it only adds to the charm of the band and it's in no way distracting or laughable. He has nothing to envy the heavyweights of the genre. 

While the production is something that you could expect from a 1996 doom metal demo, it's really not bad. The vocals could be a bit higher in the mix but they sound totally fine. The clean guitars are nicely recorded, the third  track, the instrumental ballad ''The Road to Drunstall'' is an example of how good the band is at creating vivid soundscapes. You feel at ease in the hot springs with your fellow macaques. It's a bit muddy at time but that's another part of their charm and I wouldn't have it any other way. The bass is still audible such as the start of the opening track ''Into the Forest''. The riffs are melodic and their tone is appreciable and oddly modern for their era. The songwriting and sound wouldn't sound out of place on a epic doom revivalist's album. It's more concise than their first demo (two songs, twenty minutes), this one has twenty five minutes divided into four tracks. Not that the first demo was direction-less but it's much more condensed here. Still, they totally fit as a perfect duo of obscure rocky epic doom. Millarca knew how to compose good riffs and good solos while respecting the de facto rules of doom metal and integrating both originality and grace to their music.

The atmosphere is murky but alluring not dissimilar to early While Heaven Wept with its sense of melody and despair. It's just really fucking good, do yourself a favor and check them out, I have no idea if there's physical copies on the net but it's easily found on download blogs (un)fortunately and that's until someone decides to re-release the demos.


Devices/The Road to Drunstall on Youtube

Wednesday, 26 June 2013

Tales of Medusa - The Fatal Wounding Gaze (2010) | 98%

The Mythological Secret of Cascadia

There's not a lot of information about this band, they want to stay a mystery, while I like the shadowy aura, I reckon they're entitled to a lot of recognition. Nevertheless, they play music for the good reasons and that's honorable. Compared to a band like Ghost who's using their ''secret'' identity as a gimmick, Tales of Medusa is all about the songwriting and I must say that this release is one of the best albums I ever heard. It's hard to get their albums and I must thank my friend Steven (SolstafirAquilaria on the Archives) for the vinyl rips of their two full length albums, you're a true warrior ! While I salute that they press their releases themselves, hence explaining the highly limited number of copies, they truly deserve to be signed. A label like Shadow Kingdom would do great things for them. But alas, they don't want to!

Ridiculously epic and totally perfect, this band deserves to play amphitheaters while gladiators fight till death and then, the emperor will offer them slaves, gold, rubies and a platinum statue of their deity, Mark Shelton.

There's many things explaining how Tales of Medusa is so great but something that really grabbed my attention at first is the immense production, it's tight and the riffs are heavy. The album starts with the roar of a beast, perhaps a lion and then the avalanche of amazing riffs pierce your eardrums with its catchiness. The guitars are perhaps a bit too high in the mix compared to the drums and the bass but that's a small complaint since they're so good that it just doesn't matter. The sound, old school, is obviously adequate to their epic metal genre. It sounds like a mix of the most epic NWOBHM side like Elixir and the  USPM scene. It's neither amateurish or too professional and polished, it's the perfect production for an album of its kind. The solos are also pretty cool, intricate enough, there's no inane virtuosity to find here, you can use something else than shred to vanquish a dragon, eh, Malmsteen ?

Another wonderful aspect is the mix of tempos and the variety of the songwriting. From speedy short numbers like ''I Found Her Eyes in the Coldest Storm'' to longer songs like ''An Ancient Tragedy'', the band can do anything.  They still keep things relatively compact, there's no fifteen minutes epics like Symphony X likes to do. They still have the time to establish an awesome atmosphere. The diversity of the album is outstanding and it's not even something that you can hear at first since it's so appropriately produced and composed. From mid paced songs to slower tempos, Tales of Medusa will tell what you want to hear, softly and hardly like a gladiator or a courtesan. Blood or lust but in the end, a pleasure is offered as a tribute.

The Fatal Wounding Gaze, a testament to all things epic is a force to be reckon with. I can't hardly hear any weaknesses. The vocals are very interesting. Both powerful and emotional, they can convey feelings extremely well. Even when they're restrained and soft like on some parts of the final track ''An Armor Drenched With Sorrow''. The clean delivery is enjoyable and it's never forced. Even though, the vocals are pretty laid back, it works well for both the more aggressive and slower parts. The soaring cleans could be more powerful but I feel it's charismatic enough. From epic chanting to NWOBHMish vox, I felt fully satisfied with this side of the band. The complementarity between the vocals and the guitars are akin to the great bands of the epic heavy universe like Cauldron Born and I'd be hard pressed to find a better recent band playing that style. We'll see with Borrowed Time and their first full length though.

A careful attention to details, a care for the glory of the old days and an exemplary comprehension of musicality made this album a true hidden masterpiece. Like a rogue, it strikes in the shadows but the results are no less efficient. This is my discovery of the year and an album for the ages. While I like the heavy revival movement in Canada (Striker, Axxion...) and elsewhere, this is miles ahead. The quality of the songs are astounding and the talent of the band is undeniable. Look in Medusa's eyes, be fatally wounded forever. The dark age of epic heavy metal has never been so distant.

Since the releases are so limited, here's their two full length albums: DOWNLOAD THAT BUDDY
There's also a package of their demos on the net somewhere.

Tuesday, 25 June 2013

Iron Man - Black Night (1993) 90%

"You fight with the strength of many men, Sir Knight."  

When a new review challenge was annouced on the Metal Archives, I looked at what classics I could write about and I remembered Iron Man's debut album, Black Night and I knew it was a good choice. This band never really got the credit they deserved in my opinion. Many reasons  could explain this folly. One : they never really got a stable lineup even though it's all about the guitarist Al Morris III. The band got more than 5 singers for fuck's sake ! Two : they were probably 10 years too late, in 1993 the doom scene was already explosing into many directions with Sleep, Kyuss and the likes and traditional doom got a bit left behind.Three : perhaps the band wasn't innovative enough for the new fans of the genre who thought that the Black Sabbath touch was getting boring. Hint : it never was and it never will be ! 

While Pentagram and Trouble were more essential to the development of the American doom metal scene, Iron Man is no less an extremely talented and important part of the equation. One of the best bands from the awesome Maryland scene, they're playing a very fun kind of traditional doom influenced by the most classical sound you can find. The album is almost 50 minutes for 10 tracks but it feels so short and you're left wanting for more. While there's some slower moments, they prefer to keep things groovy, baby and it's totally ok with me! Led by Morris, the album title is obviously a pun since he's definitely an epic black knight in shining armor. I always found interesting that an African American plays doom. Like a souvenir of the past, the bluesy influence of Jimi Hendrix is subtlely present and appreciable. He has awesome riffs and solos in his arsenal and there's no filler. It's a fast doom band with a shitload of leads and it's always interesting and varied. The solos are never forced and are always full of feeling. It's never to show off and it's necessary to build the cool atmospheres like on the second half of ''Leaving Town''. Iron Man always been able to have both great riffs and solos but also good transitions between the two. It also doesn't forget the Sabbathesque greasy bass lines and the fun drum rolls but the highlight is clearly Morris' playing. He knows what doom is and what it should be and he's greatly successful at keeping it true. The lyrics are honest and nothing extravagant, they talk about life, social issues and concrete dark stuff even "Vampires", a metaphor about drugs. It can be a bit boring but it totally fits their music, it's not epic after all, it's the Saint Vitus' school, I guess!

I can't really say I'm a big fan of the vocals on this album though. Rob Levey's  performance on his only album with the band is merely decent. He apparently did nothing else based on what the Archives say. He can be compared to both Osbourne and Dio, I guess. He's definitely not bad but he's mundane, unmemorable and derivative. I highly suggest the other Iron Man albums, especially The Passage for better vocals. But let's not forget Morris' other band, Force and their only self titled album released 2 years before Black Night. A very good album with a woman at the mic, very interesting to say the least. If you like the current female fronted doom trend, be sure to check them out as well ! They're a bluesy version and even more traditional band. Formed way back in 1976, it was an excellent prelude to Iron Man. Their future is bright with Dee Calhoun who's a very interesting singer with a lot of personality and I cannot wait to hear the new album titled South of the Earth set to be released this year.

Their music can be accused of conventionality but who really cares ? It's traditional doom we're talking about and along with Revelation, Iron Man is very underrated. Yeah, many bands were pushing the metal universe to new heights of extremity during the early nineties. Doom has always been a conservative music genre, this opposition to change is both a blessing and a curse. I mean, I like to hear to some innovation in my doom but keeping things simple and playing it with honesty, love and passion is the most important thing. Black Night is a great example of traditional doom from a truly underrated band of its generation.

Valpurgis Night - Psalms of Solemn Virtue | 75%

A decent mix of epic doom, heavy and thrash

This band was a total surprise for me and they're a good example of an underrated act who deserves more attention. I believe their original sound is quite fresh and original and it's done tastefully. The British trio from London has a lot of chops and even though it's their first and only album to date, it's a very good one. What really pleased me is the mix of genres. Valpurgis Night goes through epic doom, heavy metal influenced by their NWOBHM ancestors and everything is rightfully coordinated. It's like putting Pagan Altar, Candlemass and Celtic Frost together with a good dose of Witchfinder General, Sabbat and an healthy dose of the rare good groove metal. It's heavy as fuck, it's cryptic and dark and it sent some shivers down my spine when the epic side of the band showed his true nature.

What really impressed me is Preacher Edwards' vocals, he's not unlike an authentic cleric spouting the holy words. He has an ominous but charming voice evoking many emotions, both mysterious and epic. He reminds me of Johan Lanqvist (the singer on Candlemass' debut) but perhaps with a narrower range. He still has a lot of charisma and emotion in his voice. He's evolving in a clean and high range and he's demonstrating the full range of his abilities throughout the whole record. He can conjure some kind of grungey attitude on the great ballad ''Woken By The Silence''. He's also handling the guitars and he's doing a good job, the tone is interesting and just like the music, it's varied enough to keep the listener interested. The songwriting is catchy and got many hooks and there's some embellishment reminding me of gothic metal à la My Dying Bride. The songs are moody and mostly slow and they're quite groovy. There's no useless solos to create transitions, it's based mostly on the vocal approach and that's definitely the strength of the band. While I appreciate the thrashy side of the band, I really prefer their laid back epic doom side and that's the identity I'd like to see developed more. A good example is the epic sections of the eight minutes final track ''Row to the Rhythm 'The drums are pretty dynamic and there's surprisingly a lot of blastbeats to be found here. They're a very apt companion to the good bass licks.

There's a good working man etiquette to this release, the production is honest although nothing special unlike the sound of the band. Sometimes, it's too much though, the intent of mixing many genres and influences is honorable but the line is hard to establish. I think the groove parts are too numerous and are detrimental to the overall quality of the album. Still, if you feel adventurous and you want to hear a different approach to epic doom. It's worth it for the vocals alone.

Monday, 24 June 2013

Eternal Champion - The Last King of Pictdom (2013) | 78%

The making of a champion

America, the land of opportunities. You can either choose to play awful metalcore, retro trhash, old school death or anything else that was or will become trendy or you can follow into the footsteps of ''no fucks given'' legends. Eternal Champion managed to truly establish its sound with their first demo, this 2 songs and 9 minutes tape. Praising the divine words of Manilla Road, they're succeeding at penetrating the epic metal scene with ease. I always liked the American epic heavy/power scene and this band while keeping things safe, they're very enjoyable. Fans of both USPM and epic metal, add them to your list and expect a massive first album in some years.

I remembered why I'm not a fan of singles or short Eps while reviewing this release, I wanted more !! 2 songs is definitely not enough when it's that good. The production for a first demo is impressive and professional, a proof that modernity in metal has its benefits. Jason Tarpey has a very nice voice, powerful when needed and high when he wants to. His clean delivery is hard to compare, it's  a bit similar to Mike Scalzi of Slough Feg. He's a good singer and the production suits his vocals better than his other band, Graven Rite (composed of Ancient Vvisdom members, ewwww!) They play a proggier version of epic metal with some Fates Warning influences, it's ok ! Eternal Champion on the other hand plays a fast paced brand of epic heavy/power metal not altogether dissimilar from the the heydays of Mark Shelton's beloved project and the aforementioned Slough Feg.

Yeah, they opened for Manilla Road for their
first show! Epic as fuck!
Their lyrical themes are awesome and they're what you're expecting from an epic metal band, it's all about Howard and Moorcock here and that's toally fine with me. It's always fun to hear about Elric and it's never getting old. Both songs are your standard 4 minutes and it works well. There's nice leads and a rich musical background that can recall the European epic scene with their Doomsword and company. The songs are very good but they feel incomplete, they could be at least 2 minutes longer without losing any of their punchy attitude. In fact, that's what the band is intending to do based on an interview I read and that's certainly got me excited as I usually prefer the longer songs.

There's cool leads such as the one in the second track but the songs could be even more intricate and complex while keeping the feel of epicness. It's not very atmosheric and it could be fleshed out. Nevertheless, this band took me by surprise and I wasn't expecting grand things and even though they're still at the first stage of their evolution, the future is promising. The songwriting, effective and without flourish, is captivating and catchy but leaves a ''gimme more'' taste in my mouth. I'll anxiously wait for a full length from these guys. 

Listen to the 2 songs on Youtube!

The tape is sold out, I think but a a 7'' will be out soon too !

Tuesday, 18 June 2013

Jex Thoth - Blood Moon Rise | 75%

The awesome artwork created by Sami Hynninen, former leader
of Reverend Bizarre.

"Hey, I like that!" - my mom

Doom metal is a dark land, often nourished by sorrow and obscure fantasies, Jex Thoth, a member of this world is a fairy with cutesy wings living with her fellow creatures. While bright like a candle in a somber room and spreading some magic powder everywhere, the little fairy got a limited charm and you can, after some effort, see right through her bubbly eyes.

Jex Thoth's sophomore album will please the fans of the first release for sure. I always been a bit ambivalent towards the band, if we can even call them a band, it's all about Jessica Thoth anyway, she changed the whole lineup for ''Blood Moon Rise''. I guess marrying the guitarist was not a good idea for the long run. For what it is, it's as good as the self titled. What is it though ? It's mum doom, a genre coined by my fellow reviewer Caspian. It's encompassing many of the more trendy influences used by the modern doomsters, be it pejorative or not, it's for you to judge. I guess it's a sister term for ''dad rock''. The album, more rock than metal, is totally centered around miss Thoth's vocals and that's definitely a good thing since she's deliberately the main asset. It's so vocally centered that it sounds like it was composed by Jessica in her shower and the songs were transposed into the studio afterwards, that's probably why it still smells like shampoo. I have no idea why they still try to play metal though and except the vocals, the music is quite underwhelming. They try to mix the savory elements of psychedelic, they succeed at times such as in Ehjä, probably their best song ever. And I admit the vocals are very damn good, it's still not making this an awesome album, because you know, riffs are important and there's not many actual riffs here. It's all about atmosphere and they certainly know how to create some emotional moments and it works, but it's a bit of a facade for me.

Ok ok, calm down, it's not a bad album by any means and if you like the current occult rock scene, this will definitely please you. I personally like bands like Graveyard, Jess and the Ancient ones or Year of the Goat but these are way way groovier and they have a good cohesion between riffs and atmosphere  While they have a good vocal approach, they can grow elsewhere as well. Jex Thoth is encompassing what is trendy in the doom world for the better or the worse. I mean, a big part of the image of the band is their leader, a good looking woman, it seems a bit shallow and it's not something I fully support.

Jessica's vocals are no less than amazing and the production is better than on the debut, more atmospheric and a bit less fuzzy. I still think the riffs could be tighter and heavier though. It's very catchy and accessible and the vocal lines are enjoyable and well written. Nevertheless, I think it's a bit overwhelming at times, it's like if the emotions were so in your face all the time that it becomes redundant. Jex is the focus of course and she fits with her music, she wrote all the album by herself and I think that's showing her limits as a songwriter. While she's talented, it lacks a very good musician/songwriter to go with her vocals. It's a good album because of her vocals and it's not a great one also because of her. The songs are mostly slow and the guitars are often in the background. It's not trying to be heavy and it's succeeding at being a smooth, pleasing album to listen to that will please most psych rock and doom fans who have no problems with a modern appropriation of old stuff. I guess I was expecting something else, something more driven by riffs and I don't really know why but I wasn't able to enjoy the album that much.

Despite my criticisms , Blood Moon Rise is a fine album, If you're looking for some music to study or even make love to, I guess it's an apt choice. I feel it could have more musicality and substance but it's good for what it is nevertheless. It's pretty safe, atmospheric psychedelic doomy rock with a knack for good sexy vocals and pure emotion. If you want Sabbathesque and groovy riffs, look elsewhere, not at the new Black Sabbath though since this has a rotten archaic smell !

Sunday, 2 June 2013

Cauchemar - Tenebrario (2013) | 85%

A pact inked in blood
Here it is, the first full length album of Cauchemar after a long trip all over the world for the doom amigos. While there's 3 years between their debut EP ''La Vierge Noire'' and ''Tenebrario'' not a lot of things changed in their sound but they managed to fix most of the little defaults I thought their first release had. Cauchemar is actually a good version of the old school Québécois band Trop Féross (they're worth a look if you want to laugh!) as they're relying on a simplistic to the point approach and an unorthodox woman at the mic. The most important thing about the band is the total chemistry between the vocals and the riffs probably due to the fact Annick and François are a married couple in everyday's life. I was glad to hear the new album and I must thank the band for their friendship and the opportunity to write a review!

A complaint I heard was Annick's vocals. While I enjoy them, I reckon they're an acquired taste. They're much better than on the debut too, they're more adapted to the songwriting and her chops are better overall. Still, I think they're more enjoyable live as Annick has a lot of charisma and an aptness at theatricality. I can't wait to see them for the third time at Wings of Metal with Manilla Road, Satan and Midnight among others. Her vocals are well served by the catchy vocal lines, these were a strength of La Vierge Noire. Songs like ''Magie Noire'' or ''Les Ailes de la Mort'' had very catchy choruses and it's still the case here such as in ''D'Encre et de Sang''. She really managed to move me in ''Le Fantôme'' (one of the standout tracks) and in the dreamlike acoustic title track placed at the end of the album. There's some parts that doesn't work for me such as the chorus for ''Tête de Mort'' but it's still an improvement. While there's a clear NWOBHM influence here, she doesn't have the range of the great singers of the genre, she's more like a Terry Jones. I'm obviously not saying the singer of Pagan Altar has no range but his place at the helm is similar. Both are writing great lyrics with a total understanding of the music's atmosphere. I know she's a big fan of the mythical British horde but she's also a fan of Paul Chain, an influence on the track ''Trois Mondes''. The influence of the Italian doom scene is present but not thorougly, perhaps more in feel than in reality. I wish the psychedelic doom sound was more present in ''Tenebrario'' but knowing François, the sound is compromising between the classic rock and traditional doom taste of the guitarist (for example, Trouble and Pentragram) and Annick's darker and occult doom border-lining on black metal. Although some of the vocals can be hit and miss, it's really a daring task to compose metal in French especially the kind with clean and understandable vocals. Not a lot of traditional metal bands were really successful at Molière's language. ADX, Sortilège, Vulcain or Killers were able to but it's always been somewhat weird and not completely natural for many others. I think Cauchemar created a sound of their own and that, since their EP and even though this album is very good, I don't think their evolution is complete. There's hints to a somewhat more grandiose and developped sound in some of the songs and this could definitely lead to a more intricate songwriting.

To complete their sound recipe, there's good and very rockish riffs and the album is very cohesive regardless of the different tempos (mid paced to a bit faster, I guess?). It's not a slow band in any ways. It rarely even stops to have blistering Victor Griffinesque solos and it doesn't quite need to most of the time. There's no solos in Cauchemar (except the slow mournful solo in "Trois Mondes") but there's cool leads such as the one in "Salamandre". Nevertheless, I wish some songs had more leads and solos but the fact that the riffs are the main focus of the band leaves not a lot of place to intervene and it would probably be harmful to the rhythmn. It's fast and I think they could even take their time and develop some of the slower facets of their formula but that's my opinion, of course ! The album is rather short and there's nothing wasted, some songs could easily be six or seven minutes, they always were a tight band and I reckon they do that well. Their formula still really works though and for a first full length album, they took their sound further with an attention to details and some safe but present innovation.

The presence of a new bassist (Andrés Arango) is also noticeable, the bass was played by Annick on the EP and it was lackluster to say the least. It's still not sufficient to fully support the earthy and rocky riffs but there's some bass licks which are welcomed. The drums are professional albeit boring and safe, they lack power as well but that's more a symptom of the production that overpowers the guitars a bit too much. It's still a good mix though, it's clean, natural and has a fun ''do it yourself'' feel. The vocals are placed carefully behind the music as it's not the main asset of the band and this gives a pleasant cavernous and almost religious to Annick's voice. The guitars are heavier than on the EP as well but it's still pretty vintage and far from the extreme sound found in doom and stoner. Their 2010 debut still had a good production so the step is not very drastic. It has the doom spirit that I like, nothing is complicated and nothing is forced

As a big doomster, it's always a joy to hear a local band exploring the genre you like. They sail against the current in the Québec/Ontario metal scene populated mostly by death and black metal bands. There's a certain new found diversification these days with bands like Chthe'ilist or Beast Within. The scene has always been somewhat varied but technical/progressive bands are what Québec is known for since Voivod and a return to the basis of metal is appreciated, be it doom or anything else.

I must also salute the fact that their lyrics were once again written in French. in An artistic decision like that necessitates a lot of confidence and balls. Annick is the metal queen of Montréal (sorry Morrigan!) and she's definitely not afraid of anything and she's uncompromising. I like that it's a worldwide doom phenomenon with bands like Ocean Chief (Sweden) or Reino Ermitaño (Peru) who are singing in their mother tongue. It adds a certain vernacular charm to the music and it's easier to relate for the local fans of these bands. It's fun for me to sing some doom metal in my mother tongue, it's a good feeling . Their lyrics are good too, rooted in occultism and darkness while still being original and diverse. Cauchemar is quite unique in the small Canadian doom scene. They're not as psychedelic as Blood Ceremony and not as rooted in traditionalism and epicness as Funeral Circle, they play their cards well and they're are an hard working band with a lot of honesty both in their sound and their attitude.

I really liked ''Tenebrario'', it's a good first album for Cauchemar and it places them in a nice position in the doom world. Their label (Nuclear War Now !) doesn't seem to think they're a priority as there's some problems and delays with the release of the album and it's a damn shame. They're the sole traditional band on the black/death label and it always seemed weird to me. Nevertheless, I'm glad to follow the band through its evolution and even though I'd like them to push the boundaries further and to be a bit more epic, I'd gladly take another album like that. Long live the golden couple of Canadian doom.

The vinyl is available on Nuclear War Now!, the CD will follow soon!