Tuesday, January 31, 2017


Kreator

Gods of Violence





Kreator is a band that’s been around since the early 80’s and they’ve been praised consistently for being one of the greatest thrash bands in metal history, going on to be considered one of the Big Three of German Thrash along with Destruction and Sodom.  Over the years, their style had changed from time to time but they’ve always brought the heavy, and since the new century, they have released a series of unfailingly great albums.  Now they have brought their latest creation to the table, so let’s take a look…

Opening track is “Apocalypticon” and it really is a simple instrumental introduction/build up to carry you into the album proper.  This thing is filled with martial drums, melodic guitar, and epic keyboards that set the template for what you’re going to get.  This could easily be called Power Metal and that description would be fair.  But Kreator always make sure to slam it into overdrive, and they do so with the next track.

“World War Now” rages in on a series of thrash riffs, plowing forward, attacking on all gears.  Mille Petrozza (founder, vocalist, guitarist) rips into his patented, authoritative and powerful vocals, unleashing a torrent of politically-charged lyrics (something that will repeat itself countless times throughout this record).  The song charges along until about two minutes in where it slows to a rumble of drums and melodic leads, tumbling into a chant-along section, bringing more of that Power Metal feel back in.  After this, it continues down the melodic path until it tears into a series of blistering leads.  Good, good stuff.

A tolling bell of doom brings in “Satan is Real,” probably the best track on the record.  Melodic twin guitar slides us further in until the crushing riffs about twenty-five seconds in.  This song is what Kreator does to perfection as a band:  lots of melody, lots of thrash, commanding vocals, anthemic chorus.  This is Kreator firing on all cylinders and my Satan is it sweet on the ears.



Pure, crushing assault comes next with “Totalitarian Terror,” an all-out thrasher.  Blasting right along, Mille spits lyrics about revolution and resistance to radical lies and governments.  This is a song ripped straight from the headlines, possibly Mille’s reaction to the far-right winning seats of government around Europe and the U.S., but that’s just my interpretation.  In any case, this is a neck-breaker, so don’t approach it without knowing you’ll soon be in the pit, mixing it up.  Oh, and there’s an amazing anthemic chorus in this one, too.

“Gods of Violence” has one of those acoustic openers thrash bands loved to do in the mid-80’s, a little sitar thrown in for good measure, before the Maiden leads spring up along with the sing-along chorus.  Then its thrash, baby, thrash, Kreator just kicking ass for a fourth song in a row, on a roll, formidable and undeniable.  They’ve got this sound and style perfected, and yet it doesn’t feel machine-like, but fresh and full of energy.



Next song “Army of Storms” continues the chug, rushing right along, mixing the Maiden with the thrash to the point of righteousness.  Relentless pummeling, combined with a mix of thrash and melody, carry the listener “beyond the blood red horizons.”  This is a galloping horse with flared nostrils, spitting steam and fire. 

“Hail to the Hordes” could easily fit on an Amon Amarth album since it’s all Viking power and grit.  This is a nice change in tempo to keep the running order fresh, Kreator here experimenting just a tad to keep themselves honest.

“Lion With Eagle Wings” brings the furor down with a renaissance-like guitar opening (and is that a glockenspiel chiming behind the guitar?), pulling you in, making you think this might be a moment to catch your breath, but nope.  Seconds later its racing along, sleek and strong, if a bit repetitive in relation to what came before it. 

Drums and chug are what “Fallen Brother” is made of.  A more mid-tempo stab at the heart, this one keeps it simple, although that’s not to its detriment.  And yes, you’ll get some more melodic twin guitars, but the damned drumming is really impressive in this song.  What we have here is a third song in a row that could be considered filler but on any other album would be considered killer.  Which category they fit in is up to the mood of the listener.

“Side by Side” is more of the same, really:  heavy, thrashy, melodic, frantic.  Nothing wrong with this song but like the three that proceeded it, nothing remarkable, either. 

“Death Becomes My Light” is the final track and we find Kreator doing something a bit different here.  It opens like a Maiden song, atmospheric, melodic, and full of drama.  Mille pulls back on the grit and spit and sings more on this track and it’s effective.  There’s a bit of prog here, even though the guitars do kick in, and we get some virtuous melodic twin guitar slinging.  This song more than anything resembles Maiden through and through, minus the soaring vocals.  Gallop, gall, and epic greatness carry this one along.  More thrash bands should do this, I think, mix in the twin leads with the crunch; it makes an effective team of light and shade, giving the song dynamics you don’t normally find on thrashier efforts.  This is an excellent end to an excellent album

Gods of Violence is a great record, Kreator returning with a fantastic collection of tunes and riffs.  It does get a bit samey-sounding at times, but the overall crush carries it through.  This is an early contender for album of the year, and easily bests the new efforts of the Big Name American thrash bands that have put out new albums over the last year and a half. 




Friday, December 30, 2016

My Metal Top Five countdown for 2016 continues.  It's been a good year for metal but then again, nearly every year is good for the greatest music known to man.  Keep in mind that my picks are based not on what I think are the "best" albums of the year, but the ones I loved the most.  My only criteria was how much I listened to it as compared to other albums.  These Five are the ones that got the most play.

Enjoy!



One:
Blood Ceremony
Lord of Misrule





And here it is, unexpected to most, but not really to me, the number one album of the year, Blood Ceremony’s Lord of Misrule.  This is a band I have great fondness and affection for, and their last record, The Eldritch Dark, was my number one pick for 2013, so this should come as no surprise.  It is also the least-heavy of all my list.

The digital version was available in February and I immediately downloaded and listened.  It didn’t impress me much.  Oh, it was good, and professional, but nothing really stuck with me.  And that was okay, because every album they’ve ever released has been like this.  This band is the definition of a “grower” listen because it takes several spins.  For me, it clicked when I got the vinyl, sat down with the lyrics, and cranked the stereo.

The album opens with a haunting guitar line, creeping background organ, a slight drum clack, and then it roars in, all flutes, riffs, bass, and drums.  “The Devil’s Widow” picks up pace and rocks, Alia O’Brien’s vocals ethereal and powerful all at once.  Guitarist Sean Kennedy propels the whole thing along with powerful chunks.  The story of the song weaves its spell, rocking and rolling, old school Sabbath riffs, seering guitar solo, sliding into a flute solo.  This is great stuff, even if it takes some unpacking to appreciate.  But that’s the genius of this band.  4:40 in and the song settles into a slow vibe, dropping down to acoustic guitar, flute, and Alia’s voice.  The witchy vibe is unmistakable and, as always, seductive, giving you a moment to pause and reflect.  And then that opening repeats itself, and the riff returns, and you’re back to banging your head.

“Lorely” is pure psychedelic rock joy.  This sounds like something the Turtles might have written, if they were of the mind to wield those guitars with some crunch.  Atmospheric and playful, but all the while dark and dangerous, this is the kind of track that will get stuck in your head for days on end.  Keyboards are to the fore here, but not in some sappy way, the guitar all reverb, with some old school Witchcraft-style riffs to flesh it out.  At 2:50 it goes full psych for a moment, the sweet guitar solo reminiscent of the early 70’s.  Man, Kennedy plays with full soul. 

Next song “Rogue’s Lot” brings the riffs back, echoing their Sabbathian roots, settling into a doomy dirge.  “How do the living raise the dead?” Alia asks, and you know, instinctively, it’s with songs just like this one.  All doom until it rolls into some psych for the chorus and then back to the dirge.  Good, good stuff.

Epic album title “Lord of Misrule” follows and it may not seem like an epic at first, but those cascading riffs and the steady rhythm punch this thing into drive and it rocks along, some tasty licks accentuating the feel.  Pure occult, pure rock, and all things mighty.  Alia’s vocals are not the most powerful but they work, the thinness and fragility adding to the overall effect.  Which isn’t to say she can’t sing or bring the power, it’s just different than someone who belts out a song.  She lives in it, giving it whatever it needs.  Moody is a word that keeps coming up with this record and moody this song is.  A blood-red dusk is settling over the land, and the feast is turning from revelry to something decidedly more dangerous.

“Half Moon Street” is the next song and was the one I took the longest to warm to.  Now it is my favorite.  An almost jaunty riff starts the proceedings, the flute comes in, levelling the sound, smoothing it out, and Alia begins the tale of weird mysticism.  This song is swirling fog around a sputtering gaslight lamp, tall brick buildings, ancient tomes, old men meeting, and treachery.  “But I’m in league with something older” tells the truth about this song and the band.  There is a sly undercurrent of ancient occultism here and you either get into it and love it or it passes right by and you don’t care.  For me, it works.

Another slow, moody (there’s that word again) piece comes next.  Psychedelic (did I mention this album has a lot of those flourishes?) and quiet, “The Weird of Finistere” builds its weird cadence, seducing you quietly as it worms into your brain.  By the end you’re chanting along, not quite sure why you’re enjoying it so damned much.  This one doesn’t rock, but it rolls.

“Flower Phantoms” returns to that pure 60’s psych rock sound.  If you close your eyes, you can picture the girls bopping along in mini-dresses, all decked in out pastel flower-power groove.  Almost pure pop, you might wonder where all the hard rock and metal has gone but you won’t care.  It’s so pretty it’s hard to deny.  And catchy.  There’s nothing sell-out about it; this is a band exploring its roots.  And that guitar solo…

Next to last song “Old Fires” brings back the swagger, a riff that makes you want to cry, punching your face as this one rollicks along.  This song is joyous dancing around a bonfire, gone skyclad, all muscle and grit, light and shadow.  2:25 in settles into a drop down organ groove, the drums and bass remarkable, doing what they do the entire album, giving a solid, rocking backdrop.  Kennedy blazes in with his best solo yet, the power of it building and building and building, sweeping you along until…in comes the opening riff, bludgeoning in its polite way, the song rocking out all over again.  Man, this is great stuff, and really does compete with Half Moon Street as my favorite track.  Pure Blood Ceremony.

“Things Present, Things Past,” the final song, is a ballad.  Acoustic guitars bring this Wicker Man to life, bits of organ underlying the thing, bass the foundation, drums shuffling, flute accenting.  Again, Blood Ceremony, at its purest.  The druids sing, the maidens dance.  3:15, the song shifts slightly, the flute taking us on a deeper journey, bodies swaying by the campfire, as ancient spirits fly around, filling the air with their phantom tales.  The song fades off and the grin creeps across your face as it comes back, all Beatles-esque for a second.  This is a perfect way to end a nearly perfect record.

Don’t come into this one expecting furious thrash or cold black metal.  Come into it expecting mood and texture and yes, riffs and flutes (hey, that’s what they do).  Let it wash over you.  Soon its infectious songs will seduce you, like any great music does.


Note:  I could not find a full album stream, so here are some vids I pulled.
















    


I limited myself to writing about five albums because I didn't want to spend all my time filling out a top ten and do it as thoroughly as I thought I needed.  However, I did have some records that came close to making that Top Five, and I decided to share them with you, including a few thoughts on each.

So here is your Other Five, in alphabetical order:

Aborted
Retrogore



Pure death metal goodness, this one almost, almost made it into the Top Five.  I really struggled between this and the Darkthrone.  This album rages from beginning to end.  Get on it.




Eerie
Eerie


Desolate, distant, soul-scraping horror, with haunting riffs and drums and vocals that just kind of own you once the album starts, this is damned good stuff.  Do not miss out.

(Could not find any links, so you're on your own, but the search is worth it)



Electric Citizen
Higher Time


Pure riff n' roll, bringing things back to the Sabbath, adding plenty of psych, these guys are a dirty secret the rest of the world needs to know about.  Back to the essence of what metal and hard rock are all about.




Gojira
Magma


Some might find this controversial, but I think this is their best record.  It's varied, heavy, but with just enough light to give it some sparkle.  But don't be fooled, this is dark stuff, and like I said, heavy.



Testament
Brotherhood of the Snake


Their best album?  Maybe.  It's right up there, and certainly the best thrash album of the year (sorry, Metalli-fans).  Dense, heavy, that unbelievable rhythm section and the guitars and the vocals...Damnit, just go listen and enjoy!
















Thursday, December 29, 2016

My Metal Top Five countdown for 2016 continues.  It's been a good year for metal but then again, nearly every year is good for the greatest music known to man.  Keep in mind that my picks are based not on what I think are the "best" albums of the year, but the ones I loved the most.  My only criteria was how much I listened to it as compared to other albums.  These Five are the ones that got the most play.

Enjoy!




Two:
Amon Amarth
Jomsviking


Here is a band I have loved for a long time but have fallen out of my favor somewhat over the last ten years.  Since the Odin on Our Side album, I feel like Amon Amarth have veered too much into the melodic realm and too far from their death metal roots.  While there are many great songs on the ensuing records, they don’t stick with me as much as the older stuff.  Plus, there is the trap of repeating yourself too often; Amon Amarth are kind of a one trick pony, and there’s nothing wrong with that.  Many bands can be successful carrying on like they always have (Motorhead, Slayer, etc.) but most get into a rut and cannot escape it.  Maybe this is why they wandered a bit from their home into melodic lands full of brighter guitar harmonies and “cleaner” vocals.  In any case, I didn’t mind, I just didn’t like it as much as the older music.  And then they came back with this amazing record.

Right away they are in your face, pummeling drums, twin harmonic leads, like a heavier Maiden or Lizzy, and the bass rumbles and the song drops and in comes Johan Hegg with that powerful vocal of his, and you know you’re in for a treat.  Yes, “First Kill,” the first song on the record, is much like their last few albums, all blazing, bright melodies, but there’s an urgency here that they lacked on some of those other recordings.  We are reminded that Amon Amarth aren’t a death metal band anymore, but something a shade south (of heaven) of power metal.  The vocals keep it in line, really, but as the album continues, the riffs come on stronger, deeper, from a guttural place Amon Amarth haven’t visited in some time.

“Wanderer” starts melodic, almost like a song off Ride the Lightning, and then the riffs dig in and this is the first inkling that things are going to be a bit different with this album.  It’s still not death metal, and that’s fine, but it is something closer, and it bites but never loses the melody.  A mid-paced affair, this satisfies on many levels, and ends with a narration from Hegg that sounds like King Fowley, which brings a smile to the face.

Third song, “On a Sea of Blood” goes right for the riffs at the front end, sliding into some melodic harmony (Amon Amarth are masters of this; just amazing).  Hegg brings the pain and we’re moving along, the song flowing faster than mead after a hunt.  The chorus here is perfect Amon Amarth, you can chant along but it’s not catchy in an obnoxious way (as I found some of the songs on, say, Twilight of the Thunder God).  Riffs dig in again and Hegg’s voice drops.  Ah, that rumble.  Good stuff.

“One Man Against All” goes back to the melodic opening but then it does a funny thing about 16 seconds in; that melody starts to chug a bit more, and it’s so pleasing to the ear.  Hegg carries us along with the story (this is a concept record, telling a story from beginning to end, of a Viking warrior outcast from his home, journeying out into the world, finding a new home, and coming back for the woman he loves) as we reach one of the catchiest choruses Amon Amarth have ever recorded.  And it could be of the annoying kind if it wasn’t so damned cool, and if those massive riffs didn’t follow it.  When I say massive, I mean like ocean waves crashing against the hull of a small boat.  If you’re not careful, you’ll get capsized.

Next song “Raise Your Horns” is just straight up metal, a mid-paced affair right from the Accept playbook.  Yeah, it’s “commercial,” as much as such things like this can be called commercial, and sure, it’s a stadium sing-along, but so what?  These guys have made this thing their own, and you can either enjoy it or get lost.  The video for this song is pretty incredible, too.

“The Way of Vikings” opens with stirring guitar harmonies that make me feel like I’m Conan, staring into the rising sun, about to ride off into adventure.  The drums come rumbling and bring with them the riffs and Hegg’s guttural growls.  Again, this is what Amon Amarth do so well, welding melody with heft and throwing in some epic atmosphere to go along with it.  This is truly the way of the Vikings.

A semi-narrated line starts the next song, “At Dawn’s First Light” and then we’re off.  This is a faster song, riding through the forest on a steed breathing fire, carrying us to a melodic chorus but doing so by bludgeoning through the underbrush, first.  This one will trample you, if you’re not careful.

An atmospheric beginning, chiming guitars washing over the ears, waves of the ocean crashing to shore, ushers in the mid-paced chug of “One Thousand Burning Arrows.”  Hegg goes low here.  A slow-burn epic, this one, it will probably be looked over by most fans, but this is vintage Amon Amarth, moody and grim, the ashes of the fallen dead filling the air with a suffocating smoke.

“Vengeance is Mine” swaggers in on a spoken verse followed by ripping guitars and we’re galloping again, in all the right ways, plenty of melody but also plenty of heft and gravity.  Like so much of the rest of this record, this melds the two worlds of Amon Amarth in a perfect way.  They’re on fire.  And then the magnificent chorus comes in about 1:13 into the song and nothing can stop the smile that’s creeping across your face at this point.

The next to last song, “A Dream that Cannot Be” does something Amon Amarth have never done before:  It’s a duet.  Doro Pesch plays the part of the narrator’s lost love and man, she just nails it.  This comes across as kind of hokey at first (like what are these guys trying to do?), but the emotional power of the narrative takes over and the tragic outcome is remarkable (no spoilers here).  The song works, but really only in the context of the story the album is telling.  I’m not sure if this is an experiment they should repeat, but again, they make it happen, despite the long odds. 

Final song brings the story and the album to a close.  Melodic, ringing notes play an almost circular pattern to lead us into the meat of the epic “Back on Northern Shores.”  This song kind of sums the whole thing up, plenty of melody, plenty of riffing, and a nice touch of grand chorusing.  And as another Amon Amarth album ends, we stand at the shore and watch it sail into the sunset, smiles all around.

An epic, energized return to form for an amazing band that is improbably popular, Jomsviking brings us metal, pure and furious and glorious.  Raise your horns!











Wednesday, December 28, 2016

My Metal Top Five countdown for 2016 continues.  It's been a good year for metal but then again, nearly every year is good for the greatest music known to man.  Keep in mind that my picks are based not on what I think are the "best" albums of the year, but the ones I loved the most.  My only criteria was how much I listened to it as compared to other albums.  These Five are the ones that got the most play.

Enjoy!



Three:
World Gone Mad
Suicidal Tendencies



If you think you’re surprised to see this album on my best of the year top five, you cannot possibly more shocked than I am.  I go way back with this band, to the late 80’s, and I have loved them ever since.  But for me, the band kind of ended after Art of Rebellion.  They’ve had many releases since then, but I never could get into any of them.  When I heard they had a new album out this year, I thought, for nostalgia’s sake, I’d put it on and give it a try.

Wow.

It’s good, real good, and after the first listen I knew it was an instant classic that could stand right up with their older stuff.

The album opens with a drum beat by new drummer Dave Lombardo (yes him) and then a bass riff by new bassist Ra Diaz.  Talk about some chesty confidence.  Then the riffs come buzzsawing in and next thing you know you’re in the middle of the pit wondering what just happened.  “Clap Like Ozzy” is a strange song lyrically but it gets the point across:  this is about fun, about getting lost in life, living for every good thing that motivates you, and knocking down anything that gets in your way.  While the song plays, I cannot get the picture of Ozzy, clapping and grinning while whatever band he’s in blazes away behind him.  That’s how to live life.  And this song can usher you right into that feeling with its pulverizing thrash and moshable moments.

“The New Degeneration” rides in on a documentary sample and a mid-paced riff that makes you bob your head and grin with its old school control and power.  Guitarists Dean Pleasants and Jeff Pogan know how to deliver, and they do so over and over again through the whole record.  2:36 in and the song picks up that patented thrash gallop that sweeps you along and sends you spinning into a frenzy. 

Third song “Living for Life” begins with a loungy bass and swirling guitar weirdness that calls to mind 80’s ST as Mike Muir preaches with an almost psychedelic furor.  And about a minute in, the slight pause, the holding of the breath while you wait for the hardcore/metal to kick in.  And kick it does.  Lombardo seems to be having the time of his life on this record and this song is a great example of it, with lots of his little fills bringing the noise as only he can.  By the end the song circles back into itself and you’re happy for the respite, just so you can catch your breath.

Melodic guitars open “Get Your Fight On!” as old-school ST as a song can get.  Muir singing before sliding into his patented evangelization as the band warms up to life behind him.  The song slowly builds momentum until it is ready to pop and when it pops, bang!  Riff, riff, riff and man you’re sliding along, banging your head, letting the goodness of the metal wash over you.  If you like How Will I Laugh Tomorrow era ST, you’ll love this song.  Oh, and sweet bass. 

Snarling “World Gone Mad” comes next.  This may be the best song on the album.  Another sinister, slow start builds to the boiling point, Muir’s angry lyrics leading us into the footstomping, neckwrecking riff that tears our heads off.  Vintage metal.  Vintage, epic, awesome metal. 

“Happy Never After” starts right away with the guitars, dips down into a touch of psychedelia and then comes back up to the surface with another rock-hard, steady riff that carries you along with a pummeling authority you don’t hear much these days.  This is steady as she goes, all the way to the end, keeping your head banging, the drums pushing it along, never in a rush, never worried about a thing. 

And then we come to another epic.  “One Finger Salute” has that patented build up that ST is so good at.  Muir brings the truth “The worst is coming yet” he sings, “but you know we’ll be waiting for it.” And then a hardcore moshpit whirling blast blows you over and you’re swept up into the rebellion, the defiance, and it feels so good.  And from there it just carries on, reminding you what a potent song can do, moving your feet, your head, your body, your mind, and your spirit.  “We stand in contempt, one finger salute.”  Oh, yeah.  Ripping guitar solos, drop down bass sass, a breakdown that makes you want to stomp around the room, this one has it all.

“Damage Control” is another mid-paced effort that lets you catch your breath, but not for long.  About 1:25 in, the bass takes over and Muir starts up a chant that leads into the song picking up.  At this point it’s all so effortless and excellent you wonder why this band isn’t at the top of the charts.  Firing.  On.  All.  Cylinders.

“The Struggle is Real” is the last of the rockers on the record.  It blasts right out of the gate, thrash and hardcore melting into one, galloping drum beats propelling this thing forward at a dangerous pace.  Muir brings it, Lombardo brings it, hell, they all bring it. 

The last two songs are “Still Dying to Live” and “This World” are ballads, and by this point, soaked in sweat, you need these two to bring you back down to earth.  Muir sings, laying his heart on the line, like he does in every damned song he’s ever recorded, whether it’s punk, metal, a hybrid, or a ballad.  Every hardcore frontman from the 80’s on owe their existence to this man and the way he handles his business on stage and on album.  These two songs are amazing and could easily be overlooked after the proceeding fury.  But don’t pass them up.  There’s more passion here than in just about every popular song recorded in the last year.

World Gone Mad is a raging return to form but more than that, it’s no nostalgia trip.  It blazes and rocks just as hard as any new work around today.  Do not miss this if you like your metal and anger and fervor straight up.   




 
My Metal Top Five countdown for 2016 continues.  It's been a good year for metal but then again, nearly every year is good for the greatest music known to man.  Keep in mind that my picks are based not on what I think are the "best" albums of the year, but the ones I loved the most.  My only criteria was how much I listened to it as compared to other albums.  These Five are the ones that got the most play.

Enjoy!


Four:

Abbath






Boy, 2016 sure roared in.  We got new releases from Anthrax (a great album), Witchcraft (a great album) and Abbath brought his new band to the fore.  Leaving Immortal, he put together a sound that was an amalgamation of Immortal and his “I” project, a lethal dose of black n’ roll and black metal that was just as frigid and impaling as anything he’s done in the past.  Right out of the gates of the New Year, we got a classic.

“To War” starts with some boots marching in the snow and that crunch is replaced by a massive guitar crunch that bludgeons and then speeds up, a tank warming up and cresting a hill, crushing all before it.  The drums rumble and threaten, tribal and dirty, propelling this damned thing along.  A bit of the old black metal magic rears its head 1:33 and we’re off!  Abbath’s vocals may not be for all, but they sure work for me.  His deathly croak sounding just as urgent as ever.  This song sets the tone for what is to come. 

“Winter Bane” comes next, and it’s a sheer joy to behold.  Heavy, driving, with just an amazing riff come 40 seconds in.  This is what Abbath does better than anyone on the planet right now, this song right here.  It contains several movements, all heavy as hell, all blackened and crusted and yet thoroughly listenable and melodic in its own way.  The song lumbers and lurches forward, carrying us on a chaotic tide of wild drumming and wanton riffs, with a nice little bass fill 2:10 in.  If your head doesn’t bob to this one, you’re not a fan of metal.  Right at 5 minutes the song drops down, goes kinda acoustic for a bit, giving us some light for the shade, and then it picks up and just thumps, man, riffing, hair flying, slow and steady.  It pops up from there and cruises, Abbath giving a weird, strained vocal that adds to the overall melody. 

Third song “Ashes of the Damned” thrashes right out, pummeling, blackened metal greeting you with a swaggering grin.  This song is a series of fast punches to the face, punctuated by the (keyboard?) horn poke that goes with each uttered word of the chorus/song title.  It settles into a groove 1:30 in, giving us a few seconds to catch our breaths before rising to clobber once more.   

Reverberating drums and crusty riffs bring us into “Ocean of Wounds,” a mid-paced affair that grinds along, akin to a trek up the side of a mountain on a winding path that is perfectly cut so as to afford a steady march to the summit.  This is moody black n’ roll, atmospheric and firm, a cold resoluteness that fades into wind and rain.

Riff, riff, riff, comes next, brutal and dirty, sliding from clean to black for the song “Count the Dead.”  This is again mid-paced but more fiery, less mesmerizing and repetitive, turning black 1:55 in, with blast beats and that sweet black metal guitar riffing.  Abbath’s vocal exhorts us along, this thing taking on an epic feel, a bit of Bathory in there, although I couldn’t name a riff or chord to prove it. 

“Fenrir Hunts” is just brutal.  It blasts right on into your ears and assaults, machine gun drumming, black metal riffing, patented Abbath growls, this one is kind of mean but in a good way.  Again, the joy that permeates from these tracks are infectious without once being poppy or boppy.  This is a fist-pumper, a grit your teeth and whip that hair around affair that’s at once serious as hell and joyous as a first kiss.  This song is the most Immortal of them all.

Melodic, echoey chords and driving drums open “Root of the Mountain,” leading to a hook that’s sweet and satisfying.  This one slows it down a bit, leaving the listener to catch his breath, and then it turns right around and swings in a way that Satyricon have mastered on their last few records.  This song is just as apt to make you turn your head left to right and back again as it is to bang it and that’s because “swing” is the operative word here, until about 2:25, and then it becomes a straight up headbanger, with some epic bass going on in there.  It still swings, but this time instead of from side to side, it’s going forward.

Final track “Eternal” lets you know right away that this record isn’t going to just fade away, it’s going to rip your face off.  Heavy, violent, almost purely black, this one sends you home crying like the bully it is.  But even so, you smile, nursing your split lip, because you know you’ve been in a good fight and it was well-worth it. 

Abbath has crafted maybe the funnest grim album of the year.  The joy in the playing, in the marching, triumphant return to the world stage, is infectious.  It’s hard to listen to this record and smile, despite how dark and epic it is.  This is why metal is so dynamic and amazing and if you can’t enjoy this, you can’t enjoy metal. 

A simple, elegant, powerful statement of intent. 










 







 



Tuesday, December 27, 2016

And here begins my Metal Top Five countdown for 2016.  It's been a good year for metal but then again, nearly every year is good for the greatest music known to man.  Keep in mind that my picks are based not on what I think are the "best" albums of the year, but the ones I loved the most.  My only criteria was how much I listened to it as compared to other albums.  These Five are the ones that got the most play.

Enjoy!


Number Five:

Arctic Thunder
by
Darkthrone



It opens with a peal of guitar squeal and then bashes you on the head with a relentless, primal riff and drum pattern that rumbles forward and reminds you just why you love Celtic Frost and the venomous roots of black metal.  And then the vocals come in, gurgling like the cries of a corpse brought back to life.  The pace suddenly picks up, the riffing faster, the beat no longer lurching but running at you like a deranged killer with blood on his mind.  And such is opening track Tundra Leach, and such is this album.  Every time you think you’re safe, you find out you’re not.  This is the gift of Darkthrone; they never settle and they always go for the throat.  3:20 in and the beat changes yet again, grinding gears back into a pummel.  The killer has caught you, you’re in his clutches now, and he mercilessly beats you over the head with his hammering riffs.

Burial Bliss rolls in next, a colliding eruption of fast riffs and drum beats, closer to punk with its venomous attack.  This one is all business, all forward momentum, slowing only slightly at the 3:00 mark.  Slightly.

As the bliss fades out, Boreal Fiends throbs into life, slow, haunting notes played over a singular beat, seguing into a buzzsaw riff just as the vocals roar in, disturbing the tranquil beauty the opening passage gave us.  The song drops down again for an instant, letting you catch your breath.  This is mid-tempo goodness right here, moving along at a steady, metallic pace, the crashing of the prow of a boat against the large waves it rams through.  2:35 brings us a clean vocal/chant/cry to the gods, followed by foreboding licks, some cymbal shudderings, and then a heavy, doomy drum beat.  The tortured vocals return as the song turns almost to sludge, dragging along its broken limbs through a thick marsh of mud.  At 4:20 the pace picks back up, but just middling again, with a blessed riff that slides into a smooth guitar solo so clear and crystal it almost hurts your ears.

Another rapid number, but one closer to slow thrash than anything else, comes next.  Riff follows riff, the primitive drum sound pushing this Inbred Vermin along until about a minute passes and we get some more thrashy riffing, but nothing too wild until the switch is flipped and we’re rolling along, banging our heads to the pure black n’ roll that follows.  Oh, sweet, blessed metal.  The song drops into a valley before climbing back up to mid-paced territory again and then back to trashy thrash.  It finishes in sludgy fashion, making your head bob and your eyes close.

Arctic Thunder bang to life, an old-fashioned metal number, all riffs and thud with some drumstick on cymbal stand tinks that add to the old-school feel and rhythm.  This whole thing feels like a Voivod song from the early eighties, although it sounds nothing like Voivod, if that makes sense.  It bashes along, as does many of the songs on this album, carving a valley all its own.

Epic riffs start Throw Me Through the Marshes, the drums laid back and easy.  This is another head-bobber, one that begins like proper Bathory, the band just before it turned Viking, when it was still fooling with lo-fi but dreaming bigger.  About 2:00 in and the pace picks up, the riffing more insistent, the drumming more driving.  Like many of the songs, the riffs flirt with Black Metal proper but never really go all the way, keeping the traditional metal feel just enough to make this a hybrid sound.  At 3:46 the riff changes into an almost cock-rock swagger, big and swinging, daring you to look, returning almost instantly to the epic riff from the beginning of the song. 

Deep Lake Trespass opens with the most Black Metal riffs so far, although again, they do not go all the way.  There is no out of control whirlwind, the pace picking up in more of a punk rock fashion a little less than a minute into the song.  Nocturno Culto (who handles all the vocals on this album) howls out his usual acidic lyrics here, the defiance notably stronger and meaner in this song.  There’s a little soloing towards the end as the song returns to its opening signatures before ending with a lurch.

The final song, The Wyoming Distance, starts with a nice riff and the rocking does not stop there.  This is the most primitive of all the songs on the album.  You can feel the cymbals as they crash and the muted thump of the drums as if you’re in the same room with them.  Like the rest of the album, this sounds “live,” with no studio trickery, just the band in there, bashing it out, sweating and bleeding over their art.  The song ends with a crash of feedback and quiet studio chatter, like Nocturno and Fenriz said “screw it, we’re done.”  And then that’s it.

Everything is back to basics on this album, and that’s not an insult or to say it’s simple.  Darkthrone seem more determined with each new record to get to the essence of all that is dark and threatening about metal.  Yes, this is more “black metal” than some of their recent stuff, but the Motorhead influence is still just as important as the Celtic Frost or the Bathory.  It’s actually a perfect summation of their career, minus one balls-out epic pure Black Metal number.  They don’t do anything new with this record, but they don’t need to.  They write great songs and perform them.  The sound is warm and live and just like the obscure eighties band they named the record after, it feels like something you could have heard in that time period after Celtic Frost and before Mayhem.  In other words, it’s terrific.