Category Archives: extreme metal

God Dethroned – The World Ablaze – Album Review

God Dethroned - The World Ablaze

Artist: God Dethroned

Album Title: The World Ablaze

Label: Metal Blade Records

Date of Release: 5 May 2017

Finally! After plugging away in the music industry as a reviewer for nearly a decade and a half, I finally get to review an album by God Dethroned. It has been a long time coming, I can tell you, having been a fan ever since I wrapped my ears around the incendiary ‘Into The Lungs of Hell’, back in 2003.

It was something I feared would never happen either because in 2012, God Dethroned decided to hang up their instruments. Thankfully, the hiatus hasn’t proved to be permanent because the quintet, led by the irrepressible Henri Sattler, are back with their tenth studio release entitled ‘The World Ablaze’.

Given the hiatus, it is now some seven years since the Dutch death metal juggernaut released their last album, ‘Under The Sign of the Iron Cross’ in 2010. As such, you’d be forgiven for thinking that the stalwarts would be a little rusty or that maybe they’d lost their aggressive edge, particularly having cited burnout as a reason for their cessation. Well, you’d be forgiven but you’d also be very, very wrong. ‘The World Ablaze’ is nothing short of monstrous, yet another fine feather in the ridiculously consistent God Dethroned cap.

I will admit to being one of those who initially shared this erroneous view. Call it rampant cynicism, built up over many years in this industry. But nothing gives me greater pleasure, alongside a palpable sense of relief, to report that it is business as usual here. And business for God Dethroned is producing savage, face-melting brutality juxtaposed by a refined sense of anthemic melody and headbanging groove.

What this means of course, is that God Dethroned do not offer us much in the way of originality and don’t throw in many curveballs, even down to the lyrical content which once again pulls us into the trenches of the First World War. But, frankly, I don’t care that much because when God Dethroned are on it, they are seriously on it. There are few more satisfying sounds in extreme metal than when Henri Sattler (guitars/vocals), Michiel vd Plicht (drums), Mike Ferguson (lead guitars) and Jeroen Pomper (bass) unleash their personal brand of hell.

What I like so much about God Dethroned is that they are, without question a brutal, uncompromising death metal machine, capable of creating some of the most razor-sharp, incisive and precise extreme metal you’ll ever hear. But then, they can flick a switch and inject addictive groove or some melody. But the melodies are not understated or hidden; they are huge, anthemic, hook-laden melodies that make me grin from ear to ear. And the grooves will have you banging your head so hard that you fear your neck might break.

And yet, in spite of this, the aggression never feels like it is undermined or diluted. Instead, these moments of clarity within the brutality only serve to accentuate the heaviness of the God Dethroned offering.

GD pic 1

Take the superb ‘Annihilation Crusade’ as the perfect example. After the gloriously rousing and infectious intro instrumental ‘A Call To Arms’, ‘Annihilation Crusade’ blasts from the speakers with real venom and fury, dominated by sharp machine gun drumming and a menacing, heavy riff, interspersed by sections that intensify the track with speed and ferocity. A touch of groove overlaid with some nice lead guitar work then enters the fray as the song feels like it is building to something. And that something is a really cool, anthemic melody that retains the darkness and eeriness of the music whilst offering genuine catchiness at the same time, led by Mike Ferguson’s lead exploits. It then reverts to all-out ferocity and closes in this impressively fraught fashion.

It is at this point that I realise just how much I like the overall sound of God Dethroned. Unlike some extreme metal bands, the tones that this band employ are instantly recognisable as their own and carefully chosen. The guitars display real malevolence and they work expertly with the bold and vibrant rhythm section, not to mention Sattler’s deep, rasping vocals. Everything fits together perfectly.

The title track is another crushing example of just how powerful ‘The World Ablaze’ truly is. It skips along at a fair lick devouring everything in its path, delivering cracking riffs, memorable lead solos, and some killer drumming along the way. However, for me, it’s the final minute where the magic happens, as it departs with a behemoth of a chugging, groovy riff, strng enough to shake the earth.
‘On The Wrong Side Of the Wire’ continues on a similar theme with more muscular groove that feels wonderfully primeval in many ways.

Meanwhile, ‘Messina Ridge’ slows the pace just a touch and in so doing, it becomes a real bulldozer and a nice change of pace from the relentlessness elsewhere.

But for me, it’s the juxtaposition of extreme metal and extreme melody that excites me most with God Dethroned. And on ‘The World Ablaze’ they deliver in style.

‘Close To Victory’ is dominated by one of their strongest and most rousing melodies of late having bludgeoned the listener for the first couple of minutes. ‘Breathing Through Blood’ somehow feels a little more elegant, despite the wailing guitars and bursts of swift aggression. I firmly believe that this is because the more subtle melodic interplay takes place a little further beneath the surface, but throughout the entirety of the track instead of at defined points.

At nearly seven minutes in length, the final track, ‘The 11th Hour’ is able to deliver the ideal ending to this cracking record. I’ve mentioned the word ‘anthemic’ a few times in this review but this song deserves it more than any other. Again the pace is slowed a touch and there’s a more accessible feel to it right from the off. It’s not a ballad but it has that vague feeling to it for sure, especially when clean guitars break through to add a different texture to the composition. The whole composition is excellent but the flamboyant extended lead guitar outro is a thing of real strength and beauty. This is foot on the monitor, head-back stuff, the sort of thing that I will never grow tired of hearing, regardless of those who might deride it for being too pretentious or unnecessary.

Whether you are already a battle-hardened God Dethroned fan or someone new to death metal, ‘The World Ablaze’ will almost certainly be a hit. How could it not be though? This is God Dethroned at their savage, brutal and beautiful best.

The Score of Much Metal: 9

If you’ve enjoyed this review, you can check out my others from previous years and for 2017 right here:

2015 reviews
2016 reviews

Bjorn Riis – Forever Comes To An End
Voyager – Ghost Mile
Big Big Train – Grimspound
Lonely Robot – The Big Dream
Firespawn – The Reprobate
Ancient Ascendant
Pyramaze – Contingent
Shores Of Null – Black Drapes For Tomorrow
Asira – Efference
Hologram Earth – Black Cell Program
Damnations Day – A World Awakens
Memoriam – For The Fallen
Pallbearer – Heartless
Sleepmakeswaves – Made of Breath Only
Ghost Ship Octavius – Ghost Ship Octavius
Vangough – Warpaint
Telepathy – Tempest
Obituary – Obituary
Fen – Winter
Havok – Conformicide
Wolfheart – Tyhjyys
Svart Crown – Abreaction
Nova Collective – The Further Side
Immolation – Atonement
The Mute Gods – Tardigrades Will Inherit The Earth
Ex Deo – The Immortal Wars
Pyogenesis – A Kingdom To Disappear
My Soliloquy – Engines of Gravity
Nailed To Obscurity – King Delusion
Helion Prime – Helion Prime
Battle Beast – Bringer Of Pain
Persefone – Aathma
Soen – Lykaia
Exquirla – Para Quienes Aun Viven
Odd Logic – Effigy
Mors Principium Est – Embers Of A Dying World
Firewind – Immortals
Slyde – Back Again EP
Sepultura – Machine Messiah
Deserted Fear – Dead Shores Rising
Kreator – Gods Of Violence
Borealis – World of Silence MMXVII
Pain of Salvation – In The Passing Light of Day

Ancient Ascendant – Raise The Torch – Album Review

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Artist: Ancient Ascendant

Album Title: Raise The Torch

Label: Spinefarm Records / Candlelight Records

Date Of Release: 21 April 2017

When the legendary Dan Swanö is quoted as saying that Ancient Ascendant are ‘one of the best brutal bands to come out of Britain, well, ever’, I don’t really have any choice but to investigate further. Who am I to ignore a ringing endorsement like this from such an important name within extreme metal circles?

To be perfectly honest, I’m not sure that I’ve have given this album a go if it hadn’t been for Swanö’s interjection, so I have yet another reason to be indebted musically to the legendary Swede.

‘Raise The Torch’ is the third album from the UK extreme metallers and the first to cross my path. And the first thing that strikes me is just how different this sounds. It is no exaggeration to describe the output of Ancient Ascendant as a blend of death metal, black metal, classic metal, hard rock, thrash metal and prog. There’s even a faint echo of a few other things in the melting pot too. The way I’m describing this, you must be thinking ‘oh, that sounds like it could be messy’.

And you’re right, the result could sound messy, disjointed and lacking cohesion. And yet it doesn’t. This is a rip-roaring album that works pretty much from start to finish, where the enjoyment levels are cranked up to the max, accentuated by a strong production courtesy of Ritual Sound and Swanö himself (Unisound).  I’ve become pretty hooked on this record if I’m honest.

The black and death metal genres, by their very nature are usually associated with the darker side of life but whilst these elements play a big part in the Ancient Ascendant sound, the music here frequently comes across as being quite upbeat and infectious. Yes, there are sections that are extreme and intense and in no way can ‘Raise The Torch’ be considered ‘happy’. However, the venom is tempered all the while by huge grooves, large slabs of melody, interesting song structures or simply an almost intangible vibrancy that permeates the album.

The juxtaposition of various, competing ideas in turn then creates something of a progressive vibe. Whether this was by accident or design, it matters not because to my mind, the end result is all that matters. Each of the nine compositions has a strong identity at its core but within that, Ancient Ascendant afford themselves the space to experiment. And this experimentation, although not overdone, makes the listening experience exciting and rather exhilarating. I’m struggling to think of another band currently on the scene who has anything significant in common with Ancient Ascendant, something that can only be positive.

Haste Malaise Photography

Credit: Haste Malaise Photography

On to the music itself in more detail and ‘Raising The Torch’ kicks things off with an atmospheric instrumental that is elegant and refined. It has a sinister edge that’s pure black metal intro fodder but it is also quite beautiful and cinematic in scope.

After one minute and 31 seconds, ‘Our Way’ enters the fray to kick things off properly. It starts with a frosty guitar line, very old school black/death in tone before exploding thanks to some frenetic drumming from Dave Moulding and faster-paced riffing from guitarists Alex Butler and Nariman Poushin. At this point, vocalist Alex Butler delivers a deep, guttural death growl which shakes the earth. The pace slackens slightly to be replaced by a groovy and melodic riff that has burrowed right under my skin. The fact that it is overlaid by a much higher-pitched, raspy and thoroughly caustic black metal scream, only enhances its overall impact. There’s a nice moment of respite where the bass of Alan Webb comes through nicely in the mix before the track gallops to a close via some expressive and exuberant lead guitar work. Dare I begin to call this ‘nasty, feel good music’?

‘Scaling The Gods’ comes out of the traps like a scolded rat, full of energy and intent. Again, whilst it has extreme metal tendencies, there’s a playful edge to much of it, particularly when the guitars go all classic hard rock on us in the mid-section, complete with hand-clapping if my ears aren’t deceiving me.

The doom metal references loom large within ‘Unearth’ as the pace is slowed slightly, fed by twisted, vaguely discordant riffs before being replaced by a truckload of groove interspersed with moments of black metal malevolence or extreme death metal brutality.

For me, ‘Foreign Skies’ is the absolute high point within this excellent record. It begins in very chilled fashion, delivering delicate atmospheric melodies with gorgeous clean guitars and some stunning bass work. The heaviness comes in out of nowhere like a slap in the face. The guitars chug with menace one minute and then inject black metal voracity the next whilst the vocals are venomous either in black or death mode. However, the music retains its melodic edge wonderfully, occasionally reverting to the quieter intro melody to create variety and keep the listener fully engaged. The groove-laden chug at the mid-point is marvellous as is the ensuing riff which is equally groovy but more expansive and brimming with cheekiness. This is the kind of music that’ll have you grinning like a loon, trust me.

‘Grasping The Torch’ is thoroughly infectious thanks to yet more solid and commanding riffing. Out of nowhere the heaviness departs to be replaced by an all-too-brief jazz-tinged progressive interlude that calls to mind the likes of Opeth. However, just as quickly, this is eclipsed by one of the most thunderous sections anywhere on the record as the song powers to a conclusion. Naturally, as is the Ancient Ascendant way, the conclusion is reached via a few ubiquitous twists and turns fuelled by a large helping of daring do in the process.

If ‘The Great Curve’ doesn’t get you banging your head from the outset then the conclusion must be that you’re deaf, whilst it is left to ‘To The Cold’ to see ‘Raise The Torch’ to its conclusion, which it does with the kind of panache and uniqueness that is a hallmark of this album. Frequent shifts in tempo and a demonstrable classic heavy metal vibe supplement the more extreme elements. And the outro delivers a wonderfully dramatic and epic-sounding conclusion, just as it should.

To conclude, ‘Raise The Torch’ is a fabulous record. The music is hugely engaging and memorable but what I like most about it is that these guys clearly enjoyed making this music, they are assured and accomplished in what they are doing and it shows. Nothing is off limits for Ancient Ascendant and ‘Raising The Torch’ is all the stronger for it. What a record!

The Score Of Much Metal: 9

In the absence of a new track to bring you, check out ‘Driven By The Dark’, from the EP ‘Into The Dark’:

If you’ve enjoyed this review, check out my others from previous years and for 2017 right here:

2015 reviews
2016 reviews

Pyramaze – Contingent
Shores Of Null – Black Drapes For Tomorrow
Asira – Efference
Hologram Earth – Black Cell Program
Damnations Day – A World Awakens
Memoriam – For The Fallen
Pallbearer – Heartless
Sleepmakeswaves – Made of Breath Only
Ghost Ship Octavius – Ghost Ship Octavius
Vangough – Warpaint
Telepathy – Tempest
Obituary – Obituary
Fen – Winter
Havok – Conformicide
Wolfheart – Tyhjyys
Svart Crown – Abreaction
Nova Collective – The Further Side
Immolation – Atonement
The Mute Gods – Tardigrades Will Inherit The Earth
Ex Deo – The Immortal Wars
Pyogenesis – A Kingdom To Disappear
My Soliloquy – Engines of Gravity
Nailed To Obscurity – King Delusion
Helion Prime – Helion Prime
Battle Beast – Bringer Of Pain
Persefone – Aathma
Soen – Lykaia
Exquirla – Para Quienes Aun Viven
Odd Logic – Effigy
Mors Principium Est – Embers Of A Dying World
Firewind – Immortals
Slyde – Back Again EP
Sepultura – Machine Messiah
Deserted Fear – Dead Shores Rising
Kreator – Gods Of Violence
Borealis – World of Silence MMXVII
Pain of Salvation – In The Passing Light of Day

Shores Of Null – Black Drapes For Tomorrow – Album Review

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Artist: Shores Of Null

Album Title: Black Drapes For Tomorrow

Label: Candlelight Records

Date Of Release: 14 April 2017

If you are someone who prefers the darker and more melancholy side of life, then Shores of Null might be right up your street. The Rome-based quintet were formed in 2013 and received much critical acclaim for their debut album, ‘Quiescence’, released in 2014, an album that sought to blend Gothic elements with doom and black metal.

And now, after some hard work in the promotional arena, the band have returned with their sophomore release, ‘Black Drapes For Tomorrow’. Stylistically, it broadly follows a similar path in that the eleven tracks offer a miserable listening experience where darkness pervades just about every facet of the blackened and Gothic-tinged doom metal. Take yourself off to a room with no windows with this record and you’ll all but forget the fact that spring is in full swing and instead be convinced that you’re mired in the depths of winter.

The output on ‘Black Drapes For Tomorrow’ is well-crafted, slick and it is clear that much effort has been put into this record by the five musicians. As such, it is an album that will almost certainly see their stock rise further, pleasing existing fans and gaining a few more besides.

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Photo: Francesco Corti (francescocorti.net) Post-production: Diletta F. (Eba Art)

However, my opinion of it is, reluctantly, a little different. And you know how I hate to be negative in my reviews.

There are some very nice moments to be heard, such as the title track which delivers some gorgeous clean vocal melodies, wrapped up in an emotive composition blending controlled aggression with a palpable sense of sorrow. Other highlights include ‘Tide Against Us’ with its powerfully melodic intent and vocal delivery that sounds scarily like Paradise Lost’s Nick Holmes in places. ‘House Of Cries’ has some commendable aspects too, most notably the frequent changes in tempo and intensity.

These aside though, I cannot shake the feeling that ‘Black Drapes For Tomorrow’ lacks a certain killer instinct. The music is perfectly nice. It does create a bleak soundscape, aided by a perfectly decent production job courtesy of Marco Mastrobuono at Kick Recording Studio. But the minute I press stop or the moment the album ends, I struggle to remember anything about it.

For me, the melodies are not consistently strong enough for it to be a truly memorable affair. The aggression is not consistently intense enough to have the desired impact. And the blend of clean vocals and growls don’t help the situation. Normally I’m a big fan of the dual vocal approach but here, it feels like the band are unsure of exactly which direction they wish to travel. Do they want to be considered an extreme metal band or are they instead aiming at the realms of dark atmospheric metal? They could, of course, go for both and more besides but it’s that killer instinct issue again – ‘Black Drapes For Tomorrow’ meanders its way to a conclusion without hammering home anything to really get my pulse racing or that truly captures my imagination and attention.

For me, whilst the music is not at all bad per se, that’s not enough on its own. I want it to be better than ‘not bad’. I want my interest to be piqued more often than it is. Whether that’s by creating sophisticated and poignant melodies or by bludgeoning me around the head with extremity, it doesn’t matter. But the sad fact is that there’s more than a whiff of ‘nondescript’ about proceedings, at least that’s my interpretation anyway.

My conclusion, rather sadly, is that I doubt I shall ever listen to ‘Black Drapes For Tomorrow’ in full ever again. I might dip in to listen to a couple of the stronger compositions but there aren’t enough of these to ensure I sit through the whole thing again. Sorry guys, maybe next time eh?

The Score Of Much Metal: 6.5

If you’ve enjoyed this review, check out my others from previous years and for 2017 right here:

2015 reviews
2016 reviews

Asira – Efference
Hologram Earth – Black Cell Program
Damnations Day – A World Awakens
Memoriam – For The Fallen
Pallbearer – Heartless
Sleepmakeswaves – Made of Breath Only
Ghost Ship Octavius – Ghost Ship Octavius
Vangough – Warpaint
Telepathy – Tempest
Obituary – Obituary
Fen – Winter
Havok – Conformicide
Wolfheart – Tyhjyys
Svart Crown – Abreaction
Nova Collective – The Further Side
Immolation – Atonement
The Mute Gods – Tardigrades Will Inherit The Earth
Ex Deo – The Immortal Wars
Pyogenesis – A Kingdom To Disappear
My Soliloquy – Engines of Gravity
Nailed To Obscurity – King Delusion
Helion Prime – Helion Prime
Battle Beast – Bringer Of Pain
Persefone – Aathma
Soen – Lykaia
Exquirla – Para Quienes Aun Viven
Odd Logic – Effigy
Mors Principium Est – Embers Of A Dying World
Firewind – Immortals
Slyde – Back Again EP
Sepultura – Machine Messiah
Deserted Fear – Dead Shores Rising
Kreator – Gods Of Violence
Borealis – World of Silence MMXVII
Pain of Salvation – In The Passing Light of Day

Asira – Efference – Album Review

Final Artwork

Artist: Asira

Album Title: Efference

Label: Independent Release

Date Of Release: 7 April 2017

As little as a week ago, I had never heard of the band Asira. I did not know that they were a new band. I didn’t know that they hailed from Reading on these very shores in the UK. I didn’t know that they were a quintet comprised of vocalist Jack Reynolds, guitarists Martin Williams and Ethan Bishop, bassist Chris Kendell and drummer Sam Greenland. I didn’t know that on 7th April they were to release their debut full-length album entitled ‘Efference’. And, most crucially of all, I didn’t know that the music on this debut album would be so beautiful.

I know all of these things now and my life is much the richer for it.

The musical output of Asira is undeniably quite complex. It is complex in the fact that it draws upon a number of styles and influences across the eight tracks that comprise ‘Efference’. In essence, it is a thorough and fascinating multi-layered and multi-faceted exploration of the subgenre loosely termed as ‘blackgaze’, where savagery and uncompromising black metal sounds are blended with the subtle and evocative beauty of ambient and shoegaze music.

And yet, the skill of Asira has meant that the final product sounds so effortless and so simple. The warm ambient and atmospheric sections sooth and embrace you, whilst the melodies catch your ear almost immediately. And then, even when these passages are replaced by the naked aggression of cold and icy black metal, sometime abruptly, the juxtaposition doesn’t feel forced or clunky in any way. The compositions are ambitious and grand in scope, but they also feel homogenous and eloquent.

I have no qualms in admitting that I am a huge fan of this kind of music and Asira are yet another strong and exciting example of why this is. I regard the likes of Alcest and Les Discrets as the genre leaders and whilst the differences between them are marked, I have no problems in referencing all three in the same breath. I am much less of a fan of Opeth and Steven Wilson and yet even when there are nods in these directions, as evidenced within the short piece entitled ‘Of Dawn’, I’m not left disappointed or underwhelmed. Yes, ‘Efference’ is that good.

Scott Chalmers photography

Scott Chalmers Photography

The opening to the album, ‘Sanguine’ contains some of the most moving sounds this side of modern-day Anathema. It begins with a very simple ambient melody before exploding in a blaze of euphoric warmth and beauty. The sombre tinkling of the ivories as the all-too-brief composition closes is simply gorgeous. It is already at this point that I am hooked and realise that I’m almost certainly about to listen to something special.

And then, with no warning, in comes ‘Crucible Of Light’ with full-on black metal malevolence and spite. Blast beats and fast-picked riffing bombard the senses from the outset but even at this point, melody and sophistication is never far away. In come the blackened screams to add to the intensity but just as quickly, they are replaced by a soothing clean croon and all of a sudden the uncompromising black metal assault is replaced by something more ethereal and majestic, full of melody and atmosphere. A groovy mid-section takes over with a vaguely progressive feel to it before the track reverts back to black metal brutality and then ends with a reprise of the central melody to glorious effect.

There is a much calmer, more introspective opening to the title track , as if to allow the listener to take stock of what went before. The melodies are once again poignant and arresting, capturing my full attention. The blend of clean guitars, synths and almost angelic vocals is inspired. The pace is then lifted although clean, jangling guitars remain at the heart of the bittersweet-sounding composition. After another section of decadent ambience, I’m pulled from my reverie by a fabulous lead guitar solo, whilst it is only the final minute or so that touches on anything remotely connected to extreme metal.

The nods to Opeth are again evident within the opening stages to ‘This Hollow Affliction’ but the show-stopper for me is the expressive and soulful lead guitar work that enters the fray wonderfully. It is one of the longest tracks on ‘Efference’ but its double-figure length is used to good effect, offering plenty of variety along the way. It’s one of the worst clichés in metal journalism but it really does take the listener on a journey through emotional highs and lows. What jumps out at me is the much more pronounced Riverside –esque lead guitar work that rears its head at various points as well as the sublime serenity and remarkable depth of the piece at around the 7:30 mark. It is soon replaced by bludgeoning black metal but the melody and the angelic vocals remain as a thread to the very end.

‘Phosphorous’ delivers more of a punchy and harsh battery of classic symphonic black metal underpinned by a softer shoegaze element to smooth the rough edges, whereas ‘Whispers Of The Moon’, as its name suggests, it a completely different beast, sprawling across seven minutes in languid fashion, offering more melodic bliss within the context of an ambient-meets-progressive rock framework. It slowly builds to a resounding finale that is full of energy, vitality and beauty.

In what feels like the blink of an eye, ‘The Mortal Tide’ arrives to see ‘Efference’ out and, in keeping with the rest of the album, it does so in style. In fact, if anything, there’s more of a prog metal feel to the overall composition as well as the guitars on this track. But fear not as this is never at the expense of the ubiquitous atmospheres, ambience and more extreme elements that Asira execute so well. The vocal melodies that enter around the half-way mark are stunning, only adding to the impact of another brilliantly devised and executed composition.

On the basis of ‘Efference’, I can only predict big things for Asira. If their debut album can be so ambitious, cohesive and assured, what on earth will their second, third and fourth albums sound like. We can only wait and see. However, for now, content yourself with the fact that there’s a new band in existence that has so much potential and simply immerse yourself in ‘Efference’. As blackgaze goes, this is one of the best I’ve heard in a long, long time.

The Score Of Much Metal: 9

If you’ve enjoyed this review, check out my others from previous years and for 2017 right here:

2015 reviews
2016 reviews

Hologram Earth – Black Cell Program
Damnations Day – A World Awakens
Memoriam – For The Fallen
Pallbearer – Heartless
Sleepmakeswaves – Made of Breath Only
Ghost Ship Octavius – Ghost Ship Octavius
Vangough – Warpaint
Telepathy – Tempest
Obituary – Obituary
Fen – Winter
Havok – Conformicide
Wolfheart – Tyhjyys
Svart Crown – Abreaction
Nova Collective – The Further Side
Immolation – Atonement
The Mute Gods – Tardigrades Will Inherit The Earth
Ex Deo – The Immortal Wars
Pyogenesis – A Kingdom To Disappear
My Soliloquy – Engines of Gravity
Nailed To Obscurity – King Delusion
Helion Prime – Helion Prime
Battle Beast – Bringer Of Pain
Persefone – Aathma
Soen – Lykaia
Exquirla – Para Quienes Aun Viven
Odd Logic – Effigy
Mors Principium Est – Embers Of A Dying World
Firewind – Immortals
Slyde – Back Again EP
Sepultura – Machine Messiah
Deserted Fear – Dead Shores Rising
Kreator – Gods Of Violence
Borealis – World of Silence MMXVII
Pain of Salvation – In The Passing Light of Day

Hologram Earth – Black Cell Program – Album Review

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Artist: Hologram Earth

Album Title: Black Cell Program

Label: Independent Release

Date Of Release: 7 April 2017

It never ceases to amaze me how many excellent bands and artists there are swirling around the metal underground. The more I explore, the more I discover and the subject of this review is yet another example to prove this point most eloquently.

Hologram Earth are a Dutch quintet, formed in 2011, comprised of vocalist Michiel Meurs, guitarists Bram Heijs and Steven Hulshof, drummer Luuk van der Velden and bassist Thomas Cochrane who is also responsible for the brass elements found on this debut record entitled ‘Black Cell Program’.

The album opens up with ‘Immaculate Conception’ which features bruising and technically adept djent riffs that immediately call to mind the likes of Meshuggah, particularly in terms of their heaviness and intensity. However, as the track and indeed the album progresses, it is evident that Hologram Earth are not mere Meshuggah clones. The similarities are inescapable but so too are the differences that become apparent the more you listen to this record.

For a start, there’s the introduction to the opening song which is grand, almost cinematic in tone, delivering some powerful, aggressive drumming and a touch of early groove. Now, I must admit to having a strong dislike in general to any brass whatsoever in rock or metal music. Call me narrow-minded and dismissive if you like but I have to be honest. As such, whilst I have got used to the use of brass on this album, I still haven’t got to the point where I really like it. Nevertheless, for those without such prejudices, the fact that the brass of Cochrane cleverly blends in and out of the track will come as a positive aspect of the music, I’m sure.

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‘Outnumbered’ begins in a manner that’s more Textures than Meshuggah, although those technical and swirling djent riffs are never far away. What this track also introduces is a more pronounced injection of light and shade, where the foot is frequently taken off the pedal to allow more ambient and atmospheric textures to come to the fore. The brass is more prominent for better or worse but it creates an intriguing juxtaposition nevertheless. And I really like the choral vocal effects as the song draws to a close alongside some really excellent bass work.

Whilst there is melody within the opening compositions, it really comes to the fore within ‘Circadian’, a personal favourite of mine. The song begins in a relaxed ambient manner that is quite beautiful, particularly as it is built up in a fashion not dissimilar to the likes of Long Distance Calling. The way in which the guitars enter the fray is very nice, as you almost don’t notice them at first. The bass work is out of the top draw here too.

Vocally, Michiel Meurs gives a great performance, moving between deep growls and a more soaring clean approach. Then there’s his forceful delivery somewhere in the middle, more heavy-rock like. The versatility is a very nice touch, accentuating the equally versatile music beneath it.

‘Moment of Despair’ then descends into discordant avant-garde territory complete with a guest saxophonist which is, with respect, probably my least favourite section on the album. There is melodic intent within the song and it is undeniably ambitious and well-executed but despite my best efforts, I’m not a fan.

In stark contrast, ‘Rebirth’ delivers the better part of four minutes of serene ambient soundscapes which are slightly dark in places. The song then builds gently and deliberately before exploding into a crescendo that is rather epic and thoroughly engrossing, complete with some really nice lead guitar work from Hulshof.

‘In Ashes We Sleep’ returns us to the world of djent riffing and measured aggression, albeit tempered by more grand cinematics, a soupcon of melody and a touch of the avant-garde again. It is then left to the title track to close out this seven-track debut album and it does so in typically ambitious fashion, entirely in keeping with the intent shown throughout the record. Only this time, I detect a vaguely loose, punk attitude in places that infiltrates the intensely precise and technical output elsewhere.

It takes a while to fully appreciate what Hologram Earth have produced here. This is their debut album and as such, there is plenty of room for growth and maturation. However, ‘Black Cell Program’ is a very well thought out album, bursting with ideas and with an evident talent to match the ambition. Put it high on your ‘to listen’ list if you’re a fan of modern progressive metal in any shape or form.

The Score Of Much Metal: 8

If you’ve enjoyed this review, check out my others from previous years and for 2017 right here:

2015 reviews
2016 reviews

Damnations Day – A World Awakens
Memoriam – For The Fallen
Pallbearer – Heartless
Sleepmakeswaves – Made of Breath Only
Ghost Ship Octavius – Ghost Ship Octavius
Vangough – Warpaint
Telepathy – Tempest
Obituary – Obituary
Fen – Winter
Havok – Conformicide
Wolfheart – Tyhjyys
Svart Crown – Abreaction
Nova Collective – The Further Side
Immolation – Atonement
The Mute Gods – Tardigrades Will Inherit The Earth
Ex Deo – The Immortal Wars
Pyogenesis – A Kingdom To Disappear
My Soliloquy – Engines of Gravity
Nailed To Obscurity – King Delusion
Helion Prime – Helion Prime
Battle Beast – Bringer Of Pain
Persefone – Aathma
Soen – Lykaia
Exquirla – Para Quienes Aun Viven
Odd Logic – Effigy
Mors Principium Est – Embers Of A Dying World
Firewind – Immortals
Slyde – Back Again EP
Sepultura – Machine Messiah
Deserted Fear – Dead Shores Rising
Kreator – Gods Of Violence
Borealis – World of Silence MMXVII
Pain of Salvation – In The Passing Light of Day

Memoriam – For The Fallen – Album Review

Memoriam - For The Fallen - Artwork

Artist: Memoriam

Album Title: For The Fallen

Label: Nuclear Blast Records

Date Of Release: 24 March 2017

Bereavement. We’ve all experienced it in our lives to a greater or lesser extent. Personally, I’ve suffered greatly due to the death of loved ones and, nearly a decade on from the most significant and heart breaking of these, I am still a hollow shell of the person I used to be. But whereas some of us handle these tragedies badly, there are others who use the raw emotions more positively, as a catalyst for change or as inspiration for creativity.

When UK death metal stalwarts Bolt Thrower lost their drummer, Martin Kearns in 2015, the band were understandably beside themselves with grief. However, rather than succumb to negativity and other dark thoughts like some of us weaker mortals have, vocalist Karl Willetts took a different path. Bolt Thrower was put to rest as things just didn’t feel the same any more but to fill some of the void left behind, Willetts was instrumental in the formation of a brand new band.

Three weeks after the death of Kearns, Benediction bassist Frank Healy sadly lost his father. Therefore Willetts and Healy joined forces and out of the immense tragedies, Memoriam was born as a way out, to channel their grief. The duo recruited ex-Bolt Thrower drummer Andy Whale and guitarist Scott Fairfax to the Memoriam cause and now, in 2017, after an impressive EP, ‘The hellfire Demos’ (2016), we’re faced with their debut album, ‘For The Fallen’.

Immediately, those familiar with Bolt Thrower will realise that Memoriam are cut from a very similar cloth. As a result, what we are treated to with ‘For The Fallen’ is an intense, monolithic slab of brutality and groove, familiar enough to offer Bolt Thrower fans a whiff of nostalgia but with enough of an individual identity to sound fresh and appealing to a wider audience.

For the most part, this album rumbles along at an inexorable mid-tempo from which there is little or no escape. Bulldozing riffs, a bludgeoning rhythm section and those deep vocals from Willetts form the bedrock to the Memoriam sound and I have to say that it is a sound that I am digging an awful lot. In fact, the more I listen, the more enjoyment and satisfaction I glean from ‘For The Fallen’.

As the striking cover artwork more than hints at, the lyrical content primarily deals with war and the way it shapes us as humans, as well as the aftermath from a more human angle, namely dealing with the death of a loved one. I can think of few more fitting themes to entwine within music of this nature.

memoriam-band-1

The opening title track begins in a fashion that vaguely calls to mind the likes of early Paradise Lost thanks to the chosen guitar tone. However, the huge, chunky riff that enters the fray just shy of the minute mark blows those references out of the water. The groove quota on this sub-three-minute blast is insane and impossible to avoid headbanging to. But then the same can be said for the vast majority of the eight tracks on this album; whilst out for a walk with the dog, I must have seemed like a possessed zombie with my head slowly nodding with force, in concert with long loping steps, also measured to be in time to the music.

The voice of Prime Minister Neville Chamberlain declaring war on Germany ushers in ‘War Rages On’, a powerful introduction to an equally powerful song. After a slow start, the drums drive the composition on in a slightly brisker fashion, complete with blastbeats and fast, aggressive riffs. But then, at the half-way mark, the mother of all mid-tempo grooves hits and hits hard. I can’t help but grin at this point given how infectious it is.

‘Reduced To Zero’ introduces a modicum of depraved melody to proceedings before steamrollering the listener into submission. The churning, roiling riffs and unrelenting power of the drum and bass combination are a thing of malevolent brilliance as is the utterly killer groovy riff that dips in and out of the track to great effect. In fact, I really enjoy the way that there’s a surprising number of twists and turns within the song if you listen carefully enough. If such music could ever be referred to as epic, then this is the piece of music to justify that term.

In an effort to keep us on our toes, ‘Corrupted System’ then clatters onto the scene with the urgency and pace more akin to punk rock or a slightly more measured form of grindcore. It is attitude and aggression channelled the right way but this being Memoriam, something slower and pummelling cannot be far away and so there are slower interludes within the speedier tumult which ultimately unravels at the end into something disquietly dystopian in tone and delivery.

‘Flatline’ then returns to the out-and-out groove and brutality, featuring one of my favourite riffs anywhere on the record. It is a real stomper but so cheeky and addictive, nevertheless remaining heavy as hell and forceful in the extreme. The blast beats that surround it are thunderous and only enhance the overall impact, as does the fabulous grinding beat down that acts as an irresistible outro.

There’s space for a brief guitar solo within the brisk and pulverising ‘Surrounded By Death’, whilst ‘Resistance’ is another great track that, as the title suggests, acts as a song of defiance, introducing a little more speed at points as well as another flamboyant solo.

It is then left to the longest composition on ‘For The Fallen’ to see the album out. ‘Last Words’ begins with a distant-sounding guitar riff that offers a fair amount of melody and which is built on with the introduction of all of the other instruments. It still sounds suitably dark and malevolent but with a slightly more immediate edge to it. Even when things increase in speed and intensity, the over-arching melodic framework remains intact. Scrub what I said earlier in the piece, this is the song that demonstrates that this kind of music can be genuinely epic. And it is the perfect way in my opinion to close the album.

The strength of Karl Willetts and Frank Healy is incredible. They have used Memoriam as a way to channel all of the substantial and gut-wrenching misery they felt into something positive. It puts me to shame in many ways and as such, I really wanted to like ‘For The Fallen’. It may not be the most original of recordings but it is a bona-fide brute of a death metal album and I have grown to love it.

The Score Of Much Metal: 9

If you’ve enjoyed this review, check out my others from previous years and for 2017 right here:

2015 reviews
2016 reviews

Pallbearer – Heartless
Sleepmakeswaves – Made of Breath Only
Ghost Ship Octavius – Ghost Ship Octavius
Vangough – Warpaint
Telepathy – Tempest
Obituary – Obituary
Fen – Winter
Havok – Conformicide
Wolfheart – Tyhjyys
Svart Crown – Abreaction
Nova Collective – The Further Side
Immolation – Atonement
The Mute Gods – Tardigrades Will Inherit The Earth
Ex Deo – The Immortal Wars
Pyogenesis – A Kingdom To Disappear
My Soliloquy – Engines of Gravity
Nailed To Obscurity – King Delusion
Helion Prime – Helion Prime
Battle Beast – Bringer Of Pain
Persefone – Aathma
Soen – Lykaia
Exquirla – Para Quienes Aun Viven
Odd Logic – Effigy
Mors Principium Est – Embers Of A Dying World
Firewind – Immortals
Slyde – Back Again EP
Sepultura – Machine Messiah
Deserted Fear – Dead Shores Rising
Kreator – Gods Of Violence
Borealis – World of Silence MMXVII
Pain of Salvation – In The Passing Light of Day