Tag Archives: Century Media Records

Iced Earth – Incorruptible – Album Review

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Artist: Iced Earth

Album Title: Incorruptible

Label: Century Media Records

Date Of Release: 16 June 2017

The phrase ‘only time will tell’ features a lot in music reviews, certainly in mine. Over the years, I’ve had to listen to hundreds of albums and put pen to paper in double-quick time to submit my thoughts in time for the deadline. All too frequently, I have to make a snap decision about whether I like something and sometimes I’ll add in the caveat ‘only time will tell’ to buy myself a little breathing space regarding a record’s long term status and whether it’s a classic or the band’s best. Sometimes, I get my reviews right and sometimes I get them wrong.

When it comes to Iced Earth, I have to hold my hands up and admit to getting it very wrong. I’m a long term fan of the Indiana metal band, discovering them in the late 90s via ‘Something Wicked This Way Comes’. This is the album lauded by many as the band’s best and I certainly hold it in high regard. However, with interest piqued, I delved into the back catalogue and I also enjoy the vast majority of their earlier material, favouring ‘Night of the Stormrider’ if my life depended on it. In terms of the post- ‘Something…’ era, I lapped up ‘Horror Show’ and ‘The Glorious Burden’, both of which are fabulous records. Their unique blend of classic metal, power metal and thrash has proved to be a potent formula amongst their ever-growing army of fans, myself included.

More recent output, beginning with 2007’s ‘Framing Armageddon: Something Wicked Part 1’ and ending in 2014 with ‘Plagues of Babylon’ garnered very positive reviews from me in the pages of Powerplay Magazine. However, as time has told, I don’t return to them as frequently as I thought that I would. If I want a fix of Iced Earth, I’ll tend to go for something older. In fact, as I type, I’m hard-pressed to remember very much from any of these more recent albums.

Many will point to the instability of the line-up and, in particular, the frequent changes of the vocalist. However, I think that’s unfair. Matt Barlow will remain a fan favourite since he stood front and centre over some of the best material of the band’s career. That’s unavoidable. However, Tim ‘Ripper’ Owens did an excellent job on a couple of records including the aforementioned ‘The Glorious Burden’ and then, after a brief return for Barlow with ‘The Crucible of Man: Something Wicked Part 2’, Iced Earth have since 2011, turned to ex-Into Eternity vocalist Stu Block to deliver their diatribes. And make no mistake; he does a very good job, sounding very similar to both Barlow and Owens when delivering in the lower and higher registers respectively.

The revolving door syndrome that has affected almost every other position within the band is not entirely to blame either, although it can’t have been the most conducive atmosphere in which to create high quality music. Neither can Schaffer’s ongoing medical problems which fortunately have never drastically curtailed his endeavours. At the end of the day, this is Jon Schafer’s band; he founded Iced Earth and he remains the central creative force, creating most the material and having a say in just about everything else.

With that said, all of the albums between 2007 and 2014 have some very good material on them and I’m in no way saying that they are bad. It is just that they haven’t stood the test of time with me.

This time around however, with no deadlines or time constraints, I could listen in more detail and form a much firmer opinion over the material. And the material in question is the ten songs that feature on ‘Incorruptible’, the twelfth album in the Iced Earth discography.

The accompanying press release sees the ever-confident and bullish Shafer referring to this album as one of their strongest and whilst I approached this hyperbole with caution, I now must agree with him. Having allowed this album to burrow deeper into my brain than many others, I feel much more confident in delivering a very positive review of ‘Incorruptible’. I shall go so far as to stick my neck out and venture that this record is the best material to emanate from the Iced Earth camp since ‘The Glorious Burden’, possibly even longer. Indeed, alongside vocalist Stu Block, in-out drummer Brent Smedley, bassist Luke Appleton and new lead guitarist Jake Dreyer, Schaffer has clearly hit a rich vein of form with ‘Incorruptible’.

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What I like about this album so much is that it manages to blend powerful riffs and heavy music with plenty of melody and strong choruses to make the music truly memorable and rather addictive. Add in to the mix a sense of theatrics, drama and storytelling for which Iced Earth have become known and synonymous and suddenly things start to stack up in the right way.

Given the dark album cover complete with the ubiquitous Set Abominae character, I was expecting something more along the lines of ‘The Dark Saga’ with this record. But what I actually get is more of a ‘Something Wicked…’ vibe, where just about every track delivers something that makes me bang my head, smile or reach for the repeat button. There will no doubt be some who suggest that Iced Earth are cynically trying to recapture the magic of ‘Something Wicked…’ but I humbly disagree. Of course there are some similarities but on ‘Incorruptible’, I hear some of that magic that has imbued all classic Iced Earth material, whatever the era, whoever the clientele.

Kicking off with a dark and theatrical, almost cinematic intro, ‘Great Heathen Army’ offers fans of this band a thoroughly rousing and raucous opening salvo. Block screams and croons with gusto, the rhythm section pounds away and those trademark fast-picked rhythm guitars of Schafer create some tasty riffs. The chorus is a bit of a grower too, blossoming into a full-blown anthem after a few spins.

One of the most ear-catching aspects of Iced Earth on this record though, is the lead guitar work of newbie Jake Dreyer. His lead breaks litter the opener but they have a genuinely melodic edge to them, transforming the solos into something more nuanced than just a gratuitous shred-fest. To further illustrate this point, just check out the fabulous ballad-esque ‘Raven Wing’, complete with lush acoustic guitars. It is here that Dreyer indulges in some lead work that is full of depth, subtlety and bluesy soul, as well as the necessary all-out shred. It doesn’t do any harm that the entire song itself is a well-crafted monster, but it is the lead work alongside the changes in pace and heaviness that leaves the greatest impression.

The variety of the music is also a definite strength of ‘Incorruptible’ too. This is not a one-dimensional album and it benefits greatly as a direct result. You get the mid-tempo stompers like ‘Black Flag’ which in itself is a muscular metal track laced with plenty of melody. And there are the more sombre and brooding compositions like ‘The Veil’ which arguably features my favourite chorus on the record, one that I find myself humming at the most unexpected of times, unable to dislodge it from my head.

Then there’s the short, sharp and intense thrash blitzkrieg of ‘Seven Headed Whore’ with its intro riff that’s instantly reminiscent of Slayer in their prime followed by the potent combination of machine-gun drumming and matching riffs. In contrast, ‘Brothers’ is imbued with a satisfying groove that’s infectious as hell.

‘Ghost Dance (Awaken The Ancestors)’ is an instrumental but far from being a snooze-fest, it is actually one of the most intriguing tracks on the record. I find the tribal vocals fascinating and a really nice touch whilst I’m genuinely taken by the pronounced, powerhouse drumming that is a firm feature of the track.

And ‘Incorruptible’ ends in fitting Iced Earth style with a slightly longer track, ‘Clear The Way (December 13th, 1862)’. At just shy of ten minutes, it isn’t the longest epic that Schaffer has ever penned but it does still pack a punch. Complete with occasional Celtic overtones, a certain amount of quiet homage to Iron Maiden and the sounds of war, it tells a story within the Battle of Fredericksburg to great effect. It’s a glorious romp and the perfect way to end such a glorious album.

Mind you, I’m struggling to pick out any of the songs on ‘Incorruptible’ that demonstrate a lessening of the quality as I genuinely like them all. In that respect, this has to be the most consistent record from Iced Earth for a significant number of years. In fact, as I alluded to earlier, this is without doubt their best release since ‘The Glorious Burden’ and it pushes the likes of ‘Horror Show’ and ‘Something Wicked This Way Comes’ as one of their best ever releases. In short, ‘Incorruptible’ is unmistakeably the sound of Iced Earth firing on all cylinders and I love it.

The Score Of Much Metal: 9.25

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

2015 reviews
2016 reviews

Anathema – The Optimist
Solstafir – Berdreyminn
Dream Evil – Six
Avatarium – Hurricanes And Halos
Ayreon – The Source
Until Rain – Inure
MindMaze – Resolve
God Dethroned – The World Ablaze
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

Dream Evil – Six – Album Review

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Artist: Dream Evil

Album Title: Six

Label: Century Media

Date Of Release: 26 May 2017

Dream Evil have been knocking around the metal scene for many years, having been created before the millennium by the renowned Studio Fredman producer Fredrik Nordström. It was his burning desire to create his own power metal band and Dream Evil was the result. In the early days, the band featured the notable names of guitarist Gus G (Firewind, Ozzy Osborne) and drummer Snowy Shaw.

These guys have moved on, with Dream Evil now comprised of Nordstrom alongside lead vocalist Niklas Isfeldt, lead guitarist Mark U Black, bassist Peter Stålfors and drummer Patrik Jerksten. Nevertheless Dream Evil have remained steadfast throughout and ‘Six’ being, you guessed it, their sixth studio album to date, albeit following a hefty seven-year hiatus since ‘In The Night’ was released in 2010. However, on the basis of the music on ‘Six’, it might have been kinder for all concerned if Nordström and his merry men had moved on to pastures new as well.

Long term readers of the Blog of Much Metal will know that I am not the kind of person who takes any satisfaction from writing more negative reviews. So when I can only conclude that ‘Six’ is a distinctly average album with more filler than stand-out material, you know that I am not saying this lightly or for effect.

So why have I reviewed this then? I was actually interested in hearing the new album because I have a couple of early Dream Evil albums nestled in my collection and there is some decent material to be heard on them. And additionally, I have invested too much time trying to like this album to abandon it without committing my thoughts to paper. However, from the first spin, with no agenda or axe to grind, I simply found myself feeling thoroughly disappointed and entirely underwhelmed for the most part.

But let me begin with the positives, as no album is completely devoid of such things. For a start, I do enjoy the hefty guitar tones that deliver some decent riffs. They pack a fair punch, offer plenty of grunt and help to dispel the thoughts that power metal is a softer form of metal. The rhythm section is equally commanding and muscular, as demonstrated on the self-monikered opening track, ‘Dream Evil’. It is one of the few tracks on this record that’s a genuine grower, becoming a bit of a pulsating, headbanging anthem that I am sure will come alive on stage during the upcoming festival season.

The production must be mentioned as it is this that helps to lend the guitars, bass and drums such a rich sound. Naturally, this comes as no surprise given the clientele and it is where Nordstrom comes into his own, being the quality knob-fiddler that he is.

In terms of other songs on the album that are worth mentioning, there’s the brooding, slower-paced ‘Creature of the Night’ which features some of the strongest melodies on the album. ‘The Murdered Mind’ is a fun, breezier number with a pleasant chorus whilst ‘Six Hundred And 66’ offers some great grooves and arguably the catchiest chorus on the record.

Sandwiched in between though, are too many compositions that do very little for me. The musicianship is perfectly acceptable, very good in places. And that makes things even more frustrating because they clearly have the talent to produce a higher-quality or at least a more consistent product.

Then there are the lyrics. Now I’m far from a lyric snob and very often I couldn’t care less what’s being sung about if the music is of a high quality. But even I struggle to ignore the words that accompany some of the songs on this album. Take ‘Sin City’ as the perfect example. ‘…they met my older brother, who was rich, he was poor.’ C’mon, seriously? Then there’s the line in the same song: ‘the devil proved to be a really nice guy and they partied all night long. And those who always believed in God, admitted they were wrong.’ How are your toes? Have they uncurled yet?

I also have to be honest and venture the opinion that I’m not the greatest fan of Niklas Isfeldt’s vocal delivery. He has a powerful set of lungs with a decent range but I quickly tire of his higher-pitched tones which veer perilously close to annoying territory for my tastes.

And that’s about it. I could go on, but I’ll leave it there. Dream Evil have a lot going for them and when they get it right, they get it very right. Regrettably, their conversion rate isn’t that high on ‘Six’ and so for every decent track, there are two or three that fall flat. It’s a shame and I genuinely hate being negative, but I have to be honest. Sorry guys, I won’t be returning to this record any time soon.

The Score Of Much Metal: 6

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

2015 reviews
2016 reviews

Avatarium – Hurricanes And Halos
Ayreon – The Source
Until Rain – Inure
MindMaze – Resolve
God Dethroned – The World Ablaze
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

Firespawn – The Reprobate – Album Review

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Artist: Firespawn

Album Title: The Reprobate

Label: Century Media Records

Date Of Release: 28 April 2017

My rekindled love and affection for old school death metal shows no signs of abating any time soon, certainly not when there are albums like these being released into the wild. ‘The Reprobate’ is the second full-length release from Firespawn, a band that hadn’t previously registered on my radar.

Formed in 2012 under the original name of Fireborn, Firespawn is nothing short of a ‘super group’. I know that this is an overused cliché, but given the personnel involved with Firespawn, it is impossible to describe them any other way. The bassist is Alex Impaler (Necrophobic, Naglfar (live)), whilst the guitarists are Victor Brandt (Entombed A.D., ex-Satyricon) and Fredrik Folkare (Unleashed, Necrophobic, ex-Siebenbürgen). Upon the drum throne sits Matte Modin (Raised Fist, ex-Dark Funeral, ex-Defleshed, ex-Infernal) and up front is none other than vocalist LG Petrov (Entombed A.D., ex-Nihilist, ex-Morbid) Now, you tell me that this isn’t one hell of a line-up?

The really great thing about Firespawn, above all else, is that this is clearly not a vanity project or a cynical cash cow.

“To be doing death metal in our 40s means that we love what we are doing and love our way of Life. I don’t think any of us could see us doing something else. This is who we are. Death metal is the path we have chosen. It’s not just a musical style. It’s a lifestyle.”

So says Impaler within the accompanying press release. And Brandt agrees:

“Even though death metal is something extreme, it feels and comes natural. It’s in our blood for sure. This is something we must do. I’m not interested in doing anything else. And we all like to work hard and get things done. Blessing and curse, I guess.”

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I love this attitude and one listen to ‘The Reprobate’ and you realise that this isn’t empty rhetoric either. This album is too damn good to be as a result of anything other than a genuine desire to create the kind of extreme music that these guys all clearly adore. And, although the content on this album doesn’t really offer too much by way of innovation, that doesn’t matter as far as I’m concerned. This is unashamed brutal death metal in the old school Scandinavian mould but it sounds fresh, invigorated and full of malevolent, subterranean life. You can genuinely tell that these five guys love what they are doing. Going through the motions? Not a bit of it.

Bearing in mind the clientele involved, it will come as no surprise when I throw out the names of Necrophobic, early Entombed and Dismember as just a few of the more obvious reference points within the ten-track, 45-minute affair that is ‘The Reprobate’. But in addition, there are nods in the direction of Morbid Angel for example via the churning, molten riffs of the title track.

Speaking personally, what I enjoy most about ‘The Reprobate’ is the way in which the album is brutal and uncompromising as all hell, but that this is tempered throughout by plenty of groove, atmosphere and a surprising amount of melody, albeit somewhat understated and shy in the main. That said, the opening track of the entire album, ‘Serpent of the Ocean’, has a more pronounced sense of melody and as such, has to be one of the best death metal songs I have heard this year, maybe even longer. It begins with a sinister, twisted melody that’s atmosphere-laden but within seconds it is replaced by some stunning musicianship. It goes without saying that these guys can play but the pinpoint, razor-sharp delivery of the tumult that blows the intro away is phenomenal. The riffs are superb and the rhythm section, led by the insane blastbeats of Modin bludgeon without mercy. And then there’s the chorus which is like melodic groove mana from the pits of hell. It is brutal and uncompromising but thanks to the fast-picked riffing from Brandt and Folkare, there’s a wonderful layer of melody that’s completely irresistible. And on top of it all are Petrov’s unmistakeably malevolent growls that top the music off perfectly throughout the record.

Speaking of the guitarists, I have to say that their combined talents are one of the big stand-out aspects of Firespawn’s sound on this record. The tones are just perfect for a start, full of bite and guts and wonderfully enhanced by Impaler’s impressive bass work throughout. There’s not a song that goes by where I don’t pause to admire a riff or a blazing solo and that’s rare for me, as I can often find a moment or two of filler within a death metal album of this ilk. The album is littered with dextrous and lightning-fast solos but in general, they tend to add something to the overall compositions, in part because they don’t always rely on speed alone. Take the lead break within ‘Damnatio Ad Bestias’ as a prime example. It is fast and aggressive, but it is also expressive and almost soulful in places.

‘Damnatio Ad Bestias’ is also a good example of the way in which Firespawn have almost effortlessly managed to combine savagery with groove, melody and atmosphere. It is here where the ghost of early Entombed looms largest but at the same time it isn’t simply derivative; it has its own identity.

Other favourites on ‘The Reprobate’ include ‘Generals Creed’ thanks to the blend of frenetic riffing and catchy chorus complete with a headbanging groove and tangible atmosphere. I also really enjoy ‘Death By Impalement’, yet another bruising and uncompromising slab of full-throttle death metal with great pounding riffs and an atmosphere-laden mid-section with sinister, haunting vocals.

Firespawn hope that ‘The Reprobate’ will “make you drink insane amounts of beer and bang your head for Satan.” Well, if that’s their barometer of success, they might need to brace themselves, because ‘The Reprobate’ does more than this, a lot more. Put simply, it’s another huge example of just how strong the death metal genre is in 2017.

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

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

Havok – Conformicide – Album Review

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Artist: Havok

Album Title: Conformicide

Label: Century Media Records

Date Of Release: 10 March 2017

For someone who is continually going on record to say that he doesn’t, as a rule, prefer thrash metal, I seem to have been enjoying quite a lot of albums in this genre recently. First there was the new Testament disc that found itself in my top 30 for 2016. Then, more recently, there has been the new Kreator album that has made quite an impression on me. And now, here I am, about to wax lyrical about another thrash metal album. Maybe I like thrash metal more than I thought? Maybe I ought to re-evaluate my musical tastes?

The album at the centre of my current affections is ‘Conformicide’ from Havok, the fourth album from the Denver-based thrashers. I’ve never listened to Havok before, so what, I hear you ask, made me check out a band from a genre I’m not overly keen on that I’d never investigated before?

Well, it wasn’t the hyperbole-fuelled press release that brazenly refers to ‘Conformicide’ as Havok’s own ‘Master of Puppets’ or ‘Rust In Peace’ that’s for sure. I take these comments with a pinch of salt, quite frankly. No, it was the fact that this was a band that was consistently mentioned by friends, acquaintances and valued review sites when discussing their most anticipated albums of 2017. With such a swell of interest, I figured I must have missed out on something and so took the decision to check it out when it found its way into my inbox.

I was right. With ‘Conformicide’, Havok have delivered a really superb, muscular-sounding slab of properly caustic, savage and aggressive heavy metal that is delivered alongside a cutting and sobering commentary on the state of the world today. The riffs from David Sanchez and Reece Scruggs are multi-layered, razor-sharp and often complex as are the whirlwind lead breaks and solos. The rhythm section comprised of drummer Pete Webber and bassist Nick Schendzielos are powerful in the extreme, almost telepathic at times but more than that, they are truly inventive and don’t just make up the numbers. Then there are the vocals of Sanchez, which are some of the most vitriolic, snarling and venomous I’ve heard on a thrash album. They might not be to everyone’s taste, but they fit this music perfectly.

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What I particularly like though, is when a band makes me raise an eyebrow or offer something different to what I was expecting. We get this immediately on ‘Conformicide’ thanks to the opening track ‘F.P.C’ which begins with a melodic acoustic guitar intro before a heavy, moody riff enters. It is short-lived though as the track becomes dominated by some funky, groovy slap-bass that hints at a progressive slant to the song writing that I simply wasn’t ready for. It is nevertheless rather great. I also really enjoy the drumming thanks to some really inventive fills and the mix of tempos gives the track an added dimension as it moves effortlessly from slow groove to all-out speed, topped by wailing and gnashing lead guitar breaks.

The slap bass returns to introduce what has to be one of the best tracks on the record, in the shape of ‘Hang ‘Em High’. The frantic riffs and urgent rhythm section are then topped off by some of the most confrontational and angry lyrics anywhere on ‘Conformicide’. ‘The enemy is not coming from overseas…the United Snakes of America’ gives you a truncated but illuminating example of the lyrical content that is positively spat out and later screamed venomously by vocalist Sanchez. And yet, for all this, the occasional flash of groove or subtle melody keeps the song interesting and accessible.

‘Dogmaniacal’ contains strong echoes of ‘Countdown To Extinction’-era Megadeth but ultimately marches to its own savage tune. Taking more than just a casual swipe at religion, it fizzes by in a blaze of violent aggression whilst somewhat contradictorily it displays some of the strongest melodic intent along the way. The fact that the content mirrors much of my own dislike of religion in general means that this is a song that makes its mark on me powerfully on all levels.

The news reader introduction to ‘Intention To Deceive’ is absolutely brilliant. ‘…and in the news today’, he says in that polished American manner, ‘we cover trivial stories to distract you from what’s really going on in the world. It’s five o’clock and here’s what we want you to think’. It is comedic on a superficial level but has the ring of dark truth about it. What then ensues is a strong and incisive groove-laden thrash workout preoccupied by the media’s stance on misinformation, lies and false news.

Elsewhere, the progressive nods return within ‘Ingsoc’, as it builds on a strange but compelling introduction and features some of the most frenetic drumming on the album, alongside some of the more ponderously-paced material in an oddly juxtaposing but utterly addictive manner. As a fan of prog, I can lap this sort of thing up all day long.

‘Peace Is In Pieces’ is another quirky track that has a shouty, hardcore/punk feel on top of a cheeky opening that catches the attention whilst ‘Claiming Certainty’ is a more standard breakneck and short-lived all-out thrash attack.

And then there’s another favourite in the form of ‘Wake Up’. It is once again a fast-paced and frenetic affair with really cool lead guitar embellishments but what I like most is the more overtly melodic intent of the song. It feels warm and rich as a result and grabs my attention from the very beginning, only getting stronger and more forceful with repeated listens.

Whether or not ‘Conformicide’ becomes an album muttered in the same breath as the likes of ‘Master of Puppets’ or ‘Rust In Peace’ remains to be seen and it will take many years before such a judgement can be made with any genuine justification. However, it is fair to say that from my point of view, this is one of the best ‘true’ thrash metal albums that I have heard in a very long time, certainly from a band within what is referred to as the ‘new wave of thrash’ movement. In true thrash style, it is angry, it is spiteful and it sticks two metaphorical fingers up at the establishment. But more than that, the rhetoric is backed up by some killer heavy music. It makes me bang my head and, more importantly, has forced me to re-evaluate my opinion of thrash metal in general. And I wasn’t expecting that when I first pressed play, I can tell you.

The Score Of Much Metal: 9.25

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

2015 reviews
2016 reviews

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

Anticipated music in 2017 – an update – 30 Jan

Ayreon – The Source
Release date: 28 April 2017

ayreon-coverIt seems like every few days at the moment that we get a new Ayreon update. Not that I’m complaining at all. First we get the track listing and then we get a new song.

I must admit that the first time I watched the video and heard the music for ‘The Day That The World Breaks Down’, I got goosebumps. Not only because the music was strong, heavy and powerful, but because of the impact of the guest vocalists that litter the lengthy track. To have this amount of vocal talent in one place is bordering on criminally magical. You may have already seen me share it over social media outlets, but it can’t hurt to share it again here.

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I had high hopes for the new Ayreon album a few weeks ago. My excitement is now at a whole new level. I get the distinct impression that this could be Arjen Lucassen’s finest hour. Only three months to wait…

Pallbearer – Heartless
Release date: 24 March 2017

15826722_1705409859485158_999859890853457012_nIn the last few days, we have finally been treated to a new track off the upcoming Pallbearer album, ‘Heartless’. The song is called ‘Thorns’ and can be explored below.

Having featured Pallbearer in my ‘most anticipated’ series earlier in the month, I have been asked for my opinion of this new track a few times. In short, I really dig it – it still retains that doom sheen but the composition is so much more than that – it is varied, intriguing and enjoyable right off the bat. There are even hints to modern era Katatonia in there, which is a really welcome ingredient. If this is a true representation of the full album, I am very much on board.

Nailed to Obscurity – King Delusion
Release Date: 3 February 2017

15977895_10154446249752872_6528639204757627055_nI’m always on the hunt for exciting new music and during my most recent foray into the murky world of the extreme metal underground, I came across Nailed To Obscurity. They are a name that I’ve heard before but never had the overwhelming to explore. I’m not entirely sure I understand why that is because, based upon the track below, this is the kind of music that I truly love.

Heavy, dark and melodically aware, this has hints of early Katatonia and others within it but fundamentally, they create a very commendable racket indeed. New album ‘King Delusion’ is officially released very soon on 3rd February 2017 on Apostasy Records and I’m now feverishly trying to land a promo so that I can review the record for the Blog of Much Metal as soon as possible.

Mastodon – Emperor Of Sand
Release date: 31 March 2017

mastodon-emperor-of-sandI’d completely missed this album until last night when I stumbled upon the news. Mastodon are a big deal but not so much for me. I have a few o their albums but I’ve never warmed to them as much as I think I should have, or as much as others have. I’m not sure why, because on paper, their approach sounds right up my street. And yet the reality has never matched up. And yet I’m always interested to hear a new album from the industrious quartet.

‘Sultan’s Curse’ can be heard below and is a cut off the new record, ‘Emperor Of Sand’. I must admit that it is one of the most immediately enjoyable tracks I’ve heard from the metal juggernauts so I have a renewed vigour to check out this new album, maybe even give it a review if I can access a promo. Watch this space.

Demonic Resurrection – Dashavatar
Release date: 15 March 2017

15822908_1859610294309479_318929624969591399_nIndia is not a country renowned for heavy metal. However, flying what often feels like a lone flag for extreme metal in India is Demonic Resurrection. Over the past few years, their stock has risen quite a lot to the point where theirs is a name that is relatively well known in underground metal circles.

Their new album, ‘Dashavatar’ is released on 15th March 2017 on Demonstealer Records and below is ‘Matsya – The Fish’. As you can hear, Demonic Resurrection deliver their own take on technical death metal but they do so whilst embracing the musical influences of their homeland. As such, you’ll hear authentic instrumentation, sounds and textures within their music. I really like this and am looking forward to the album.

Vangough – Warpaint
Release date: 17 March 2017

I have been a fan of Vangough since the release of their debut album ‘Manikin Parade’ in 2009. The rich prog metal in the vein of classic Pain Of Salvation was a draw that was too powerful to resist and it is a record I still listen to a lot today. News therefore of a new album from the Oklahoma based progressive metallers is very welcome indeed, in spite of the fact that releases two and three were not, in my opinion, as strong as the debut.

I can offer you a teaser trailer of the new record and although it is difficult to glean too much from it, I’d say that the omens are good for a quality album. I’m genuinely chomping at the bit to see how this new album sounds. Who’s with me?

Firewind – Immortals – Album Review

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Artist: Firewind

Album Title: Immortals

Label: Century Media Records

Date Of Release: 20 January 2017

I really struggled in the beginning with ‘Immortals’, the eighth album from Greek melodic power metal band Firewind. They are a band with whom I am familiar and have had something of an on-off relationship over the years. Helmed by the extraordinary guitar talents of Gus G who, since 2009 has been the lead guitarist for the Prince of Darkness Ozzy Osbourne, you are not left wanting in the six-string department where Firewind are concerned, that’s for sure. Gus G can shred with the very best, delivering powerful riffs and flamboyant, lightning fast lead breaks on demand.

However, a guitar virtuoso alone does not make a great album full of interesting and accomplished material. It also takes talented song writers to create and a whole band to perform. And, in my early days of listening to ‘Immortals’, the former is where I feared the album may be flawed.

Comprised of Gus G alongside bassist Petros Christo, keyboardist Bob Katsionis and drummer Jo Nunez as well as brand new vocalist Henning Basse, ‘Immortals’ is chock full of individual talent and the performances are all very strong, suggesting that the chemistry and understanding within the quintet is at a high level.

However, my struggles with ‘Immortals’ initially came in the song writing department. It had nothing to do with the lyrical themes which, as it turns out, bring a concept to life. According to Gus himself, their first ever concept tells the ambitious story of ‘the Battles of Thermopylae and Salamis in 480 BC during the second Persian invasion of Greece’.

Lyrics aside though, I couldn’t shake the feeling that the music was a little bit too safe, predictable and paint-by-numbers. Not that I mind that per se, but if that’s the route you’re going to take, I want to be beaten over the head with music that gets my juices flowing, where the choruses are catchy as hell and where the whole thing just exudes quality. I didn’t get that with ‘Immortals’ and so I left it to one side for a day or two.

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These feelings remained as I returned to ‘Immortals’ and I was in danger of giving up until the mid-section of the album arrived. The trio of ‘Live And Die By The Sword’, ‘Wars Of Ages’ and ‘Lady of 1000 Sorrows’ suddenly clicked, pulling me out of my reverie and metaphorically slapping me around the face.

‘Live And Die By The Sword’ is a melodic metal track of quite huge proportions, delivering everything from a quiet intro to a rousing, punch-the-air battle-cry that will sound immense in the live arena, I have no doubt. The melodies lend the song an air of the truly epic, not to mention being catchy and anthemic as all hell.

‘War of Ages’ follows and maintains the quality via an up-tempo, blast-beat heavy rollicking melodic metal approach that’s topped off by a tremendous chorus that digs in deep and doesn’t let go. And then ‘Lady Of 1000 Sorrows’ changes the pace yet again. It is much slower, more ballad-like in construction with a moody and powerful melodic hard rock vibe. The chorus once again contains some killer hooks but it is the vocal performance of Basse which catches my ear most of all. His delivery is massively strong, full of gravelly soul and demonstrates his impressive range perfectly, not to mention his ability to convey emotion, not just go for all-out power.

My love for these three tracks then led me to listen more to the remainder of the album because I began to think I’d been a little too dismissive of Firewind’s latest effort. And you know what? I had. I still maintain that this middle section of the album is the strongest but I now appreciate much more of the material that surrounds it.

Like the ridiculously pompous ‘Ode To Leonidas’ for example, that begins with a strangely compelling monologue that seems fitting for a concept disc before launching into a bouncy, up-tempo number with yet another great chorus and a sprawling lead guitar solo from the maestro Gus G himself that then segues smoothly into a keyboard solo from Katsionis.

In fact, the keys are an unsung hero throughout ‘Immortal’, adding atmosphere and melody without getting in the way. Take the opener for example, which is reminiscent of the likes of Stratovarius and even the likes of Thunderstone thanks to a vaguely neo-classical feel that’s enhanced by the flamboyant keys that more than play their part.

However, being the band of Gus G, it is hardly surprising as I alluded to at the beginning of the review that the guitar work steals the show. Of course solos feature in every composition and it would be hard to find fault with them, such is the technique and touch that Gus G demonstrates whilst shredding at the speed of light. But with a closer listen, the riffs are equally impressive, whether they are faster-paced as with the Symphony X-ish ‘We Defy’ or of the sleazier hard rock influenced variety as witnessed within ‘Back On The Throne’.

So after a sticky start, I have come round to the charms of ‘Immortals’. As it turns out, the charms are many and they have eventually beaten me over the head, got my juices flowing and he whole thing does exude quality. It just took time to realise it. I’d even go so far as to say that ‘Immortals’ is the best and the most vital that Firewind have ever sounded, laying down a marker for all other melodic power metal to follow during 2017.

The Score Of Much Metal: 8.75

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

2015 reviews
2016 reviews

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

Deserted Fear – Dead Shores Rising – Album Review

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Artist: Deserted Fear

Album Title: Dead Shores Rising

Label: Century Media Records

Date of Release: 2017

My ambition to try to listen to more bands than ever in 2017 is off to a flyer with yet another new discovery that ticks plenty of boxes. The band in question is Deserted Fear, a German old school death metal trio comprised of guitarist/vocalist Manuel Glatter, guitarist Fabian Hildebrandt and drummer Simon Mengs. I say old school because the music on this, their third album ‘Dead Shores Rising’ is full of that groove and understated melody that typified much of the output from around 20 years ago.

What makes ‘Dead Shores Rising’ more interesting for me but will divide opinion amongst death metal aficionados the world over, is the choice of production. Sure there are still some raw edges to be heard and enjoyed, such as the harsh, guttural and raspy vocals from Glatter or the overall tone of the rumbling guitars that sound like the aural equivalent of wading through treacle. However, thanks to some mixing and mastering magic by Dan Swanö, there is an undeniably modern sheen to the music.

From the thoroughly brilliant and rousing opening intro that sounds like it could have been culled from a Jerry Bruckheimer blockbuster, you’re under no illusion that time and effort has been taken on the production, a theme that continues at the midway mark with the minute-long pause for breath ‘Interlude’. And then, throughout the remaining nine album tracks and two bonus cuts, one of which contains a guest vocal appearance from At The Gates’ Tomas Lindberg (‘The Path Of Sorrow’) you can hear the general polish that has been applied to soften a few of the rougher edges. The aforementioned guitars are just a little too monstrous and rich, the drums are just a little too crisp and the mix is just a little too clear and balanced for this to be a bona fide old school death metal album from back in the day.

I’ll probably take a lot of flack for this but I actually have no problem with this kind of groovy mid-tempo death metal having a clearer, stronger production. As with black metal, there are some within death metal circles who will like the rawer production as it conveys, in their eyes, more authenticity. I do agree but at the same time, if the music is good, I want to be able to hear it. I certainly don’t subscribe to the ‘recorded in a shoebox with a machine powered by the tears of squirrels’ approach to production, that’s for sure. As a result, ‘Dead Shores Rising’ sounds very nice to my ears indeed. But more importantly, the vibe and intensity remains intact.

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Musically-speaking, I am equally satisfied with the end result. I remember the days when I heard Entombed for the first time or Obituary, Dismember or even At The Gates. To a greater or lesser extent, these are all good reference points for the output of Deserted Fear and I get the same kind of overall feelings listening to ‘Dead Shores Rising’ as I did when I first listened to the aforementioned. The power, the brutality, the malevolence, the clandestine melodies, and the more overt hooks – it is all there and it is thoroughly absorbing. This is the kind of no-frills, headbanging, groove-laden death metal with a hint or two of melodeath that I really enjoy listening to. This stuff makes me smile, I just can’t help it. Or to save face, perhaps it just makes me grin wickedly.

From the opening moments of ‘The Fall of Leaden Skies’ to the final notes of ‘The Path Of Sorrow’, the riffs, courtesy of Hildebrandt and Glatter are the king of Deserted Fear’s world. They bludgeon, they groove, they scythe and they relentlessly pummel for nigh on 45 minutes, but they do it with no small amount of style and panache. Admittedly there is a paucity of variation on ‘Dead Shores Rising’ but why would you want the music to be markedly different from song to song when the quality of what they offer is so high in the first place? There are times where you want to be entertained without having to think too hard. And, without denigrating the musicians involved or their collective talents and efforts, this is the perfect extreme metal record for just that purpose.

And whilst the guitar riffs dominate, they are more than ably assisted by the other instruments, including the drumming from Simon Mengs, which lays down a meaty foundation upon which the relentless six string action can take place. In addition to the riffs, I like the fact that there are lead guitar lines that introduce some measure of melody and that there are just enough lead solos to keep things interesting, helping to quench my personal thirst for such things, without derailing the impact of the tracks too much.

But it is the compositions themselves that transform what is an already strong blueprint into something rather brilliant. Nothing is extraneous, nothing is unnecessary. Each composition is a tight, well drilled and excellently executed slice of extreme heavy metal. Aside from one track, ‘Carry On’, no track extends much beyond four minutes, meaning that the material is a well-honed beast that wastes no time in making its mark on the listener.

In many ways, given the strength of the entire album, it would be unfair to pick out specific highlights. But I can’t let this review pass without mentioning a couple of my personal favourites.

‘The Fall Of Leaden Skies’ is a killer composition, setting the album on its way masterfully. After a flamboyant drum intro, the blend of fast-paced and groovy riffs atop an almost perpetual blastbeat makes an instant impression, culminating in a chorus that is almost catchy.

‘Open Their Gates’ on the other hand contains hints of early Obituary primarily in the monumentally heavy and groovy mid-tempo sections and via Glatter’s more contorted and convulsive vocal delivery.

And then there’s my personal favourite, the masterful ‘Face Our Destiny’, which cuts loose a little more. It therefore features more in the way of lead guitar histrionics, stronger more pronounced melodies within the chorus and an epic-sounding 45-second outro complete with wailing lead guitar.

I have absolutely fallen for the immense charms of Deserted Fear and this, their third full-length studio album. ‘Dead Shores Rising’ is a totally compelling album that has completely renewed and reinvigorated my love for death metal. It is bold, it is savage and it kicks some serious butt. What more could you possibly want?

The Score Of Much Metal: 9.25

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

2015 reviews
2016 reviews

Kreator – Gods Of Violence
Borealis – World of Silence MMXVII
Pain of Salvation – In The Passing Light of Day