I’m really not entirely sure how I should view this album, and how I should go about reviewing it.
Thirteen Goats is a new name to me, and to the metal world at large, with little known about the band, other than they like heavy, extreme metal, they have a sense of humour, and ‘Servants Of The Outer Dark’ is their debut full-length offering. Comprised of three musicians, Graham K. Miles (vocals, lead and rhythm guitars), Rob Fitzgerald (lead and rhythm guitars, vocals), and Mike Redston (bass, vocals, acoustic guitar), this band is then rounded out in the live arena by drummer Leonid Verman, with the bass duties switching to Cody Lewichew. Together, this ensemble takes us into a world of death metal that is hard to definitively describe.
Apparently, according to the ‘fun facts’ presented within the accompanying press release Miles is a classically trained Shakespearian actor with a master’s degree in theatre from the New School for Drama in New York City. This goes some way to explain the more flamboyant elements to this album that show up throughout, although maybe some of it was an outlet for the frontman to turn his pain into something creative – Miles played all of his guitar solos with a broken finger and two sprained wrists following a motorbike accident midway through the recording process. This is some feat and perhaps helps to underline the apparent determination and hunger of Thirteen Goats to succeed where so many others have failed. Clearly, they are made of strong stuff up there in Canada.
The thing that threw me from the very beginning, and still does to some extent, is the way in which the opening title track differs so markedly from the remainder of the album. The band themselves admit that this is the most melodic song on the album, but that doesn’t really tell the full story because ‘Servants Of The Outer Dark’ is so much more catchy and immediate than the rest of the album. With a gentle acoustic guitar-led intro, clean vocals and a full-on melodic death metal hook-laden chorus, it becomes disconcerting to not hear anything of its like again within any of the subsequent eight songs. That isn’t to say that the remainder of the material isn’t good, it’s just that I feel I have to register the slight pang of disappointment I encountered when I realised that there was no similar output anywhere else on the album.
With time, I have been able to make peace with the initial feelings of disappointment, not least because there is some genuinely great material to be heard on the album if you take the time to listen and treat the songs on their own merits. For example, ‘Challenge The Executioner’ is a thunderous and aggressive beast of a death metal track, with an impressive array of technical-sounding riffs, vibrant bass work, and some truly bruising drumming. It’s a song that proves that these guys have the ability and the chops to succeed, whilst channelling bands like Lamb Of God into their output.
On the other hand, you have a song like ‘Return To Ruin’ that is part thrash-infused monster, and part groove fest. Again, it is heavy and aggressive with the speed to match when the pace is kicked up a notch, but equally, the slower sections are no shrinking violets either, with a steamroller-like, pounding groove. The juxtaposition works really well, too, making it a much more memorable and enjoyable affair than I first gave it credit for. The spoken-word part is a little hammed-up, but it further emphasises the thrash vibe, backed up by lyrics that touch on the political, talking about institutions that have failed this current generation. The political content is maintained elsewhere, such as within the more no-frills, dialled up to eleven attack of ‘Prisoner’s Anthem’.
And then you have songs with names like ‘Through the Meat Grinder…The Recipe’ which is about as serious as a clown on a unicycle. Mind you, the song itself is nothing to be laughed at, what with its slow doom-like intro that then explodes into full-on death metal territory before veering into all sorts of wild and wonderful places, the musical equivalent of a toddler searching high and low for the biscuit tin. And how about the opening to ‘Sub-being’ which begins with a twisted circus ringleader’s address to the audience – it’s a little incongruous, as is the ensuing ‘whoop, whoop’ declaration before a brutal slab of death metal kicks in to blow our heads off.
As I declared right at the start, this is a difficult album to review as it has a little bit of everything within it, without nailing any colours firmly to the mast. The death metal quota is highest and acts as the framework around which everything else congregates, but even after several weeks in the company of this album, I don’t instinctively think of it as a death metal album. And that’s because of the wide variety of influences at play and, dare I say it, a lack of genuine, true identity from the band. Instead, I’ll cop out slightly and refer to it as extreme metal where just about anything goes. Nevertheless, I’d urge you to take a listen to ‘Servants Of The Outer Dark’ because as debuts go, there is an awful lot to enjoy within it. I also have a strong sense when I listen, that there is plenty more to come from Thirteen Goats. I certainly hope so.
A combination of melodic death metal and Finland? That sounds like a marriage made in heaven to me. For a start, there’s no doubting the heavy metal credentials of this country across a huge range of subgenres, but it is also home to my favourite melodic death metal band of all time: Omnium Gatherum. Reading that the guitarist for this band and Insomnium, Mr Markus Vanhala, makes an appearance on the title track with a lead solo just sealed the deal and I willingly placed my ears in the care of ‘Towards The Dying Lands’, the sophomore release from Horizon Ignited, following 2019’s debut ‘After The Storm’.
Formed in 2017, Horizon Ignited is a sextet comprised of vocalist Okko Solanterä, guitarists Johannes Mäkinen and Vili Vottonen, keyboardist Miska Ek, bassist Jukka Haarala, and drummer Jiri Vanhatalo. And whether or not you’ll like this record will depend on a few factors including how you prefer your melodic death metal to sound. We all know how varied the output can be when placed under this loose and overarching description, and Horizon Ignited have a very definite approach. Put it this way, if you’re wanting to hear the next Omnium Gatherum, this isn’t the record for you. Equally, if you want a similar sound to Amon Amarth, At The Gates, or Insomnium, there’s a fair chance that you’ll end up a little disappointed I’m afraid.
Instead, the tack that Horizon Ignited have chosen sees them more closely aligned to more current era In Flames, with a hint of the melodic end of Dark Tranquillity peeking through. Add to this a modern sheen, a reasonable dose of metalcore and some moments where alt rock plays a part, and you’ll be in the general vicinity of these Finns’ output. Going in blind to this album, with only the words ‘melodic death metal’ and ‘Finland’ in my mind, I must admit I was surprised by what I heard subsequently. Not one to arbitrarily dismiss a band because it wasn’t what I was expecting, I charged on regardless to see what I thought.
Having done just that, I’m going to be honest and say that the style of music that Horizon Ignited offer up on ‘Towards The Dying Lands’ is probably not what I’d normally choose to listen to, but that doesn’t mean that the finished article is not without merit. For my personal tastes though, the music is just a bit too polished, a bit too clean, a bit too mainstream-sounding, and at times, not quite heavy enough to send me off into raptures.
Despite this summary, there is plenty that I can still get on board with. As such, I think that the band should be commended that their performances and song writing ability are such that I can still find a certain amount of enjoyment with their music even if it doesn’t sit within my normal wheelhouse. The music is definitely catchy and melodic, so that’s an element that’s very hard to ignore for a start.
From the outset, there’s a demonstrable In Flames vibe within the guitar tones and the chosen riffs of ‘Beyond Your Reach’. The song rides along at a solid mid-tempo, with chunky guitars and a strong rhythmic spine, the growls of Okko Solanterä properly deep and powerful too. The chorus, however, reveals a clean approach that’s far more melodic and mainstream, almost befitting an alt-rock or nu-metal band. The song is well put together and reasonably memorable, but even at this early stage, I’m searching for a ‘wow’ factor, or interesting USP that fails to fully materialise.
This lack of a unique selling point continues as the album further develops, with song after song delivering some decent riffs, a nice hooky chorus, and the familiar blend of gruff and clean vocals. Tracks like ‘Servant’ or ‘Reveries’ will get stuck in your head because they are enjoyable compositions, that benefit from a good production that affords clarity to all concerned. But there just isn’t enough here to convince me that ‘Towards The Dying Lands’ is anything truly special unfortunately.
A few of the songs either open with clean vocals or feature this delivery more prominently. When this is the case, the melodic death metal descriptor becomes that little bit more tenuous to say the least. The title track is one of these very songs, which despite featuring the guest lead solo from Omnium Gatherum and Insomnium’s Markus Vanhala, sounds more like a meaty mainstream heavy metal song rather than a cutting or bludgeoning slice of death metal. Other tracks of this ilk include ‘Guiding Light’ with its sprawling chorus that has more of an EMO, or metalcore vibe than anything approaching extreme metal. Then there’s the quasi-ballad-like ‘Arching Wings’ which is catchy as hell, but as heavy and edgy as the storylines in Peppa Pig.
Occasionally, the aggression is increased to include a more vibrant and faster beat from the drums and bass, such as ‘End Of The Line’ for example. But these moments feel like they are the exception rather than the rule, leading to a firm impression in my mind that this album is just too smooth and, dare I say it, safe.
As you all know, I vehemently dislike writing reviews that are anything less than positive. However, if I am to listen to more and more music in order to bring readers as much new material as possible, it is inevitable that this will happen with greater frequency. Nevertheless, I always try to steer away from being negative without being constructive in my criticism. Ultimately, Horizon Ignited’s music found here on ‘Towards The Dying Lands’ may not be to my personal taste, but I’d still urge anyone to give it a listen because the content of this record is professionally crafted and well executed. It might even be your next great discovery.
Ever since I discovered ‘Expanding Senses’ back in 2002 or thereabouts, I have had a soft spot for Swedish band Darkane. At a time when I was still very heavily into exploring everything that the melodic death metal genre had to offer, I stumbled across their third album and never looked back. What attracted me to Darkane was the fact that they were always just a little bit different from everyone else in the densely populated scene. Whilst others were experimenting with loads of clean vocals, going ultra-melodic, or completely the opposite direction, here was a band that had a much more pronounced thrash metal element to their output, alongside some great riffs, and savagery blended with a sense of the epic and grandiose. I also liked the vaguely progressive edge that they had, meaning that you had to work a little harder to fully appreciate their output. To me, this was a great mix which led to my becoming a firm fan of the quintet.
And then, after they released album number six, ‘The Sinister Supremacy’ in 2013, everything went very quiet. And it isn’t clear why. But no matter, because 2022 is the year that Darkane have retuned, and I for one am happy about this. With one of the most stable line-ups in extreme metal, the original core quartet who came together in 1998 remain present and correct. This means that the guitars are handled by Klas Ideberg and Christofer Malmström, Jörgen Löfberg is the bassist, and Peter Wildoer remains on the drum stool. The vocalist is the only person that has changed over the years, but original singer Lawrence Mackrory fronts ‘Inhuman Spirits’, his second album appearance since his return in 2011.
After such a prolonged hiatus, their return could have gone one of several ways. The resultant album could have been a pale shadow of their past offerings, it could have seen their modus operandi change with a pronounced identity shift, or the quintet could have come back hungrier than ever, or with no real appreciable change to their core identity. Thankfully, it is the latter that has transpired, and this has made me even happier.
It takes precisely 2.5 seconds before I start to smile. The opening song is also the title track and in classic Darkane style, it comes roaring out of the blocks with intensity, heaviness, and a grandiose bombast that only they can deliver. The drums mete out a punishing beat, ably assisted by a rumbling bass and strong riffs, all coated in some excellent, rich orchestration. Darkane are back, peeps! From there, Lawrence Mackrory takes centre stage with his familiar aggressive, gritty, snarling delivery whilst the energetic hybrid of death and thrash metal alongside him cuts and scythes with precise intensity. The chorus, however, when it arrives, is a magnificent thing of thunderous and melodic beauty. It takes a few spins to fully make its mark, but when it lodges itself in your brain, it will not let go.
Up next is ‘Awakening’ and whilst it is still unmistakeably Darkane, the approach is slightly different. It’s much more death metal-centric, with Mackrory unleashing a deeper growl that is less decipherable. That is, until the chorus, which is a stomping, groove-laden beast that builds upon the far less orchestrated, and far more muscular, chunky riff-laden affair that you hear in the verses. As the song develops, there’s a return to the cleaner vocals, plus there’s a large dollop of melody within the lead guitar solos that emerge later in the track.
The more I listen to ‘Inhuman Spirits’, the more I come to the conclusion that the album could very well be neatly split into two halves. Opener aside, the first few songs feel a little more spiky, incisive, and aggressive; there is still melody and groove, of that there’s no doubt, but the songs feel a little more confrontational and extreme, if I can use that descriptor. The second half however, is markedly more catchy and more melodic overall. Unless my ears are playing tricks on me of course.
And then track five, ‘Inhaling Mental Chaos’ kicks in. It still deploys a pleasing amount of strong and tight riffs, not sacrificing the heaviness one iota, but after a frenetic introduction, the melody feels more immediate and pronounced. Those that know me will know that this is a very positive thing indeed, so the combination of memorable riffs and melodically tinged cleaner vocals of Mackrory satisfy my needs perfectly. The ensuing lead solos and harmonic leads are delicious too, bringing that wicked smile to my lips once again.
I could pick any number of songs to thrust under the spotlight, but the truth is that ‘Inhuman Spirits’ is a remarkably consistent creation, with not one of the ten songs falling short, not even the slightly strange and unexpected final instrumental that’s just piano and atmospherics to end the record in moody fashion. It won’t be everyone’s preferred way of ending the album, but thanks to the darkness and the melancholy within the central melody, I rather like it.
Back to the heavier songs though, and ‘Mansion Of Torture’ is a snarling, frothing monster of a track that blends savagery and attitude with a huge chorus that once again sees some pronounced symphonic orchestration to inject that sense of majestic opulence to the material, culminating in a full-on cinematic film score outro.
In a slight change of pace, the intro to ‘The Quintessence Of…’ is a much slower affair, that shows the way in which Darkane can, if the need arises, offer a sense of more measured drama and slow build to their material. I love the way that the music builds from all corners of the band over the course of a minute or more, taking its time to come to full fruition. Whilst the pace does quicken slightly within the verses, it is a slower-paced composition overall, revelling in a big, grandstand chorus via a wonderfully groovy riff that will test those neck muscles whether or not you want it to. Alongside the title track, this is where Darkane are at their most gloriously epic and it’s at this point that I suddenly realise how much I love this band and how much I have missed them over the past near decade.
‘A Spiral To Nothing’ is a catchy and upbeat song, whose opening riff and melody reminds me a little of Arch Enemy, albeit in their early days when they wrote their best material by a million miles. There’s also a hint of early Megadeth too, particularly in the chorus that mimics the song title by cleverly spiralling down as it goes along. But don’t be fooled, because this is still 100% Darkane.
The only disappointment that I have is that I singularly failed in my attempt to bring this review to you before the album’s release. However, being such an important band for me and many others, and with such expectation after their hiatus, I felt I owed it to Darkane to get this review right, and to give the music as much time to fully resonate as possible. Having done that, I am delighted to be able to say that ‘Inhuman Spirits’ shows that this quintet have lost none of their ability, hunger, or bite. All that remains is my now heightened ambition to see the Swedes on a stage as I’ve never had the pleasure to date. In the meantime, won’t you all please stop what you are doing and wrap your ears around ‘Inhuman Spirits’, as Darkane are well and truly back.
“…‘Embodiment Of The Divine’ is a great record, deservedly raising the stock of the talented Josh Dummer and Buried Realm ever higher. This is one of the best melodic death metal albums I have heard this year, just as the debut was back in 2017. By anyone’s standards, that’s an impressive run of form, one which I hope continues with album number three.”
The final words of my review of Buried Realm’s sophomore release are worth restating as album three is now upon us. Self-titled and self-released, ‘Buried Realm’ has a lot to live up to based on my comments, and those of many other metal journalists the world over. However, the mastermind behind Buried Realm and multi-instrumentalist Josh Dummer is not only talented, but he’s also ambitious, driven, and hard-working. That’s a powerful combination in anyone’s language, and so the American has as much chance as anyone.
Aside from the drums that are performed throughout this release by Heikki Saari, Dummer does everything. Guitars, bass, vocals, songwriting; the whole works. That being said, though, the fact that he is once again joined by a cast of guest musicians to sprinkle their own magic into the mix, only helps to increase the sense of expectation around this release, for me anyway. Bob Katsionis (Serious Black, ex-Firewind), Christian Münzner (Obscura, Alkaloid), Christofer Malmström (Darkane), Christopher Amott (Dark Tranquillity, ex-Arch Enemy), Dan Swanö (Edge Of Sanity, Witherscape), and Dean Arnold (Primalfrost, ex-Vital Remains) all pay a visit to the world that Dummer has created, all adding a little something extra along the way.
I would hazard a guess that Dummer’s primary instrument is almost certainly the guitar, based on the music he creates, his promo photos, and the fact that the vast majority of his chosen guests are known for their prowess with the stringed instrument of the Gods. If you are thus far unfamiliar with Buried Realm, this alone should give you an idea of what you can expect. Call it extreme metal, call it melodic death metal, call it technical death metal, call it anything you want. The bottom line is that each of these descriptors holds a certain amount of accuracy. But more importantly, however you define it, the music seriously shreds. Whether it’s in the form of a neck breaking riff, a clever lick, or a face-melting solo, not a single song goes by when Dummer and friends don’t worship at the altar of the six string.
After a relatively modest, quiet, and melodic intro in the form of ‘Entrance’, ‘Spectral Light’ explodes with real intent. Blastbeats and heavy, sharp riffs are the order of the day here, as Dummer lays down an early marker. His vocals are as caustic as previous albums, whilst a modicum of melody and groove surfaces within the verses. The chorus is reminiscent of the days when Arch Enemy could actually write a memorable song; it’s melodic and catchy, yet it remains a bruising affair with a pummelling rhythm section at its core. The speed at which some of the ensuing riffs are executed is thoroughly impressive, underlining the skill of Dummer perfectly.
Easily the fastest and most intense of all the compositions on this record surfaces in the form of ‘Poison Palace’ which, according to Dummer himself explores the topic of some people becoming dependant upon drugs and other chemical substances. I love the range of vocals used, from the higher-pitched dry approach, to the deep guttural growls which are so satisfying. This track also features one of the most arresting solos heard on this album, a whirlwind of melody and technical dexterity within the confines of one of the harshest songs on offer.
The galloping groove and effervescent lead lines not a million miles from what In Flames would deliver in their heyday create a bit of a false impression on ‘The Iron Flame’. A song about the loss of family and friends, it initially feels too exuberant. But listen more closely and the melodic sensibilities, as well as the wailing, flamboyant leads that feature heavily hide a vague note of melancholy too, a bittersweet note to what is one of my personal favourite tracks on ‘Buried Realm’. The guitar work is insane and when it finally calms at the end, the synths bathe the closing moments in a reflective sense of calm.
Speaking of synths, the introduction to ‘Witch Bones’ is dominated by them, but more of a theatrical tinkling than anything else. Enhancing the lyrical content that explores themes of human temptation towards evil, it’s a shorter, snappier composition that is no less bruising for its brevity. Those with a soft spot for the deep grorls of Dan Swanö will swoon over ‘Where The Armless Phantoms Glide’, a preposterously named song that sees the guest duet with Dummer to great effect, whilst once again, we’re treated to guitar gymnastics all over the place. Particularly enjoyable are the muscular riffs and the bold cinematic synths that come to the fore in the latter stages of the song to counteract the more sci-fi inspired sounds that also lurk within.
One of my other firm favourites however, has to be ‘Elder Gods’. As I’m always at pains to admit, I’m a sucker for melody and this song produces some of the strongest and most enjoyable on this record. The chorus to this beast is groovy and catchy which, in turn, makes it one of the most fun sounding in my eyes. My head nods, my air guitar makes an appearance, and I smile broadly as the track unfolds. The great thing about it though, is that for all the melody, the heaviness and intensity is never compromised; instead, the two elements compliment each other very well indeed.
This self-titled record then ends with a cover of ‘He’s Back (The Man Behind The Mask)’ by Alice Cooper. Whether deliberate or not, I get a hint of Children of Bodom in this track due to the chosen synth sounds. To be perfetly honest, it’s a fascinating rendition because were I not already familiar with the original, I’d not have realised it was a cover.
The only way to conclude this review is to return to the beginning and again reference my review of ‘Embodiment Of The Divine’. At the time, I expressed my hopes that the third Buried Realm album would continue an impressive run of form. As it turns out, Josh Dummer has gone one better, by creating his best body of work yet. It’s often the way that artists will self-title a record that they feel immensely proud of, and that tradition continues here. ‘Buried Realm’ is chock full of all the things you want from this entity: technicality, aggression, and melody, with plenty of guitar histrionics to top it all off. But, you also need good songs and, on that score, there are absolutely no complaints from me. In short, Buried Realm have never sounded better.
As many of you will know all too well, I tend to write long reviews that go into some detail about the release I’m faced with. However, given that this EP lasts for just 16 minutes, I shall try my best to match that brevity here. The EP is entitled ‘No Man Isle’, and it comes from a Norwegian entity by the name of Haunted By Silhouettes.
What surprised me when I carried out my research, was that Haunted By Silhouettes have been around for nearly a decade. I thought that this EP might be one of their first but, as it turns out, it is their third EP to go alongside two full-length albums released so far. I’ve obviously been asleep at the wheel when it comes to this band, especially as they offer a rather palatable brand of melodic death metal, if ‘No Man Isle’ is anything to go by.
Comprised of vocalist Mathias Jamtli Rye, guitarists Per Kristian Grimsland and Stian Hoel Fossen, bassist Ola Nilsen Kjøren, and drummer Håvard Bustad, the quintet caught my ear immediately when I took an early exploratory listen. ‘No Man Isle’ may only be comprised of four full tracks and an intro piece which are gone in the blink of an eye, but it’s a really satisfying blink that’s for sure.
What I really enjoy about the music on ‘No Man Isle’ is the way that the quintet have found a good blend of old and new. The core of the band’s sound is clearly inspired by the ‘Gothenburg sound’ of the 90s, but they ensure that the songs remain relevant two or three decades later by adding a more modern edge, created through the use of synths and electronic sounds. But it’s not overdone in my opinion, so that the resultant music avoids feeling soulless.
If I did have a slight criticism though, it would be a slightly strange one. As I listen, I can’t help but feel that the music is almost too smooth, too polished, and too ‘nice’. The melodies within this EP are memorable and catchy, whilst the production is powerful and meaty. But, to be critical, melodic or not, this is death metal and there is a lack of an edge at times, which can often add another dimension to this kind of music.
But it’s a minor niggle, and aside from that, there’s not much else to bemoan. The intro piece, ‘Departure’ is over in a flash of synths and electronics, to be replaced by a hard-hitting slab of melodic death metal courtesy of ‘Flock’, complete with memorable riffs, a satisfying growl, and powerful drumming. The chorus allows the synths to come to the fore, as the melodies make their mark. I do get mid-era In Flames echoes here, but it comes with enough of their own ingredients, that the similarities are not too overpowering.
‘Selkie’ dials back the heaviness slightly and has more of a quasi-ballad feel despite the deep growls, and features the huge talents of Bjorn ‘Speed’ Strid of Soilwork and The Night Flight Orchestra to lend his clean vocals to the chorus. If you’re a Speed fan, this song will be irresistible to you, as it is to me, although the chorus is not quite as electric as it’s predecessor if I’m being entirely honest.
The most aggressive song on ‘Ni Man Isle’ has to be ‘Icon’, which bursts out of the speakers with barely controlled intent, and features the dirtiest riffs on this EP. Again, though, the chorus is smooth, synth-bathed, and melodic, meaning that it isn’t difficult to really warm to. There’s even room for a quit synth-led cinematic section towards the end.
And finally, we’re faced with the title track, which has a demonstrable Nordic folk feel to it. The pace is slowed, the melodies are more elegant and flowing, and there’s even an appearance from what sounds like an accordion. I wasn’t expecting this, but oddly, it works, adding a different vibe to what is a more nuanced and intriguing track overall.
Based on the content of ‘No Man Isle’, I wish it was longer, much longer. That in itself should demonstrate to you how much I like the music from Haunted By Silhouettes here. It may be a short and snappy affair, but the Norwegians make the very most of it and, in so doing, have made me sit up and take notice of a band that I previously knew nothing about. My appetite has been well and truly whetted for their next release, one for which I will keep an eager eye open. I tried to be brief, I really did!
You may not have heard of the band at the heart of this review, but if you are familiar with the names Suidakra or Graveworm, then you may wish to stick with me for a while. And that’s because Dragonbreed are an amalgam of the two entities, created to offer a platform for music written during the most recent Suidakra writing sessions that didn’t fit that album, ‘Wolfbite’. Vocalist/guitarist Arkadius ‘Akki’ Antonik pulled together his Suidakra bandmates Sebastian Jensen and Ken Jentzen, former bassist Christoph ‘Zachi’ Zacharowski, and Graveworm vocalist Stefano Fiori to create Dragonbreed, almost certainly named after a Suidakra song from their 2000 release, ‘Arcanum’.
‘Necrohedron’, with its arresting cover artwork, is the result of their endeavours. It’s just shy of 38 minutes long and consists of eight individual tracks that harken back to the heyday of melodic death metal. And when I say that, I’m of course referring to the mid-late 90s when the scene was awash with superb bands creating even better music. That said, Dragonbreed don’t just spend their time worshiping at the altar of the Gothenburg greats; there is a lot of that style to be heard naturally, but there is enough variety spread across the album to ensure that the music remains relevant and interesting in the modern day. I was impressed from the first listen, but my enjoyment has increased further, the more I listen to it.
If I can get the negatives out of the way first, before extolling its virtues, I find that ‘Necrohedron’ runs out of steam a little towards the end. Or, to put it another way, the best material is very much front-loaded. The album packs a massive punch early on but struggles a little to maintain the high standards for the entire record. I also think that Dragonbreed do need to settle on an identity that is more their own; it remains to be seen whether this venture will be a one-off, but if they are to return, then they need to bring with them something a little more unique to help them stand out from the pack within what is, a very competitive scene.
Enough of the negatives though, because I want to explore all that is good about Dragonbreed and ‘Necrohedron’. And this is relatively easy because you could pick any one of the opening five or so tracks and be hit with something that’s worthy of the entrance fee.
Predictably, I’m going to start with the opening composition, ‘The Undying’ because, for my money, it’s quite possibly the best of the bunch, beginning the record with a real bang and a statement of genuine intent. There’s barely any kind of intro to speak of before we’re pinned to the wall by a ferocious blast of heaviness, complete with deep growls, frenetic drums, and sharp riffs. The melody comes in after a while, but it doesn’t dilute the brutality or the intensity of the track, it enhances it. Early In Flames and Dark Tranquillity are immediate reference points, made all the more prominent by a lovely acoustic guitar interlude. This was a staple of a lot of early 90s melodic death metal, and I’m a real sucker for it if I’m honest. I love the way that the heaviness gradually increases around it, I also quite like the spoken-word element too.
With my interest fully captured, ‘Summoning The Arcane’ goes all-out to keep it. It’s a muscular, no-nonsense affair, with chunky riffs, meaty rhythms, and melodies that are catchy, but not overly saccharine either. In seeking to remain relevant in the modern world, there’s a very slight nod to the ‘core’ lovers out there thanks to a beefy closing riff, but it’s done tastefully and with style.
I love the dark, dramatic opening to ‘The World Beyond’, which gives way to a pleasing mid-tempo stomp, but delivered with understated flair. It’s a song that gets the neck muscles moving, and again, there are some nice melodies to be heard, giving it an immediacy. What I wasn’t expecting was the part that’s just bass accompanied by a slightly cleaner, snarled vocal. The bass is dirty and has a thrash edge to it which is cool, and it demonstrates a willingness to explore different ideas, something that’s perhaps easier for a new band than an established act with a clear modus operandi.
The final couple of minutes of ‘Sinister Omen’ are marvellous too. The main body of the song is very solid, but the melody is suddenly increased in the latter stages, only to be replaced by another gorgeous acoustic section with more spoken-word embellishment that ends up seeing the song to its conclusion. Those of us of a certain vintage have got to like the very subtle hint to At The Gates with the feedback/amp sounds that usher in ‘Offerings From Yonder’. Whether or not this was intentional, it’s a nice touch for sure.
Aside from the fact that the final couple of tracks don’t quite hit the mark with me as strongly as the earlier material, there’s really not very much that I can find fault with here. Dragonbreed is a band that, on the strength of ‘Necrohedron’, I fervently hope is not neglected in the years to come. Naturally the protagonists’ ‘main’ bands of Suidakra and Graveworm will come first, but it would be a crying shame if we never get to hear some new old-school melodic death metal done the Dragonbreed way, especially if it builds upon these solid foundations, of which I’m sure they are entirely capable.
I’ve never seen a single minute of the TV show ‘Stranger Things’, so when this album is described as “a cross between Gothenburg metal and the score to ‘Stranger Things’”, half of the reference is lost on me. It goes on to suggest that “‘Vermillion Oceans’ sounds like a massive, zeitgeisty metal album taking a stroll through Hawkins, Indiana.” My assumption that Hawkins is the setting for the TV show proved correct on closer inspection, but it still means nothing to me. Hell, I’m neck deep in music reviews for this website, so the chance to indulge in TV binge watching isn’t even an option. I’ve made my bed, so I must now lie in it.
Fortunately, I know my melodic death metal, so the Gothenburg reference pricked up my ears, even if the cover artwork and imagery left me thinking that perhaps the PR company had mixed up the promo blurb with another album, perhaps an 80s tinged Gothic rock record. But no, ‘Vermillion Oceans’ is very much a melodeath album and it comes from the minds of a five-piece from Stuttgart in Germany called Credic. ‘Vermillion Oceans’, as it transpires, is actually their second release and, on balance, it’s not bad at all.
I thought I’d reference the elephant in the room from the outset, and state that this album does sound like it was heavily inspired by the ‘Haven’ era of Dark Tranquillity. So, depending upon your level of appreciation for that kind of output, you’ll either love or loathe ‘Vermillion Oceans’ accordingly. Interestingly, the press release references ‘Haven’ specifically, so this isn’t a case of my ears misbehaving, thankfully. That said, I need to make a further two points before I move on. Firstly, the music is not a complete replica of Dark Tranquillity’s Millennium baby and secondly, neither does this effort quite reach the same standards.
All that being said, ‘Vermillion Oceans’ is still a thoroughly decent slab of melodic death metal, and it does have a few of its own nuances to explore. For a start, some of the material within the music has been given the ‘modern’ treatment, meaning that the songs contain some up-to-date electronic and synths sounds. Take the title track as the example of what I’m getting at. Within the song, there are some bold effects and sounds that are more akin to the ‘modern metal’ sphere, bands like Amaranthe springing to mind immediately. The chorus is catchy and is a fittingly heavy, whilst vocalist Stefan Scheu does a reasonable job at not sounding a million miles away from Michael Stanne, growling deeply and confidently atop the metallic tumult, that veers into vaguely metalcore territory with chugging stop-start riffs from guitarists Andreas Steinle.
Whereas ‘Haven’ typically beat us with track after banging track of short, sharp, melodic intensity, Credic dabble in slightly longer compositions. It’s all relative though, as I’m only talking four-to-five minutes duration, with only three tracks here coming in at the sub-four-minute mark. One of these songs, ‘Darkened Fields’ is an utter delight though, coming in with a catchy lead guitar lick before an immediate melody assaults the ears. The chorus, bathed in bold synths, is driven forcefully by the drum/bass combo of Waldemar Janzen and Martin Stump respectively. Interestingly, it is Janzen who handles the electronics, and, on this song, he excels, creating a rich atmosphere to accompany the melodies.
‘Chosen Ordeal’ on the other hand, is a much more thrash-infused and uncompromising affair with expressive bas lines and guitar riffs that are sharp and which occasionally verge on the discordant to increase the more aggressive side of the band. But at the half-way mark, in marches a brief melodic section to give the song a completely different feel, even if the more extreme instrumentation returns until the end.
To their credit, the quintet are also willing to experiment a bit and on ‘Tethys Mix’, they allow Janzen to stand front and centre, creating a quiet, but brooding and cinematic composition that then brings in really bold electronics later in the piece to add to the introduction of the metallic instruments. I’m not sure it’s my favourite piece, but it shows the intent within the band to not just offer ten identical tracks. Some might shout ‘filler’, but instead I find it an interesting change of pace. Equally worthy of note is the more atmospheric and slightly more progressive sounding ‘Long Street’, which closes the album with some style, despite lacking that standout melody I was hoping for.
Mind you, if you’re looking for melodies, there are lots of places to look here, such as the opener ‘Tides Disharmonized’ which begins so abruptly that you’re left momentarily reeling. But as it settles, in come the synth-soaked riffs and melodic chorus, complete with fast-picked, cold riffing, and an overall presence that is hard not to enjoy, even the unexpected dalliance with Gothic trappings somewhere in the middle. The early groove within ‘The Path’ is delightful too, it must be said, as is the synth-heavy ‘Haven’-esque chorus that cuts through the muscular groove nicely.
Most surprising however, is ‘Autumns Spring’ which manages to blend whimsical and gentle cinematic filmscore-like synths with heavy riffing, and melodic death metal burliness. In fact, if Credic were to follow this path more on their next outing, I’d be all over it like a rash – I really like this song and it’s probably the stand-out track on the album.
Overall, I must conclude that ‘Vermillion Oceans’ is a very decent, enjoyable album. Despite it not being particularly original and lacking that knock-out punch, I have no doubt that it will find favour with fans of the more modern, melodic end of the melodic death metal genre. It is well-crafted, well-performed, and delivers in terms of heaviness and memorability, although I’d have liked even more in terms of anthemic material seeing as the guys are clearly capable of such things. As such, Credic’s sophomore release, ‘Vermillion Oceans’ comes with a recommendation from me – ignore the incongruous cover artwork and take a listen to the music within, safe in the knowledge that it’s pretty darn good.
Label: Crusader Records (Golden Robot Global Entertainment)
Date of Release: 1 April 2022
When I was presented with this promo, my first thought when I saw the band name and the artwork was that I’d be taken down a misty, murky path of folk tinged black metal, dark metal, or something relatively Earthy and gloomy at the very least. What I wasn’t expecting was to be thrust neck deep into modern melodic death metal instead. I always like to be surprised, so the initial shock was short lived and I ploughed on regardless, as I do have a soft spot for great melodic death metal.
Formed in 2020, Ancient Settlers is comprised of a multi-national cast, covering the US, Finland, Venezuela, Spain, and Portugal. A sextet, they are formed of Carlos Chiesa-Estomba (guitars), Herman Riera (drums), René González (keyboards/synths), Emmy Reyes (guitars), Antony Hämäläinen (vocals), and Miguel Herrera (bass). I’m not familiar with the band Haboryn, but if you are, you’ll recognise several of these names. Vocalist Hämäläinen has a list of bands to his name, including Crystal Tears, Meridian Dawn, and arguably most famously also had a stint in Nightrage. I think I’m also right in thinking that he may have featured at one time for Amaranthe in their live line-up. Regardless, it’s clear that these guys have some pedigree.
Unfortunately, this debut album, ‘Our Last Eclipse’ is not as good as I hoped it would be if I’m being honest. And there are a few reasons for this. Firstly, I find the material on the album as rather generic and not especially original; I’ve heard music like this many, many times, and despite several runs through, I generally remain a touch underwhelmed by the music. There are some nice catchy melodies at play within some of the choruses and wider compositions, but nothing really stands out to me and clobbers me around the head as I feel this kind of music should do. And the shouty vocals within ‘Memories’ are not my thing at all, and are entirely unnecessary for my taste.
More on the tracks themselves shortly, but the biggest problem with this record is with the production. I fully appreciate that Ancient Settlers came together in a world turned upside-down by the global pandemic which will have made certain tasks a lot more difficult. But ‘Our Last Eclipse’ sounds muddy, indistinct, and worst of all, the vocals are way too far back in the mix. I can’t be the only one to notice this, surely? Maybe I am, maybe it’s my ears. But shouldn’t it be the drums that are situated at the back of the studio, or in a different room, not the vocalist? It’s the impression I get when I listen to this album. In fairness, I get more used to it as the record develops, but it threatens to completely ruin the first impression listeners will get when they hear this band for the first time via opening track, ‘Into The Depths I Ride’.
That said, on a more positive note, I get a bit of a Johan Liiva vibe from vocalist Antony Hämäläinen, although that could be partly down to the production – it’s hard to tell. And that’s a real shame as far as I am concerned.
I want to be more positive however, because there are some strong elements that feature on ‘Our Last Crusade’, including the title track itself. A slower more mid-tempo affair, it is alive with melody and is one of the more memorable songs that I hear here. In fact, I find that Ancient Settlers are actually at their best when they take their foot off the gas and inject more melody. The guys know how to pen a nice melody that’s for sure, and it is this element of their song writing that should be most highly lauded. The faster-paced riffs however, do tend to sound a little samey, although that’s a general gripe I have across the genre with melodeath that’s more metalcore tinged. This is highlighted within ‘Library Of Tears’, another positive composition even if it’s a little long at nearly seven minutes. I like the increased use of synths to add depth, but again, the production could have made them a little more prominent as they can tend to disappear in the mix. When the press release references 80s synthwave as an element of the band’s sound, the lack of clarity with the keys is another misstep unfortunately.
As many of you know, I hate writing reviews that are overly negative because I am generally someone that wants to see the positives in things. Hopefully I have created the balance here between being positive and also honest with my negative comments. There is certainly something there within this band that leads me to believe that a follow-up album could be a lot stronger and more powerful. To do that, Ancient Settlers need a better production across the board, and an injection of something within the music that creates more in the way of their own unique identity. This is easier said than done I know, but if the band can do that, I could see the name Ancient Settlers being spoken a lot more widely in metal circles in years to come.
I could have sworn that I’d reviewed Allegaeon in the past. I was certain of it. And yet, upon further investigation, I am grossly mistaken. Thank heavens I didn’t lay a wager on it, that’s all I can say. It’s bizarre though, because it is a name with which I feel familiar, a band of which I have long been aware. And yet, somehow, they remain an untapped well. That ends here and now though, as I have delved deeply into the music on this, their sixth album.
Formed in Colorado in 2008, Allegaeon quickly released a self-titled EP the same year, before unleashing their debut album, ‘Fragments Of Form And Function’ two years later in 2010. Since then, the quintet have not stood still, releasing a new album just about every two years, meaning that they already have an impressive back catalogue of material. And this is against a backdrop of line-up changes which means that only lead guitarist Greg Burgess remains as an original member. He is joined on Damnum by guitarist Michael Stancel, vocalist Riley McShane, and bassist Brandon Michael, with drummer Jeff Saltzman the only new face since their last album, ‘Apostosis’, was released in 2019.
The more I listen to ‘Damnum’, the most annoyed I become. Not with the band, but with myself, for not allowing this band into my life earlier. A loose description of Allegaeon’s music as a starter for ten would be melodic technical death metal, although what’s immediately noticeable is the way in which the five musicians attempt to cram so many different ideas into the music that such a simple description fails to do the band any real justice at all. Not only do I become more annoyed, but I become more impressed with the music too. If I were to list out all of the different ideas that feature on ‘Damnum’, it might come across as an exercise in futility because on paper, it can only sound like a giant mess will ensue. But that isn’t the case at all, and ‘Damnum’ is all the more impressive for it.
I will readily admit that ‘Damnum’ isn’t perfect though. For a start, it’s a hefty affair that touches the hour mark, with room for a little editing here and there within the twelve individual compositions on the record. It’s also, strangely, not the easiest album to initially get into either, although perseverance pays off in spades. I’m not sure if it’s my review download, but I also think that the production could have been a touch better; I do suffer a little fatigue as I listen, with it feeling quite loud and a little harsh at times.
But enough of any minor niggles, because the positives are much more worthy of attention. But where do I start? There is just so much music to take in and describe here. But slave to convention as I am, I’ll kick off with the opening track, ‘Bastards Of The Earth’. At a little over four minutes, it crams in so much, from the delightfully serene and melodic acoustic guitar intro, to the all out death metal attack that quickly extinguishes any thought that ‘Damnum’ might be a relaxing listen. There’s a slight black metal edge to the fast-picked riffing that juxtaposes more chunky bludgeoning. McShane then adds some incredible vocals to the track; one minute deep and guttural, the next, he’s screaming in a higher-pitched register. And then, out of nowhere, we’re treated to some melodic lead guitar flamboyance, as well as a brief foray into clean vocal territory just for good measure. Wow, what a breathless start.
From there, there’s very little let-up in terms of intensity and creativity. There are plenty of moments where the music ebbs and flows, giving our ears time to adjust and to pick out some lovely subtle nuances, but Allegaeon never take their eye off the ball, always seemingly searching for something new to tempt the ears with.
‘Of Beasts And Worms’ features a hushed spoken word section, as well as bold Hammond organ embellishments at the outset that provide a 70s prog feel. However, it’s the increased use of clean vocals from McShane that makes one of the biggest impacts; reminiscent of Soilwork’s Björn ‘Speed’ Strid in terms of power and delivery, it’s one hell of a performance that wonderfully accents the savagery and complexity within what is, it has to be said, a bit of a beast of a song, lacing it with a warm melodic edge.
Even when the material is more extreme and uncompromisingly heavy, as per the likes of ‘To Carry My Grief Through Torpor and Silence’ or ‘Saturnine’, there’s more than a hint of melody shining through. In the case of the former, you even get a flamenco-like classical guitar interlude, where the bass then gets in on the act, before a rousing final section carries us out on the crest of an impressively entertaining wave. In the case of the latter, the results are stunning.
‘Vermin’ is elegant and beautiful, carrying with it an air of power metal right at the beginning, before setting about bludgeoning us with precise rhythms, sharp riffs, whilst managing to sound serene and majestic at the same time. I’m not sure how this result is possible, especially with McShane growling menacingly, but that’s the end result as far as I’m concerned, and it’s really rather wonderful.
If you don’t get chills at the sound of the drums that accent the gentle intro to ‘Called Home’, or the insane technical abilities of Jeff Saltzman as the song develops, then I’m not sure what will. On an album filled with stunning performances and compositions, this is another extremely high point, even if the ghost of Opeth lurks in the considerable shadows of a song that butchers the ears one minute and soothes them the next. Am I brave enough to say that I enjoy this more than anything Opeth has ever done? Yes, I am. And it’s true.
If all of this wasn’t enough, Allegaeon are not finished, because ‘The Dopamine Void, Pt. I’ adds a touch of whimsy, not to mention a brief brass orchestral flourish at the death, whilst the bass of Brandon Michael steals the show within companion piece, ‘The Dopamine Void, Pt. II’, a track that sees McShane briefly dabble in something approaching what I can only describe rather ineffectually as gruff rapping.
By now, my anger is threatening to boil over. Why have I never given this band more of my attention before now? I can be such an idiot at times. ‘Damnum’ is a very ambitious record, but the technical abilities of the quintet mean that the plethora of competing influences don’t end up as a huge cluttered, unfocused mess. On the contrary, once you get your bearings and listen to the album a few times, it all makes sense. It’s an intense ride for sure, but it’s a hugely enjoyable and rewarding ride too, full of interesting twists and turns. I cannot recommend ‘Damnum’ more highly, because Allegaeon are the real deal. If only I’d realised it sooner.
My attention was first drawn to Nightrage back in 2003 when they released their debut album, ‘Sweet Vengeance’. Always on the look-out for a great slab of melodic death metal, I was drawn by the fact that the band was co-formed by Gus G of Firewind fame at the time. As if that wasn’t enough, the drumming was handled by The Haunted’s Per Möller Jensen, with Tomas Lindberg of At The Gates behind the microphone. I was further persuaded to give them a try thanks to a guest appearance from Tom Englund of Evergrey. Long-term readers will be shocked by that revelation, I can tell. It remains a great album, one that I still listen to when the mood takes me and time allows.
However, the debut remains the only one of their records that has found its way into my collection. Over the ensuing 19 years, Nightrage have undergone significant line-up changes with Gus G and Tomas Lindberg departing due mainly to competing priorities. In fact, only the co-founder Marios Iliopolous remains in place to this day. Joining him in 2022 are vocalist Ronnie Nyman, guitarist Magnus Söderman, bassist Francisco Escalona, and drummer Dino George Stamoglou.
Partly because of the line-up alterations and the fact that the next couple of albums failed to really ignite my enthusiasm, Nightrage is a band that I lost contact with. And it’s not just me, it seems. The melodic death metal genre can be a busy and competitive place, and Nightrage seem to have been the victims of this reality, always remaining just off the radar of the masses. Nevertheless, they have carried on in the underground, releasing a further seven albums after their excellent debut.
‘Abyss Rising’ is the ninth full-length studio recording and once again, it nearly evaded my attention, due to being released on one of the busiest weeks of the year so far. These guys need a bit of luck it seems. Hopefully this review will help because now that I have listened to it on and off for a few days now, I have to say that it’s really rather splendid.
The music might not be the most original, but as I’ve said many times before, it doesn’t have to be in order to be good. And Nightrage waste no time in grabbing my attention with a fabulous opening one-two that have be grinning from ear to ear. A brief drum solo ushers in the title track, before a sharp and catchy riff gets in on the action. Nyman’s rasping vocals, in the Lindberg vein suit the music well, before a killer chorus takes centre stage, led by a lovely lead guitar line. I’m reminded of Arch Enemy in their earlier days when they were still good.
The second of the two opening songs is entitled ‘Swallow Me’, and it’s a groovy little sucker. It features clever clean guitar effects that are vaguely reminiscent of mid-era In Flames to accent the heavier, more aggressive riffs. The song makes great use of dynamics too, with plenty to grab and then hold your attention, not least a pronounced use of light and heavy sections, a cool lead guitar solo, and catchy melodies aplenty.
There is a school of thought that say that Nightrage blow their best two songs at the beginning of the album, with everything that follows struggling to match their quality. It’s a hypothesis that stands up to scrutiny at the beginning, but which then becomes less and less accurate the more time you spend with ‘Abyss Rising’. The opening two tracks might well deliver some of the catchiest of Nightrage’s music, but there is a lot of quality to be heard at other times too. In fact, the only real misstep that the band make, is to insert no fewer than three short instrumental pieces into the album – one ‘interlude’, one ‘instrumental’ and one outro. I can make peace with the ‘The Divergent, Instrumental’, as it is at least a charming palette-cleanser that features some excellent, melodic lead guitar work. But ‘Portal Of Dismay, Interlude’ is almost entirely pointless, offering nothing except a few vaguely dystopian sounds for just under a minute.
But back to the positives, and there’s lots of material to choose. ‘Nauseating Oblivion’ carries with it some nice, aggressive riffs, an insidiously catchy chorus and some unexpected clean vocals later in the track that are a welcome addition because they’re not sickly-sweet or overdone. ‘Falsifying Life’ has a nice pace to it, as well as some strong melodies that will hit home for fans of ‘Whoracle’-era In Flames. If I’m honest, throughout ‘Abyss Rising’, the In Flames references are the biggest and most dominating, not that this is necessarily a bad thing, it just backs up my previous comments about originality and it is worth mentioning as it might be a make or break for some of you reading this review.
‘9th Circle Of Hell’ however, mixes things up well, with a dark vibe initially, before hitting hard with a cracking slab of melodeath that I must’ve not listened to properly to begin with, whilst ‘Cursed By The Gift Of Sight’ comes blasting out of the blocks at high speed, dialling up the aggression somewhat in the process, complete with strong lead guitar solos and a sense of real urgency.
Overall, I have thoroughly enjoyed the ride upon which Nightrage have taken me. ‘Abyss Rising’ may lack a fully fleshed-out identity of its own, but what it does, it does really very well indeed. Everything you could want from a melodic death metal album is present and correct – as such, you get strong incisive riffing, aggression, power, and plenty of melody and groove to keep you hooked and ensure you come back for another listen. And if you give ‘Abyss Rising’ a listen, I guarantee you’ll come back for more. You never know, this might be the album to raise the Nightrage profile too…I certainly hope so.