Welcome to Secret Steel, the fifth chapter, “Black Metal 1: An Unholy Union”
I will only award this band a less-than-perfect score once they are less than perfect at what they do. I do hope you won’t disregard this review purely based on its zealous rating, as I have plenty to say about this act, who are – let’s be fair – a blessing upon mankind. Born out of Gus Rios and Matt Harvey’s involvement with the supremely successful Death To All Tours, Gruesome is what us Death die-hards have longed for since 2001. This quartet of geniuses create music in the exact style of the late, great Chuck Schuldiner, but go the whole hog. 2015’s Savage Land was a spot on homage to Leprosy. This was followed in 2016 by the EP Dimensions Of Horror, expertly recreating the atmosphere of Scream Bloody Gore to a tee. Now, here in 2018, it’s Spiritual Healing’s turn to get the Gruesome treatment. Despite the fact that Spiritual Healing is one of my top 5 albums of all time, this review of new release Twisted Prayers won’t be in any way biased…cough…
Purely from the external characteristics, you can spot the tributary aspects instantly. There’s the scathing attack on religion shown both through the lyrics and the artwork by the legendary Ed Repka. There’s the band logo, the colour scheme, the font inside the booklet, the way the ‘thank you’ list is written… Absolutely everything reeks of that old school Floridian death metal scent. The production quality is bang on – utterly nailing that transitional period in Death’s career – from the dry snare, to the beastly vocal reverb. Then, of course, there’s the music. Harvey and co.’s ability to write songs that accurately reflect a particular era in a composer’s life is a gift from the gods. They clearly know their source material inside out, and any listener who is similarly familiar (myself, for one) will pick out each musical tribute with a delighted grin. Hell, there’s even an 8-track playlist, as is tradition for Death circa 1990.
It’s fun to match each number on Twisted Prayers to its counterpart on Spiritual Healing, though there are certain segments referenced in a sporadic placement. Opening track ‘Inhumane’ picks up where ‘Living Monstrosity’ left off – right down to that irregular stop/start section in the middle. ‘Fate’ has its own version of the chorus riff from ‘Defensive Personalities’. ‘A Waste Of Life’ is a mishmash of ‘Spiritual Healing’ and ‘Low Life’, due to the grinding riffs and malicious lyrics – but with a definite nod to ‘Within The Mind’ in its opening guitar lick. ‘Lethal Legacy’ reminds me of ‘Altering The Future’ with its lumbering compound rhythms and themes of the unborn. However, ‘Crusade Of Brutality’ is an anomaly, in that the first minute and a half is almost identical to 1988’s ‘Leprosy’ – consider that a bonus! The rest of it is reminiscent of ‘Genetic Reconstruction’ anyway… But then, so is ‘At Death’s Door’… Christ, I hope you’re familiar with Chuck’s 1990 classic, dear reader, or you’ll be really confused by this point!
Have I covered all the tracks there? Ah, who cares! I’m giddy with fanboyishness; this feels like a death metal party! Each individual is sure to pick out their own recognizable motifs. My personal favourite is the brief 3-note chug break in the title-track which perfectly echoes the start of ‘Spiritual Healing’ before blasting into the sludgy main riff. From the thrashing opening riff to ‘Inhumane’, right to the closing guitar squeal of the title-track, it’s clear that this is nostalgia done the right way. Chuck may be survived by his remaining family members, but also through Matt Harvey, whose vocal performance here is second to none. Sounding like Chuck is a dangerous fence to straddle, but Matt pulls it off with nobility and respect. Death’s legacy is survived through Gruesome – and we should all be thankful.
Hammer of Finland
It is amazing time and again what diverse talent pours out of Finland on a constant basis. Kamara from Hankasalmi in the middle of the country already have been around since 2004 and Kamara is their fifth album to date, but so far they have not managed to get far beyond the borders of their home country. Stylistically they are not that easy to pin down, taking inspiration from heavy and power metal, thrash and some death (in the vocals) and garnish it with a darker and at times very Finnish atmosphere. What may sound like a kind of hodge podge, though, is one of the brightest unsigned talents the year has spit out so far!
Looking at the translation of the band’s name, which is “rind”, one would expect something far heavier or grubbier, but from the opening moments of “Alkutila” on, Kamara are on a romp that easily puts far more experienced and well-known acts to shame. Setting out slow and melodic, it quickly builds up to a thrashy rhythm, powerful, but with some light symphonic keyboards before a mighty bellow kicks off the main body of the song, seeing growls in the verse, gang shouts in the bridge and finally cleans in the chorus. All the right ingredients for a disjointed mess, but this song as power, dynamics, heaviness, melody, overall being an outstanding opener.
Some may argue that the diverse influences could alienate them from each of the different camps, while others could say that they will appeal to exactly these camps, but whichever way one want to twist and turn this or what genre tags one wants to slap on it, Kamara simply is a great album from start to end that does not have to rely on any of them. The Finns utilize the contrasting elements to their advantage, offsetting melody with heaviness, catchy vocal lines with aggressive growls and using gripping dynamics as the mortar to hold everything together.
Where “Kruunu” emphasizes more the melodic side, especially vocally, “Kaaoksen kohdanneet” sets off with beautiful arpeggiated guitars, but soon unleashing the double-bass upon the unsuspecting listener, flattening them with sheer power and energy, but without neglecting the melody. They cleverly vary the ratio of these ingredients and add dashes of this Finnish melancholy and atmosphere, culminating in the 8-minute closer “Raunioilla”, where Juha Minkkinen gets extra firepower with Mona Steffansson for a slow, epic duet that sits somewhere between ballad and doom, with this intense atmosphere, closing the album on yet another high.
Their use of Finnish lyrics also continues a tradition that bands such as Teräsbetoni, Timo Rautiainen & Trio Niskalaukaus or in the heavier end of the spectrum Moonsorrow, Oranssi Pazuzu, Kaunis Kuolematon or Ajattara. Granted, they likely are limiting their fanbase somewhat, but then again Finnish being such a unique language gives them some added spice.
All in all Kamara is an album that manages to take more or less common ingredients and bringing them together in a truly exciting manner and with a freshness that only few bands can boast this days. Unsigned, singing in Finnish and most definitely a candidate for the year-end lists!
This! Is! Doom!
This is doom! If that is not enough, then there is more! Solstice are back, a whopping 20 years since their legendary second album New Dark Age, and White Horse Hill had almost taken on a mythical quality, because nobody really believed anymore that it would ever actually materialize. Two demos in 2014 and 2016 were some signs of life, but while of great quality, they did nothing to truly prepare the general doom metal populace for what this, their third album total, would bring to the table.
As mentioned above, the creation process for White Horse Hill has been excruciatingly slow, so one could say that the band does not just play doom, they ARE doom, and it also has taken a toll on the line-up, with returning drummer Rick Budby being the only remnant of the line-up of New Dark Age other than mastermind Rich Walker. And even though the album definitely is straighter and more accessible than their last effort, it does nothing to diminish the quality and magic contained.
If White Horse Hill would have to be summed up in one word, it would be “epic”, would it ever be! After the great opening instrumental “III”, Solstice deliver maybe THE epic doom metal song of the year, maybe even the past few years: “To Sol A Thane”! The opening lead guitar and riff are pure class and set the ground for some of the best spent eight minutes 2018 will be able to offer. The song has tremendous power, outstanding melodies and Paul Kearns’ heroic vocals are the proverbial cherry on top, matching the majestic music pound for pound.
Some bands have the issue of hammering out an outstanding track at the beginning of an album and then spending the rest of it running after its grandeur, but Solstice have this remarkable ability to take this incredibly high start and use it as a foundation to build on, be it the soft, melancholic ”Beheld, A Man of Straw” or the massive title track that brings some of the traditional metal past of the band back into play with a great building up passage leading into an energetic mid-tempo song that does not sound out of place within the epic doom metal context of the album.
Also mandatory is “Under Waves Lie Our Dead”, another epic doom metal monolith with haunting lead guitars, soaring vocals, but despite its pure essence it still manages to bring in great dynamics and atmosphere that make its almost 13 minutes pass by in a flash.
Some may mourn the straighter orientation of the album, but as far as epic doom metal goes, White Horse Hill is THE album to beat not just this year, but also in subsequent years. Any band that manages to combine the essence of doom with such outstanding dynamics and is crowned by such outstanding vocals as Kearns’ will face the challenge of contenders, but can proudly stand in the oncoming waves and effortlessly disperse them until a worthy challenger will enter the arena. For now Solstice stand tall and White Horse Hill is an absolute MUST for any fan of the epic side of this sub-genre!
Larry breaks down each album by the German industrial goliaths to decide which one sits on top.
Interview with Mikko Aspa of Clandestine Blaze
Conducted by Colonel Para Bellum of Blackdeath.
Larry rounds up all the decent (and some not-so-decent) thrash releases for the headbang-happy year of 2017.
This was a banner year for death metal by any measure.
Here are some of our favorite death metal releases from 2017.
The diverse spectrum that encompasses metal music’s many sub-genres could be likened to various mythical races united under two opposing banners, staring each other down as they make ready to charge and turn the field red with the other’s blood. From one year to the next, the advantage may tip from one side to the other, but in the grand scheme of their eternal conflict, the forces of light and darkness have tended to be equally matched. 2017 saw the forces of melody and order take the advantage in the eyes of the reclusive bard that tells this end of the year tale, though naturally his is not the final word on such things, and other codices in the grand archives of metallic exploits deserve your consideration. Still, these are the 50 acts of heroism that defined the year, because too much has occurred to settle for a mere 30.
2017 has proven to offer up the tightest race we have seen in a long time in the quest for the gold! So without any further ado, here is the creme de la creme of the year!
December’s still a month, right?