Who’s the king, baby?
Although Fleshgod Apocalypse had a sure thing with Oracles, which has become something of a cult classic in recent years, the band abandoned that comfort zone and opted for a brand of symphonic death metal that across two albums painfully showcased how their leap of faith was as directionless as their grasp of the formula. The first step, Agony, was essentially a wall of speed with one-dimensional songwriting and mixing that unevenly highlighted the orchestral element, but somehow, fans lapped it up anyway, due perhaps to the novelty of such a unique approach. Labyrinth, meanwhile, was a vast improvement but still came across as insufficiently varied to truly reconcile the two elements the band wanted to combine, thus snuffing out the last of any remaining novelty and further diminishing my confidence that this was the right direction for the band.
On King, however, we see Fleshgod Apocalypse taking yet another quantum leap but this time not in formula but in quality. It is an album that shows a band fine-tuning their chosen sound to a course that finally must be satisfying for themselves, as well as their fans. Indeed, anyone familiar with Septic Flesh or Rotting Christ can tell you that this awakened state was definitely worth the wait, for King is truly a stunning piece of symphonic death metal that gets everything right.
And it is very satisfying indeed to listen to this behemoth, as though a great weight has been lifted from my shoulders. One of the things to stand out about King (and there many) is how naturally it flows, despite the variety of emotional qualities each track seems to portray, ranging from impending doom (“Healing Through War”) to frenetic agitation (“The Fool”), and then to a menacing sense of desperation that downplays its slower pace (“Cold as Perfection”). Fast forward a bit and we arrive at a highlight of highlights, “And the Vulture Beholds,” which has a midsection that shows a fully mature band tired of fucking around, playing at a level that will be incredibly hard to beat by anyone’s standards.
We even see the technical side of the band return (perhaps not as prominently as in 2009, though), with neoclassical soloing, operatic singing, and Baroque sensibilities that add extra depth and delicacy to the predominant bulk around it, which is to say nothing even of the frequent tempo changes and different guitar techniques that previous albums simply did not have. Gone is the indomitable wall of speed, which has been replaced by actual song structures that as aforementioned touch on many emotions and therefore provide so much variety that King will leave you breathless when all is said and done.
If there is a better symphonic death metal album I have yet to hear it. King is as simple and true to genre specifics as it can be yet it will blow your mind. It is a highly intelligent album, paced so smartly as to not burden any one section with uneven levels of quality, although towards the end there is a noticeable sense of climax and resolution, perhaps even purity in a sense through “A Million Deaths,” but it feels appropriate within the surrounding fold. It is fitting as well, then, that the album ends similarly, with a sense of closure and ultimately confidence that Fleshgod Apocalypse has now become the rightful flag bearers of the subgenre.
Raging Tides of Thrash!!!!
Making it to album number four and their second post-reunion record, German thrashers Exumer continue to expand upon their strong run of releases that started back in the 80s before it got interrupted by their break-up and main-man Mem von Steine’s other projects in the scene, some being quite good in his thrash act Sun Descends while Humungous Fungus is rightly forgotten, but this project has always been his and he leads his cohorts through this rough and raging slab of high-quality thrash. Marking the recording debut of guitarist Marc Bräutigam who takes for the deceased Holger Kolb, this is as tight and focused as the band has sounded in ages.
As is to be expected here, the album is simply a straightforward blast of old-school inspired thrash that whips and zips through tight, intense collections of rhythms without much deviation throughout here and in turn making this tight, frantic and utterly raging throughout here. Other strong thrashers here range from the blistering ‘Catatonic’ with its furious and frantic riff-work keeping their simplistic punk roots firmly in place, ‘Welcome to Hellfire’ which features some rather tight, raging riff-work and ‘Sinister Souls’ which just barrels through so many speed barriers with furious energy it serves as the album’s highlight despite all the other great tracks elsewhere here. These here are all fast, furious and rather frantic tracks that wouldn’t have been out-of-place on their older classics, really bringing home the competent feel that’s been a part of their style throughout the various stages of their career and is mostly a strong reason for the success of this one as they balance out more melodic fare of ‘Sacred Defense’ or ‘Shadow Walker’.
While this gets so much out of these raging, up-tempo thrashers, the one small problem that keeps this from a perfect release is the album’s rather straight-forward approach. It’s simple-man’s thrash without many change-ups throughout here, offering a faster tempo track if the opening riff starts off up-tempo or being a more melodic effort if there’s a mid-tempo riff to be found, and in each case this one riff is driven around throughout the track without much change here. This here quickly results in many tracks being quite similar-sounding to each other rather quickly with there being quite a few tracks here that sound alike simply due to being played in the same basic tempo and format. Granted, it’s all part of the bands’ formula which hasn’t changed much since their foundation, and they’re awfully good at it with so many fun, blistering efforts throughout this, but nit-picking at flaws does highlight this issue.
The last part here is a couple of bonus cover tracks for the special edition versions, and are what to be expected from other tracks not on every main release. The first cover here for Pentagram’s ‘Forever My Queen’ which is highly problematic with the slow, droning pace conflicting wildly with their intense, speed-drenched original works with the riffing keeping this one somewhat enjoyable as there’s some solid patterns in the solo section but overall doesn’t really sound much like the band at all. Their Grip Inc. cover of ‘Hostage to Heaven’ is much better with a more furious tempo and pounding rhythms throughout here making this one far more up-tempo and ripping but also manages to stick out with the use of lighter guitar-work that isn’t as tight and ends up much more technical than their more usual works. While this is a special bonus for fans it certainly sticks out as a whole, but otherwise it’s the similarity being only issue holding this one back.
Overall, this here is a ripping and engaging thrash effort that comes from one of the most undervalued and underappreciated efforts in the scene and hopefully this ripping release changes that as that’s two strong releases in a row for the group proving their comeback wasn’t a fluke at all and making this a solid, essential choice for Teutonic thrash aficionados or old-school thrash in general.
Continuing with new beginnings.
It can be hard to pick up the pieces and move forward with a project after your band decides to leave and form another band that plays essentially the same style of music. When Christian Münzner and Hannes Grossman left Obscura in 2014 to form Alkaloid, a progressive death metal supergroup that also features Obscura bassist and guitar technician, Linus Klausenitzer and Danny Tunker, respectively, and Morean from Dark Fortress, Steffen Kummerer had to start from scratch a third time. His talent search, though, didn’t last long as Tom Geldschläger (who has since been replaced by jazz guitarist, Rafael Trujillo) and fusion drummer, Sebastian Lanser, promptly filled the void, and it wasn’t long before Obscura, version 3.5, created a new masterpiece of progressive death metal that belies the revolving door nature of its lineup.
On Akróasis we see Obscura continuing from new beginnings, that is to say, a band staying true to its trademark sound but evolving it to a form that has benefited from fresh blood and new songwriting strategies, all while staying within the borders of its conceptual and lyrical framework as well. It is a monumental task, to say the least, but Kummerer has pulled it off spectacularly, and truly the lasting impression is nothing short of sheer reverence.
It is a less frenetic and aggressive album, the speed noticeably toned down and rerouted towards a much more rhythmic course, which is very much on par with Death’s Individual Thought Patterns, in fact, a path that fits in very well with Obscura’s style without ever seeming too domineering. Tracks such as “Fractal Dimensions” showcase this marriage of harmonies deceptively well, whereas the title track is more upfront about it but in no way reeking of its source material. One of the major points of differentiation, though, has to be Sebastian Lanser, who is clearly the more gifted drummer, and his techniques at times create an unorthodox yet somehow fluid (not to mention, fascinating) instrumental interplay, such as on opener, “Sermon of the Seven Suns,” and towards the end on “Perpetual Infinity,” which might vaguely seem out of character even for progressive death metal.
Never at one time does the album feel disjointed, though; its constituents exist in full deliberation and therefore in a form of collective consciousness that allows each track to gracefully segue into the next, without one ever competing for attention. The smorgasbord “The Monist,” for example, melds brutality, groove, and archetypal Cynic-like noodling and robotic vocals, solos briefly, then shifts to acoustics and upfront bass lines within mere seconds, then transitions to the title track as if it were yet another natural extension of the same idea even though the guitar techniques are radically different. Indeed, whereas past albums buried aggression under a blanket of melodies and songs existed mostly unto themselves, Akróasis can make a scornful track like “Ode to the Sun” seem beautiful and appropriate within the fold, a talent that yet again recalls Death’s songwriting abilities.
But to compare Obscura to Death would be a disservice to the both bands, as each is still as different as night and day, their differences merely brought together by their similarities, which really aren’t as profuse as one could be lead to believe. What we see with Akróasis is a level of maturity that must have seemed inevitable since Cosmogenesis, for bands of this high caliber rarely stagnate for too long and always find new ground to break. Sometimes the reception can keep a band going (e.g. Death), yet other times, in the tragic case of Pestilence, it can ruin a solid run. With Akróasis, though, I believe we all have the benefit of hindsight and therefore an appetite for innovation, which will always make stylistic shifts experienced here not just welcomed but also wholeheartedly embraced.
PART 1: A Brief Introduction
There’s something to be said about heavy metal and pro wrestling. The mere mention of professional wrestling makes some people scoff and turn away, but so does metal. There is indeed a nice market for each of these forms of entertainment, and even a few subcultures (or sub-genres, if you will) within each field. With this in mind, heavy metal and pro wrestling are actually quite wonderful bedfellows and there is an incredible and undeniable connection between the too. Being seen as “underground” and “counterculture” by many, these two groups are quite connected, and in many ways now more than possibly ever. For the purposes of the article, we will include all forms of metal, from the more traditional to the nü-metal along with aspects of pro wrestling from the “big leagues” to the underground and independent promotions trying to make an impact on the scene.
“Louder and louder, wilder and wilder, mounted the shrieking and whining of that desperate viol. The player was dripping with an uncanny perspiration and twisted like a monkey, always looking frantically at the curtained window. In his frenzied strains I could almost see shadowy satyrs and Bacchanals dancing and whirling insanely through seething abysses of clouds and smoke and lightning.”
- H. P. Lovecraft, “The Music of Erich Zann” (1922)
As we reflect back on the year that was, and the year that lies ahead, it’s difficult to escape the fact that there are some bands that haven’t graced our eager ears with new music in quite some time. Names like Anata, Wintersun, Necrophagist, and Metallica immediately spring to mind in this regard.
Of course, there are a plethora of reasons that might cause bands and/or releases to fall into a state of extended limbo — family responsibilities, full-time jobs, line-up changes contractual disputes, lack of distribution, lack of creativity, financial constraints etc. There is an endless list of obstacles that might throw a wrench in the works between the time a band initially starts tinkering around with creative ideas in the rehearsal space and the time the finished product hits the market, yet my eternally impatient inner fanboy is always inclined to go on some entitled and self-righteous ”if you’re in a band, and you’re not releasing new music, you’re not doing your damn job!” rants.
With that in mind, let’s take a look at 20 bands that are taking their merry time to release music upon the great unwashed masses. More after the jump.
*Note: Bands are listed alphabetically.
My general perspective on metal has always been through the lens of good vs. evil, and I’ve tended to get a good mix of both sides into my metal diet, and 2015 certainly delivered a fair share of both. As with any list of greatest albums of any particular category, individual perspective makes for an imperfect result, and limited time caused me to miss a number of truly exceptional albums (Bane Of Winterstorm’s The War Of Shadows II: Upon The Throne of Ravnorakk and Ghost City’s Tragic Soul Symphony were just a couple from the power metal sub-genre alone). But hey, this is why we have so many different perspectives on this webzine. So without further adieu, here’s my Top 30 of 2015!
Another year down, not enough moshing accomplished. This is the same issue I have every year and at this point, I’m not sure how much moshing is enough moshing. However, I did roll out and rank my top 30 thrash albums of the year to try and help out any other individuals that are suffering from the same lack of moshing that I found myself in throughout 2015. There are some interesting mixtures to be found here, some newer bands clawed their way onto the list – including a rip roaring debut from Skeleton Pit, but a lot of the list is made up of more seasoned bands with multiple albums under their belt now like In Malice’s Wake or the ultra-fun punk spunk of Dr. Living Dead. There are even some “classic” bands throwing their hats into the ring like The Crown or Slayer, so there is plenty of variety for all kinds of thrashers here. Not to mention plenty of different styles of thrash that stretch from death metal influences all the way into the industrial arena and into the all too overlooked groove department.
2015 was another excellent year. While there are some fairly obvious candidates for a top 30 I missed out on or discovered too late in the year (Nechochwen, and Obsequiae to name two) there was still plenty of good material out there this year. Here’s some of it:
It is done – the Brotherhood of “The Metal Observer”‘s convent has come to an end, the votes have been cast.
Enter to find out who survived the fire and emerged victorious!