The TMO team pick some choice cuts from this month’s offerings.
The Dutch Gods Return.
Thanatos are seldom-lauded veterans of death metal. They originally formed in 1984, taking six years to release their debut, the classic Emerging From The Netherworlds. 2014’s Global Purification is only their sixth studio album, explained in part by a hiatus during the nineties. This interesting snippet comes courtesy of the marvellous Encyclopedia Metallum:
“Thanatos (Greek for “Death”) are famous for being the first Dutch extreme music/metal band….
…Split up in 1992. Reformed by the founding member Stephan Gebédi in 1999 with a different line-up.”
A number of sources, including the Encyclopedia Metallum, categorise Thanatos as death/thrash, but while there is an elements of thrashiness to their sound, for the most part this is old school death metal. No doom, symphonic or atmospheric about Thanatos, they play it as Go … erm … Chuck intended. As well as Thanatos’ own previous material, bands that come to mind at various points during Global Purification are from the early days of death metal before all the subgenres had been created, such as Death, Morgoth and Morbid Angel.
Gebédi and his latest bandmates make their intentions clear right from the start with the title track being an upbeat death metal blast. It’s short and to point and … it’s okay. Not great, not bad, but OK. And that, sadly, is the story of the majority of songs on Global Purification. They are all at least okay, some are quite good, but very few of them are good enough to stand shoulder to shoulder with some of the great death metal 2014 has given us from the likes of Acheron, Bloodbath, Horrendous and Bloodshot Dawn.
There are exceptions, with a couple of tracks that rise above the mediocrity to make the grade. “World Jihad” has quite a catchy chorus and a fantastic guitar solo. The pace of the rhythm work switches between ‘furious’ and ‘medium’; the full-throttle parts are quite generic, but the slower bits are infectious and groovy. “Feeding the War Machine” has chugging riffs, really gets the head nodding and has a nice guitar solo that is far too short.
These two songs stand head and shoulders above their peers, but there are other moments of note on the album. While it’s true that there’s no ‘doom’ to Thanatos’ sound, there is a section in “The Murder Of Innocence” when the guitar sounds uncannily similar to the My Dying Bride classic, “The Cry of Mankind”. “Infestation Of The Soul” is closest to another standout and should in fact be the best track of all, starting slowly and featuring great riffs, tempo changes and nice lead guitars, but it’s somewhat ruined by the very one-dimensional chorus, consisting of Gebédi repeating the single word “infestation”. A shame and a real near-miss.
There’s no out and out filler here, but Thanatos need to raise their game a notch to shine in the upper reaches of a crowded death metal market. Global Purification is by no means a poor album and boasts a couple of excellent death metal songs that are certainly worth checking out.
German Orden Ogan have been heralded as one of power metal’s brightest stars, going from strength to strength, culminating in 2012’s outstanding To the End album that manifested them as one of the forerunners of the genre. Three years later the quintet around singer/guitarist Seeb Levermann are back with strike number 5, titled Ravenhead, and it continues several traditions of the band.
They once more were able to secure the talent of Andreas Marschall for the cover artwork, which paints a far darker picture this time around, while musically they manage the tightrope walk between evolution and stagnation, keeping their trademarks intact, but avoiding stand still. Soaring melodies and big choirs meet an often darker atmosphere, which is one of the main elements that sets Orden Ogan apart from the vast majority of their colleagues, with their knack for big, immediately impacting choruses being the other. Yes, there are plenty of other bands that have these kinds of choruses, but in the case of the Germans they have depth and class, giving them longevity instead of burning out.
After the atmospheric intro “Orden Ogan”, the title track kicks things off in style and sets the pace and mood for the rest of the album, with a gripping riff that is not your usual power metal standard, a dark verse, lots of energy and the already mentioned big choir with all the different dimensions Orden Ogan are known for, but where some bands burn their creative fuel in a big bang at the beginning, the quartet is just only warming up. Be it the big bombast of “F.E.V.E.R.”, the guest role of Grave Digger’s Chris Boltendahl on at times almost thrashy “Here at the End of the World” (and the surely completely coincidental line “the reaper’s never far” ;)) or the aggressive riffing of “Sorrow is Your Tale”, Ravenhead never gets one-dimensional while staying 100% Orden Ogan.
The old-woman-style crooning at the beginning of “Evil Lies in Every Man”, which then turns into one of the best balances between heaviness and great melodies in the band’s already illustrious back catalogue, the epic “A Reason to Give”, or the great, grieving ballad “Too Soon” at the end are just some of the additional highlights of the album, which does not show any signs of letting up or dropping off throughout the 48 minutes of its duration.
The sheer level of quality the quartet is displaying over the whole album shows that they have matured into one of the absolute forerunners of the genre and the fact that they are able to keep things flowing and diverse while keeping the context of the album intact just manifests their talent and status in the scene today. Few bands manage to combine immediate accessibility and depth like Orden Ogan and seeing how they have been going from strength to strength, while continuing to evolve, bodes well for the future indeed.
2015 the first time they are going directly head to head with Blind Guardian, whose older style has undoubtedly been an influence on Orden Ogan, and while the two bands obviously have drifted apart in their stylistic direction, it seems as if the disciple has surpassed the master…
The beginning of the end?
Distinguished djentlemen Periphery are the latest band to try their hand at the ever-increasing trend of “companion albums,” with the twin-release of Juggernaut: Alpaha and Omega, joining the appropriately progressive likes of Devin Townsend (Z2, 2014), Baroness (Green & Yellow, 2012) and Coheed And Cambria (The Afterman, 2012-13), with Soilwork seeming to be the only act prepared to throw their name behind a full-blown, traditional-style, double album (The Living Infinite, 2013) – a record that ended up spawning its own companion piece in last year’s Beyond The Infinite, leftovers EP.
Juggernaut seems to be a more coherent work than the clearly distinguished records of Baroness and Townsend, being closer in kin to The Afterman in that they represent two separate segments of a complete whole, but with the added bonus of being released as a single package. The album follows an as yet undisclosed concept – due to be revealed in the release’s liner notes and accompanying, twelve-page, graphic booklet, illustrated by Justin Randall (Black City, 30 Days Of Night) (each) – “a tale of birth and re-birth,” which seems to be preoccupied with inner struggles and has been in development since before Periphery’s debut album (of which that record’s persistent “Icarus Lives!” and “Jetpacks Was Yes!” were intended to be a part). Although, the narrative aspect is a rather secondary, um… concept, with Periphery seeming more intent on crafting individually successful (albeit interconnected) compositions than a sprawling epic.
Not wanting to be seen as the softer disc, Alpha comes out swinging with “MK Ultra,” although, given the overly mellow proceedings to follow, it comes off as perhaps a more calculated (if successful) move than a truly organic one. Alpha does contain its share of heavier moments – not least the crushing “The Scourge;” and “22 Faces,” which showcases founding guitarist Misha “Bulb” Mansoor at his most lethal – but it’s a disc largely characterized by the band’s more accessible side, with even “The Scourge” ending in a smooth, piano-backed lull, and elsewhere their latent aggression being channeled into more upbeat compositions, such as with the tellingly-titled “Rainbow Gravity” and subtitle-track “Alpha.”
Each successive Periphery release has seen the focus shift further away from Mansoor’s guitar playing and on to Sotelo’s vocals, and Juggernaut is no exception – a move clearly signaled in the opening croons of Alpha’s “A Black Minute,” and its counterpart in Omega’s “Reprise.” The records’ most successful moments are those built around gripping vocal phrases, which Sotelo pulls of with conviction and ease. Of particular and immediate note is the pop-tastic “Heavy Heart,” a clear, early highlight of the Juggernaut suite that sees Sotelo in full flight, however, the effect is somewhat spoiled by the track’s lack of a real ending – shifting abruptly into the ill-matched, transitory “The Event,” without really building to a proper conclusion.
Ironically, it’s the second of Juggernaut’s discs, Omega, is where Periphery bring their A-game. Bursting forth with the compounding “The Bad Thing” – a harder-edged track which immediately eclipses everything on Alpha – Juggernaut’s second disc is characterized by groovy Meshuggah-isms (with “Hell Below” bearing particular resemblance to that band’s “Behind The Sun,” AKA: the heaviest song ever; and revered, deep-end Meshuggah imitators, Vildhjarta) and jaw-dropping tech riffery, culminating in the albums’ crown piece, the twelve minute prog odyssey, “Omega” – equal parts crushing tech-metal and soaring melodies – which, more than track here or in Periphery’s extended catalog show’s just what this band are all about and are capable of achieving. Omega is a much more focused and word piece than Alpha, and its shorter length (clocking it at the sub-40-minute mark) begs the question of just what Juggernaut could have been had Periphery integrated some of Alpha’s stronger tracks into Omega to form a single, unified whole.
…Although that would be defeating the whole point now wouldn’t it?
Juggernaut is quite the double-edged sword, though not in the way Periphery intended. At once, it is both one of the better, and if not the best, examples of the double/companion album format applied to the metal genre – showing a deft understanding of the cohesion and conceptual relativity required to make such a feat successful. Yet, Alpha and Omega’s successes are far greater from moment to moment than they are as a whole, with each of the discs and their individual content being too distinct to really come together properly as a whole, and the band’s second release, This Time It’s Personal (2012), having shown a greater conceptual understanding and implementation than that demonstrated by Juggernaut.
Periphery’s previous releases showed them excelling each in distinct yet related areas – 2010’s self-titled debut was a collection of individually enjoyable songs; This Time It’s Personal, showed they were unmatched in doing the heavy/progressive thing; and last year’s Clear EP/mini-album had them channeling their experimentation into more immediate compositions – by trying to collect every aspect of their sound at once under the one banner, Periphery fall short of really excelling in any particular area, and there’s the unshakable suggestion that, individually successful and coherent though they are, Aplha and Omega perhaps could have been combined into something altogether more potent.
Juggernaut remains yet another Periphery release unmatched in either scope or execution by their competitors, further cementing the band as the crowning example of the Djent movement; it just may not quite be the best example of what Periphery have shown they themselves are capable of achieving.
If you insist on individual ratings: Alpha – 7.5/10, Omega – 8.5/10.
I mentioned that Japanese power metal could be bizarre and off-putting back in my Beginner’s Guide to Japanese Power Metal. But for all the bands I mentioned and described, there really wasn’t that much in the realm of bizarro. Pretty much all the bands had rather accessible music with little to no genre experimentation. I’m going to delve a bit deeper into that offshoot of JPM in this part.
Following last September’s update on the health and condition of former Decapitated vocalist Adrian Covanek—who was left unresponsive and under full medical and familial supervision after a tragic tour-bus accident in 2007—another bit of news, some of the most hopeful yet, has arisen.
In the second and final part of our interview with the Blind Guardian guitarist, we talk books, Game Of Thrones, The Wire and the integral role storytelling plays in his music.
The Blind Guardian guitarist talks about his band’s ambitious new album, Beyond The Red Mirror, and revisiting Imaginations From The Other Side twenty years on.
Last year was the first year I took the massive amounts of thrash music that smothers my inbox and credit card statements and ranked it into a top thirty list. It was a grueling endeavor that consumed most of my time in the latter part of November and early December, but I was able to sift through a ton of material to give you, oh dear readers of The Metal Observer, a sort of snap shot of the year. 2014 was no different.
Welcome to the inaugural edition of Procreating the Wicked; the year’s best in slime, grime and filth. Here is where the year’s filthiest and foulest examples of old goat metal can be found. The best of the best in those amalgamous forms of metal including bits of black, death, thrash, heavy, speed and whatever other type of metal that comes to mind, as long as it’s filtered through ample layers of Hellhammer, Venom, Motörhead and Sarcófago. Without further ado, here’s the years best in sleazy blackened metal.
Some say that thrash is best consumed in small portions and often it’s hard to argue that point. The riffs. The energy. Sometimes all you need is four or five tracks to truly ‘mosh it out.’ Here is the top five thrash metal EPs of 2014 for you thrashers out there to hunt out. Some of these were random finds in my constant search for new thrash, so don’t be afraid to support your local bands…you never know when you will find the next big thing.
Is it common knowledge that Eluveitie have a huge following in London? Having seen Orphaned Land four days earlier, I expected a similar sized crowd for this gig. Surely folk/death metal is quite a niche genre? Clearly not, as the O2 Academy Islington was sold out and rammed for the visit of the Swiss band and their support.
While there’s nothing wrong with the Tufnell Park Dome as a venue per se, and the alcohol prices are very reasonable, it’s just a bit off the beaten track, especially for those of us who have to travel back through central London. That’s the only reason I can come up with for the poor Friday night turnout at this gig for the excellent Orphaned Land.