December’s still a month, right?
Ghost – Ceremony and Devotion
by Joshua Bulleid
Just because 2017 is practically over doesn’t mean there isn’t still time left for me to do yet another complete 180 on an band I have—until this moment—considered nothing more than complete and utter bullshit munchers. Ghost have often been sold as a band “you have to experience live” to truly understand and buy into, and Ceremony and Devotion certainly seems to suggest that this is very much the case. Although it’s void of all the many the visual theatrics the band have built their name upon, the live recording brings an urgency and atmosphere to these songs that is distinctly absent form their physical recordings.
As well as collecting all the choice cuts that have been scattered through their physical output all in one convienient (and convincing) package, the songs themselves sounds heavier and more “alive.” The crowd is audible at all times and brings considerable extra weight to their delivery and the boomier drums and noticeably more present and substantial bass render them considerably heavier as well, so that they come to resemble Black Sabbath far more readily than they do Blue Oyster Cult. Add to that the fact that Papa Emeritus’s sounds exactly like Mike Myers’ Austin Powers‘ Goldmember during the between-song banter (which is something no one ever tells you about for some reason), and that it opens with “Square Hammer”—perhaps the most crucially missing element from their previous records—and you finally have an album worthy of all the hype the band have drummed up around themselves despite their previously tepid output.
Evilfeast – Elegies of the Stellar Wind
by Shawn Miller and Hans Rot
Elegies of the Solar Wind is a walk through the nostalgia of the second wave’s prime and evocative, yet freezing, trem-riffing and layered keyboards offer a faithfully old school sound that calls to mind the seminal works of Emperor. In spite of its strict adherence to the ways of old, it sounds surprisingly refreshing. The entire album is expertly crafted and executed, with an endearing charm and sinister edge. Perfectly suited for the freezing nights and snow covered landscapes of the winter season.
The album seems to have been plucked from late-90s era Norway, rather than being a product of today’s much more forward-thinking Polish scene. While the country does have its fair share of tried and true try-hards, Evilfeast captures the spirit of Covenant’s In Times Before the Light with such authenticity that even Nagash would blush in embarrassment. All the klichéd and kvlt SEO deskriptors apply here. Kold and grim riffs? Check. Frosty and frekuent keyboards? Check. Lengthy song titles pertaining to all things nekro and frostbitten? Checkmate, mother fukker. Simply put, Elegies of the Stellar Wind is everything we shamelessly adore about the latter part of the second wave and more.
Confrontational – The Burning Dawn
by James Bushnell
Confrontational is a one-man project, the brainchild of Sardinia’s Massimo Usai, who specialises in electronic music with huge amounts of atmosphere and fantastic tunes. Save for the occasional guitar solo, this isn’t metal by any stretch of the imagination, but the music veers from haunting to uplifting and is always memorable. Usai brings in a number of guest musicians on Burning Dawn, which is the final part of a trilogy of albums—all of which have been marvellous musical achievements. Hopefully the end of the trilogy won’t spell the end for Confrontational, but in any case, whatever Usai chooses to do next will definitely be worth keeping an eye (/ear) out for.
Crom – Where Northmen Die
by Alex Melzer
There are countless bands out there that range from being inspired by Quorthon and Bathory to outright clones, but very few actually have managed to combine his viking metal atmosphere with power metal like Germany’s Crom. Where Northmen Die is their third album to date and is a perfect rebound from their sophomore slump that was Of Love and Death, really finding their groove again. Opener “Behold the Lights” truly is the perfect amalgamation between Bathory’s ah-ah choirs and full-on power metal and all in a quality class that makes it impossible to believe that the two never had been properly put together before. Over the course of the album Walter ‘Crom’ Grosse, covers the epic Bathory sound as well as power metal, acoustic ballads and everything in-between, while still managing to keep everything tight and cohesive. Atmospheric, dense, but also melodic and heavy, Where Northmen Die definitely got Crom back on track and firing on all cylinders!
Hamka – Multiversal
by Jonathan Smith
Patience is a virtue, perhaps no more so than in the case of Hamka—one of power metal’s best kept secrets feturing some of the sub-genre’s more illusive characters. Formed as a splinter project of French symphonic power metal powerhouse Fairyland following the exodus of two of its highly competent members, it seemed to leave almost as quickly as it arrived with a solitary album in Unearth back in 2005 and no live performances to support it. Likewise, vocalist Elisa Martin, arguably one of the more interesting characters in the turn-of-the-millennium power metal revival, seemed to vanish into the haze along with this project. However, her recent return to the scene in 2015 via a couple guest vocal slots on the last Kerion album (which also featured the handiwork of several associated members of Fairyland and Hamka), not to mention an astounding performance on Peter Crowley’s symphonically charged ode to swashbuckling adventures Conquest Of The Seven Seas in 2016, has seen a conglomeration form that has brought about a veritable resurrection of the Hamka brand in all its progressive, orchestral glory.
Drawing from a variety of vernacular influences from the Far East, Africa and elsewhere, the stylistic amalgam of Angra-inspired prog-tinged power metal and Fairyland-inspired symphonic pomp that made Unearth a formidable album has seen an even stronger and more polished successor in Multiversal. Though originally offered up as an independent effort via digital download last August, the labels came calling and an official physical release followed this month as they likewise saw an album that is certain to carry any fan of power metal into the infinite cosmos.
Tongues – Hreilia
by Nathan Hare
Hreilia, the debut album from Danish band Tongues, is a dark masterpiece. The band’s blend of death, black, and doom hits all the right notes. It is melodic but abrasively so, proggy but tightly structured, and atmospheric but still packed full of memorable riffs and leads. It’s a clattering mix of contradictions that somehow manages to still be not only coherent, but incredibly powerful. The closest comparison to me would be Deathspell Omega if they actually wrote songs and infused doom and death metal into their sound. Whatever it is, enjoy the descent into the nightmare.
Wrathblade – God of the Deep Unleashed
by Aaron Sedlar
Wrathblade has made us wait for five long years for the follow-up to their excellent “Into the Nethworld’s Realm.” And the wait was definitely worth it—Wrathblade are in rare form on God of the Deep Unleashed. Wrathblade play excellent of Greek infused epic heavy metal in the vein of Battleroar, Manilla Road, and Slough Feg. Indeed, Nick Varsamis’s vocals sound eerily similar at times to Mike Scalzi; but he mixes things up well with spoken word parts and thundering roars that reinforce the album’s greek mythology theme. The album is mostly mid-to-fast-paced, sending riff after galloping after driving riff marching into your ear drums with spartan savagery. Occasionally things get melodic and solos break up the action well. Every once in a while there are clean guitar parts and lulling vocals, but these are used sparingly as intros or interludes to the rage of the sea that is the rest of the album. The drum performance here is bombastic in the best way, often taking center stage on an album full of other excellent performances.
Thaw – Grains
by Giannis Panitsas
The Polish outfit Thaw—known for their frequent merge of black metal, ambient and noise music—might have just released their most consistent work to date. Grains is an album that infuses classic black metal songwriting with sludge drone flourishes, mind-numbing ambiance and unsettling vocals. Those elements have always been there but acquiring the experience they need over the years, Thaw can now claim that they’ve mastered their art, mixing every texture and infusing every part into the greater sum eventually putting together a vast grey soundscape that is bound to turn your winter into a murky vortex of negative sentiments in less than 40 minutes.
Plague Father – Misery Ritual
by Larry Best
Sometimes quality can rear its head in the most unexpected places. These blackened death metal tyrants—hailing from my home county of Pembrokeshire, Wales—finally unleashed their debut EP upon the unsuspecting metal underground on the 3rd of this month Not content with attaching themselves to one categorization, Plague Father cross a Behemoth-inspired foundation with prog elements, deathcore-esque breakdowns and disturbing ambience. As an EP, “Misery Ritual” is a sprawling effort that may even pass for a full-length album due to the monolithic nature of the track structures. Colossal riff work which effortlessly switches between blackened tremolo picking and broad power chords without ever losing fluidity; drum patterns which scour the full tempo range from downbeat breakdowns to furious blast-beats; and a vocalist who has the most unique pipes this side of Cattle Decapitation; brutal, but losing no hint of eloquence and nobility. Plague Father are one to keep an eye on.