29 Aug 2017

Eternal Champion - The Armor of Ire (No Remorse Records - 2016)

"The Armor of Ire" by Texas's Eternal Champion is one of those albums that went completely under my radar during the year that it was released and instead reached me by word of mouth later on. And it's no surprise that word traveled regarding this album, as it is indeed one of the strongest I've come across in quite a while. 

I've only just began to familiarize myself with No Remorse Records, and so far they seem to be churning out a lot of good stuff. I've gotten "The Armor of Ire" on a good looking vinyl release, including a map and description of vocalist Jason Tarpey's fictional universe in which some of the lyrics take place. Now if that isn't delightfully nerdy I don't know what is! In fact, from now on if a band does not include a map of their fictional universe, I will consider it measly and underwhelming.

And army marches out of my speakers as the monumental "I am the Hammer" leads the way into the realms of Arginor and the Western Isles (better get that map out!), all layered under ominous keyboards. Epicnes aside, this one-minute intro is probably the only skipable part of the album, luckily it's the first track and that's easily done without you having to lift and place down the needle on your player in the middle of the sides playing time. Jason's vocals have a cavernous reverb applied to them that adds to his hollow singing style. His voice took some getting used to for me, but my now I wouldn't change it for anything, he even bursts out the occasional high-pitched "Ah!" à la Jon Oliva which is absolutely charming. The song is slow and monumental and rather minimalistic without getting monotonous or boring, in fact it usually requires several listens before I can move onward onto the next track. The lyrics are well-written and the chorus is absolutely fantastic.

Following that ten-pointer of a number is the title-track, "The Armor of Ire", which features melodic riffing in a manner that actually draws my mind to the 8-bit Mega Man games, and I mean that in the absolutely best way possible. The fast riffing and tight drums are glued together by the drawn out vocal melodies, and there is a lot more going on in the background than what you notice at first listen. You hardly notice that five minutes have passed before the song is over, it's just that seamlessly put together.

"The Last King of Pictdom" is a bouncier track that opens with drummer (and multi-instrumentalist) Arthur Rizk pounding a marching beat on the snare before moving into a triplet-riff. The twin guitar melodies and triplet riffing actually makes me think about Thin Lizzy, especially when the lead guitar melodies after the final chorus kicks in. I believe that it also Arthur that deals out a fine guitar solo during the tracks climax.

Lo and behold! I am about to not encourage you to skip an instrumental interlude, which is my typical reaction to these kind of tracks. Instead I must admit that during my first listens to "The Armor of Ire" I wasn't even aware that they were there, because they are actually woven into the tracks as an integral part of the music instead of annoying interruptions. "Blood Ice" is an instrumental interlude done right and doesn't overstay its welcome in any way, and when listening to my vinyl record it serves as the intro to side B. It also features some interesting pieces of music instead of just a carpet of synthesizers that are supposed to "set the mood" before the next track.

The interlude moves into "The Cold Sword" without any interruption, a galloping affair with some Maiden-esque guitar leads, but which manages without becoming some sort of cheap rip-off. This is the song on the album that has the most drive to it, and Jason shows that he can have bit more of a roar to his voice from time to time.

After moving past the greatness of the opening track, "Invoker" quickly became my favorite song on the album. It's a very dynamic number, and I hope a given part of all of Eternal Champions live sets. Once again it has be mentioned that the lyrics are very well-written, as it oh so easy for this type of lyrics to become beyond cheesy. Instead they are captivating and interesting, and nowhere is it better demonstrated than here, where an assassin waits to strike at a summoning ritual before they raise the old gods of H.P. Lovecraft's mythos. It you're a fan of sword and sorcery, this will be right up your alley. The song switches between clean plucking verses and inventive riffing in the more intense parts. The chorus is among the greats, the final guitar solo though sounds like it could use a couple of more takes.

"Sing a Last Song for the Valdese" is the longest of the album, and accordingly epic and worthy of its six minutes. We finally are treated to some flashier bass parts (also performed by Arthur), a thing that I would gladly have heard more of this during the previous songs on the album. There's a lot things going on here. The band seems to have played around a bit with their song formula here instead of going for traditional verses and choruses, but in no way does it sound amiss. The track is in no way a contender to the opening, but no less epic either way and a fitting last song before we move on to the outro.

"Shade Gate" is a short instrumental outro with a simple, repeating, guitar melody and surprisingly features a quite from Skeletor in the Masters of the Universe movie from 1987. It fit's the overall tone of the album, but nothing that I listen to each time I give the album a spin. Instead I'm probably busy flipping the record over to start over from the beginning.

Arthur Rizk seems to be a jack of all trades as I found out that he is also responsible for the engineering, mixing and mastering. He's done a fine job with all of his undertakings here, with the album sounding warm, yet crisp here it needs to and not unnecessarily loud. In my natural fashion I would have liked the bass to be a bit louder in the mix during the regular riffing, but it manages to cut through well enough the times it does something out of the ordinary.

This album has an overall aura of being very honest and genuine. There's a lot of bands doing this style at the moment, but the dedication of Eternal Champion shines through in such a way that you know that they are the real deal. Believe me, I searched hard and long to find something point out that I wasn't entirely satisfied with, but beyond the intro and outro being somewhat skipable there is really nothing to complain about. "The Armor of Ire" feasts upon 8,2/10 nations blood.

Eternal Champion on Facebook
Eternal Champion on Bandcamp

22 Aug 2017

Dreadful Fate - The Sin of Sodom (Iron Fist Productions - 2017)

Dreadful Fate is a newly formed band from Sweden paying tribute to the Teutonic thrash metal of old. Their debut demo was released on cassette by Iron Fist Productions and while it could use some more variation, one cannot help to wonder what they would come up with when given a longer run-time.

The demo kicks off with the aptly named title track "The Sin of Sodom", which quickly demonstrates what this demo is all about: pure, old-school black/thrash. Drummer Corpse Skelethor (AKA: Per Karlsson) is one of my favorite drummers in the Swedish scene, due to his past work in Nominon, and although the material here is very straight forward and does not call for any flashy drumming there is something very precise about his performance that always speaks to me. His cymbal-work is top notch during the double-kick parts and his fills are chaotic, while still calculated. The song also features some tight riffing from another favorite in the scene, Death Ripper (AKA: Johan Jansson), as well as a delightfully awful guitar solo. All in all it's a fine track, with a chorus that's easy to remember, but in the end it's outshone by the following track.

"Unholy Lust" offers up more of the same furious thrash as the track before, but dials down the tempo a tad, with no loss of effect though. The chorus where vocalist Bestial shrieks "Satan's hammer hits again and again!" has some cool rhythms and breaks that get stuck in my head every time I listen to it. Towards the middle the track moves into mid-tempo territories and really gets my blood pumping. The same type of atonal solo leads into the last chorus of the track that definitely is my favorite on the demo.

Last into the fray is a cover of Kreators classic "Tormentor", which is done with what seems like absolutely no effort at all. The cover is however played without any changes made to it and therefore I would probably rarely put this version on rather than the original, but I guess the urge to pay tribute to the old masters was too appealing for the band to give up the opportunity. I have to give them that the track has a really good energy to it with the fattened-up sound and backing vocals in the chorus. A fitting track for the demo, but I wouldn't re-record it for a full-length album.

I'm glad to hear that the demo isn't overproduced in any way, but also not UNDER-produced. Both drums and vocals sound honest, the guitars are crisp and the bass manages to cut through the mix, it's all very good for a demo. The cassettes seem to be high quality as well and didn't add that much noise at all during my first listening. A lot of other bands paying tribute to the days of yore tend to go a bit overboard with the shitty productions, Dreadful Fate instead gives a good example how to get that garage-sound while still making it sound as good as possible.

It's not much to go by, with only two original tracks and a cover song, but I'm excited to see what Dreadful Fate comes up with next and what type of variations they will throw in to keep things interesting on a longer run-time. I'm personally keeping my fingers crossed for some slower, mid-tempo tracks along the lines of what Sodom sometimes offers up. "The Sin of Sodom" is somewhat of a one-trick-pony, but that trick is done with admirable results. Given the members of the band, and the quality of the demo, I assume it won't be long until a label picks them up and we'll hear more of Dreadful Fate. Until the "The Sin of Sodom" earns 6,8/10 signs of evil.

Dreadful Fate on Facebook
Dreadful Fate on YouTube

16 Aug 2017

Interview: Michael Stavrakakis (Doomocracy)

Earlier this year Doomocracy released their album "Visions & Creatures of Imagination" through Steel Gallery Records. I've now had the honor of speaking to vocalist Michael Stavrakakis about the album, the Greek scene and record collecting.

Interview conducted on 2017-08-15:

Hey Michael! First of congratulations on your latest album "Visions & Creatures of Imagination", you must be very satisfied with the response you have received at this point? I myself suspect it will place quite high on my best of 2017-list. 

Hey David, thank you for your kind words. Our new album "Visions & Creatures of Imagination" has indeed received wonderful reviews from all over the world. We've worked hard to compose and record this album and we are very satisfied with the reception of Magazines e-zines and fans. I think it is a step forward for Doomocracy to more heavy and eastern paths while maintaining the doom metal elements present at all times. We have been picked as album of the month in several important magazines so I do hope we will be in the top lists for 2017.

To my knowledge you are responsible for a large part of the songwriting for Doomocracy. Did you face any challenges with writing a follow-up album this time? It usually involves some more time constraints than writing for a debut that you basically could have been working on for several years even before forming the band. 

I write both music and lyrics just like every band member of Doomocracy. The music you hear in both of our albums is based on teamwork and everyone in the band helps with ideas, riffs, melodies and lyrics. The challenge we faced writing music for our second album was big, as I think our debut album "The End is Written" had set a high quality standard for Doomocracy. We did not rush (as you saw we released our second album two and a half years after our debut) as we wanted to promote our debut album in the best possible way, including more than ten concerts around Europe. When we started composing music for our second album, we were a bit stressed but in a good way, as to which direction to follow in order to compose a worthy successor to "The End is Written". So basically the challenge we faced was to take our music a step further in all aspects (compositions, production, promotion, artwork), a challenge which I think we faced in the best possible way. We spend many hours in the studio to work all songs to the final detail and I am confident to say that we have produced an album worthy and even better than our debut.

Your lyrics seem to always have a story to tell, among others I sense some Egyptian themes this time. Do you do a lot of research for historical- or mythological lyrics in order to be accurate? Or is it more often stories "out of your own mind" so to say?

For us writing lyrics is an important process. We don't just write lyrics to get the songs going. We have many lyrical concepts in the new album, but not a certain specific concept. In other words "Visions & Creatures of Imagination" is not a concept album, but contains different stories, some fiction and some experiential. We used themes from Egyptian mythology for the song "Lucid Plains of Ra", which is a very important song in our album, as it was the main influence for the album cover as well. The lyrics of the song were written by our guitarist Angelos Tzanis and I know that he did some research before writing the lyrics as he also loves Egyptian mythology. For the rest of the songs we have lyrics influenced by Greek mythology, religion and life itself with all its agonies and anguish.

You mastered the album at Morrisound Studios. A place I mainly associate with Savatage- and related projects and above all: death metal albums of the 90'ties, but not so much doom metal. What made you want to work with Jim Morris?

We mixed and mastered the album at Morrisound Studios with Jim Morris, a man who is responsible for milestone productions in heavy metal for major bands like Crimson Glory, Savatage, Iced Earth and of course Death. We love his mix in all those bands and especially in Death. Working with him was a learning process for us and we are satisfied 100% from the mixing and mastering process. As for the reason why we decided to work with Jim Morris other than his great productions overall... we actually wanted a different approach for our mix. Not that we weren't satisfied with the mix of our debut album, but we wanted to try a production that is less compressed and has a more live feeling to it. Nowadays most European productions seem to be over compressed and that is something we did not want for our second album, as like I said we wanted to give a more live feeling to the mix. With the great help and guidance of Jim Morris we were able to achieve this.

I'm glad to see that the album is released on several formats this time around, both digitally, on CD and vinyl. Particularly vinyl is close to my heart, is this something that you guys in the band pushed for? And are you personally a collector of physical releases as well?

We are trying to release our albums in all possible formats. There are people who download albums through iTunes, amazon and so on, so although it is not our preferred music format we wanted to include that option as well. Of course we released the album on CD, but our main passion and effort was, and will be to release our music on vinyl. We are all vinyl collectors and we love its sound and everything else that comes to owning an album in vinyl. I was personally touched as I just yesterday received the vinyl records for "Visions & Creatures of Imagination". From my point of view the new vinyl is amazing both in sound and artwork and is a must for every vinyl collector. We will always do everything possible to release our music on vinyl.

Speaking of the productions, and the vinyl format: have you done a dedicated vinyl mastering for the album, or is the mastering for the CD- and digital platforms fit to be used on the LP as well?

We discussed this with Jim Morris and he told us that the mastering he did is ideal both for CD and vinyl. We did a test pressing just to make sure that the sound would be good, which it really was. So we used the same mastering after all.

Is there any releases in particular that you collect? Bands, genres, albums from certain regions, or do you just in general prefer to have your music collection on physical formats?

I collect all kinds of good music, especially heavy metal of course. But I don't just collect doom metal albums for example. I don't buy music in digital format and I usually buy the vinyl version of an album, unless there is no vinyl version so then I buy the CD to support the band.

Are you happy with the way your label, Steel Gallery Records, have handled your releases so far? Can we expect to see you continuing to work with them? Must be nice being signed to a label in your home country. 

We are very happy with Steel Gallery Records, which is why we chose to renew our contract with them. Working with a Greek label has many benefits as by doing this we are also supporting the Greek heavy metal scene, but we also have great communication with Kostas Athanasoglou, Steel Gallery's owner which is a crucial factor for us in choosing a record label and Kostas is doing everything he can to promote our music. If we receive a better proposal from a bigger record label we will discuss it within the band, but for the time being we are very satisfied with our current record label.

People seem to have a tendency to throw around Candlemass-comparisons when speaking about Doomocracy, but I think there is more beyond that. Do you think that you guys have any influences that usually go over the head of the press and first-time listeners? Be it influences from other bands or anything else. 

It's natural for people who have not listened much to doom metal music to just say "these guys sound like Candlemass". By all means it is not a bad comment to say that we sound like Candlemass, as they are one of the best doom metal bands of all time. Just as Candlemass's main influence was Black Sabbath or Trouble for example. People tend to do this: Instead of describing the music, they just say “they sound like this or that”. It's the easy way. People who have listened to a lot of doom metal music understand that, of course we are influenced by Candlemass and Solitude Aeturnus (and many other bands) but we have developed our own personal style in sound and compositions taking our music a step further. The more albums we produce the more this will be more evident. It happens with all bands you know… with their first albums people compare them to other bands. But as the bands produce more albums they develop a more personal style, so fans-critics stop doing this.

According to the information I've found online Doomocracy is your first venture in the realms of metal, have you been involved in any other musical projects that have released albums before?

I was involved in some Greek cover bands in rock, metal, funk and blues music. After a while I recorded an album with a Greek alternative metal band called Master Reset, which started with a different more progressive metal concept but developed into a more modern style. So right after the album release I quit the band to find another music direction. Thank God, I met my good friends Minas Vasilakis and Angelos Tzanis (Doomocracy's drummer and guitarist) and we formed a new doom metal band called Doomocracy!

I can't say that I'm very well versed in the Greek- or Crete scene. Do you have any bands, present or past, from your area that have inspired you? If not musically, in any other way. 

We have some great metal bands in Greece and the Greek Metal scene is going through a long spring period the last years. Just to name a few bands you might already know: Sacral Rage, Dexter Ward, Wardrum, SiXforNine, Pulse R, Diviner, Inner Wish, Suicidal Angels, Immensity, Exarsis and many more. You should really invest in the Greek Metal scene as you will find many gems in all genres. In Crete we had some very good bands but right now they are all in quiet mode. Still be aware for new releases by Winter Crescent and Chaos Eternal in the coming future.

Thanks you very much for your answers Michael, I hope to hear more from you and Doomocracy soon! Is there anything you would like to add?

Thank you very much for this interesting interview and your support David! Be sure to check out the vinyl release of our second album "Visions & Creatures of Imagination". We will tour Germany in December 2017 so we hope to see our fans there. We are already composing music for our third album and it sounds really good. So be assured Doomocracy is here to stay! Thank you for your support! See you on the road!

Doomocracy on Facebook
Doomocracy on YouTube

31 Jul 2017

Dråp - Roten Till Allt Ont (Xtreem Music - 2017)

Dråp grinds away on a furious rampage, infused with Swedish death metal and crust punk, but also elements of atmospheric black metal, which when spoken out loud might seem like a mish-mash thrown together rather incoherently, but actually fits together rather well.

This CD was released by Xtreem Music, a label I seldom frequent releases from. To my understanding the LP was supposed to be released through Swedish Bloodsoaked Records, but to my surprise it is marked with the Xtreem Music logo as well. It might be some sort of licensing deal going on, but no mention is made of the Swedish label on the outer sleeve. As far as I know Xtreem Music rarely does vinyl releases (which might be the reason I rarely come across their albums), but I would be glad to see them do more.

"Roten Till Allt Ont" opens up with "Ner på Knä" (On You Knees in Swedish), which immediately attacks with blistering blastbeats. The guys in Dråp are obviously angry as all hell, and want you to know that it's your fault. The song has some really cool synchronized breaks, and drummer Emil Leijon gets to show of some real capabilities here. Grinding away like a madman, without missing any of the sudden breaks.

"Ärrvävnad" has more of an atmospheric feel to it, but don't worry, there is a lot of grind going on here as well. In-between the occasional blasts the guitars set aside the tremolo picking for longer, dissonant chords and plucking on the high strings and in the chorus we can hear vocalist Joachim Lyngfelt shouting "Ärrad för livet" as if standing on the other side of a large canyon. The song moves into a neck breaking chug before abruptly stopping.

We are treated to more traditional crust with "Hat För en Livstid", here Joachim is joined by David Nilsson from Swedish deathsters Feral on vocals, and the dual vocals as well as the punk attitude of the track draws the mind to bands like Totalt Jävla Mörker. Davids vocals are more in the background of the mix and distorted, the vocal lines are however alternated between the two throughout the whole song. There's a long interlude towards the end of the track which once again leans more towards black metal.

"Övervåld" makes sure that you are aware that you are listening to a Swedish death metal band, as it has a lot of the classic elements of that style. Dråp manages to cram in a lot of changes within the just over two minutes of a track, d-beats, blasts, breaks and black metal chords, all to keep things interesting.

The title track "Roten Till Allt Ont" is the heaviest on the album, and actually has a little of a thrash metal feel to it, with a lot of tight guitar work from Jimmy Mattsson and Jesper Ekstål. The verses are heavy as led before Dråp picks up the pace again later on. The track moves into some small, simple leads towards the end, and I can't help to feel that it would have been appropriate with a guitar solo there instead. But that's not the way that Dråp rolls I guess. 

"Yttersta Domen" opens really heavy before offering up more guitars in the same vein as "Ärrvävnad", and features a really punk-sounding chorus with Joachim shouting about the world that humans have created with back-up vocals that filling in the gaps. I think it would have been a lift with the rest of the band chiming in on the chorus instead of what I suspect are overdubs done by Joachim as well. 

Next up is an instrumental track called "Eremit", which opens quite Slayer-esque. The track has a lot of air to it and gives the listener a chance to take in the production which is actually really good, even if the gets a bit muddy in the more intense parts. But that's a part of the genre. "Eremit" cycles the intro riff a couple of times before moving into the final track of the album.

"Nederlag" is the longest track on the album, with it's almost six minutes. Instead of alternating between genres here Dråp serves up a crust punk riff with a black metal lead over it. It get's a bit ear-numbing after a while at high volume (and that how you should listen), but if you were expecting anything else you were most definitely looking at the wrong place. To my surprise the guitars manage to squeal out a solo towards the middle of the song. Nothing pretty, nor should it be, and I would gladly hear more of this from Dråp in the future. After the solo the track switches gears, and basically becomes an whole other song (that's probably how they managed to get the long playing time). More of the classic swe-death chugging before we are drenched in guitar chords and double kicks and the track fades away.

"Roten Till Allt Ont" is as violent as a bare-knuckle fist fight, with teeth and blood flying everywhere. It's all performed with great passion, and if you are versed in the Swedish language you can tell that the lyrics hit close to home for the band. The production signed to William Blackmon is stellar and fitting the release. The black metal elements are not really my cup of tea, but aren't so overbearing that they ruin my enjoyment. The songs themselves are such an assault that feel a bit out of breath even before reaching the total of thirty minutes of the album, but if you want to be completely crushed "Roten Till Allt Ont" does is better than most and earns a solid: 7,6/10

24 Jul 2017

The Curse - Come Forth (Imperium Productions - 2017)

After Morbid Angel effectively turned into utter crap, The Curse from Sweden steps in to fill the void of blasphemous death metal played with immaculate precision. "Come Forth" is a  debut EP featuring seasoned veterans from the scene and members from other prominent bands, and sounds accordingly.
My interest was peaked regarding this band as soon as it was announced and I became aware that it featured members from Swedish Kaamos (RIP) when they were to open up for Hypocrisy at a show in Stockholm. That was 2013 and two years later, in late 2015 they released their first EP in digital form and now in 2017 it is finally also available in vinyl format through Imperium Productions.
Ominous chanting starts of the opening track "Morbid Mass" and just before you are about to release a deep sigh over another "spooky intro" to a metal album The Curse blasts you with a relentless onslaught of double kicks and tremolo guitar work. The song continues in similar fashion, with Karl Envall's voice sounding familiar from his days in Kaamos. His growls have never been one of those that I consider the best within the genre, but it has to be said that they feel very honest. Very little reverb and compression is used on them (compression is a death metal vocalists best friend in the studio) and what you hear in here is what he also delivers at live shows. The track alternates between heavy interludes and the aforementioned fast parts before moving into a more atmospheric part in the middle with marching snares and guitars with a lot of effects on them. Karl bellows about "fire and brimstone" and other appropriate themes while we move into the final chorus.
Next up the title track "Come Forth" which wastes no time and moves directly into the chorus. Here there is no mistake about the Morbid Angel influences, with dissonant chords quickly swirling over the neck of the guitars while drummer Victor Parri tries his best to pound his kit into dust. Victor seems to be playing in almost every band from Sweden right now, dealing in everything from doom- death- and black metal, and he really shines here. I assume that even Pete "The Feet" Sandoval would be in awe of this performance. The Curse are good at changing things up and becoming an endless blastbeat orgy, just don't expect any experimental interludes, but a lot of breaks, shifts in tempo and chord-styles to keep things fresh and interesting.
The title track fades out before the drums kick off "Azazel", a mid-tempo number who initially draws the mind to the likes of Bolt Thrower or Asphyx before becoming a complete thrash-fest in the verses. This track has a captivating groove to is and the chorus will get you hooked immediately (if you don't have an odd aversion to catchy death metal). The drums that introduce the song are a bit obviously triggered when singled out like that, and if I had engineered the album I would have removed the trigger for just that part, but altogether the sound is fine and I won't be a stickler about triggered drums in this type of death metal. I'll merrily scream "Azazeeel!" along with the track until the needle finally has grinded away the grooves on my LP.
"Of Darkness Born" offers up several different types of blastbeats in shorter time than most bands do in a lifetime, something that more bands "of the blasting kind" should try out instead of continuously sticking to the classic grind every time. It offers up some needed variety as I find that tracks with an endless grind throughout it are a complete bore. This track keeps a high pulse throughout without going for a heavy interlude in the middle and barely reaches over the three minute mark before finishing off.
If the previous track was the most intense on this EP "INRI Stigma" is the most laid back, and I am using this term very loosely here. Laid back in the terms of The Curse is still more energetic than most. Here we get the only proper guitar solo within these tracks, and while it is nothing completely mind-blowing I would gladly welcome more as the band seems to have two capable lead guitarists in Fredrik Hernborg and Nicklas Eriksson. And yes, they each play a solo back-to-back in this track, as a band should when having two guitarists. This is a very heavy track with the occasional bursts of hyper-aggression who also doesn't go on for barely more than three minutes.
My favorite track on the EP is "Ancient Curses", even if it serves up the "spooky intro" that we nearly avoided in the opener, luckily it doesn't drag along for more than ten seconds here either. A phased guitar introduces the main riff before we are completely carpet-bombed by the full power of The Curse, if this doesn't get your neck moving you must not have one. The band takes a short break to scream the title of the track from the top of their lungs, only to repeat the whole process again immediately afterwards. Meaning that we get to hear this fantastic riff start off with a "Uh!" two times before the intro is over, absolutely fantastic. The verses are very atmospheric and dark, and if you thought the chorus to "Azazel" was catchy you're in for a ride here. This track has been on constant repeat in my head more times than I would care to admit, and not due to being trivially simple, but due to being of utmost quality. A riff heavy as any leads out of the track, as well as the EP in whole, as The Curse gradually slows down in the final measures and the final sound we hear is a stone slab shutting the lid of an ancient tomb.
As stated earlier I won't rag on triggered kicks here as it is as much part of the genre as distorted guitars at this point, and Parri's drumming is nothing else than commendable. The mix is fine, with a nasty guitar tone that fits the mood and a honest vocal performance. I could go for having the bass louder in the overall mix, but since Karl handles both vocals and bass duties at the same time I have a hunch that there isn't a lot of flashy bass tricks going on that we are being robber of behind the wall of sound.
"Come Forth" is a high quality offering throughout and absolutely ends with a bang, and the strong choruses from the time of Kaamos has not gone MIA since their heyday. As one can demand form musicians of this caliber, the EP leaves little to want even after a careful examination. Since it was initially released in 2015 I really hope that they have something more to offer soon. Until then "Ancient Curses" will probably keep me going for some more time yet. "Come Forth" emerges from its tomb with: 7,9/10

17 Jul 2017

Avatarium - Hurricanes and Halos (Nuclear Blast - 2017)

Avatarium seem to have moved away further from their doom metal roots with each release, in favor of what I would call classic rock. This being their third album, and fifth release all in all, they seem to be all but gone by now. While the album isn't bad per say, it doesn't really scratch the itch that I had either. Then again, I simply might not get it.
I've been an Edling-oholic for quite some time. Simply put: if I hear that Leif is involved, I see the chances of me liking that album increase dramatically. I can't help to wonder if his decreasing involvement in, and now apparent disappearance from, the band is the reason to why I simply can't get into the latest Avatarium album as much as I had expected to. I can't find any clues to that he would still be involved as a "ghost writer" of sort for the band in the LP inlay, and to my surprise the songs on the album are not registered in the database of Swedish STIM either, so no luck there in finding out who's responsible for writing the tracks. Needless to say, I suspect that this album is completely Edling-free and that he along with keyboard player Carl Westholm was exited out of the band without any announcement.
Anyway, the album opens somewhat strong with "Into the Fire / Into the Storm", an upbeat affair with a catchy chorus much in the vein of 2015's title-track "The Girl With the Raven Mask". I'm glad to hear that the entrance of organist Rickard Nilsson has made the organ take a more prominent role in the production, and he riffs along with Marcus Jidell's guitar without breaking a sweat as well as offers up a nice solo in the middle of the track. The track draws my mind to songs like "Free'n'Easy", "Easy Livin'" or "To Scared to Run" by Uriah Heep, and fuels my suspicion that there won't be much of doom metal up for grabs within the grooves of the golden double LP that I pre-ordered.
Next up is "The Starless Sleep" that almost has a dance-music element to it, had the steady drum beat by Lars Sköld been replaced by a thumping bass this track wouldn't have felt out of place at a nightclub. The same goes for the vocal melodies in the chorus. I take it that this track will be a regular at Avatarium's live shows to come, considering the placement in the album track list and that it was released as a video on beforehand, for me it falls flat though. A redeeming quality is Markus solo, that he along with all of the rest of the band are extremely accomplished in their instruments is a fact that I cannot argue. It's an early point in the albums playtime for me to start loose interest though.
"Road to Jerusalem" opens with some country-sounding acoustic guitar, backed up by fuzzy electric instruments. The track does a great job in conveying the mood of a long trek through the desert, and is oddly enough one of my favorite tracks within "Hurricanes and Halos". Jennie-Ann Smith's voice fit these type of songs extremely well, and it is solidified after the break in the middle where the drums enter and she backs herself up with some classic "aah-aah" vocals and beautiful harmonies in the chorus.
Heavy drums lead into "Medusa Child" and my hopes are staring to rise that we're getting into the realms of doom, but are snuffed before we've even get passed the first of the songs nine minutes. It's not that the verses here aren't heavy and moody, but the track is quite awkwardly put together with sudden changes that don't quite fit together. I'm all for variety, but it has to fit together coherently. Once again however Rickard serves up a cool organ solo before the song drifts of into more experimental territory in 60's/70's fashion for a couple of minutes to finally fade away in the end.
"The Sky at the Bottom of the Sea" once again draws the mind to Uriah Heep, especially with the vocal harmonies in the verses, Hensley-esque tone and rhythms of the organ and use of the wah-wah pedal. An extremely tight shuffle beat on the drums makes this track bounce onward without one noticing that the time has passed, and the chorus is large and stadium-like. Definitely one of the better tracks on the album.
"When Breath Turns to Air" has a jazz feel to it with colored guitar chords, soft vocals and a lot of ghost notes on the snare drum, Avatarium clearly has no problem with handling these elements either. Very well played once again, but we're getting back to the point where this simply isn't anything that interests me. 
We are finally treated to a heavy power-chord riff(!) with "A Kiss (From the End of the World)". Jennie-Ann handles this very masterfully as well and shows that her background isn't solely based in jazz and soul, but that she's no stranger to Ronnie James Dio either. If you were looking for doom metal, this is what you'll get, as the track later moves in to more experimental parts with guitar solos in the same manner as "Medusa Child" did earlier.
The title track "Hurricanes and Halos" is more of an outro than anything else, and after my first listen I haven't felt the urge to play it again other than for the sake of this review. Guitar harmonies are stacked on top of each other for three and a half minutes before the track finally disappears.
The production of "Hurricanes and Hales" is stellar, especially the drums, organ and vocals. From time to time the guitar is a but too fuzzy for my taste, but this has been the case with Avatarium since after their self titled debut. The organ has that great roar to it when needed and the drums are organic and dynamic. You can really hear that there is no studio fakery needed for these seasoned musicians, and an extra mention must be made of Markus's solo capabilities that have always been top notch as well as Jennie-Ann's broad vocal scope.
Avatarium obviously know what they are doing, but moving into the tired and over-done realm of retro rock was something that was really hoping that they wouldn't do. Granted, there is still some elements of doom metal here, but always in the form of what I would call "doom ballads" or upbeat heavy metal tracks, nothing in the vein of the absolutely crushing riffs on their debut. If this is due to Leif being missing (or if he even is gone), one can only guess. But I have my suspicions. "Hurricanes and Halos" isn't bad, but not what I wanted. In fact, it is very well played classic rock with some jazz- and soul elements thrown in there for good measure, and If you're in the mood for that, this album is definitely for you. Maybe I can be blamed for having preconceived expectations of what I wanted, but "Hurricanes and Halos" earns: 6/10

10 Jul 2017

Doomocracy - Visions & Creatures of Imagination (Steel Gallery Records - 2017)

Doomocracy from Greece deals out a brand of very melodic, and somewhat progressive, doom metal with a lot of eastern-sounding melodies and atmospheric keyboards. "Visions & Creatures of Imagination" is a step-up from their debut in 2014 when it comes to song writing and shows promising development for the future.

I own Doomocracy's debut "The End is Written" on both CD and on a signed LP that I proudly display even if it was quite badly damaged while shipping. I always prefer to own an LP if available, and only bought the CD because no vinyl was available at the time. This time however I am waiting for the vinyl to release as it was announced at the same time as the rest of the versions. My digital copy has had serve as a stand-in though as I could not wait to hear if "Visions & Creatures of Imagination" has taken the band on the path I desired, hoping for more memorable songs rather than a few that stand out among the many.

Opening track "Ghosts of the Past" sets the bar really high for the rest of the album, immediately showing which type of melodic riffing we can expect from the band. The song features incredibly heavy drumming from Minas Vasilakis, who throws in rapid kick-bursts leading into the hits, creating that dragging sensation while still being completely on point. Michael Stavrakakis's vocals soar above the very rhythmisized riffing, gluing it together with long notes and languished vocal melodies. This is a very catchy number, with each riff being "hummable" and memorable and I can imagine singing along with the "aah-aah" part in the middle of the song at live shows. To my knowledge the track features keyboards arranged by Miguel Robaina (ex-Memento Mori), either way they add a lot of atmosphere to it.

"Lucid Plains of Ra" dives even deeper into the experimental rhythms and progressive realms after some oriental instruments has set the tone of the track. The hi-hat work is extremely well done and the kicks are well coordinated along with the bass lines in the intro. Michael offers shorter vocal lines in the verses here, rather enhancing the unorthodox rhythms than gluing it together as with the opener. It's all very precisely played and doesn't get so progressive that it's hard getting into or to enjoy, a very thin line that has to balanced between showing off your skills and creating enjoyable music instead of masturbatory self-indulgence. The track climaxes at the four minute mark where a well executed falsetto scream leads into the solo, and what a solo it is! If guitarist Harry Dokos or Angelos Tzanis is responsible I do not know, but the solos on this album are fantastic, carefully balancing the same thin line as just described above.

Opening with a heavy break interlude with harmonized guitar leads "My Bane" sounds like something you could have found on the last album by Solitude Aeturnus in 2006, the same type of leads and rhythms that I associate with the band are used here. The verses take a step back to simpler, chugging guitars. A welcome break from the tracks that have demanded more from the listener, with less layers to the music you get a chance to lean back and nod along to the riffs. Doomocracy makes sure you don't loose focus for too long though, as they make a point of fooling you that the song is over before once again diving into chorus a final time. Overall a simpler track, but no less a great one.

Doomocracy decides to put the "epic" into "epic doom metal" with the intro of "One with Pain", which completely crushes the listener under the weight of planet-sized meteors crashing into the earth only to lead into a freight train of a double bass riff. This track reaches over eight minutes and fits its demeanor of anguish just right. The chorus riff is slow and heavy, with a unison attack of all instruments. The lyrics does however rhyme in a way that feels a bit shoehorned, but the overall power of the chorus is not lost. After a short clean interlude, the track leads into another of my favorite solos on the album. The outro/final chorus of this track takes two minutes to get through before it fades out... as already stated: Epic.

"Guardian Within" somewhat of a power metal-feel to it, with mid-temp galloping guitars and many melodies thrown in. Once again the lyrics rhyme in a way that makes me feel a bit uneasy though. I can imagine that this track would work well live as it is rather short (for doom metal) and shakes things up a bit, and putting it here after the longest track on the album was the right choice. It is however the most skippable track on the album, one has to be right?

Title track "Visions & Creatures of Imagination" opens strongly with Doomocracy demonstrating all that I have previously commended them for, also with a church organ adding to the weight of the riff. Once again they make use of interesting rhythms, this time much heavier though with the guitars and drums sounding like they're limping forward as if wounded while the vocals soar above. Michael seem to have gained more control over his voice since the bands debut, and nowhere is it better showed off than in this track. The bridge quickly jumps into more up-beat drums before a chorus worthy of a title track. Worth mentioning is that someone made the wise decision to dust of their wah-wah pedal for solo as well, which is done way too little dese days.

"Trinity of Fates" takes a more classic approach to doom metal, with a dead heavy main riff that is later stripped down to the bone once the vocals enter, only to reappear again later. The snare drum patters on a marching beat in the background, where the dynamics between a hard hit and the softest strokes well audible and shows that Minas has a good ear this kind of playing. As well as that the production has had to have this in mind while mixing the drums. After all, conveying emotion from just a snare drum would be hard if it was triggered or compressed to oblivion. The chorus is delivered with an admirable passion, and is probably one of my favorites on the album. The song ends way before I am finished listening to it, meaning that I usually have to give it another spin before moving onward to the last track.

Closing the album is "A Taste of Absinthe" and finally bassist Manolis Sx gets some room, albeit for a short while. I can't seem to say enough that the bass should be mixed louder in almost all albums released these days, especially if you have such a nice tone as Manolis has here. I have had a different experience with the bass though where it is much louder on certain sound systems, for example in my car, rather than in my headphones. It's always a hard thing to get mixes to sound the same in different systems. This is a dreamy track which features a lot tom-work from the drums, the vocals are very soft and the bass plays a couple of leads in the background before the somber chorus kicks in. "Visions & Creatures of Imagination" does not end with a bang even if this final track picks up the tempo later in the middle. It rather slowly drifts away, and I guess that was what they were going for, to create and album that you should best enjoy while sitting down and having a proper and dedicated listen. If so they succeeded even though I think "Trinity of Fates" would have been a more effective finish.

When you spit out the term "epic doom metal" most people will immediately think of the mighty Candlemass, and rightfully so. Doomocracy however has taken somewhat of their own twist on the genre to revitalize it and avoid becoming a full-on clone. Taking a few tricks from bands like Tad Morose and maybe Savatage they have created something that sounds like Doomocracy. For the sake of this review I have listened extra closely to the album, and it has actually grown from the process as there are many layers to the music to explore, rather than become boring after multiple spins. "Visions & Creatures of Imagination" demands a lot from the listener, especially with a playing time of more than fifty minutes, but it is worth it even if a small amount of fat could be trimmed off. I sure do hope that Doomocracy does not end up as overlooked as the bands that seem to have inspired them, I for one will be buying the LP once it is available. Depending on how the album holds it's own during the months to come, this is a strong contender for the end of the year lists. "Visions & Creatures of Imagination" earns 7,8/10

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