Rest In Peace
Lemmy is gone, but never forgotten.
His influence will live forever.
Rest In Peace.
Lemmy and me (looking stupid with my eyes closed, of course) from 1999 in Chicago.
Thyruz - Svik
This band has been active in the Norwegian Black Metal underground for fifteen years, having formed in 1999. After five demo recordings and two previous full-length LPs, Thyruz is back with their latest release, Svik. The riffing on this album is very reminiscent of post-Euronymous Mayhem, though it takes a while to recognize it because Mjolner isn’t a drum wanker like Hellhammer. I’ve always thought that Hellhammer’s style contrasted too much with the more simplistic riffing of Blasphemer and that he distracted too much with his hyper-technical drum fills. If you removed Hellhammer from Blasphemer-era Mayhem, the music would sound a lot like what’s on Svik. While Thyruz really isn’t bringing a whole lot of originality to the table, they’re competent at what they do and they execute it with precision. I thought that the faster parts on this record were a bit on the generic side, but when the tempo slows down and gets heavy, their music definitely sounds better. A case in point, the title track, “Svik,” is darker and more atmospheric, channeling Tom Warrior and Celtic Frost/Triptykon in its style. It’s easily the heaviest song on this entire LP and though the somewhat lightweight production hinders this by not having enough bass in the guitars, it’s still some dark and twisted music. I’m kind of late to the party when it comes to this band, but I’m glad I didn’t miss out on Svik. It hits hard and offers plenty of excellent songs. If there’s one weakness, it’s in the length. At only 28 minutes, it’s over far too soon. Still, I’d rather have a short album with six good songs than a 60 minute LP with four or five songs that are clearly filler.
Metal Clone X - Louder Than Your Mother
In Japan, the most popular form of music is currently a form of Idol Pop that involves a large number of girls in a chorus troop. The phenomenon isn’t new, but of late there are a lot more of them than there used to be. Fueled by the success of AKB48, the number of Idol Groups has proliferated. Older Japanophiles (such as myself) will surely remember Morning Musume, but there are many, many more. The Oricon charts (the equivalent to the Billboard Top 100) are dominated by groups like the previously mentioned AKB48 and Morning Musume as well as newer groups like E-Girls, Tokyo Girls Style, Sakura Gakuin (which, oddly enough, spawned Babymetal as a sub-group), and dozens of sub-units, splinter groups and “extended family members” of existing groups. Now, you may be asking yourself why this brief education on Japanese Idol Groups is necessary, right? The answer to that is because Metal Clone X came about because of this phenomenon. Former Megadeth/Cacophony/Hawaii guitarist (and guitar wanker extraordinaire) Marty Friedman formed this group as a Metal tribute to an Idol Pop unit called Momoiro Clover Z. Anime nerds will know Momoiro Clover Z from their performance of “Moon Pride,” the opening theme to the new Sailor Moon series. Though Louder Than Your Mother isn’t composed entirely of Momoiro Clover Z cover songs, it looks (and sounds) like the bulk of this is Metalized Idol Pop music. It’s essentially Babymetal in reverse. Instead of a bunch of underage girls from an Idol Pop group playing a Metalized version of Idol Pop, it’s a bunch of Metal dudes playing a Metalized version of Idol Pop. The difference is that Babymetal is pretty awesome and Metal Clone X isn’t. As much as I want to hate on this release for being fairly un-Metal, I have to admit that it was somewhat entertaining. It’s a bit on the absurd side so it has the “Dude, you have to check this shit out, it’s fucking terrible” factor going for it. How Friedman got Freddie Lim (Chthonic singer) to do the vocals on this is beyond me, but I hear that Freddie is something of a Japanophile himself. I’ve seen him (and the rest of Chthonic) on stage performing “Megitsune” with Babymetal where he provides backing vocals, so he’s probably quite familiar with Japanese Idol Pop. I think the main reason this fails isn’t because Marty and the gang couldn’t compose the music or properly produce it. It fails because Idol Pop is popular mainly because the singers are female. Had Marty called up Nana Tanimura (whom he’s worked with in the past) or had Avex round up a bunch of sixteen year old girls for vocals, this would have probably sounded 1,000% better. Of course, it might sound almost exactly like Babymetal, but that would be a step up (probably several) from what this is. Marty Friedman may be a great guitarist, but this isn’t exactly his crowning achievement. It’s a curiosity at best, and even die-hard fans of his work will probably want to pass on this. Because this is a Japanese release, I wouldn’t even recommend it as an impulse buy because that “impulse” will probably set you back $45 for the physical version. If you want Metalized Idol Pop music, Babymetal works on many more levels than this does.
Ulvegr - The Call of Glacial Emptiness
This is my first time hearing Ulvegr, but this is their third full-length album. The reason I wanted to check them out was because the two guys in the band are longtime members of the Ukrainian scene. Odalv, the drummer, is a member of Elderblood and has also spent time in Nokturnal Mortum, among many other bands. Helg, who plays everything else and does vocals, is also in Khors and KZOHH, plus some others, a few of which also contained Odalv in the lineup. Both of these guys have been around a while, and when you listen to Ulvegr, you can tell that they know what they’re doing. The Call of Glacial Emptiness is a very well rounded record. It goes a lot of places and ties everything together in a way that makes sense. There are songs that are blisteringly fast, others that are slower and heavier, and still others that are brutal as fuck. Each track has its own identity, and while there is a lot of ground covered, all of them sound like Ulvegr. This takes a lot of talent and even veteran bands can’t get it right a lot of times. By giving themselves a large range to operate in and also establishing a distinct “core” musical sound, they can bring in a diverse array of musical influences but still create songs that don’t sound out of place. This LP has elements of Black Metal, Death Metal, Thrash and even a little Doom and Traditional Metal in it. I was somewhat surprised that Ulvegr doesn’t include a significant amount of keyboards in their music the way that Elderblood and Khors do, but I guess it makes sense that they’d want to do something different with this band. They use the keyboards only in intro or outro sequences, with the rest of the music being guitar-based. In terms of production, they have a power and clarity that didn’t used to exist in Eastern European Black Metal. Even the best sounding bands weren’t this heavy or brutal until Behemoth started adopting the more Death Metal oriented production, and the proliferation of this sound has had a net positive effect on other bands from the region. The sound is fairly punishing and the guitars are nice and prominent. You can even hear the bass, which is a rarity even on records where the production is stellar. The combination of excellent production and some seriously high-quality Black Metal makes this a package that fans of bands like Behemoth or Vader will surely appreciate.
Taekaury - Spirit of Koguryo
It’s not very often that I hear Metal from South Korea, so I look at it as something of a novelty. There are probably a lot more bands out there than you would think, but because they don’t have any internationally recognized acts, most Metal fans would be hard-pressed to name any Korean groups. As extensive as my Metal collection is, most of my Asian Metal comes from Japan, though I do have a fair amount from China now. Taekaury is a one-man band that, up until recently, was known as Apparition (“애퍼리션” in Korean). The music of Taekaury is sometimes referred to as Black Metal, which is the genre that Apparition was lumped into, but this is more accurately described as Pagan Metal in that Heukmae/武神蚩尤/黑梅/Black Blossom (he’s listed under a whole bunch of different names - his Facebook page lists him as Black Blossom (黑梅), but Metal-Archives.com has him listed as Heukmae for this project, and as 武神蚩尤 under his entry for Apparition) is going for a more traditional pre-Christian Korean influence. It’s very nationalistic in some ways, but very anti-Korean in others. The main distinction seems to be that the anti-Korean stuff seems directed mainly at the government and the “Christian” values it represents. I guess his problem is that he sees outside influences (such as Christianity) as corrupting his culture, which is a valid complaint in a lot of ways. It certainly fuels his fire and makes him write some evil sounding music. Musically, Spirit of Koguryo is very “European” sounding. It has a lot of influences from Scandinavian Black Metal (primarily Swedish and Norwegian scenes), though it also incorporates some Traditional Metal and Thrash into the song structures. The more Black Metal influenced parts seemed a bit generic to me, though the addition of Thrash riffs and some blistering guitar solos did spice things up considerably. Spirit of Koguryo is a well executed LP that kicks all kinds of ass. When I researched this band, I was afraid that this would be another one of those “the message is more important than the music” type of albums. I’ve listened to countless NSBM and ultra-nationalist bands that put their message first and released records that were essentially so musically bad that they were unlistenable. My fears were unfounded here. This LP is a very solid release, and I hope to hear more from Taekaury.
Ptahil - Born Against
Indiana’s Blackened Heavy Metal horde, Ptahil, is back again with their third full-length LP and if you liked their brand of massively distorted and reverb-laden Black Heavy Metal before, you’re getting more of what you love. Ptahil has always used the “giant ball of Satanic noise” style of production, which is something that makes their music very hard to discern. The riffing is pretty straightforward Heavy Fucking Metal in style, and if you’re looking for things like guitar solos or flashy playing, you’re not going to find any of that stuff here. These guys are a no-frills bunch, and if it doesn’t stave your face in, it isn’t included. It’s power chord heavy, ass-kicking, no-bullshit Heavy Metal from the first song to the last. Even if the playing is sloppy, you’d never know because the amount of distortion they’re using blends all of it together. Loose or not, the music does get your head banging right away, and even though the songs are longer this time around, the additional length is anything but a problem. One thing I always liked about this band is that despite all the distortion and reverb, the vocals are still mostly understandable. Even without a lyric sheet, it’s possible to follow along after just a couple of listens. Luathca has a delivery style that reminds me a lot of bands like Chicago’s Usurper, or Nunslaughter. It’s a bark that has a harshness to it, but it’s not so brutal that you can’t understand what’s being said. Things never devolve into the typical “gurgle-gurgle-gurgle-Sataaaaan!!” stuff you hear from the average Satanic Death Metal band and I appreciate that. More than anything else, I like that Ptahil doesn’t really sound like anyone else out there. In a scene so full of bands that seem the same or derivative of each other, it’s nice to hear one that kicks ass all over the place and still stands out from the crowd. Given what’s on this album, though, I would say that seeing them live is probably a better medium. As much neck damage as Born Against will give you, catching a live performance would probably land you in the ER.
Albion - Campanula
This is the debut album from Japan’s Albion, a relatively new all-girl Metal band that plays a keyboard-heavy form of Power Metal that sounds somewhat like a Gothic Metal version of Cyntia. Like Cyntia, the keyboards provide the bulk of the heavy lifting, delivering both the atmospheric elements as well as more orchestral/symphonic parts. Keyboardist Saki Hasegawa is obviously a skilled player and while the other members of the group do step in and occasionally add some technical flair, she’s the one you notice the most. The music is fairly well executed, but there are some parts of Campanula that need to be worked on. A few of the songs, such as “Paranoia,” don’t flow as well as they should, and the songwriting and style are on the uneven side. The songs themselves don’t suck, but there are things that could have been done better. “Paranoia” stands out the most as an example of the band’s inexperience. The music sounds like something out of a carnival for a fair portion of the song, and the general atmosphere seemed off. When you compare it to the other tracks, it lacks the same Gothic/Classical air. It disrupts the flow of the album and that’s what does the most damage. Though Albion has a lot of skills, they need some time to develop as a band. That and considerable rehearsal can iron out many of the group’s problems. My guess is that Albion may have rushed a bit to get this LP out. For a band as young as Albion is, having a debut album come out not long after their first single is released seemed a bit too soon for me. This may have been a stronger release had it been an EP, showcasing their best material, reserving the others for a time when everything has been tightened up and the wrinkles smoothed. When Albion can get things right, the band shines. They’ve got a long way to go before they’re serious contenders, but potential is here. If they can get a competent studio engineer (one that knows how to record Metal, because the bass drum tone on this sounds horrible) and put together enough solid songs, people are going to take notice. It might not happen overnight, but in a couple of years, we might be mentioning Albion in the same breath as bands like Aldious, Mary’s Blood and Destrose.
Demonic Slaughter - The Haunted
[Editor’s note: The CD and “digital” versions of this album have somewhat divergent tracklists, and even slightly different titles, with the “digital” officially being The Haunted, while the CD is simply Haunted, no “the.” Why anyone thought that would be a good idea is open to discussion…]
I’ve quietly become a fan of Poland’s Demonic Slaughter. The main reason for this is that they sound like old Mayhem. Face it, the Mayhem of today doesn’t sound much like the band that produced De Mysteriis Dom Sathanas all those years ago. Every album after that has gotten progressively further and further away from their old sound, and if you really liked the whole Dead & Euronymous era of Mayhem as I did, you’ve progressively gotten more and more fed up with the band. Where you find that evil atmosphere and the demented vocal style that Attila used on De Mysteriis now is with bands like Demonic Slaughter, who took the torch and kept it lit. Even though Xaos Oblivion is involved in a bunch of other projects (including his own solo band), he still manages to keep the music of Demonic Slaugher dark and evil sounding. The Haunted starts off hard and heavy, with “Mystic Rites” pounding away with almost military precision drumming and riffs that get your head banging with the rhythm, musically channeling equal parts old Mayhem and early Darkthrone. This song sets the tone for the rest of the album, marching steadily along at a pace that keeps the dark and evil atmosphere intact while not getting monotonous. Even at higher speed ranges, such as on “Monks of Cold Mountains,” Demonic Slaughter manages to keep most of their dark and gloomy atmosphere intact, which is something that a lot of veteran bands have trouble doing. Their best work, though, is in the slower speed ranges where their heaviness and dark atmosphere can work most potently. If there is a detraction to the contents of this LP, it’s that Demonic Slaughter hasn’t progressed very much musically since their previous release, Downfall. If you’re looking for titanic shifts in songwriting and production, you’re going to be disappointed. Demonic Slaughter has evolved somewhat, but those changes are on the micro scale. Xaos Oblivion’s shift to the Attila-style vocals full-time has given the band a darker and more twisted sound, and while the music is still very similar to their previous works, they’ve tightened up and tweaked things a bit, too. How far they’ve progressed is debatable, but if you liked what you heard from them before, you’ll enjoy The Haunted. It’s solid, evil Black Metal with a dark atmosphere, and that’s what I look for when I want to listen to evil music.
Mardelas - Daybreak/Phantasia
Mardelas is the new band featuring former Destrose vocalist, Marina Hebiishi. After what appears to be a less than amicable split from her previous band, Marina has bounced back with all the fire and passion she brought to Destrose intact and maybe intensified. Though this EP only has two songs on it, it has a lot of impact. I heard that this was originally going to be a four-song EP, but the band decided to reduce it to two songs because they wanted to focus on quality over quantity. If that’s true, it was a wise choice because the two songs here kick a lot of ass. “Phantasia” and “Daybreak” pick up where the 霖 -Rin-/MAZE EP by Destrose left off and continue the musical pummeling. If the new EP (The Prologue) by Destrose (the first to feature their new vocalist) is a musical punch to the face, this EP by Mardelas is the equivalent of getting the shit beaten out of you by an enraged Mike Tyson in his prime. I knew that Marina was a fire-breather already, but I was somewhat unprepared for the amount of damage my neck was about to receive when I pressed “play” on my media player - and this is after having heard the 霖 -Rin-/MAZE EP. My head was banging, my hand was raised in the sign of the horns and I was screaming “Fuck Yeah!” at my computer for the duration of this EP, which was sadly only about ten minutes long. If there’s a detraction, it’s that two songs isn’t enough. I wanted more and I wanted it really badly. If you like anthemic Heavy Fucking Metal in the vein of old Loudness or maybe the new Mary’s Blood LP (a band that is ironically also composed of former Destrose members), Mardelas delivers the goods as potently as any band in the scene. Hopefully, this is a harbinger of more awesome music to come because I really enjoyed listening to it. If you liked Marina’s work with Destrose, particularly the 霖 -Rin-/MAZE EP, you’ll love Daybreak/Phantasia. Destrose may be having issues with finding out who they are, but Marina Hebiishi knows who she is and what musical direction she wants to go. If you feel like following along, just look for the ten mile wide path of destruction littered with broken bodies and smoking ruins.