Saturday, March 29, 2014

Gamma Ray – Empire of the Undead

While it’s been 4 long years since the last Gamma Ray album, taking things a bit slower is often a good idea. Unlike many other power metal bands who are constantly pumping out worse and worse albums, Gamma Ray seems to have re-energized themselves by taking their time. “Empire of the Undead” is the band’s 11th album, and is their best in over a decade. Things kick off with the 1-2 punch of “Avalon” and “Hellbent”, which immediately recall a similar combo of “Rebellion In Dreamland” and “Man On A Mission” from “Land of the Free”. “Avalon” is without a doubt the band’s most inspired song in a long time. It opens with some clean guitars, followed by Kai Hansen showing off some of his softer range, but it isn’t long before it explodes into a heavy, mid-paced stomper. The song alternates between these two sounds until it becomes a much faster, energetic track driven by guitar solos. The most impressive part of this song is Kai’s vocal performance. As mentioned, he shows some real singing skill, but he also displays some more aggressive, harsher vocals. Kai displays an unbelievable amount of emotion in this song that I don’t think he’s ever matched on any other Gamma Ray song.

After “Avalon”, Gamma Ray soldiers on with another winner: “Hellbent”. This song begins in an incredibly thrashy manner, and as it goes on, there is a clear nod to “Man On A Mission” with the interplay of backing vocals and Kai’s singing. “Hellbent” is another one of Gamma Ray’s odes to metal, but this one’s lyrics are pretty bearable. Another highlight (and metal anthem) is “Master of Confusion”. This song is much in the vein of “I Want Out” and “Send Me A Sign”; it has an incredibly catchy lead that drives the song, wicked chorus, and great guitar harmony after a fantastic solo. This track also showcases the impressive bass playing of Dirk Schl├Ąchter. There are quite a few breaks in the verses where he sticks out, although he actually is very prominent even when the guitars are playing. This is definitely the strongest Gamma Ray album in terms of how well the bass cuts through the mix.

Nearly every song on this album is worth mentioning because the songs are very eclectic. Every track sounds like Gamma Ray, but is still distinct. “Time For Deliverance” is the sole ballad, and will recall the song “Farewell”, as there is some fantastic piano work alongside Kai’s vocals. Things slow down a bit with “Demonseed” and “Seven”; the former because of the strange sample at the beginning, and the latter because it is the only somewhat weak track on the album. Just as you might be tiring of this record, however, Gamma Ray comes back with “I Will Return”, which is another power metal rager featuring plenty of guitar acrobatics. 

If there is one common criticism I have of recent Gamma Ray albums, it’s that they have sometimes ridden a fine line between riff plagiarism and worship, but on “Empire of the Undead” the band shows quite a few nods to some other great bands. “Hellbent” brings back memories of the heaviest riff in existence: the breakdown of Judas Priest’s “Metal Meltdown”. Meanwhile, “Pale Rider” has a section in the verse that is very reminiscent of some of the vocal lines on the first Manowar record. Yet another reference comes in the form of “Empire of the Undead”, where the first couple of vocal lines have an Anvil feel to them, particularly because of the hi-hat abuse in this section of the verse. Unlike on those other Gamma Ray albums, however, these situations seem more like friendly references than being unoriginal. Overall, it’s hard to deny that “Empire of the Undead” shows a revitalized band that is making a strong case for power metal album of the year.

Be sure to check out and like Gamma Ray on Facebook!

"Master of Confusion"
"I Will Return"

Final Rating
4.6/5 or 92%. 

Written by Scott 

Friday, March 28, 2014

Interview with Wayde Martin (Owner of Crawling Chaos Productions)

If you're man enough to read on after seeing that mugshot up there, than you are a brave soul. I recently interviewed the man above about his new mail order/distribution/label Crawling Chaos Productions. If you like crude and punishing death metal of the ugliest kind, than this a label you should be following. Actually, you should follow them even if you like other shit, because he's got it. Maybe. 

SFM -  G'day cunt, now let's get started with the generic background info questions. Where ya from? How long has Crawling Chaos been going? What are some of the releases you currently have out? What genres of metal do you specialize in?

Wayde - Hey fuckwit! I’m from Australia, hiding a couple of hours south of Sydney. 

I started up Crawling Chaos mid-2013 when the Coffins Slave closed down. It was a matter of sheer opportunity since I had been helping to keep TCS afloat since mid-2012 but ultimately things went downhill due to a lot of factors, which I won’t discuss here, and the controls were handed over to me. 

I currently have two releases out; the first one is “Ritual Obscuration” by Brisbane black/death maniacs VILIFIER and the second, which just came out this week, is long-running Melbourne blackened death metal band VAHRZAW’S second full length album “Twin Suns and Wolves’ Tongues”.

I prefer to work within the realms of death and black metal, as these are my two favourite subgenres of metal, but I would also be willing to work with other styles of metal if a band catches my attention!

SFM - What are your goals with this label both professionally and personally? How far do you want to see this label go, and what do you think it can be in the future? 

Wayde - My goal is to work with killer bands to release awesome material and contribute as much as I can to the underground metal scene. 

I’m not too fussed on making the label “big”, so to speak, but, I would like to see it receive recognition in the future. I’ve always had a lot of respect for people who work their arses off to keep the underground alive and hope to one day be deserving of such respect from others.

Ideally I’d like it to pay my bills, but, that’s a tad unrealistic! Haha. 

SFM - Now I know you're a diehard metalhead, as you've spent some years running the Witching Metal Webzine, but there's quite a jump from running a blog on the internet, to running a mail order/distribution/record label. Has anyone helped you get this going and has it been difficult at all trying to run Crawling Chaos? 

Wayde - I had a lot of help from Hushy (former owner of the Coffins Slave, he now runs a screen-printing business called Two Headed Dog, check it out if you want merch made up for your band!), he taught me a lot about how to run things and what not to do. I’ve also received plenty of advice from other label owners. The most difficult part for me was building the website; everything else was pretty straight forward.

SFM - What are some of the current projects that you have in the works?

Wayde - Well now that the VAHRZAW CD is out, my next release will be a demo tape from CONTAMINATED, a crushing death metal band from Melbourne! Think Incantation, Convulse, Cianide and so on for influences.

SFM - Even with all of the awesome talent that's brewing down under, I'm sure you can't help but feel the need to work with killer bands across the globe. When you look to work with a band, do you specifically go through certain country's scenes, or do you just get in contact with any random band that you like?

Wayde - I would be more than happy to work with bands from overseas. For me, the main requirement is that I like their sound. If it doesn’t catch my ear, everything else is completely irrelevant. I don’t search through scenes, I just keep my eyes and ears open.

SFM - If you could work with any 3 "newer" bands going today, who would they be and why? What bands would be that much more awesome with "Crawling Chaos Productions" slapped on their CDs/Vinyls?

Wayde - This is a very difficult question to answer as I don't think I could narrow it down to just 3! So, I'm gonna be a cunt and not answer it. Ha! 

SFM - What do you look for in bands that you want to work with? Is there a specific sound, or is it just something that has to be metal and has to be good enough to catch your ear?  

Wayde - As mentioned above, I prefer to work within my personal favourite genres and the music has to be good enough to catch my ear. I'm not looking to put out hundreds of releases, just stuff that stands out to me. 

SFM - Well, that's the end of the interview. The floor is your's my smelly, Avssie amigo. 

Wayde - Thanks for the interview. Everyone reading should take the time to browse my store and buy some records at! Support underground labels! 

Wednesday, March 26, 2014

Sabbatory – Endless Asphyxiating Gloom

Winnipeg, Canada is certainly not the first place you think of when it comes to finding great metal, but semi-new label Unspeakable Axe Records seems to be unearthing the city’s best metal. First, the label brought us Besieged, but now they present something on a more brutal spectrum: Sabbatory, a death metal band that shares a member with Besieged and also features an ex-member of the band. “Endless Asphyxiating Gloom” is the band’s debut record, and as the name and artwork might imply, this is some truly filthy, disturbed death metal. Forget the precision and technicality of later Death and Cannibal Corpse; this release brings back fond memories of the more disgusting side of metal. Autopsy and Swedish death metal seem to be the primary influences, but there are heavy elements of punk thrown in as well.

The first thing you’ll notice on this record is the fantastic production. It evokes a completely otherworldly feel. The mix leaves a ton of space for the drums, which means that everything the drummer does sounds incredible. Whether it’s a simple snare fill, a complete roll over the kit, or transitioning to a ride cymbal (see the breakdown a minute into “Hypnotic Regression”), there is no moment of drumming that goes unnoticed on “Endless Asyphxiating Gloom”. It is also the drumming on this record that drives the punk feeling. There are still metal elements to the drumming (blast beats, in particular), but the opening to tracks like “Being, Thy Eternal Perplexor”, and “Hypnotic Regression” show an energy that can only be traced back to punk. The beginning of the latter track is sure to send Motorhead fans into a headbanging frenzy. The remaining elements to this record (guitars, vocals, bass) are relatively standard for death metal; tremolo picking and crushing riffs are plentiful and vocalist Kier Keating has some sickening growls. When using decent speakers, the bass pops out quite a bit, but is pretty much unnoticeable with poorer headphones. Where this album comes together well is the songwriting. There is enough variety in the riffing and the songs that the album is never boring. While the band often plays at pretty upbeat tempos, there are plenty of slower, sludgier sections that would make Autopsy proud. Keeping things at 7 tracks means that pretty much every song is easily identifiable, even for people such as myself who are not death metal fanatics. 

After going through this album numerous times, I can’t come up with a single complaint. This collection of songs won’t ever beat out “Altars of Madness” or “Leprosy”, but it’s hard to imagine fans of death metal not heralding this as one of the best records of the year. Sabbatory are definitely on the more disturbing side of death metal, but even for those of us who like death metal a bit cleaner, “Endless Asphyxiating Gloom” is still a winner!  

Be sure to check out and like Sabbatory on Facebook!

"Being, Thy Eternal Perplexor"
"Hypnotic Regression"

Final Rating
4.5/5 or 90%. 

Written by Scott 

Sunday, March 23, 2014

Massacre – Back From Beyond

With one of the greatest old-school death metal albums under their belt, Massacre has returned a good many years later to once again provide a similar mind-blowing experience. As the name “Back From Beyond” implies, this record is meant to be nothing more than a continuation of the brutality the band first unleashed in 1991. Though Kam Lee is no longer on vocals, the core of Terry Butler and Rick Rozz still remains, and ultimately, the band manages to deliver exactly what fans of the band crave. The major new element here is vocalist Ed Webb. From what I recall of seeing the band live at Wacken 2012, he is very much a Corpsegrinder-type vocalist: crazy stage presence, fantastic enunciation, and painfully heavy in his vocal delivery, and all of this carries through on the album. For this reason, “Back From Beyond” actually is quite similar to a less technical version of modern Cannibal Corpse. The songs are all pretty short, but deliver incredible blasts of energy. The riffs and vocal lines are well crafted and end up being pretty memorable. In fact, the only thing on the album that doesn’t seem well planned and deliberate is the legendary lead guitar of Rick Rozz. As you might expect, this man’s abuse of his tremolo bar knows no bounds on “Back From Beyond”, and it really helps the band retain that classic Massacre sound. Although these solos sound like pure madness, it really shouldn’t be any other way. 

Production wise, this album is pretty standard. It is a good balance between the cavernous sounds of old, and the over-produced modern sounds. In other words, this record doesn't sound like it was recorded in a shed, but it also avoids sounding fake. The one flaw with this album is that there are just too many songs. The band never really runs out of steam, but by the second half of the album, this sound gets particularly taxing on the listener. With the exception of the title track, none of the songs on the latter half of the record are impactful as the early songs. While many of the songs provide memorable moments, the sheer number of songs makes it hard to remember some of the earlier efforts by the end of the record. Nonetheless, a lot of people don’t listen to death metal for songwriting, but instead for violence and aggression, and that’s precisely what Massacre put forth on “Back From Beyond”.

Be sure to check out and like Massacre on Facebook!

"As We Wait To Die"
"Ascension Of The Deceased"
"Succumb To Rapture"

Final Rating
3.9/5 or 78%. 

Written by Scott 

Saturday, March 22, 2014

Paranorm – The Edge of Existence

With only a few notable exceptions, progressive music and thrash metal aren’t two things that go well together. It isn’t that there are a lot of bad prog thrash albums out there; there just aren’t that many altogether because thrash and prog are in many ways fundamentally opposed. With that in mind, the new EP by Sweden’s Paranorm, shows that these two sounds can co-exist well. “The Edge of Existence” delivers four tracks of crushing thrash metal that is highlighted by technical guitar work, unique riffing, and the occasional mellower moment. In many ways, this EP presents a lot of traditional thrash metal. The vocals are harsh, and, as you might expect from a Swedish band, there is a pretty enjoyable accent to them (relative to American-sounding bands). There are also plenty of standard Exo-riffs and headbanging moments. Just when you start to think this is a pretty standard release, however, Paranorm will throw something new at you. In the case of the opener, “Into The Unknown”, there is a fantastic interlude with shredding that is sure to please fans of Yngwie Malmsteen and other guitar gods. Then, the rhythms pick up back into thrash territory accompanied by an even more aggressive guitar solo. This section, along with the rest of the song, is not unlike something you would expect from Vektor or the new Warbringer. The melodies are somewhat dissonant, in a bleak, futuristic way. Even the use of blastbeats and shrill screams in this song brings up memories of the latter band.

Despite Paranorm being a relatively technical band, the riffs are still insanely catchy. After a nice sweep-picked opening, “Second Assault” opens with one of those Metallica-esque riffs where the rhythms are accented in a way that makes the riff really catchy, especially when the vocals pick up on this rhythm in the chorus (similar to the verse riff of “Fight Fire With Fire”). In fact, with riffs this good, Paranorm doesn’t really feel like a prog band despite having similarities to that style. The guitar leads are definitely more impressive than most thrash bands, and the songs take more turns that a normally structured track, but the band tends to remember that the thrash element comes first. 

If I were really trying to criticize the band for something, it might be that the last couple of tracks are a bit long. They never get boring. In fact, “Desolate Worlds” has the best moment of the album, with another shreddy interlude, but Heathen and Metallica are the only bands I’ve found that are brilliant at sustaining 8-minutes of thrash multiple tracks in a row. In the EP format, this isn’t particularly problematic, but on an album, it could definitely wear thin quickly. Nevertheless, Paranorm’sThe Edge of Existence” is a great release for thrash fanatics who also love more technical guitar work. Since the band is offering this release for free on Soundcloud, you have no reason not to listen to it!

Be sure to check out and like Paranorm on Facebook!

"Second Assault"
"Desolate Worlds"

Final Rating
4.4/5 or 88%. 

Written by Scott