Wednesday, December 31, 2014

Post Mortal Possession – Possessing Entity

American death metal band Post Mortal Possession’s first release is a 5-track EP entitled “Possessing Entity”. The release is a clinic in riffs and brutality. Though it does not offer much else, it really doesn’t need to. The opening riff of the beginning track, “The Harvest”, kicks things off with a bang. It isn’t long before the drums go off like a jackhammer, providing plenty of blasting. The song is interesting because it manages to switch between some techier riffs (not to be mistaken as tech-death riffs, though there are a few of those as well across the EP), as well as heavy, muted riffs like those that would be found in a brutal death metal band. No matter what style of riff the band is playing, they excel at making them both unique and memorable.

Another strong aspect of this EP is the vocal performance. Post Mortal Possession’s singer can do it all. His growl is deep, and just barely understandable (depending on just how guttural he is getting). Similarly, his highs can be discerned with some effort, and are also well performed. Make no mistake; this is a twisted individual, and his abilities compliment the chaos of “Possessing Entity”.

The production on this EP is perfect for the band’s style. Everything sounds clear (but not at Nuclear Blast levels), yet there is an edge to all of the instruments. This is especially noticeable when the guitars are playing unmuted riffs where you can hear pure unfiltered distortion that is incredibly crunchy. From a drumming perspective, the sound is more catered towards the pulsing rhythm of the double bass. Although Post Mortal Possession’s drummer is incredibly active with his fills, his kit sounds best when it is fulfilling its primary duty of driving the rest of the rhythm section.

Possessing Entity” is relatively strong when it comes to songwriting. Though no song is quite as good as “The Harvest”, every track has something to offer. “Death March”, for example, is driven by a fantastically catchy riff. While it is not particularly fast or brutal, nor does it even feature tremolo picking, it gives the song a distinct sound. "The Arrival", by contrast, has an awesome thrashy riff. Its appearance is brief, but is a nice change of pace. The other songs likewise are chock-full of good riffs, and that is what ultimately makes “Possessing Entity” such a compelling listen. It doesn’t hurt that this release is only 22 minutes, so it never has a chance to get boring. Ultimately, this release shows that Post Mortal Possession has lots of potential.

Be sure to check out and like Post Mortal Possession on Facebook!

Highlights
"The Harvest"
"Death March"

Final Rating
4.2/5 or 84%. 

Written by Scott

Skull Fracturing Metal's Top 30 of 2014

Each new year seems to somehow outdo the prior year when it comes to both quantity and quality of releases. In 2014, I went well over the 100 mark, but I'll be capping this list at the best 30 albums of the year.

In general, 2014 was the year of power metal. Not only did nearly a large number of major power metal bands put out new records, but many of them put out their finest albums in years. Bands who were releasing several mediocre records in a row finally realized it was time to go back to their roots, and did so with a lot of success. In the thrash world, things have definitely slowed down. Very few of the big names put out new albums this year, and even many of the stronger new acts aren't releasing albums all that quickly anymore. Of course, their are numerous bands from Europe (Italy especially) who are popping out of nowhere, but few of these bands really have the staying power to compete with the bands on this list. Similarly, the wave of traditional heavy metal/speed metal is also slowing, though it isn't dying as quickly as thrash. In fact, there are still numerous great releases from that sound, and quite a few on this list. Death metal has had another strong year, though admittedly I did not enjoy many of the more popular underground death metal albums this year (Swallowed, Teitanblood, etc.).

Nevertheless, this list has a good mix of the subgenres listed above, but many other styles of metal (black, folk, etc.) are not represented on this list. As a reminder, don't forget that full reviews for all 30 of these albums are available elsewhere on the 'zine!

30. Paranorm - The Edge of Existence (Sweden, thrash metal)

This 4 track EP is an awesome exercise in technical thrash metal. Paranorm does things quite a bit different from most thrash bands around these days. In addition to riffs that are complex, the band shows homage to the great Yngwie Malmsteen with their shredding solos. Despite this, Paranorm remembers that songs come first, and so most of the tracks on this EP are incredibly catchy. "Second Assault" has the best staying power, but the EP as a whole is worth hearing.


29. Midnight Malice - Proving Grounds (Canada, traditional heavy metal)

"Proving Grounds" is the debut full-length from Toronto band Midnight Malice. Though these guys can't quite compare with the giants of the scene, they still offer up 8 incredibly catchy tracks. Most of these songs are pretty standard, but they occasionally go in a slight glam direction. While this is by no means some of the more intelligent music ever made, it rocks quite hard and is a lot of fun. The enthusiasm is there, and that's what makes this album work. Unsurprisingly, these guys are even better live than on record, but until you get a chance to see them, pick up "Proving Grounds".


28. Midnight - No Mercy For Mayhem (USA, speed metal)

Midnight plays a really cool rock 'n roll Venom-worship sound. Fans of Motorhead will also likely enjoy Midnight's style. This album is filled with all sorts of interesting and unique tracks. Even though there is a lot of speed, my favourite track is actually "Woman of Flame", where the band slows it down and lets the lead guitars charge to the front. Ultimately, however, every song on here is pretty devastating. One look at the song titles will instantly bring each chorus to your head, and that's always a great thing.


27. Overcharge - Accelerate (Italy, speed metal)

This album comes courtesy of the best new label around: Unspeakable Axe Records, which is a sub-label of Dark Descent. Surprisingly, however, it is one of just two appearances from that label on this list. Overcharge is exactly what they sound like: a combination of Overkill, Motorhead, and Discharge. It's fast, punky rock and roll with some venomous vocal. Solos are both plentiful and in extremely great taste. While the album is a bit simplistic, that is its charm. Much like with Midnight, the Venom/Motorhead crowd will appreciate this album.


26. Sonata Arctica - Pariah's Child (Finland, power metal)

This is definitely one of the most frustratingly divisive, yet awesome records I've ever come across. It isn't bad enough that they have songs where they do incredibly dumb things, they also include really catchy passages in the exact same song, making it impossible to skip any track. With that said, there's enough good on here that it's worth listening to. In fact, if it weren't for the bad sections, this could potentially be a top 15 or top 10 record. Perhaps the best thing to come out of this album is that Sonata Arctica is moving in the right direction again. Granted, they'll never reach the heights of "Ecliptica" again, but this is definitely a positive move from the band.


25. Tormenter - Prophetic Deceiver (USA, thrash metal)

Hearing this record was like the first time I heard Gama Bomb, Bonded By Blood, or Warbringer. That might not be the most enticing review, but for someone whose music tastes were defined by the retro thrash, it's the ultimate compliment. This album is filled with brutal riffs, crushing vocals, and great drumming. Just listen to the double bass in the chorus of "Snakes in the Throne Room" as one example. This album takes me back to 2008, and I wish there were more bands doing this kind of thing at this level because this is the type of record that could get people excited about thrash again.


24. Overkill - White Devil Armory (USA, thrash metal)

I was a bit let down after "The Electric Age", but this album clicked a lot faster for me. I actually haven't listened to it in a while, but it's hard to deny Overkill's greatness. This is more of the same from the last couple of records with no real new twists or turns. The best song on here is "Pig", but the entire first half is killer. It's incredible how good Blitz still sounds, and D.D. never stops pounding away on bass. "White Devil Armory" is sonically crushing as well. Overkill have hit their stride right now, and this album is a strong example of this sound.


23. Avalon Steel - Ascension (USA, US power metal)

Remember the 80s when every band had a unique singer? Especially in USPM! Avalon Steel bring back the glory days of the 80s and is highly recommended for fans of Manilla Road or Cirith Ungol. Their music is weird, but the vocals are weirder. Though there are only three tracks on this EP, each one is great. The first song, "The Winter King", is up there with any of the USPM greats ("Necropolis", "Battle Cry", etc.). There are not many bands that play this style anymore, but Avalon Steel is easily among the best of them.


22. Cannabis Corpse - From Wisdom To Baked (USA, death metal)

This is a band that I was late to the party to hear, but I am glad to have discovered them. Their earlier efforts were good, but this album is by far their best work. Each of the songs are incredibly catchy. Even though they don't sound 100% like Cannibal Corpse, they are similar in that both bands are just superior songwriters to most of the death metal field. The bass playing on this album is really great too. It's all around just a great effort because Cannabis Corpse doesn't just get by on brutality like many other death metal bands.


21. Spell - The Full Moon Sessions (Canada, traditional heavy metal)

This album is one of the most amazingly underrated finds I've ever come across. Spell sounds like Cauldron listened to a ton of Pink Floyd and became a psychedelic band. Seriously, the songs sound like rip-offs of unreleased Cauldron demos, but are way rougher and more "out there". The only downside of this album is that it is only 27 minutes, and that is including the interludes. Nevertheless, if you skip this album, you're missing a seriously catchy record, even if you don't like Cauldron or Pink Floyd.


20. Sabbatory - Endless Asphyxiating Gloom (Canada, death metal)

It's rare that death metal other than the classics blows me away, but this album did it. It is very heavy on the punk influence, and it's crackly and strange mix adds a really unique feeling. The album isn't particularly long, but it is concise and effective. There isn't any excessive technicality, and the album feels more on the loose side of things. It's a bit surprising I haven't seen more praise for this record, as it's easily one of the best death metal albums of the year.


19. Cannibal Corpse - A Skeletal Domain (USA, death metal)

These guys are the most consistent death metal band in existence and definitely the best active death metal band. I have to admit though, this album didn't floor me. "Torture" was a masterwork of songwriting and brutality, and this album just doesn't live up to the last one. With that said, an average Cannibal Corpse record is better than 99% of death metal out there (and in this case, the second best death metal album of the year). "Kill Or Become" is without a doubt the most brutal song in existence lyrically.


18. Morbidity - Revealed From Ashes (Bangladesh, death metal)

Morbidity flat out embarrassed other death metal bands this year with how good this record is. Seriously, it takes a lot for me to really dig a death metal record, but this album nailed it. It brings back the great thrashy influence that old-school death metal was filled with, and it uses speed in the proper way (ie: to sound intense, rather than commonplace). There's a great sense of groove at times, but it never compromises the brutality of the music. I almost didn't give it a chance because I rarely find music I like from places like Bangladesh, but the cover art was too enticing. Luckily, the music is just as good!


17. Enceladus - Journey To Enlightenment (USA, power metal)

This is a very cool album. It's sort of a mix between Lost Horizon and Dragonforce. The band does a decent job of capturing that epic feel that only Lost Horizon could pull off, but they do it with excessive amounts of virtuosity and over-the-top performances. Every single track on here features absurd guitar playing. At a certain point, you can't help but feel they're doing it to mock your clearly inferior guitar playing abilities. With that said, it doesn't feel like they're doing this to show off. The guitar playing suits the energy of the music perfectly. It's hard for North America to compete with Europe when it comes to power metal, but as long as there are bands like Enceladus around, we have a shot.


16. Sabaton - Heroes (Sweden, power metal)

This is the first Sabaton album since the majority of the band left, but it's actually much better than "Carolus Rex". "Night Witches" and "Resist and Bite" are both masterpieces that show how the band has determined how to create an insanely catchy single. It's too bad they couldn't replicate this formula for every song, but nearly every track is still great. The songs are pretty short, so this definitely feels like the most concise Sabaton album to date. It's fair to say that this is the album where you can really expect nothing new from the band, but there's nothing wrong with that. Sabaton now joins the likes of Cannibal Corpse, Motorhead, and Tankard when it comes to putting out consistent new records.


15. Phantom - ...of Gods and Men (Canada, traditional heavy metal)

Phantom is one of my favourite local bands. They aren't as flashy as bands like Skull Fist or Axxion, but they write equally memorable songs. As with their prior EP, the bass playing is incredible and really takes focus. There is an interesting longer instrumental piece that shows the diversity of the band, but most of the album is focused around shorter songs (any of which could pass as singles). "Blood & Iron" is one of the most absurdly catchy songs ever written, and the band rocks out hard on tracks like "Children of the Stars" and "Too Young To Die". Overall, this album is a major testament to the strength of Toronto's traditional heavy metal scene.


14. Gamma Ray - Empire of the Undead (Germany, power metal)

Gamma Ray's prior effort was definitely their weakest in a long time. While even a mediocre Gamma Ray is better than most bands, it was frustrating because Kai and the rest of the band have written so many brilliant songs over their career that it was clear they were capable of more. "Empire of the Undead" proves that they are just as good as they were 10 years ago. "Avalon" is without a doubt one of the band's best songs ever, despite the fact that it's largely a copy of "Rebellion in Dreamland". "Master of Confusion" and "I Will Return" are also incredibly strong cuts, and the rest of the album is quite solid as well. The band occasionally deviates from their original style of power metal, but everything they do on this album is executed incredibly well.


13. Breitenhold - Secret Worlds (Sweden, speed metal)

Those who saw last year's list know my love of the work of Ced Forsberg (Rocka Rollas, Blazon Stone, etc.). Breitenhold is one of his newer projects. Upon first listen, the band is practically identical to Rocka Rollas. There's nothing wrong with that, but it seems a bit pointless. After subsequent listens, however, it becomes clear that this band is a bit more epic and majestic in their approach towards speed metal. No matter how you label it, this album is filled with great raging tracks. The solos are shredding, and Ced's voice is hilariously awesome. This is a definite must-listen of 2014 because it's one of the most enthusiastic and exciting records of the year.


12. Alestorm - Sunset On The Golden Age (Scotland, power/folk metal)

I went into this album with low expectations. Although I'm a huge Alestorm fan, one can't help but wonder when their sound will get boring. After all, even the band admits to scraping the barrel on their last release. With that said, this isn't the album where they lose their appeal. Instead, it is their finest album to date. Sure, it doesn't have the huge hits of prior records (there is no "Keelhauled" or "Over The Seas" here), but it's far more consistent. The wicked cover of "Hangover" is possibly the catchiest thing I've ever heard in my life. Overall, Alestorm completely hit the mark with this one.


11. Rocka Rollas - The Road To Destruction (Sweden, speed metal)

As if Ced hadn't already done enough with Rocka Rollas, he decided to take over on vocals (which he has since dropped). His singing, while not as good as previous singer Joe Liszt, is completely insane. This album brings back the wild, uncontrolled madness of the first Rocka Rollas record, but does so with better songwriting. I think what amazes me most about this band is that despite 3 full-length albums and an EP, each release sounds completely unique. There are commonalities between the albums, and it's clearly the same guy writing each record, but Ced has done such a great job of not making everything blend together. 



10. Monument - Renegades (UK, traditional heavy metal)


This album didn't receive anywhere near the fanfare that it deserved amongst the traditional heavy metal community. Despite featuring a former White Wizzard singer (though what band doesn't at this point?), the album was largely ignored. But now that you know about it, you have to listen to it because it is an incredibly well-written record that is filled with great hooks and shredding solos. The band is able to seamlessly switch between fast thrashy songs, charging mid-paced headbangers, and ballad-esque songs as they don't lose any momentum. There are a couple of moments where you feel like you might have heard a riff or a melody before, but on the whole, this is still a great record.



9. Skull Fist - Chasing The Dream (Canada, speed metal)


I know I'm biased when it comes to Skull Fist because they're local, but this band is exactly what metal should be about. They aren't afraid to show off just how insanely good they are at guitar, yet they also don't forget that rocking out comes first ("Bad For Good"). Compared to the first album, this one is definitely more consistent, though it also doesn't quite have the same highs that the debut did. There's a lot of good variation between some more reasonably-paced material and absurdly fast songs as well. Nevertheless, it is an excellent execution of speed metal, and is levels beyond what most bands are doing in this style these days. 


8. Primal Fear - Delivering The Black (Germany, power metal)

Primal Fear has to be one of the strongest bands going in the metal scene right now. They are sounding better than ever, in large part due to guitarist Magnus Karlsson. This album has a fantastic production with some of the crunchiest guitars in existence. Ralf Scheepers sounds better than ever (including sounding much, much better than when he was in Gamma Ray). This album has pretty much everything from incredibly thrashy songs ("Rebel Faction") to intense ballads ("Born With A Broken Heart"), to lengthy epics ("When Death Comes Knocking" & "One Night in December"), to fist-pumping headbangers ("Alive & On Fire", and pretty much every other song on the album). Even if you don't like what you've heard from this band on their old/"classic" albums, I'd still give this a shot as it's by far the best album I've heard of theirs.


7. Insomnium - Shadows Of The Dying Sun (Finland, melodic death metal)

"Shadows of the Dying Sun" is a serious sharp turn for Insomnium. Their music has always managed to be incredibly emotional, and it still is, but now there are way more clean vocals than in the past, and things feel a bit more upbeat than depressing. I actually didn't really like this album very much when I first heard it, but with an excessive number of listens, it grew on me a lot. Surprisingly, I find the lighter songs ("While We Sleep", "Lose To Night", "The Promethean Song", "Shadows of the Dying Sun") to be my favourite. In any case, this album was a huge positive surprise.

6. Twilight Force - Tales of Ancient Prophecies (Sweden, power metal)

This isn't the best album on the list, but it's probably the most worthwhile album to hear. Twilight Force is a complete reinvigoration of the genre. Much like Dragonforce, Lost Horizon, Pathfinder, and even Nightwish, Twilight Force is going to be the band to lead a generation of power metal. While this album brings absolutely nothing new to the table, it has so much energy, inspiration, and conviction that it is a must-hear. The only real complaint you can throw at it is that it has way too many interludes, and they're almost all terrible. Nevertheless, if you like Rhapsody (which you should if you listen to Twilight Force), you are probably used to interludes like these ones.

5. Exodus - Blood In Blood Out (USA, thrash metal)

As the thrash revival has begun to wind down, all that remains is a field of Exodus clones. For this reason, one would imagine that I'd be pretty bored of this sound by now, and there is some truth to that. The reality, however, is that Exodus is so much better at this style of music than everyone else that it's not even worth trying for other groups. Seriously, it's hard to imagine any thrash band in the near future topping this record. The band rages faster and harder than anyone else ("Food For The Worms"), manages to be incredibly angry without coming off as angsty ("Numb"), brings us back to the roots of thrash (NWOBHM; "Wrapped In The Arms of Rage"), and delivers track after track of brutal riffs (every song). I find sometimes that if I get burned out on a particular style of music, going back to the basics of the genre helps, and this is a prime example. This album is exactly what I love about thrash.

4. Crimson Shadows - Kings Among Men (Canada, power/death metal)

This choice should not be surprising considering my excessive love of Crimson Shadows' music. Upon first listen, this album was actually a little bit disappointing. The songs from the EP are the best tracks on the release, and it felt like the band was running a bit low on ideas (the first couple of tracks' intros sound like they strung together random melodies). To be fair to the band, this is one of those cases where nothing they do will live up to expectations, only because I've listened to them so much. At this point, I've seen them live 12 times, so the old songs are completely ingrained in my head, and anything new takes time to warm up to. For that reason, after many repeated listens (and seeing most of the album live), I've grown to really appreciate every track. The musicianship on this album is stellar, and the songwriting is almost as good. Songs that I thought were a bit generic on first listen ("Heroes Among Us" in particular) have become huge favourites of mine. I'm a bit surprised these guys haven't really blown up since they had their big tour with Alestorm, but the album is strong enough that Crimson Shadows is worthy of getting on some huge tours for 2015!

3. Edguy - Space Police - Defenders Of The Crown (Germany, power metal)

Although Edguy has put out some decent tracks on their last two albums, it is fair to say those records are uninspired. It doesn't just come down to a style change; the band was just genuinely writing a lot of weak songs. On "Space Police - Defenders of the Crown", not only did they revert to their "Hellfire Club"/"Rocket Ride" style where they mix in power metal with hard rock and heavy metal, but they also improved the songwriting again. The first 8 songs are all pretty much masterpieces, no matter how weird they might get at times ("Amadeus"). The bonus track of "England" is also one of the most brilliant things I've ever heard. What really sold this album for me is the double bass near the end of "The Realms of Baba Yaga". Double bass drumming is nothing new for the bands I listen to, nor is it new for Edguy, but it's exactly what I needed to hear from this band again. It's hard to see one of your favourite bands continually release mediocre records (especially when the main songwriter is still releasing masterpieces with his other band), but this song is the one that brings me back to "Theater of Salvation".

2. HammerFall - (r)Evolution (Sweden, power metal)

HammerFall's story really isn't all that different from Edguy's. While their fall was not as dramatic, they were still releasing albums that just didn't live up to their potential. Thankfully, the band went on a year-long hiatus that completely reinvigorated them as "(r)Evolution" is their best album since I became a fan (early 2007) and possibly even since "Crimson Thunder". There are so many cool things happening on this album that I don't even know where to begin. "Bushido" finally captures that classic "Hearts on Fire"/"Blood Bound" hit single that they've been trying to replicate on every album since "Crimson Thunder". "Hector's Hymn" sounds like the band spent hours listening to "The Metal Age" and tried to recreate it. "Origins" features some huge Stratovarius influence and is a welcome twist to HammerFall's classic sound. "Wildfire" is one of the most energetic and inspired HammerFall tracks in a very long time. "Live Life Loud", while simplistic, has to be one of the most fun songs I've ever heard. The way the main riff is played with the snare buildup is fantastic. The rest of the songs are great too, and really, this album just reminds me why I love HammerFall. It isn't overly complex, but it's a lot of fun. I completely understand why this won't be near the top of anyone else's list, but considering HammerFall is pretty much my favourite band, it's a no-brainer for me.

1. Dragonforce - Maximum Overload (UK, power metal)

Dragonforce's last album was a huge positive surprise. While new singer Marc Hudson cannot replace ZP (nobody really can), he is incredibly well-suited to Dragonforce's sound. On "Maximum Overload", the band goes a step further with their sound. The songs are again very concise, but there is still plenty of shredding. Where this album excels over the last one is that the choruses manage to be even catchier than before. Every single song on this album is a demonstration in perfect songwriting. The only real mistake the band made was the cover song. It isn't awful, and it has grown on me over time, but the album would be much better without it. Nonetheless, I have revisited this album time and time again since it came out, and it is definitely the best record of 2014!

Saturday, December 27, 2014

Amulet – The First

Amulet is a new traditional heavy metal band that hails from the UK, and aims to play music that sounds like it came from the NWOBHM. More specifically, the band really captures the sound of the legendary Angel Witch. On “The First”, this influence comes from two primary places. The first is the production. The guitars sound really similar to Angel Witch’s debut, where they have a bit of a punch to them, but are not monstrously heavy. This is in direct contrast to many of Amulet’s peers who opt for more perfect production. The other, more obvious nod to Angel Witch is in the vocals. Amulet singer Jamie Elton has perfected that higher-pitched, somewhat restrained vocal style.

Despite the numerous mentions to Angel Witch above, Amulet does have their own identity. They are able to add a more modern twist to the sound of 1980. The first song, for example, opens with high-speed drumming that gets the energy up immediately. This track, along with many others, proves to be built around a catchy chorus. The words of “Evil Cathedral” are easy to sing along to, and are what will stay with you when the album finishes. "Mark of Evil" is another song where it's almost painful how good the chorus is.

Another thing that Amulet does a good job of is adding a bit of a sinister feel to the music. “The Gauntlet” is one example, where the band opens with some more evil sounding melodies before transitioning into a muted guitar riff. This is a relatively prevalent theme throughout the album, and this darker edge adds a unique character to the band’s old-school sound. The interlude, “The Flight”, actually sounds like an ambient Burzum song (“Han Som Reiste”), which is an awesome twist. The only time they occasionally come out of this style is during the (numerous) guitar solos, where the music changes to more of a rock ‘n roll feel.

Overall, “The First” is an easy album to get into. While it doesn’t reinvent heavy metal, it’s a lot of fun, and you don’t have to think too hard while listening to it. Instead, it’s something you can throw on and headbang to. It would be interesting to see the band cut a few tracks and maybe try their hand at a lengthier, more epic tune, but for now, the songs on this album are more than sufficient.

Be sure to check out and like Amulet on Facebook!

Highlights
"Evil Cathedral"
"The Sacrifice"
"Mark of Evil"

Final Rating
4.0/5 or 80%. 

Written by Scott

Monday, December 22, 2014

Falconer – Black Moon Rising

Despite my love of power metal, Falconer was a band I never really paid attention to. Perhaps it was the folk influences in their music or the colour schemes on their artwork that never quite drew me in, but this is a band I’ve avoided for far too long with no real reason. That changed recently, as I picked up both the band’s debut and their newest album, “Black Moon Rising”. One thing is for sure, Falconer in 2014 is definitely a band you should not pass over. The aforementioned folk influence is overstated (or perhaps it was more prevalent on prior releases). There are definitely folk elements here, but they are not overwhelming, and are only present to differentiate Falconer from their peers.

The make or break aspect of this album for the listener is going to be the vocals of Mathias Blad. The word epic doesn’t really even begin to define his sound. A more appropriate term would be majestic. He has incredible control over his voice, and while he occasionally demonstrates the ability to push his singing to the limits, he instead spends most of his time in a much calmer voice. This is often in contrast to the music underneath him, which can be incredibly intense at times, as well as more rocking at others. A great example of this is the opener, “Locust Swarm”; Blad casually sings along while the band charges with full force. The band also perfectly executes a tamer section where the drumming takes control with a four-on-the-floor-like disco beat that makes tremendous use of the hi-hats.

Falconer manages to blend these two sounds together successfully often. At the band’s most extreme, they incorporate blast beats and are incredibly heavy (see the intro to “Wasteland”). The title track is also in this vein, as it is filled with double bass and tremolo picking. Then on the other end of the spectrum, they deliver choruses like the one in “Halls and Chambers” that are so grand that they truly sound like they were written for royalty. The album never falters in delivering these sounds, though it does slow down a bit at the end. The last 3 tracks are the weakest, but only because the first 8 songs are so exceptional.

Though my knowledge of the band’s entire discography is certainly lacking, my limited exposure to the band has shown that Falconer is truly a unique element. Their vocalist is unlike any other in metal, and the rest of the band knows how to mold their sound to take full advantage of this asset. “Black Moon Rising” is an incredible introduction to Falconer, and this album alone has convinced me to start collecting the rest of the band’s albums.

Be sure to check out and like Falconer on Facebook!

Highlights
"Locust Swarm"
"Halls and Chambers"
"Black Moon Rising"
"At The Jester's Ball"

Final Rating
4.5/5 or 90%. 

Written by Scott

Sunday, December 21, 2014

Ghoulgotha – The Deathmass Cloak

The incredibly popular Dark Descent Records is kicking off 2015 with the debut full-length album from California’s Ghoulgotha. “The Deathmass Cloak” is the band’s first studio record, and is a lengthy excursion in atmosphere-driven death metal with plenty of doom influence. Though there are quite a few riffs on this album, it would be a misnomer to call if riff-heavy. Instead, “The Deathmass Cloak” is predicated on huge leads that work to create an intense emotional experience. Often times these guitar parts are harmonized, but with mixed results. Metal as a whole has never been about following music theory; in fact, dissonance can often add a very unique element to a band’s music (see: Dissection, Sacramentum, etc.). With that said, it is possible to bend the rules a little bit too much. For the most part, Ghoulgotha does a stellar job with the intervals they choose to harmonize their leads. One of the best examples of this is the song “A Neck For The Nameless Noose”. On the other hand, the lengthy final track, “Levitate Within The Curse”, feels like it deliberately goes out of its way to sound bad, to the point where you almost wonder if somebody is out of tune. I have no doubt this will appeal to some, but it really tests the limits of what can be considered enjoyable, even for death metal.

Beyond just the guitar work, “The Deathmass Cloak” is an enjoyable experience. As the record leans more towards doom than straight ahead death metal, the drumming is not excessively technical (though blast beats are present, they don’t dominate the album). Sometimes the band plays around with interesting rhythms (“Austere Urns”) and is relatively effective in doing so. The vocals, though nothing particularly noteworthy, are putrid enough for death metal. Ultimately, no matter how well each of the individual elements on this album come together, the success of the record is dependent upon the atmosphere it creates. Fortunately, Ghoulgotha  does an excellent job of creating the intended cavernous, monolithic sound. The only major complaint with this record is that it overstays its welcome. Even if the band just cuts off the last (and weakest) song, it would be much improved. Nevertheless, if you are a Dark Descent fan, you will surely be a Ghoulgotha fan!

Be sure to check out and like Ghoulgotha on Facebook!

Highlights
"A Neck For The Nameless Noose"
"Saturnal Rites"

Final Rating
3.9/5 or 78%. 

Written by Scott

Sunday, December 14, 2014

Phantasmal – The Reaper’s Forge

Phantasmal is an American blackened thrash metal band whose first demo just came out in late 2014. On “The Reaper’s Forge”, the band shows incredible attention to detail in terms of what makes this style of music so great. Sure, at its core, the demo is filled with relatively standard early Destruction and Witchtrap sounding riffs, but the release also shows some unique elements. Even the opening of the title track, for example, shows homage to the NWOBHM with its harmonized guitars. Though this section does not last long, and is something seen very minimally on the demo, it shows how Phantasmal is willing to spice up its sound a little bit by doing something different. The song later goes on to tastefully incorporate blast beats in a way that wouldn’t alienate anyone stuck in the 80s before blast beats became commonplace. Additionally, on “Queen Nightshade”, Phantasmal’s singer throws in an awesome high-pitched shriek. Again, this is the only place you’ll hear this on the demo, but it works magnificently.

Of course, the majority of this demo is witching black/thrash the way it was meant to sound. The riffs are pretty simplistic, but they’re energetic and exciting. Even on “The Eternal Campaign”, where the tempo is occasionally more plodding, these riffs manage to be enticing. The vocal approach on this demo doesn’t throw in many surprises. The singer is understandable, and throws some pretty disgusting venom into his bark. From a production standpoint, “The Reaper’s Forge” hits the mark perfectly. It isn’t crystal clear production, but nobody is fighting to be heard against one another, and everything is easy to understand. For this style of music, there is no better way to go about it.

On the whole, “The Reaper’s Forge” is a very satisfying release. The only real complaint you can hold against it is that it’s too short. Nevertheless, it is clear that Phantasmal is a band to watch, as they will almost assuredly blow everyone away with any future work. The key to their sound is an excellent execution of black/thrash with hints of other outside influences to keep things interesting. For that reason, “The Reaper’s Forge” is highly recommended to all thrash fans.

Be sure to check out and like Phantasmal on Facebook!

Highlight
"Queen Nightshade"

Final Rating
4.4/5 or 88%. 

Written by Scott