Thursday, February 28, 2013

Black Mass - The Second Coming

Sometimes a band gets it so right that there isn’t much to say. When a band so perfectly encompasses what makes a genre great, it is really more appropriate to just listen to them. This is the case with Black Mass, a new thrash band out of Boston. These guys play thrash as it was meant to be played: fast, heavy, and totally uncompromising.

Although the download I got of this demo appears to be in the wrong order, having “Mountain of Skulls” as the opener is most appropriate. You are immediately hit like a fist in the face (to take a phrase from Morbid Scream) by an incredible drum fill before the guitars kick in. The main riff in this song is the highlight of this demo and the band knows it. It is repeated a startling amount of times, yet the song never manages to lose interest. “March To Hell” is another no-nonsense thrash metal assault. It is not quite as entertaining or memorable as “Mountain of Skulls”, but it gets the job done. “Death In The Flesh” opens with some bone-crushingly heavy riffs, before launching into another speedy tune. Once again, it is a serviceable track that will definitely hurt your neck. What is most satisfying about these latter two songs is that they never have an uninteresting moment. While most thrash is merely passable, Black Mass have an element to their songwriting that is a cut above the average thrash band.

Ultimately, this is a solid demo. It’s exactly what you want in thrash metal. The band have released “The Second Coming” as an EP recently, that includes a couple more songs and is sure to be quite enjoyable. Check that (or this) out as soon as possible! 

Be sure to check out and like Black Mass on Facebook!

"Mountain of Skulls"

Final Rating
4.0/5 or 80%. 

Written by Scott 

Saturday, February 23, 2013

Unleashed - Odalheim

While many are rightfully praising the everlasting consistency of bands like Immolation, Bolt Thrower, and Cannibal Corpse, among others, few ever talk about one of the gods of Swedish death metal: Unleashed. “Where No Life Dwells” was a true classic in the genre, but the band has moved on to a new sound since then. Recently, Unleashed has crafted music based on ancient gods, the likes of which set the scene for some epic, stomping death metal. With “Odalheim”, the band have proven once again that you don’t need to write a masterpiece, you just need create a consistent record, with perhaps a new bit of flair to keep things interesting.

The opener, “Fimbulwinter”, shows the band testing the waters with some black metal elements. Behind a sea of blast beats, the guitarists use plenty of tremolo picking to create some atmospheric moments. In addition, vocalist and bassist Johnny Hedlund adds in some higher rasps at times. Aside from this great track, most of the rest of the album is in line with what you would expect from Unleashed. Heavy, muted, downpicked riffs set the stage for the war-themed lyrics and music. The most apt comparison would be to Amon Amarth, as they share that sheer tenacity for battle in their music. Overall, however, Unleashed is definitely quite a bit faster, and Hedlund has a greater vocal range. It's a shining example of melodic death metal that has more emphasis on the death metal part than the melodic part. The songwriting is a mixed bag. There are plenty of good tracks, but quite a few songs just exist. It’s not a bad thing; the general sound of the band is enjoyable, though it would have been nice for “Odalheim” to be as memorable as “As Yggdrasil Trembles” was. While I've never heard of producer Fredrik Folkare, he has made this album sound fantastic. The guitars are bludgeoning, and the drums accompany this perfectly. Hedlund's vocals sound clear and are fairly easy to understand. Ultimately, this is a very satisfying sounding record.

It’s amazing to think that “Odalheim” has been out for nearly a year and yet I’ve barely heard anything about it. This record is yet another example of a band who have made a living by staying true to making great music. If all goes well, hopefully Unleashed can make yet another great album in a year or twos time. If you haven’t heard this, or any other later Unleashed, now is the time!

Be sure to check out and like Unleashed on Facebook!


Final Rating
4.0/5 or 80%. 

Written by Scott 

Durvasag - Element of Pain

Late last year, I reviewed the promo of the first EP by Durvasag, an up and coming blackened thrash band from Toronto. The verdict was that both songs were completely killer music with plenty of Venom inspiration. Luckily, both of these songs are back and form the six-song, 30-minute aural assault on the ears known as “Element of Pain”. I won’t spend too much time on these songs because I’ve already discussed them, but I will say that they are the strongest songs on this EP and really set the tone for the rest of the release.

The four songs that remain are fairly similar in style. They are primitive, raw, bursts of energy that take plenty of influence from Venom, Sarcofago, and the like. In particular, I found that the frenetic sounds of “Apocalypse” were most similar to early Sepultura and early Sodom. While the drums overpower the other instruments, the harsh riffs and vocals really bring back that old-school atmosphere. In fact, it is Mark Arruda’s vocals that impress me most. Sometimes he relies on simple thrash shouts, but more often he sounds vicious enough to tear out your spine. Arruda’s vocals are the definite highlight, but the other three musicians hold their own. The bass speaks up often enough (especially in the closer, “Demonic Entity”), and the drummer adds plenty of flair to keep things interest (including using plenty of ride cymbal). Speaking of “Demonic Entity”, it’s definitely the one moment here that I feel the band is a bit overambitious. There are great riffs aplenty, but the song is a bit too long for its own good. Still, it is a sign that they might expand past simple Venom worship one day (as enjoyable as that is).

This EP is a definite must-have for fans of black/thrash metal. Between “Sacrifice”, “Nuclear Winds”, and “Apocalypse”, you have some serious thrashing fury from a band that knows their influences well. The other tracks may be a bit weaker, but are still well worth hearing. From a young band, this is a promising release! 

Be sure to check out and like Durvasag on Facebook!

"Nuclear Winds"

Final Rating
4.1/5 or 82%. 

Written by Scott 

Friday, February 15, 2013

Gloryhammer - Tales From The Kingdom Of Fife

When it comes to power metal, you can’t go wrong with sounding epic. While many of my favourite power metal bands are known for their virtuosic musicians, only a select few create an atmosphere of glory. This is where the aptly titled Gloryhammer enter the picture. With “Tales From The Kingdom of Fife”, this band delivers some of the most heroic, war-laden anthems this side of Manowar. Before getting into the music, it’s worth mentioning that this project features Alestorm frontman and keyboardist Christopher Bowes. While this band sounds very different from Alestorm, there are most definitely hints. A couple melodies throughout the album (the opening to “The Unicorn Invasion of Dundee”, parts of “Hail to Crail”) feel more at home on an Alestorm album. In addition, the final epic song features some moments that are very reminiscent of Alestorm’s “Death Throes of the Terrorsquid”. Ultimately, however, “Tales From The Kingdom of Fife” is its own beast, complete with its own epic singer and stories.

Thomas Winkler is the man who drives this record. His vocals are admittedly fairly standard for power metal, but he has an authenticity in his performance that is rarely matched. When his voice soars during choruses, he really sounds like he’s defending Dundee (or maybe Cowdenbeath, I really have no clue what they're talking about). Perhaps even more enjoyable are the vocal melodies. There is not a single refrain that isn’t the pinnacle of catchiness. Even when the band isn’t playing particularly fast, such as in “Quest for the Hammer of Glory” and “Hail To Crail”, Winkler’s cries will be stuck in your brain. Musically, this record is nothing special. Sure, it’s epic, and it’s power metal, but the solos or the riffs won’t blow you away. The band is at their best when playing at the lightning pace set on “Amulet of Justice”. If there is one thing I want more of from Gloryhammer, it would be speed. “The Unicorn Invasion of Dundee” is another good example of Gloryhammer’s full potential. Regardless, there are no bad songs here. It’s a testament to a band when their worst song is the one that is also the most epic (“The Epic Rage of Furious Thunder”). This song, while enjoyable, is hurt by unfitting female vocals. Aside from that, “Tales From The Kingdom of Fife” is a record for all fans of power metal.

If it hasn’t become clear yet, this album is as over-the-top as humanly possible. The song titles are ridiculous (in a good way) and the lyrics follow appropriately. Winkler and Bowes is a fantastic combination that creates an unparalleled atmosphere of swords and sorcery (among other things). If you don’t appreciate the imagery in power metal (and black or death metal, for that matter), you might be discouraged from hearing this album, but don’t ignore it; you’ll definitely be missing out!

Be sure to check out and like Gloryhammer on Facebook!

"The Unicorn Invasion of Dundee"
"Amulet of Justice"
"Hail To Crail"

Final Rating
4.25/5 or 85%. 

Written by Scott 

Saturday, February 9, 2013

Helloween - Straight Out Of Hell

There are very few bands I respect as much as Helloween. After the band created the modern power metal sound, two of their main songwriters left (one of whom is still the prime example of a power metal vocalist). It would have been easy for the remaining members to hire a Michael Kiske clone and live off the success of those two classic albums (not to mention “Walls of Jericho”!). Instead, they brought in Andi Deris, who is not only one of the most unique vocalists in all of power metal, but is pretty much the opposite of Kiske. While not all of their albums since then have been great, the last 10 or so years have been pretty stellar. “Straight Out Of Hell” marks yet another great Helloween album.

Things kick of with the Deris-penned “Nabataea”. This is the ultimate highlight of the record, as no song proves to be catchier, or more epic. There are several moments that will bring a smile to your face because they are so true to the Helloween sound (the “children, children” verse, along with the “once there was a land…” part, in particular). The chorus will make you want to scream along with Deris, even if you have no clue what he’s talking about. While the first song on this album is the best, the quality does not drop at all. “World of War” and “Burning Sun” provide the blistering high-speed power metal songs that everyone comes to expect. “World of War” has a prime example of how to properly harmonize guitars that are soloing. Both guitarists are shredding at blazing speeds before the song finally kicks into a solo. Meanwhile, “Far From The Stars” features classic staccato Helloween riffing in the verse, and is more proof that bassist Markus Grosskopf has never written a bad, or even mediocre Helloween song. “Waiting For The Thunder”, much like Stratovarius’ “Unbreakable”, is driven by a brilliant piano line that opens the song and repeats in the chorus. The lone ballad, “Hold Me In Your Arms”, is one of the band’s better ballads. It gets a bit sappy, but the melodies are enjoyable enough to override that.

Perhaps the only weak point on the album is “Wanna Be God”. The drums never fully come in during this song and it feels very underdeveloped as a result. There’s nothing wrong with the vocals or anything else, but at only 2 minutes, it hardly feels like a real song compared to the others. After that slight dip in quality, the title track brings the album back up to speed. Excepting “Asshole”, the entire second half of the album is filled with intense, albeit predictable power metal numbers (“Church Breaks Down” is my favourite). The aforementioned “Asshole” reminds me a lot of songs like “Dr. Stein” and “Mrs. God” in that they aren’t quite what you’d expect, but end up being one of the best songs of the album. Perhaps what differentiates this song most is that it really isn’t all that fast. In fact, it is Deris' fantastic performance that drives this chorus (much like the rest of the album).

It is no secret that Helloween were one of the leaders of power metal, but “Straight Out Of Hell” continues to solidify their position as one of the top bands around these days. Pick almost any one of their contemporaries, and this album beats their new record. I cannot recommend this one enough, and after all this praise, there is only one thing left I can say: Up the Pumpkins!

Be sure to check out and like Helloween on Facebook!

"Waiting For The Thunder"
"Church Breaks Down"

Final Rating
4.6/5 or 92%. 

Written by Scott