Sunday, March 31, 2013

Phidion - Flesh of the Forsaken

Hailing from one of the death metal capitals of the world, Sweden, Phidion are a band that are very transparent about their influences. Fans of Entombed, Carnage, Dismember, and all of the other classic old-school Swedish death metal bands will love “Flesh of the Forsaken”, as it is one of the most authentic sounding releases of recent years. This EP is six tracks of heavy, bludgeoning metal that will bring you back to 1990.

From the moment “Warzone” begins, you’ll hear what I suspect is the famed HM-02 distortion pedal. If Phidion aren’t using that pedal, then they have done a fantastic job of replicating that guitar sound. As you might expect, the riffs also capture that old-school sound. The drums are fairly mechanical sounding (particularly the snare), but that is the only weak point of the EP. Vocally, there is more variation than other records in this style. In addition to the standard death growl, this singer also makes use of a higher raspy scream that sounds not too far away from Corpsegrinder’s screams. The songwriting is very consistent, and sounds pretty much exactly like Entombed did on “Left Hand Path”. The only major difference is that some riffs have more of a thrash feel than a death metal one. “Slaves to Eternal Insomnia” is the thrashiest track, but you’ll notice quite quickly that the band only uses this as a short break from the tremolo picking and blast beats that frequent “Flesh of the Forsaken”. This EP isn’t all speed though. Phidion makes frequent use of those slow, grooving sections that Autopsy pioneered and later became the standard in Swedish death metal. There is just enough variation through the EP to keep things interesting without sacrificing any intensity or brutality.

Phidion are a band that has perfectly crafted the sound they love. There are hints of originality, but ultimately, this is an EP for those who loved that early 90’s period. It would be interesting to hear this band with better production, but it is by no means unlistenable. Pick this one up and you won’t regret it!

Be sure to check out and like Phidion on Facebook!

"Slaves to Eternal Insomnia"

Final Rating
4.2/5 or 84%. 

Written by Scott 

Saturday, March 30, 2013

Birth AD - I Blame You

I like dark and evil music as much as the next guy, but if I listened to nothing but death metal or black metal all day, I'd go fucking insane and probably burn down some churches. That's where a band like Birth AD comes in. A band that's all about making thrash like it was when it was first spawned - fueled by anger with an aim to give the listener something enjoyable and memorable to listen to. This is the kind of music that gets blasted through speakers to piss off the neighbors, or any sensitive wimp who doesn't like what this band has to say (and it seems like they've got a lot to say), as they rip the masses to shreds throughout "I Blame You." These guys clearly aren't happy with things and they're letting everyone know it with 18 tracks of pissed-off thrash that hearkens back to classics like "Game Over" and "Thrash Zone."

All of the songs on "I Blame You" are short and to the point, never overstaying their welcome or making the listener feel like they could've went longer. Minute (or less) long tracks are a staple for every crossover band and Birth AD does them well with bruising songs like "Violent Retribution" and "No, Man," that hit the listener like a sudden burst of thrashing mayhem. They never really go too fast like Wehrmacht or Cryptic Slaughter, mainly sticking to more of a mid-pace and they do it damn well. The riffage is simple, effective and catchy as it should be, giving the listener something to bang their head around to while Tandy's cynical and hateful vocals berate their brain. "Bring Back the Draft" and "This Scene Sucks" are both headbang-friendly and misanthropic enough to make anybody want to punch the nearest person to them, while tracks like "I Blame You" and "Kill Everybody" provide some of the best thrash tunes I've heard in a while with nothing more than some pissed-off lyrics and quality riffage. Ultimately, Birth AD have created a very fun listen in "I Blame You," but it also has more than enough substance to find itself consistently appearing in my rotation, proving that these guys aren't just some retro-act who are aping the bands of the past (they make that pretty clear on "Mission Statement"). Even though they want to burn my home city to the ground, I'm willing to look the other way because "I Blame You" is an awesome album, plain and simple. 

Be sure to check out and like Birth AD on Facebook!

"Bring Back the Draft"
"I Blame You"
"This Scene Sucks"
"Kill Everybody"

Final Rating
4.25/5 or 85%.

Wednesday, March 27, 2013

Krypts - Unending Degradation

Sweden has seemingly dominated the current death metal scene with its insane amount of quality bands - Necrovation, Tribulation, Repugnant, Morbus Chron, and Bastard Priest are just a taste of what the country has delivered in the past few years (which shouldn't be a surprise given the country's rich history). Be that is it may, though, Finland isn't too far behind (Kind of like back in the day too) and thanks to Dark Descent Records, it's pretty easy to find the cream of the crop of today's groups, like Krypts. "Unending Degradation" may be the band's first full-length album, but to say that these guys are a few rookies worshiping at the altar of their forefathers would be inaccurate. Sure, these Finns evoke a chilling atmosphere that could haunt a graveyard like Convulse and Sentenced did before, but the music on this record is fairly varied (as far as old-school death metal goes anyway) featuring riffs and moments throughout that cling to the ancient tenets of the US and Swedish bands of the past as well. 

Of course, Krypts has their own sound, and aren't just an amalgamation of riffs and melodies from "Left Hand Path" and "Onward to Golgotha." It's almost mandatory that the atmosphere of this record be reiterated, because it's so crucial to what this band does best, and that's crush the listener with monster riffage while simultaneously sending shivers up and down their spine with chilling melodic sections and a lot of riffs that just scream "DOOOOOM." The intro to "Open the Crypt" is nothing more than simple powerchords and one doomy riff, but it feels like someone is releasing a re-awakened corpse from that crypt, as the sound is so bleak and heavy, creeping at the pace of a cadaver. This same sinister sound lingers throughout "Unending Degradation" and it serves well as an enhancer of sorts to the monolithic riffs and bellowing vocals of Antti Kotiranta, who do a hell of a job in making this album as heavy and dark as possible. 

The backbone of this record, though, are the riffs. They're all kind of similar to be honest - plodding, midpaced powerchords find a spot in just about every song, and are usually accompanied by some kind of melody or doomy ensemble, while there are also plenty of riffs that feel like they could have found a nice home on an album like "Into the Grave," where headbanging constantly is the norm. And how remiss would I be if I didn't mention the tremolo sections that at times sound like Morbid Angel (evil and fast), and others sound more like Demigod and Incantation (HEAVY). "Dormancy of the Ancients" provides plenty of shifts from evil and slow to heavy and fast, making the seven and a half minute song painless to get through. After listening to "Unending Degradation" multiple times, it's pretty obvious that Krypts is a band who gets it, and knows what it takes to survive in the death metal underground, where for every 10-20 shitty bands, there's one like Krypts just making everyone else look foolish. As good as this album is (and, it's pretty damn good), it wouldn't surprise me to see this band release an even better one, the kind that makes people take notice like Necrovation did last year, or Tribulation with "The Horror," and I for one cannot fucking wait to be buried by it, but until then, this one should get me about 4 feet deep. 

Be sure to check out and like Krypts on Facebook!

"Open the Crypt"
"Dormancy of the Ancients"
"Beneath the Archaic"

Final Rating 
4.3/5 or 86%.

Monday, March 25, 2013

Bone Sickness - Alone in the Grave

I first heard of Bone Sickness last year when I was referred to their "Bone Sickness" EP, which consisted of two short, but catchy tracks that showed some potential for an awesome release in the future. The band's first full-length "Alone in the Grave" is that potential realized, though they could probably do even better, but I'm not complaining with what the band's conjured up for this filthy release. This is seven tracks of ugly and distorted-as-fuck grind-tinged death metal made to crush the listener. If I had to sum up this 18-minute sonic beatdown in the simplest of terms, I would say this record sounds like the bastard child of Autopsy and Repulsion, though, there's also bits and pieces of Napalm Death and Pungent Stench influence strewn throughout to make for a fun and vulgar listen. 

With only seven songs that run less than twenty minutes, Bone Sickness manages to make just about every second count. There isn't time wasted on unworthy riffs or guitar wizardry, just violent riffage made even heavier by insane drumming and low-end growls. The album-opener "Submit to Decay" is an onslaught of catchy riffage, akin to a band like Terrorizer, who never let up on the listener, rather continued to suffocate them with riff after riff after freakin' riff. "Paranoid Delusions" is a more traditional death metal style song featuring it's fair share of tremolo bursts and wicked sounding guitar solos, while the title track is a much heavier affair that conveys the title "Alone in the Grave" pretty damn well. "Alone in the Grave" might not be the greatest death metal album of the 21st century, but it's certainly worth a listen for fans of old-school, putrid metal, thanks to the band's ability to craft simple, yet effective tunes made to be obscene and memorable. Bone Sickness is well on their way to making a bigger name for themselves, as they've carved out a nice niche in the death metal realm with this album. If you like your death metal ugly and crude, this is the record for you; it may not have the impact to grind your bones to dust, but it will do a pretty good job of fracturing just about all of 'em. 

Be sure to check out and like Bone Sickness on Facebook!

"Submit to Decay"
"Tied to the Stake"

Final Rating 
4.1/5 or 82%. 

Friday, March 22, 2013

Satan - Life Sentence

The New Wave of British Heavy Metal was easily one of the greatest musical movements of all time. It was the most important step in the transition from the hard rock and early heavy metal of the 1970’s to what we know today. Through my historical revisionist perspective, however, I can identify one huge flaw with this movement: it was too obscure. With the exception of a handful of bands, you’ll rarely hear about greats from this era, and their music is extremely difficult to find. It is for this reason that I am only now getting to hear Satan for the first time (and they really aren't even that obscure relative to other bands in the movement). Their comeback record “Life Sentence” literally made my jaw drop from beginning to end.

As soon as this album opens you’ll notice how skilled the guitar plays are. “Time To Die” is a great example of how guitarwork can be technical without sounding like a Malmsteen clone. Adding in leads underneath the verses also helps to break the simplicity of a standard song structure. As you progress through “Life Sentence”, the shredtastic theme continues. This record reminds me a lot of albums like Kill ‘em All, or any number of Saxon or Black Sabbath albums because the guitarists are completely unhinged. It truly feels like it’s 1983 when you are listening to this. Perhaps my favourite part of this record is that, if listening with headphones, you can clearly hear how each guitar is recorded. Both guitars have a slightly different tone, and it is very reminiscent of the way things were done in the 80's. That nostalgic feel is aided by the old-school production. “Life Sentence” isn’t overbearingly loud, and the guitars don’t sound mechanical. It’s very clear that the band spent a lot of time working on getting the ideal tones for their guitars, and it compliments the riffs perfectly. Aside from the guitars, I really enjoyed the vocals of Brian Ross. He tends to stay in an upper-mid range, but his voice has a lot of character. Ross’ singing tone lends itself to that feel of impending dread. This is most noticeable on “Twenty Twenty Five”, but his performance is solid on every track. In terms of songwriting, Satan does an excellent job of making each track different. After the first listen, I can assure you that at the least, a couple of songs will stick with you. None of these songs stand out in a bad way, so it will mostly come down to which melodies and riffs interest you most. For me, those happen to be on “Time To Die”, “Twenty Twenty Five”, and the charging “Siege Mentality”, but you can’t go wrong with any of these songs.

Life Sentence” is one of the most surprising records of the year. Satan was always a band I planned to hear eventually, but this record is proof that I should have listened to them earlier. “Life Sentence” is an energetic, old-school lesson in how to play heavy metal, from what I can only assume were one of the genres best bands!

Be sure to check out and like Satan on Facebook!

"Time To Die"
"Twenty Twenty Five"
"Siege Mentality"

Final Rating
4.5/5 or 90%. 

Written by Scott 

Tuesday, March 19, 2013

Tribulation - The Formulas of Death

Death metal is a genre of music that's never really died out, mainly due to the fact that it's a much more expansive genre, than say thrash or grindcore, but not all of these different sub-sub-genres and beyond are great, and a reason why I abhor a majority of the death metal material released between 1994 and the mid-2000s. There was just too much technical wanking for the sake of being a technical band, and the same with the brutal death metal bands. History lesson aside, there's been a lot of death metal bands and releases past the genre's prime years, most bastardizing the old-school ways or simply aping it, but there was an album that came out in 2009 that blew just about every new-old-school (redundant, I know) death metal band away, and that record was Tribulation's "The Horror." It was an album that captured a frenzied, yet concise and vicious sound that had the metal underground in awe. After a couple years past with little word of a new album, it was becoming obvious from fans that they wanted, no, they needed some more Tribulation, and four years after the release of the modern-day classic "The Horror," the Swedish quartet has released their sophomore full-length "The Formulas of Death."

After listening to this album multiple times and letting it sink in, it's pretty obvious that Tribulation decided to take their sound in a different direction this time around, and they managed to do it without fucking up what made them so awesome, all the while, making strides many might not have seen coming. Their debut record was an onslaught of riffs and savage barks that channeled the Swedish death metal gods that came before, but "The Formulas of Death" has forsaken some of the aggression and fury from its predecessor, and added a whole new dimension to their brand of death metal. There's a lot more focus on the atmosphere of the music this time around, and that couldn't be more evident than with the album-opening instrumental "Vagina Dentata," or the other instrumentals which feature acoustics, pianos and other "additional instruments." Of course, the atmospheric tendencies reach beyond the instrumentals, as a lot of the melodies and clean guitar sections throughout the record create an almost dark, psychedelic aura that sucks the listener in, only for them to eventually get pummeled to dust by the eventual death metal madness...

The strength in the songwriting is really what separates Tribulation from so many pretenders in today's scene, and while they may overdo it a little at some points ("Suspiria" and "Through the Velvet Black" drag on a little too long for my liking), the positives far outweigh the negatives. Instead of just going for the listener's throat with a relentless attack like the band did (and damn well might I add) on "The Horror," there's a lot more variety on "The Formulas of Death." There are a lot of morbid melodies throughout this album, but when compared to the amount of decent to stellar riffs, it's kind of scary, and even scarier when crafted into songs that seem to reach 2 to 3 different climaxes. Songs like "Wanderer in the Outer Darkness" and "When the Sky Is Black with Devils" both take wild twists and turns throughout their durations, building up to awesome points, only to slow back down and then smack you in the face again whether it be with evil and twisted tremolo bursts, amazing solos (and there's a lot of them on this album), blistering fast riffs or some heavy riffs made to bang your head, Tribulation knows how to keep the listener enthralled and waiting anxiously for what comes after the next riff. "The Formulas of Death" is already a strong contender for death metal album of the year, and it may take a few listens before the impact of how well-crafted this record is sinks in, but once it does, it's hard to put down. It may not be quite as good as the phenomenal debut, but this album did it's job, and that was notify every band out there that Tribulation is back to take their throne as the kings of (today's) Swedish death metal scene. 

Be sure to check out and like Tribulation on Facebook!

"Wanderer in the Outer Darkness"
"When the Sky Is Black with Devils"

Final Rating
4.5/5 or 90%. 

Saturday, March 16, 2013

Ultra-Violence - Privilege To Overcome

If there is one metal scene that not enough people are talking about, it would have to be the Italian thrash scene. From the more established Hyades, to newer bands like Bothers and Game Over, the Italians know how to play some mean thrash. The newest band to pop up on my radar is Ultra-Violence; yet another young thrash act named after a classic album. The bad news is that their debut, “Privilege to Overcome”, doesn’t sound anything like the Death Angel classic. The good news is that it doesn’t try to sound like it.

Before I can get to the stronger points of this record, I have to address the weaknesses. Firstly, this album is way too long. If you are writing a 57-minute thrash album, it had better be something progressive in the vein of “Victims of Deception”. While Ultra-Violence does sustain their youthful energy throughout the entire record, it’s just too much to handle in one sitting. How should they solve this issue? Cut the two weaker songs: “Spell of the Moon” and “The Voodoo Cross”. The former song features unnecessary harmonics and attempts at being brutal. If you are trying to attract fans, this isn’t the song to lead off with. “The Voodoo Cross” is a slower, more plodding song. At almost 9 minutes, it really isn’t all that necessary, especially for a thrash album. Getting rid of these two tracks would go a long way to improving “Privilege To Overcome”. The other 11 songs (less an instrumental) provide exactly what you would come to expect from the band: thrashy, albeit uninventive riffs, with shouted vocals and rhythmically impactful drumming. The band often takes influence from death metal, as they throw in blast beats and death grunts when appropriate. There are a few songs that standout, but my favourite is definitely “You’re Dead”. At only 55 seconds, this song provides the punkish, crossover energy that a lot of newer thrash lacks. These types of songs are even better when they appear infrequently on an album. It reminds me of a lot of Nuclear Assault’s “Game Over”, where my two favourite songs were “Hang The Pope” and “My America”.  Another great song is “Order of the Black”. For the first three-plus minutes, it is similar to every other song; however, the most potent riff on the album kicks in with only about a minute left. The band abandons thrash for an all-out death metal assault. While it is only a short burst of intensity, the contrast between this part of the song and the rest of the record really makes this riff stand out in a positive way. There are so many songs on “Privilege to Overcome” that many of them are a blur, but aside from the two low points mentioned above, this album is evidence a band that definitely has a lot of talent.

To sum Ultra-Violence up, all you need is to hear the name and see the album artwork. If either doesn’t turn you off, then you probably absorb all things thrash (like me), no matter how unoriginal. This record absolutely could be improved, but it has many bright spots too. “Privilege to Overcome” is definitely recommended for all fans of newer thrash. 

Be sure to check out and like Ultra-Violence on Facebook!

"Order Of The Black"
"You're Dead"
"10'000 Ways To Spread My Hate"

Final Rating
3.8/5 or 76%. 

Written by Scott 

Hatchet - Dawn of the End

It is crazy to think just how good things were looking for thrash 5 years ago. There were signs of a thrash resurgence prior to 2008 (Municipal Waste, Toxic Holocaust), but it wasn’t until then that it seemed like bands were popping up left and right. Within a span of months, great albums from Warbringer, Bonded By Blood, and Gama Bomb, among others, were released. One of those other releases was “Awaiting Evil” by Hatchet. Despite what anyone else has said about it, “Awaiting Evil” has always been one of my favourite thrash albums. From the haunting opener, right until the end, it was a feast of riffs, great guitar solos, and just old-school thrash. In many respects, however, it was clear that this was still a new band. The production was lacking, and the music felt raw. After 5 long years and a mostly new lineup, Hatchet are back with “Dawn of the End”, a more mature, yet equally great thrash record.

The first difference you’ll notice between “Dawn of the End” and its predecessor is the huge improvement in the production. It is louder, but also a lot tighter. The rhythm section really stands out; in particular, the heaviness of the bass drums becomes quite prominent. The guitars sound good, but you won’t be paying attention to how they sound, but rather, the sheer number of riffs. Each song has riff after riff of high-quality thrashing. If you haven’t heard Hatchet before, you’ll notice that many of their riffs make use of similar, yet unique intervals in the notes they choose to accent (in the sense that these riffs are similar to each other, but unique compared to other bands). This tactic makes their riffs easy to recognize and very memorable. The most impressive riff is the main one in “Fall From Grace”.  This riff demonstrates why you don’t need to fill every second of a song with sound. It would be unfair to call it a “start-stop” riff, but it definitely leaves room to breathe. Much like the other great songs on this record, “Fall From Grace” is driven by the gang vocals in the chorus. With the exception of “After The Dark” and “Revelations of Good and Evil” (both instrumentals), all of the songs on “Dawn of the End” are fairly straightforward. This makes the record easy to follow, and allows you to be blown away by the shredding of Julz Ramos. His solos sound much like they did on the debut; they have a certain instantly recognizable quality to them, as they make use of similar scales and sweep picking patterns. Julz has also now taken over on vocals. He really doesn’t sound too different from prior singer Marcus Kirchen; he uses a low, snarling thrash shout. While he isn’t the best singer of the new wave, he definitely stands out and adds to the ferocity of the music.

Ultimately, Hatchet has released an uncompromising thrash album. “Dawn of the End” is one of the most rhythmically charging albums of the year, and the band has made considerable effort to make each song stand out. I can’t help but feel if this had come out a few years ago, these guys would have kept pace with Warbringer and Evile. The good news is that this album doesn’t disappoint, and is the thrash album of the year at the moment!

Be sure to check out and like Hatchet on Facebook!

"Fall From Grace"
"Signals of Infection"
"Vanishing Point"

Final Rating
4.4/5 or 88%. 

Written by Scott