Sunday, May 31, 2015

Black Tower – The Secret Fire

Canada is home to all sorts of fantastic unique and interesting bands, and one of Unspeakable Axe Records’ newest signings, Black Tower, is no exception. I often like to compare bands to other groups or label them pretty rigidly with genres because it makes it easier to get an idea of what they sound like, but that just won’t work with Black Tower. Put simply, their sound incorporates a variety of influences, which are both internal and external to metal. At its core, “The Secret Fire” is somewhat of a traditional heavy metal/speed metal album that has heavy leanings towards punk, all while throwing in black metal sounds. Although the album itself feels like a cohesive experience, the band jumps all over the map, many times within the same track. The first song, for example, opens with an awesome thrashy riff before devolving into something a bit less heavy. Later on, however, Black Tower’s vocalist seamlessly adds incredibly raspy black metal shrieks alongside her normal more punk-influenced voice.

It is worth pointing out that the singing on this album wild. The primary vocalist is Erin Ewing, but there are songs and sections with male vocals in them as well. Put quite bluntly, Erin’s singing takes a bit of getting used to. The harsh vocals are executed to perfection, but the cleans sometimes feel like they don’t necessarily fit with the rest of the music that’s going on. Perhaps a better description would be to say that she isn’t exactly virtuosic. This is one of the primary areas where punk fans will really dig this record, as it isn’t necessarily a bad thing, just something that differs from more standard metal albums.

A couple of the tracks on “The Secret Fire” are deserving of special mention. The first of these is “Black Moon”, which is as close as the band gets to any of the newer traditional heavy metal bands out there like Striker or Enforcer. This song’s chorus is the highlight of the album, as it is exceptionally catchy. The other track that stands out is “Shadows”. As mentioned earlier, black metal influences are prominent all throughout the album, but this song takes it to the extreme. It is not afraid to mix in blast beats, weird dissonant riffs, and of course, shrieking vocals.

Overall, “The Secret Fire” is a very eclectic release. There is no one band that Black Tower could be compared to, which makes this album a refreshing listen. Admittedly, if you don’t like either punk or black metal, the album may be hard to enjoy. These elements are pervasive within the songs rather than being isolated to a particular track or two, so it’s not something you could just skip over. Nevertheless, what is presented on this album is done so skillfully, and is another testament to Unspeakable Axe Records’ ability to find unique bands that put interesting spins on familiar styles.

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

"Black Moon"

Final Rating
4.0/5 or 80%. 

Written by Scott 

Friday, May 29, 2015

Ultra-Violence – Deflect The Flow

Amidst all of the clones and copies of the newer thrash bands, one group that stands tall above the crowd is the Italian band Ultra-Violence. Their first full-length, “Privilege to Overcome”, was a solid effort that showed a band willing to experiment with the typical thrash formula. On the follow-up album, “Deflect The Flow”, the band reins this in a little bit, in favour of a more straight forward thrash sound, though they definitely offer some heavier death metal-esque moments at times.

Burning Through The Scars” storms out of the gate with some pure Exodus worship; if you didn’t know any better, you’d swear this riff was channeled through Gary Holt’s fingers. This song later goes on to offer speedy tremolo picking, blast beats, and even lots of melody, but it never loses its thrashing way. At its core, the rest of the album is very similar. Rather than switching sounds for a single song (something the first album occasionally did with tracks like “The Voodoo Cross” or “You’re Dead”), this album tends to provide variety within each song. This doesn’t mean every song is identical though; “Why So Serious?” is an ode to some of the more fun thrash bands of the 1980s, with more playful lyrics, loud twangy bass, and a few vocal breaks. Later in the track, Ultra-Violence takes a page from the books of Vio-lence and presents an incredible thrash groove. This song best accentuates how perfect the production is; every instrument is punchy (particularly on the low-end), and the guitars are absurdly heavy. The album might be a bit too clean for some, but this clarity highlights just how tight the playing is. Every musician is a master of his craft on this record (aside from perhaps the vocals, but thrash was never about having the best singer).

There’s so much to like about “Deflect The Flow” because it just does thrash well. For a genre that many claim is too rigid with its formula, Ultra-Violence is showing everyone else how to keep things interesting. They haven’t forgotten to write great songs, and that really comes through on tracks like “Lost In Decay” and the aforementioned “Why So Serious?” If you’re serious about how hard you thrash, “Deflect The Flow” is an essential purchase!

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

"Burning Through The Scars"
"Why So Serious?"
"Lost In Decay"

Final Rating
4.3/5 or 86%. 

Written by Scott 

Wednesday, May 27, 2015

Enforcer – From Beyond

Swedish metal band Enforcer has long been hailed as one of the best traditional heavy metal/speed metal groups of the past decade, and rightfully so. There’s no denying “Diamonds” is one of the most impressive records in recent years, and though I was a bit let down by the still solid follow-up, “Death By Fire”, the band’s fourth record, “From Beyond”, shows them re-ascending to the heights of speed metal supremacy. Stylistically, it doesn’t differ from the band’s formula to this point: charged-up NWOBHM riffs, melodic vocals that have an edge to them, great guitar solos and loud bass. With that said, the band does add just enough to their sound on “From Beyond” to keep things interesting. The best example of the band’s exploration is the title track. This song gives of a huge Cauldron vibe, partially because of the galloping verses, but also because it has a hypnotic and mesmerizing chorus. It doesn’t feel as upbeat as the rest of the album, but it adds a more mysterious feel to the record.

Beyond the title track, the rest of the album is filled with future classics. “Undying Evil” is the obvious winner upon first listen. It is one of the best examples of the bands riff-writing abilities, especially some of the post-chorus riffs that make use of chords with different intervals from a standard power chord, which adds just a little bit more dissonance. “Destroyer” is the album’s opener, and it’s just as fast-paced and brutal as you would expect Enforcer to get. As the album goes on, the band continues to find ways to pull out classic riffs. The best example comes in “Hell Will Follow”. You’ll know it when you hear it (when the band slows down a bit on this song), as it’s one of those riffs that is so 80s that you can’t help but smile and bang your head when you hear it. It’s almost as if Diamond Head or Angel Witch took over the writing. Similarly, "The Banshee" opens with some serious Mercyful Fate worship before morphing into a more unique and catchy tune.

From Beyond” is also interesting because it shows vocalist Olof Wilkstrand getting a bit more adventurous in his approach. He’s always been a good singer, but songs like “Below The Slumber” and the aforementioned title track offer him opportunities to try new sounds. Surprisingly, he actually takes a bit of a rougher tone at times, rather than moving to an even cleaner sound. This is another great example of how Enforcer is advancing their sound through small steps rather than making drastic changes to the band. Ultimately, “From Beyond” approaches the greatness that was captured on “Diamonds”. While it isn’t quite as strong, it is definitely a step up from “Death By Fire”.

Be sure to check out and like Enforcer on Facebook!

"Undying Evil"
"From Beyond"
"The Banshee"

Final Rating
4.5/5 or 90%. 

Written by Scott 

Saturday, May 23, 2015

Isenmor – Land of the Setting Sun

Admittedly folk metal has always been a difficult subgenre of metal for me to enjoy. In general, I lean towards the bands that are essentially melodic death metal bands with only slight folk parts, but with Isenmor’sLand of the Setting Sun”, there is no escaping the violins. Much to my surprise (and delight), this EP is actually pretty well done. The most important element, metal, is still delivered. At times, the band makes use of crushingly heavy and fast guitar parts, complemented by extreme drumming. Both clean and harsh vocals are present on this release. The harsh vocals are definitely done a lot better, and lean towards a mix of both death and black metal styles, with more emphasis on raspy growls. By contrast, the clean vocals are a bit of a toss-up. The execution is decent enough, as the notes are usually being hit, but sometimes the actual melodic lines are just a bit too strange for their own good (“So Willingly Deceived” being the biggest offender, particularly because the track opens with some fantastic atmospheric chugging). I suppose it’s par for the course in folk metal, but relative to something like power metal, the vocal melodies just aren’t that strong.

Of course, “Land of the Setting Sun”, has a lot of emphasis on the violins, and this isn’t a bad thing. The violins often take the lead melody, not unlike keyboards would often do in this sound. Though I can’t say these leads are particularly memorable, they definitely fit the songs, particularly when there is some epic marching from the rhythm section underneath. Epic is the key word of this EP, as that is when the band is at their absolute best. Anytime they’re able to create a longing feeling of despair, or one of victory, it is extremely effective. This is most obvious on the title track, where an emotional vocal performance leads the charge, though it does pop up on other songs like “Pyre”.

Overall, “Land of the Setting Sun” was a positive surprise. It’s easy to see big fans of folk metal really digging this release, as the band manages to write compelling songs despite doing things a little bit outside of the norm for metal. The use of violins is something that could completely ruin a release if not done well, but Isenmor ensures violins are not gimmicky, which is why “Land of the Setting Sun” is worth a purchase of all folk metal fans.

Be sure to check out and like Isenmor on Facebook!

"Land of the Setting Sun"

Final Rating
3.6/5 or 72%. 

Written by Scott 

Monday, May 18, 2015

Tankard – R.I.B.

If there’s one band you can count on in the metal scene to deliver a great album, it’s Tankard. Though there have been slight changes to the formula throughout the years, and even the lyrics occasionally (not every single song can be about beer!), the band has largely settled into an effective sound. “R.I.B.” is the band’s 16th album, and it sounds pretty much exactly like their last album. Tankard’s trademark riffing style is present on nearly every track; there are lots of mid-paced alternate picking sections (see the opener “War Cry” for one example), as well as tons of quirky, palm-muted riffs. Appearing alongside these riffs are Gerre’s aggressive and humorous vocals. His delivery is great because it always sounds like he’s telling a story with each song (like on “Fooled By Your Guts”), rather than shouting some incoherent ramblings.  

One thing that “R.I.B.” does experiment a bit with is creepy atmospheric intros. It shows up a few times throughout the record (“War Cry”, and the title track come to mind), and adds much-appreciated variety to the record, even if they are brief. Aside from this however, you can expect the typical fun that a Tankard record brings. As always, the band offers up some enjoyable and catchy lyrics alongside the thrashing they bring. Tankard is an exceptionally skilled songwriting unit, as the majority of these songs are memorable after a single listen. Tracks like “Fooled By Your Guts”, “Clockwise To Deadline”, and the appropriately titled “The Party Ain’t Over ‘til We Say So” are immediate winners, ranking right alongside anything else the band has done.

R.I.B.” is everything you could ask for in a Tankard album. What that really means is that it sounds exactly like you’d expect it to sound. Even though Tankard doesn’t thrash as fast or as hard as some other bands out there, they’re a lot more fun than most of them. The songs come first, and that’s why the band is consistently putting out records that are worth buying, no matter how similar they may be.

Be sure to check out and like Tankard on Facebook!

"War Cry"
"Fooled By Your Guts"
"The Party Ain't Over 'til We Say So"

Final Rating
4.25/5 or 85%. 

Written by Scott