Wednesday, January 1, 2014

2013 albums you are missing out part 6.66

Hell: Curse & Chapter
(Heavy Metal, UK)

Hell might not be the most original name for a metal band, but luckily their music is infernally too damn hellish that they deserve to keep it. Hell was formed originally in 1982 but disbanded after tragic events leading to Dave G. Halliday's death in 1987. The band regrouped in 2008 where David Bower joined ranks replacing the deceased singer Halliday. Halliday taught Andy Sneap to play guitar and Sneap mentions Hell as one of this main influences.

Hell's debut album Human Remains took the metal world and critics by storm and entered several year-end lists. For some reason that album didn't click with me at that time and I was not sure what to expect from the new album. On December 9, 2013 I was witnessing Hell opening for Amon Amarth in Kaapelitehdas, Helsinki and they really killed it that night. The band was on fire and especially the remarkable show of David Bower on stage was tremendous to watch: he hit all the impossible high and theatrical notes perfectly and changed from one costume to another with a blink of an eye. The vocals are one the most prominent and most difficult thing to grasp: they are twisted, they are deranged, they are over-the-top, they are insane and they are powerful. David Bower is the hellish lovechild of Mercyful Fate and Satan and he's on fire on this record.

Curse & Chapter is almost perfect traditional heavy metal album: it's catchy, it's melodic, it's cheesy to the point it needs to be, it has your favorite metal party songs and it is killing you from start to finish. To be precise not all songs on the album are new, some have been face lifted to 21th century without losing its original touch (e.g. Death Squad, Deliver us from Evil and Land Of The Living Dead). David Bower has also stepped up in writing songs for the new album and they fit perfectly. On guitar Andy Sneap (guitarist, songwriter and highly acclaimed producer) and Kev Bower lay a solid foundation for the songs and their professional touch makes the album shine even more. Production wise there is little to complain: the sound is rich, crisp and powerful. 

If you crave for unorthodox traditional heavy metal in your life, this is an album (a future classic) you can jump on without hesitation. 

Watch the video of Darkhangel below and prepare to be blown away!

Ghost: Infestissumam
(Heavy Metal/Rock, Sweden)

Ghost is another phenomena that changed the field of metal in 2010 with their debut album Opus Eponymous. They play soundwise traditional heavy metal or hard rock, but the lyric deal with occultism, darkness and evil. Most notable about the band are the vocals, performed by Papa Emeritus II (reincarnation of Papa Emeritus) which are soft, infectious, radio friendly and likable. If you have seen them live or any pics of the band you'll know the reason why they are so famous: none of us really knows their true personality as the rest of the band is known as nameless ghouls. They dress up for the shows in long black or white capes and wear make-up and masks hiding their faces. There is also minimum if any contact with the audience during their performance, which is fitting for the image of the band.

Infestissumam didn't impress me much of first or second listen. Hell, I even decided that I ain't got time to return to this album if I have to force myself into liking it. There were many months that I didn't listen to it at all, but I returned to it one day as I was fed up with everything at work. All of the sudden the songs started to make sense to me in some twisted way although the intentionally provocative and explicit lyrics kept bothering me. In the end I decided to just enjoy the ride and give up on any prejudices. Take Ghuleh / Zombie Queen, Secular Haze, Year Zero or Monstrance Clock and you are forced to admit that these are some of the most well-written and catchiest songs you'll hear this year. They are so infectious that you'll find humming them in your head whether you wanted or not. That is the undeniable power of the record and since resistance is futile all I can do is give in and yield: you won me over. What's your next move guys?

Watch the video for Year Zero below:

Carcass: Surgical Steel
(Death Metal, UK)

I have a confession to make: Heartwork is NOT one of my favorite metal albums from the 1990's. Actually I hadn't even heard of it until six or seven years later or so when I slowly started drifting away from power metal (and yes, I still love it!) and started my journey listening to metal bands having harsh vocals. When the news of Carcass comeback record started brewing after their regrouping in 2007, the fans went crazy and the expectations were sky-high. Surgical Steel is the band's first album in 17 years and you'd think they are old blokes now. Wrong, actually the dynamic duo Jeff Walker and Bill Steer are still in their prime: both are born in 1969 making them only 44 years young.

First thing that is metal about this album is the cover. It pictures some of the tools a pathologist uses in his work, the coloring is black and grey and the tools are made of steel, surgical steel: now how cool and metal is that? I don't know what the hell these guys have been doing during their break, but it has obviously done them justice: there is not one single bad song on the album. Actually you'd think that you are listening to a best of collection as all of the songs are killer and you finding moshing your head to the ruthless beat and playing that airguitar. The sound is melodic death/thrash metal and lyrical themes deal with gore, pathology and medical themes. Somehow the sound is true to the 1990's but still you know that you are listening to a brand new metal album. This means that it is not overproduced, the sound is dynamic and robust.

Surgical Steel is one the strongest returns in metal I have heard recently. It is almost uncanny to think that the gap between this and their previous record is almost two decades. I hardly think they'll retire again after such strong comeback and their true will to play and write killer songs. Without a doubt the praise this album has received all over the media is justified, it is very close to perfection.

Watch the video for Unfit For Human Consumption below:

Portal: Vexovoid
(Death Metal, Australia)

Experimental death metal from Brisbane, Queensland Australia serving next, any takers? This year my hunger for extreme, obscure and underground metal took me to shows I could have even dreamt of doing fifteen years ago. Portal played together with another Australian metal ambassador, Vomitor, in Helsinki in July 2013 and I was one of the lucky ones to witness this demonic onslaught. I had absolutely no clue what to expect, so you can imagine when Portal started to play and I started headbanging the crowd did the exact opposite. I had not learnt the code and obviously the code in Portal gig is to stand still and witness the service silently and enjoy the dark mass. Luckily I rectified my actions quickly and blended in with the mass. Another valued memory is the setlist I was able to pick up from the floor, now if only I would remember where I have hidden it in my apartment?

Vexovoid continues the Portal saga with the familiar elements of the bands: distorted guitars, abrupt tempo changes and impossible sounding rhythms topped with furious drumming and deep, subtle whispers/growls. It is pretty hard to get into the band as there are no choruses that you could relate to and the overall sound is more or less chaos. This was one of the reasons I strayed from this album as the true revelation does not take place until you let go of your expectations and enjoy the entire demonic experience as a whole. Portal is one of those caveman death metal bands for me where production is not the key to the ultimate goal, it is the twisted journey where the haunting and primitive atmosphere offers a true feeling of danger and excitement. 

Stream the album here and support the band:

Vhöl: Vhöl
(Black metal/crust, US)

Vhöl is another supergroup formed in 2012 by members of Hammers Of Misfortune, Agalloch and YOB among others. There have been quite a few supergroups emerging in 2013, but this is one of my absolute favorites. I haven't really actively followed the others bands the members are involved with, except Agalloch where Mr. Dekker plays drums. By the way, Agalloch is currently in studio recording their new album, which is scheduled for 2014 release, absolutely stoked about this as Agalloch is one of my TOP10 bands in the world.

Vhöl plays black metal/crust with heavy metal influences and the odd combination of styles is something really unique and devastating. First of all, the album features absolutely crushing and relentless drumming by Aesop Dekker (he posted a pic in Facebook of his hands where the skin had literally rolled off from his fingertips while recording this album). His flawless performance is on par with Jamie Saint Merat's drumming (Ulcerate) and together they share the #1 drummer place in my books. Secondly the relentless riffing and use of tremolo guitar by John Cobbett expands the sound to another level and crust influences work very well. Finally Mike Scheidt (vocals) and Sigrid Sheie (bass) complete the experience playing their part cleanly. Especially the vocal harmonies are addictive as hell, I simply adore them.

Vhöl's debut album is easily one of the biggest surprises in 2013 and another gem from Profound Lore Records. Knowing all the members are busy with other projects, it might take time before the story continues but I for one will wait eagerly for the sophomore album as Vhöl is crazy good.

Stream the entire album here and support:

Sunday, December 29, 2013

2013 albums you may have missed out part V

Atlantean Kodex: The White Goddess
(Epic Heavy/Doom, Germany)

Atlantean Kodex is fairly new to the metal scene, but compared to it, the band made its way to many year-end list in 2010 with their debut album The Golden Bough. Three years later these Bavarian metal gods return to the scene with their sophomore album The White Goddess. The second album in a band's career always creates a lot of pressure as they need to prove the debut album's success was no one-time wonder and that the band are more than capable to expanding its sound and writing even better songs. Some bands nail it, some fail miserably. Fortunately Atlantean Kodex belongs to the first category: they absolutely nail it with The White Goddess.

I have been hooked to Last.Fm since 2010 ever since my friend introduced me to it. How in the hell I could have even lived in the past without this marvelous website? I am all about tracking my doings and loved creating year-end lists or playlists and always eager to find new bands I may have missed before. Enter Last.Fm and three and a half years later I have now totally little over 2,500 metal bands checked out. The road is endless tho as according to there are more than 90,000 metal bands including the entire metal scene and all the countries in the world. One thing I have noticed in the songs' shoutboxes are the comments from the users, which I read very often. One comments seems to dominate it nowadays, "Epic". I know the word is overused and has thus lost some of its meaning, but the first thing that comes to mind with The White Goddess is epic. There are eight songs altogether, but three of them are interludes so you get only five songs. That may sound too little, but the quality of the songs sends many band's entire discographies from here to kingdom come. 

From the first time you hear the chorus of Sol Invictus, you have two choices: you either yield, put on your fighting spirit t-shirt and go crazy. The other option is just to shake your shoulders and go: what's this? Another epic classic heavy metal band singing about swords, steel, battles and victory? Been there, done that and bought the t-shirt. Atlantean Kodex sounds intentionally cheesy and overdone. The massive choruses, epic build-ups, warrior-like spoken parts or Manowar-like guitar tone fools you into thinking "Hasn't this been done already?" The soundscape has been done, yes many years ago already but the the songwriting and atmosphere on this level is something extraordinary.

Take whichever of the five songs with vocals and you will find parts that will stuck into your head like glue. It could be chorus or Sol Invictus or Heresiarch or Twelve Stars and an Azure Gown: all of these songs have extremely well-written choruses that you will find yourself singing them while taking a shower or waking up to another working day. If that doesn't still convince you, take Enthroned in Clouds and Fire or the closer White Goddess Unveiled and you'll be compelled to sit still and embrace the awesomeness and emotional atmosphere of the songs. When the piano-driven outro in the last song fades out, somehow you feel complete and pure at heart.

One last thing needs to mentioned here: Markus Becker has improved since the debut by a mile. It's not that we was weak or under underachiever before, it's just that now the vocal delivery is less cheesy, more believable and most of all the dude can sing. My absolute favorite moment on the album currently is Twelve Stars and an Azure Gown: Mr. Becker is simply on fire on this track and it is one of the finest heavy metal anthems you'll hear 2013. This album is a must-have for all fans of traditional and melodic heavy metal.

Listen to the entire masterpiece here:

Orphaned Land: All Is One
(Middle Eastern Metal, Israel)

Orphaned Land is an odd bird in the field of metal: they hail from Israel, incorporate middle Eastern melodies into their songs and the lyrics deal with Abrahamic religions, unity and peace. They have been active for more than twenty years already, but my first encounter with them was about three years ago when I first heard their 2004 album Mabool - The Story of the Three Sons of Seven when a trusted friend of mine recommended the band to me. I was blown away, how come I hadn't heard of this guys before? Unfortunately I am not familiar with Israeli metal scene, so please accept my apologies if I am missing some groundbreaking metal acts from this country.

Their previous effort The Never Ending Way of ORWarriOR is one of the finest metal albums of 21th century, so if you haven't heard it yet make sure you do so after this. To my surprise, All Is One takes their sound into a new territory with having only one song with harsh vocals, which was a letdown for me at first. In addition there are numerous midpaced and melodic songs incorporated with traditional middle Eastern folk music melodies, which makes it less heavy and aggressive. However, I found myself returning to the album one play after another. There is just something extremely addictive in this album: the melodies are very catchy and the addition of female vocals and orchestration add texture to it. You will hear some of the most emotional singing and lyrics (like in Brother), the overall quality of the songs is impressive and the guitar work and vocals are outstanding. You know that music should take you to places, don't you? The overall atmosphere transported me amongst the pillars of old Arabic temple ruins in the middle of the desert. I was staring at the half naked and veiled dancers in front of the roaring fire surrounded by mystique. The high priests were wearing long white gowns topped with golden jewelry and a long, curvy dagger. Too many Indiana Jones movies, you say? Could be, but this is why I love this album, it disconnects me from reality every time I need a break.

Orphaned Land has convinced me once again they are one of the most professional and versatile bands out there currently. I cannot wait to see what these guys come up next.

Watch the official video for Brother here:

Witherscape: The Inheritance
(Progressive metal, Sweden)

The great vocalist/multi-instrumentalist/producer Dan Swanö is back! Actually he has never really been gone, but once again shows that everything he touches turns into gold. If I would list all bands he's been active with or the albums he has helped to produce, the list would be too long for me to type or for you to read but luckily the homework is done and you can check it out here.

Witherscape may look superficially a brand-new name to the scene, but this isn't the case. According to Swanö, Witherscape had been in planning for a long time and spawned as a result of his working relationship with Ragnar Widerberg (guitars and bass), which began at a Swedish music store. In spite of being five years older than Widerberg, Swanö (vocals, drums and keyboards) discovered they had so much in common musically that brainstorming for a full-on metal project of their own was the next logical step. "The Inheritance" is a pretty thick concept album split into different episodes and very briefly, the Witherscape story takes place in a remote village in northern Sweden in the late 1800's. The central character lives in Stockholm and comes from wealth, and upon the death of his family he's informed by the family lawyer that he has inherited a large estate up north. Having been oblivious to the estate's existence, he decides to investigate, and once he's there "all kinds of weird shit happens…", according to Swanö. (taken from

Witherscape could be categorized as progressive metal having death metal elements when Mr. Swanö uses his harsh vocal register. One thing that strikes me the most are his clean vocals, which sound strongest and most powerful to date resembling the mighty Russell Allen, who is one of my favorite metal singers. The biggest strong point in the album is the versatile song material: some melodies remind me of Symphony X (probably due to the similarities in vocal technique) and some Opeth (guitar sound and harsh vocals). There is little to complain about The Inheritance: the songwriting is great, the atmosphere is airy, flow of the songs is consistent, the production thick and musicianship topnotch. My favorite cuts from the album are Astrid Falls and Dead For A Day.

The Inheritance is a worthy addition to progressive metal fan's collection. Hopefully this fruitful collaboration will continue as this super group is clearly right on the mark.

Watch the lyric video for Dead For A Day below:

Cult Of Luna: Vertikal
(Progressive metal/Post-Hardcore, Sweden)

Cult Of Luna blew me away with Somewhere Along the Highway (2006). Especially songs like Finland and Dark City, Dead Man almost broke my neck and I virtually trashed at least six airguitars! I have been following their career ever since and after their show in Finland in March 2013 I have finally completed owning their full-length discography. 

I ain't gonna lie: I had enormous hopes for Vertikal, because I knew what these guys are capable of. When the first song, I: The Weapon, was aired I was jumping for joy: this is how I like my CoL. First spin after the entire album I was pleased and happy. There were still elements in the new direction which left me a bit uneasy. Especially that dubstep sounding part in Vicarious Redemption starting at 11-minute mark, almost had me choking: what the hell is going on? It's not that I was not able to tolerate it, it just took me by surprise. Later reading back the fans' comments about it on Last.Fm, most of them accepted the twist with open arms while others were in denial. Vertikal takes Cult Of Luna's sound into a new territory and there was a long, five-year break between the previous album Eternal Kingdom and Vertikal. Obviously it was clear for the guys, that they wanted their sound to evolve and embrace new territories. During the recording break, the band also moved from Earache Records to Indie Recordings.

Vertikal features heavier use of electronics than before and some industrial sounding samples. Their sound is still heavy and aggressive, but they are able to bring something new to the mix. Especially the bass or the low electronic end brings good balance to the sound and the production on the album is fitting and powerful. One minor complaint is the vocals, which sound a bit too monotonous at times and could have had more variation to my taste. The original singer Klas Rydberg left the band in 2012 and the vocals are performed by Johannes Persson and Fredrik Kihlberg. Both vocalists still deliver and do an amazing job, especially the closer Passing Through took me by surprise delivering haunting vocals and beautifully fragile atmosphere. 

Another thing I have to add is the flow of the songs: Cult Of Luna has always had the ability to write interesting, long and epic songs which grab the listener immediately. They don't fail this time either and I am pretty sure the album will please old and new fans of the band. Finally I have to urge each and every metal fan out there to go and see them performing live: the sound, the visuals and the musicianship is stellar. You won't be disappointed.

Watch the official video for Passing Through below:

Cathedral: The Last Spire
(Stoner/Doom Metal, UK)

Altar Of Plagues is not the only metal band this year that called quits. One of the great doom bands from UK, Cathedral, announced that once The Last Spire is out that will be the end of the band. This makes it yet another cult band I failed to catch live. I did have my chance in 2011 when they played in Jalometalli festival in Oulu, but the logistics and the finance were not on my side that year. Luckily my friend was able to witness it and naturally the gig was awesome (as expected).

My history with the band is short and there are times when their obscurity makes me think they are one of the greatest bands ever and there are times when they make me question their cult-like reputation. The Last Spire is made of all the traditional trademarks of the band: stunning and weird vocals of Lee Dorrian and thick, heavy guitar riffs by Gaz Jennings along with throbbing bass and powerful drumming. Basically the dominant flow of the song is slow or midtempo, but when you least expect the tempo changes or they throw in some weird 70's sounding hammond and moog samples. Lee Dorrian's vocal delivery is yet one of the strong points in this album: his distinctive, weary and high-pitched sound makes the band unique and stand out from the mass. Another cool fact I found out while I was doing my homework is that Mr. Dorrian was the first lead vocalist in grindcore legend Napalm Death (1987-1989). Bloody hell, I had absolutely no clue about this (note to self: you still have a lot to learn dude).

It's hard to pick a standout track as the entire album is meant to listen as a whole experience, but if you listen to the video clip of Tower Of Silence, it pretty much encapsulates what the band is all about. In addition Pallbearer is a great example of Cathedral's sound: just when you think the entire 12-minute song is heard, everything changes as they pick up the pace. If you crave for great, unique and versatile doom, I strongly urge to pick up The Last Spire. Thank you for the music Cathedral, your legacy will live on and I'll follow where the members' musical road shall take them next.

Watch Tower Of Silence below:

Officium Triste: Mors Viri
(Death Doom Metal, The Netherlands)

Rotterdam's Officium Triste is celebrating their 20th anniversary in 2014. I was introduced to this band probably four years ago after their previous album Giving Yourself Away (2007) had been released. At that point of time I had (and still have) enormous hunger for well-made death doom metal and I was scouting for bands I had probably missed. 

Officium Triste play melodic doom along with wailing guitars and dominating keyboards. Their guitar sound is light and airy, but the vocals are absolutely crushing and chilling to the bone. To me the biggest brother-in-arms is Saturnus, probably due to the similarity in vocal style (spoken parts vs. deep, powerful growls of Pim Blankenstein). Mr. Blankenstein also contributed vocals to The 11th Hour's sophomore album Lacrima Mortis, a great doom album which I strongly urge you to check out!

The album flows effortlessly and the atmosphere is melancholic and sorrowful. Production is crisp and fitting to their sound. For me the absolute highlight of the album is the 10-minute closer Like Atlas. The part starting at 6:32 haunts me every time I return to it: that melody is just utterly contagious. Officium Triste might not be well-known, but their discography is pretty consistent so I'd strongly recommend checking them out. Mors Viri is a good place to start and a nice addition to your doom metal collection.

Stream the entire album here and support the band: