Words by Andrew Lampela
Andrew Lampela was an employee and eventual co-owner of the 40-year old institution, Haffa’s Records in Athens, Ohio, just outside of the dark woods from which Skeletonwitch emerged. Over his years there he has played in a number of bands ranging from rock to noise to metal and has taken his lifelong knowledge of music into contributing to a number of publications.
My inbox seemed to indicate that European power metal season is in full swing. There is obviously a market, as two billion symphonic melodi-shred albums getting pitched at me don’t just exist in a void, but I am not that market. It is a rare album that catches my attention from the realm of the Nightwish/Kamelot ilk. Hit me with some of that classic Savatage or Crimson Glory and I’m in, but the modern scene of cape-wearing, candelabra-having bands that have keyboard solos named after Tolkien characters is not my thing.
I’m certainly not opposed to some Tolkien. I’ve been rocking “Orc’s Anvil” quite a bit, but honestly, I can’t really tell what Swampbeast is talking about anyway. I’m very into this new wave of bands keeping their records sub-forty minutes, and there isn’t much fat on Seven Evils Spawned Of Seven Heads (Translation Loss). I’m starting to feel like the term ‘blackened death’ is being a bit too liberally tossed around, but it fits here. This is an impressive debut of solid, unrelenting death metal, and has been in pretty steady rotation.
Speaking of ‘blackened death’, holy smokes is The Cyclic Reckoning (Profound Lore) good. Suffering Hour have quite a bit going on here. This is a much bleaker take on death metal, with some incredibly inventive and original guitar work. “Transcending Antecedent Visions” is an eight minute nose dive through some real fucked up time and space. It’s glorious. The vocals are reverb-heavy and pretty well adjusted in the mix, another plus. This is fantastic, and a true start to finish album. I know the year is young, but The Cyclic Reckoning is one of the best things I’ve heard in some time, taking influences and moulding them into something entirely refreshing, to these ears.
20 Buck Spin continue to be one of the best labels going these days, and they have two gems out this month to check out. If you require some severely cathartic violence with your blend of death/black/grossly acerbic grind, Gravesend have you covered with this filthy 27 minute absolute ripper. Other than two synthy interludes, “Verrazzano Floater” is the only thing to really slow down, and it somehow sounds grimier as a result. Probably not words usually associated with stuff people like, but Preparations For Human Disposal is near flawless, trust me. On the other hand, if last year’s full length hadn’t been such a fun little romp through the 80s extreme spectrum, I probably wouldn’t give much thought to Skeleton’s demo-ish Ordainment Of Divinity. It is a completely blown out 12 minutes. The tom rolls are laughable. It’s about as raw as a four track recording gets. In other words, it’s a total blast, like a Black Metal Venom with even worse audio quality. Goddamn I love it. I’ll more than likely always throw on the full length, but it warms my middle-aged heart that this is sitting in the cassette pile.
While not exactly new, last Fall’s Frostvore (Testimony Records) album just crossed my path, and it’s pretty good. Lots of harmonies, lots of tremolo picking, I certainly don’t expect this to make a blip on the year-end roundups, but you should throw on “Extreme Cold Torture” before blowing by Drowned By Blood. The guitars tones are just this side of ‘pretty shitty’, and I get a little Obituary in the vocals, a little old Pestilence in the breakdowns. That earns it a spot on the playlist for sure.
Also not exactly new, I’m clueless as to why I skipped the Sölicitör album. Well, I probably threw it on and only caught songs like “The Red Queen” and “Leather Streets”. Those are some terrible lyrics. However, the opening salvo of “Blood Revelations” and “Betrayer” are the perfect distillation of classic 80s Metal Blade sounds, like Messiah Marcolin singing for a thrash band formed out of the ashes of a Mercyful Fate cover band that also dug Iron Maiden. Aside from some cheesed out lyrics, “Spectres of War” and “Grip Of The Fist” are also pretty sweet, making Spectral Devastation (Cruz Del Sur) a fun little record.
I know I should be enjoying this Tribulation (Century Media) more than I am. They’ve long since shed any sort of black metal, and let’s be honest, if not for the vocals this is an occult psych record from the late 70s. The guitar interplay is masterful, the songwriting and performances immaculate, and the vibe is spot on. It all just feels a little too immaculate for me. I’d still consider Children Of The Night one of the pinnacles of this rock and black metal style, but Where The Gloom Becomes Sound leaves me a little flat at the moment, and that’s a shame. I’ll probably revisit this one in the future.
According to the massive amount of press, I’m also supposed to be enjoying Nervosa more than I am. There’s nothing inherently wrong with Perpetual Chaos (Napalm Records). Well, there is the wildly over-produced sound of it all, compressing the fuck out of any dynamics these songs may have had. There is that. Ten, fifteen years ago, I would probably have given this a few more spins, but this one didn’t do it for me.
Bridge Burner’s Disempath (Hibernation) does do it for me, with woozy guitars reminisce of that beautiful late 90s period of math-core a la Coalesce over… well, math-core. This sheds a lot of what made that 90s scene implode into unlistenable astrophysics, and rams some death metal into the mix. Very good stuff.
I wasn’t super into the Spirit Adrift when it came out, I thought they were leaning into the 80s trad/power a little too heavily. Turns out, they were and I was wrong, it’s a blast. Frozen Soul (Century Media) deliver a solid set of Bolt Thrower death metal homage that is outstanding driving-places music.
It’s only about six minutes, but the World Of Pleasure demo is one of my favorite things right now. Not sure how this live Brutus slipped past me, but it’s great. Not sure if it’s possible to OD on death metal, but I’m giving it a go because Revulsion keeps finding their way back into the rotation. Finally, as a nice palate cleanser, Coastlands has really grown on me, as far as thick instrumental post-rock goes, and is a great way to wind down forty-ish minutes.