25 Dec 2015

2015 End of the Year List

In the world of metal 2015 has been an exceptionally busy year. On the old front this year saw Paradise Lost returning to a style more akin to their gritty origins, as well as Iron Maiden and Slayer finally coming out with new material. Bands like Cattle Decapitation and Ghost are at the peak of their careers. And Arcturus are out with a new album!? 
As always there's some stuff to look forward to next year as well. Vektor is coming out with the long awaited follow up to their technical thrash masterpiece Outer Isolation, and a personal doom metal favourite of mine - Stone Magnum - are also releasing new material. Going further, Conan from Britain are supposed to release a new album as well.

Arbitrary to some, I find end-year lists to be a great way to sum up and process all the new impressions from the past year. Sometimes you've already forgotten some of the greatest releases from the earlier parts of the year, only to rediscover them at the end. Between listening to new records and worshipping old ones, some simply slip through the gaps.

On a side note I haven't listened to the new Hooded Menace, Uncle Acid or Dynatron albums yet, although I suspect they're all fantastic. Until then here's the preliminary (read: final) top 15 of the year 2015 for me. I've been listening to a lot of records, not only metal ones, which are all included in one definitive list, including a few honourable mentions. The albums featured this year seem in retrospect to be mainly from bands I knew beforehand - Perhaps I've been a little lazy in checking out new names? Or maybe those new acts don't quite live up to expectations... It could all just be coincidence. At any rate, please refer to the comments section below to deliver death threats, accolade and/or inquiries.

The Top 15 of 2015
15. Acid King - Middle of Nowhere, Center of Everywhere
(Svart Records)
A quiet but cautious "fucking finally" escaped my lips as Acid King's new album arrived in my inbox. Not since 2005 have we been graced with new material from the acid royalty. The Californian band haven't released two albums on the same label, and yet my surprise was great when I realised that Middle of Nowhere, Center of Everywhere was to be released on Finland's prime label Svart Records. I'm a fan, as the label's rate of quality releases is quite substantial, just like the albums of Acid King, however far between they may be. Let me just start out by saying that MoNCoE ain't no Busse Woods. Busse Woods is the standard that I hold other stoner-doom records to, and Middle of Nowhere doesn't have quite the same classic stature. With that out of the way, let me address the great musicianship Lori S. and Co. present on the new album. It's stacked to the brim with the usual quirky-natured and heavy-tempered stoner riffs they've become known for, and thank Satan for that. They've found room for more paranoia-inducing tracks which mixes up the usual 420 tunes, making it a more varied outing than previous efforts. It's definitely got it's memorable moments, and I'm sure it will see as many spins as their previous material.
Listen to "Coming Down from Outer Space" and "Center of Everywhere"

14. Ranger - Where Evil Dwells
(Spinefarm Records)
Finnish speed metal heroes RANGER practically exploded with the release of their 5-track EP Knights of Darkness in 2013, which I reviewed back then. Their approach features elements from all the classic early speed and thrash acts of the 80s, but with an especially heavy nod towards Slayer's debut Show No Mercy. Their sound has remained completely uncompromising, hard, heavy and fast. Surprisingly the tracks found on Where Evil Dwells are pretty lengthy for speed metal, most of them clocking in at above 4 minutes in length, with the title track taking the cake with over 10 minutes of play time! A bold move indeed. Ranger is with good reason among the shooting stars of the current speed metal movement, even if they're getting plenty competition from other competent bands. But only few rival the impulse and lack of restraint that the Finns put forth!
Listen to "Defcon 1" and "Black Circle (S.Y.L.S.)"

13. Various Artists - Kung Fury OST
(Universal Music)
Kung Fury was the kickstarter-funded short film that caused quite a commotion on the internet with its tongue-in-cheek, nostalgic rendition of 80s B-movies earlier in 2015. Though the film itself was only mildly entertaining at best, the whole mythos surrounding it is where the real fun begins. On paper the plot is fun, the artwork is so 80s that the Transformers, He-Man and Michael Jackson all seem modern by comparison, and the fact that Swedish musician Mitch Murder collaborated with none other than 80s super star David Hasselhoff to create the viral hit True Survivor. Combined with the hugely successful campaign to fund the movie it's a real American adventure (but in Sweden). The very fact that the OST is released on vinyl by Universal Music stands testament to the reach and popularity of the concept. The soundtrack in itself summons the best the current synthwave scene can muster with fantastic tracks from Mitch Murder, Lost Years, Highway Superstar, Betamaxx and others, carving a neon path through space and time straight back to late 80s, clad in white Reebok Pumps and tight jeans.
Listen to "West Side Lane (by Lost Years)" and "Power Move (by Mitch Murder)"

12. Power Glove - EP II
(Invada Records)
With their soundtrack for the video game Far Cry 3: Blood Dragon and their first EP before that, Power Glove were among the first movers in the movement now widely known as synthwave. For many their first EP was a gateway into the world of modernized 80s synthscapes, and the tone they set has since been imitated by many. But as the Australians put it, their new EP leaves the 80s behind and moves into a seedy early 90s club. Tracks like Punker and Motorcycle Cop bring to mind a darker re-imagining of Justice's "†" album from 2007 and plays like the soundtrack for a William Gibson cyberpunk novel. It feels like a brave move for the duo, seemingly not wanting to conform to the colourful 80s style more than they have to. Though not too far removed from their previous material, their venture into new markets comes with the same quality that they've been known for in the past.
Listen to "Punker" and "Grip"

11. Armored Saint - Win Hands Down
(Metal Blade Records)
Some enjoy John Bush in Anthrax, but I've always felt as though his true home as a metal vocalist is with Armored Saint. Though they've come a long way since 1984's classic March of the Saint the style and approach has remained largely the same through the last 30 years, even in spite of the long hiatuses they've had through the years. Win Hands Down may not be a new Symbol of Salvation, but with their usual strong songwriting and the drive and commitment they've always presented their return comes much appreciated.
Listen to "Win Hands Down" and "Muscle Memory".

10. Black Rainbows - Hawkdope
(Heavy Psych Sounds)
Italian hard psych n' stoner rock may not sound all that innovative or interesting. Adding a garage element and saying it sounds "kinda like Queens of the Stone Age, Kyuss and Hawkwind" may sound like blandness in the making. Lots of bands are doing it, like King Gizzard and the Lizard Wizard and Greenleaf just to name a few. But the new album from Black Rainbows stands out, even if the incredible cover image doesn't convince you. They may be inspired by the greats of hard psychedelia, stoner, space and desert rock with crisp, driven gutiars, catchy hooks, airey psychedelia, pounding drums and groovy bass, like so many others, but the songwriting is as catchy and memorable as any of the classics they mimic.
Listen to "Hawkdope" and "The Prophet"

9. Disasterpeace - It Follows OST
(Milan Records)
It Follows caused quite a stir within the horror film fandom in 2015. I haven't seen it yet, but most seem to praise it. That doesn't stop me from enjoying the soundtrack, which in my eyes means that it does its job well. The intro track kicks off with a paranoia-inducing theme of equal parts Silent Hill and the famous shower sequence of Psycho. The crisp, bitcrushed synths of the soundtrack conjure up and perfectly capture an intense atmosphere of urgency, of being stalked and pursued, and a fear of the unknown. Demented synths go hand in hand with a simplistic rhythm section, and especially with headphones does the soundtrack come into its own. Disasterpeace plays with extremely high and low pitches in a hysterical, almost psychotic, soundscape designed to freak you out. If the film is even half as good as the soundtrack, I won't be disappointed.
Listen to "Title" and "Company"

8. Encyrcle - Encyrcle
(Unspeakable Axe Records)
There are times when you see an unknown band live that you have a feeling are gonna get big. When I saw Encyrcle prior to the release of their album (even before they had a social media presence, which in all honesty is probably the first thing every band gets around to these days) they brought down the house and raised the roof, or whatever it is young people say nowadays. I'm sure Encyrcle wouldn't know anything about what goes on in the modern world, because with that dresscode and that style they might as well have been from the late 80s. Although the band's relationship with 80s speed metal and heavy metal is purely second hand nostalgia - they are young guys after all - they commit to the style and execute it extraordinarily well. Production-wise they're a lot "cleaner" sounding than similar bands, new or old, but their strength lies with the incredible songwriting and energy with which they deliver the goods. Tight leather pants, studs and sunglasses in the dark, this is the best 80s since the actual 80s.
Listen to "To the End" and "Bloodbasker"

7. Melody Gardot - Currency of Man
(Decca Records)
To my knowledge the American singer has been pretty consistent throughout her career, both in style and quality. Her style usually leans on smooth jazz with soft blues undertones, carried out in a pleasant down-played disposition. However, on her fourth solo album she appears to be leaning more towards a darker blues sound, her deliberate vocal style shining brightly on a sombre tapestry of atmospheric, almost ambient combination of jazzy strings and bluesy guitar and bass interplay. By now her style seems almost gothic in its ponderously eloquent nature, both musically and in regards to voice. Depending on what you're looking for, Currency of Man is in my opinion her most affectionate and deep felt album yet.
Listen to "Don't Talk" and "She Don't Know"

6. Ozric Tentacles - Technicians of the Sacred
(Mad Fish)
This band has somehow remained in relative obscurity since the 80s. Their spaceous progressive psych rock may be a bit much for some people, but their vast vistas and expansive soundscapes are virtually unrivaled. As usual they're quite heavy on the synthesizers and sonic effects, but the almost improvisational songstructures on their newest album benefit greatly from the multitude of layers that builds their music. With the shortests song being just over 5 minutes in length, Technicians of the Sacred opens up for hours upon hours of listening and exploring. This is one album that you can keep listening to and finding new elements over and over and over.
Listen to "Epiphlioy" and "Butterfly Garden".

5. Death Hawks - Sun Future Moon
(Svart Records)
How could Death Hawks possibly follow up the great hypnotic tunes of the self-titled album from 2013? And what direction would the band be heading in? Death Hawks was vastly different from the debut from 2011, but had they found their final stylistic resting place with their sophomore album? All kinds of thoughts and worries passed through my head between the release of Death Hawks and Sun Future Moon, but I was pleased to find that the answer with the band's third effort wasn't entirely unambiguous. It hints with nostalgia to the debut with gutsy sunshine rock while maintaining the feel of spacey hypnosis found on the follow up. Sun Future Moon stays grounded and substantial while also leaping into psychedelic aeons beyond time and space. I mentioned in my previous review of the album that it feels like a result of their musical journey up til now, and I stand by that notion.
Listen to "Hey Ya Sun Ra" and "Friend of Joy"

4. The Avener - The Wanderings of the Avener
(Capitol Records)
I have been putting this album on regularly ever since it came out. Emerging from the French scene with a few hit singles, The Avener's album of remixed tracks, collaborations and re-imagined older songs explores both house and lounge in a wonderfully produced mish-mash of old and new, traditional and modern. I'm usually not into lounge at all. The simple faux-laid back rhythms get old really quickly. But through his talented musical sorcery this new French artist has created not only a great loungey album, but a phenomenal record in itself with lots of feeling and memorability.
Listen to "Panama" and "Castle in the Sky".

3. Carpenter Brut - Trilogy
(Neuropa Records)
Trilogy isn't an album per se, but rather a compilation of the artist's three EPs, the last of which came out in early 2015. I won't go into detail about the EPs individually - That would make up a whole article in itself. But with the 80s electro revival synthwave fever running rampant with tons of mediocre acts and only a few good ones, the frenchman known only as Carpenter Brut stands out with the arguably most hardhitting and well-produced variant. His rolling synths and powerful rhythm sections are real suckerpunches and completely blew me away in an almost literal sense with absolutely incredible tracks like ROLLER MOBSTER and TURBO KILLER. As a side note, the crisp triple 45rpm vinyl configuration from Neuropa Records is the absolute prime way to be listening to this monolithic and, dare I say, potential timeless classic collection. If you can afford it.
Listen to "Roller Mobster" and "Disco Zombi Italia".

2. Symphony X - Underworld
(Nuclear Blast Records)
Last time Symphony X released an album, 2011's Iconoclast, they made it to the top of my list. It's an album I still listen to frequently. As usual for Symphony X the new album is almost universaly well-received and with good reason. Underworld shows a band still at their prime full of envigorating progressive power metal tunes. Underworld has tougher competition than Iconoclast did, but seems like a return to form for Symphony X with less groove and more power. As I mentioned in my review of the album from earlier this year it feels both like a natural progression from the sound of Iconoclast, but also like a mix of their three previous albums, mixing in elements from both The Odyssey, Paradise Lost and lastly Iconoclast.
Listen to "Charon" and "To Hell and Back"
Read my full review of Underworld

1. Undergang - Døden Læger Alle Sår
(Dark Descent Records/Me Saco Un Ojo Records)
Undergang have, among fans of the death metal underground, become synonymous with the vilest, most rotten and decayed death metal available. Since 2009 they've been tearing it up, fuelled by the decomposed sound of obscure death metal demos from the 80s and 90s, with each album delving further into putridity. Indhentet af Døden brought corpse-dripping metal in the vein of Slugathor and Disma, while Til Døden os Skiller from 2012 vomited forth another 8 great tracks in the same style. Sound-wise Døden Læger Alle Sår has changed a bit, mixing and mastering being handled by Greg Wilkinson and Dan Lowndes respectively, though I would like to note the hardhitting style suits the rotten guitars and drums perfectly by accentuating each fetid chord after the next. Døden Læger Alle Sår establishes the fact that musical merrit isn't inherent in advanced music. Undergang's brand of death metal is knuckledraggingly troglodytic, but when coupled with gut-pounding drumwork and the scene's greatest flair for composition it's a truely devastating concoction. Death heals all wounds indeed.
Listen to "Ad Ligbitum" and "Det Gør Kun Ondt Til Du Dør"

Honourable Mentions
Enforcer - From Beyond
(Nuclear Blast Records)
There's a reason Enforcer are at the top of the game in regards to revivalist speed metal. Ever since the release of Into the Night in 2008 they've not only been expanding their fanbase, but also at the same time progressing as songwriters and musicians. The sound they found on Death by Fire has now been triple-distilled and perfected to the point of deadly precision with an immensely well-crafted album. The Swedes've found room for a bit of innovation with much longer tracks and more intricate compositions, and the very fact that they could almost out-do Death by Fire is in itself a huge feat, even if From Beyond doesn't have quite as many memorable tracks.
Listen to "Undying Evil" & "Mask of Red Death"

Gruesome - Savage Land
(Relapse Records)
Evil Chuck's Death no doubt had a huge influence on metal, both then and now. There's always been the presence of a few bands that sound almost unmistakingly like Scream Bloody Gore and/or Leprosy, but Gruesome really took the world by storm with their completely unashamed influence from Death when they released Savage Land this year. Together with Trenchrot they're the prime of Death rip-offs, and I mean that in the best way possible. They don't actually cover any songs by Death, but everything from the riff composures over the drumming to the vocal style and vocal patterns is unmistakingly heavily influenced by especially the Leprosy album. If that's the style of death metal you're into, you cannot afford to miss Gruesome's Savage Land (or Trenchrot's Necronomic Warfare from last year, for that matter).
Listen to "Trapped in Hell" and "Gangrene"

Sammal - Myrskyvaroitus
(Svart Records)
Sammal has a history of few but great releases behind them, and building upon that saga is their third outing, Myrskyvaroitus. It's definitely one of 2015's strongest proggin' hard rock records, and an absolute must if you're into classic rock with a modern twist of heavy organs and the most innovativ riffing available. 
Listen to "Aika on alkamassa" and "Järjen ohimarssi"

Acid Witch - Midnight Movies EP
(Hell's Headbangers)
The guys from Detroit definitely aren't what they used to be. 2008's Witchtanic Hellucinations was mostly in the vain of psychedelic, tripped out and occult death-doom metal, before going for a more death n' roll like sound on the following records. They definitely can't be lobbed into one specific category, 'cause last year their split with Nunslaughter featured something much more like "regular" death-doom, before returning this year with a tribute to 80s heavy metal-themed horror films. This EP has the horrific quartet covering absolute classic tracks by Sorcery, Fastway, Black Roses and 45 Grave. They might not do the originals justice, but they definitely give it their own spin in a way only Acid Witch can do with reverance aplenty.
Listen to "Soldiers of the Night (originally by Black Roses)" and "Partytime (originally by 45 Grave)"

Lord Huron - Strange Trails
Indie folk is definitely alive and kicking. Though I consider most of the groups in the genre to be the authors of abysmally boring, offendingly run of the mill and drivelous tripe, Lord Huron's semi melancholic vocals and flowy guitar play really struck a chord with me. Pun intended. From start to finish 14 tracks make up the almost hour-long play time, so it's a lengthy affair for a mostly mainstream album. However, right from the album opener it's quite a journey with emotional ups and downs. It's a deep felt album with lots of feelings poured into it. It's beautiful is what it is, and thankfully it sounds nothing like Mumford & Sons.
Listen to "Love Like Ghosts" and "The World Ender"

Madeon - Adventure
Now here's what is essentially a product of modern music culture. This young French newcomer debuted in 2009 with his first single, at the ripe old age of 15. As such his album debut has been a long time coming. His popularity started out with a viral youtube video, and since then he's only been getting more popular. And with good reason. His powerful brand of electronic music, inspired by pop, electro and house, has a unique and invigorating sound that maxes out every positive feeling in the emotional register. It's fresh and it's raw talent distilled into a fine spirit of summerly rhythms.
I'm not usually that much into special editions or deluxe editions as the bonus tracks are often a waste of time and merely filler material to justify a higher price, but with Madeon's debut album the deluxe edition really is essential, with his singles from 2012 making it as bonus tracks.
Listen to "You're On" and "Finale"

Bikstok - Uranium
(Mermaid Records)
Danish reggae-hip hop trio Bikstok Røgsystem finally return after having released nothing but a single in the last ten years. In Denmark the group's only album, 2005's "Over stok og sten", stands out as a modern classic that set a certain standard and trend for years to come in the Danish scene. A standard that very few have even come close to imitating successfully. It seems doubtful that the new mini LP "Uranium" will do the same, but even after many years of silence the trio - Now known as just "Bikstok" - perfectly recaptures the silly and laid back style of the preceding album. The album opener, 80'eren, is a tribute to their youth and really sets the tone for the A-side. Unfortunately the B-side sort of meanders with few highlights shining as bright as the spliffs Eagger, Pharphar and Blæs B are undoubtedly smoking.
Listen to "80'eren" and "Uranium"

15 Dec 2015

Sammal - Myrskyvaroitus [Full length] (2015, Svart Records)

Finnish prog-rock usurpers return for a third strike
A part of the struggle of participating in trends is standing out from the lot, and those that achieve this are ironically often those that give the trend the most unusual twist. The vast majority will suffer from being unimaginative and ordinary, which when done well may be a strength on its own. Often the boundary between blindly following a trend and expanding into new territory becomes blurred; At which point exactly does music go from simply paying tribute and drawing inspiration from something to discovering new areas to colonize? The Finnish band Sammal, who are with the release of Myrskyvaroitus now three releases into their journey, seem to be an example of this question.

Having listened to the eponymous debut from 2013 and the subsequent EP from the following year Sammal stands out as a busy band that usually delivers a thrilling, on-point set of rock songs that feel uncommonly artisanal. And thusly the new album, "Myrskyvaroitus", feels as much like a natural musical development to the EP "No 2" as "No 2" did to the debut, even if there's no particular progression in terms of songwriting and skill involved. If there is any noticable difference between Sammal's releases, it would be that "Myrskyvaroitus" features, at times, darker tunes. "Kohtaus yön vyöllä" and "Muurahaisen päiväuni" especially tend more to these melancholy currents.

"Their bright and upbeat seventies sound, complete with crunchy guitars, juicy organs, funky bass and lively drums are what set them apart and take them beyond the planes of mere accolade and appreciation of days gone by."

Even so, the majority of the new album explores in depth the very same corner of seventies-based progressive rock that the predecessors did. Their bright and upbeat seventies sound, complete with crunchy guitars, juicy organs, funky bass and lively drums are what set them apart and take them beyond the planes of mere accolade and appreciation of days gone by. On "Myrskyvarioutus" the group toys more with playful and expansive quasi-improvisational psych sessions than previously attempted, as noticable especially on "Järjen ohimarssi". As such their latest effort comes across as being a more expansive piece in terms of overall composition.

Clever compositions aside, Sammal subscribe much to the same currents as bands like Horisont, but with a more substantial Deep Purple and November feel to them. The lead singer's powerful vibrato sings along playfully to the organism that the rest of the band composes. I mentioned earlier the overall composition and flow of the album, and every music fan will have a notion of what is coming next in the frame of an album. The Finnish band throws these anticipatory notions to the wind with a loving punch to the face of tradition. Though experimentation with a traditional sound has always been the way of Sammal, but by following the previously mentioned less cheerful tracks with a mockingly cheery and catchy tune like "Aika on alkamassa" the band plays in new ways with expectation and album-wise flow.

I've come to expect a great deal from Sammal, and indeed do they deliver. I find myself inadvertently humming along, and that impact is one of the main reasons why the band is so unique. As usual there are hard-hitting rock tunes as well as more dour or psychedelic tracks, but tied together to make "Myrskyvaroitus" this makes it one of the best and most different yet thrilling rock albums of 2015. 8/10 guitars.

1. Stormvarning
2. Järjen ohimarssi
3. Samaan arkeen
4. Kohtaus yön vyöllä
5. Muurahaisen päiväuni
6. Aika on alkamassa
7. Sulle haavan tein
8. Kohti pintaa
9. Herätkää!

7 Dec 2015

Eero Koivistoinen Quartet - Hati Hati [Full length] (2015, Svart Records)

Well-crafted jazz opus that speaks in colourful volumes of a great musical journey
Originally a student of music at both Sibelius Academy in Finland and Berklee College of Music in Boston, Eero Koivistoinen has remained a fixture in the Finnish jazz scene since the sixties, his first release being with the rock group Blues Section's first album of the same name in 1967. Since then the saxophonist has played with and composed for many musicians and band itterations. Already in 1972 did he enjoy international acclaim with his solo album "Wahoo!", but already as early as 1969 did his band at the time win the band competition at the legendary Montreux Jazz Festival. His extensive discography, over thirty albums at the time of writing, explores several different genres and subgenres, although jazz has always been his mainstay.

"The eight tracks found on the album elegantly but sternly speak of a lengthy career within the genre, both in terms of musicianship and composition."

Though Koivistoinen has shown a great interest in African music since the nineties, the clash between Scandinavian and African musical culture is absent on his latest record "Hati Hati", recorded with the Eero Koivistoinen Quartet. The eight tracks found on the album elegantly but sternly speak of a lengthy career within the genre, both in terms of musicianship and composition. Without drawing too many comparisons, the opening track in many ways mirror the sound of Miles Davis' modal masterpiece "So What", but this title track is among the more actively outgoing of the bunch. Later tracks like Moz or Relations are much more laid back and easy going, the latter in particular with its lengthy and voluminous bass section.

The organic fluctutations of the compositions seem entirely unpretentious and highly expressive. The deep felt expanses of the veteran's saxophone coupled with prominent piano playing provides an unusually pleasant and easy going atmosphere that brings to mind the many aspects of every day life, from the busy goings of a  metropolis to a sunny autumn afternoon. All these attributes come together to form a monumentally well-crafted and listenable jazz album. From the perspective of a selective jazz listener Eero Koivistoinen Quartet have committed a highly enjoyable and personal record, in this case presented on beautiful black vinyl. The group's warmth and the masterful interaction between the members are among the prime examples of what makes Hati Hati stand out. A solid 8/10 album.

1. Hati Hati
2. Seaside
3. Relations
4. Times They Are a-Changing
5. Moz
6. Things
7. Far North
8. Helium

Eero Koivistoinen official site
Svart Records official site

2 Dec 2015

Cosmo Cocktail - Cosmotronic Racing [Full length] (2015, 30th Floor Records)

Oversaturated neon-nostalgia
Cosmo Cocktail's album comes courtesy of 30th Floor Records, a label dedicated to the synthwave genre. Though not a veteran per se, they were definitely one of the early movers within the scene to organize and release synthwave albums from independent artists. Cosmo Cocktail, based in Italy, prides himself on his use of hardware synths, sequencers and drum machines, and with good reason. With a morass of new artists emerging from the scene every day there's more than a few who rely solely on standardized VSTs and digital sequencer software, often resulting in an amateurish feel to otherwise groovy synths in a rude and entitled celebration of the fact that nowadays "anyone can make music".

Should you somehow be in doubt of what sort of music an artist with a striking alias like Cosmo Cocktail and an album title such as Cosmotronic Racing would compose, you needn't look further than the cover artwork and the tracklist itself. Complete with neon racecars and titles like "Neon Tokyo Nights", "Sunrise at 180MPH" and "Speedlove", there really can be no doubt as to the intentions of the artist. Rolling neon synths, pounding plastic drums and dark, exotic ambience is all part of the game. And game may well be the right wording in this context, because Cosmotronic Racing - apart from the fact that the title itself feels like it - sounds daringly close to the soundtracks of late eighties to early nineties arcade racing games!

"Cosmotronic Racing seems not like a quick grab for attention or success, it is far too sincere for that."

The Italian races down the nighttime highway, but rather than doing so in a proverbial Testarossa, Cosmotronic Racing drives more like a nice, unasuming black Honda. The album cuts through the night at a brisk pace, hinting at times to previous decades through token gestures to Tangerine Dream and Vangelis' Blade Runner soundtrack in the company of dubious drum types. Cosmotronic Racing seems not like a quick grab for attention or success, it is far too sincere for that. Rather, while engaging in every concievable cliché of the genre, the half-hour tour through the colourful eighties grasps at straws and hangs on by the skin of its teeth to find a foothold. There's the insisting speedway track, the cruisin' down the road track, the darker track - The only thing missing is the power-pop ballad.

With accomplished songwriters such as Mitch Murder, Dynatron, Power Glove and Lazerhawk dominating the scene, there's little room for mistake if you want to join the big leagues. Synthwave needs drive in order to not fall victim to the dreary and samey nature of simple electronic drums. Mitch Murder gets around it by adding a funky groove, Power Glove are masters of creating and breaking flow, Dynatron has great buildup and hooks. Cosmo Cocktail loses ground in all these fields. The album opener, "Speedlove", has a combination of the above to some degree, but sincerity and nostalgia aside Cosmotronic Racing feels rushed to the point of being a slew of good ideas thrown into the trunk of a car together with a drum machine, whereupon being transported through a minefield. 5/10 guitars.

1. Speedlove
2. Neon Tokyo Nights
3. Wangan Midnight Club
4. Cosmotronic Racing
5. Do Androids Dream of Electric Human Beings?
6. Sunrise at 180MPH
7. The Blackbird
8. The Bayshore Route

26 Nov 2015

Hard Action - Sinister Vibes [Full length] (2015, Svart Records)

Leather-rocking biker music with everything it entails
Everything about this band screams "we're one of those seventies hard n' heavy clones from Sweden that land somewhere in the midst of a circlejerk consisting of early Judas Priest, Thin Lizzy and Girlschool". The promo shots feature sunglasses, denim, beards and a bandana. The cover presents wrecked guitar equipment and a stylish seventies design. Songtitles like Watch Me Burn, Cut to the Bone and Dead Dogs really do the trick. It's a sure thing, right? Well, no, not really.

These Finnish bad boys - a veritable super group to say the least, consisting of fine musicians from Speedtrap, Forced Kill and other prominent Finnish bands - may be sporting the mandatory seventies hard rockin' biker dresscode, but these motorcycles carry them to far punkier territories. When they're the punkiest they sound like a head-on collision between a flashier Ramones and Danzig-era Misfits on speed. When they're the heaviest, Airbourne and a slew of other hard rock bands come to mind.

"It's tough to compare Hard Action to any one band or scene because they borrow so much."

There's really no defining moment on Sinister Vibes, the band's debut album. With no real highs or lows to set the bar, the tracks come off as being nothing but a case of explosive nostalgiarrhea. It's tough to compare Hard Action to any one band or scene because they borrow so much. To put it bluntly, they sound like every aviator shade-wearing biker cop on Earth had an unlubricated orgy on top of a giant heap of Gibson guitars and Marshall stacks.

It's not that Sinister Vibes is a boring mess, it's just that this particular style has been done better by other bands, and it seems mostly like a group of already established musicians wanting to cash in on the recent resurgence of popularity in the genre. It's entertaining enough, and it's certainly listenable with its hookless chords and flashy shredding, but ultimately nothing really stands out. Hard Action is in many ways to hard rock what Speedtrap is to speed metal: A crash course in all the tropes and an entirely by-the-numbers experience going top speed through a wall of nostalgia. 6/10 guitars.

1. Dead Dogs
2. Chosen Few
3. Cut to the Bone
4. Night Moves
5. Deadweight (Cut Me Loose)
6. Watch Me Burn
7. Hey You
8. Sinister Vibes
9. Gun Point
10. No Lesson Learned

HARD ACTION on Facebook
HARD ACTION on Bandcamp
SVART RECORDS official site

21 Nov 2015

Death Hawks - Sun Future Moon [Full length] (2015, Svart Records)

Consistently ambitious and well-crafted nature-rock
The Finnish folk and rock scene has many gems hidden to the rest of the Western world. If you're not acquainted with the progressive grooves of Sammal, the ecclectic ramblings of Paavoharju or the laid back finesse of Riitaoja, all I've got to say is get going! One of the many surprising acts that the land of a thousand lakes has to offer is Death Hawks, a group which has been consistently releasing albums and touring Europe since 2010.

While the morbidly titled debut from 2012 hinted at sun-powered seventies-gone-modern psychedelia through compository valleys and mountains alike, and the self-titled follow-up from the year after flew among the stars on a hypnotically interstellar space rock trip, the Finnish group's third album - Sun Future Moon - opts for a greater scope than the preceding releases.

The dreamy ambience that Death Hawks has integrated into their sound on the previous album features strongly on Sun Future Moon, contributing with alluring synths, smooth bass and wistfully effective guitars and strings right from the start with the first offering of organic folk rock "Hey Ya Sun Ra".
"Sun Future Moon... ...elaborates on the sound and style they found on their two earlier efforts..."
No doubt about it, Sun Future Moon rings like a true Death Hawks album and showcases a band still going strong in terms of songwriting on their triennial album. While Sun Future Moon shows what we already know the band is capable of, it also elaborates on the sound and style they found on their two earlier efforts, and is - like nature - in an ongoing state of evolution. The A-side of Sun Future Moon provides a stern, traditional approach, while the B-side is a bit more on the daring side of things. As an example "Dream Life, Waking Life" comes off as a Riders On The Storm-esque psychedelic lounge piece, while the follow-up track "Heed the Calling" has late sixties earworm written all over it. And next, airy pop track "Wing Wah" takes over, followed by a fragile composition of spaceous guitar ambience akin to Black Sabbath's Planet Caravan.

The captivating bass play of Riku Pirttiniemi has, to my great pleasure, been promoted to a more prominent position, driving forth the lingering synths and gentle instrumentation with a sense of instinctual purpose. As usual Tenho Mattila's sax, synths and keys are juxtaposed against Teemu Markkula's more tenacious vocals, with the percussion provided by Miikka Heikkinen returning to a more traditional rock-setup, as opposed to the more tribal sounding rhythm section of the self-titled sophomore album. In many ways Sun Future Moon has succeeded in becoming a colourful amalgam of every essential element of Death Hawks. 8/10 guitars.

1. Hey Ya Sun Ra
2. Ripe Fruits
3. Dream Machine
4. Behind Thyme
5. Seaweed
6. Dream Life, Waking Life
7. Heed the Calling
8. Wing Wah
9. Future Moon
10. Friend of Joy

DEATH HAWKS official site
DEATH HAWKS on Facebook
SVART RECORDS official site

26 Jul 2015

Gouge - Beyond Death [Full length] (2015, Hells Headbangers)

Kolbotn, Norway, is perhaps best known for fathering Darkthrone. With Gouge, there's really no semblance to those legends, turning more towards an American style of thrashing, grinding, old schooling death metal in the dirtiest style imaginable.

Their album debut, released on respected label Hells Headbangers, is about as graceful as a car crashing at a hundred miles per hour against a flock of devoted christians. The count-in of the opening track 'Wretched Passion' is about as classic as it gets. In that way the demented Norwegian death metal duo portray their convictions rather vividly at an early stage. Paying tribute to the legends of early American extreme metal, Gouge represent a state of mind that's all about combining riffs designed to be played at insane speeds with equally fast drumming. Since this hasn't been tampered with to the point of musical regurgitation in ProTools, this means it sounds a bit sloppy. Just like it should.

When you aim for the legacy of the likes of Repulsion, Impetigo, Autopsy and Master, slowing down once in a while may not always seem to be part of the equation. But without the contrast between fast and slow, the faster, thrashier parts don't stand out as well. Tracks like 'Butcher Attack', 'Devil's Debt' and 'Morbid Curse' do this adequately, but they are the exception to the rule it would seem. The fist-fight riffs are forcefully captivating, but it all gets a bit much over the course of the half hour Beyond Death lasts without slower parts to mediate the sonic chaos that is Gouge.

While I enjoy grinding death metal as much as the next guy, I also like when neckbreaking speed is juxtaposed with slower, churning sections. Maintaining an evil atmosphere by speed alone is tough when the majority of the riffing is savagely simple, and the longer tracks - especially the title track, which also serves as the closing track - are easily the best on Beyond Death. Whether the band's debut is beyond anything but a respecting homage to the groups that started it all I'm not too sure, but it is a fun listen nonetheless, even if it doesn't quite soar to modern classic status. 7/10 guitars.

1. Wretched Passion
2. Breath of the Reaper
3. I Smell of Rotten Death
4. Blood Feast
5. Putrefaction
6. Butcher Attack
7. Morbid Curse
8. Malady Macabre
9. Uncontrollable Madness
10. Chaos and Horror
11. Devil's Debt
12. Beyond Death

GOUGE offical facebook
Hells Headbangers official site

24 Jul 2015

Symphony X - Underworld [Full length] (2015, Nuclear Blast Records)

Introducing Symphony X should almost be unnecessary. Symphony X have been a mainstay in both the progressive and the power metal scene for many years now, each album reaping heaps of great reviews and praise from critics and listeners alike. Their reach is far and wide, spanning neo-classical, progressive and groovy compositions. Fronted as always by the immensely talented Russell Allen, Underworld is an album that needs only a few listens to convince.

Disregarding the quality or lack of the same of Russel Allen's many collaborations and appearances, including Jørn Lande, Ayreon and Adrenaline Mob, Symphony X will always feel like the vocalist's true home. His variation between gruff Anselmo-ish vocals and higher melodic vocals are in focus on almost each and every track, leaving no doubt that he is as essential a part of Symphony X's music as guitarist and main songwriter Michael Romeo. Where 'Iconoclast', the band's previous album, dealt primarily with mankind's promethean relationship with modern technology, Underworld has returned to the more mythological subjects as the albums from earlier in the band's career.

Though not among the initial singles, the track 'Charon' feels like one of the strongest tracks on their ninth album. There are several strong tracks that I for one will be listening to for years to come, including 'Nevermore' and 'Kiss of Fire'. Symphony X are masters of the power ballad, and of course there is one on Underworld as well. 'Without You' is as strong a ballad as ever, but Underworld lacks the lengthy prog display of power that most have come to associate closely with the group. Almost every album up until now has had one of these tracks, but 'To Hell and Back' is the best we've got this time around. A mighty track, but not quite akin to the masterpieces like the Divine Wings of Tragedy and the Odyssey title tracks.

In many ways Underworld feels like a mix of the band's three previous albums, combining the neo-classical progressiveness of The Odyssey, the lofty compositions of Paradise Lost, and the heaviness and powerful groove of Iconoclast. You always hear talk of "the difficult second or third album" when talking about a band's career. Never the impossible ninth album. Most bands have lost their flair long before reaching that point, and in that way it's refreshing to hear Symphony X release such a powerful and well carried-out album more than twenty years into their endeavour. Their output has been incredibly consistent quality-wise, and while Underworld may not be in their top 3, it comes incredibly close. Closer than many bands could ever hope to achieve this late in their career. This is unmistakingly Symphony X as we know them. 8/10 guitars.

1. Overture
2. Nevermore
3. Underworld
4. Without You
5. Kiss of Fire
6. Charon
7. To Hell and Back
8. In My Darkest Hour
9. Run with the Devil
10. Swan Song
11. Legend

Symphony X official site
Nuclear Blast official site

13 Jul 2015

Sangus - Vengeful Brutality [Demo] (2013, Self-released)

Holding high the tatteret banners of thrash-encrusted black metal are Sangus of Rhode Island, USA. Vengeful Brutality seems a fitting title for the kind of furious black metal ablaze with the naked flames of crust punk that we find under their moniker. But the intensity of the raw abrasions comes at the cost of the atmosphere often found inherent in black metal, gambling with the wholesomeness and entirety of the debut, often making it a cacophonous mess of blasting drums and hostile guitars.

It is neither sophisticated nor majestic. Rather, it is clandestinely concrete, dirty and almost graphically visceral. Without any of the subtleties of black metal, and with all the hard-wired tropes of crust, the general thinking seems to be "go fast or go home", and as such Sangus makes a convincing case of what a bulldozer going 100 mph would sound like. For a 10-minute dose of face-blasting black-thrash-crust, look no further than Vengeful Brutality by Sangus. 6/10 guitars.

1. Bonecollector
2. Gaspipe
3. Si Brucera

SANGUS official Facebook page

7 May 2015

Uroboros - Misantropía & Blasfemia / Herejía & Exilio [EPs] (2013, Self-released)

Straight from Buenos Aires in Argentina comes a roar of thunder through a night as black as tar. This uproar from the underground go by the name Uroboros, and right off the bat their debut duo of EPs make most other newcomers of the genre seem like taciturn murmurs in comparison. Respectively entitled Misantropía & Blasfemia and Herejía & Exilio (A translation shouldn't be necessary), these EPs show merrit both as a whole and as two separate outbursts. While the first EP, Misantropia & Blasfemia, shows reckless ruthlessness that culminates in the 10 minute opus En Las Fauces de Uroboros, the follow up EP - released only a few days later - shows another side of the band which ends in a distressing piece of obsidian acoustics.

Mantar showed us in 2014 that the mammoth riffs of sludge with a deathly approach can easily become tired quicker than a fat person competing at the Olympics, even if sternly powerful and delivered with an abundance of energy. But through greatly varying songwriting, spanning both no-compromise death-infused sludged with all the heavy riffage and recklessness that comes with it, and sombre acoustic tones with a considerable ambient presence, the Argentinians burst the bubble of boredom that so often plagues these types of bands.

The powerful riffing that serves as the duo's hallmark is underlined by excellent drumming that is neither too tight or too sloppy. All the little imperfections makes the music come alive - Uroboros show it's not about soaring production with lots of head room, it's about songwriting. And the songwriting rules. There's not one single beat squandered on lacklustre filler, and the focus on huge cyclopean riffs comes with a massive payoff. In many ways they subscribe to the same school of doom as groups like Conan, using minimalistic and beastly riffs to create a feeling of energy even if the tempos are slow. They show that a the coupling of death metal and sludge, while done many times before, can still be well done by newcomers. Their hearts are as black as coal, their sound is as rough as a savage beating. 8/10 guitars.

Misantropía & Blasfemia
1. El Último de Nosotros
2. Paz Para Los Idiotas
3. Ars Goetia
4. En Las Fauces de Uroboros

Herejía & Exilio
1. K'Zulu
2. Arcano Devorador
3. Holocausto
4. Somos el Pueblo de Dios


21 Apr 2015

Non Opus Dei & Morowe - Dwizki Dwie [Split] (2013, Witching Hour Productions)

Since the late 90's Non Opus Dei have graced Europe with several albums of black metal from their stronghold in Poland. They represent the old school of the genre, but aren't shy of pushing the boundaries a little every now and then - Something that they make evident on their split with country-mates Morowe. And when I say that Non Opus Dei are more old school I mean that strictly in the sense that their approach to song writing is more straight forward. Morowe hail from a different part of Poland, and in the same manner as Non Opus Dei, their approach is tinged by the tendencies of the time in which they started out. In Morowe's case, that means a much more modern take on black metal, often lending them the definition "post-black metal".

Using the split-release format for something particular is always more interesting than two bands that sound exactly alike or that are worlds apart making a split for no apparent reason. On the Dziwki Dwie split-release, we find two bands from the same country, but from two different currents of the black metal subgenre. While not entirely removed from one another, the stylings of Morowe and Non Opus Dei compliment each other sufficiently to communicate the general idea and to promote each band and their individual strengths.

Both bands offer up three choice cuts created especially for the split. And both offerings are good for quite a few listens.
I suppose you have to be into simple song progression with a clinical edge for it to have lasting appeal, because mostly I found especially the songs of Non Opus Dei to be a little too ordinary. The highlight on Dziwki Dwie for me remains Kat Kota by Morowe after many a listen. The riffs presented there are unique and interesting while being easily recognizable and different - Something that precious few bands master. This, coupled with their unusual rhythm section has swayed in their favor, which is something that isn't easily done as I find the whole "progressive-posty-wosty black metal" thing to be usually more of a shitty gimmick than a descriptor that holds any real merit. What it usually means is riffs starting and stopping awkwardly to the sound of poorly timed drums and drugged out vocals, or extremely long stretches of useless noise or acoustic guitar. Yuck.

Dwizki Dwie is a great example of exactly how to make a split. The bands compliment each other without overlapping too much in regards to style and purpose, and it certainly helps when the songs don't sound like throwaway garbage that wasn't good enough for the upcoming album. While the great old ones of the genre are busy reinventing themselves as a speed metal outfit or playing opera houses accompanied by huge orchestras and choirs, this is the part of the scene that still knows what it's all about. Ass-kicking blast beats and gruesome riffs. 7/10 guitars.

1. Non Opus Dei - Dziwki Dwie
2. Non Opus Dei - Kres Hanby
3. Non Opus Dei - Szaleniec Glupiec Opeetany
4. Morowe - Czij to Glos
5. Morowe - Kat Kota
6. Morowe - Obustronne Oczy Patrza

MOROWE official site
NON OPUS DEI official site

26 Feb 2015

Rape on Mind - Downwards [Full length] (2013, Self-released)

Experimentation is the essence of progress. Some musicians take this to heart and always seek to push boundaries, and some are content to just fine tune what has been done before. What is worth remembering is that experimenting with no real goal or purpose probably won't yield any usable results.

My initial reaction to Downwards by Rape on Mind was something along the lines of "huh, I wonder where this is going". These notions of experimentalism were however quickly exchanged with a feeling of disappointment. Downwards starts out with some atmospheric saxophone, which I tought was pretty interesting, bringing to mind darkjazz groups like Mount Fuji Doomjazz Corporation. But I found that these fleeting moments of intrigue were few and brief. Before long the music of Rape on Mind degrades into mindless chugs with late-era Max Cavalera vocals, like a thugged-out Soulfly. To me, Downwards seems like a rancid misinterpretation of what death metal and grindcore are about, jazzed up with aweful groove-core elements.

It's not like chugging riffs are the bane of all that is holy. But chugs only work if they're used as interludes between more meaningful songwriting. Otherwise the music will just be an amorphous mass of start-stop pseudo-riffs with no real merrit. Deathcore bands usually take the heat for being too chuggy, using downtuned strums at irregular intervals at every possible climax, but at least most deathcore has climaxes, varying intensity and temper. Instead, Rape on Mind just jerks around on the floor in a half-hour seizure to the sound of a malfunctioning jackhammer, making even the simplest deathcore acts seem like gracious ballets.

Perhaps I'm being unfair. The second half of Downwards shows a more varied approach to songwriting, and bands like Portal (Which I quite like) have very little variation in intensity, and their music is exactly just an amorphous mass of riffs. But at least their music has wanderlust, purpose and atmosphere, which is something that can't be said of this Polish group. Keep in mind that I don't particularly care for this kind of music at all, so take that into consideration whilst reading this. But I think Downwards by Rape on Mind is complete rubbish. 4/10 guitars.

1. Downwards
2. Remorse
3. Steps
4. ......
5. Nothing
6. Lost
7. Memories Always Burn
8. Break or be Broken
9. Question

Rape On Mind on Bandcamp
Rape On Mind on Facebook

27 Jan 2015

Defilementory - The Dismal Ascension [Full length] (2014, Torture Music Records)

After three long years it's time to revisit a prominent Danish death metal band. Finally, Defilementory have released their debut full length album, after having teased death metal fans with their 2-song EP "Infatuated with Deformity" from 2011. What made them stand out to me was the prominent bass work, and the fact that they so finely balanced elements from brutal, technical and "regular" death metal in a mix that was both impressive and extremely enjoyable. Needless to say, I've looked forward to this release.

Though the Danish band has always flirted with the more technical aspects of death metal, those elements have now become much more dominant on The Dismal Ascension, leaning closer to bands like Gorguts or even Deathspell Omega than ever before. In that regard their previous release, 2011's demo EP "Infatuated with Deformity", was more straightforward in its usage of technical passages. As an example, the track "Misanthropic Emancipation" features some fairly interesting use of sliding riffs and popping bass amidst ruthless slams. The Dismal Ascension has it all, and the four title-tracks that serve as the pièce de résistance more or less serve as a condensed presentation of everything the band is capable of. From raw quarries of primitive slams and structures that may at first sound like basic chug-a-chug diddley-diddley type affairs to sprawling deltas of blazing melodies and weirdly dishamornic themes, Defilementory's debut album is a release that both hails the greats of the genre and seeks new territory.

Where brutal death metal can often come off as clumsy and thuggish, Defilementory are deliberate and precise. Where technical death metal can become too intricate for its own good, the Danish band prove themselves as masters of flow. But - and there always is a "but" - there are a few scattered occurances where things tend to get a bit out of hand, with the usual groove and flow of the band being beaten down at the hands of overly atmospheric harmonies. The track "In Soullessness - Supremacy" is one such occurance. However, those brief moments are vastly outnumbered and outclassed by the much more memorable passages that make you wish for more. I'll be returning for more. 8/10 guitars.

1. Intro
2. Misanthropic Emancipation
3. In Soullessness - Supremacy
4. The Mask of Anatomy
5. Endless Abjure
6. The Horrid Reflection
7. Abhorred Veracity
8. The Dismal Ascension - Vengeance
9. The Dismal Ascension - Despair
10. The Dismal Ascension - Sovereign
11. The Dismal Ascension - Departure

Torture Music Records official site

5 Jan 2015

Incarceration - Sacrifice [EP] (2013, F.D.A. Rekotz)

I suppose you could say the Brazilian/German death metal band Incarceration are on the verge of breaking through within the underground of heavy metal. Having garnered much praise through numerous reviews Incarceration is now more or less a household name within certain circles of the underground of old school death metal. I had the extreme pleasure of witnessing their performance at the last edition of the Danish death-festival Kill-Town Death Fest where they played the smallest stage, Dødsmaskinen. Witnessing their savage performance seemed like a privilege in itself, especially with frontman Daniel Duracell smiling broadly the entire time, obviously enjoying what he does even if death metal is of course very serious business.

But enough of this, let us get back to the matter at hand: The band's 2013 EP "Sacrifice". Despite the title, nothing was spared in the production of this EP. From start to finish, this is roughly 10 minutes of death metal the way it's meant to be. Incarceration draws heavily upon the sinister regional sound Duracell's native Brazil became known for in the 80's, but presented in a much more varied and well-produced manner. Though Sacrifice mostly consists of classic death metal songwriting, there are definite hints to other genre tendencies as well. Especially the closing track Cemetery of Lies relies on some hardcore punk-derived mosh parts, letting go of the mainstay two-beats for just a little while. There's not much going on in terms of slowing down except for a few breaks here and there, always keeping things lightning fast and precise.

Most early extreme metal bands like Bathory, Hellhammer, Venom, Sarcófago or Sepultura weren't at the time known for their dedication to being tight. In fact, most were infamously sloppy. Back then that was just how things were, it was part of the scene, a side effect of extremity. As time passed and the genres got more defined, so did the musicians writing and performing the music. With Incarceration, there's absolutely no trace of sloppiness. The trio performs way beyond was is expected from old school death metal throw-back bands of today, and does so without losing one single ounce of the malevolent and chaotic feel those bands had back in the 80's.

I cannot stress enough just how much fans of early death/thrash should check out Incarceration. Whether or not they'll be the next big thing in the underground really doesn't matter, because this is where you will get your fix of flesh-rending guitar hooks, demonic screams and blasting battery. 9/10 guitars.

1. Forsaken and Forgotten
2. Sacrifice
3. Cemetery of Lies