Tuesday, October 28, 2008


The Last Alliance
Napalm Records

I seem to remember not being overly impressed with the last Battlelore release, so as you can imagine my hopes were not high for this one. Well, it's nice to be wrong occasionally. "The Last Alliance" seems more grandiose than last time, a more epic feel to it all perhaps.... well, you get the point. The guitars are massive and the female vocals seem more prominent. Maybe they were before, but I can't really recall. Still I liked the overall feel of this album, and it still revolves lyrically around J.R.R. Tolkien's Middle Earth. Not the most original idea to be sure ( and not the first band to mold their songs from his works) , but Battlelore seem to have a knack for it, and while I tend to rant about bands lacking originality, I couldn't help but really enjoy the powerful and majestic tales they wove into "The Last Alliance".

- Craig Harvey

Iced Earth

The Crucible Of Man (Something Wicked Part 2)
SPV Records

Now here was a sight for sore eyes (and hears) a Florida based band who has been paying their dues for many years on the metal scene. Iced Earth are one of the best American metal bands that originated in Tampa Florida back in the early nineties under the original band name Purgatory. Jon Schaffer being the founder, songwriter and rhythm guitarist has kept the band going through thick and thin. Members have come and gone (and come back again) but through it all the band has still kept it's core sound, which drew inspiration from thrash, progressive and power metal along side the new wave of British heavy metal bands such as Iron Maiden and Judas Priest. Lyrically the songs revolve around fantasy, science fiction, horror and true history as well. All finely crafted and intelligently written by Schaffer himself. Vocalist Matt Barlow is back again (taking the lead after Tim "Ripper" Owens departed) to add his powerful pipes to Schaffer's larger than life songs. However, the most exciting aspect is Jacksonville's very own Brent Smedley who is once more behind the drums to give Iced Earth his massive double bass skin pounding attack. I used to hang out with Brent a few years ago when he and his brother Kent were in a local band here called Prodigy. He was a fantastic drummer then and he is nothing short of phenomenal now. He has been back with Iced Earth since the last album, "Framing Armageddon" but it's still cool to have someone I know in such a great metal band. This is metal they way I like it, great guitar riffs and songs that have the imagination and power to make you feel invincible as the metal maelstorm rolls over you and takes you up in it's fury.

- Craig Harvey


The Healing
Napalm Records

When I read one of the song titles was called "Gangsta's Paradise" and Artas music was labeled as "modern metal" red flags went up everywhere. The red flags were justified, because this is one bloody, awful, goddamn mess. These Austrians should go back to the drawing board and get some new influences. Typical metalcore, down-tuned, un-original garbage. Yeah, sure they can play their instruments, but until they can come up with a shred of originality, please put them down, get day jobs and spare us all the horror of listening to this.

- Craig Harvey


Napalm Records

The eerie opening track "Vantro" starts off with semi-distorted guitars and a mid tempo beat that sets the stage for "Inferno" where the guitars are cranked up a notch (well everything is ) and moves into a raging, venomous onslaught. However, what set's Kampfar apart from the large black metal community, is their thrashy melodic riffs, a more high end sound on the guitars, and lack of blast beats. It somewhat harkens back to earlier times, when this style of music was very primitive, (but you can actually hear the bass on this! ) Another thing is the pagan influence which makes the songs almost "catchy", except there are no traditional folk instruments playing those parts, just guitar, bass and drums. The vocals are pure bile and darkness, but not that different from many other bands in this genre. Still, this was a breath of foul air, that proves there is life left crawling up from the black metal realms.

- Craig Harvey

Omnium Gatherum

The Redshift
Candlelight Records

I was sure after the first couple of tracks, that this was a Swedish band. I was close; Finland. Anyway, I had them pegged for Swedes as they had that Gothenburg metal vibe similar to bands such as "Soilwork, In Flames, Scar Symmetry, etc..." Great power grooves and thrash elements unfold as these guys move seemlessly through each track. The twin guitar riffs, leads and harmony parts are flawless, the singing is, well.... typical I suppose for this style. Growling alternating to a "semi-clean" vocal pattern, but the singer doesn't have quite the pipes to qualify as a great "singing" vocalist. Growling, well, he does that spot on. To categorize these guys as death metal is off base I think, but they have enough aggression, power and talent to carry them far in the metal world.

- Craig Harvey

Nocturnal Fear

Code of Violence
Moribund Records

I recently opined that death metal - in order to compete with the black metal that is increasingly stealing its thunder - needs to sound like an explosion of blood right out of the gate. Gratifyingly Detroit shock troops Nocturnal Fear have gotten it right. Nocturnal Fear realize that death metal, at its best and vilest, needs to sound completely fucking weird and spazzy and violently messy. So to fashion the off-kilter noise bursts that populate "Code of Violence" der Fear look to the likes of Morbid Angel's "Altars of Madness," along with Sodom and Destruction's early work, for the language they use. But it's not like all that naff retro-thrash, just by dint of the conviction and abandon with which they throw themselves into their material.

And this material is a dizzy, vertigo-laden brew of sloppy thrash with pristine chugging riffs, grindcore "fuck it" charges, early death metal's (think "Scream Bloody Gore") extremity and the crazed time changes that the likes of Morbid Angel used to employ. Not only that, but Nocturnal Fear turn their back on the occult with lyrics and themes that explore a far more horrifying day to day reality of war, murder, serial killers and man's everyday violence. Though it's more than a little tough to tell whether Nocturnal Fear are embedded reporters or if they've gone native a la Kurtz in "Apocalypse Now." Check out all of the hardware/ammo displayed proudly on the back cover. In the end, maybe the album does overstay its ideal running time a bit; it's an exhausting experience after track, say, six, but I love how it's just crazy, messed up, evil racket from 0:01.

- Matthew Moyer

Tuesday, October 21, 2008

Celestial Bloodshed

Curse, Scarred, and Forever Possessed
Moribund Records

For a music genre, black metal, that in its purest sense has such a narrow sense of parameters, obviously there is going to be the need for occasional purges. Hence, somewhat absurdly, Celestial Bloodshed claim that Norwegian black metal is dead... um, long live Norwegian Black Metal. Looking back to the likes of Burzum and Gorgoroth for inspiration, and to this reviewer's ears, bearing more than a passing resemblance to the likes of Corpus Christii and Glorior Belli, Celestial Bloodshed concoct a fervently devotional homage to the spirit of OG black metal. No thrash influences, no death influences, no melancholy passages, just cold unyielding surges of ill-feeling; that curious mix of depression and imperious rage that makes for compelling listening. On it's face, yes, that's what "Cursed, Scarred and Forever Possessed" is. Then why isn't it paper thin pastiche like so many bands who claim to evoke the one true spirit of black metal? The production on "Cursed" is compelling and ghostly: the rhythm section is amped-up and pit-deep, bludgeoning echo instead of clacking typewriters, the vocals are a clean and low unrestrained roar - often panning back and forth between the two speakers, the guitars are an inexorable wall of barbed wire with whirling solos that sound like a bag of broken glass, and I swear to god you can hear chains clanking at several points during songs. It's a tomblike, ambient, airy production where you can't trust your sense of depth perception. "Cursed" is THIS close to being a headphones record.

The album length hearkens back to classic thrash and grindcore days - thirty minutes and we are so fucking out of here - and that's another reason why I'm perhaps more positively inclined towards "Cursed, Scarred and Forever Possessed." It doesn't overstay it's welcome. This is a an album of hollow-eyed, raw, black metal that comes in just fucking blazing and then is gone lick a flash like a black cat brushing by your leg. Just much, much louder.

- Matthew Moyer

Thursday, October 16, 2008


Muspellz Synir
Moribund Cult

This Swedish black metal duo marks the tenth year of their restless journey with the release of new album "Muspellz Synir." Nastrond - Norse for "corpse shore," that factoid was far too juicy to lay fallow - have cast aside the electronics and atmospherics of their last album for a harsher, more manic sound. "Muspellz Synir" is like a hybrid of the unrelenting assaults of Gorgoroth and Watain combined with the padded-cell atmospheres and lo-fi outsider weirdness of Xasthur. Heavy as hell, with spry riff-heavy sections that almost recall classic Sunlight death metal seamlessly melding to fierce howling winds of dissonance and depressive trudges.

"Muspellz Synir" feels physically weighty and dublike, their sound originates in the stomach deep in your guts and then burbles its way up; a black bile you can taste in the back of your mouth.

- Matthew Moyer

Tuesday, October 14, 2008

I Shalt Become

Moribund Cult

Emerging after ten years of shadowy silence and other projects, Ilinois''s I Shalt Become, aka S. Hoffman, has returned to take his rightful place amongst the increasingly creative and idiosyncratic US Black Metal elite - specifically the "holy trinity" of Leviathan, Xasthur, and Judas Iscariot. I Shalt Become's Burzum-inflected debut was an influential but overlooked milestone in "solo" US black metal - standing out by dint of its overwhelming sorrow but now the times have caught up with this sort of insular, personal, chilly, blackened ambient exerimentation. "Requiem" is a follow-up very much in tune with the vibe of outer-reaches black metal. This album completely (belays) the frantic surges and manic blastbeat speedscapes of most black metal - indeed abandoning all rockist and thrash textures - for extended meditative waves of pure phase sound. "Requiem" is like a soundtrack to suicide by overdose of valium and sleeping pills. I Shalt Become conjures up grey and dark purple clouds of symphonic, multilayered drone. Beguiling, calm and beauitful with a deep, unsettled darkness underlying every note every synth chord.

With no discernible metal influences except for perhaps Burzum - just in terms of Count Grisnacht subjugating metal's aehstetics to his own will - I shalt Become denies an audience easy headbanging and moshing thrills to instead use the tools of black metal to express a dark but melancholy personal visions. This is dedication to creating art over any slavish and unthinking homage to heaviness. I Shalt Become is more easily connected to the Cure circa "Seventeen Seconds" and "Pornography," Lycia's "Cold" (?), early Cocteau Twins and Joy Division's Atmosphere. Each "song" is a deliberate and meditative elegy; lush, choral waves of synths ebb and flow over corruscating waves of fuzz(ed) guitar (atmospherics) and delicately discordant lead guitar lines and fourishes pierce through the placid meres of synth orchestration like sharp crystal knives. Percussion is unfeeling and mechanical, minimal clicktracks like a flickering pulse, Hoffman's vocal lacerations, self-loathing roars and murmurs, feral and goblin, dart in and out of the more delicate corners of the music - just out of earshot. Each song is a gorgeougly composed hymn, all long protracted swoons and tears with an equal mix of foreboding and regret. Lullaby as much as warning. Shoegazing, mirrorgazing, furtive whispers, secret promises broken, fingernails scratching on your windows. As black metal oft evokes a sense of place, "Requiem" calls to mind deserted, rain drizzled streets, lakes at the end of autumn right before the water freezes and vast snowswept forests where every sound is absobed, leaving you with a ringing, taunting silence.

- Matthew Moyer

Friday, October 10, 2008

Abigail Williams

In The Shadow Of A Thousand Suns
Candlelight Records

Is there a book out there entitled "How To Play Symphonic Black Metal For Dummies"? If there is, it should be burned and banned from publication. Because, after the first five minutes of this cd, I could have sworn I had just reviewed it a few weeks ago. Oh wait, that was another band that sounded just like this one, that sounded like another very prominent black metal band etc.... What is it with bands these days? Again, I completely understand that it's very difficult to achieve something that truly says "we are unique, nobody comes close to what we are doing". I get it. I really do. Still, you could try a little harder couldn't you? Ok, now that I have vented that out of my bowels, is there anything good I have to say about Abigail Williams? Absolutely. These guys play with a driven skill and conviction that takes extreme metal to another level. Fucking great musicians, everyone of them. If it weren't for my previous issues I would give this album a "ten" for just about everything. The only ten about this, that really is great, is track ten. The best song on the album, hands down. Why? They actually did do something a tad different with that one. To bad they waited till the last song to say "look we can step out of our pre-conceived formulaic style" and take a risk.

- Craig Harvey

Midnight Syndicate

The Dead Matter - Cemetery Gates
Entity Productions

Just in time for Halloween, the boys from Midnight Syndicate (Gavin Goszka and Edward Douglas respectfully) have dug up (Get it? Dug Up? I crack myself up sometimes!) some new material to frighten the daylights out of us. Before we sink our fangs into this new delicious dish of sonic scare-fest, I just want to throw a bone out (ok I'll stop, seriously) for all of you who don't know about these two talented lads. This is their tenth release of gothic/horror soundtracks that can be heard all over the country in Haunted Houses, Universal's Halloween Horror Nights, computer games, mainstream television shows etc... Their music could best be described as soundtracks for the imagination; to films and stories that you dream up even if the album has a theme to it. Many of my RPG (role playing game) buddies love to use Gavin and Edward's music for horror-themed games.

On "The Dead Matter - Cemetery Gates" this is original music inspired by the themes from (now stay with me on this) the upcoming movie "The Dead Matter" which they are also scoring as well. To make it more interesting, the film is an updated version of the same name, which Edward directed and did the score for several years ago. Some of the music from the original film went on albums such "Born of The Night and Realm Of Shadows". Throughly confused? Don't be. "Cemetery Gates" is the new album and not the soundtrack to "The Dead Matter" (however, there are three songs from the soundtrack included on this disc.) Anyway, now that we have that all laid out on the table and everyone's completely straight with this, (Right folks?) we can move on to what this review is really about, the music.

As you can imagine, Ed and Gavin have mastered the art of creating fear, suspense, and chilling atmospheres in their music after all this time, and "Cemetery Gates" is no exception. It's a delightful terrorfest of what awaits in the dark. One of the things I would like to point out, is how several of the tracks have a similarity to John Carpenter's early film scores. The minimalistic piano lines with the underlying keyboard passages payed homage to his work so well. Maybe it's just the first time I could really describe a part of their work which has always been there, but could never put my finger on what it reminded me of. It shows how much you can do with very little. Then there are the more dynamic, bombastic parts to counteract the quiet moments coming at you when you least expect it. As with most of their albums, each piece is a part of a bigger picture, and best listened to on dark nights, in the quiet gloom when the full effect of the music can take you to places that you dare not venture normally. I can see why so many Halloween attractions use Ed and Gavin's music, it's just that good. So, if you don't have any of their music, you can find it at Hot Topic, and several on-line stores as well. The dead have arisen, they are walking, shambling, full of hunger, coming through the cemetery gates, coming for YOU!

- Craig Harvey

Tuesday, October 7, 2008


My Soul For His Glory
Moribund Records

If the Moribund label isn't enough to clue you in on what to expect, then news of a European tour with Archgoat and a split LP with fellow Finns Horna (!!) might just clue you in to the fact that every member of Behexen has surely taken the oath of the black blood, etc. etc. Not a new band at all, Behexen have been plying their careening, out of control black metal - exulting in the same speedfreak thrill-kill loss of control that the likes of Bahamiron, Horna, Corpus Christii, Watain, are in thrall to - since 2000. Behexen are a good deal more sonically focused, but that discipline only makes their music more viciously unpredictable and effective.

"My Soul For His Glory" has a deep gutteral undertow similar to early gorecore but with the will-to-power of Morbid Angel's first album. The guitar tone is thicker and fuzzier than usual for this strain of cult black metal, instead of rapier thin treble; it's a smothering downtuned wall a la Carcass or Today Is The Day's electro-power violence. The bass, jesus, you can actually hear it, for one, and it sounds like a rain of hammers. The vocals are just complete unleashed madness, with tormented screams and venomous retches building and echoing back and forth like a marauding goblin horde. There are some early thrash influences (Sodom, Destruction), variations in tone and texture and speed a la Burzum, and more than a passing similarity to the superpowered warstomp of Marduk and Immortal. They have just enough clever riffs and enough blood-throated conviction to make their own stamp on a genre that thrives on ever more vile gestures. A fine balance of the cult and the killer.

- Matthew Moyer


Southern Nihilizm
Moribund Records

Jesus fuck Texas, what kind of reprobates are you letting run loose? I'd just gotten done absorbing the gooey vileness of Brown Jenkins' newest album - and then I get hit with this! It's a fucking shambles, a wreck that goes from thrilling to absurd at the drop of a a very evil hat.

Every stringed instrument is distorted and downtuned to the point of a serrated edge, the vocals are a tangle of subhuman agony - high shrieks, low roars, gasps - the guitar solos are rusted and accidental, the drums are just schizo arhythms. "Southern Nihilism" is an album that takes the manic inexorable charges of AngelCorpse but beats the shit out of the precision with baseball bats and broken bottles - ending up with a bruised atonal thrash-and-writhe - akin to labelmates Hacavitz, Avsky, a messier Carpathian Forest, and old Nuclear Death. There're some very American noise and sickpunk influences rearing their head too (check out the Crimson Ghost tattoo one member sports).

That said, listening to "Southern Nihilism," I'm amazed that somehow Bahimiron have managed to get a reverb switch to go up to 80,000 and that the drummer sounds like he's in time with the rest of the band maybe twice a song. In fact, more often than not it sounds like each band member is trying to draw-and-quarter the song away from his/her colleagues. But this is the sort of foot-on-the-gas, ribcage-impaled-by the gear shift madness that separates out good black metal from just mere pseudo-orc posturing. To wit, the album sounds like a warped tape of an exorcism playing in a metal drum full of rocks and scorpions, rolling down a very steep hill. No pause for reflection or perfection. Pure adrenaline and what-the fwooshing by so quickly that you can't comprehend the awesomeness/awfulness of their hyperspeed gutcheck, a million directions at once, roar of pillaging antisocial metallics. Almost avant-garde by accident.

- Matthew Moyer

Android Lust

Devour, Rise And Take Flight
Projekt Records

The latest offering from Android Lust is a powerful foray into dark, emotional territory, fueled by the one-woman industrial mastermind known as Shikhee. This is her second album on the Projekt label, which for the most part, has been known mainly for releasing darkwave/ethereal styles of music. Well, Shikhee may have elements of that in her songs, but it's not her main focus. She channels the essence of Reznor (Trent Reznor of Nine Inch Nails) quite a bit in many of the songs on Devour, but make no mistake, this is Shikhee's playground, Trent's just a spirit guide. She loses herself in the music, almost like she is on the edge of falling apart, crumbling into chaos, but holding it together with a surge of emotional strength building from inside her. Pain and beauty, light and dark, it's all here in these musical outpourings. Her electronic compositions are a blend of dark synths, crossed with thick heavily processed guitars and vocals, screeching, distorted bass and drum lines and noises galore. Then there are the softer elements, when her natural (and quite lovely) singing voice takes center stage. She lulls you into a calm, lush, environment giving you a haven of tranquility, if just for a few moments, until it all comes crashing back into a maelstrom of electronic brutality. If her live shows are anything like her albums, it will leave you breathless, drained and begging for more.

- Craig Harvey

Friday, October 3, 2008


The Modern Tribe

Baltimore's Celebration create a sound that is heavy on dramatic flourishes, bold colors and swollen hearts for new album "The Modern Tribe." Every song on this Dave Sitek-produced (TV On The Radio) album is an overload of primary-color holy psychedelic soul. Glorious explosions of technicolor church organ (thrillingly the guitar is pushed to the rear pews), polyrhythmic, surging waves of forward-marching drumming, and Katrina Ford's iron-lunged vocals- more in the PJ Harvey school of darkblues power- form the building blocks of this album.

"Pressure" echoes some of the vibe on TVOTR's "Return to Cookie Mountain" with its chugging groove, off-kilter vocals and an able assist from TVOTR vocalist Kyp Malone (other members of that ensemble make appearances elsewhere, as do other worthies like Nick Zinner), but other than that any thoughts of Sitek's hand being too heavy are way off base - this trio have their own confident, joyous sound. Check out how "Heartbreak" reaches to gospel-esque heights of transcendence, assisted by JB-esque horns and funky tightness, call-and-response vocals and buzzing "Whiter Shade of Pale" organs. "Pony" brings in elements of disco and Quintron's twisted revival show for a white-hot, cabaret gasp and moan.

"Hands off My Gold" is gonzo, hilarious lounge insanity with all sorts of Esquivel-meets-Spike Jonesisms - dig that crazy tin can percussion, hear those horns chase around the vagabonds who've made off with the vocalist's gold - like some speedfreak tiki lounge bartender is mixing drinks and grinding his teeth in a fast-forward blur. "In This Land" has a loping hazy groove like the Stone Roses and John Barry's orchestra collaborating on an all-night rave. All the extra flourishes and players really flesh out their sound sumptuously. the glockenspiel traces the melody line, the horns sound like an old soul sample, the drums are perfect for dancing, the Stax-ish organs, the freakout geeeeetar solo - this is the big showstopping number no doubt. "Our Hearts Don't Change" is an intense freakout prayer with the organs and drums just burning burning burning and an incantation of "I'll be right there/ I'll stand by you."

Heavy, raw, and ecstatic. "The Modern Tribe" is one of those strange, rare things which can exude light and hope and and exultation without fear of being called foolish or naive. More brighter now!

- Matthew Moyer