overground scene


Is this where I came from? #14 Anti-cimex and Rotting Christ

It has been a long time since the 13th installment of the “Is this where I came from?” series of posts, in which I explored the influence of Horror cinema visuality on death metal album covers. For the 14th installment of this series of posts I will draw attention to what I consider a very obscure case of intertextuality between Rotting Christ, a cult black metal band from Athens, Greece, and Anti-Cimex, a cult crust band from Sweden.

Anti-Cimex – Doing Time (1990)

“Doing time” is a song off Anti-Cimex’s first full length album, Absolut country of Sweden (1990) which came out in 1990, many years and several demos and E.P.s after the band formed in the early 1980s. It could be argued that Anti-Cimex launched the great Swedish tradition of Discharge rip-offs, and, alongside bands like Crucifix, Doom, and Ratos De Porao, they inspired and helped establish the worldwide D-beat genre. “Doing time” is a song that exemplifies Anti-Cimex’s sound. Yet, consistent with the minor stylistic changes present in this album that allude to metal aesthetics, the furious D-beat gives way to a mid-paced, heavy palm-muted chord progression starting at 3:45. This progression is further developed with the addition of a short sharp lick first heard at 4:08, which is the bit that is very reminiscent of the song by Rotting Christ I present below.

Rotting Christ – The fifth illusion (1994)

Rotting Christ is probably the first extreme metal band I ever listened to, through the compilation tape Into the catachthonium (1994) courtesy of Unisound records. The opener “The fifth illusion” comes from the band’s excellent second full length album titled Non serviam (1994). The extremely catchy lick to which I am referring in this post is first heard at 0:41-0:43 in the video below, and is repeated several times throughout the duration of the song. Whether Sakis Tolis (the band’s principal composer) consciously imitated the Anti-Cimex riff or whether it is a coincidence remains a hypothesis. However, it is worth noting that Rotting Christ started off as a grindcore band, so, I guess, listening to a band like Anti-Cimex would not be inconsistent with Sakis’s musical tastes.



My favourite albums from 2018

During 2018 some world-class bands released albums that I found disappointing, and, overall, I had difficulty coming up with a top-ten list initially, in spite of having listened to loads of newly released albums. This year, I tried listening to some albums I wouldn’t normally be interested in, but gave up quickly. One of those was Ihsahn‘s Amr (which probably stands for armchair in Norwegian) and, to be fair, I didn’t make a big effort; there were some elements that I guess could have been found on Emperor’s final album, but overall was not my cup of tea. Pestilence‘s comeback with an album carefully planed to elicit feelings of nostalgia for the early-1990s period of the band disappointed me. The death metal “supergroup” (although the only two people who have ever been in it who can genuinely claim to have released good death metal are Swano and Tagtgren, and they’re long gone) Bloodbath released another album full of what I consider mind-numbingly boring music. Siege of Power is a new band that includes Chris Reifert (Autopsy) and Bob Bagchus (of classic Asphyx fame), so naturally I was excited about it. I could barely listen to the entire thing one time, which does not necessarily say something about the quality of this album, but I don’t feel the desire to listen to it again. Deicide, a band in which I lost interest a long time ago, returned with a new album. Once again, I tried to enjoy it but I couldn’t. In my opinion even an album like Inciniratehymn (2000), which upon its release was deemed extremely disappointing (I actually like it these days), is a masterpiece compared to Overtures of blasphemy. Notable exception is the very melodic “Defying the sacred”, which reminded me of the adventurous spirit and catchiness (not songwriting, obviously) of Serpents of the light (1997) era. Once again I gave Unleashed the benefit of the doubt and listened to their new album and once again I was left with utter disappointment. In the mid-1990s I was in love with this band. I still find it hard to understand how it managed to stay true to its “mission statement” whilst succeeding in reinventing itself and not remaining stagnant, but still ending up sounding uninspired and silly (in my opinion, of course).

I’ll continue with some albums I enjoyed a little bit more. I always keep an eye out for new collaborations that include Nicke Andersson, so this year I listened to Lucifer‘s second album simply titled Lucifer II. I enjoyed a few songs, like “California son”, “Faux Pharaoh” and “Dreamer”. I have not listened to it in a while but I don’t really feel the desire to either. I listened to the new Gruesome album, titled Twisted prayers, a few times, but couldn’t get into it. There are no doubt some great songs in there, “Fatal illusions” is an example of the latter, but for me the Spiritual healing-era worship has overstayed its welcome; there’s a reason why Chuck moved on. Blitzkrieg released a new album titled Judge not!. Although the only remaining original member is Brian Ross one can certainly hear the original Blitzkrieg sentiment and songwriting in this album. In line with their back-catalogue this album sounds a bit amateurish, in all respects. Nevertheless, I like almost all the songs, with favourites being “Reign of fire”, “Angels and demons”, “Forever is a long time”, and the homonymous one. “Wide legged and headless”, a little more up-tempo song, using yet another variation of the classic pre-chorus riff on Tokyo Blade’s “Break the chains”. Eldritch is a band to which I keep coming back from time to time. I unlikely fell in love with them during 1998-1999, in the midst of an American brutal death metal obsession, and El nino (1998) was one of my favourite albums of that year. I have enjoyed some of their subsequent albums, I love Portrait of the abyss within (2004), and I generally have a soft spot for them. Their new album, titled Cracksleep, is unmistakably Eldritch, with its usual furious and technical metal songwriting alongside more melancholic ballad-like compositions. It is not bad but, in my opinion, it is not one of their finest moments either.

The Adolescents released a new album titled Cropduster, which may as well be their last one. Sadly, this album contains the last ever tunes and bass-lines we’ll be hearing by Steve Soto who passed away last June. Soto has always been one of my favourite punk songwriters and bass-players, and since the band’s reformation has written some exceptional songs. I enjoyed the new album as much as I have enjoyed the last couple of albums by the band; most songs I like a lot (e.g. “Queen of denial”, “Paradigm junkies”, “Sunspot screams”) and some I like a bit less. Cauldron‘s new album, titled New gods, is in the usual Cauldron vein. The band can claim to have a somewhat personal sound. I liked some of the songs but overall it felt to me like a watered down version of In ruin (2015). Judas Priest’s shift from British steel to Point of entry inadvertently came to mind when listening to New godsP.L.F.‘s new album, titled Jackhammering deathblow of nightmarish trepidation, offered some much-needed pleasure among a tirade of lame death metal releases. As opposed to the latter, P.L.F offer passionate brutal music that does not lack in sophistication either. Although, grindcore never really manages to capture my attention for more than a few listens (with a few notable exception) this is good stuff.

Swedish thrash-death band Dreadful Fate released its debut Vengeance, an album I was really looking forward to, and although I definitely enjoyed it a lot I do not consider it in any possible sense a “great” album. I will start with things that I liked about this album: Half of the album’s songs are composed by Karlen, the ex-bassist of Merciless, and they are reminiscent of the masterpiece titled The awakening (1990). The other half of the album pretty much conforms to this style, maybe with the slight exception of “Eternal fire” which is pure Bathory worship, and the Celtic Frost nod on the slow bit of “Unholy lust”. The production is really good. The cover artwork is awesome, and generally the way the vinyl record is presented is beautiful. Castervall’s vocals are also great. Now I will continue with why the album did not live up to my expectations. The singer comes from Hypnosia, the band whose Invocator/Kreator-powered debut is one of the greatest thrash albums of all time. As opposed to Merciless and Hypnosia where their drummers would lift the songs to great heights, Vengeance is in my opinion lacking great drumming. One of my least favourite moments in the album is the song “Altar of cruelty” where it feels like the guitarist and the drummer play at different tempos, both of them are too stubborn to either slow down or speed up to synchronise, yet they make some necessary adjustments from time to time to keep the song going without totally falling apart. I really cannot be sure if it is just my impression but it feels quite awkward! Moreover, while the rest of Karlen’s songs are quite awesome (especially “Death sentence” and “Witches hammer”) the rest of the songs did not impress me (with the exception of “The final sacrifice”). Believe me, I was really looking forward to this release, I could not wait to get a new taste of Hypnosia but “Hour of reprisal” did not satisfy the need. The new Gruesome is not the only album released by Gus Rios this year. Together with Alex Marquez, and under the Create A Kill moniker, they released a pretty enjoyable and expertly executed thrash-death album that, I imagine, would please fans of Demolition Hammer, Solstice, Exodus, Slayer, and Blood Feast. The band is enveloped by a number of guest musicians, including Matt Harvey (Exhumed, Gruesome) and Tobias Gustafsson (Vomitory, Torture Division). Some of the heavier and sharp triplet riffs sound more like the brutal appropriation of thrash riffing by bands like Malevolent Creation. This is not surprising given that both Gus and Alex are part of the history of Malevolent Creation (and Alex Solstice too). Hate Eternal released the first album since their debut that I actually enjoyed, titled Upon desolate sands. When their debut came out in 1999 I considered it an instant classic, but their sophomore album and every one since disappointed me. I would not be surprised if recording Morbid Angel’s latest album inspired Rutan to write some good death metal again. It starts in a manner almost identical to Internecine’s The book of lambs (2001), but continues with awesome riffs that could have easily been on Conquering the throne (1999). The main difference is the inclusion of more atmospheric melancholic passages, as can be heard after the second verse of “The violent fury”, the end of the very catchy “All hope destroyed”, and the instrumental “For whom we have lost”. Beyond that, all the heavy, dissonant, triplets and swampy textures that Rutan is known for since his first stint with Morbid Angel (I’m thinking of “Nothing but fear”) can be heard all over the album. Overall, I enjoyed it quite a lot and I think I might discover more things in the future. Special mention to the new Pungent Stench album, titled Smut Kingdom, needs to be made before I move on to the list of my ten favourite albums from the past year. Sometime in 2007 I was following the online forum that El Cochino used to update fans of the band about the recording process of the new Pungent Stench album. I remember my absolute disappointment when it was announced that the band would fold and that the album would be shelved. Here we are 11 years later with the album being finally released, and musically contains some of Pungent Stench’s best material. Pungent Stench is a band that lyrically always dealt with topics that are considered deviant in popular discourse. All kinds of sexual practices have been addressed in Pungent Stench’s lyrics, and in many cases sexual practices that are rarely talked about, including coprophilia (“Klyster boogie”), amputation fetish (“The amp hymn”), and BDSM. Although in some ways the band often comes across as genuinely celebrating sexual freedom, at the same time, those topics have been approached in a humorous way, and Martin has argued that their lyrics should first and foremost make themselves laugh. Unfortunately, in many instances the capacity of their lyrics to incite humorous responses depends on the listener occupying relatively privileged positions in society. In other words, it is unlikely that most women or, lets say, disabled people would find Pungent Stench’s lyrics funny. It is worth noting, in the band’s defense, that the band has rarely directly addressed its audience with the exception of the awesome anti-rape song “Rape – pagar con la misma moneda”, which includes the line ‘all raped women should get their revenge, kill those motherfuckers say pungent stench’. In the new album, however, Alex offers some terrible, nasty homophobic, racist, and misogynistic lyrics. I’m pretty sure that if someone confronted them they would come back with the usual old rhetoric “blah blah, political correctness…blah blah, freedom of speech”, but really Alex comes across as a vile shithead, and made me wonder why someone would be so hateful. Off he should fuck. This is unfortunate, because many songs are some of the best the band has ever recorded, and most of Martin’s songs are awesome, although I found songs like “Planet of the dead”, “Smut kingdom” and “I require death sentence” at best mediocre.

Without further ado here are the ten albums I have enjoyed the most this past year.

1. Satan – Cruel magic

Cruel magic is the undisputed masterpiece of 2018. Satan is a band I did not listen in the days of my youth. Instead, I discovered them after their reunion, a period during which they released two of the all-time best metal albums of all time. So, the news of a new album made me extremely happy. Listening to it made me even happier. This album is tremendously astonishing. On Cruel magic, Satan is offering simply breathtaking music. I don’t know how they do it; I guess the chemistry that exists among these people is magical. The Ramsey-Tippins guitar duo once again offers its beautiful double-lead attack, beautiful harmonies, and fast, driving tremolo-picked rifforchestration like there’s no tomorrow. But Satan is much more than a collection of awesome guitar solos and riffs. The songs are brilliantly structured, and the composers are not afraid to try unorthodox chord progressions. The music, overall, is so profoundly awesome that the whole album could have been exclusively instrumental and it would still be brilliant. In his turn, Brian Ross expertly accommodates the weird chord progressions by coming up with interesting vocal lines. In my opinion, Ross outdid himself on this album, as it contains some of the best vocals I’ve ever heard on a heavy metal album. The riffing and dynamic progression of “Ophidian” sounds like something that Hank Shermann could come up with. The riffing, vocal delivery, musical development, Graeme’s delicious bass-lines, and pre-chorus riffing of “Ghosts of Monongah” leave me speechless. The tempo, riffing, and chorus of “Death knell for a king” make up an instant classic. The non-stop up-beat tempo, rapid riffing, and catchy chorus of “The doomsday clock” make it an instant classic in the vein of “Trial by fire”. And each song has little brilliant touches waiting to be discovered (now I’m thinking about the change from the hi-hat to the ride cymbal during the last verse of “Ophidian”). Songs like these come out once in a lifetime: “Ghosts of Monongah”, “My prophetic soul”, “Ophidian”, “Legions hellbound”, “Death knell for a king”, “Doomsday clock”.

2. Refuge – Solitary men

Every time I see a Rage-related news item on Metal news websites in the last three years my heart starts pounding. The reason is that Peavy is one of my all-time favourite songwriters, and since he got rid of Smolski he went back to writing little masterpieces. The news of re-uniting with Chris Efthimiadis and Manni Schmidt a few years back (news I heard for the first time through the comments of a reader of this very blog!) sent chills down my spine. Refuge is the alter-ego of Rage, and they offered a beautiful debut album full of the excellence one would expect from old Rage. The first day I got it I listened to it five-six times back to back, and it’s remained on steady rotation since. Stylistically Refuge is unavoidably quite similar, albeit less brutal, to the current Rage given that in both ensembles Peavy is the main songwriter. Moreover, the current guitarist of Rage (Marcos) has been influenced by Manni, and Rage’s current drummer (Vasillios) is one of Chris’s students. Guitar-playing-wise Manni is a more seasoned musician than Marcos, his playing is less polished, more frantic, and less reluctant to drift off to unknown territory. The song “Hell freeze over” is a good example of this last point I make, as it is an incredible song where the beauty of Peavy’s melodies can only be surpassed by the mannic (see what I did there?) guitar work. The brilliant “We owe a life to death” is clearly crafted after “Who dares” (from The missing link). For a more detailed review read here. Favourite songs: “Let me go”, “Summer’s winter”, “Mind over matter”, “Hell freeze over”, “Waterfalls”, “From the ashes”.

3. Zeke – Hellbender

Zeke in my opinion generously gave the world some of the best gifts that can be given in the form of Kicked in the teeth (1998), Dirty Sanchez (2000), and Death alley (2001). All of them, but especially Death alley, are among my all time favourite albums. Then they released that absolute borefest called ‘Till the livin’ end (2004). I was extremely happy to see Zeke return with an album that showcases what they do best: fast, energetic, short songs, with hundreds of lead breaks. Hellbender is a wonderful, intense, crazed trip down the highway paved by Death alley and its predecessors. I would go as far as to say that Hellbender has, overall, their best songwriting as almost every single song is extremely catchy. On the other hand, the new album lacks the tight mix that Death alley has whereby one feels each snare and kick-drum hit straight to the centre of one’s brain, and every lead jumps out of the noise into a full-frontal attack to the senses that gives one goosebumps. But it is almost there and that’s good enough for me. Who am I kidding, this album is a masterpiece. Favourite songs include: “County jail”, “Big rig”, “Cougar rock”, “Working man”, “Hellbender”, “On the road”, “AR-15”.

4. Cancer – Shadow Gripped

Cancer released a new album that it pretty awesome. For those who like comparisons, the songwriting is consistent with the band’s first three albums with little bits and pieces of the dissonant and melodic elements that can be found in Walker’s other band, Liquid Graveyard, on songs like “Half man, half beast” and “Down the steps” (a brilliant song based on the film The Exorcist [1973]). The atmosphere is claustrophobic and imposing, the vocals are monstrous, and the compositions appropriately allude to decay. Most of the time the music follows simple forms found in early death metal. Apart from the expected resemblance to Cancer’s first three albums, Death‘s Leprosy (1988), Morgoth‘s Cursed (1991), Necrophagia‘s Season of the dead (1987), and even a bit of Six Feet Under (for example the intro riff of “Infocidal” reminded me of “Victim of the paranoid”), kept coming to mind during the first few listens. The very fast kick-snare beat on “Organ snatcher” and “Infocidal” are particularly reminiscent of Morgoth. Nevertheless, there is variety, catchy vocal patterns, and interesting orchestrations here and there that make this album stand out and a worthy addition next to To the gory end (1990) and The sins of mankind (1993). Shadow gripped is old-school gloomy death metal. OH, PISTACHIO!

5. Memoriam – The silent vigil

Memoriam’s second album did not impress me initially as much as their debut, but grew gradually into one of my favourite albums of the year. The reason might be that the first three songs on the album are not, in my opinion, as impressive as the rest of the album. The style of the band has been crystalised into a super-heavy, mid-tempo, hardcore-leaning brutal death metal. Like their previous album, Memoriam wrote memorable songs that include catchy riffs, choruses and inspired vocal patterns and lyrics. Scott once again wrote some amazing melodies, inspired orchestrations, and well-structured songs. Having read some reviews here and there I have to say that I’m sick of people who insist on comparing this to Bolt Thrower (and finding it inadequate), and who insist on making the same condescending comment regarding Willetts’s vocals (“Karl voice hasn’t aged well” or some shit along these lines); why on earth would Memoriam sound like Bolt Thrower when all the music is written by Scott who was never part of Bolt Thrower?! Also, could people please consider that maybe Willetts wanted to change his vocal style for this different band? (seriously, most old-school death metal vocalists I can think of have changed/softened their vocals over the years – David Ingram, L. G. Petrov, Marc Grewe, David Vincent, and so forth, why is everyone making it such a big deal about Karl?) Some scum on Blabbermouth’s comment section was critical of the fact that Willetts wore an Antifa t-shirt in one of the band’s promotional photos. Apparently we’ve reached the point where being criticised for being anti-fascist is absolutely normal…  This world is going fast down the shithole. Favourite songs include: “The silent vigil”, “Bleed the same”, “As bridges burn”, “No known grave”, and “New dark ages”. A perfect album to bash in some fascist heads to.

6. Terrorizer – Caustic attack

As if I did not have enough respect for Lee Harrison, not only he returns with an awesome Monstrosity album, but he brings Terrorizer back to its old glory. Caustic attack is a fantastic album. Sandoval’s recovery took many years, during which his skills deteriorated to a considerable degree, but Caustic attack is another testament to his amazing determination and passion. His stamina is breathtaking and, overall, his drumming on this album is reminiscent of his old glories; I think it’s time him and Trey get back together. Sam Molina provides awesome vocals and patterns that are, in my opinion, more fitting to the band’s furious sound than Rezhawk’s. The tunes are awesome; most of the songs follow the classic World downfall (1989) recipe of grindcore, but there is also some more distinct death metal riffing, including some Morbid Angel-esque hues (I’m thinking of that riff halfway through “Devastate”), and little Monstrosity touches (for example, the second riff on “Wasteland”). Overall, there is more variety compared to its predecessor, Hordes of zombies (2012). The latter had some great albeit monotonous songwriting, a characterisation which also applies to Sandoval’s drumming on that album. Caustic attack kicks off with the short devastating song titled “Turbulence”, the beginning of which is like the middle part of “Enslaved by propaganda” on steroids, and continues with two more crushing odes to World downfall. “Crisis” is one of the top songs of the year; I haven’t heard such an awesome intro in a long time! “Infiltration” is a monster and that bit at 3:30 is absolutely obliterating (the china cymbal at 3:37 sounds so nice…). Near the end of the album the band offers two of its most merciless attacks in the form of “Caustic attack” and “Poison gas tsunami”. On the former, as well as on “Trench of corruption”, Sandoval is using, probably for the first time, the bomb-blast technique. It’s inspiring seeing a master of the genre expanding his grinding repertoire.

7. At The Gates – To drink from the night itself

My opinion about ATG’s comeback album has not changed over the last three years. I consider it a great album, but in no way on a par with their old albums. I still dislike the production, the drum sound, and I am not crazy about the lyrics. But it also has a few masterpieces, such as “The death and the labyrinth”, the homonymous song, “The head of the Hydra”, “The abomination”, and “Order from chaos”. The news of Anders’s departure destroyed any hope for a better album. Yet, I cannot help but feel that Jonas stepped up his game and wrote a great, more consistent album. The opener is a very beautiful instrumental song leading up to probably the hit of the album, the homonymous song. “A stare bound in stone” is one of the most complex songs on the album, composed of many interesting sections. The opening notes lead to a classic Jonas riff that could be in any of the first three The Haunted albums. This type of riffing is not really my cup of tea, and no doubt Anders could have At-The-Gatesized it by playing at a lower register, alternating between muted and open strings, and tripleting some of the notes. “Daggers of black haze” is another complex song, this time slow and melancholic, a masterpiece of the order of the early ATG albums. The D-beat infused and quite simplistic “The chasm” is a surprise since ATG have not tried something similar in the past. The lackluster beginning and boring chorus of “Palace of lepers” redeems itself with a great riff on the second half and an overall great ending. “In nameless sleep” similarly kicks off as a middle-of-the-road song, but develops into a good song with a very memorable chorus, and melancholic melodies. A “Labyrinth of tombs”, one of  my favourite in the album, is a riff-fest with an awesome chorus and very anthemic melodies building up to a brilliant climax. “In death they shall burn” is another extra-riffy and aggressive song, with a brilliant riff towards the end that could have been in Spiritual Healing or Human; the melody on top of that riff is pure awesomeness. The less clinical production is welcome as well. On a more critical note, some of the chord progressions, melodies, and moods feel repetitive at times, and the album feels kinda predictable overall. Favourite songs include: “Daggers of black haze”, “In death they shall burn”, “Labyrinth of tombs”, “Seas of starvation”, and the homonymous one.

8. Vojd – The outer ocean

The decision of Black Trip, one of the most notable new bands from Sweden, to change their name to Vojd came as a surprise. Listening to their new album made a bit more sense, as the “heavy metal” label no longer applies to this band. The NWOBHM and even Mercyful Fate influences found in their debut, and which had already started to disappear by their second album, are now gone. The heaviest song of the album “Heavy skies”, is more reminiscent of the heavy rock of Motorhead. This doesn’t mean that the band has completely changed its style. Songs like “Walk me under”, which has a breathtaking harmonised guitar melody after the chorus, “Delusions in the sky”, “On the run” and “Vindicated blues” (the most addictive riff and best chorus on the album) could have easily been in the previous album. At times the style of this album feels more akin to the heavy rock of Alice Cooper in the early 1970s and the Scorpions during the 1980s. With “Secular wire” Vojd joins the Scandinavian tradition of shamelessly ripping off the instantly recognisable Ramones riff on “I just wanna have something to do” (see The Hellacopters “Same lame story”, Turbonegro “Get it on”), but with some really good results nevertheless. The performance of the band is flawless, Joseph Tholl’s vocals are once again unbelievable, and Peter Stjarnvind’s leads are beautiful. Another thing that distinguishes this new ensemble from Black Trip is that the new guitarist’s style is very similar to Peter, so the band lost the awesome trade-off between melodic (Peter) and shredding (Sebastian) guitar leads of the past. Finally, I hate “Dream machine, and I wish it was not on the album (it reminds me of the terrible appropriation of blues by the Arctic Monkeys). Favourite songs include: “Walk me under”, “Vindicated blues”, “Heavy skies”, and “Delusions in the sky”.

9. Monstrosity – The passage of existence

It’s been 11 years since Monstrosity’s last album, and to be honest I did not miss them. It is a band that in my opinion reached its creative zenith with Millennium (1996) and my interest in them gradually faded over the subsequent three albums. It’s a shame because Lee is a good songwriter, an even more awesome drummer, and, as history has shown, with the right musicians (I’m thinking Jason Morgan) he can deliver miracles. The new album has been in the making for quite a while. Monstrosity fans have probably come across clips of new songs on YouTube that go back six years. On account of the time it took to make, the album is very rich, full of interesting ideas, so it took me a few listens to appreciate. What on first appearance feels prosaic, is eventually revealed as excellent US death metal. All songs are of a high standard and, overall, I consider it better than everything they did since In dark purity (1999). There are some great performances, great riffs, beautiful melodies and good structures. Some of the more majestic, longer songs like “Maelstrom” and “Slaves to the evermore” and “Dark matter invocation”, have very clever and interesting progressions. Those more complex and challenging songs are flanked by shorter and more explosive, catchier tunes such as “Eternal void”, “Solar vacuum” (an absolute riff-fest) and “Century”, which also happen to be some of my favourite on the album. Harrison’s drumming is excellent, as usual. My only problem with this album is the singer whose performance I dislike.

10. Revolting – Monolith of madness

As many have pointed out, if you have heard one of Rogga Johansson’s bands you’ve heard them all. Being characterised the apotheosis of mediocrity, un-inventiveness, and standardisation in death metal, would not be a hyperbole. Revolting is one of Johansson’s dozens of active bands. Despite not straying too much (if at all) from a predictable death metal recipe, from time to time Johansson just happens to write nicer songs than usually. I find it hard to believe that any death metal fan would listen to songs like “Cadaver patrol”, “March of the revolter”, “Procession to the monolith”, “Faceless deformity” or “Night of the tentacles” and not fall in love with them. Monolith of madness is making  use of a compositional recipe at the centre of which lies a thinly layered verse-chorus-verse structure, with simple, yet effective, catchy melancholic melodies on top of simple heavy rhythm guitar riffs. Overall, the sound is similar to In grisly rapture (2011), although I haven’t listened to the last couple of albums so it might be similar to those too. The song “Adjusting the sun” by Hypocrisy often came to mind when listening to this album. Unsurprisingly, the weakness of the album lies in the similarities among songs and the simple song structures. The album cover is pretty cool, and I am quite sure it portrays the tower from Algernon Blackwood‘s and H. P. Lovecraft‘s The lurker at the threshold.



What happened to us? #4 Timo Tolkki and Stratovarius

In this fourth installment of the ‘What happened to us?’ series of posts I decided to address one of the most dramatic and peculiar break-ups in the history of power metal, that between Timo Tolkki, the once undisputed leader of Stratovarius, and the rest of the band. The drama, publicity, issues surrounding mental health, temporary disbanding and side-taking characterising this case make it an interesting case of band break-ups.

Stratovarius was once a band I loved, and Twilight time (1992), Dreamspace (1994) and Fourth dimension (1995) were three of the most excellent and unique-sounding metal albums of all time. Even Episode (1996), which followed the departure of Ikonen and Lassila, two great musicians whose playing was integral to the band’s sound, is a great album, full of inventive song structures and beautiful yet weirdly melancholic melodies. I still have the utmost respect for all first five albums and I consider them masterpieces of metal music. The band developed into what I thought was a caricature of their former self, starting with the release of Visions (1997), and by the late 1990s I stopped listening to them. Because of that, I followed Tolkki’s break-up with the band from a position of relative disinterest.

In April 2008 Tolkki announced the dissolution of the band, a decision he later on retracted and left the band instead, transferring all rights to his songs and the band name to Kotipelto, Michael and Johansson. It is known that the break-up was the culmination of a period of extended crisis (read here and here), evidenced in Tolkki’s hospitalisation in 2004, Michael’s session-drummer status around 2004-2005, Kotipelto’s “firing” around 2004-2005, and Kainulainen’s departure in 2005. Tolkki’s decision to ultimately abandon the band is certainly a bizarre one. The information we have to make sense of the situation comes from public statements made by the various band members. The latter provide conflicting narratives of the break-up and the wider context within which it occurred. Tolkki cites a number of factors as contributive to the demise of Stratovarius, including the lack of camaraderie and continuing hostility among some band-members, musical differences between him and Kotipelto (i.e. the former disliking the latter’s ideas) and the lack of creative passion (read here). Michael, Johansson and Kotipelto responded that Tolkki was motivated by greed (read here) and that, overall, Tolkki’s subjective interpretation of the crisis the band faced constituted a misrepresentation of the situation. All the parties involved attempted to build convincing narratives in which they come off “right”. Tolkki mobilises affect as part of his strategy, painting a picture whereby lack of passion and friendship are the problems; The rest of the band mobilises a strategy at the centre of which lies a more rational argumentation, painting a picture whereby Tolkki’s behaviour is linked to the band’s declining popularity.

My research led me to Tolkki’s autobiography, a heartbreaking memoir with relatively few references to Stratovarius and his ex-music partners, where Tolkki pours out his heart. In his autobiography he describes his struggle with bipolar disorder. In this context he describes how someone suffering from this condition will find themselves acting on impulse without realising what they do, actions which they might later regret. I don’t know if that was Tolkki’s way of saying that he regrets giving up the rights to the Stratovarius brand, but it kind of sounds like it. Tolkki was for me, and any early Stratovarius fan I presume, the undisputed leader and main creative force in the band. I even preferred his voice to Kotipelto’s; I found Tolkki’s voice powerful, sweet and with a lot of character (all epithets that in my opinion cannot be associated with Kotipelto). His early music and lyrics were beautiful, inspired and at times confessed a subtle but heartbreaking pain and sensitivity. Despite the fact that Episode (1996) is the last album I liked from them, I cannot but scoff at the notion of ‘Stratovarius without Tolkki’ in it. Stratovarius the brand might still be alive, but Stratovarius the band is dead.



Underrated masterpieces: Devastation’s Dispensible bloodshed

Every once in a while I realise that some album I love is not widely held in high regard. Most of the time I attribute this to subjective taste, but there are some albums which are so absolutely mind-blowing that I cannot get used to the idea that they have not achieved cult status. If there is one album in the history of extreme music that did not receive the recognition it deserves, that album is Devastation‘s Dispensible bloodshed (1987); an absolute masterpiece which never received proper release, except as part of collections of all of Devastation’s songs. It is worth noting that nobody has provided reviews for any of the extremely important releases by Devastation on Encyclopaedia Metallum, and on Mudrian’s comprehensive popular account of death metal Choosing death (2004) there’s hardly a mention to the album or Devastation generally (maybe this has been rectified in the more recent re-issue?).

Hand-drawn Devastation logo adorning one of my notebooks.

The Devastation I am talking about in this post is not the more popular Devastation from Texas, but the much, much, much superior Devastation from Chicago. Chicago is often considered one of the birthplaces of death metal, on account of bands like Master and Deathstrike. I have been a passionate fan of death metal music since the mid-1990s and I only got the chance to hear Devastation for the first time around 2008 when I found their MySpace page. Although Devastation never received mainstream recognition, it is a band from the US underground that used to be highly praised in underground death metal in the late 1980s, and has influenced foundational death metal bands around the world. I believe I have read Entombed‘s L. G. Petrov praising Troy Dixler (Devastation’s original singer) in a couple of occasions over the years, and naming him one of his vocal influences. Indeed, Dixler’s brutal performance in Devastation’s first demo, titled A creation of ripping death (1986), is terrifyingly devastating.

Dispensible Bloodshed’s cover

Dispensible bloodshed includes seven songs, clocking in at 26 minutes. Two out of seven songs are instrumental; the first one simply titled “Instrumental” is a brutal journey not unlike Sepultura‘s “Inquisition symphony”, in the sense that it starts with an acoustic intro and develops into a whirlwind of unrestrained brutality. The singer on this album is Duane Rasmussen, and his vocal performance is breathtaking. He might not be Troy Dixler, as Duane’s voice is more high-pitched, but he offers an astonishing aggressive performance that does justice to Dixler’s huge legacy. But no words can do justice to the songwriting on this album, as it is truly of the highest order of extreme metal. Listening to this album is not simply about experiencing a rare piece of extreme metal history; it is also about becoming aware of a significant force in the development of the death metal genre. Is there any doubt that the snare-led beating during the fifth and sixth verses of “Genetic poisoning” (and later on as well) had something to do with Cannibal Corpse‘s now classic sound? What about the intro riff and drumming of “Beyond fear“, as well as the more general riffing madness and tempo changes throughout the album? Did they not have an impact on Suffocation‘s genre-defining sound? And I would not be surprised if the second riff of the opening song “Cranial hemorrage” inspired Deicide‘s “Oblivious to evil”. Each song is a journey of absolute awesomeness, and Erv Brautigam (guitar) and Pat Buckley (drums) give the performance of a lifetime.

Dispensible bloodshed was self-released on cassette-tape. How did this masterpiece, which in my opinion was miles ahead of any other death or thrash metal band at the time, slip through the cracks? The very few accounts about the Chicago extreme metal scene I have come across seem to suggest that when Dixler was part of Sindrome he did not want the band to sign with a small independent company (read here), which might have been his attitude during his time with Devastation as well. However, by the time Dispensible bloodshed was released Dixler was out of the band. Shawn Glass (who co-founded Sindrome with Dixler) attributes the disappearance of Devastation and other extreme metal bands from Chicago to inflated egos (read here). In any case, despite the low production values this album has aged extremely well and is an undisputed cornerstone of the death metal genre that needs to be heard.

*Band photo taken from Devastation’s MySpace page



My 15 all-time favourite drum intros

In my early contact with metal as a teenager drums were of tertiary importance compared to guitar and voice. My first love was Iron Maiden, and although over the years I came to appreciate Clive Burr’s and Nicko McBrain’s skills and contribution to Maiden’s sound, my untrained teenage ear could not appreciate the nuances. My second love was Dio, and just like with Maiden what I fell in love with was the voice and the guitar-playing. I obviously enjoyed listening to Appice’s hard hits, McBrain’s speed on songs like “Deja vu“, I remember falling in love with Ulrich’s fills on “For whom the bell tolls“, or Columbus’s double-bass attack on “Black wind, fire and steel“, but I did not start really noticing the drums until I started listening to thrash, and specifically when I listened to Reign in blood by Slayer. After that, and the more my taste would gravitate towards extreme metal the more attention to the drumming I would pay. Who doesn’t like a great drum break in the middle of a song (*a future post is in order*), or an awesome drum intro?! Through memory work (so, simply by trying to remember) I came up with many awesome drum intros that have stayed with me throughout my life as a metal fan, and after subsequent filtering (as a result of which amazing songs by Hypocrisy, Judas Priest, Death, Xentrix, Ozzy and Kreator, among others, were left out) I present 15 of them here in chronological order.

1. SlayerEpidemic (1986)

Reign in blood blew my mind and continues to blow my mind no matter how many times I’ve listened to it. It’s funny how, as years go by and new trends in metal emerge, many younger people are no longer impressed by this masterpiece (which is something that I once thought impossible). “When was the last time you truly listened to Reign in blood?”, asks Gavin O’Connor. Seriously, Gavin O’Connor? Still, I would imagine for most people, it is a guilty displeasure not liking this absolute masterpiece and they wouldn’t dare admitting it (as opposed to Gavin who owns his opinion, is proud of it, and so I can make fun of him for being a poser who only listens to “Angel of death” and “Raining blood”). “Epidemic” has always been one of my favourite songs off Reign in blood, as it has a different groove to the dominant skank beat throughout the album. The drum intro has a lot to do with how much I like this song. Whenever I think of a drum intro this is honestly the first song that comes to mind. Nowadays, and after three decades of extreme metal drumming, this intro sounds quite “primitive”, but when I first heard it I would just play it over and over again, for several times before I continue with the rest of the song. Nothing compares to Dave Lombardo‘s intense and quite instinctive old school drumming massacre. The simply devastating drum sound captured on tape by Rick Rubin is not bad either.

2. King DiamondWelcome home (1988)

Mikkey Dee, now famous for being the drummer for Motörhead for almost 25 years, used to be in King Diamond. With him the King released some of his best albums (and my two personal favourite, namely Fatal portrait and Conspiracy), and I actually remember seeing or reading an interview with King Diamond where he said that Mikkey has been sorely missed (I personally think that Snowy Shaw did an awesome job as well). Indeed, the impressive drum performances in King Diamond’s early albums compared to the almost mechanical drumming in this last few albums is like comparing night and day. “Welcome home” is a masterful track off Them, and the intro is one of the most memorable and classy drum parts I can think of. Overall, this song represents the pinnacle of King Diamond’s progressive dimension. Agressor did an accurate cover of this song on their Medieval rites (1999) album, although the drum intro is neither entirely accurate nor has the feel of the original.

3. Holy TerrorNo resurrection (1988)

Holy Terror released two albums in the late 1980s, at a time when thrash was still alive and well but slowly losing ground as the first death metal albums, as well as the more extreme thrash bands of Germany, began to surface. The second album by Holy Terror is a minor thrash masterpiece and this song is a testament to that. Their peculiar style of metal that combined traditional heavy metal melodies and singing, with rougher and at times growling vocals, super fast riffs and drums, deserved more recognition in my opinion. Joe Mitchell‘s expertly executed super fast beats perfectly complement the super-fast vocal delivery. The intro to this song is an all-time favourite, and is the perfectly manic start for a perfectly manic song. I have been listening to it since my teenage years and it still does not fail to excite me. They don’t make them like this anymore.

4. Malevolent CreationCoronation of our domain (1992)

Alex Marquez gave his best performance on Malevolent Creation’s Retribution. His contribution on this album cannot be overestimated, and never before or after did Malevolent have such a colourful drum sound and playing, and orchestrations. I suspect that Scott Burns had a lot to do with fine-tuning Marquez’s playing, especially the blastbeats, as in subsequent releases his blastbeats are all over the place (I am thinking Divine Empire‘s second album where the blastbeats often seem to chase the guitar riff, but are unable to catch up with it. Still, it is an awesome album!). Anyway, this drum intro is probably the best out of all the intros in this list. This is the definition of finesse in drumming.

5. Dismember – Fleshless (1993)

This is an extremely simple fast single stroke drum roll (I think so) spread across two toms, opening one of the best songs in one of the best albums in the history of music (yes, not only death metal). One of the reasons I love it so much is because to me this intro is like saying “get ready for some non-stop relentless beating”, and indeed this is exactly what follows throughout the album. Remember, this is not a playlist with the “best” drum intros, but rather my favourite drum intros, and this is definitely one. I simply adore the drum sound on this album, and Fred Estby‘s playing is really exciting. Indecent and obscene is probably my all-time favourite death metal album, and Fred’s playing is one of the reasons.

6. GorefestPeace of paper (1993)

It’s no big surprise that all of the songs on this list come from albums characterised by great drum performances. In both False (1992) and Erase (1993) Ed Warby gives lessons in extreme metal drumming. His sound is clear, he hits hard, and his blastbeats are a force of nature. “Peace of paper” is an astonishing song off an amazing album, and it is also the song where Warby goes crazy with his snare-kick gymnastics. The drum intro is not anything special, but I love it. I think that his performance in these two albums opened up doors for him, as I recall seeing his name in many projects over the years. Gorefest did a very impressive comeback in the mid 2000s and then unfortunately folded again, and in those two comeback albums Warby also did an amazing job.

7. SlayerKilling fields (1994)

Divine intervention is a galore of outstanding drum work by Paul Bostaph. Quite honestly, when I bought this album I could not believe how someone can play like this, and to this day I consider Divine intervention a masterpiece with state-of-the-art drumming. This album is chock-full of drum highlights, and apart from this song, “Sex, murder, art” and “Serenity in murder” are personal favourites. There is no doubt that Paul knew that filling Lombardo’s shoes would be hard, mostly in terms of acceptance by the hardcore fans rather than actual performance, and did his absolute best to prove himself with this album. In my opinion, the intro of “Killing fields” is one of the heaviest and attention-grabbing moments in metal history.

8. BenedictionThe grotesque (1994)

Benediction is not a band known for its virtuoso musicianship. It is known, however, for its absolutely awesome and unique-sounding death metal.  “The grotesque” is one of Benediction’s best songs and it comes from the Grotesque/Ashen epitaph EP. This EP marked the departure of Ian Treacy, Benediction’s original drummer, whose improvement from Subconscious terror (1990) to Transcend the Rubicon (1993) was nothing short of stellar, and the short-lived collaboration with Paul Brookes (who has been very ridiculously photoshoped into the photo of the band on this release). I personally prefer Treacy, who has also provided some really cool drum parts, but nevertheless, Brookes offers a very memorable drum intro to this beast of a song.

9. UnleashedIn the name of god (1995)

“In the name of god” starts with a very simple double stroke roll, yet constitutes an extremely effective drum intro which has always stayed with me. The fact that it opens one of the catchiest songs in death metal history, composed by Fredrik, obviously adds to the importance of this drum intro, but there is no doubt that Anders Schultz‘s contribution to Unleashed’s sound is significant (also check out the awesomely placed double bass à la Slayer at the end of the song). Victory is, in my opinion, the last great album by Unleashed, and it is not a coincidence that it is also the last album with Fredrik Lindgren. He is one of the composers that is missed in the death metal genre.

10. Dying FetusJustifiable homicide (2000)

1999 was the year my friends and I found out about the then new wave of North American brutal death metal. A fiend of mine got hold of three awesome cassette-tapes; one with Deeds of flesh‘s Trading pieces (1996) and Inbreeding the anthropophagi (1998), one with Nile‘s Among the catacombs… (1998), and one with Dehumanized‘s Prophecies foretold (1998) and Dying Fetus‘s Purification through violence (1996). When Destroy the opposition came out we didn’t listen to anything else for a month. This is probably the least interesting song on the album, but what a great and memorable intro! Kevin Talley is a great drummer hailing from the American brutal death metal underground who has rightfully been recognised as one. His drumming on albums like Killing on adrenaline and Destroy the opposition are unbelievable. Unfortunately, in my opinion, the separation of Jason and Kevin from Gallagher resulted in inferior subsequent output from both Dying Fetus and Misery Index. Anyway, this whole album is a drummer’s pleasure.

11. The CrownI won’t follow (2000)

The Crown has always been a hit and miss band in my opinion. I never liked any of their albums in their entirety, just individual songs, and if I had to pick a favourite album I would choose Hell is here (1999). This song comes from Deathrace king, an album from which I worship two songs and the rest of them I listen to once every ten years or so. “I won’t follow” is one of the songs I worship, and the other is the inimitable “Back from the grave”. Janne Saarenpää‘s style is very intense and out-of-control and often reminds me of Chris Witchhunter from Sodom (I’m thinking of “Baptism of fire”). This is the definition of in-your-face extreme metal drumming of the type that inspires kids to pick up drumsticks and learn to play.

12. Deeds of FleshMaster of murder (2001)

Mike Hamilton‘s stint with Deeds of Flesh started with an album (i.e. Mark of the legion) which, for me, marked the creative downfall of the band. However, just like the drummers that preceded him, Hamilton’s drumming is amazing, and this song is a case in point. A beautiful, yet cold and lifeless, phrase composed of super fast double strokes and double bass, introduces an awesome riff. The way Hamilton switches from the hi-hat to the ride cymbal during the blastbeats, and the effect this has on the riff is also great. Later on in their career Deeds of Flesh tried to reinvent themselves and switched to super-technical death metal and, in my opinion, lost their distinctiveness that is still present in this song.

13. Pig DestroyerSnuff film at eleven (2001)

Just like Dying Fetus’s Destroy the opposition, Pig Destroyer’s Prowler in the yard was a game changer in the world of extreme metal. Brian Harvey provides super fast blastbeats, grooves, and insane drum fills.  This song is one of the most death-oriented songs on the album, and has such an awesome drum intro, representative of the musical and lyrical insanity that reigns throughout the album. What contributes to the awesomeness of this intro is that it does not lead to a fast beat but a tensely controlled slow beat. Harvey’s performance on the next album (i.e. Terrifyer) is also stellar. Having a drummer like this at one’s disposal is an amazing privilege, because it gives one absolute freedom to write anything they want, no matter how fast and complex.

14. Lock UpFeeding on the opiate (2002)

Nick Barker is one of those drummers who make extremely fast drumming seem easy. I fell in love with his drumming when Cradle of Filth‘s Dusk and her embrace came out, and I loved him even more in Lock Up, although his repertoire in the latter is much more limited. His performance with Cradle of Filth rightfully opened doors for him as over the years he has played with many prominent bands. This is actually one of the best album intros ever, and I cannot believe that I forgot to mention it in the respective post I wrote a few years ago. Overall, Hate breeds suffering is my favourite Lock Up album too. Bill Hicks’s inspiring statement, “Play from your fucking hearts!”, sampled at the beginning of the song is also genius.

15. Dark FuneralThe eternal eclipse (2016)

The final entry in this list comes from a recent album, namely Dark Funeral’s very impressive Where shadows forever reign. Dark Funeral has a history of great drummers, including the brilliant Matte Modin (who offered devastating drumming for Defleshed back in the day). In this album the drums are provided by Nils Fjellström, another master of inhuman speed in drumming (check out videos of him performing live with the band on YouTube, you won’t be disappointed). “The eternal eclipse” is my favourite song off this album, and the drum intro is perfect.



A minor mystery solved, and life goes on…

Reading the information provided in the booklets or inner sleeves of albums – on vinyl, CD or cassette-tape – has always been an important part of my – and many others’ I presume – experience of engaging with popular music. Thanks lists used to be the source of finding out about affiliated bands, friendships between bands, and bands that I should check out. At the same time reading bands’ thanks lists would often obscure, rather than clarify, things. Responsible for that would often be the use of inside jokes, such as nicknames and references to events with which I, the reader, was unfamiliar. For example, I remember reading the thanks lists of Napalm Death‘s Harmony corruption (1990) being simultaneously entertained, intrigued and confused by the constant use of the word ‘chuffed’.

One of the oldest band-related mysteries that I can remember of originated in the inner sleeve of Entombed‘s Left hand path (1990). In the thanks list the band thanks Carnage and then, in brackets, Fred (presumably Fred Estby) who was the drummer in Carnage and Dismember. The sentence “Milli Vannili-Fred! Thanks for the riff mate!” fascinated me because it provided information regarding the relationship between two of my favourite bands – Entombed and Dismember – and also because it provided ammunition to my imaginary debates with annoying staff of heavy metal magazines, among whom it was commonplace to casually refer to Dismember as a “second-rate Entombed”. Yet, this was a piece of information that begged for additional information. For more than 20 years I have wondered, “which one is the riff on Left hand path that belongs to Fred?”.

Ten years ago I bought and devoured Daniel Ekeroth‘s book Swedish death metal (2008). There were things about it that I loved, and things that I hated. (Among the latter was the author’s irritating flattery towards Nicke Andersson.) One of the things that annoyed me – at the time I thought it was unacceptable – was that he did not provide an answer to this mystery. Even though I understand that it is not really a mystery, in the sense that probably nobody cares, I still think that revealing the identity of the riff would be a great anecdote which would also provide a richer, more accurate representation of the relationship between these two important bands and songwriters of the Swedish death metal scene.

Dismember appearing at the Rockwave festival in Attica, 2005 (left), and Mylos club in Thessaloniki, 2007 (right).

Twice I had the opportunity to find out the answer to this mystery but  missed it. I have seen Dismember live twice. The first time was in the 2005 Rockwave festival in Greece. There I actually met Fred, David, and Matti who were wandering around in the merchandising area, but it was very brief and I completely forgot to ask Fred about the Left had path reference. (During that brief encounter Fred recorded my Dismember tattoo on his camera, and the footage was later on included in their Under blood red skies DVD (2009)!) Next time I saw Dismember live was in Thessaloniki a couple of years later, and it was shortly after Fred’s departure from the band (Thomas was on drums by that point), so, once again, I missed the chance to inquire. What I never considered was that perhaps someone else from the band might know the answer to my question. As it turns out Matti did, and last week this minor mystery was solved while I was browsing Matti’s Facebook page.

I have referred to social media as “intertextual enablers” in the past (read this), and this is another instance where information produced and accessed through social media fills in gaps in my popular music knowledge. Later on in the same Facebook discussion, it is revealed that the riff mentioned above which Nicke gave in return was the brilliant intro riff of “Deranged from blood” from Carnage’s Dark recollections (1990). Of course, the “Milli Vannili-Fred” bit of the reference has not been explained. It obviously refers to the late-1980s Dance duo Milli Vanilli, which consisted of two models posing as singers (without actually singing or composing on the records). Perhaps in the context of Left hand path, the term is meant to refer jokingly to Fred as a ghost writer in Entombed. Now enjoy Fred’s riff starting at 1:32 in the video below.



Take Refuge in old Rage
July 9, 2018, 4:36 pm
Filed under: Heavy metal, people | Tags: , , , , ,

Refuge is the alter-ego of Rage, a band led by one of my all-time favourite songwriters, Peavy Wagner. Alongside Peavy, Refuge consists of Manni Schmidt and Chris Efthimiadis. This configuration of musicians is the same one that offered a series of Rage albums of unparalleled beauty, including Perfect man (1988), Secrets in a weird world (1989), Reflections of a shadow (1990), Trapped (1992), and The missing link (1993). After 1993 Manni left the band and Rage went through many different configurations. By the late 1990s Chris was also out of the band. For many people, the trio of Peavy, Manni, and Chris was the absolute Rage line-up. I first heard the news of Peavy re-uniting with Chris and Manni a few years ago (May 2014) through the comments of a reader of this very blog. The trio performed songs from that bygone era of the band live, first under the Tres Hombres moniker (listen to “Shame on you“). Last month this configuration released a beautiful debut album full of the excellence one would expect from the old Rage. The first day I got the album I listened to it five-six times back to back.

Peavy has written three songs all by himself, and the rest are co-written with Manni. All the lyrics are by Peavy. Overall, the lyrical thematology and musicianship are instantly recognisable as classic Rage. Peavy’s usual questions regarding mortality (“Summer’s winter”, “We owe a life to death”, “From the ashes”), loneliness (“Man in the ivory tower”, “Bleeding from inside”), and heartbreak (“Let me go”) are all here. The album kicks off with a small masterpiece about the end of the world titled “Summer’s winter”. The brilliant “We owe a life to death”, a song clearly crafted after “Who dares” (one of the best anti-fascist songs ever written, from The missing link), deals again with Peavy’s usual obsession with death. “The man in the ivory tower” is another instant classic, flawlessly crafted song, about loneliness and regret. On “Hell freeze over”, one of my favourite songs on the album, Peavy forgets mortality and other sad topics for a bit and celebrates a life of creativity, camaraderie and perseverance. Musically, the album is on par with anything the trio did back in the day. It is an album full of Manni’s frantic guitar-playing, and trademark pick-squeals, Peavy’s infectious melodies and perfect (and catchy) choruses, and Chris’s powerful style of drumming. I cannot get used to the perfection of “Hell freeze over” (Manni’s on fire on this one). “Waterfalls” is the slowest song on the album, and is a craftily put together masterpiece that takes the listener through a beautiful musical and emotional journey. “Let me go” is a perfect example of the inventive ways Peavy incorporates unexpected chord progressions and arpeggiated chords, and their resulting unconventional melodies, in his songs (past examples include “Take me to the water” and “Spider’s web”). Although this is another small masterpiece, the “go, go, go” bit in the chorus is, in my opinion, doing the song a disservice (similar to the “sky, sky, sky” bit in “Higher than the sky” from End of all days (1996)). “Bleeding from inside” is another cool song with interesting structure and a great chorus, and although in the beginning I could not avoid comparing the verse vocal pattern to Savatage‘s “Power of the night”, I got used to it and I don’t even notice it anymore. The mind-blowing “Another kind of madness” that closes the album was originally a bonus track on The missing link, but the version here is a re-working of the demo version of the song (available in the demo collection only recently made available titled Demonizer). The Missing link version was (mostly) acoustic, whilst this version is electric; the verse and bridge melodies are kept almost intact, whilst the pre-chorus and chorus are changed. Chris’s performance on this song deserves special mention. Unfortunately, it is not included in the vinyl version of the album.

In my opinion Solitary men is not reminiscent of any of the Rage albums the trio released in the past, especially not Trapped and The missing link alongside which many rush to classify it. Solitary men is a slower album, much less frantic than the aforementioned. At least to some degree, and on account of songs like “We owe a life to death”, it is also a self-consciously self-referential throwback album, as opposed to any of the older ones. At the same time, it contains Peavy’s artful song-writing and beautiful voice, Manni’s genius guitar-playing, and Chris’s awesome drumming, and the resulting chemistry which has been without a miss the generator of musical miracles. Refuge released an instant classic, in a seemingly effortless manner, just like they used to do year after year between 1988 and 1993. Peavy has been writing music non-stop for 35 years and he still comes up with some of his best songs. I have said it before and I will say it again: someone built this man a friggin’ statue already!