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Favourite music from 2017

The year 2017 is marked by some fantastic musical releases. This year it was more difficult than usual to come up with only 10 favourite albums, and amongst those 10 albums it was difficult to say which ones I liked best. There are many albums that did not make my top-10 list but I also enjoyed quite a lot. Due to the sheer volume of releases by bands I already like I avoided opening up to new bands which I am more likely to dislike. I will start my review of the year with the albums I liked the least.

The initial reaction to Cannibal Corpse‘s new album was one of disappointment. After a couple of listens I started enjoying the album, but then quickly got tired of it. In my mind CC’s discography is organised in two periods, the Barnes and the Corpsegrinder period, and the latter is further broken down to the Owen period and the Barrett period. The Barnes period is my favourite, I consider it very distinct, and I think that his departure marked a huge stylistic change for CC. I think that Barnes’s way of singing, vocal patterns and lyrics defined to a large extent CC’s style. I never took the Corpsegrinder era too seriously, as I have always thought that the band became a bit cartoonish. This doesn’t mean that I don’t like CC post-Barnes. Both periods offer some excellent albums  (maybe with the exception of Gore obsessed). The current post-Owen era, is probably my least favourite, although I think all offerings are consistently good. The new album is enjoyable although the thrash approach to riffing and song structures that appeared in most recent releases is even more prominent now. It is also much less frenetic to their previous album (there’s not a single pure attack similar to “High velocity impact spatter”), and sonicaly, well lets just say Rutan is not my favourite producer. “Code of the slashers” has a cool slow section, but when it becomes fast it feels lazy to me. The structure, tempo changes, melodies and beating of “Shedding my human skin” represent the CC that I prefer. Other stand-out tracks include “Corpus delicti“, “In the midst of ruin”, “Destroyed without a trace” (great post-chorus blastbeat sections) and “Hideous ichor” (the intro riff is straight out of Kreator’s Coma of souls). Overall, it is a quite easy-listening album, and in a sense their least death metal album yet. Vallenfyre‘s Fear those who fear him has some really cool grinding songs (e.g. “Kill all your masters” and “Nihilist”), but in my opinion in lacking standout slow melancholic hymns. I listened to it a few times and I like it, but I would never compare it to the brilliance of their debut. Similarly, I liked Firespawn‘s sophomore album, although I don’t think I will ever consider it amazing, and I prefer their debut. Some songs I liked more than others (“The general’s creed”, “Full of hate” and “Serpent of the ocean” are my favourite), there are some nice melodies and Fredrik’s leads are enjoyable as usual, but I found the song structures and riffs forthcoming and repetitive, in many cases reminiscent of the simpler forms of early thrash. Warwound‘s Burning the blindfolds of bigots is an enjoyable hardcore-crust album made by members of Sacrilege and Discharge.

Moving on to albums I liked a bit more, Evocation‘s The shadow archetype kept me nice company for quite a while. I listened to the first couple of Evocation albums when they came out but I was not impressed. I didn’t bother with them again after that. However, recently I saw the new album on YouTube and the impressive cover art attracted me. I realise that it is a derivative album, but songs are well-written and well played, so I have enjoyed it. Evocation seem to have taken good elements from the two great traditions of Swedish death metal, mixing Entombed and At The Gates in equal measure. The main riff of “Modus operandi” and the drumming feels a bit too familiar (listen to At The Gates song “Unto others” – the riff before the break in the middle), but overall it is good. Blood Feast‘s The future state of wicked is a satisfying and entertaining old-school thrash album, full of catchy choruses, riffs that made me air-guitar, and cool vocal patterns. It could have easily been released in the mid-1980s. Broken Hope‘s Mutilated and assimilated is enjoyable, I listened to it quite a few times but I cannot say that I enjoyed it as much as the previous one. The input by the relatively new members is quite obvious as there are quite a few more “modern” elements. The end of “Malicious meatholes” is reminiscent of Atheist. Although I did not love this album I have no doubts that I will eventually revisit it and discover interesting things about it. On Swine plague, Dead Head offer excellent thrash in the vein of Slayer and Demolition Hammer. The band members are seasoned veterans and this album definitely surfaces in the disappointing swamp of new wave of traditional thrash bands. Kreator released an album that does not stray from the band’s post Violent revolution (2001) style, namely a more melodic and anthemic Coma of souls style of thrash. Although I am not a big fun of this style – and I wouldn’t expect Kreator to ever reach the heights of their 1985-1995 non-stop progress and brilliance – I do like all the albums of this period (Enemy of god (2005) and Phantom antichrist (2012) a bit less). I highly respect Mille and I definitely enjoy the riffs, vocals and speed of this album, but I could do without all the anthemic moments. Expulsion‘s Nightmare future E.P. is awesome and it stinks off Repulsion. Listening to Olivo’s uniquely insane compositions is a pleasure, and I cannot resist thinking how awesome it would be if he collaborated with the guys from Impaled. It is only an E.P. and it’s over really quickly, but what an awesome ride! Over the years Haemorrhage have evolved to one of the most recognisable and credible grindcore bands on this planet. On We are the gore they offer their well-known brand of awesome grindcore, albeit currently devoid of the sick carcass-inspired melodies of their gore-grind days. Their new album is catchy, like their previous full-length, with a good production and some surprising elements, such as the Dismember-sounding riff and the rock’n’roll solo on “Miss Phlebotomy”. “Intravenous molestation…” is a brief delicacy. The chorus of “Bathed in bile” could easily be in a Lock Up album. I liked it but I prefer their mid-90s – early 2000s period. Mastodon‘s Emperor of sand is in the vein of their previous two albums, that is, poppy, melodic, progressive, aggressive, sludgy and well-played metal. There are some songs that have stood out for me, including the fantastic “Ancient kingdom”, but also “Steambreather“, “Roots remain”, “Word to the wise”, the catchy “Show yourself”, and the very dynamic “Jaguar god“. I have enjoyed it quite a lot, but I will refrain from including it among my favourite albums this year because history has shown that I usually get bored with their albums after a while, and, additionally, there are so many other albums I enjoyed more. The Lurking Fear is another band in the long list of projects where established musicians join forces to pursue a shared musical vision. The main reason I became interested in them is due to the inclusion of Andreas Axelsson, one of the masterminds behind Edge of Sanity, and more recently Tormented. From the looks of it Tormented have folded and Andreas has moved on. Axelsson has written some of my favourite songs on the album, including “With death engraved in their bones”, “Upon black winds” (in which Axelsson shows off his talent of composing authentic old-school death metal), and “Tongued with fowl flames”. Two other really good songs on the album, however, turns out were not written by him. “The starving Gods of old” (my favourite on the album) and “Winged death” are two minor masterpieces, and Lindberg’s performance especially in the former is mind-blowing. The Slayer-esque beginning of “Tentacles of blackened horror” is cool. The blatant rip-offs from Autopsy are not impressive, especially since they’ve been done to death over the last 15 years or so. The lyrics are inspired by Lovecraft’s strange universe of abominations. The sound of Cthulhu snoring in-between songs is a good touch. My initial reaction to Suffocation‘s new album, …Of the dark light, was laden with disappointment. The production, the plastic drum sound, and the monotonous vocals alienated me and it took me a while to revisit the album for a second listen. To be honest my expectations were low, as a result of the lackluster listening experience associated with the previous two Suffocation albums. Just like with Pinnacle of bedlam (2013), I thought that Frank sounded disinterested and his voice was over-produced. Nevertheless, after a few more listens I started overcoming some of those elements that I found disappointing, and I realised that most of the riffing is excellent, and that overall I prefer this album to the previous two. “Return to the abyss” is a masterpiece in the true Suffocation style, with Hobbes’s manic riffing, twisted melodies and super-heavy break-downs on fire. In my book this song is inducted in the Hall of most awesome Suffocation tunes. Moreover, both in this song and in “Caught between two worlds” the band is trying a couple of things that could be considered novelties in the entrenched style of the band. The elements to which I am referring are the melancholic tremolo-picked riff in the last part of the latter, and the weird melody in the end of the former, which reminded me of the melody at the end of “Axeman” by Amebix. Another new element is the inclusion of Suffocation’s live-session-singer in some of the songs, which I think is a good move. Another problem that I have is that some changes lack cohesion. The ending of “The violation” is one example and the end of “The warmth within the dark” another; in both cases it feels like the song has ended before it resumes with a brief section that feels random. Incantation‘s Profane nexus is another high quality release by Incantation. In my opinion the sound is more primitive than on the previous album, and Alex Bouks’ absence is noticeable. I haven’t paid to much attention to it, and this relative absence of interest explains its position out of the top-10 list, but I suspect I will eventually love this album. Not many bands can write songs of the quality of “Incorporeal despair” and “Lus sepulcri”.

The following 10 albums are my favourite from this year. Between the second and the seventh albums in the list I cannot say with certainty which one I like the best, and the ordering has changed several times over the last few months. In my opinion they are all brilliant albums, reflecting a fantastic year in popular non-mainstream music.

1. Neocaesar – 11:11

Neocaesar’s debut is the undisputed album of the year. I cannot overstate how happy this release has made me. Neocaesar is a band composed of four ex-Sinister members. These are not any ex-Sinister members though. We’re talking about Mike, the absolute death metal vocalist who contributed some of the most breathtaking performances in three classic albums (Cross the Styx (1992), Diabolical summoning (1993), Hate (1995)), Bart, one of the absolute composers, who wrote unprecedented masterpieces for four classic albums (Diabolical summoning (1993), Hate (1995), Aggressive measures (1998), Creative killings (2000)), Erik, who sang on the magnificent Aggressive measures (1998), and Michel, who played bass on the classic Bastard saints E.P. (1996). Here, Erik plays the drums, and he is an absolute beast at that too! This album is unique and perfect from beginning to end. It contains eight astounding songs plus two dark instrumental pieces. The introductory instrumental song is dark and brooding; such a classy way to start an awesome album! Each song is craftily put together. Amazing melodies, spell-binding riffs, and infernal vocals by a truly genius vocalist. Bart moves within chord progressions that make every riff sound evil and monumental, and he has never strayed from this approach throughout his career. The way he combines different riffing techniques is also amazing; palm-muting, triplets, tremolo-picking, accented dissonant chords, are craftily used, each riff a genius combination of different techniques, to articulate unique sounding musical sentences. The production is awesome, the guitar and bass tones are fantastic, the drum sound is real (and, as opposed to Erik’s work with Warfather, his drumming here is fantastic and much more focused), and the contributions of all band members are equally audible. THIS is death metal. For a more detailed review of the album, please read this.

2. Desultory – Through aching aeons

After their remarkable comeback album in 2010, Counting our scars, I have been thirsting for new music by one of Sweden’s most awesome bands that defined melancholic death metal. It took seven years for new music to surface, I imagine due to day jobs and other non-music related responsibilities that non-mainstream musicians like the members of Desultory probably have. Through aching aeons feels like a fiercer Counting our scars, as there is a complete absence of entirely slow songs. Instead here we have more blasting sections, weirder riffs, less conventional song-structures, more frequent tempo changes, and a more growled approach to singing, in what might easily be Desultory’s best album. “Beneath the bleeding sky” is a monster, in a way similar to “This broken halo” in that it is a fast song full of awesome riffs, and has a very catchy melancholic chorus (the first time around followed by an emotive guitar solo). It is a song beautifully crafted, from the dark menacing first riff to the beautiful acoustic outro. This one along with “Divine blindness”, “Slither”, and “In this embrace”, are my favourite songs on the album, although every song has awesome things to offer. Generally, songs structures are complicated and, at times, might sound a bit incoherent but this can be a good thing; it means that the listener has to invest more time and effort connecting the various parts in order to perceive each song as a coherent whole. Johnsson’s manic style of drumming elevates the songs to a new level of awesomeness, although, in my opinion, the constant alterations between the kick-drum and the snare in leading the beat can get tiring. The band decided that this is their final album, and in a way it feels like they have come full circle. They will be sorely missed.

3. Propagandhi – Victory lap

Propagandhi’s previous masterpiece, Failed states (2012), had its own space in the best-of list of that year. Victory lap is another masterpiece in the classic Propagandhi tradition. Comparing it to their back-catalogue I would say that it is not much different to Failed states, but it is definitely less intense and heavy compared to Today’s empires… (2001), Potemkin… (2004), and Supporting caste (2008). The new album is mellower sonicaly, with lighter distortion, and some clean riffing (on “Lower order”, one of my favourite songs off the album). It is a beautiful album and it contains everything that is great about Propagandhi. The progressive instrumental end of “Cop out of frame” is sheer perfection, the refreshing speed and vocal pattern of “Letter to a young anus” are awesome, Todd’s classic depressing tunes and lyrics in “Nigredo” and “When all your fears collide” (the latter also including some intense hardcore moments) are extremely emotive, and the list goes on. I bet they got the riff in the middle of “Tartuffe”, a genius song, from Iron Maiden‘s last album (I’m thinking the intro riff of “When the river runs deep”). There’s really not much else to say about a band whose inspiration, but also kindness and love for each other and the world shine through their music. Listening to Propagandhi is humbling.

4. Rage – Seasons of the black

Having experienced the several ups-and-downs of Rage’s career over the 22 years I’ve been listening to them, I have grown skeptical of anything new by this seminal heavy metal band led by one of my all-time favorite song-writers, Peavy Wagner. Although I decided to attribute the dramatic deterioration of Rage’s sound to the compositional takeover by Victor Smolski, I cannot ignore that Peavy had something to do with it as well. Given that Rage’s beautiful previous album (i.e. The devil strikes again) is only one year old I was unsure whether Peavy and co., would be able to repeat the feat. I was then pleasantly surprised, as Seasons of the black is an album chock-full of excellent songs. I would have to say that Seasons and The devil are equally good. Overall, whilst The devil strikes again is reminiscent of the Black in mind-End of all days era, Seasons – even faster and even more melodic goes even further back to the Trapped-Ten years period. Peavy has come up with some of his best melodies ever, and I find hard to believe how Peavy’s potential to write this wonderful stuff was dormant for those last years with Smolski. Marcos has kept the riffing at a high level (check out the furious beginning of the album, the main riff of “Time will tell”, and the awesome guitar work on “Justify”), and his solos beautiful, to the point, and only when needed. The same goes for Lucky, whose drum patterns, awesomely executed fills, and perfectly situated double bass serve perfectly serve each song. “Time will tell” is perhaps the song that best represents Peavy’s unique style of song-writing; a true masterpiece with an unorthodox chorus typical of old Rage (Peavy makes me so happy…). The same goes for “All we know is not” (the first few seconds hint to “No sign of life” off Ten years in Rage), another frenzied headbanger in true Rage style with a genius chorus. “Septic bite” is another cool song that – for those who like comparisons – stinks off The missing link-era melodies (and that bass-drum count near the end). “Serpents in disguise” is an immaculately put together song, with a beautiful chord progression, chorus, and great pace. Another straightforward, super-heavy song with an infectious chorus, “Walk among the dead”, could have easily been in 10 years in Rage. “Justify” is another brilliant song, but the intro melody, in my opinion, feels a bit out-of-place in a Rage album (too anthemic). The last song is reminiscent of something that could be found in XIII or Soundchaser, and I like it but is my least favourite song on the album. This is the true Rage, insofar as Rage is Peavy’s band and his vision should be what guides songwriting. This album is a gift to all those Rage fans who loved the band in the early-mid 1990s.

5. Memoriam – For the fallen

The news of a new band by Karl Willetts, Andrew Whale, and Frank Healy was very welcome, as both Benediction and Bolt Thrower are unique and two of my all time favourite bands. I have to admit that when I found out that the main composer is Scott Fairfax, a younger musician lacking a noteworthy record in death metal songwriting, I kind of lost interest. All skepticism disappeared when I listened to the opening song, i.e. “Memoriam”, a wonderful song, I assume a memorial to Martin Kearns, with incredible lyrics and performance by Willetts. The second song, “War rages on” is an incredible assault on the senses. The  sample in the beginning is haunting, and the way it bleeds into the intro of the song is genius. The main riff is devastating, and paired with the massive drumming produce the sonic equivalent of an earthquake. I haven’t heard something that powerful in a long time. Each song deserves its own special mention because all of them are amazing. “Reduced to zero” is another massive epic, its different parts weaving a beautiful musical narrative. Whale’s off-beat playing during the first part of each verse is perfectly complementing the tension of the riff, and the double-bass during the second part is monumental. The more manic sections on songs like “Surrounded by death” and “Resistance” send chills down my spine, and the closer is another epic tour de force. It is worth noting that the chilling ending is narrated by Lynda Simpson from Sacrilege, a band to which both Bolt Thrower owe at least 50% of their sound! It is clear that even though our famous musicians are not the main composers, Whale’s awesome drum patterns and Karl’s unbelievable singing and lyrics make what those songs are. Without those two musicians, Scott’s songs wouldn’t have been what they are. A masterpiece.

6. Skyclad – Forward to the past

I cannot know if Satan’s reunion has something to do with the freshness and power of Skyclad’s new album, but that could be the case. Forward to the past feels like it’s been put out by a new band filled with the excitement and zest of youth. The thematic orientation of the album I guess plays on both the band’s interest in tradition (folk) but also on the tendency of the world to go backwards to scary things like nationalism (as opposed to cosmopolitanism) and fascism (as opposed to not being an utter piece of shit). The song move between the more traditional tunes (“The queen of the moors”, “Starstruck?“) and the more in your face thrashy tunes (“State of the union now”). The ballad titled “Words fail me” is a standout track. The beautiful (and literal) instrumental “Unresolved” (a song one might think was composed by Georgina and Steve, but is actually one of Dave’s compositions) is a nice break from the more up-tempo, festive atmosphere. Another song that stands out and is sure to become a live favourite is “The queen of the moors”, a catchy folk tune based on a poem by John Keats. “Change is coming” is another beautiful fast paced song, with awesome lyrics and infectious main riff and chorus. The only part of the album I disliked was “A heavy price to pay”, a song with fantastic music but lame lyrics. Overall, this is an inspired album that made me appreciate Skyclad even more, and urges me to discover the period after Prince of the poverty line (1994) which I have neglected. 

7. Morbid Angel – Kingdoms disdained

I was really looking forward to listening to the new Morbid Angel album, as it is a band that I’ve worshiped since the days of my youth and it’s never disappointed me. Up until Formulas fatal to the flesh (1998) Morbid Angel had been evolving, capturing the attention and colonising the imaginations of thousands of musicians and fans around the world. I remember that by the late 1990s I would discover a new Morbid Angel clone per week, and that included both new bands (e.g. Poland’s Devilyn, and Holland’s Centurion) and old bands (e.g. Poland’s Vader, and Canada’s Gorguts). In my opinion, the only one time Morbid Angel did not offer something terribly new was with Gateways to annihilation (2002). The new album continues down the same path that Trey went after Vincent left in the mid-1990s. After the two really good Warfather albums I was curious about what Tucker could contribute. As it turns out, Tucker gives astounding vocal performances on the new album and contributes some amazing music and lyrics too. Kingdoms disdained is a new unique addition to the Morbid Angel list of unique sounding albums. The album is extremely brutal and swampy, like FFTTF, although this time around Trey’s compositions are even more noisy and discordant, and the overall sound and production darker. I would imagine that for many people the loss of classical musicality of the classic Morbid Angel period (which includes the Covenant-sounding Heretic) will be missed, but this “new” approach still has things to offer. As usual there is a variety of structures and no two songs sound similar. In “Garden of disdain”, one of the more monolithic songs on the album, what stands out is the darkness evoked through Tucker’s infernal voice and the nuances of background noise. On the opposite end of the compositional spectrum, “Architect and iconoclast” is a complex, majestic, breathtaking song, at the moment my favourite on the album. The absolute genius end of “The pillars crumbling” can only be composed by Trey, and can only be heard in a Morbid Angel album. Songs like “From the hands of kings”, “For no master” and “The fall of idols” stand out for their sheer brutality and speed. “The righteous voice” is another relentlessly brutal song where at times the more classical musicality of Morbid Angel can be heard. “Paradigms warped” is a classic swampy monster of a song. The opener, “Little piles of arms”, is already a classic in my opinion; awe-inspiring vocal patterns, unique riffing, and complex structure.  Overall, this is another album from the master of the death metal art (Trey that is) that once again separates the leaders from the followers.

8. Lock Up – Demonization

I have said it before and I will say it again: Embury fell in the cauldron of riffs when he was a baby. The addition of Anton since the previous album has made Lock Up‘s sound a bit more thrashy; grindcore with a good dose of Slayer in the mix. Kevin Sharp’s inclusion is genius, as he contributes his rare brand of furious and insane vocals to the mix. The vocal patterns on “Void” sounds like something off Need to control (1994). Once again, those weathered grind craftsmen give lessons in fury and brutality. At times groovily uplifting (“Desolation architect”), at other times sluggishly heavy (“Demonization”), or moshingly mid-tempo (“Foul from the pure”, “Void”), or harcorely powerful (“The plague that stalks the darkness”), but mostly grindingly fast (“Secret parallel world”, “Locust“, “Demons raging”, etc.). I can say with conviction that this is a brilliant album.

9. Paradise Lost – Medusa

Paradise Lost has satisfied my need for excellent music album after album without fail for many years. The arrival of their new album, Medusa, did the same. This album feels even darker, slower, more brutal, and less melodic, reminiscent of Lost Paradise and Shades of god. The band suggested that it is reminiscent of Gothic, but I would disagree; nothing can ever come close to the style of Gothic. It was a one-off and I don’t think even Greg knew what he was doing when he created that masterpiece. Once again Nick makes heavy use of his growling vocals, and, as opposed to The plague within, he sounds confident. The only two songs where he predominantly uses his normal voice are the haunting “The longest winter” and the melancholic “Medusa”, maybe my favourite song on the album. “Fearless sky” is a long song that goes through various transformations, embracing different facets of Paradise Lost’s style. “Blood and chaos” is an instant hit, an extremely catchy song. “Until the grave” is another great song with a memorable chorus. “No passage for the dead” has some amazing dissonant moments reminiscent of the Shades of god era. “The longest winter” and “Gods of ancient” are two songs I am not particularly loving right now. In my opinion it would have been so much better if either of those songs were replaced by the magnificent “Shrines”, a bonus track I cannot believe was left out of the standard version 0f the album! Although this album feels at times a bit lazy to me, there are some real gems in there.

10. Immolation – Atonement

Immolation’s new album follows the well-trodden path that Immolation has paved over the decades. It is a unique and majestic style that doesn’t get boring. I have to admit that what distinguishes this album from the two previous ones, is the ridiculously heavy “Lower”. This song is really catchy, and relatively conventional, compared to Immolation’s usual unorthodox compositional style. Immolation is not known for its catchy songs, but, in my opinion, “Lower” is as close to writing one it can get with them (in the past they have come close with songs like “The weight of devotion” or “Dead to me”). I cannot have enough of this song! Of course there are numerous other great songs in this album, including “Fostering the divide”, “Above all”, “Epiphany” and another extremely catchy song, “Destructive currents”, whose tempo also reminds of Immolation’s earlier days. “When the jackals come” is another song that stands out, as it has this weird trill in one of the  main melodies, and a catchy chorus. Nothing terribly new here, but Immolation’s style is always welcome, and in my opinion the production and drum sound are not as annoying as in the previous two albums.



Awesome music in the year 2016

another year, another bunch of awesome albums that give life in this unbelievably shitty world some value. Once again, limiting my favourite albums of 2016 to a list of 10 choices proved a very difficult task, and I already regret leaving some albums out. There are a few bands whose new albums I didn’t get to listen to, such as Imperial State Electric and Disharmonic Orchestra, whose new albums I have yet to find at a reasonable price, Asphyx and Sodom, whose albums I did not bother listening to in their entirety after listening to a couple of songs, and The Adolescents, whose new album I just discovered. I will start my review of the year with albums I wasn’t impressed by.

bombs-of-hades_2014aBombs of Hades is a band I discovered because they did a split-EP with the awesome Tormented. I liked bits off their new album titled Death mask replica, but after having listened to it a few times I stopped wanting to listen to it again. I may have had a different opinion of Interment‘s new album, Scent of the buried, had it come out in the early 1990s. Maybe if it had come out back then I wouldn’t have thought that their music is a bad imitation of Entombed (“Chalice of death” is one of the most blatant rip-offs I’ve ever heard) and Dismember. But something tells me that even if the date on the back of this album was 1991 I would still consider it well-played, albeit uninspired, Swedish death metal. Protector‘s comeback album titled Cursed and coronated is sporting an awesome cover artwork. The music is not a big departure from their old sound, that is, fast but very repetitive thrash-death, but not as brutal as in the past. I personally think that their albums Golem (1988) and A shedding of skin (1991) achieved all there was to be 256_artistachieved. Abbath‘s debut album sounds unsurprisingly like post-Blizzard beasts (1997) Immortal, that is, brutal black metal with razor-sharp riffs and blastbeats, but also cold, Amebix-inspired, melancholic hymns. I think that Abbath has a unique song-writing style and his songs are always enjoyable. One of the most devastating cuts is “Endless“, whose main riff is reminiscent of Massacra’s “Apocalyptic warriors“. Another cool song is “Ashes of the damned”, whilst “Winterbane” is a good mid-tempo song. However, the main riff off the latter, as well as the second riff off “Fenrir hunts”, is reminiscent of dozens of other riffs Abbath has written in the past. Feeling that I have listened to this same album several times since the mid 90s I got tired of it quickly. Sorcery released a new album, titled Garden of bones. I liked some of the songs, and I listened the album a few times when it first came out, but got tired of it very quickly. The vocals are, in my opinion, the highlight of the album, and if Morgoth are ever in need of a singer descendthey should definitely turn to Ola Malmstrom for help. The new album by the Descendents kept me company for a few days. The style is consistent throughout the album, true to the melodic and poppy hardcore that characterise Californian punk, but far from the crazy and inventive structures and melodies of their debut. Just like with everything this band did after their groundbreaking debut, I quickly lost interest. Dark Tranquillity is an all-time favourite band, but I don’t like all their albums. Just like the last couple of albums they released, the new one had some songs I liked. I don’t think I can get over the cheesy keyboards, and the ideas that come with having a keyboard player whose influences probably come from dance music.

Some of the albums that I enjoyed, but didn’t make my top-10 list are the following: Insision released an album after many years. I first listened to them in 2002 on the awesome split-lp they did with Inveracity. Their brutal death metal is not ground-breaking but it definitely is enjoyable. destro I stopped following Destruction shortly after their comeback in the early 2000s. Although I was never a big fan, their new album titled Under attack has some awesome trademark riffs that are instantly recognisable Destruction riffs (check out the awesome “Pathogenic“, “Second to none”), and some excellent songs, like the intense and peculiar “Elegant pigs“. Slaughterday is a band that, as the name suggests, pay tribute with their music to Autopsy. Their new album (Laws of the occult) is really good. The songs are a bit too lengthy for my taste, the vocals a bit too monotonous and the riffs and melodies a bit too stolen from Autopsy, but still is a well executed and enjoyable death metal album. Testament is another cult band that I was never a fan of. The only moment in their long career that grabbed me was their album with Lombardo, the brutal The gathering. The new album, however, has some songs that are very addictive, such as the beautifully structured “The pale king“, and the rapid “The number game” and “Centuries of suffering“. Overall, there’s high quality of songwriting and execution. Deranged‘s derangnew album (Struck by a murderous siege) is an album I enjoyed quite a lot. I’ve always considered Deranged the Swedish equivalent of Cannibal Corpse, with all their Squeaky riffs and low guttural vocals, and unique drum style. With the exception of The redlight murder case (2008) I haven’t enjoyed much of their output since after III (1999). Overall I would say that this one is a very good album that sits comfortably in their 1998-2001 period. It is full of trademark catchy riffs and arrangements, good vocals, and very good production. I found some of the songs a bit too long-winded for my taste. Nevertheless, songs like “Reverent decomposition” and “The frail illusion of osteology” are instant classics! This new album made me want to revisit their post-Plainfield cemetery period. Finally, Megadeth‘s new album (Dystopia) is a good return to form. Mustaine keeps the level of riff-making to an extremely high standard, and his ability to construct songs is undeniable. With the exception of two or three songs (“Post American world”, “Conquer or die” and “Last dying wish”) I consider Dystopia maybe the best album they have released since Youthanasia (1994). Songs like “Dystopia”, “Fatal illusion“, “Death from within”, “Look who’s talking“, are pure pleasure. I cannot deny that the exposure of Mustaine’s political views on the media over many years ruined his image for me, and that has affected how I perceive his artistic output. These days I focus on the music and ignore the lyrics.

The following are my 10 favourite albums from 2016, albums that have offered countless hours of entertainment or cultivation and I anticipate will continue to do so in the future:

Diamond-Head-self-titled-cover1. Diamond Head – S/T

I’d like to start this review with a disclaimer: any NWOBHM best-of list that does not include Diamond Head’s debut, Lightning to the nations (1980), is absolutely devoid of any credibility. Their first three albums are personal all-time favourites, and Brian Tatler and Sean Harris constitute one of the best musical collaborations of all time.

The new album is clearly a throwback album – an obvious effort to tap into the sound that made Diamond Head an iconic band over the years. The new singer, Rasmus Bom Andersen, has obviously studied Sean’s style and mode of contribution to DH’s sound, and he is doing an awesome job imitating it. There are songs that sound like they came straight out of the debut, like the phenomenal “Shout at the devil”, “Diamonds”, “Speed” – which reminds of “The prince” – or the rapid “Wizard sleeve”, which is pure Deep Purple (first mark II era). Other orchestrations and melodies are reminiscent of the more progressive and atmospheric style of Canterbury (1983), like “Silence”, “All the reasons you live”, and some sections of “Bones”. “Blood on my hands”, a tremendous slow, bluesy song that could easily be on Borrowed time (1982) and in which Rasmus gives an amazing performance, is perhaps my favourite song on the album. There are some excellent orchestrations, the guitar and bass tones are excellent and the production is perfect. The annoying thing about the vinyl version is that the song “Diamonds” is inexplicably excluded from the vinyl and is included instead on a “bonus” 7inch. Overall, this is an album that has provided so far countless hours of entertainment. Brian and Rasmus emerge as an awesome compositional duet. It’s worth noting that Duncan Scott (the band’s original drummer) has a couple of song-writing credits.

28784218742. Metallica – Hardwired to Self-Destruct

Metallica is one of those few bands whose output cannot be judged with a simple “I like it” or “I don’t like it”. My opinion regarding the songs on this new album have changed a dozen times since it came out. At first I only liked a few songs (i.e. “Hardwired“, “Atlas rise”, “Moth into flame“, “Halo on fire”) but, overall, I found each song to be a bricolage of incoherent ideas.  The songs I thought were more coherent and resembled “songs” in the conventional sense, were the ones that I liked less (i.e. “Now that we’re dead”, “Dream no more”, “Am I savage?”). Compared to Death Magnetic (2008), an album that I loved and continue to love since the first listen, I initially found this album to be disappointing. Hardwired, in my opinion, lacked in two departments: choruses, and thrashy riffs.

At the same time, I found myself strangely drawn to the various ideas albeit incoherent, so I kept on listening. “Here comes revenge” gradually became one of my favourite songs on the album, and I quickly surrendered myself to the infectious groove of riffs and vocal melodies reminiscent of the And justice-Black album era on super-heavy songs like “Confusion“. Some of the heavy, slower riffs on Hardwired are super exciting, James’s vocal melodies are beautiful, and the Californian-punk vibe of the faster songs/sections (“Hardwired”, “Moth into flame”, “Spit out the bone”) is refreshing. It definitely is an album that grows on you, and the unconventional structures and melodies have something to do with that. For example, the craftily put together chorus of “Confusion” (and how it’s resolved with the line ‘my life, the war that never ends’), sends chills down my spine. The same goes for the end of “Dream no more”, a masterpiece whose heavy chorus and lyrical theme allude to “The thing that should not be”. I also thought that the lyrics are really good overall, especially compared to the poor quality of the lyrics in Death Magnetic, and there are moments that remind me of the awesomeness of old Metallica (one of my favourite moments is the verse after the first chorus of “Here comes revenge”). After many listens I think that Hardwired is a beautiful album, chock full of awesome songs that only Hetfield and Ulrich can come up with. My favourite songs would be “Dream no more”, “Confusion”, “Here comes revenge”, “Moth into flame” and “Am I savage?”.

93166-rage-first-studio-making-of-for-the-devil-strikes-again-revealed-11201373. Rage – The Devil Strikes Again

Peavy has always been among my favourite singer-songwriters. I always thought that his genius burned brighter than the sun between 1988 and 1996. During that period he was the driving force behind eight of the most brilliant albums of all time. With XIII (1998) however, and thenceforward, I thought that the elements that made Rage a unique band increasingly faded. The final nail in the coffin for this band, in my opinion, was the compositional take-over by Victor Smolski. While Smolski is an undisputedly awesome guitarist, in my opinion he was a horrendous song-writer. Unity (2002) was the last album I liked from Rage, and even on that album the songs I liked the most were three brilliant compositions by Peavy (“Insanity”, “World of pain”, “Seven deadly sins”). It turns out that Peavy himself stopped being happy with the situation and last year decided to re-assemble his band.

The result is a return to the Rage that I love and an album that sits nicely in the 1994-1996 period of Rage. It kicks off in a style similar to Black in mind, with a devastating song, the homonymous one. Whilst the riffs themselves are not on par with what Peavy, Manni, Chris and Spiros came up with back in the day, the songwriting itself is brilliant. Overall, the guitar playing in this album reminds a lot of Spiros’s playing, especially the heavy use of palm muted hitting of individual notes of chords. Peavy’s distinctive vocal melodies make the difference. His brilliance shines through gems like “The dark side of the sun”, where his vocal melody on top of a typical Slayer-ish riff makes this song one of the best in Rage’s career. Another song I love is “Ocean full of tears”, a song that is very craftily put together; Peavy’s vocal pattern on the pre-chorus is magnificent, and the way the fast double-bass kicks in during the chorus and the way it juxtaposes the contained energy of the palm-muted guitar riff are genius. The slowest song on the album, “Times of darkness”, is a dark and gloomy small masterpiece, with awesome vocal melodies and chorus. The choruses in some cases are quite formulaic (such as on songs like “Deaf, dumb and blind” and “Requiem”) and lack the adventurous spirit of old Rage. The opening riff of “Final curtain” is reminiscent of Megadeth‘s “Disconnect”, but it’s an incredible song, with a beautiful chorus, an awesome middle section and guitar solo, and ending. Among the bonus tracks, “Into the fire” is mesmerising, and I cannot believe that it is excluded from one version of this album (thankfully not the vinyl version). Overall, this is an album that made me really happy and stands proudly next to this band’s masterpieces. From recent interviews I’ve seen with the band – and the thanx lists in the album – Peavy appears to be really happy with his new music partners, and Marcos and Lucky are aware of the huge privilege they have of playing next to one of the greatest songwriters of our time. I hope they stay together and create another great album when they’re ready.

a1231087888_104. Temisto – S/T

Since Morbus Chron’s sad break-up I have been keeping an eye out for any new undertakings by Robert Andersson and Edde Aftonfalk. This search led to the discovery of Temisto back in May of this year. According to the Metal Archives, Robert sung for this band at some point, so as soon as I found out I instantly looked it up. My curiosity was rewarded greatly. This is Temisto’s debut, and although Robert is not participating in it, he did co-produce it. If it didn’t have the awesome production that it does have, the aesthetics of this album reminds of the mid-1980s when underground extreme metal was one big category, and the lines between Thrash, Death, and Black metal, by today’s standards, were blurry. If I had to pin Temisto’s sound down more specifically, the following albums instantly come to mind: Necrosis (2004) and Discipline (2001) by Cadaver, Neverending destiny (1990) by Agressor, Horrified (1989) by Repulsion and Sweven (2013) by Morbus Chron. Another, maybe more accurate description would be that this album sounds as if Morbus Chron  decided to play like Repulsion. The up-tempo moments on this album are as furious as Horrified‘s, and Necrosis‘ (or even Discipline‘s) moments of utter madness. The furious pace and vocal patterns on songs like “Succubus” and “Descent into madness” are pure Repulsion. Especially the latter song is a masterpiece of unrestrained brutality. The intro of “Temple of the damned”, another furious masterpiece, draws on a riffing style made popular by Slayer on “Postmortem”, and used extensively by bands like  Immortal. The weird riff played halfway through the song could have been found in Internecine‘s Book of lambs (2001) (for example “Ceremonies of deceit“). The slow and mid-tempo songs, especially instrumental songs like the beautiful “Demiurge”, remind of Sweven‘s dissonant and more melancholic moments. However, the instant association I made with Sweven is unfair, as any album that is compared to it (an unprecedented death metal masterpiece), is doomed to come off looking bad. The song-structures and the narratives in some cases are simple; songs like “Abyssal depths” lead nowhere, their structure reflecting the nihilistic attitude of old-school black metal, devoid of any emotions, and simultaneously devoid of any twists and interesting sections that abound in most of the other songs in this album. Still, this is an extremely intense and fascinating album that has provided me with endless hours of listening pleasure.

600x6005. Brujeria – Pocho Aztlan

Brujeria is a band for which I have mixed feelings. On the one hand, I find it impossible to resist their unique brand of grindcore-death. On the other hand, I realise that their appeal, in my case at least, stems from how their music reflects an extremely aggressive type of masculinity and femininity that I reject, yet I find “exotic” because I get to experience it from a safe distance. Anyway, my expectations for this release were not very high. Cazares and Herrera, both of whom had a big influence on Brujeria’s sound, are no longer part of the band, and since Shane Embury’s compositional loyalty lies with Napalm Death I imagined that he wouldn’t have much to contribute here. This album was therefore a pleasant surprise, as it has some awesome songs in the familiar style of Brujeria. Pocho Aztlan provides more evidence in support of the hypothesis that Embury fell in the cauldron of magic riffs when he was a kid. Most of the songs are composed by him. The combination of his trademark riffs and melodies and Juan Brujo’s insane performance have once more created something unique. Some of the songs on the album have appeared in various other formats in the last few years, such as E.P.s and compilation albums. As a result different songs are recorded under a different configuration of musicians. Erlandsson’s drum-playing can clearly be heard on songs like “No aceptan imitaciones“, and Barker’s hyper fast rolls on songs like “Satongo”. Overall, the style is very reminiscent of Brujerismo (2000). However, in my opinion, Pocho Aztlan is even better than Brujerismo, albeit without something as awesome as the two stand-out songs of the latter, i.e. “Pititis te invoco” and “Division de Norte”. Some new elements, such as the ritualistic chants on the homonymous song and “Angel de la frontera”, are adding to the quality of mystery and horror of Brujeria’s music. Songs that in my opinion stand out include “Pocho aztlan”, an awesome tune composed by Patrick Jensen, “Profecia del Anticristo”, composed by Jeff Walker, “No aceptan imitaciones”, “Isla de la fantasia”, and “Plata o plomo”, composed by Embury.

1000x10006. Entombed A.D. – Dead Dawn

The new Entombed A.D. album is awesome. “Old-school” Swedish death metal has been making a comeback for more than 10 years now, and this trend has accelerated in the last few years. Nevertheless, Entombed A.D. still have, in my opinion, an important advantage over all those new (e.g. Entrails), and newly reformed (e.g. Internment, Sorcery), bands. The advantage stems from three facts: firstly, although the songwriters of Entombed A.D. are far from being original members, they probably feel the duty to preserve the Entombed legacy. This obligation guides to some degree their song-writing practices; secondly, Olle and Nico have been in the band enough time (playing the old Entombed songs) to have embodied to some extent, and according to their interpretation, the essence of Entombed’s sound; thirdly, LG is an original member and a unique singer. These three elements make Entombed A.D., in my opinion, better than most other bands which try to reproduce what bands like Entombed, Dismember, and Grave did back in the early 1990s.

I enjoyed Dead dawn a lot. I thought it was a bit more varied than Back to the front, which had several songs that seem to follow the same recipe, that is, mid-tempo start leading up to a fast-double beat or D-beat chorus. Dead dawn has some slightly unusual doom-laden songs, like “Hubris fall”, mid-tempo groovier tracks, like “Down to Mars to ride”, and some fast Slayer-beat tunes with fast tremolo picking, like the excellent “Midas in reverse” and “Black survival”. The influence of old Entombed is obvious on songs like “Dead dawn“, reminiscent of songs like “Evilyn” off Clandestine (1991), or “Total death”, a brilliant song reminiscent of the perfection of “Serpent speech” off Hollowman (1993). The main problem I have with this release is the guitar tone, which I dislike, and the production overall; I think that these choices are not doing justice to the music, and I imagine the same songs with the sound of Clandestine or Wolverine blues would be super. All in all, it is an album that I have enjoyed a lot and, although my interest has recently waned a bit, I think that I will be coming back to it frequently.

mercylesspatheticdivinitycd7. Mercyless – Pathetic Divinity

The melodies and structures in the new offering by Mercyless explore the lost art of grim, mysterious and dissonant death metal of early 1990s Morbid Angel and Immolation, but with a much larger dose of European thrash and melody, not unlike Aggressor‘s Medieval Rites (1999). A good example would be the song “How deep is your hate” whose heavy and dissonant riffing is interrupted by a beautiful instrumental section near the end. The main riff of “Pathetic divinity” reeks off Morbid Angel, and it is super awesome and memorable. The interesting structure of songs like the aforementioned and “A representation of darkness”, or the hooks of songs like “Left to rot” and “My name is legion“, are sure to keep old-school death metalers grinning with satisfaction. “Eucharistic adoration” is another stand-out song, with an impressive sonic attack after the mid-tempo intro. The vocals are simply amazing, and quite reminiscent of Morgoth. However, I also found the vocal patterns throughout the album to be a bit repetitive. Another element that I dislike is the drum sound which is quite fake and drags down – especially the grinding parts – the impetus of the riffing. The only two songs that left me unimpressed are “Christianist” and “Liturgiae”.

5505538. Brutality – Sea of Ignorance

Brutality is a band that I’ve known and listened for decades, yet never fell in love with. The new album showcases a band that seems frozen in time; it could have easily come out in 1993. It is an album completely untouched by styles that emerged in the broader metal genre the last 23 years. The singer has always been the big asset of this band, and he is indeed doing a great job on this new album. His voice is as brutal and furious as ever. Each song is a good mix of noisy grind, but also melancholic melodies. “48 to 52” is a phenomenal song, and one of my very favourite songs of 2016 overall. The chorus is extremely catchy, the slow melancholic solo section and the grind explosion are insane. “Brutally beheaded” and “End of days” are two other of my favourite songs (the vocals on the latter are insane). “Tribute” is the most thrashy song on the album, and has some pretty cheesy lyrics, as it is full of old extreme metal band references (similar to what Entombed did with “Masters of death” and Tormented with “Reversed funeral”). Initially I did not pay attention to the Bathory cover, as it represents a period in Bathory’s career that I never liked. I now think that it is a brilliant cover, successfully capturing the mystery of the original whilst adding Brutality’s brutality. Overall, I would say that Sea of ignorance is a great album and my favourite one from them.

Cauldron_In-Ruin9. Cauldron – In Ruin

Canada’s Cauldron is another relatively new band that looks nostalgically back at 1980s heavy metal. I am very happy that I found out about this band, as this album offered countless hours of musical enjoyment. They play nondescript old-school heavy metal, and definitely they don’t offer anything terribly new, but the songs they compose are brilliant. Songs like “Burning at both ends” are driving and exciting; songs like “Hold your fire” have a rare epic quality. The choruses are absolutely infectious and the guitar solos are inspired. It took me a while to get used to the vocals, which are unusual for a heavy metal band, in that they are a bit asthmatic. My first impression was that of a band that could not find a singer, ending up with one of the other members handling the vocals as a last resort. Nevertheless, this gives Cauldron a somewhat distinctive sound, and in any case, the songwriting is so good that the vocals don’t pose a problem in the end.

64610. Dark Funeral – Where Shadows Forever Reign

I have never been a huge fan of black metal, although over the years there have been albums that I have loved and respected from the broad body of works that could be characterised as black metal. Dark Funeral made their own contribution to black metal early on with their extremely fast and majestic take on the genre. I haven’t listened to them for ages, and the last album I bought was Diabolis interium (2001) when it came out. Their new album blew me away and stayed in my mp3 player for months. “The eternal eclipse” is hands down one of their best songs, on par with “When angels forever die” (1996), “Shadows over Transylvania” (1996) and “Hail murder” (2001). Slower songs like “As I ascend” and “Temple of Ahriman” are equally brilliant. Every single song is really good and catchy, overall a fine example of mid-1990s black metal. I can imagine that being mentioned by Justin Bieber is something that can destroy a black metal band’s credibility, and probably Dark Funeral were bummed out when it happened. I only wish he had mentioned some other Black metal bands that take themselves much more seriously and would make them lose their sleep forever, such as Mayhem or Burzum.


Favourite music from 2015

The end of 2015 is closing in, so this is the time to review some of the awesome music released over the last 12 months. The year 2014 felt like an excellent year in music, with Morbus Chron releasing an unprecedented death metal masterpiece, Ratos De Porao releasing what might be the best album in their immaculate career, and At The Gates returning to the grave with a pretty awesome album, among the highlights. What makes 2015 a bit different, in my opinion, is firstly that some of metal’s authorities released a new album, including Iron Maiden, Slayer, and Blind Guardian, and secondly that awesome death metal albums were almost totally absent.

Before I get on with my appraisal for 2015 I want to explain what I mean by “favourite music” in these posts. I do not claim that particular albums are objectively good, but rather that there are albums that I cannot stop listening to, either because they are wildly entertaining or because they are “cultivating”. So, it is primarily one quantitative criterion that determines which albums will end up on this list every year, that is, endurance: how much I have listened to an album, and whether I see myself continuing to enjoy it in the future. This might be happening either because particular albums might challenge (my) musical preconceptions, urging me to keep listening to them to discover new things, or because they are entertaining in a forthcoming way that caters to my own subjective preferences and expectations.

unleashedStarting with the albums I liked less, I will have to start with Unleashed‘s Dawn of the nine. The last album that I liked by Unleashed was Hammer battalion (although  I would not compare it to the first four albums not even as a joke). Since then the band under the influence of Fredrik has evolved into a blackened-death band which does not appeal to me anymore. Having said that, I could actually listen to the new album, whereas I found impossible to listen to the previous two. “Land of the thousand lakes”, “The bolt thrower”, “Let the hammer fly”, and “A new day will rise” are among the few songs that I liked. I actually find it difficult to explain why I don’t like Unleashed’s new album; I just don’t feel like listening to these songs again after I have listened to them for a couple of times. Ghost is a band that I keep going back to every time they release a new album, hoping that it will be something that I like. The reason why I still try to listen to them is because I recognise that they have a somewhat unique sound, which make them interesting. Still cannot get into them entrailthough. Entrails is a Swedish band that I never paid too much attention too. I listened to their two previous albums on YouTube when they came out and I thought that they were another one of the imitators of the real awesome old-school Swedish death bands, full of dull tremolo-picked riffs played just for the sake of tremolo-picking. I think the same thing about their new album, nevertheless, I did enjoy a few songs on it. “Epitome of death“, for example, kicks off with a really beautiful melody, moves on to a nice Revel-in-flesh-like groove and a cool chorus, and ends with an amazing, simply brilliant, melody! The song “Obliterate” kicks off with a nice grim melody which then leads to a riff that could easily be on Dismember’s Massive killing capacity album. So, I do like it, but how many times can one hear imitations of “Revel in flesh” before it starts getting boring? A band I was excited about was the project of tau-01The Baron (Amebix) and Away (Voivod) called Tau Cross. Their debut album has variety and the depressing mood that characterises both Amebix and Voivod. For sure they are not scared to play around with the conventions of popular song-writing, with songs like “Hangman’s Hyll”, which is among the ones I like the most. More uptempo songs like “Stonecracker” reminded me a bit of Born Dead Icons. Overall, Tau Cross was what I expected, that is, a more metallic version of Amebix’s last album, but left me somewhat unimpressed. “We control the fear” sounds like it’s written by Trey Parker of South Park.

600full-chris-barnesThe new Six Feet Under album (Crypt of the devil) is the next step in the evolution of the band after the loss of its identity that followed the departure of Butler and Gall and the introduction of short-lived line-ups and session musicians. Music-wise it is typical but good brutal American death metal, and includes some cool riffs and patterns. However, in my opinion, it lacks both the originality and the “chemistry” great albums are made off. Moreover, gradually since 2007 Barnes’ voice has been becoming monotonous and has lost its flexibility, and sometimes makes me feel like someone is scratching a board with a nail. The songs are good and I enjoy them, but as a whole this band has lost its distinctiveness. For those who did not like the classic SFU this is a good thing, and I have to agree that Death rituals was a snooze-fest. But, in my opinion, albums like Haunted, Maximum violence, or even Commandment cannot be topped by this new ensemble. Gruesome is a new gruessuper-group from the USA that pays homage to early Death. I first heard about them through Napalm Death’s Facebook page and I got really excited. The first song that I heard off their debut was “Savage land”, and it is without question the most accurate imitation of Leprosy-era Death I had ever heard. It turns out that all the songs are awkwardly similar to Death songs mainly of the Spiritual healing era, but also Leprosy and Human. The intro of “Gangrene” brings into mind “Flattening of emotions”. “Gruesome” starts in exactly the same way as “Spiritual healing”. This is a collection of very cool songs, played passionately (Gus Rios’ drumming is awesome!) but they feel a bit weird because they are so obvious rip-offs. It kind of feels like listening to Death’s Fate (1992) compilation album that Nilecontains songs from their first four albums. Nile‘s new album is brutal in the usual way, and their style is by default exciting, and I liked it as much as I have liked everything they have done since Black seeds of vengeance; that is, I enjoyed it but didn’t get super-excited. It is obvious that Dallas and Sanders are pushing themselves to their limits and their guitar playing has reached new unreachable heights. The band-members themselves have talked about the album in terms of it being less complicated than the previous one, and more “in your face”. Although this album indeed constitutes an extremely brutal attack, I did not think it is more straightforward than At the gates of Sethu. Songs like “Liber stellae rubeae” are striking in their complexity. The song “Evil to cast out all evil” is also a very complex song (its intro melody is quite similar to the respective melody of “Supreme humanism of megalomania” off At the gates of Sethu), as well as one of the most beautiful and complete songs in the album. The more straightforward and devastating songs, such as “Rape of black earth” and “Call to destruction” are also really good.

imperSome other albums that I enjoyed but did not make my top 10 list are the following: Imperial State Electric‘s new album (Honk Machine) is beautiful, as expected. I personally think it cannot be compared to any of their previous offerings, as I found it to be less varied and powerful, further emphasising their more pop inclinations. Nevertheless, some of the songs, including “Cold down here”, “All over my head“, “Another armageddon awaits”, and “Maybe you’re right”, proved to be beautifully addictive. David Ingram’s new band, Down among the dead men, came up with an album which is very enjoyable, albeit, in my opinion, quite repetitive. Exterminate! Annihilate! Destroy! is a mix of classic hardcore and death metal with Ingram’s trademark growls and hooky vocal patterns. Some of my favourite songs include “Unearthly child”, “Tooth and claw” and horreThe ambassadors of death“. Horrendous is another band whose debut album (The chills, 2012) drew heavily on Entombed’s first two albums. I thought it was an ok debut, which is more than I can say about their sophomore album which I found boring. Their new album titled Anareta is quite different from its predecessors, as it is more melodic and complex – but overall conventional – and quite pleasant. Similar riffs and arrangements can be found on some classic US prog death metal albums, such as Death’s The Sound of perseverance (1998) and Cynic’s Focus (1993), although Horrendous occasionally break into more furious brutal tremolo-picking, as on the songs “Polaris” and “Sum of all failures“. The rapid riffs and vocal patterns of “Acolytes” also bring into mind late 80s-early 90s Pestilence. As opposed to the aforementioned bands, however, Horrendous, in my opinion do not succeed, or maybe are not interested, in weaving all the different riffs/sections into coherent narratives. Still, this is a very good album with loads of things to be discovered. Tribulation‘s Children 0f the night monopolised my attention for a while and I still consider it a very good album. In my mind it sounds like the combination of Dark Tranquility’s Haven (2000), Septic Flesh’s Revolution DNA (1999), and Sentenced’s Frozen (1998). In other words, it is a very melancholic and melodic metal album, conforming to traditional Rock/metal structures, and, despite the growling vocals, I wouldn’t characterise it as extreme. Moreover, all the songs are slow/mid-paced and the melodies are similar, and even though I like the stylistic consistency and I was initially impressed, I got tired of it quite quickly.

Blind-Guardian-Beyond-The-Red-Mirror1. Blind Guardian – Beyond the red mirror

Beyond the red mirror is my favourite album from 2015 and there is only one serious contender to it (see next choice on the list). Comparing any band to Blind Guardian has become ridiculously meaningless over the years. The majority of heavy metal bands still seem to be stuck to the typical compositional canon of verse-chorus-verse. Comparing these bands to Blind Guardian is completely unfair since the latter abandoned this recipe as early as in the early 1990s. While Blind Guardian songs still have choruses and repeating themes, they cannot by any means be reduced to typical popular songs. The manner in which themes develop, constantly change, or are briefly interrupted by new melodies and themes, is breathtaking. The pleasure I can derive from each single song off Beyond the red mirror, exceeds pleasure derived from other bands’ entire albums. The album opens majestically with a choir performing a melody reminiscent of Orff’s Carmina Burana, setting the mood for the remainder of the album. “The ninth wave” is a great opener, but it is not by any means my favourite song on the album, as I find it a bit patchy and too orchestral for my taste. The following song “Twilight of the gods” is a beautiful song, the most conventional one in the album, full of amazing melodies, riffs and an awe-inspiring ending. “At the edge of time” is the song that strays the most from what Blind Guardian have done in the past, due to its theatrical/operatic character and the dominant role of the orchestra. It is a very different but magnificent song all the same. Overall, Hansi’s melodies are enchanting, and the riff-orchestration is magnificent. There are some razor-sharp riffs that would make death metal bands blush. There are some super heavy grooves and riffs that allude to the grandeur of Black Sabbath (such as the amazing rhythm guitars throughout “Sacred mind“). This band knows how to keep things interesting by slipping in short sentences (like on “Sacred mind” the phrase, “chance or predestined end”, near the end), explosive mood changing passages (such as “wake the witch who’ll be the brave one, don’t say what it’s like…etc.”, on “The holy grail“), or themes that offer resolution (such as the end of “Prophesies” – “But don’t be afraid, there’s more beyond the red door, but please ignore their pleas, just break the seal…etc.”).

There’s a couple of things that I dislike about this, otherwise perfect, album. Firstly, although some of the orchestral parts are amazing, like in “Grande parade”, a purely astounding song, in many other songs the orchestra seems to be consuming the electric instruments. Rhythm guitars are an essential element to Guardian’s sound and, in my opinion, they are too low in the mix. Most rhythm guitar parts in this album are astonishing, yet they are often buried under the orchestra and the drums. That’s a pity. Secondly, on their quest to create a flawless masterpiece I am afraid that Blind Guardian forgot to make an album that sounds “real”. I bet that the producer/band picked out the best version of any chorus and copy-pasted it from one section to the other (the most obvious example is the song “The throne”, an otherwise monumental masterpiece of epic proportions). While I understand that this might be common practice in the music industry, I would expect bands like Blind Guardian that respect themselves to refrain from it. Just because a section is repeated doesn’t mean it should be copied and pasted. I’m thinking of “Lionheart” from the album A twist in the myth, where small changes in the way Hansi sings the chorus, like that amazing trill he does with his voice the second time (on the word “easier”) adds to the song in such a big way. In any case, despite these minor hiccups, this is an astounding album.

SlayerRepentless2. Slayer – Repentless

Slayer’s new album is the only serious contender to Blind Guardian’s masterpiece. As a teenager, and like many other people around the world, I accepted Slayer as a unique band, as a band that is brilliant in ways other bands cannot even dream of. In recent years I came to realise that those elements that made me love Slayer back in the day are actually contested by many fans of heavy metal. For example, for some reason many heavy metal fans feel the need to express their dislike for Araya’s vocals and for Jeff’s and Kerry’s guitar-playing abilities. Those things have never been an issue for me; Araya’s vocals and Slayer’s guitar solos are two of the things that attracted me to them. I have also come to realise that most of those people who bash Slayer really enjoy criticising Kerry’s song-writing ability. Again that has never been an issue with me. I am not into Slayer just because of Jeff’s songs. Kerry-penned songs like “Piece by piece” , “Praise of death”, “Expendable youth”, “Temptation”, “Sex, murder, art”, “Circle of beliefs”, and so on, have been among my all time favourite Slayer songs.

Having said that, I have to admit that knowing that all songs but one on the new album were written by Kerry, I was a bit reserved. This is because part of the thing that made Slayer special was the juxtaposition of Jeff’s to Kerry’s style. My expectations were a bit lower than they would usually be. This does not mean that because it is one of my favourite bands I don’t have high expectations. Whenever I listen to a new album by an established band I ask myself the question, “If this were the album of a new band, not an established one that I am emotionally invested in, would I like it?”. The answer to this question with regard to “Repentless” is a resounding “yes”. After having listened to the new album literally hundreds of times I can say with certainty that I love it. I actually loved it from the first time I listened to it, and it makes me feel grateful for Slayer not breaking up after Jeff’s demise. Kerry really stepped up and offered some of his best songs yet. The stylistic homogeneity of the album is comforting and each song is beautifully crafted, loyal to the superior style that Slayer accomplished early on in their career. While some songs follow the traditional intro riff-verse-chorus formula (“Repentless”, “Cast the first stone”, “Atrocity vendor”), there are always variations that stir things up. On “Cast the first stone” (what a masterpiece!) after the second and third chorus an awesome trill-riff interrupts the normal flow, on top of Araya’s monumental voice screaming ‘When the war-cries echo, sacrifice is you’, and ‘On fields of blood you will pay’, respectively. The relentless beating on songs like “Repentless“, “Implode” and the excellently re-imagined “Atrocity vendor” are godly! The final section of “Implode” sends chills down my spine. The punky “You against you” (some excellent dissonant soloing on this one) is very refreshing and brilliantly captures the youthful mood of Undisputed attitude (1996). The dark/disturbing aesthetics of “When the stillness comes” – both musical and lyrical – is again unique; only Slayer can pull off such an awesome song. The way Tom sings the last verse is chilling, and the lyrics are the best on a killer-themed song since “213” in 1994 (Kerry has been ambivalent about who wrote the lyrics. Here he says he wrote them, while here he says Tom wrote them). “Piano wire”, one of Jeff’s final songs, is a song built around Jeff’s trademark dissonant chords, accompanied by Araya’s growling, semi-dazed voice, and a weird, unsettling chorus (the fast section with the solo sounds more like something Kerry would write). The musical narrative on songs like “Vices” and “Pride in prejudice” (the latter referring to police violence against African-Americans) is so compelling that, in my ears, are instant classics.

This is an album chock-full of awesome and catchy choruses, great song structures, and, in several occasions, really good lyrics. Kerry – as in Seasons in the abyss (1990), Divine intervention (1994), and Christ Illusion (2006) – is in top form. Tom deserves special mention as I think that he gives his best performance maybe since Seasons. On many songs I can actually hear him getting more pissed-off as the song advances! For instance, on “Atrocity vendor” by the time he sings the last chorus he is basically growling. For sure there are some minor repetitions here and there, for example the vocal pattern of “Repentless” is similar to the one in “Consfearacy”, but that’s somewhat typical for Slayer (remember how “Reborn”, off Reign in blood (1986), has the same vocal pattern as “Hell awaits”, or how “Praise of death” sounds a lot like “Necrophiliac”?). Overall, I consider this as a truly amazing album that I would not hesitate to characterise as a masterpiece. Slayer is a superior band, and by sticking to the style they invented and know best they casually created an album that stands out in the crowd of ever-expanding metal bands, many of whom are good but cannot even dream of creating something so unique and timeless.

the-judgement-scanner-new-album-20143. Scanner – The judgement

The last time a power metal album appeared on my best-of list was 2010. This year, however, two power metal albums unequivocally crept their way into my best-of list. Scanner is another German heavy metal band that I have always loved, and they happened to release a new album in this great for German power metal year. While Scanner started about the same time as Blind Guardian  – and in the mid-90s they were even compared to them – they always had their own identity that stands out among their peers. Unfortunately, I don’t have the words to describe what this identity consists of. I would say that Axel’s writing style is unique and that I would be able to identify it any time, but I cannot explain why. I guess it has something to do with the darkness his music evokes; lots of minor chord progressions and heavier riffs than most power metal bands. At any rate, Ball of the damned (1996) and Mental reservation (1994) are up there with the two Keeper albums (1987; 1988), Missing link (1993) and Perfect man (1988) and most Blind Guardian albums. While Blind Guardian evolved into something that can hardly be compared to their late 80s-early 90s days, The judgement could have easily been released during that period. All songs can be characterised as traditional heavy/power metal songs, with Scanner’s uniquely imaginative trademark sound. I find the new singer to be a particularly interesting case. At times I find his singing style too simplistic and, hence, unfitting for the leading role of singers in power metal bands. For example on the song “F.T.B” his singing is quite monotonous and dry and reminds me a lot of Casey Royer of D.I. on songs like “Pervert nurse”. However, at other times I feel that he might be a genius. His performance on songs like “Eutopia“, “Known better“, “Battle of Poseidon” or “Legionary” is astounding, and those high-pitched screams are just insane! The album opens with an awesome intro that is reminiscent of the Halloween theme tune by John Carpenter. There’s not much I can say about the rest of the songs, other than they are all instantly classic power metal masterpieces. Axel has easily come up with some of his best riffs and melodies yet. Listening to the opening riff of “Eutopia” and the beautiful mellow instrumental part half-way through (so classy!), the brutal rhythm section of “Known better” and the brilliant chorus, the background melody on the verses of “Nevermore”, I get chills down my spine. A classic album. Favourite songs: “Known better”, “Nevermore”, “Battle of Poseidon”, “Eutopia”, “The race”, “Legionary”.

Paradise-Lost-The-Plague-Within4. Paradise Lost – The plague within

It’s been three years since the last masterpiece by Paradise Lost. Over the last decade Paradise Lost has established itself as one of my three all time favourite bands (alongside Napalm Death and Blind Guardian), and with good reason. Paradise Lost belongs to that under-populated category of bands whose new material stands proudly to its early masterpieces. The band’s last three albums are reminiscent of the brilliant Icon (1993) and Draconian times (1995). The new album explores the more dissonant melodies and depressing mood originally found in Shades of god (1992). Mackintosh proves once more that he is one of the most important contemporary musicians. Compositions such as the Baroquesque “Beneath broken earth”, a masterfully crafted death-doom hymn, challenge popular notions of melody and composition in the metal genre. The tapped melody on the chorus of “Victim of the past” sends chills down my spine. The structure and melodies of “An eternity of lies” are breath-taking. Holmes revisits his growling vocals, something he hasn’t done since 1992, which prevail throughout the album. I personally think that either the band or the producer consciously decided to not overproduce Holmes’ vocals, hence keeping them more true to his abilities and his live performance. That’s a good thing because for almost two decades now his live performance pales in comparison to the studio “performance”. Finally, I have to confess that each time a new PL album comes out I can’t help but think how much better it would have sounded if Matthew Archer played the drums. This doesn’t mean that Adrian is not good, but rather that I prefer Matthew’s style for Paradise Lost. Favourite songs: “Beneath broken earth”, “Victim of the past”, “An eternity of lies”, “Terminal” (what a chorus!!!), “Return to the sun“, “Sacrifice the flame”.

Print5. Enforcer – From Beyond

I initially thought that Enforcer’s new album is much better than Death by fire (2013) but not as good as the brilliant Diamonds (2010). I now think that it is equally good – if not better – to Diamonds, despite lacking an obvious stand-out masterpiece like “Katana”. The style is closer to Diamonds, as the balance tips towards mid-tempo songs, with only two fast songs, the instant classic “Destroyer”, and the unrelenting “Hell will follow” (reminiscent of the early German speed metal of Avenger), which has an amazingly furious instrumental change half-way through, as well as three other up-tempo songs, “Banshee”, “Farewell” and the Axel Rudy Pell-ish “One with fire“. “Farewell” is a masterpiece, and probably my favourite song on the album. It is driven by a pull-off riff slightly reminiscent of Maiden’s “Flash of the blade”, and a hook on the chorus which is simply fantastic. Enforcer continue the tradition of reserving the 6th spot in the playlist for an awesome instrumental song that pays tribute to Iron Maiden (on songs like “Genghis Khan”) and Satan (on songs like “The ritual”). The melancholic mood and vocals in the melancholic but powerful “Below the slumber” are a bit reminiscent of Crimson Glory. Part of the verse vocal melody of “From beyond” is a rip-off of “The final countdown” by Europe, but the rest of the song is totally different; a very memorable and awesome song. I urge everyone who loves the classic NWOBHM sound (awesome twin-guitar melodies and beautiful solos) mixed with some German influences (fast sharp riffs and screaming vocals) to get this album.

BlackTripShadowline6. Black Trip – Shadowline

The second album by the new Swedish heavy metal gods Black Trip is awesome. I don’t think I will ever like it as much as their debut which is one of the best heavy metal debuts ever made, but I consider it to be a good successor. The main difference between the two albums is that Peter is not the sole composer this time around. Instead, Joseph contributes two songs (“Shadowline”, “The storm”) and a short instrumental, Jonas one song (“Berlin Model 32”), and Sebastian another one (“Scenery”). Sebastian’s song is a bit more rock-orientated, even reminiscent of Imperial State Electric. The listener of this beautiful album will be happy to encounter enchanting opening riffs that flirt with NWOBHM and British hard rock conventions, excellent twin-guitar solos and melodies, awesome vocals that are melodious yet powerful, and great musicianship overall. My favourite songs are “Over the worldly wall”, “Clockworks“, “Subvisual sleep”, “Shadowline”, and “Danger”.

115004_original_14417099037. Iron Maiden – The book of souls

I haven’t been so excited about a Maiden album since The X factor (1995), which I adore to this day. While I thought that all the albums since Bruce and Adrian’s return had some awesome songs worthy of the Maiden legacy, I also thought that most songs were boring. For one thing, Adrian took over as a composer and Steve’s input decreased considerably. I thought that Dance of death (2003) had many excellent songs, mainly those written by Gers and Murray, and that A matter of life and death (2006) was overall really good, albeit unexciting (with the exception of the standout “The pilgrim”). In my opinion, the new album goes down a different path to the one Maiden have been going down for many years now. The band pulls off some gems that hint to the glory days of the 1980s. The album opens in a majestic way with Dickinson’s “If eternity should fail”, a song full of great vocal-melodies, a big chorus, a fast mid-section with a catchy guitar harmony, and an epic ending. I haven’t heard such a good beginning on a Maiden album since The X factor (1995). I am quite happy that they have abandoned the cringy radio-friendly, supposedly “hit” short songs that opened their albums between Virtual XI (1998) and A matter of life and death (2006). The eponymous song is an epic masterpiece crafted by Gers and Harris, with a super heavy main riff, brilliant melody on the chorus, and an amazing faster-paced change. Dickinson’s performance brings it to new heights. This song reminds me of the Maiden of my youth, when I thought that they were they best band in the planet. An awesome song like “Tears of a clown” manifests a band capable of fashioning typical, old-school heavy metal tunes that bring into mind the No prayer for the dying (1990) and Fear of the dark (1992) period (ironically it is partially written by Smith). “Death or glory” is similarly an old-school heavy metal song with amazing vocal melodies and memorable riffs. “The red and the black” is along with the eponymous song an absolute masterpiece written in the unconventional melody lines that plague Steve Harris’ mind for 40 years now. The twin guitar melodies in the end of the song are pure brilliance! “When the river runs deep” starts off with a riff whose fury is reminiscent of something Smith would have written in the mid-80s. Overall, I consider it a very enjoyable album that reminds us that Maiden is the best heavy metal band that has ever been. As it has been the case for many years now, the production sucks.

Napalm-Death-Apex-Predator-Easy-Meat8. Napalm Death – Apex predator/ Easy meat

Napalm Death’s new album is, to my ears, very similar to 2012’s Utilitarian. The main difference between these last two albums and those that were released between 2000 and 2009 is that the former have lots of songs that flirt with the pure noise conventions of grindcore, while the latter had much more thought-through and riff-orientated songs. Indeed Apex predator might be the noisiest album with which ND have ever come up. Most of Mitch’s songs are characterised by the typical cross-over style strumming and beat, with the exception of the hyper-fast “Stunt your growth”, the slow and agonising “Dear slum landlord”, and the slightly groovier “Timeless flogging”. Embury provides the cuts that, in my opinion, stand-out more such as “Hierarchies“, “Cesspits” and “How the years condemn“. All in all, ND once more maintain high levels of healthy aggression and offer some pretty diverse and exciting songwriting.

Satan_Atom_By_Atom9. Satan – Atom by atom

Satan can make both its contemporaries (e.g. Iron Maiden) and the young bands of the new wave of old heavy metal alike blush! Bands like Maiden still write awesome songs  but they have completely lost their edge and energy, and newcomers like Enforcer, lack the sophistication of old bands that know their craft. Satan is both energetic and powerful, and sophisticated. The new album is beautiful. The riffs and arrangements bring to mind great moments in metal history such as Megadeth‘s Rust in peace (1990, which was influenced by Satan in the first place!) or Mercyful Fate. The riffing is the highlight of this album. The songs are riff driven, rather than melody driven. Indeed, sometimes the vocal lines feel kind of monotonous and some songs sound like instrumentals for which the vocals was an afterthought (the vocals reminded me of Germany’s Paradox from time to time). The music is nevertheless fascinating, and lots of the vocal melodies are also beautiful and add an extra layer of awesomeness (such as on the eponymous song). Favourite songs: “Atom by atom”, “Ahriman”, “The devil’s infantry“.

ungod10. Morgoth – Ungod

I found Morgoth’s new album to be very good, albeit a bit monotonous; the first couple of times I listened to it, it felt a bit like it was composed off one long song with minor variations. It took a few listens to appreciate its subtle beauty. This album is often reminiscent of the more atmospheric moments of Odium (1993), and at times offers the raw brutality of Cursed (1991). Songs like “Voice of slumber“, “Snakestate” and “God is evil” are hard to find these days and make my skin crawl with sweet nostalgia. The beginning of “Snakestate” is like it came straight out of Odium. “Black enemy”‘ has one of the most memorable choruses that Morgoth have written, and they sure have their share of memorable choruses. The same song is a perfect example of Morgoth’s unique style of building tension that is eventually released through a fast two-beat (kick-snare) drum pattern. While the overall sound is loyal to Morgoth’s trademark style of slow and agonising tremolo-picking, reminiscent of Death‘s “Pull the plug” (the pre-chorus bit), there are also some new elements in their sound, such as the beautifully harmonised melody on the chorus of “Descent into hell”. Karsten Jager who replaced Marc Grewe – a genius vocalist who absolutely defined the brilliance of the old Morgoth albums, as well as Comecon’s third album – is doing a very good job imitating his predecessor. Lyricwise, one can find the usual death metal themes around murder, pain and suffering, but also hints of a critique of capitalist exploitation of the environment and the masses. Harald Busse’s lyrics particularly are very nice, and the rest of the lyrics are not bad either. Also, listening to the song “Nemesis” whilst reading Lovecraft’s chilling poem (not included in the lyric sheet, I imagine for copyright-related reasons) is pretty awesome. The cover artwork and general design are outstanding.


In hindsight: great albums omitted 2010-2014

Since 2010 I have been writing a post at the end of each year accounting for each year’s music offerings. However, as it happens given financial, time-related and other constraints, many great albums often go unnoticed in time for each year’s recount. In this post I will mention some brilliant albums that deserved to be on the five lists that I compiled over the last five years, but were not. Before I get on with this task I will also mention some albums that I heard over the years and, although I would not include them in the best-of list I still enjoyed them a lot.

I consider Foo Fighters to be a very unreliable band. They have released an album that I consider to be a flawless masterpiece (One to one) and then a bunch of albums that I cannot listen to. Their 2012 album, Wasting Light, is an awesome album full of awesome tunes which at times flirt with grunge, at others with garage rock and hard rock. A song like “Dear Rosemary” could have easily been written by Nicke Andersson. Moving on, although not a fan of melodic technical death metal, Gorod‘s A perfect absolution (2012) is a pretty cool album. Fans of the genre will definitely appreciate some excellent riffs and structures that borrow a lot from post-Whisper Supremacy Cryptopsy and post-Goremageddon Aborted, Necrophagist, as well as Atheist, the forefathers of technical death metal. “Sailing into the earth” has some super inventive riffs. The more clean and shouted vocals still make me cringe, but overall this is a good album. Weapons to Hunt is the continuation of Infinited Hate, the band fronted by Aad from Sinister and the former guitarist of Sinister, a death metal genius, Ron. The album they released in 2012 titled Blessed in sin, is an old school death metal monolith, a bit more thrashier than both Sinister and Infinited Hate. Although I think it suffers production-wise (I cannot stand the sound of the drums), it is a great death metal album full of insane riffs that embody the trademark genius of Ron. Dark Tranquility‘s Construct (2013) is another album I eventually liked, but didn’t blow me away. Henriksson’s limited involvement in songwriting is quite apparent, as there is an almost complete lack of fast songs (with the exception of segments on the brilliant “Science of noise” and “Apathetic”). Nevertheless, DT is lucky to have several great songwriters and the result is a very emotional and dark album with some great tunes.

I will now move on to some albums that are marked by pure excellence, but, for various reasons, were left out of each year’s best-of lists:

phpThumb_generated_thumbnailjpg1. Danzig – Deth red sabaoth (2010)

Danzig’s Deth red sabaoth is quite a treat of an album. Although I have been a huge Misfits and Samhain fan for many years I never really got into Danzig’s solo band.  I liked his first album, although I have not listened to it for many years. Many of his other albums sounded boring to me back in the day, but if this album is even slightly representative of them I think I should revisit them. Darkness and heaviness are two things that are not stranger to Danzig, and this album is full of both. At times it reminds of Black Sabbath and Type O Negative, but a much deadlier and sicker version of both. Time has definitely taken its toll on Danzig’s voice, but his songwriting ability is still sublime. I like all of the songs on it, but particularly “Rebel spirits“, “On a wicked night“, “Deth red moon“, and “Left hand rise above“.

enfr2. Enforcer – Diamonds (2010)

Enforcer is probably the leading heavy/power metal band in Sweden’s expanding old-school heavy metal movement. Diamonds, their second album, is a pure masterpiece that I listened only recently and completely blew me away. While their debut album and their third one are closer to the Germanic interpretation of British heavy metal, reminiscent of the faster moments of Accept, Avenger, and early Rage, as well as US power metal, Diamonds is much more pure British heavy metal. On songs like the unbelievable “Katana“, “High roler” and “Diamonds”, the NWOBHM praise is crystal clear. From time to time other influences find their way into their beautiful musicality, such as early Queensryche (on “Running in menace”). On the faster songs the influence of other British bands, like Satan, is also apparent. Everything is perfect about this album; awesome, riffs, awesome choruses, awesome solos, and perfect playing ability by all band-members. An absolute masterpiece.

majes3. Immolation – Majesty and Decay (2010)

When this album came out in 2010 I was slightly disappointed, which is the reason why it was not included in that year’s best-of list. In hindsight, it should have definitely been included. At the time I felt that this album was quite stagnant and did not introduce anything new in the Immolation legacy. The introduction, as well as the fact that it had an instrumental piece near the end pissed me off because I always considered Immolation a no-bullshit kind of band, and I thought that all this filler crap were just gimmicks of lesser bands. I still always skip the intro and the instrumental piece. I also had an issue with the awful drum sound which unfortunately persisted in Immolation’s next album. Immolation always had this swampy and under-produced sound, which I think was very special and integral to their identity. Going from that to the fake triggered sound of this album was disappointing. However, the song-writing is excellent as always. Songs like “A glorious epoch“, “A token of malice“, “Divine code” and “The rapture of ghosts” are up there with the best songs in their career.

morbus-chron-sleepers-in-the-rift-cover4. Morbus Chron – Sleepers in the rift (2011)

The first Morbus Chron album is a masterpiece of Swedish death metal that stands proudly next to giants of the genre, like Entombed and Dismember. Having said that, the references one immediately gets are not necessarily Swedish death metal bands but those bands that Dismember and Entombed drew on back in the day, such as Autopsy and Death. Indeed, there are riffs directly lift off Autopsy’s first couple of albums. However, the manner in which these influences are woven in MC’s style is almost magical. The tempos are a bit more spasmodic and intense than any old Swedish death metal band, with the exception maybe of Afflicted. Robert’s singing is fascinating, he is a truly brilliant performer. I listened to this masterpiece a year after its release and it took me at least another year to find the vinyl version, which includes the brilliant “Obscuritas“, one of the most excellent songs of Swedish death metal.

AMON-Liar-in-Wait5. Amon – Liar in wait (2012)

I properly listened to Liar in wait a year after it was released and my initial contact with it was an awkward one. The song that opens the album is one that still I don’t consider representative of the rest of the songs, in fact I consider it to be the worst on the album. The rest of the songs are monuments of furious old school death metal, where one hyper-brutal riff follows the other without giving the listener any room to breathe. In one word, this album is relentless. The prevalent tempo is the blast-beat, with a few short slower passages and a few slayer-beat sections. The singer has some genuinely brutal vocals and the capacity to sing really fast, albeit the style is quite monotonous. The winning point of this record is definitely the purely astounding riffs. In many cases there is a certain quality to the riffs that is reminiscent of classical music and I often envision them being played by an orchestra. Some bring into mind Deicide‘s Legion, such as the opening riff of “Lash thy tongue and vomit lies” and the second riff of “Semblance of man”. The excellently harmonised manic riffs on “Eye of the infinite” and the riffmageddon on “Semblance of man” and the ABSOLUTELY MIND-BLOWING “Sentience and sapience” are jaw-dropping. The vinyl version comes with a great cover-art and a lyrics inner sleeve. I really hope they will release another album, ’cause this one is a masterpiece.

zt6. Tragedy – Darker days ahead (2012)

Tragedy’s latest album was a bit hard to digest and I have to admit that when it first came out it confused me. Having released three masterpieces of fast brutal hardcore – whereby the D-beat constituted the backbone of almost every melancholic and depressing melody which contributed to the establishment of their unique identity – the considerable slowing down of pace came as a surprise. In hindsight, this album is not that different. Anyone interested in Tragedy will instantly identify Tragedy’s distinctive attitude. It is not even that more miserable than the earlier albums. The main difference is the abandonment of the D-beat. I still find it a bit difficult to listen to, but every time I do I get chills down my spine. “Darker days ahead“, “Power fades” and “To earth like dust” must be some of the best songs ever written.

black7. Black Trip – Goin’ under (2013)

I listened to Black Trip at the end of 2014 and I couldn’t believe my ears. Heavy metal hasn’t been so awesome in decades. Black Trip is the brainchild of Peter Stjarnvind, a brilliant musician who has left his mark on pillars of Swedish metal, such as Entombed (Peter’s contributions among others include the awesome “What you need” and “Night for day“) and Merciless (Peter’s contributions include “Violent obsession” and “Fallen angels universe“). While Black Trip obviously stand on the shoulders of giants, they do so in an inspiring way. The songs of this album are reminiscent of early Iron Maiden (e.g. “No tomorrow“, “The bells”), Saxon and Thin Lizzy (e.g. “Goin Under“, “Radar“), Kiss (e.g. “Putting out the fire“), and Mercyful Fate (e.g. “Tvar Dabla“). The way these songs are being put together, however, is magical. Joseph Tholl is a genius singer/lyricist, Peter’s soulful solos are perfectly complemented by Sebastian’s furious leads, and all the energy is craftily captured and engineered by the competent hands of Fred Estby and Dolf De Borst in Gutterview studios, the new Mecca of Swedish hard rock and heavy metal. (*Some of the lyrics on the song “The bells” are taken from Edgar Allan Poe’s poem of the same name)

3803938. Imperial State Electric – Reptile brain music (2013)

The reason I did not listen to ISE’s latest album when it first came out is that I could not find the vinyl version, so I had to wait until the early 2014. Music-wise, I guess this album picks up where the previous one left off. Nicke has written some of his best tunes so far, like the contagious “More than enough of your love“, the bluesy “Faustian bargains“, the furious “Born again“, which brings into mind another tune Nicke wrote years ago, “I wanna touch” (Hellacopters). “Nothing like you said it would be” draws heavily on Kiss’s first album. One of the exciting things about this album is Nicke’s collaboration with Fred Estby in putting together the song “Dead things”, a dark and heavy song whose atmosphere is reminiscent of their previous collaboration in Necronaut on the song “The tower of death“. It is obviously a fascinating album, yet I can’t help but compare it to the previous two albums which, in my ears are much better. The main thing I disliked about this album is the lyrics, which, compared to the previous two albums, seem a bit rushed.

pentagram19. Pentagram Chile – The malefice (2013)

Pentagram is a band that has been mentioned as an influence by several bands that I worship, such as Napalm Death, Dismember and Entombed. I was also aware that Anton, who replaced Jesse in Lock Up, was Pentagram’s guitarist. That made me look them up a few years ago and I found a video of their awesome demos on YouTube. This album is officially their first ever and has new songs that could have been written in the late 1980s. The style is very similar to Anton’s main band, Criminal, although Pentagram is much less groovy. If anything, this album is extremely addictive, the way albums used to be in the past; full of catchy riffs, choruses and clever yet approachable arrangements. In that sense, what Pentagram do on this album is a lost art. While the vocals and lots of the arrangements are very brutal, the thrash elements are also strong on Pentagram’s sound. “The apparition“, a song that is meant to become a classic, is reminiscent of early Slayer on songs like “At dawn they sleep“. The German thrash influence can be seen on several songs, especially in “Arachnoid”, whose main riff sounds a lot like Kreator‘s “Terrible certainty“. In some ways lots of riffs on this album, like the riff that opens the album, sound a lot to me like Cannibal Corpse. Tomas Lindberg’s vocal contribution on “Sacrophobia” is pretty cool, while I thought that Schmier’s contribution on “Spontaneous combustion” was a hit and miss.

Awesome music in 2014

The end of the 2014 is closing in compelling me to account for all the awesome albums that were released during this time. Music-wise, 2014 has been one of the best years I can remember. Some excellent albums came from Sweden, but also from the Americas. It seems to me that every single band on earth released an album in 2014, and there are many which I would have liked to listen to properly but didn’t have the time (and were not a priority), such as the new Mayhem, Obituary, The Haunted, Triptykon and Septic Flesh. As usual I will start with the albums that I liked less and continue with the albums that have impressed me the most.

The reunited – and now defunct again – Massacre, featuring only two members of the classic line-up (Rozz and Butler) released an album, Back from beyond, which to my ears is an embarrassing shadow of their former selves. I listened to the new Judas Priest album a couple of times out of curiosity to see if there’s any creative spark left in the band, and I don’t think there is.

Vaitor offer yummy, albeit derivative, Thrash as it was played in the late 1980s.

Vaitor offer yummy, albeit derivative, Thrash as it was played in the late 1980s.

The old-thrash resurgence holds well in 2014 with lots of new bands that pay homage to 80s thrash bands, often with some really good results. My personal favorite release from this new wave of old school thrash is the album Deto-nacion by the Colombian band Vaitor. Vaitor’s style is often reminiscent of RDP (listen for example the chorus of the eponymous song) as well as Invocator. Another band that impressed me was Korzus from Brazil. Their album Legion is a high energy thrash attack in the vein of Sepultura, Demolition Hammer and Epidemic. On songs like “Time has come” and “Die alone”, apart from speed and a super-tight rhythm section one can also find some great melodic choruses. Executer‘s Helliday (an 80s band from Brazil that had disbanded and reunited a few years ago) sounds like a modern version of old Destruction. The vocals especially sound a lot like Schmier’s and riffs like on “No sense” are pure Eternal Devastation.

The Adolescents are primarily driven by Soto (second from right) and Reflex (second from left).

The Adolescents are primarily driven by Soto (second from right) and Reflex (second from left).

Moving on to California, The Adolescents released a cool album, only one year after their previous release. The new album, titled La vendetta, is similar in style to what they have been doing since The fastest kid alive; mid-tempo melodic punk with lyrical themes around government politics, corporate politics, friendship and everyday life. I think that side B is excellent, testifying that the Adolescents are still a punk force to be reckoned with. Listen to the beautiful “Rinse cycle“, “Nothing left to say”, “Sludge”, “Sanctuary…” and “Let it go“. Side A however, in my opinion, is not equally strong, although it has a few songs that I like.

The sophomore album by Vallenfyre is raw and cold.

The sophomore album by Vallenfyre is raw and cold.

Going back to the more extreme end of the metal spectrum, Vallenfyre, the band led by Gregor Mackintosh – one of the most important contemporary musicians in the world – released its second album this year titled Splinters. Although I consider it to be a very good album, with lots of awesome songs, I cannot deny that it is miles away from being the masterpiece the debut was. On this album, Gregor focused on the crust and grindcore elements of the debut and almost completely ignored the death metal elements. The two songs that are more in the traditional sludgy death metal vein – “Bereft” and “Splinters” – are indeed my favorite ones in the album. Note the excellent use of feedback on the more grinding songs. Behemoth also released a new album and although I stopped following them since after Thelema.6 – and everything I heard by them since I considered to be derivative and boring – I quite enjoyed the new album titled The satanist. Some of the songs are typical Behemoth, sounding exactly the same as anything after Satanica (i.e. a mix of Morbid Angel, Vader and Satyricon). Still one cannot deny the distinguishing features of Behemoth, such as Nergal’s infernal voice and their ability to create some chilling and majestic music. The eponymous song, for example, sends chills down my spine.

Nick Holmes of Paradise Lost (in the front) returning to his roots.

Nick Holmes of Paradise Lost (in the front) returning to his roots.

Another extreme metal band in which I lost interest since the early 2000s – after their first album – is Bloodbath. I gave their albums a listen over the years, but I always thought they sounded uninspired and forced. Their new album, Grand Morbid Funeral, however, sounds pretty cool and the addition of Nick Holmes definitely helps – I found his vocals much more genuine and honest than Akerfeldt’s. I thought that songs like “Famine of god’s word”, “Let the stillborn come to me”, “Beyond cremation” and “Total death exhumed” are pretty awesome, but I liked the rest much less. Misery Index released a cool album titled The killing gods which is very straightforwardly death metal compared to their previous releases. There are lots of simple fast-tremolo picked riffs lots of thrashy riffs, blast-beats, and some very powerful arrangements (check out the insane breaks in “Gallows humor”). However, I personally found it quite monotonous, although I’m pretty sure that most fans of extreme music would disagree with me. They also did a tremendous cover of Ministry’s “Thieves”. Sinister, in my opinion, lost part of their identity when Aad resurrected them and started singing and stopped playing the drums. Moreover, in the last couple of albums the line-up changed drastically and the identity of Sinister suffered even more. The post-apocalyptic servant, just like the previous album,  sounds like a common brutal death metal album. Only a couple of songs, like “The end of all that conquers”, sounds like old Sinister. Having said that, there are some great songs here and some mind-blowing riffs that give praise to the great ones of US death metal, such as Monstrosity and Cannibal Corpse (listen for example the beginning of “The macabre god”).

I will now move on to the 10 albums that I liked the most this past year. Four out of these 10 albums come from Sweden, five from the US and one from Brazil.

MorbusChron-Sweven-Cover1. Morbus Chron – Sweven

My favorite album from 2014 is Morbus Chron’s Sweven. I feel blessed to have lived the release of an album like this one. As I have said several times during the last year, Morbus Chron is the pride of contemporary Death metal. Their latest album is musical in the old sense of the word; that is, it has songs that are thought-through, coherent compositions, musical narratives, with an introduction, a story that musically unfolds in the main part of the song and a conclusion. The production of the album was craftily handled by none other than Fred Estby, a veteran of Swedish death metal. The result is a sound that is completely different from all the homogenised contemporary productions where everything sounds fake. Instead, here one can actually hear a band of people playing music, doing mistakes and being passionate, elements that I think are lost with modern productions. For a more detailed review of Sweven read here.

img-1023105-seculo-sinistro2. Ratos De Porao – Seculo sinistro

My second favorite album from 2014 comes fron Brazil. RDP is for hardcore what Napalm Death is for grindcore, what Slayer is for thrash, what Blind Guardian is for heavy metal; that is, a consistently awesome, if not the best, band. Gordo’s throat is one of the best in extreme music; he is a beast and he’s getting better with time. I have been a fan of RDP since the mid-90s and I was initially exposed to their Roadrunner thrash period. Over the years they gradually went back to their hardcore roots, without however ever dismissing their love for thrash. Although, the previous two RDP albums were brilliant and I did not think their perfection could be surpassed, I think that the new album might even be their best yet! This is a collaborative effort by all the band members. Everyone contributes in the writing process and the result is a monster of an album with scorching thrash riffs, D-beat worship and aggressive vocals and rhythm section. The pure energy of “Puta, Viagra e Corrupção”, probably my favorite song off the album (I cannot get used to how perfect the chorus is), the unique mix of hardcore and thrash on “Boiada pra Bandido” and “Viciado Digital”, the dissonant riffing and mosh-inducing mid-tempo of “Grande Bosta” and the head-on thrash attack of “Stress Pós-Traumático” and “Pra fazer Pobre Chorar” are simply mind-blowing! Sick album.

dagger3. The Dagger – The Dagger

My third favorite album from 2014 comes from Sweden. The new band by former Dismember musicians Fred Estby, David Blomqvist and Tobias Christiansson could be perceived as a nostalgia act; as music made by people who did not experience late-70s and early-80s heavy metal when it was born and who have a distorted, fabricated idea of what heavy metal used to be. This, however, would be an unfair judgement given that both Fred and David have always been heavy metal aficionados since the 1980s and even in their death metal days they drew on that tradition. I have to confess that I did not expect to be impressed by The Dagger. Traditional heavy metal took form within a specific historical – cultural, social, political and economic – context. Any effort to replicate this “feel” under different conditions is doomed to failure. However, seasoned metal musicians like Fred and David have embodied the principles of heavy metal. This old heavy metal logic in the present context resulted in an album that is great to listen to over and over again, just like old heavy metal, without however sounding old or like anything that could have been released back in the day. Jani Kataja, the singer, has a beautiful and flexible voice, that at times sounds like Dio and at others like Ian Gillan. There are certain songs where one can easily guess the influences, such as “Skygazer“, which resembles a lot Deep Purple and Rainbow. The beginning of “Ahead of you all” sounds like something Iron Maiden would come up with after the mid-80s. Some of the twin guitar harmonies also remind of Iron Maiden. However, lots of the music on The Dagger is much darker, bringing into mind the more doomy sects of the genre, and bands like Trouble and Candlemass. In any case, each song is better than the other. Some incredible moments include the awesome chorus and guitar harmonies of “Skygazer”, the bridge and chorus of “Ahead of you all“, the last section of “Electric dawn” (starting at 2:51), the driving pace, the melody halfway through and the chorus of “Dogs of warning“, the entire “Inside the monolithic dome” (which sounds ridiculously like Deep Purple’s “Pictures of home“) with its brilliant harmonies, chorus and sing-along melodies and the brilliant closing track “Dark cloud“, in which Jani gives a stunning performance and also has one of the best endings I have ever heard.

AtTheGatesAtWarWithReality4. At The Gates – At war with reality

At the gates’ comeback album is awesome. To be honest, I did not expect ATG to come up with something impressive. In the case of Carcass’s comeback last year, Bill Steer, the main songwriter, had abstained from extreme metal for two decades, and, in that sense, I expected him to be thirsty and full of ideas for some extreme music. In the case of ATG, though, I always thought that the Bjorler twins’ riffing ability reached saturation by the time The Haunted released One kill wonder. And, at the end of the day, I don’t think I was wrong. To my ears, there is not one single riff in the new album that can compete with the perfection of any riff off “Slaughter of the soul”. Furthermore, in terms of pushing the envelope they are not even close to what they achieved with the first two albums either. Nevertheless, even the worst ATG album is much better than the best effort of most bands. ATG are in a league of their own. The fact that I think that the new album cannot compete with the old ones doesn’t mean that I don’t love it. I consider most of the songs monumental. “Death and the labyrinth” is a perfectly crafted song, with a beautiful bridge reminiscent of The red in the sky is ours era. My three favorite songs off the new album are, “The book of sand“, “Order from chaos” and “The head of the Hydra“. The latter has some of the most beautiful riffs on the album (that trill on the main riff gives me goose bumps) and an awesome chorus. “The book of sand” is one of the most breathtaking songs they have ever recorded. In this song they repeat what they did in the past on songs like “The break of autumn” where they replace the electric orchestration of a theme with a clean rendition of the same theme. The final section off “The night eternal” is extremely beautiful and ends the album in a monumental manner. “Eater of gods” and “Upon pillars of dust” – the latter having a main riff that would make Exodus blush – could have been in the sophomore The Haunted album, although they are maybe a bit too dark for The Haunted. I thought that the second riff on “Eater of gods” was cringeworthy, and I’m really glad they only repeat it once throughout the song. Another thing that disappointed me was the production of the album; all the instruments are crammed together and the drums sounds fake.

entom5. Entombed A.D. – Back to the front

The first listen of the new Entombed album – after their official transformation to Entombed A.D. – left me unimpressed. The first thing I noticed was that no songs really stood out. However, I also noticed that Entombed haven’t been so coherent since Wolverine Blues. And although I have loved every single post-wolverine album, maybe with the exception of Uprising, I realised that I had indeed missed the stylistic consistency of the first three albums. With the second listen of the album, however, I started paying attention to the nuances and the beauty that can be found in simple and straight-forward death metal. For sure Entombed A.D. is nowhere close to being as extreme, groundbreaking and brilliant as the first three Entombed albums, but it is still pretty awesome. Slow songs like “Eternal woe” (maybe my favorite on the album) and “Soldier of no fortune” (fittingly ending the album like “Soldier of fortune” closes Deep Purple‘s Stormbringer) have a certain Clandestine vibe to them, which send chills down my spine. The opener “Kill to live” is a powerful song with a wicked main riff, genius tempo changes, melodies and solos, a true gem faithful to Entombed’s early death legacy. Other brilliant moments in the album include the break near the end of “Bait and bleed“, the chorus of “Second to none”, the atmospheric sections of “Bedlam attack” and overall the awesome arrangements on “Digitus medius”. Several songs follow a particular recipe, namely, they have a slow or mid-tempo start which then develops into a fast double-beat or d-beat. “Waiting for death” is a thrasher in the vein of Ritual Carnage or even late Infernal Majesty. The only bad thing about this album is the production/mix. Disappointingly, sometimes the lead guitar and other times the rhythm guitar are way too low in the mix, with the result of either some awesome melodies or some great riffs to be inaudible. Nevertheless, Back to the front remains highly addictive and satisfying, like only very few albums can be these days. Attention hordes!

incantion-dirges_of_elysium-600x6006. Incantation – Dirges of elysium

Incantation has been one of the founding monoliths of brutal death metal. Founding member John McEntee and long time partner in crime Kyle Severn have served the unholiest sects of extreme music without ever straying and following trends. Over the years many members have come and gone, but always, no matter who was in the band, they submitted their compositional style to the swampy, dark and dissonant mission that McEntee set on since the beginning. The last two albums saw the inclusion of Alex Bouks, who revamped Incantation’s style by adding some very memorable melodic passages. Unfortunately Alex left after the recording of this new album. Dirges is typical Incantation; brutal and blasphemous American death metal, shifting from sludgy sonic pessimism to intense grind. It starts majestically with a instrumental called “Dirges of elysium” and continues with a super fast “Debauchery“. “Bastion of a plagued soul” is another full-frontal attack with an excellent slow dissonant break followed by an incredible gloomy section that only Incantation can pull off. The intense and fast “Impalement of divinity” and the massive, swampy and ceremonial “Charnel grounds” can successfully summarise the character of this album. An excellent album by a consistently awesome and committed band.

Mastodon_-_once_more_'round_the_sun7. Mastodon – Once more around the sun

Mastodon is a band that I only started appreciating after I heard their mind-blowing fifth album, The hunter. The new album is just as perfect. It kicks off in a very dramatic way that reminded me of the first Tragedy album. Sanders is wailing through the opening song (“Tread lightly”), a majestic composition with some super heavy riffing towards the end. With certain songs, like “The motherload” and “High road”, Mastodon take an even more laid back approach to song-writing than in The Hunter. To be fair, even in the more melodic and straightforward songs, behind the simple melody the musicians are restless. With songs like the brilliant “Aunt Lisa” (which reminds of something off Faith No More‘s Angel Dust) and “Asleep in the deep” they fully explore progressive and technically proficient routes to composition and performance. In some cases I felt that Mastodon repeat themselves (for example compare the singing on songs like “Chimes at midnight” and “Feast your eyes”). In any case, this remains a brilliant album that invites the listener to explore its nuances for a long time after the first listen.

cannibal-corpse-a-skeletal-domain8. Cannibal Corpse – A skeletal domain

CC have rightfully earned their position as a death metal institution through a series of awesome albums in the early-mid 1990s. Over the years, however, I thought that they stalled and kept repeating themselves. Still, especially in albums like The wretched spawn and Kill, I thought that they kept a high quality of death metal musicianship. I found CC’s new album much more interesting than Torture. While in the latter the band sounded as if they were making a conscious effort to revisit past glories, in the new one they sound more free and in a more experimental mood. The new album has some typical CC “hit songs” with catchy choruses and vocal patterns, like “Kill or become” or “Vector of cruelty”. However, there are some pretty interesting arrangements and, of course, heavy doses of extreme brutality. The opening song is obliterating and the chorus of the eponymous song has one of the most excellent vocal patterns that Cannibal ever wrote. The more I listen to the album the more interesting stuff I discover and the  more I enjoy it! “The murderer’s pact” showcases Webster’s trademark sick melodies and “Vector of cruelty” is easily one of the most awesome mid-tempo songs in the CC roster (up there with “Sentenced to burn”, “Nothing left to mutilate” and “Slain”)! “Icepick lobotomy” is another masterpiece by Barrett with an awesome breakdown half-way through. “Asphyxiate to resuscitate” must be one of the most memorable songs CC ever wrote. All in all an awesome album.

tourni9. Autopsy – Tourniquets, hacksaws and graves

Tourniquets… is pretty awesome in the typical Autopsy way; sometimes swampy and sometimes fast, always creepy death metal with the sickest vocals possible. However, I like it much less than last year’s brilliant The headless ritual. I think that Cutler composed some extremely memorable and chilling songs, like the eponymous one, or “King of flesh ripped”, which are my favorite on the album. Two other songs I really liked, “Deep crimson dreaming” and “Burial” were composed by Reifert. Coralles contributed the crazy “Parasitic eye”, a typical Coralles composition, with a great intro-melody and a fast chorus. All in all, Tourniquets is a good album by musicians who know their craft well and are the undisputed leaders in this specific sub-genre of extreme metal.

rigor-mortis-cover10. Rigor Mortis – Slaves to the grave

The comeback, and I imagine last, Rigor Mortis album is both a reason to celebrate and mourn. The leading member of the band Mike Scaccia, tragically passed on during a Texas show two years ago. His awesome guitar work is present on this album nonetheless. This final offering is an awesome album worthy of their three masterpieces from the late 1980s – early 1990s. The line-up features all original members as appeared on the debut album. Slaves to the grave comes with an awesome cover. The musical recipe includes ridiculously fast tremolo picking, fast songs in the vein of “Contagious contamination” or “Shroud of gloom” (such as “Flesh for flies” and “Poltergeist”) and punk-influenced songs in the vein of “Throwback” (such as “Rain of ruin”) and pissed-off vocals. There is also an instrumental song titled “Sacramentum gladitorum” whose chord progression reminds of “The call of Ktulu”. It is always interesting to confirm what lasting impact Metallica had in the world of extreme music, given that so many bands have written instrumentals that use “The Call of Ktulu” as template. The introductory section of “The infected” reminded me of Iron Maiden. The only song that I don’t really like is the last song on the album. All the rest are delightful thrash anthems. I’d like to see any modern band trying to compose equally memorable and catchy thrash songs.

2014 playlist

Music worth listening to from 2013

The year 2013 has been a great year music-wise. Lots of new albums came out from some of my favorite and not so favorite artists and I got the chance to listen to many of them. As usual, I focused my attention mostly on extreme metal this past year. I will start with the albums I enjoyed less, continue with albums that I enjoyed a lot and conclude with my favorite of the year.

On their new album titled End of disclosure Hypocrisy kept the style to which they returned with their previous album which is more akin to The Final Chapter (1997), Into the Abyss (2001) and The Arrival (2004). I liked some of the songs but I was overall not impressed. Helloween released another album which I did not particularly enjoyed (Straight out of hell). Interestingly, the songs I find myself liking off the previous few Helloween albums came from Markus – a musician who did not contribute at all in the old days – rather than Michael or Andy whose song-writing style used to appeal to me the most. On this new record, Markus has written a couple of cool songs and Michael also came back with a couple of good songs as well. I was not impressed by Ghost‘s second album (Infestissumam). For sure they refrained from shamelessly ripping off Mercyful Fate and other popular bands this time around (good for them). However, apparently the ripped-off elements gave me a reason to hate them and like them at the same time. Now without them they just sound dull to me. I also disliked Deicide‘s new album (In the minds of evil), just like all albums since the departure of the Hoffman brothers. The Ocean is a band that represents the influence of hipster culture in metal music. I got drawn to their new album because of the praise it received on the press. To my ears sometimes it sounds like Mastodon, but the way I really interpreted their music is no more than contemporary pop metal. By this I mean that many of the melodies and structures, although played with electric instruments and big, heavy orchestrations, are akin to pop music (and by pop music I mean both boy-bands and pop-rock music of the nineties). As a person who has grown up with Metal music and who has despised the different incarnations of pop music throughout my life I cannot relate to this band. Sepultura made a pretty brutal and intense album (The mediator between head and hands must be the heart). The new drummer gives a nice groove and when he is fast he respects the old-school Cavalera beat. Although I eventually got bored of the album after a few listens, it is apparent that Sepultura enjoy what they do and that they put all their passion in putting together a song.

Moving on to the albums that I actually enjoyed, I start with a Megatherion of Death metal. Suffocation‘s last album (Pinnacle of Bedlam), although I preferred it to its predecessor, did not destroy me. Nevertheless, there were a few songs which I consider to be some of the best Suffocation ever composed, such as the excellent “Sullen Days“, “As Grace Descends” and “Eminent Wrath”. Not that the rest of the songs are not really good. My problem lies with the sound which was a bit too modern for me and the drumming which – being the typical Culross drumming – was amazing albeit, in my opinion, not as fitting to Suffocation’s sound as Smith’s. Finally, Frank’s vocals sound a bit weird to me. In some cases I can tell that it is him singing but most of the time it could be anyone (maybe his limited lyrical contribution made the songs less interesting for him to sing). Broken Hope made a comeback with an extremely brutal and really good album (Omen of disease) mostly reminiscent of their pre-Loathing days. This means that it is quite simpler than Loathing (1997) and Grotesque blessings (1999), without this meaning that it lacks in awesome riffs and groove. However, as much as I like it I cannot help but think how much better it would have been if the album was comprised of only five of the existing songs (“Womb of horrors”, “Ghastly”, “The flesh mechanic”, “The docking dead“, “Choked out…”) and Brian Griffin was also part of the reunion and had written the rest of the songs… I was pleasantly surprised by Darkthrone‘s new album (The underground resistance) which sounds to me much more coherent and interesting than their last few albums, nailing the mix of traditional heavy metal with the black metal aesthetic. Sorcery‘s Arrival at six is another really cool album from 2013. The style is typical early Stockholm death metal, with buzzsaw riffs, a fair share of D-beat and slow atmospheric parts. At times it sounds a lot like early Dismember, especially the singer who sounds something between Kärki (Dismember), Bröms (Afflicted), Grewe (Morgoth) and even a bit like Jan-Chris from Gorefest.

One of the non-metal albums I got and liked a lot was the new album from the Adolescents (Presumed Insolent). This new album and the previous one (The fastest kid alive) sound like they were recorded at the same time, which is why, although I loved their previous album, this new collection of songs did not offer me something new. That being said I still think that all the songs are really cool (check out the awesome “Here comes the summer” and “Tic tac at the alligator tree“). The album also includes the song “Daisy’s revenge“, the continuing saga of “Stage diving Daisy”, a song which appeared on the sweet ADZ record Piper at the gates of Downey (check Tony’s Blog for more info on the story). The new Bad Religion album (True north) was also quite amazing. It is not too different from New Maps of Hell (2007), but with a more stripped down sound bringing into mind the mindblowing Suffer (1988)No control (1989) and Against the grain (1990). 1916 from 1990 was the last album by Motörhead which I found amazing. After that album I only liked a few songs off each album, which if put together would make a masterpiece**. Exceptions to the rule was Kiss of death (2006) which I thought was through and through excellent. Coming to their new album (Aftershock), I have to say that I enjoyed it much more than their last two albums. Fast songs like “Going to Mexico”, “Queen of the damned” and “End of time”, bluesy diamonds like “Dust and glass” and “Lost woman blues” and mid tempo songs like “Silence…” are great!

Other albums that I have either paid little attention to or I have not listened to their entirety and, as such, I cannot offer an informed opinion include the new Rotting Christ, Trouble, Jello Biafra and the Guantanamo School of Medicine and Exhumed albums. The few songs I heard from the new album from Trouble sound pretty much like their awesome eponymous album from 1990 (check this out). A couple of songs from the new Exhumed album also sound pretty cool (check this out). The new Jello Biafra, from the little that I heard, also sounds awesome. Which leaves us with the albums I enjoyed the most and could not stop listening:

1. TormentedDeath Awaits

tormentTormented is a good example of a band that does not need to be technical or to break new ground to be brilliant. For these guys, playing old-school death metal is in their blood. Their simple and old-school death is so captivating that after listening to this album non-stop for the last five months I still cannot get used to how awesome it is, making it without question my favorite album from 2013. For a more detailed account of Death Awaits read this. My three favorite songs off the album these days would be, “Into the crypts of death”, “Black sky” and “Insane with dread”.

2. CarcassSurgical Steel

Carcass-Surgical-Steel-300x300Surgical steel would be my second favorite album from 2013. An unexpectedly phenomenal come-back from the band which defined to a large extend what extreme music is. I will not get too much into how amazing it is, I have written a much more detailed review here. I will only make a short mention to some of the lyrics which are fucking amazing, and I could not know that when I did the other review (the album had not been officially released yet). After the immature “Thrasher’s abattoir”, in which Jeff pours out his hatred towards posers and hipsters, starts an anti-war trilogy, an attack toward the military institutions, religion and the fetishism of violence. The theme of “Non-compliance” brings back some of the silliness, with Jeff singing about how the death metal scene is just a bunch of copy-cats, about how every new scene is doomed to be born, grow and die (‘this is the way of all flesh will decay’) and about the stale state of extreme metal (‘the cycle of death exhausted’). My favorite songs would be “Surgical steel”, “The granulating dark satanic mills” and “Cadaver pouch conveyor system”.

3. AutopsyThe Headless Ritual

autopsy-the_headless_ritualMacabre eternal (2011) did not cut it for me, but I think that Autopsy’s new album is brilliant. Reifert, Cutler, Coralles and Trevisano shine through as seasoned musicians who have perfected their craft and give their best in this album full of wonderful songs. It is really difficult to come up with favorite songs, so I’ll just go with one song from each band member: “She’s a funeral” composed by Reifert is a death metal monument, “Mangled far below” by Trevisano is heavy and punky with excellent lyrics, “Arch cadaver” by Coralles is definitive of Autopsy’s sickness and “Running from the goathead” showcases Cutler’s brilliant madness and ability to use well-tried musical recipes in a creative way that is breath-taking. Plus, hats off to the band and Peaceville for producing an aesthetically amazing record, making the process of listening with lyrics a pleasure.

4. ImmolationKingdom of Conspiracy

immolation-kingdom-of-conspiracy-300x300Immolation is one of those strange cases of bands that develop their unique style of music and stick to it without deviating at all from the basic formula, yet manage to not repeat themselves or get redundant. After more than two decades of playing the same devastating, cerebral style of death metal they keep coming up with songs that challenge and impress. (To my ears, however, and although most bands look tiny before “Kingdom of Conspiracy”, I cannot compare it to their back catalogue up until “Harnessing Ruin”, when each album was an unprecedented masterpiece.) The main theme across the album could be described as Foucauldian, in the sense that all lyrics have to do with the control of information by powerful institutions (governments, religions, corporations), the production of what Foucault calls knowledge-power, and the indoctrination of the masses. I would have liked the album much more if the drums did not sound so fake and were not so loud and prominent in the mix. Some amazing moments are the  part were Dolan growls ‘No one but ourselves to blame, no one but ourselves to shame’ on the eponymous song, the massive breaks on “Serving divinity”, the untamed brutality and the second-to-last riff on “Indoctrinate”, and the Morbid Angel-esque touch on “A spectacle of lies”. If I had to pick my three favorite songs these would be the monumental “Keep the silence”, “The great sleep”and “Serving divinity”.

5. Black Sabbath13

Black-Sabbath-13The impression that I got from various webzines and forums is that for many people Black Sabbath’s new album is a disgrace. For me, on the contrary, it is a pretty awesome album. For sure, to a large extent this album is a product of the higher and non-productive echelons of the music industry, a fact that I don’t like. For sure I would have preferred Tony Iommi not having been instructed by any producers what to compose. For sure I would have liked executives and managers having stayed away from Sabbath. And I would also have liked Ozzy to have actually been able to sing without the use of technology. However, if I leave all these things aside and if I accept this album as merely a studio project, I have to admit that I love it! For sure Iommi provided songs on Rick Rubin’s demand, but the stuff he came up with are awesome. I also have to admit that Ozzy’s melodies are awesome. Butler’s bass-lines are addictive as always, yet less frantic than in the past, and Iommi’s leads are, as usual, from another world. The drums are boring but, with the exception of the albums that Bill Ward was on, all Sabbath albums have boring drums in my opinion. Although all the songs are amazing I would say that my favorite ones are currently “Age of reason”, “Damaged soul” and “End of the beginning”.

** For example, “Asylum choir”, “Jack the ripper”, “Too good to be true”, “Lost in the ozone”, “Death or glory”, “Don’t let daddy kiss me”, “Sacrifice”, “Out of the sun”, “I don’t believe a word”, “Dead and gone”, “Take the blame”, “We are Motorhead”, “Stagefright”, “Wake the dead”, “Brave new world”, “Smiling like a killer”, are songs that I love from the 1990s and early 2000s Motorhead. 

Favorite music moments from 2012

It is the time of the year again to account for all the beautiful music that bands from around the world gave us and, by doing this, made our lives a bit more worth living. The last few years I have come to realise that for different reasons I can no longer keep up with new developments in music. The most important of these reasons is that I do not have enough time to look for new music. The second reason is that I don’t associate with many people who keep up with new developments in music. Another reason is that I find it very difficult to appreciate something new, since I think that everything that is taking place nowadays has taken place, in only slightly different forms, many times before. Nothing really gives me the chills anymore. Anyway, some of my favorite and not-so-favorite bands and musicians released albums this last year: Paradise Lost, Napalm Death, Nile, Propagandhi, Killing Joke, Cannibal Corpse, Kreator, Six Feet Under, Dying Fetus, Serj Tankian, Unleashed, Grave, Tragedy, Testament, Aborted, and others.

Unleashed continued down the path that Fredrik has been leading them the last few years, that being a death-black hybrid which keeps many of the core elements of Unleashed intact while introducing some more melodic new touches. My personal take on the evolution of Unleashed is not very favorable. I find it impossible not being nostalgic of their more muddy, brutal and unsophisticated past.  The last time Grave put out an album that I thought was “God” was when they released Soulless. I found their experimentation in the early 2000s with more brutal-american influences interesting. The last few years they have returned to a more traditional Stockholm sound. Nevertheless I haven’t managed to enjoy none of their last three albums. I didn’t like Cannibal Corpse‘s new album either. It is obvious not only in the album but also in the interviews during the recording of the album that the band is nowadays making a conscious effort to revisit past glories and that the members are trying out old formulas, which to my ears sound unsuccessful. I really liked the last Nile album. I thought that it had some of the best songs they have ever written (e.g. The fiends…, The inevitable…). It cannot be denied that they keep providing excellent, hyper-brutal well-played, death metal albeit for many years now predictable. I also liked the new very melodic album by Kreator. Tiamat chose not to go down the experimental road of their last album this time around. Instead the new album reminds me of the Gothic-Rock style of Judas Christ. My expectations for the new Tragedy, the best and most influential band of the new (now old…) wave of brutal anarchist hardcore, album were extremely high and were not reached. Their new album is missing, in my opinion, the elements that made this band stick out among their contemporaries, namely the amazing melodies and twin guitar harmonies [note: since this post was first published I have re-evaluated this album and I think it is brilliant, albeit different from the previous ones]. Their heritage, nevertheless, has granted them a place on the pantheon of genius and socially/politically responsible/conscious musicians. If what they fancy playing at the moment does not agree with me, I am sure they do not give a shit, which gives me another reason to love them. So, my choices for 2012 are:

1. Paradise Lost – Tragic Idol


Expectations for the new Paradise Lost album were great, mainly because they have been releasing consistently amazing albums for many years now. I did not think it would be possible to create something better than their previous album, whose brilliance was beyond expectations. Yet, I was pleasantly surprised after the first listen of the new album. This album is more stripped down than the previous one. The keyboards are less and less prominent. In effect, this album is the closest they have ever been to the sound of Draconian Times. Yet, in many instances the melodies become weird and less straight-forward, reminding the distorted and out-of-tune ideas of Icon and Shades of God. At times the tunes are very familiar (e.g. Honesty in Death, Tragic Idol, Crucify), recreating the well-tried and successful recipe of the mid-nineties period. At other times they go down new untrodden paths, with weird voice-melodies and orchestrations (e.g. Fear of impending hell, Solitary one, Worth fighting for). The two elements responsible for making PL one of the best bands in the world, are as strong as ever on this album. Greg McKintosh is composing music as if there was no singer. Indeed each song could be an instrumental composition and it would still be excellent. Nick Holmes, on the other hand, comes up with excellent vocal-lines which do not merely compliment the already amazing music, but they instead take it to a whole new unreachable level. Lyricwise, it is not amazing. The lyrics are abstract and subjective as usual. They might make sense to Holmes or, again, might not. The lyrical strength of PL comes mainly from the clever use of fancy words in strategic parts of sentences. The production is very good. Overall, being a PL admirer for 17 years, I think that this album can stand proudly next to monuments such as Gothic, Icon and Draconian Times. It is impossible to choose favorite songs. Favorite moments include the slow middle part of “The glorious end” up until the end, the chorus and guitar solo of “To the darkness“, Nick’s deep-singing, bridge and chorus on “Tragic Idol“, and the part starting at 1:33 on “Fear of impending hell“.

2. Propagandhi – Failed States


Propagandhi also managed to keep up the extremely high level of powerful hardcore, while maintaining a high level of musicianship, that they have been creating for at least 12 years now. They have managed to create their own recognisable style, while re-inventing themselves with each new album. There is great balance between Tod’s brutal hardcore and Chris’s melodic hardcore. There is also perfect balance between political lyrics and personal lyrics. All songs have amazing ideas, some more straightforward yet dynamic and exciting such as in the case of “Things I like” and “Hadron collision“, some more complex, such as in the case of “Note to self” and “Unscripted moments”. All the songs on this album are laden with exciting chord progressions. The dissonance of “Rattan cane” and “Cognitive suicide” are accompanied by the traditional yet inventive punk-rock touches of “Devil’s creek“, linking the present and the past. The frantic pace of “Status update” and Chris’s singing reminds of the mighty MDC. I would like to think that in 30 years people will be looking back at this album in a similar way we look at classic albums by the Dead Kennedys and MDC, because it is worth it. “Unscripted moments” may well be my favorite song of 2012. Other favorite songs include “Note to self”, Hadron collision”, “Cognitive suicide”, “Things I like” …

3. Napalm Death – Utilitarian


Napalm Death can be trusted upon to deliver awesome sophisticated noise with every release. Since the present configuration of this band (i.e. Barney, Shane, Mitch, Danny, Jesse R.I.P.) came together 20 years ago, it has always offered varied, unconventional, brutal, challenging, invigorating grind-death. ND constitute a musical phenomenon. The familiarity/chemistry the members of the band have acquired/achieved over the years results in an almost unsettling over-confidence and ability to create songs that are undeniably more extreme, more inspired and, at the end of the day, better than any extreme band can even imagine to offer. These guys in their mid-forties can easily create more power than ten young extreme bands put together. ND are not only about brutality though. They can write songs in the old sense of song-writing, with choruses, bridges, and so on. Yet they always find ways to bend the rules and challenge the musical conventions. Sure it can be argued that over the years they borrowed elements form many other bands in order to enrich their sound, starting from Godflesh during their “Fear, emptiness, despair” experimentation. However, they always gave it their own spin and because of their remarkable chemistry they always ended up creating something unique. Their newest album has been praised by the press as an effort by the band to introduce even more new elements to their sound. I disagree. I indeed find this album to be magnificent, but there are no new elements. Every single thing found on this album (apart from the saxophone noise on “Everyday pox“) has been tried before by ND. Nevertheless, they manage to offer a series of amazing -the ND way- songs like no other band can, which are new and refreshing. On this album, my personal opinion is that Mitch’s songs are over-the-top excellent (The wolf I feed, Blank look about face, Orders of magnitude, Quarantined). Shane wrote some of the best songs on the album, which are also some of the best ND have ever written overall (Nom de guerre, Opposites repellent, Leper colony) but also the ones I like less (Collision course, Protection racket).

4. Imperial State Electric – Pop War


Nicke Andersson pulled off another small miracle with his new album. It took me a few listens to appreciate it. I found it a bit more varied than the previous album. Once again Imperial state electric offer stripped down 70s Rock, removing all the stupidity, arrogance and cock-rockery. Nicke manages to keep all the beautiful elements of this musical tradition, mixing it up with the pop-rock of the Beatles. The result is simple structures, catchy choruses, sweet and short guitar leads. A melancholic mood seems to be prevalent throughout this album. Nicke’s voice has gotten better over the years. His singing on “Deride and conquer“, “Waltz for Vincent“, “Sheltered in the sand” is beautiful and overwhelming. Not much can be said for an album that was meant to be simple and address in a direct manner the most elementary elements of our souls. Listening to this album, you will feel happy for no apparent reason, you will want to dance with no apparent reason, you will want to learn to play the guitar, you will want to sit by the window and be melancholic. Favorite moments, apart from the already mentioned three songs, include “Uh Huh“, “Back on main” and the ending of the album.

5. Serj Tankian – Harakiri

2ujxvtvc.j31Tankian’s new album was not among my favorite when I first wrote this post. Even though I did like it a lot and I thought that it was comprised of some amazing songs, I also thought that many songs were not anything special. However, the last few weeks I have come to recognise its brilliance so I decided to add it to this list. I think that this is nothing short of a masterpiece that everyone should listen. I think that it is an album that has the potential to enrich the musical lives and tastes of people who are used to listening to pop music.  Many of the melodies could be considered pop, but who said that popular music cannot be inspiring. Some songs have middle-eastern musical elements. Other songs are reminiscent of the more crazy structures of System of a Down.  Most songs have some mind-blowing bridges and choruses. The music and orchestration on songs like occupied tears are beautiful beyond words. The sarcasm and supposedly pedagogic intention in many songs moves me less. Weave on could have easily been written by Jello Biafra. Tankian’s extraordinarily amazing voice is key in the brilliance of this album. Personal best moments include: Harakiri, cornucopia, uneducated democracy, weave on, occupied tears, but seriously the album is a masterpiece so do yourselves a favour and listen to it.