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An auto-biography of gig attendance #1: Rock Of Gods, 1996

Some of my ticket-stubs.

Many years ago I wrote a post about how music gigs are the best form of entertainment. Having reconsidered, I decided that music gigs used to be an amazing form of entertainment when I was young, when I hadn’t seen many bands live, and when I had like-minded friends to go to gigs with. Attending concerts has lost its appeal for me in more recent years. A few weeks ago my mother sent me some old ticket-stubs and rekindled all those memories of gig attendance of my youth. A few days later I learned that Immolation are coming to Brighton, UK, as part of Mammothfest. Immolation is one of my all-time favourite death metal bands, and in terms of consistency, endurance, and creativity, the best death metal band of all times, in my opinion. In anticipation of this gig and in remembrance of the music gigs of my youth I decided to start a new series of posts where I will share with readers some of my favourite moments of gig-attendance throughout the years. I will start with the first heavy metal gig I ever attended: the Rock of Gods festival in Piraeus, Greece, on July 12 1996.

The news of the Rock of Gods festival hit during a summer English course that some of my friends and I were taking. The line-up included Slayer (a band that I worshiped and still do), Blind Guardian (another favourite among certain members of our group back then, myself included), Motorhead (not a favourite at the time, but, still, exciting), Rage (hadn’t listened to them at the time), Nightfall (Greek black metal band), and Fatal Morgana (Greek progressive metal band). At the time I was 15 years old. Although I wasn’t particularly young, my parents were negatively disposed to heavy metal music and the wider subculture. Yet, the congruence of several factors around Rock of Gods allowed me to convince my parents to permit me to go: it was a summer festival (so we didn’t have school-related responsibilities), it was taking place close to our home-town (Piraeus), and several of my friends would accompany me (among whom a friend my mother considered the “ideal student”). So, I bought a ticket.

Most of my memories are of peripheral things around the concert rather than the bands themselves. My friends and I (a group of five) met with some older kids from school in a public square, and together we took the bus to Piraeus. The fan credentials of those older kids were much better than ours; they had long hair, they wore cool old t-shirts, they knew all the bands, and they were doing drugs. Savvas, one of the older kids, grabbed me by my Iron Maiden t-shirt (Fear of the dark) and, half-jokingly, told me “when Rage come out on stage, I will kill you!”. I laughed, but I was also a bit worried. In any case I made a mental note not to be near him when Rage would come out.

The bus dropped us off and then we had to walk for a bit in order to get to dock 3 where the festival was taking place. Our group was walking alongside hordes of heavy metal fans with smiles in their faces. On the way to dock 3, I remember seeing the following slogan written in spray on walls: “Αγαπάς το Rock; 7χίλιαρο!” (“Do you love rock? Pay 7.000 drachmas!”). Although I remember getting the anti-commercial message of the slogan, I was also confused. I was not sure whether the slogan was directed to fans (that were seen as passive dupes of capitalism), music promoters (that were seen as exploiting the fans), bands (criticised for not playing for free), or the broader system including all those actors together (the culture industry). That was a festival that cost money to organise, with an international bill consisting of several awesome and successful bands, so I couldn’t see how the price would be an issue. Upon reflection, I guess it was meant as commentary on the culture industry; a system whereby heavy metal music is mass produced and marketed as a commodity. The slogan was trying to point out that “if you love rock music you are forced into market exchange relations”. The contradiction in this message is that rock music itself, as we know and love, is the product of the capitalist economy; an economy that is producing albums, and has allowed relatively affluent kids from around the world to own instruments and make bands like Slayer and Blind Guardian, that are eventually recruited by the music industry. I still think that rock music as a commodity should be critiqued, but that slogan did not offer any meaningful critique.

Inside the festival area the atmosphere was beautiful. I had never seen so many heavy metal fans at the same place. I remember feeling quite awkward and slightly scared, so I made sure I stayed close to my friends. Before any of the bands started playing, I spotted Thomen, Blind Guardian’s original drummer, in the crowd. The feeling of seeing one of my music heroes up-close was unique, so without much thought I went to get an autograph. Thomen was very friendly and happy to sign our ticket-stubs. I thought about my friend, Nick, who couldn’t attend the concert because he was away on holiday, so I found a piece of paper and asked Thomen to sign it for him. I gave it to Nick when he came back from holidays and the bastard couldn’t care less. Around that time, we heard the disappointing news that Motorhead were replaced by Saxon…

My memories of the actual bands are extremely blurry. I think I was over-stimulated, by the crowd, the bands, and the newness of the experience of a heavy metal festival, so being attentive of the actual music-listening experience was hard. One of the things I remember clearly is the asphyxiating atmosphere at the front of the stage. Especially when Slayer came out, kicking off with “South of heaven”, the heat combined with the the crowd crushing on me, made me feel faint. I was next to my friend Mark, and when the first notes of “South of heaven” came out of the amps we looked at each other with surprise and started screaming like the little fanboys that we were. Mark then asked me “which song is this!?”, to which I replied “Dead skin mask!”, a mistake that I eventually corrected a few seconds later. I have no other recollection of Slayer that night, apart from the fact that they played quite a few of the punk covers off Undisputed Attitude (1996), and, if I remember correctly, Jeff’s guitar with all the punk stickers. Similarly, I have almost no recollection of Blind Guardian, apart from “The bard’s song”. This is really peculiar, especially since I was dying to see them, and Imaginations from the other side (1995) was (and still is) one of my favourite albums of all time. Although I was not listening to Rage at the time (I fell in love with them after the concert) I vividly remember Peavy at the front of the stage singing “Alive but dead”. Under different technosocial circumstances, a recording of this concert would be widely available, and I would love to be able to experience it again. The only thing I could find online was the YouTube video below, of an audio track from Blind Guardian’s performance on that evening, 21 years ago.



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.

2015 PLAYLIST



My 10 favourite album openings

The way in which an album begins can set the mood for the album, and determine whether the listener will become excited about it or not. For many recording artists, an album is not merely a collection of songs, but also a narrative that has a beginning and an end. As such, the song that will open the album has particular significance. Moreover, musicians and record company executives will make decisions regarding the order of the songs, with considerations concerning the satisfaction of the listener (driven, of course, by maximisation of profit concerns). Songs that are considered to be “fillers”, meaning that their role is to bring the album up to a number of songs or duration that agrees with the music industry’s standards, are more likely to be placed in the middle or the end of an album. Songs that are considered to be “hits” are positioned usually in the beginning of the album, in order to hook the listeners and to grab their attention. The following are album openings that I consider fascinating.

cover_andjusticeforall_lg1. And Justice for all – Metallica (1988)

By far what I consider to be the best album opening of all times. One of the best melodies I have ever heard, slowly fading in, culminating in one of the best riffs ever written. It appropriately sets the mood – severe, melancholic, powerful – for one of the most important, innovative and influential thrash albums of all time (and my favourite Metallica album). Almost twenty years since I first heard it and it still sends chills down my spine, and makes me think about all the different ways in which Metallica have been innovators. Click here for a video of someone who demonstrates how to play this song, and admire the perfection of this intro.

Black_Sabbath_-_Black_Sabbath2. Black Sabbath – Black Sabbath (1970)

Members of Black Sabbath have been quoted saying that at the time the debut album was written, the band wanted to create horror-film music. The way in which the album opens is indeed chilling. Rain, thunder, the chime of a church bell, and then the three notes of the Tritone (the Devil’s chord) accompanied by an ultra-heavy rhythm section resulted in a style that was bound to be revered by people who would take it and shape it into what we call today heavy metal. Combined with the terrifying album cover this introduction is pure horror. Although the band itself hadn’t settled on this specific style at the time, and the songs on this album are quite varied, this song embodies the true essence of heavy metal.

athega3. Slaughter of the soul – At the gates (1995)

No one in their right minds who have listened to this album have not gone berserk listening to this absolutely perfect introduction. For me, being one of the very first death metal albums I ever listened to, it defined what a death metal opening should sound like. It begins with industrial sounds that bring into mind decadence, coldness, and the non-human. Slashing sounds tear the soul apart (a lyric on the eponymous song) and bring the smothered words, “We are blind, to the world within us, waiting to be born”, into surface, culminating in one of the most perfect and recognisable riffs of all time. Pure genius!

blin4. Somewhere far beyond – Blind Guardian (1992)

Many metal bands over the years (including Metallica, Kreator, Sepultura, Unleashed, and Sinister) have decided to open their albums with a clean guitar intro, but never, in my opinion, has a band done it so perfectly as Blind Guardian did in this album. The mysterious-sounding chords played in the beginning of “Time what is time” are accompanied by a uniquely soulful and stellarly executed clean guitar solo, culminating in a powerful and extra-heavy, palm-muted triplet riff that denotes that this album will be a highly rewarding journey for the listener, full of imagination, aggression and lyricism.

altar5. Youth against Christ – Altar (1994)

Some of the most important death metal bands of all time have come from Holland, including Pestilence, Asphyx, Gorefest, and Altar. Altar never became popular and are often compared to Deicide due to their anti-christian lyrics and inhuman style of music. They still remain one of my all-time favourite bands, and albums like this one and Ego art are treasured. Youth against Christ starts off with a monologue by what appears to be a tele-evangelist preaching damnation to the masses. His hateful speech is suddenly interrupted by a brutal attack consisting of a super-tight heavy riff on top of crushing blastbeats, symbolically crashing christian discourse violently to the ground.

Blind_guardian_tales6. Tales from the twilight world – Blind Guardian (1990)

No album opening can better define the word “Epic” than Tales from the twilight world. A band known for its admiration of science fiction literature and epic music, Blind Guardian again give lessons of how to hook the listener and, at the same time, summarise the mood of the entire album in the first seconds of the album’s opening track (“Traveler in time”). There’s no real fan of metal music that does not know the words, “The morning sun of Dune”, or does not get goosebumps thinking about them. A truly astounding opening that perfectly describes the Bravado of heavy metal music. God I love Blind Guardian so fucking much.

brok7. Loathing – Broken hope (1997)

The distorted words of Marlon Brando (as heard in the movie Apocalypse now), “Horror, and mortal terror are your friends” echo with disgust as the single note of the first riff of “Siamese twins” and the late Joe Ptacek’s super-brutal vocals kick in, to mark one of the most brutal beginnings in the history of death metal. I listened to this album when it first came out in Metal Era, one of Athens’ most iconic heavy metal record stores (used to be owned and run by Jim, the bassist of Rotting Christ), and, being a fan of more traditional death metal at the time (Death, Dismember, Unleashed, etc.), shook me to my very core.

carcs8. Symphonies of sickness – Carcass (1989)

I think that this introduction is indicative of Black Sabbath’s significant influence on brutal death metal. Carcass took the logic of heaviness and doom of Black Sabbath, and let it rot. The claustrophobic intro to Symphonies of sickness, a chaotic syncopated riff followed by distorted synthesiser sounds accompanied by the maggot-infested Black Sabbathy riff of “Reek of putrefaction” and Jeff’s disgusting growl, is definitive of brutal death metal. Although “Genital grinder”, the song that opens their debut album, is also magnificent, I decided that I prefer this opening because it is so much spookier and sick.

ali9. Alice in hell – Annihilator (1989)

Alice in hell begins with “Crystal Ann”, one of the most beautiful instrumental pieces I have ever heard, regardless of music genre. Jeff Waters is a widely celebrated guitar genius and the introduction of this album is a testament to that. I personally never skip this intro when I listen to this album. What’s even more impressive is the way in which the instrumental song leads into “Alison hell”, which takes the serene and calm mood of “Crystal Ann” and transforms it into caution and a sense of looming threat, building up to some of the most awesome riffs ever written. This is art.

bene10. Transcend the Rubicon – Benediction (1993)

On the cover of the vinyl version of the album there’s a sticker that says “If brutality was crime, Benediction would have been sentenced to death”. The quote alludes to the fact that Transcend the Rubicon is a masterpiece of brutal death metal. After the swampy, claustrophobic openings of the previous two albums, Subconscious terror and The grande leveler, Benediction choose to cut to the chase and make a strong statement from the get go. The opening of this album perfectly sets the mood for what the listener is about to experience: super heavy, hardcore-charged British death metal.



An ode to Blind Guardian

The term “ode” is of course used catachrestically here, as I do not aim to compose an actual ode. The intention of this post is to simply praise what might be the greatest metal band of all times: Blind Guardian. Of course this is a personal opinion and would be naive to assume it is anything more than that. However, I would like the readers of this post who have not heard of, or have not paid attention to, Blind Guardian, to give them a chance and, by doing so, potentially enrich their lives in the most beautiful of ways.

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As it sometimes happens in similar occasions, I will mobilise my personal career as a metal fan in an effort to invest my opinion with authority. I have been passionately listening to metal for 20 years. I first became obsessed with traditional heavy metal. Iron Maiden, Accept, Savatage and Dio were the first bands that I listened to and, with the exception of Accept, I quickly fell in love with them. Around the same time, by the end of 1995, I was exposed to power metal, starting with Helloween‘s Keeper of the seven keys parts 1 and 2,  and then to the newly released Blind Guardian and Gamma Ray albums Imaginations from the other side, and Land of the free, respectively. Soon after that I got addicted to Slayer and I would spend my days and nights listening to Reign in blood and Divine Intervention, over and over again, as well as to Kreator and Sodom. Not before long, a cassette started circulating in our metal circle with the relatively recently released Slaughter of the soul and The dreams you dread albums, by At The Gates and Benediction, respectively. These two albums opened up the floodgates to the genre that I love the most to this day: death metal. Soon I would be all over bands like Dismember, Unleashed, Entombed, Grave, Napalm Death, Sarcofago, Massacra, Death, etc. Although this is a very sketchy account of my personal metal history, it is meant to suggest that I was carefully nurtured to the different metal sub-genres and I have always had a broad appreciation of the metal spectrum.

blindgband

From left to right: Thomas, Marcus, Andre, Hansi circa 1988.

As it also happens with metal fans sometimes, my move from a less to a more “extreme” metal sub-genre usually meant a relative depreciation of the former. This was particularly pronounced when I started listening to death metal and I suddenly lost all interest in traditional heavy metal and power metal. Indeed, even today if someone asks me which the albums that I have consistently considered to be the most godly over the years are, I would reply with albums like Symbolic (Death), Clandestine (Entombed), Indecent and Obscene (Dismember), With fear I kiss the burning darkness (At the Gates), Heartwork (Carcass), Legion (Deicide), without a second thought. These are, without kidding, what I just thought! Yet, now on second thought, I would also include a number of albums by Maiden, Dio, Slayer, Rage, and others. However, there is also one album, that I excluded in the above list on purpose, that I would also include without second thought. That would be Blind Guardian’s Imaginations…. In my mind both traditional metal albums and death metal albums can be monumental, yet the former clearly belong to a different class to the latter. I have always considered death metal much more interesting, inventive, even critical, compared to traditional metal sub-genres. Blind Guardian is probably the only band that reconciles the creativity, aggression, criticality of death metal, and the fantasy, musicality and entertaining component of traditional metal.

bg2One of the most noteworthy things about Blind Guardian is their stamina. Over the years, I have witnessed – these are all personal opinions of course – countless once brilliant bands of the same scene, like Helloween (post 2000), Gamma Ray (post 1995) and Rage (post 2002), deteriorating on a downward spiral to becoming embarrassing shadows of their former selves. Yet, Blind Guardian managed to reinvent themselves over the years and constantly develop their unique style, leading to the release of an unprecedented masterpiece (what could easily be their best album ever) three months ago. No band that has been active for so long can claim to have achieved this.

BG circa early 90sBlind Guardian quickly released three albums between 1988 and 1990 that had pretty much the same style; fast power metal that combined elements of the quintessential German power metal band at the time, Helloween, and traditional English heavy metal. These influences are quite obvious. “Run for the night“, one of the standout tracks off their debut, sounds quite similar to “Starlight” off Helloween’s debut EP. Kai Hansen, the co-leader of Helloween made guest appearances in all first four Blind Guardian albums. With regard to their British metal influence, on their second album they covered the song “Don’t break the circle” off Demon‘s great second album The unexpected guest. Moreover, the even not so trained listener will be able to distinguish the NWOBHM influence in Blind Guardian’s early work, especially in the twin guitar harmonies. The twin guitar harmonies on “Majesty” (around 2:30), another classic from their debut, remind a lot the melody and overall approach of White Spirit on songs like “Fool for the gods” (at 4:25). Common element in those three releases is the epic atmosphere and speed. Although the style in their first three releases is somewhat constant, their third album shows signs of refinement and broadening of scope, exemplified on the track “Lord of the rings”.

The big change happened in 1992, with the release of their fourth masterpiece Somewhere far beyond. While the most obvious changes include the more ambitious orchestration and the complication of songwriting in general, I think the biggest change is Hansi’s singing, which evolved from an accompanying to a leading instrument. At that point Hansi’s melodies became the factor that took Andre’s music to new unreachable heights. The riffing as well explored new territories and embraced all the different techniques in the metal world, opening up new expressive avenues to the band. Triplet riffs that go back to the opening notes of Deep Purple‘s “Highway star“, and taken to new heights by thrash bands like Exodus (“Piranha“, “Deranged“), Metallica (“Damage inc”), Kreator (“No reason to exist” among many others), Sodom (“Shellfire defence“), and of course, Iced Earth (“Iced earth“), assumed new life in the competent hands of Marcus and Andre. I personally think that the influence of Manowar should not be underplayed either at this stage of Blind Guardian’s evolution. Songs like “Holy war” I consider to be blueprints for Blind Guardian’s sound.

The ultimate musical masterpiece. Whoever disagrees can go fuck themselves.

The ultimate musical masterpiece. Whoever disagrees can go fuck themselves.

Since then Blind Guardian committed to providing excellent musical narratives that enchant and cultivate the listener. I honestly discover new things whenever I listen to Imaginations… even though I have been listening to it non-stop for 20 years (and the same goes for all Blind Guardian albums). Another big change occurred with the release of Nightfall in middle earth (1998), in which the band slowed down its rampant pace considerably. Just like with the case of Somewhere far beyond that took the band to a new direction, Nightfall… was the album that would pave the way for the new Blind Guardian that, probably, looked for inspiration more to Savatage and progressive rock than thrash and speed metal. I would also postulate that the experimentation of their peers, Rage with an orchestra on Lingua Mortis (1996) must have had an effect on what Blind Guardian envisioned for the future. A night at the opera (2002) is an unprecedented progressive metal masterpiece, to this day probably my second favorite Blind Guardian album. This is an extremely thickly textured album, suffering from a not-particularly-good production. Despite that its brilliance is unquestionable. This album was the second major break with the band’s speed metal past, having just one song that is reminiscent of the speed metal days (i.e. “Punishment divine“). When this album was released I was going through a period of cynicism with regard to the metal genre and I remember being totally disappointed with the absence of fast songs. I remember that the biggest metal record store in Athens (Rock City) opened on a Sunday (all stores are closed on Sundays) just to sell the then-newly-released Blind Guardian album. Blind Guardian fans were a bit restless so they pushed their way through the entrance and, although I still don’t know exactly what happened, the glass doors shattered to the ground.

In A twist in the myth (2006) the band continued down the progressive path it had taken in the previous two albums, albeit with a much less ambitious orchestration and song structures in general. I consider it one of their most accessible albums. I also consider it to be in many ways the pinnacle of their songwriting, and if it ended with “Lionheart” it could easily be my second favorite BG album. “Otherland“, “Another stranger me“, “Carry the blessed home” are absolute masterpieces. The album that followed (At the edge of time, 2010), on the one hand, looked nostalgically in the past, with songs like “A voice in the dark” and “Tanelorn“. On the other hand, it also explored new territory for the band with the symphonic “Sacred worlds” and the long epic “Wheel of time“.

blindguardian

From left to right: Andre, Hansi, Marcus, Frederik circa 2014

Which brings us to 2015, when after almost 30 years of astounding musical offerings Blind Guardian manage to release what could be their most beautiful, inventive and ambitious masterpiece yet. It’s been more than three months since I bought Beyond the red mirror and I still can’t believe my ears. My only problem with the album, which irritated me a lot at first, is that the rhythm guitars – an important ingredient in BG’s sound – are way too low in the mix. Other than that, the album’s brilliance is indescribable. I will save the more elaborate review for the Best off list at the end of the year. Until then do yourselves a favour and listen to Blind Guardian, probably the best band of all time.



Best music moments from 2010

Once more it’s this time of the year when I get to review what kind of music 2010 had to offer. I have the feeling that 2010 has been relativelly less exciting for me than 2009 was. 2009 was a year of monumental releases which included Paradise Lost’s “faith divides us’, Slayer’s “world painted blood”, Napalm Death’s “Time waits for no slave” and Heaven and Hell’s “The devil you know”. Bad religion‘s 2010 album was a surprise to me, since it is the first ever BR album which I disliked! Neither Immolation nor Unleashed, Grave or Misery Index amazed me. Motorhead once again disappointed me. Although Maiden‘s new album has 3-4  songs I really like (e.g. The talisman, Where the wild wind blows, The man who would be king) I find it boring overall (apparently since Smith has returned I cannot listen to any of the songs he composes). Anyway, here are my favorite musical moments of 2010:

1. Atheist – Jupiter

Atheist’s comeback album has been a pleasant surprise. It restored my faith in death metal’s ability to be intelligent, exciting and out-of-vogue. A release which is perfect to its last detail. Imaginative melodies, orchestration, lyrics, execution and cover painting. Every song is an invitation to a unique experience. It really feels great that there are still artists out there able to make your skin crawl. In a scene where Schuldiner no longer exists, were Immolation have not presented something innovative since 2002, Broken Hope have disbanded since 2000, it is not a hyperbole to say that Atheist is the last remaining pillar of American death metal. “Live and live again” may be the song of the year.

2. Imperial State Electric – s/t

imperialstateelectric_st_cdNicke Andersson’s new band is, as I expected it to be, awesome. Lighter than even the more recent Hellacopters moments, this album is a masterpiece. Quite diverse songs with bridges and choruses that stick to your head and never leave. Songs that scream out Beatles, like “resign” and “I’ll let you down” are breath taking. “Lee Anne” is an instant classic whose post-chorus melodies resonate (in my ears) with Andersson’s compatriots ABBA. “Throwing stones” reminds of the Detroit scene. Kiss riffing is naturally all over the place. Playing is more than excellent but not exaggerated and the production is perfect. Goddammit I love this man.

3. Desultory – Counting our scars

Desultory - Counting Our ScarsDesultory’s Bitterness album has always been a favorite among my old friends from high school. While I consider melancholic melodies and soulful vocals to be trademarks of the swedish death scene, few come close to doing them as good as Desultory. Although in recent years there have definitely been some monumental swedish death songs (e.g. christ all fucking mighty by Death Breath, combat fatigue by Dismember, and others) it’s been quite some time since I heard a masterpiece like “This broken Halo”. Overall it is an amazing album sounding something between Into Eternity and Bitterness (with a few american touches, like in “Ready to bleed” which reminds of Deicide). Slow songs like the beautiful “the moment is gone” or “leeching life“, remind of times when Sweden was ruling the musical world. Johnsson’s simple but intense drumming, which contributes to Desultory’s trademark sound alongside Morberg’s unique vocals,  is present once more and maybe more powerful than ever. The lyrics of “the moment is gone” strike me as ironic, since they are sang by a band that reformed after 14 years to play the death metal of its youth… But realising that the moment is gone is enough for Desultory to be sad and write music to express that emotion.

4. Blind Guardian – At the edge of time

Blind Guardian never disappoint! It appears their dedication to playing good music combined with inexhaustible creativity has paid off again. Moreover, I think it is in order to argue that A. Olbrich and H. Kursch constitute the most exciting partnership in metal music.  Blind Guardian’s unique music is a manifestation of this chemistry. The new album is less complicated than the two previous albums, in the sense that the songs are more straightforward with fewer changes. There are a few fast moments with songs like, “A voice in the dark”, “Tanelorn” and “Ride into obsession” but nothing like the raging first half of the 1990s. My personal favorite song is “Control the divine” which has a perfect chorus and mindbogglingly beautiful music. Well words are never enough to describe the perfection of Blind Guardian so I’ll just stop here.

5. Necronaut – s/t

Fred Estby’s comeback album is a brilliant but awkward album. The reason for this awkwardness is its musical diversity which prevents the album from being categorised in one genre or the other. I personally think that Estby committed commercial suicide by creating an album in which he composed music that he liked, without planning a consistent and conventional direction for the album. Having said that, the songs on this album are awesome! The introduction is an Autopsy-like song which puts the listener in a swampy early american death metal mood. The follow up is a punky swedish death metal song on which vocals are provided by the extremely talented Drette of Edge of Sanity fame. It also sounds like something Dismember would have written around their Massive killing capacity era.  One of the best moments of the album is the Autopsy sounding “Infecting madness” sung by Reifert himself. Really amazing monolithic riffs and amazing vocals! The two best songs in this album are however the two Sabbath/Candlemass/ Bathory sounding songs “After the Void” and  “the Tower of death”. On both songs music is exciting and heavy beyond belief. Andersson’s vocals on the Tower are awesome and so are Nillson’s on After the Void. As I listen to After the void, I can’t help imagining what it would be like if Matti was singing on it! “Returning to kill the light” is another great blackened-death metal song which would stand out in any album from bands like Nifelheim or Necrophobic. I am really intrigued to see how this experience will affect the direction of Estby’s musical future.