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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.



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.

2016 PLAYLIST



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.

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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“.

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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.



What happened to us? #2 Rage and the Efthimiadis brothers

This second instalment in the split of classic line-ups series of posts is dedicated to my all-time favorite power metal band (alongside Blind Guardian), Rage, and its split with Chris Efthimiadis (Drums) and Spiros Efthimiadis (Guitar) in 1999.

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I understand that calling the split with the Efthimiadis brothers the split of a classic line-up is a bit far-fetched. Peavy Wagner (Vocals, Bass) has always been the undisputed leader of Rage. Chris (previously of Atlain) first appeared on the band’s third album (Perfect man) and Spiros did not appear in the picture before 1994’s 10 Years in Rage. However, it can be safely said that the arrival of Chris marked the beginning of a period of great creativity for the band. Again, this does not mean that Chris was solely responsible for that. His arrival coincided with the entrance in the band of guitarist-extraordinaire, Manni Schmidt, a genius of guitar playing. In any case, Chris’s unorthodox and manic style of drumming – borrowing a lot from hardcore-punk I would describe him as a pissed-off Philthy (Motorhead) – to a large extent defined Rage’s sound. The more qualified drummers that preceded Chris (Jorg Michael) and followed his departure (Mike Terrana) never came close to capturing the magic that Chris brought into the band.

Spiros on the other hand might have not been on classic releases such as Perfect man (1988), Secrets…(1989), Trapped (1992) and Missing link (1993), but he played in at least two albums that I consider classic, namely Black in Mind (1995) and End of all days (1996). His contributions in those two albums are without any doubt brilliant. He and his brother contributed in two more pretty good Rage albums (13 (1998), Ghosts (1999)) and, just when this line-up seemed to be the definitive Rage line-up, they were out of the band, along with Sven Fischer, the other guitarist.

From interviews with Peavy, Fischer and the Efthimiadis brothers it can be postulated that the split should be understood as an outcome of a combination of factors which include: the internal tension created in the band due to divergent creative visions among band members, discontent related to conforming to the norms of the heavy metal genre, and perhaps the limited opportunities for a breakthrough in the music industry field faced by heavy metal musicians. Chris tactfully avoids going into details on the split and instead describes his time in Rage as a great time, among great people, that came to a natural end (read his interview on Rock Overdose here). The assertion that the Efthimiadis brothers willingly left rather than being ousted from the band is further supported by an interview with Peavy (read here). However, on the same interview Peavy suggests that there was animosity between band members. According to Peavy, Spiros turned against him for reasons the former could not understand. (In another interview he identifies Spiros as one of the biggest mistakes he did in his career.) Peavy goes on to say that Fischer and the Efthimiadis brothers stopped being interested in Heavy Metal by the late nineties, a claim which further supports Chris’s attitude that their time in Rage had reached its natural end. In another interview with Spiros and Fischer, the latter suggests that being in Rage meant that the audiences had specific expectations which effectively limited their creativity (read the interview here). Finally, the decision to play a more radio-friendly style of music should be interpreted in the context of late-90s music culture, a time when heavy metal’s popularity had long faded and the potential for economic and symbolic compensation was small.

After the break up, Rage continued with new members Mike Terrana (and more recently André Hilgers) and Victor Smolski, all of them extremely technical and experienced musicians. However, and although Peavy was the undisputed driving force and true genius behind the Rage I loved, I personally think that the magic that Rage achieved with the Efthimiadis brothers on board has never been reached again. The Efthimiadis brothers went on with Sven Fischer to create the pop-rock band Sub7even, which enjoyed moderate commercial success in Germany, and more recently Chris put together the ethnic-pop-rock band Tri State Corner.



Is this where I came from? #2 White Spirit and Rage

In this second entry in the “Is this where I came from?” series of posts I discuss the influence of White Spirit, one of the unheard heroes of the NWOBHM, on Rage, one of the most important bands of the Teutonic metal invasion.

White Spirit – Way of the kings (1980)

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White Spirit was a band whose claim to fame is that Janick Gers, its guitarist, went on to join Iron Maiden in 1989 after Adrian Smith’s departure. However, I personally think that the album that they released in 1980, the year the NWOBHM broke loose with monumental releases such as Iron Maiden‘s debut album, Motorhead‘s Ace of Spades, Diamond Head‘s Lightning to the nations, and other great albums, was a very influential album to the genre that has gone unnoticed. The riff of the opening song “Midnight racer” is reminiscent of Iron Maiden’s “Two minutes to midnight”, released four years later. However, this riff was, at the same time, a riff that defined British heavy metal and you can find similar riffs to most metal bands of that era. Nevertheless, I think that this band should be credited with influencing Maiden’s future sound in a different way, by introducing the long epic songs and the minimal guitar harmonies. Fool for the gods, the song that closes the album, could easily be in any Dickinson-era Maiden album. At the same time, while Maiden crafted a powerful sound that utilised twin guitars, White Spirit had one guitar and keyboards instead. Keyboards did not age as gracefully as guitars have.

Anyway, Gerr’s riffing on this album is pretty cool. His awesome riff on “Way of the kings” is my favorite in the album. The song starts at 14:50 on the video seen below (*no matter how many times I upload this song or the whole album, it is always taken down! Apologies).

Rage – Refuge (1993)

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Rage is an all-time favorite band and its leader, Peavy Wagner, one of my all-time favorite musicians (among Steve Harris, King Diamond, Jeff Hanneman, Chuck Schuldiner, Tony Iommi, Nicke Andersson, Lemmy Kilmister, Fred Estby, Ronnie James Dio, Andre Olbrich, Hansi Kürsch, and Gregg Mackintosh). The album Missing Link is one of their golden-era albums and there are no words to describe how perfect it is. “Refuge” is one of the speedier songs of the album and the opening and main riff sounds like a more elaborated version of the main “Way of the kings” riff. Of course, the song goes on to include an amazing bridge, beautiful chorus, stunning twin guitar harmonies and a clean guitar chorus passage, which bring it into a whole new level of perfection.



My rage

Germany has indisputably contributed some of the most amazing metal bands. The German thrash scene has been the only one that can compete with the extremely influential and successful North American scene. Californian thrashers (like Metallica and Slayer) were nurtured in the setting provided by the glamour of suburbia and a decaying (glam) metal scene, German thrashers in the context of post-industrialisation, unemployment and urban decay. But Germany did not only offer unique thrash bands like Kreator and Sodom, but also amazing power metal bands, like Helloween, Blind Guardian, Gamma Ray, Scanner and Rage. Each one of these bands managed to create a unique personality and be adored around the world. Rage has always been one of my all time favorite bands.

As with the rest of the big German bands it took them a couple of albums to develop their personal sound. It happened with the brilliant “Perfect Man”, when Peavy, Manni and Chris unleashed their melodic yet abbrassive music to the world. The unexpectedly catchy melodic choruses have since then become a trademark characteristic of Rage. Peavy’s genius compositional ability was supplemented by Manni’s genius guitar playing (which is the definition of  “out-of-control”) and Chris’s frantic drumming. The thing about Rage is that they sound like a bunch of Thrashers and Punks being trapped in the bodies of Heavy metal musicians. Chris’s playing is reminiscent of both punk and thrash (which was influenced by punk to begin with) since he rarely uses double-bass as other power metal drummers. Instead, he prefers a very fast standard double beat (snare-bass-snare-bass), often D-beat and a generally stripped down and aggressive sound. Manni’s style is also out of control along the lines of Randy Rhoads, where openings for short solos and improvisations are always welcome. Peavy’s voice is in line with the conventions of the time, where the highest pitch was the goal. He changed his approach to singing later in the mid-nineties, I think for the better.

As far as song-writing goes,  Rage’s music has elements of Rock n roll, traditional Metal, Thrash and in the latter years Death Metal. Rage’s lyrics used to deal with environmental issues, societal problems, alienation, death, loneliness, pilgrimage and fantasy. Revisiting some of the lyrics, it makes me wonder how much certain issues seem to be more relevant as time goes by. There is commonsensical wisdom hidden in songs like “a spider’s web”, which talks about excessive borrowing and debt to fuel consumerism, or the pharmaceutical industry which infects people with diseases in order to sell them more medicine (Medicine). Of course Peavy is  a great fan of Lovecraft and he has written several songs that directly or indirectly point to him, such as the monumental “in a nameless time“, “shadow out of time”, “the crawling chaos” etc., while one can find references elsewhere (e.g. Time and Place).

Peavy’s creativity, both musical and lyrical, was unmatched at least until the late nineties. Social concerns and sensitivities are ever-present over this period. He has composed some of the most beautiful love songs that I have ever listened, such as Light into the darkness, Don’t fear the winter, All this time and End of all days. In these songs, like in all rock music, death finds it’s way to the discourse of love in different ways. However, Peavy’s ideas often reflect patriarchal and sexist structures of thinking, such as on the song True face in everyone. While he condemns the rape of a woman, the conclusion remains that “now she can’t trust a man no more”.

The thing that used to stand out the most with Rage was the ability to play otherwise joyful melodies in an extremely frantic manner, managing to reconcile different music genres in an inspiring way. Songs like Send by the devil, Raw caress and Power and Greed are perfect examples of this. And at times, when you didn’t think it can get any more extreme it does, like with the monumental Who dares! For some of their older fans, Rage died after Manni left in the mid nineties, or when the Efthimiades bros left in the late nineties. I sometimes agree with them, as I don’t particularly like their material after Ghosts. However, Peavy’s creative genius is still there, and on certain moments I still can’t believe my ears. Most importantly, Peavy’s kindness and love for music continue to inspire myself and others to be better people and artists.