Hello Metalheads and lurkers!
Good to see you all here again for another edition of Extremities. Y’know, I was thinking a while back about easing up my restrictions on what I could cover here. There’s a lot of good new metal records out there spanning across numerous sub-genres, and many of these records definitely deserve some attention, even if they’re not 98% blast beats and kvlt as fuck. And yeah, I know that some of these discs have been out for a minute, but what can I say, I’ve been busy! I’m an equal opportunity headbanger, and with that said, let’s saddle up and ride...
Ava Inferi, Onyx (Season of Mist)
Ava Inferi is a Portugal-based band formed by former Mayhem guitarist “Blasphemer” Rune Eriksen. But those of you expecting some classic old-school Norwegian black metal are going to be sorely disappointed as Ava Inferi deals their musical goods within the gothic and doom realms. A few tracks resemble a slower version of Comalies-era Lacuna Coil, while other songs take a more progressive, and occasionally lush, goth metal approach. Vocalist Carmen Susana Simões is the real highlight on this album. Her oft overdubbed, wide-ranging operatic singing and multi-layered vocal harmonies could easily compete with (if not squash) those of Sharon den Adel (of Within Temptation fame), but also convey much of the melodies of this often times somber and downbeat album. It’s not often that I describe a metal record as “beautiful,” but there are many shades of light and dark within Onyx that keep it from being a total gloom and doom affair. Yes, the sonic results of the Ava Inferi brew are occasionally pretty and usually emotive, and that’s nothing to be ashamed of if you’re working within this musical framework. But ultimately this album is dark and dramatic, and again given the musical landscape in which Ava Inferi inhabit, these aspects have them towering above most of their peers.
Blood Ceremony, Living with the Ancients (Rise Above/Metal Blade)
UK label Rise Above has been putting out quite a bit of quality stoner metal, and Blood Ceremony is a tremendous score for that label’s current repertoire. This Toronto-based ensemble plays bluesy, heavy, distorted ’60s-styled rock, and their second full length disc, Living with the Ancients is presented in a cover design that seemingly pays tribute to Coven’s 1969 debut, Witchcraft Destroys Minds and Reaps Souls. It’s an appropriate comparison, as Coven was fronted by chanteuse Jinx Dawson, and Blood Ceremony is also an occult rock act fronted by a woman. Alia O’Brien not only provides reverbed, witchy vocals for the band, but also plays organ and the flute (!) on several tracks. If anyone reading this is thinking In Rock-era Deep Purple meets Black Sabbath meets Jethro Tull as a reference point for this band is not far off, and in this writer’s opinion that is definitely not a bad thing. There are several flute-led melodic passages, and the juxtaposition works very well against the lumbering bottom-heavy grooves. The songwriting is top notch and there’s memorable hooks and choruses throughout. The album’s fuzzy production makes it sound as if it could have been released in the late 1960s, and overall this piece of wax is killer top to bottom (a rare thing for most modern metal albums). In the end, Living with the Ancients is a most excellent slab of heavy metal for the retro lover in you.
Darkest Era, The Last Caress of Light (Metal Blade)
Darkest Era is a five-piece consisting of three males and two females from Northern Ireland. Their newest album (and first for American label Metal Blade) consists of primarily straightforward metallic rock with occasional tremolo-picked guitar lines and a powerful, but not overbearing, male singer. There are hooks a plenty, as well as some big anthemic choruses and the occasional double lead guitar line paying tribute to fellow Irish rock forefathers Thin Lizzy. If you can imagine Thin Lizzy as formed in the 2000s and influenced by Iron Maiden, Enslaved and Viking metal, then you have a good picture of what Darkest Era’s music is all about. The lyrics are based around Celtic legends and warriors, and acoustic Irish folk flourishes are scattered throughout the disc. “Poem to the Gael” is a haunting and beautiful acoustic folk song, and future Darkest Era albums might benefit from a little more of this type of sound sprinkled in here and there. My only complaint is that the production should have been a little bigger and a little slicker so as to allow the instrumentalists to truly shine. Regardless, “The Last Caress of Light” is a surprisingly infectious collection of songs from a band I knew little about beforehand, and to be blindsided with this quality of record has definitely put this writer on notice. Highly recommended for metalheads who prefer singing, choruses and actual songs.
Death, The Sound of Perseverance (Deluxe Reissue) (Relapse)
What can I say that hasn’t already been said about Death and its legendary guitarist/vocalist Chuck Schuldiner thousands of times over? Schuldiner, who died in 2001 after battling cancer for several years, is often credited as being the father of the U.S. death metal movement in the late ’80s and cited as one of the best metal guitarists of all time. Well, as the saying goes, the proof is in the pudding, and Death’s catalog doesn’t get much better than their final album, 1998’s The Sound of Perseverance, which has been deemed worthy of a deluxe reissue package by Relapse Records. Hailed as a death metal classic to this very day, The Sound shows Death at their most mature, songwriting best with crisp production, smart soloing, the occasional introspective passage, clever melodic motifs and tempo shifts aplenty. This album was the apex of Death’s creative powers and still kicks the shit out of most death metal put out today. This deluxe reissue is worth purchasing for its 50 or so minutes of extra material featuring demos of songs from the album as well as some bonus unreleased tracks including a kick ass cover of “Painkiller” by Judas Priest. More than a decade later, The Sound of Perseverance is still a monument of aspiration for generations of death metal bands to come.
Demonic Resurrection, The Return to Darkness (Candlelight)
I don’t usually associate extreme metal of any nature with the nation of India, but here is Demonic Resurrection, who hail from Mumbai and have released their first album Stateside, The Return to Darkness Listeners should expect some atmospheric death metal with symphonic black metal flourishes and a lot of keyboards giving off a cold, spooky vibe, as well as both death growls and clean, melodic singing in nearly equal value. My main gripe, thouhg, is that the album’s a little overlong, with not a whole lot of variety song to song to keep things moving for my ADD-addled mind. But on the other hand, the cleanly sung verses and choruses keep some of the numbers stuck in my brain, and it’s a well executed affair. You could definitely do worse than this, and I’m curious to see how Demonic Resurrection fares in the States.
Electric Wizard, Black Masses (Rise Above/Metal Blade)
Considered by many fans to be the quintessential active stoner/doom metal act, Dorset, England’s Electric Wizard have been pushing distorted guitar sludge and drug references into listeners’ ears since the mid-90s. Black Masses, their seventh full-length release, picks up sonically where 2007’s Witchcult Today left off, continuing a transition from sludgy as fuck stoner metal into a more traditional late ’60s/early ’70s sound a la early Black Sabbath recorded entirely on vintage analog equipment. And this time around, Electric Wizard is more song-oriented than ever, with repetitive, but catchy, hooks and traditional song structures. Lyrically, Electric Wizard is sticking to their guns, with songs based on the tales of HP Lovecraft, horror films, ’60s Satanism and drug-fueled mysticism. Even the vocals this time around are more clear and upfront than ever—a bold move as most listeners don’t consider Jus Oborn a stellar vocalist. But on Black Masses Oborn’s vocals fit with the deep bong-hit grooves being laid down by Liz Buckingham, Shaun Rutter and Tas (the guy with all the tattoos on his face). This change of style alienated a lot of older fans—the people who think “Dopethrone” is an untouchable masterpiece and that any variation ruins the ethos of the mighty Wizard. I totally disagree. In most instances, bands need to evolve to keep the music fresh and interesting—not just for listeners, but for themselves as well. This is what bandleader Jus Oborn has done ever since the original line-up of the band disbanded roughly 10 years ago, and Electric Wizard continues to reinvent themselves ever so slightly with each release. This is yet another heavy feather in their collective cap, one which should garner them even more fans.
Ghost, Opus Eponymous (Rise Above/Metal Blade)
Sweden’s Ghost is a band of six anonymous individuals who, in only a couple of years, have turned a lot of heads and gotten quite a bit of press for having only one demo ad one 7-inch. Metal fans and critics weren’t sure what to make of this rather unusual band. Onstage they wear black masks and cloaked in monk robes, while the vocalist comes out in skeleton make-up dressed like the Pope (a Satanic pope based on the upside down crosses that litter his outfit).
And what about their debut album Opus Eponymous? This too presents about as many questions as it answers. Musically, it’s in the vein of classic heavy rock from the early ’70s. Sabbath, Iron Maiden and Blue Oyster Cult come to mind at different points, and based on the recurring retro organ sounds, a little Uriah Heep as well. However, there are a few Thin Lizzy–styled twin-guitar leads, and the solos are tasty as well. All of which brings us to the lyrics and vocals. The singer (yes, he actually sings, and sings very well) has a light, airy voice with a decent range. Some have made comparisons to King Diamond, and while I understand why fans might say that given the subject matter he’s singing about (I’ll get to that in a second), his vocals aren’t nearly as acrobatic. Actually, this album was a breath of fresh air to me for the vocals alone. Amidst a never-ending stream of distorted, shrieked or grunted vocals I hear ad nauseam on most modern metal records, to hear a singer with pitch and melody was definitely welcomed. But onto the lyrics. They are all about rites and tributes to their “one God,” good ol’ Scratch himself. They definitely give the devil his due; Satan is directly mentioned on damn near every tune, and depending on your take on the subject, this album could either be perceived as very disturbing or very corny. And what makes it that much more intriguing is that these “blasphemous” lyrics aren’t presented in your typical death or black metal vocal style. They are clearly crooned in soaring, melodic choruses that will have you singing along despite the grotesque/campy lyrics about human sacrifices, witches, invocation of the devil and the like contained therein. In that regard, Opus Eponymous is way more sinister than your most cold, evil, grim or kvlt black metal band.
But the question then is whether the whole Satanic foundation of Ghost (not to mention the gimmicky live presentation of the band) is at all serious or just a big tongue in cheek ruse. I tend to believe the latter, but as opposed to say other supposedly Satanic bands like Dark Funeral or 1349 that take themselves too seriously, with Ghost, I feel like I’m in on the prank and enjoy it regardless. Make no mistake—musically the songs are no joke. The tunes here have rocking hooks and will get stuck in your head easily. And if you have any lingering doubt based on the first eight numbers, the final song on the album, “Genesis,” is an instrumental that leaves the listener with more than they bargained for. A heroic guitar riff propels the song alongside ’70s-style keyboards that ultimately wash out into an introspective acoustic guitar passage at the very end. Overall, Ghost and its music are fascinating, and the band’s songs are addictive and catchy. Apparently the end of life as we know it is gonna be a rockin’ good time.
Primordial, Storm Before Calm (Metal Blade)
Primordial is another band representing Ireland in the world of metal who are often pegged as part of the pagan metal movement gestating over the last few years. But unlike labelmates like Darkest Era, Primordial grounds their Irish folk roots into progressive black metal. The album starts off sounding like a traditional BM record, but as the album continues playing you begin to realize the artistic qualities and melodic abilities of this band that separate them from their stylistic contemporaries. There’s singing, there’s shrieking, and there’s spoken-word passages strewn about this record, along with acoustic-led stretches. The lyrics center around Irish heritage, history and legends, and the mood of the music makes a perfect soundtrack for the subject matter. I’ve listened to this record numerous times and still can’t quite put my finger on what Primordial is all about, and that is actually a compliment to the personality and originality of this band. “Storm Before Calm” emotes a dramatic, but bleak, atmosphere minus most of the stylistic trappings of stereotypical black metal (only occasional tremolo picking and virtually no blast beats to be found here). This newest album by Primordial is an off the beaten path, but ultimately rewarding listening experience.
The Project Hate MCMXCIX, Bleeding the New Apocalypse (Cum Victriciis In Manibus Armis) (Season of Mist)
For those of you who have wondered what Jorgen Sandstrom of Grave and Entombed fame is up to nowadays, here ya go. The Project Hate MCMXCIX is a futuristic sounding death metal project that incorporates elements of electronica, goth and industrial music amidst the tried-and-true guitar chugging and growls (courtesy of Mr. Sandstrom himself). The six songs here are all on the epic side of song length (only two tracks clock in under the 10-minute mark), all of which are punctuated by shrill female vocals and the occasional piano flourish. Every once in a while the listener will catch a danceable drum ’n’ bass beat to break things up a bit, and in most instances, the non-metal musical elements are used sparingly but well. My main beef with Bleeding the New Apocalypse is that the songs are so long and unwieldy that they aren’t all that memorable. The album would benefit from a better concentration on songwriting and hooks, which would help a would-be listener interested in revisiting this album as more than a curiosity. As it is, Bleeding the New Apocalypse has a lot of great musical ideas, but in the end leaves me disappointed.