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Amon Amarth – Deceiver of the Gods

July 6, 2013 –

amon_amarth-deceiver_of_the_godsFans of Amon Amarth will find their latest offering Deceiver of the Gods to be a solid continuation of the band’s heavy and bloody recapitulation of Norse mythology, albeit a little less heavy and a little less bloody. 

Those new to the latest album by this 14-year-long line-up of Swedish death metal royalty will find a great introduction to their sound and ethos. While Deceiver of the Gods does not have the intensity of classics With Oden on Our Side or Twilight of the Thunder God, this album certainly offers everything expected of an Amon Amarth album. 

The first two tracks, “Deceiver of the Gods” and “As Loke Falls” show a strong Iron Maiden influence.  “Father of the Wolf” — for which a video is being produced — is thrashier.  “Shape Shifter” is an epic song that proves a bit heavier than the offerings to this point. “Under Siege” steps things up nicely with a fairly intricate opening, a much more complex structure overall, and a couple of extra minutes to develop.  At 6:17 it is the second-longest song on the album (and this reviewer’s favorite track) and exemplifies the melodic death metal aesthetic Amon Amarth has so adroitly sustained year after year, album after album. “Blood Eagle,” “We Shall Destroy,” and “Hel” are solid tunes if a bit tiring; “Hel” also features the vocal contributions of Messiah Marcolin, notable for his work with unique doom metal band Candlemass. “Coming of the Tide” drives harder, and the energy it brings — as well as tempo changes and nice guitar work — recall the intensity of earlier albums. The eight-minute epic “Warriors of the North” closes the album with classic Amon Amarth flair.

Those interested in the deluxe edition will find a four-song EP-Under the Influence- included.  Each song appears to be a tribute to an influential band. “Burning Anvil of Steel” (Judas Priest), “Satan Rising” (Black Sabbath), “Snake Eyes” (AC/DC), and “Stand Up to Go Down” (Motorhead) constitute an intriguing contemplation of Amon Amarth’s sources.

Expertly produced, mixed, and mastered by veteran metal-maven Andy Sneap (originally of Sabbat UK), Deceiver of the Gods is a good album and well worth the asking price. Fans will appreciate the new material and those new to Amon Amarth and/or death metal will find this album a worthy introduction.

Tracklist:

  • Deceiver of the Gods (4:19)
  • As Loke Falls (4:38)
  • Father of the Wolf (4:19)
  • Shape Shifter (4:02)
  • Under Siege (6:17)
  • Blood Eagle (3:15)
  • We Shall Destroy (4:25)
  • Hel (4:09)
  • Coming of the Tide (4:16)
  • Warriors of the North (8:12)

Brutality – Ruins of Humans

June 6, 2013 –

brutality-ruins_of_humansClassic Tampa, Florida death metal band Brutality released a new two-song EP entitled Ruins of Humans which continues the style in which a melodic Morbid Angel meets Monstrosity that defined their debut album Screams of Anguish.

The vocals are still the crushing yet discernible Glen Benton meets Karl Willetts style as always, belting out apocalyptic views of human error. They didn’t recreate the wheel, and this won’t start a revolution, but it is still high quality material very much in the vein of their early Nuclear Blast releases, and is a step up from their forgettable swan song In Mourning and the confused 2003 demo.

There is a lot of potential in this as they have still retained their characteristic long flowing melodies that are akin to early At the Gates and blistering blast beat passages, and isn’t misdirected like the recent Convulse and Purtenance reunions. Hopefully a new album from these veterans as well as the upcoming return to form Demigod material will deliver the goods.

Burial Vault – Incendium

May 11, 2013 –

burial_vault-incendiumMaking melodic death metal proves more difficult than it might seem at first. The constant use of any technique brings new challenges in how to keep it from being overwhelming. And when that technique makes everything sound “good,” the tendency is reduce music to a wash of harmony which then loses all features.

Burial Vault attack this style with a radical idea: riffs should fit together instead of dramatically constrasting each other every time. Incendium does not make the listener feel like the center of attention as much as your average modern metal band, but by fitting together the circuitry of riffs into clear pathways, it creates an aesthetic appeal and a sense of balance. Like some of the best melodic death metal from the last generation, it washes over the listener like a tangible form of light, and immerses them in the mood of anticipating a wash of beauty. Guitar fireworks glisten in each one of these well-crafted but deliberately honed down and almost mnemonic riffs.

Compared to its peers in the melodic metal world, Incendium sounds less polished but more constructed and as a result is easier to distinguish from the background hum of popular metal. Most “melodic death metal” at this point is essentially a grab-bag of Halloween candy riffs, mixing the horror movie “Monster Coming Down the Stairs” riffs with Iron Maiden styled galloping riffs and glistening, Dissection-inspired riffs reminiscent of transcendence in darkness. It is less so here; these are riffs which fit together in a slightly blocky construction, but give you an idea of where they’re going.

If anything, Burial Vault need to concentrate on style. It experiments with clean vocals, power metal, hard rock, death metal and alternative rock. The “yelling until I’m out of breath” style beat-leading metalcorish vocals don’t fit with the rest, which could use a stronger and honestly more emotional vocal delivery; the metalcore style only does one emotion, and it’s probably an emotion felt by nothing but automatic coffee dispenser machines. It needs to find its own voice. In the meantime, Incendium gives a clearer vision of how melodic death metal riffs can be more than isolated, vanishing moments of beauty in a sea of chaos.

Zombiefication – At the Caves of Eternal

April 26, 2013 –

zombiefication-at_the_caves_of_eternalZombiefication incorporate many styles into their old school styled death metal but their ultimate forte is melodic death metal in the style made popular by early Necrophobic or Unanimated.

This band contributed a track to the Cenotaph tribute album and it’s hard not to think of the second and third Cenotaph albums which used the stylistic span between At the Gates and Therion’s Lepaca Kliffoth. In addition, Zombiefication use riffs much like early Amorphis, if Amorphis were interested in single-string picking of quick melodies.

Not all is old school however. At the Caves of Eternal features vocals that might be more at place on later At the Gates or The Haunted albums. They are nearly monotonic and do not vary style or inflection between songs, which gives them a consistency that breaks from the death metal tradition that all instruments labor toward the same effect. Drumming is more modern as well, with a jazz-fusion influence that is understated but prevalent. In addition, many of the leads follow more of a rock sense of theme and balance than the metal goal of high intensity chaos forming order despite itself.

At the Caves of Eternal uses the melodic death metal style effectively across this album, with the songs clustered near beginning and end having the most punch. If it has a fault, it is not stylistic, but in substance; the emotions and approach do not seem to vary between songs, making them variations on a theme that may be entirely musical. However, if you want to revive the old school melodic style, this album presents a potent option.

Immolation – Majesty and Decay

March 24, 2010 –

The mind can’t erase what the soul can’t embrace

The most anticipated death metal release of 2010 (along with the upcoming Morbid Angel, of course) Majesty and Decay has everything to please any sophisticated fan of the genre, yet still doesn’t quite meet the impossibly high standards of the group’s past. The 2007’s Shadows in the Light while it seemed to have retained all the ingredients of the New York masters’ brew somehow failed to live up to spoiled listeners’ expectations. The unfortunate flirting with “nu metal” elements as well as almost complete discarding of drumming-based structure poisoned the arrangements and conveyed a bad aftertaste to the whole record. Still head and shoulders above any fellow North American squad Immolation has taken the prolonged break in order to revise their direction and yet again prove themselves the ruling kings of the genre.

The best news Majesty and Decay has to offer is Steve Shalaty’s drumming. The man has been replacing Immolation’s godly Alex Hernandez ever since 2005’s Harnessing Ruin but it is only here that he unlocks his true talent. Steve has surely developed his own musical language since 2007 and the band has finally regained its rhythmic “pillars”. Everything has fallen into place at last: blasting endurance, inventive drum breaks and mid-paced punishment. The “inverted” riffing – although not as all-pervasive as on, say, Close to a World Below, – stresses the drumming very nicely and allows for some smooth gliding down the interwoven landscape of melody. Indeed, what sets the album apart in the vast Immolation discography is the use of melody. While the band is still a riff-fed beast, the heavy metal melody injecting the solos and seeping through the riffs enriches the sound world of the group, introduces “humanity” to the demonic environment of their instrumentation. The songs are shorter compared to the classic 90s era material, more to-the-point composition-wise, and definitely more “human” than we have come to expect from these New Yorkers.

Vigna (wonderfully supported by Bill Taylor as usual) goes right after Shalaty in this album’s list of heroes. The tight, powerful riffing, the wild soloing echoing with sadness and despair – all of it enhanced by the tasteful and balanced production ensures a satisfying listen. Guitars are put to good use in both the “Intro” and the “Interlude”, which indeed set the atmosphere very well. Ross Dolan’s vocals have become completely decipherable on here without loosing the emotion and recklessness, while his bass is so elegantly put into the mix that it acquires percussive quality at times. All of the above perfectly reflects the lyrical themes of the album: the loneliness of modern man lost in the midst of colossal fight for world domination, the evaporation of values and purposes igniting intrinsic hells and leaving no hope for the spirit.

“Our threatened kingdoms The world is divided Trample ourselves While we claw for the prize”

Still, the album comes with its share of flaws too. The band implements the tension buildup/release approach in some of the songwriting here and not only fails to achieve the desired effect, but sometimes looses momentum completely (most notably “The Purge”, “Divine Code”, “Power and Shame” ). The distribution of Immolation’s volatile energy here often reduces the impact instead of boosting it. This new trick is still very raw/unrefined and cannot fully replace the mathematic complexity of their 90s output. The classic (and eagerly awaited) “last song devastation” is also pretty much wasted here: next to all the best, epic songs scattered across the album “The Comfort of Cowards” feels pretty weak (while certainly not entirely filler) for a killing blow. The cover art is a disgrace. This computer game-like visual representation does justice neither to music nor lyrics. Also, the band probably needs to consider revising their logo after all these years of using a stretched font as one.

All in all, this is a mandatory purchase for anyone with at least a slight interest in today’s metal. It is entirely possible that Immolation’s return will be the finest mainstream death metal album by the end of the year (even with all the mentioned flaws taken into account) as this reviewer doubts Morbid Angel or any other competitor for that matter has the guts to top this material.

-The Eye in the Smoke-

Obscura – Cosmogenesis / Kalisia – Cybion

May 4, 2009 –

“Progressive” death metal is probably the most difficult death metal subgenre to do anything interesting in, because for the most part it is mainstream metal given the spin with dynamic production, aesthetic variation and all kinds of pointless superimposed elements, giving only rehashes of the popular substyles of death metal. It does not come as a surprise that on the new album Cosmogenesis, Obscura blends very well into the bland mainstream oriented current of Gothenburg (esp. Dark Tranquillity) and tech-death (esp. Atheist) influences. While apparently taking their name from a perennial Gorguts favorite, this neo-progressive metal opera only hints at the beautiful quasi-random soulseeking of Alf Svensson’s space-themed Oxiplegatz project and fails to unite all the various tendencies and instrumental parts into a descriptive work: the acoustic guitars, the Cynic-esque clean vocals, the fusion guitar heroics and even the modern grindcore reminiscent of Nile comes and goes at will but fails to instate lasting effect because the structure is uninvolving. Who anyway thought that it’s a good idea to combine Cynic’s “Focus” with metalcore standards and “catchy” lead guitar? It’s the most anal “heavy” music in 2009 but, hey, it will get 10000% in Metal-Archives because the majority are suckers for this! I like to think that these guys are very good jazz musicians but for metal, sorry, unable to capture the intensity and genius of the originators of the death metal genre.

Resembling a ten times more cheesy Nocturnus, Kalisia utilizes mainstream metal production values to hybridize progressive space metal with Arch Enemy school death/thrash. It contains some astonishingly bad sequences, like those belonging to vapid jazz musicians attempting death metal, especially when the solos scream conservatory trained pop musician virtuoso. Think of the latest Cynic album and make it more commercial and add booming synths and easy listening female vocals. In a weaker approximation of the massive sagas of Oxiplegatz and Bal-Sagoth, Kalisia goes for pure theatre of the macabre, a narrative science fiction tale of soundtrack cliches, processed voices and ADHD mix of influences as if doing something new, but wimpy and non-challenging. Death metal can lend itself beautifully to science fiction operas (think of Nocturnus or SUP) but it works only when suggestive use of texture can build an alien landscape – this kind of shrill, digital and annoying pop-influenced soundscape is closer to Nightwish than real death metal. The wanking and the various processes make Kalisia sound flashy and hysterical, rooted in a human personality. It has too much safe music for people who do not dare to truly break out and dream of the Otherworld. The professional musicianship may satisfy a fan of mainstream metal, but there’s very little sparkling innovation, unique spirit or brutal force to make an underground metal fan’s passion ignite.

 -Devamitra-

Nocturnus – Thresholds

March 3, 2009 –

Nocturnus - Thresholds

Thresholds, the second offering from Mike Browning’s (ex-Morbid Angel) sci-fi death metal tour de force, is an uneven, messy, fusion-inspired, lurid and occult death metal album. The best bits on here such as the sparkling, baroque, Mozart-ian lead guitars on “Aquatica” and the super-addictive chug and rhythmic chant on “Climate Controller” will stick to mind but at times the observation leaps through that Browning & co. are nowhere near the composers that for example Azagthoth & Brunelle were. The polyphony of the looming synthesizers is mostly awkward atmosphere building instead of solid thematics incorporated with the guitars. Browning does have an uncanny primitivistic yet accurate touch with the drums, one he obviously is going for, even naming a track “Tribal Vodoun”. All in all, it was probably a disappointment for many who bought it back in the day simply because Trey Azagthoth was always wearing a Nocturnus shirt in promo pictures. Nowadays as a rare and seldom heard item it has both nostalgic cult value and alongside the equally fusionistic, strange but compulsive “Spheres” by Pestilence shows imaginative directions where death metal could have followed if it hadn’t been abandoned to the blind flocks with their “brutal chugging” and “melodic wanking” trends.

-Devamitra-