Eurynomos – Eye of the Pantheon (2015)

This short EP has been sitting in our review queue for a while, for better or worse. I personally didn’t know what to expect from this band, but I certainly wasn’t expecting Root or After Death style ‘traditional’ heavy metal with extreme metal technique (i.e what we call power metal in the local parlance). The specific genre probably isn’t important, but Eye of the Pantheon does fit in quite well with the nebulous “first wave” of black metal despite its contemporary vintage. Luckily for us, Eurynomos takes after the better metal in that vein by making up for its technical shortcomings with ambitious songwriting and that certain ineffable gutter charisma I find rather common in similarly primitive recordings.

A lot of our readers will probably remember how, during the last decade, Darkthrone earned some notoriety for creating deliberate throwbacks to traditional metal and hardcore punk that were too goofy and self-referential to be of much value. Eurynomos seems to be aiming for something similar, but their efforts actually end up more accomplished and coherent. The musical language is very similar – both bands employ consonant but minimal riffs, halfway harsh shouted vocals, simple song structures, and so forth. Eurynomos, though, manages to write and perform in a more elaborate fashion, hiding their verse-chorus nature with well constructed bridging material and using their vocalist more effectively. Given a style that isn’t all that technically precise, his clear enthusiasm for the material means I’m willing to overlook his awkward cadence and his slurred diction. This overall mix of pros and cons does, as previously mentioned, extend to the rest of the band, especially since this mixture of traditional heavy metal with old underground tropes does not have the greatest musical demands.

In the process of appraising material for DMU reviews (and more generally, just listening to music), I find that a lot of bands would benefit from either simplifying or complicating their material. In this case, I think that Eurynomos would benefit from being a more elaborate and technically ambitious band within their style, but what they have so far is a good foundation, and it’s worth listening to in its own right.

Rhapsody of Fire unveils new album – Into The Legend

into the legend
The consistently bombastic and melodramatic (except when splitting into two bands) Rhapsody of Fire has revealed the cover art and tracklisting for Into The Legend. Intended for release on January 15th, 2016, Into the Legend will likely continue the band’s signature style, although word on the street is that its predecessor (Dark Wings of Steel) was a partial departure from such. Without a promotional single, there’s not a great deal of information we can work with. On the other hand, expect the media to compare this to Luca Turilli’s competing and recent Prometheus, Symphonia Ignis Divinus, and perhaps for the bigger symphonic power metal fans to insist that it either does or does not live up to whatever standard some of the other bands in the genre have set with their recent material.

Another perspective on Satan’s Atom by Atom

The cover of Satan's latest album flipped vertically
Review by David Rosales (read the original by Gabe here)

First things first – let’s get the obvious clear and out of the way. Satan is a band of not only competent instrumentalists, but songwriters with an ear for balance, color and dynamics. The previous review written for DMU on this album emphasized and praised this point as much as the band deserves. As it remarks, the attention to structure in the composition throughout the record and its faithfulness to its chosen style is worthy of praise. The only thing being suggested here is going one step further in our observations.

Sure, from the point of view of a purely academic critique, this is an outstanding work as it plays within its own style with dexterous flexibility, maintaining a certain cohesion and strong sense of flow throughout as colors and transformations are shown and removed. But metal goes beyond the formalities of technical music. Metal is about the the essence, hence it is about the ritual that directs a focus in the listener towards a certain attitude. But with Atom by Atom it sounds like we are gaily riding at full speed to the circus. At this point, we may question whether we are not making the mistake of placing something else besides or outside the music before the music itself. The answer is no; this is still about the content of the music, however non-objective it may seem, and is of the utmost important to a genre that claims to be more than fireworks and self-gratification (both on the artist’s and the listener’s sides).

We could go about explaining this with a loose inductive argument. Humans all tend to hear unisons and fifths as being more in repose and in balance than minor seconds or sevenths. This is because these correspond to very different and constant relations between sound waves at different frequencies, and their effect on the human brain on the physical level is, then, also constant. The way the appreciation of these changes and is trained through the exposure to different types of biases is a different matter, although equally important. Suffice it to say, that at the end it is a matter of the relation between the objective characteristics of sound and the conditioning by the environment of the subject.

Different systems around the world base their music on different philosophies, parting from these facts, even though they may not identify with exact things such as what Western music calls “perfect” or “imperfect” intervals. In the case of metal, it arises from the system of traditional Western tonality of the 19th century with a tendency towards terraced dynamics similar to those of Baroque music. The emphasis on content and delivery over flare that distinguishes metal from rock music also brings it closer to minimalism and one could even say, to early European music.

These are systems based on premises that are not just there as illusions, and serve as the objective sense on which this tonality is built. Certain intervals and progressions, certain melodies contrasted or complemented by the underlying chords, as well as the different rhythmic patterns (predominance of longer notes followed by shorter ones in bars and riffs) all possess distinct auras and characters. And although these cannot be pin-pointed with words, which would then obviate the need for music, we can generally define nebulous areas which range from what we know as human feelings to mental images and even divine morality (hence we have music that is predominantly described as ‘pure’, and music that sounds ‘evil’).

In the case of Satan’s 2015 opus, it’s as if the band had disregarded all sense of meaning in tonality and the character that the interaction between rhythm and melody projects onto the listener. In bouts of pure excitement and fanciful excess, Satan colors this album as a circus clown’s gala suit. Vocals are as emotional as in the first album, except that in here they seem even more disconnected from the music as the music veers into some sort of progressive speed metal akin to Helstar’s.

Although not as degradingly vulgar as Surgical Steel, Satan Atom by Atom results in a pretty tacky affair. This is an album that can serve as study case for guitar players when it comes to technical details in arrangement but falls short of a purposeful metal work. Its lack of heavy theme (from which the term heavy metal comes from) or any particular topic the musical level except the fun-funny carnival mood places it squarely outside any consideration for outstanding albums.

Enforcer – From Beyond (2015)

Enforcer - From Beyond (2015)
Enforcer has colonized 1983 and created an album that synthesizes much of that era’s above-ground metal, along with some careful additions from early speed/power metal into a coherent and musically proficient, if not particularly inventive whole. When you take into mind that there was just as much disposable crap being released then as now (at least by ratios), this probably pulls ahead of much of its inspirations for taking advantage of the historical perspective granted by 30 years of hindsight. Whether or not that’s enough to make it worthwhile is one of the questions I had on my mind as I evaluated From Beyond.

In general, my reason for judging Enforcer’s work by this criterion is that many of the bands in their lineage had some affinity for extending and elaborating on their songwriting. Iron Maiden is an obvious choice, with their occasional ’80s diversions into progressive rock inspired content. Enforcer, however, also heeds the call of their more commercial ancestors, showcasing slightly glam-tinged vocals and the occasional straight up rock riff or progression. It seems that the various tracks on From Beyond are separated by substyle – compare fast but simplistic tracks like the album lead-in (“Destroyer”) to the longer and more elaborate ones that end LP sides (“Below the Slumber”, “Mask of Red Death”); this variety between tracks may very well be inspired by a variety of influences, but even Enforcer’s antecedents managed to incorporate many disparate musical ideas into their own works. Enforcer manages to retain some stylistic consistency while doing so, but that’s such a basic requirement that this review would be far more negative if the band failed to do so.

But I digress – From Beyond is ahead of most of the traditional/speed metal revivalists, and at the very least it succeeds as a modernization and synthesis of the various movements in early 1980s metal, without falling too deep into the trap of pandering to its audience. I feel it would be better still if it further built off its style to create more elaborate and varied works still, but based on what they’ve done already I’d put Enforcer on my list of “bands likely to improve over time”. Furthermore, I’d recommend this album on its own strengths – its virile and musically talented performance, its strong production, and overtures towards expanding on the stereotypical ’80s metal sounds, although I don’t know how long it’ll stay fresh compared to the brightest lights of the past.



Nightwish, Endless Forms Most Beautiful, and ideological conveyance

Nightwish - Endless Forms Most Beautiful (2015)
Review by Daniel McCormick

It has been said that there is non-overlapping magisteria confining the world of scientific inquiry outside the the realm of “human purposes, meanings, and values.” (Stephen J. Gould) John Keats once said science presents a “cold philosophy” with a “dull catalogue of common things” that reduces life to terms insufficient to the subjective needs of man. Upon this assertion they then heap arguments of moral relativism, theology, and social revision which are based on their personal feelings and beliefs. This is common for religious or political figures but one also encounters this thinking in artists as well. In conversation one can easily find an artist prattling on about how x-piece speaks to man’s soul, or how true beauty lies in one’s personal interpretation, and that judgement is merely a subjective experience, that art itself communicates on levels that can not be directly observed or defined. All manner of feeble logic can you encounter, yet there is at heart a mirroring of intention. What they attempt is to self insulate from reproach, to self aggrandize through idealizing, and to manipulate your willingness to believe comforting thoughts. Because, to them, empirical definitions inundate the mind with a materialist philosophy that somehow cuts out the beauty from the universe around them. They say life is “too mad for mere material chains to bind” (Alexander Pope), and that “knowledge is not happiness, and science but an exchange of ignorance for that which is another kind of ignorance.”(Lord Byron)

There is a fundamental flaw in this anti-science rhetoric which stems from its untenable premise: that methods of inquiry lessen the artistic value of a ‘thing’. My view is much different; when I understand something (a process, an object, etc.) it allows me to observe with keener insight the object as it actually is. For instance, I am no less able to appreciate viewing the sky because I understand that the color I see is the result of lightwaves interacting with molecules, that these molecules are held in the atmosphere by gravity, that what I am seeing is the projection of the information my senses feed my mind, and that my mind and my senses are a direct result of millions of years of evolving characteristics. Like Darwin himself, I believe “there is grandeur in this view.” There is magnificence in grasping the chain of events, that all complexity today is directly a result of the low entropy state of the Big Bang some fourteen billion years ago, or that all life today is a direct descendant from a common ancestor that happened to have evolved billions of years ago on this watery green rock.

Of the untold bounty of scientific progress there are a few ideas more open to criticism than others but none seem as targeted as evolution. This theme of biological descent with modification and/or natural selection is an important idea, so important in fact that it is to our benefit to communicate this effectively, because its importance draws in so much unsubstantiated criticism. In other words, it is an imperative to communicate the theory and evidence effectively so as to combat its antagonists who are ever reproaching science and the philosophy of inquiry for some perceived wrong it has done them, or their group. Because of this constant willingness to attack empiricism, it usually falls to the popularizers of science to keep public opinion from drifting over the precipice and into the cult of the faithful and superstitious. It also becomes an imperative to demonstrate that works of art are in no way diminished by focusing on scientific research.

From this perspective I find myself listening to the eighth full length album from Finnish power metal band Nightwish. Endless Forms Most Beautiful focuses on artistically communicating the understanding of science in a very easily approached manner. Musically, this is what I have come to expect from Nightwish: a sound that is overly popular with a power metal base that drifts between heavy metal, hard rock, and light classical influences. Female vocals drive the bulk of the music, and the structural variations add a bit to what may otherwise falls into the formulaic. The performances are all flawless, over produced, and nearing the mechanical with over the top choruses, strings, keys, acoustic guitars, etc. You could simply say the album is extraordinarily inoffensive, mainstream, and essentially a work of metal music accessible to all ages, and potentially those not traditionally in the category of metal enthusiast.

What makes this interesting is the underlying premise carried through out the album. You can derive it from the album title which is itself a fragment from the ending chapter of The Origin of Species:

“There is grandeur in this view of life, …whilst this planet has gone cycling on according to the fixed law of gravity, from so simple a beginning endless forms most beautiful and most wonderful have been, and are being evolved.”¬† – Charles Darwin

The work is presented in a layman, artistic, fashion but emphasizes many specific ideas underlying the theory of evolution. This is furthered by the addition of narrations from Professor Richard Dawkins which includes the rather famous beginning passage of Dawkins’ own book, Unweaving the Rainbow. The sung lyrics may bear at times an odd nonlinear sappiness, a positivist’s perspective on the war of nature, but they also paraphrase words from scientists like Carl Sagan, Richard Feynman, and Stephen Hawking. While the general theme may be summarized as awe the presenting of this includes the happenstance of self replication, the scale of space time in which we exist, the chance of beneficial mutations, etc. Hefty complex subjects which are admittedly not delved into with expert authority, but presented in a way which will hopefully draw some scientifically illiterate person to partake the grand art of autodidacticism.

Collectively, there are issues to be taken with this method of communication, at least if you’re a die hard metal enthusiast like me, but as an expression bent on the popularizing of science I can see where this album has value. It in no way replaces the dozens of books I have on the subject, but it does build from and give insight into the substance of the information. The greatest show on Earth may well be the greatest show in the universe, and we know the party doesn’t go on forever so I urge you to make good use of what little time you have to expand your understanding and to appreciate things for what they offer to more than just yourself.

“We are going to die, and that makes us the lucky ones.”

Jag Panzer to record The Deviant Chord

Jag Panzer seems to be in a period of heightened activity. After a string of previous and upcoming live concerts (including a scheduled appearance on the next “70,000 Tons of Metal” cruise), the band recently announced that they would be recording their next studio album, The Deviant Chord, in May 2016. This will hopefully build off a long and storied career. Jag Panzer initially achieved fame with 1984’s Ample Destruction, which was one of the formative works of the US power metal scene. Despite long periods of inactivity, the band has been able to successfully revive themselves on multiple occasions, most notably with a string of albums in the late 1990s and early 2000s, as well as 2011’s The Scourge of the Light. The main vocalist (Harry Conklin) also went on to form Satan’s Host, which later took on a life of its own through exploration of extreme metal tropes.

THEM releases the first single from Sweet Hollow

Them - Sweet Hollow (2016)

October is indeed the season for Mercyful Fate, or at least pretenders to its metallic throne. Earlier this month, we saw two members’ underwhelming reunion in Denner/Sherman. More recently, THEM, composed of an unrelated group of musicians despite likely being named after King Diamond’s 1988 solo album, has released a track from their own upcoming attempt to capture something of that band’s approach.

Sweet Hollow is a concept album very much in the vein of King Diamond’s projects; at this point perhaps most notable for featuring members of Symphony X and Suffocation. The single (“Forever Burns”) resembles an exaggerated, more technically ambitious take on KD’s melodramatic heavy/speed metal sound, to the point of including a great deal of falsetto singing. Even if the final product turns out to be any good, this may scare some of its potential listeners away. Currently, Sweet Hollow is planned for a January 2016 release.

House of Atreus – The Spear and the Ichor That Follows (2015)

House of Atreus - The Spear and the Ichor That Follows (2015)
Review by Daniel McCormick
House of Atreus, a four piece hailing from Minneapolis, are a relatively newer melodic death metal act. 2015 saw the release of their first full length, The Spear and the Ichor that Follows, and the overall reception appears to be quite positive. The lyrics and imagery focus on Greek and Roman¬† mythology, though, much like the band Baltak’s Macedonian premise, this is not necessarily easily derived from the music alone. I have mixed feelings about this release – it has grown on me a little, but I find there are a few flaws worth noting.

Nearly every review I’ve read cites Arghoslent as a similar artist followed by the obligatory, “but they don’t refer to African Americans as cargo.” It is easy to see where this reference comes from, but I’d clarify that there is a difference in so much as House of Atreus sound more like something polished coming out of Sweden than the American raw, brutal, rough, and bloody variety. Perhaps it is an issue of production, which lends a full presence and solid mix, but take for example the song ‘The River Black’. I’m drawn more towards citing Kalmah, Amon Amarth, or At The Gates over anything I’d actually seek out to listen to. I realize there is a large audience for this type of sound, but as a strident, hateful elitist, I’m left unmoved.

That aside, the musicians are competent, the songs are all accessible, and the album is generally inoffensive. This is aided by incorporating aspects of melodic black metal and modern thrash in the riffing, with an overarching aim towards catchy melodies. Song structures are mostly straightforward; they’re developed and creative, but I’d have appreciated greater diversity to maintain my attention over the course of an entire album. The vocals employed give the dynamics a pleasant emphasis, with thoughtfully constructed patterns, but I do wish more of the context of each song shone with more clarity. The percussion is thunderous and solid, it elevates the progressions nicely and I’ve no real criticism to offer.

I’d like to be positive, to recommend this with gushing enthusiasm out of my affinity for antiquity, but unless you’re predisposed towards fanaticism to this genre you’d likely fail to see what unique niche this album fills. To me it sounds like dozens of other melodic death metal works released over the last fifteen years, few of which actually struck me as necessitated additions to my collection. So I’ll leave you with that, to decide for yourself.


Melechesh – Enki (2015)

Melechesh - Enki (2015)
Back in 2010, Melechesh’s previous album (The Epigenesis) made its way onto our “Best of 2010” list. I don’t know what to make of that, but this year’s batch of Melechesh doesn’t live up to that hype, despite sticking to the band’s signature mixture of streamlined extreme metal with older substyles and (importantly) a Middle Eastern folk garnish. The problem here is a common one – directionless, flat, almost random songwriting. Whether or not this afflicted previous works by the band is hopefully something someone more versed in their past might be able to shed some light on.

That the structural side of this album is so underwhelming is belied by the good first impression that Melechesh makes with their polished sound. They succeed in combining their three aesthetic streams where many bands stumble with two… or less. For instance, the band constructs almost every riff and phrase they use from vaguely exotic scales like the Phyrgian dominant, the double harmonic (“Arabic”), etc. This indicates greater dedication to the aesthetic than, for instance, Nile, and doing something similar in your own work will probably get you further in the long run than merely tossing in some instruments that are culturally relevant to what you’re trying to imitate. Not to say that Melechesh doesn’t add in extra instrumentation, but it’s skillfully incorporated into their sound to the point that it never seems incongruous. The older metal and rock elements, in comparison, don’t make themselves as immediately apparent, but they imbue this recording with a strong sense of conventional musicality that makes it easy to pick up off the shelves and listen to by the standards of its nominal genre.

The deception this entails means it took me a bit to pick up on how little of the content here was actually making its mark. Enki showcases its share of isolated musical ideas with which one could build a song, but arranges them in an entirely haphazard and arbitrary fashion. The general lack of dynamics also helps in building an environment full of interchangeable content – one entirely folk interlude (“Doorways to Irkala”) and some halfhearted soft sections does not an adequate substitute make. It may be that drone and repetition form an integral part of Melechesh’s songwriting, but the best bands to rely on such techniques don’t simply vary themselves through minor variation, but arrange such in a fashion that allows for actual in-song progression. Melechesh’s failure to do so combined with other aspects of their style make for an experience that decays to irrelevance shockingly fast.

Manilla Road – The Blessed Curse (2015)

Manilla Road - The Blessed Curse (2015)

Article written by Daniel McCormick

In James Howell’s 1660 Lexicon Tetraglotton one finds the proverb, “When thou hast made a turd leave it.” – advice not heeded by Manilla Road on The Blessed Curse. The biggest issues are twofold: length, and creativity. Yet, had brevity been a predilection, there’s little saving grace, even considering the august bloodline. I must admit that within the first minute thirty I was well prepared to hit stop and attempt to return my album. This is not to say that the music is performed sloppily, or that it’s lacking in merits altogether, but the substance of the music rarely rises above the common or generic, and it comes across more as embryonic than as a well crafted communicative device. It is as if this double album were a construct built from a month of jamming in a rehearsal room.

Therefore, I find this to be the type of album which would have greatly benefited from the group spending another year grinding away, incubating and contriving, and instead of 99 minutes of overextension a consistent 28 minutes could have been wrought. I’ll grant there are well layered harmonies (“Tomes of Clay”), vocally and otherwise, and there is some catchy structuring (“Kings of Invention”), but there is nothing to be found here exceedingly worthy of praise. This sentiment is exemplified by the lyrics, and the odd free form approach taken, because even stanza to stanza there’s a lack of cohesive narrative that leaves the listener lost to define direct intent, outside of cheesy throwaway lines. The vocals present these lyrics with a unique presence, but it is of little benefit when you consider the diminutive range and how the patterns do little to add dynamic qualities. In short, a dearth of vibrance.

This album had great potential to appeal to my tastes, with its folk leanings and rough production, and traditional metal approach, but that was an illusion dissolved like skin drenched in hydrofluoric acid. The folk aspects on this album come across as pop sap (“The Muses Kiss”) in most regards. The production is very well the best quality to my ear, in so much as it presents a purer, retro, feel. The traditional metal approach, though, is very much hit and miss – the verse chorus style grows old quickly when there is too little creativity at base. I suppose I am not so much disappointed as I am confused as to why this was so well received by so many. Perhaps I’ll never understand that. I simply conclude this album was intended for die hard fans who would have been happy with anything, and I do not recommend it.