Archive for December, 2013

My friend asked me to do a blog on metal Christmas songs. Turns out that was a balls idea since I only know like 4, BUT it gave me an idea. Since it is the season to be cold, wet and generally miserable, I’ve decided to put together a list of ‘The Most Badass Songs With Winter In The Title!’

1. Blind Guardian – Noldor (Dead Winter Reigns): a fantastic piece of dark, bombastic power metal majesty

2. Sunn 0))) – Cursed Realm of the Winterdemons: The Immortal track was classic, but this cover is mind suffocatingly dense

3. Darkthrone – The Pagan Winter: Icy black metal from Norway’s finest sons

4. Sodom – Nuclear Winter: vicious early thrash from the German legends

5. Dragonforce – Black Winter Night: before they went all 500mph, Dragonforce were actually a pretty good power metal band

6. Immortal – At the Heart of Winter: the title track to probably my favourite Immortal record. At the heart of winter, there stands Immortal

7. Swallow the Sun – Descending Winters: crushing death/doom that truly feels like the cold is caving in

8. Wintersun – Winter Madness: melodic death metal at its purest, finest moments

9. Hail of Bullets – General Winter: an ominous air raid siren ushers in this juddering death metal classic about the harsh Russian cold

10. Cathedral – Aphrodites Winter: Another slab of finest English doom from the sadly retired legends.

So there we have it, that’s my top ten tracks involving winter. In fairness, I could’ve have just done an Immortal greatest hits, but that would’ve been lazy…!

I like Nightwish. There, I said it. I don’t LOVE Nightwish, but I was a big fan of theirs back when they released ‘Once’, had the video for ‘Nemo’ on Kerrang repeatedly and had operatic sex bomb Tarja Turunen on vocals. I have recently gone back through my CD collection in the advent of 2014 approaching, to find the hidden treasures I have bought in the past and forgotten about. When you own like 1400+, you start to lose some in the madness. Nightwish was one of those artists, so I’m dusting them off to see if they still appeal to my tastes.

I have like, five (FIVE!?) Nightwish records. That, I definitely had forgotten. I thought I only had two, three at a push. I first got into them just after I left high school and went to university. My little hometown had fuck all in the way of decent record stores apart from Barnstorm Records, to which I owe a lot. But Glasgow had a Virgin Megastore (remember those?) and about 3 HMVs, so I was in heaven. I then discovered a love for symphonic metal and power metal, which was fully realised by the fact I could get these kind of records in the shops. It was the birth of my CD collection’s true expanse into what it has become today.

And Nightwish were a firm favourite of mine back in the day. They had some great songs, and a real sense of the grand and epic. Tarja’s voice was so different to anything I had really experienced before, and female-fronted metal bands were reasonably rare at the time. 2004’s ‘Once’ was truly a great album for its era; it contained all the good things about symphonic power metal with female vocals, without falling into the missteps that so many copycats (and the band themselves) fell into afterwards. ‘I Wish I Had An Angel’ was a storming track, and the always catchy ‘Nemo’ are still good tracks, almost 10 years later. Tarja was a bona fide opera singer, so she could do epic SERIOUSLY well. Nightwish could do epic properly too, with the huge ‘Ghost Love Score’ and ‘Creek Mary’s Blood’.

Nightwish lost something for me when Tarja left; both they and Turunen’s solo records failed to leave much of an impression on me (although I still like ‘Amaranth’ and ‘Eva’ from ‘Dark Passion Play’) and they faded from my radar almost completely. They became a band for me that I had good memories of ‘back in the day’, but held nothing for me as I moved towards more brutal and obscure directions in music. But listening back to them now, I can still see why I liked them. I could probably put together a personal greatest hits for people who wanted to hear the best of them. And here it is:

1. Sleeping Sun

2. Nemo

3. Amaranth

4. I Wish I Had An Angel

5. Dark Chest of Wonders

6. End of All Hope

7. Angels Fall First

8. Nymphomaniac Fantasia

9. Ghost Love Score

10. The Poet and The Pendulum

11. Sacrament of Wilderness

And, here’s another reason I, at 18, was smitten by Nightwish. Back when Tarja was stunning.

Autopsy were a band that I appreciated a lot more after their recent comeback records. Not that I disliked their older stuff, but until I heard 2011’s ‘Macabre Eternal’, I didn’t really appreciate how good a band they were. I understood their position as standard bearers for the earlier, rawer style of death metal, but only after I become enamoured of their new material did I truly understand their effect on the genre as a whole. ‘Macabre Eternal’ was that raw, slimy death metal style done better than anyone else, and ‘The Headless Ritual’ follows that up by doing everything that the previous record did well, but better.

Opener ‘Slaughter at Beast House’ begins as any Autopsy album does with a chainsaw riff, gurgling vocals and an instantly old school feeling. It’s pretty long at over six minutes, and does contain a slowed, doomy section in the middle in which Chris Reifert’s tortured growl is highlighted. ‘Mangled Far Below’ is such a classic Autopsy song that it’d fit perfectly onto ‘Severed Survival’ or ‘Mental Funeral’. This is pure 90s death metal, given a fresh 2013 twist. There’s nothing here that would surprise Autopsy fans that much, other than the (almost) death ballad of ‘She is a Funeral’. It’s almost straightforward death metal with a rocking chord progression, overlaid with some of Reifert’s greatest gurgling vocals.

One thing that has always stood out about the band though is the massive influence they’ve had on death/doom as a genre. ‘She is a Funeral’ is a great example of how doom Autopsy can be, and the vocals on ‘When Hammer Meets Bone’ are as low end, hell-scraping as you’ll hear. In fact, it is Reifert’s voice that highlights the whole record for me. He sounds like he’s gargling razorblades underwater, and it accentuates the gore drenched insanity that every Autopsy record brings. The macabre ‘Coffin Crawlers’ brings to mind any zombie movie you’ve ever seen, and the close of this track is one of my favourite moments. It’s pure doom, overlaid with spiralling solos and tortured howls. There’s nothing finer. ‘When Hammer Meets Bone’ combines two of Autopsy’s finest features; the barreling chainsaw death metal with eerie, slow malevolent doom. It’s my favourite song on the record.

Autopsy are not here to surprise you, nor are they here to disappoint you. Autopsy exist only to rip your face from your skull and piss in your dead eyesockets. With ‘The Headless Ritual’, they bring 45 minutes of the most reliably sick death metal you could’ve heard this year. Brutal.

How do you explain Australia’s most fucked up avantgarde death metal band to someone who has never heard them? “Its like death metal filtered through a wind tunnel”? “It’s like if Japanese noise artist Merzbow wrote a death metal record”? Maybe the best way is to put on their new record ‘Vexovoid’ and watch their eyes fill with dread. Portal are intense. Scarily intense in fact. I watched a video on Youtube the other day of every Dillinger Escape Plan song played at the same time (because somebody out there felt the world needed to hear this) and it sounded like Portal. Portal will attack your senses in ways you will never expect.

Their new record ‘Vexovoid’ is another example of how dark and dense death metal can truly be. If you’re a fan of HP Lovecraft’s writings, you can imagine that if any of his otherworldly creations who wreak havoc and insanity on the minds of those who see them wrote music, it would sound like this. Opening track ‘Kilter’ is a tornado of blackened, hate filled noise. It is thick, dark, atonal riffing coupled with the voice of doom. It is frankly staggering that such a sound can be captured on record. Portal have their intense, filling-with-dread atmospherics down to a tee here. The production isn’t quite as murky as previous record ‘Swarthe’, which allows a bit more of the band’s intricate moments to poke through. There’s a definite influence of black metal on ‘The Back Wards’, with some atonal tremolo riffing and blasting drums. It also has the Portal equivalent of a breakdown in the final minute, which translates to the sound of the earth cracking underwater.

With each track, the atmosphere becomes more oppressive and dark. The intro to ‘Curtain’ has one of the most brutal guitar tones I’ve heard all year. It’s like Meshuggah tuned even further down. ‘Curtain’ is probably my favourite track; the final half sounds like an enormous neutron hammer crushing humanity with each impact. ‘Plasm’ is a clattering cacophony of buzzing riffs, rumbling drums and inhuman howls, before it drops out completely and layers oppressive ambience in place of full on attack. It’s yet another example of atmosphere build up: ‘Vexovoid’ spends the majority of the record increasing the tensions and fears of us simple metalheads, making us shift uncomfortably at the lack of a headbanging moment. The end of ‘Awryeon’ sounded like it should’ve appeared in something like Hellraiser.

In short, ‘Vexovoid’ is an essential record of 2013 simply due to the fact that, other than the new Gorguts record, nothing sounds even remotely this intense while remaining unabashedly experimental. Put this on, grab your nearest copy of Lovecraft and prepare to be very scared. Yet again, Portal have created a warped, evil masterpiece.

The intro to ‘Dopes of Infinity’ is one of the purest Sabbath riffs never to come from those magical Iommi fingers. It has the the perfect mix of catchy but heavy as fuck guitar. It sounds like a lost b-side from ‘Master of Reality’, but then morphs into one of the best stoner metal tunes you’ll ever hear. Monster Magnet have been a consistent force in the good old fashioned rock and roll world of stoner rock. ‘Dopes to Infinity’ is probably Monster Magnet’s best record, certainly their most famous, which helps its cause here as my riff of the moment.

But don’t let yourself think that this opening riff isn’t that spiritual successor to ‘Into the Void’. Because it is, so turn it up and bang your fucking head

Continuing my coverage of my favourite records from 2013, ‘Deceiver of the Gods’ was always going to be pretty high up the list. I’m a huge Amon Amarth fan, and have been since I saw them support Dimmu Borgir all the way back in 2006/7 (can’t quite remember). At that time they were supporting their ‘With Oden on Our Side’ record, which contains some of my favourite metal tracks (the thunderous ‘Valhalla Awaits Us’ and the epic ‘Cry of the Black Birds’). Since then they have released two critically acclaimed records of power Viking themed melodic death metal and become a huge band. I have since seen them repeatedly live and they’ve solidified themselves as one of my all time favourite bands.

So, onto their new record. ‘Deceiver of the Gods’ is another 45 minutes ride through the icy tales of Vikings old, complete with all the memorable guitar lines, catchy lyrics and Viking heroism you could need. It doesn’t quite measure up to the stunning ‘Twilight of the Thunder God’ but it is still a triumphant album. The title track and ‘As Loke Falls’ start the album off with a bang, the former being a standard Amon Amarth stomper and the latter featuring a galloping opening complete with some fantastic guitarwork. One thing I’ve always enjoyed about Amon Amarth is vocalist Johan Hegg. His voice is always brutal yet the clarity of his vocals is great. My girlfriend knows all the words to the chorus of ‘Twilight of the Thunder God’, yet generally cannot pick out most other lyrics from a lot of other metal bands.

What Amon Amarth are particularly good at is taking melodic death metal, a genre which is rapidly becoming stale due to a lack of bands that still have the ability to make it interesting, injecting a healthy dose of epic into it and fashioning songs that sound unique, all without losing the ‘death metal’ part of it. ‘Father of the Wolf’ is equal parts brutal, catchy, melodic and epic. Hegg’s voice is deep (like a more melodic Glen Benton), which I think helps a lot. ‘Blood Eagle’ is one of the fiercer tracks that the band have put down in a while, where ‘We Shall Destroy’ has a dark feeling running through it. I enjoyed the contribution of Messiah Marcolin on ‘Hel’, I think he adds something special to the chorus lines, and titanic closer ‘Warriors of the North’ is full of great guitar work. My only faults with the record is there is nothing that jumps out as being an outstanding track, that one song that you’ll be humming for days, ala ‘Pursuit of Vikings’, ‘War of the Gods’ or ‘Guardians of Asgard’.

‘Deceiver of the Gods’ is more of the same. Amon Amarth will probably never write a bad record, as their style is endlessly enjoyable and Metal. As. Fuck. Maybe this is a poorer record than the preceding ones, but it still blows every other melodeath record out of the water in 2013. Grab a drinking horn and turn that fucker up.

This is YET another UK black metal band who have recently released some new music. Torver (named after the Lake District village that was founded by Vikings in the 10th century) have put up a new track on their Bandcamp as a sample for their upcoming split with Funeral Path. ‘Thy Masters of Old’ is a straightforward four minutes of razor sharp black metal done the old fashioned way (i.e. second wave Norwegian style). I look forward to hearing more from these guys, because I like their relatively warm production and their relentless barrage. It’s black metal, pure and unadulterated. Fuck yeah.