Archive for January, 2014

This review was originally published on The Sleeping Shaman here: and I’m also hopefully going to be interviewing them in the near future too. A band that I have thoroughly enjoyed discovering.

Godhunter are from Tucson, Arizona, yet the scorching sunshine of their home state seems to have left little trace on their dark, dense, sludgy outpourings. Their debut LP, ‘City Of Dust’ has an overpowering sense of groove. There’s the unmistakable sludge doom fingerprints over Weedeater or EyeHateGod in their DNA, but they lack the former’s zoned out weed influence or the latter’s nihilistic, drug addled hatred. What Godhunter do have in spades is riffs.

Riffs in metal are sometimes overused or underutilised. The key to a good riff is being memorable and heavy as fuck, generally. Opening salvo ‘Despite All’ is a good example of this, a solid scorched earth riff that rumbles along, steamrolling anything in its track. There’s almost a sense of desert rock about its structure. Add forty layers of fuzz and it could be a Kyuss riff. This is good, as it adds an identity to what could have become just another heavy doom/sludge outfit. There are also touches of Black Flag in there too, vocally. ‘Rats In The Walls’ is a slow burner, a rumbling menacing track that brings to mind Neurosis but with a bit more melody. The track sways and groans under the heaviness of the riffing. ‘Brushfires’ is another monstrous riff workout, in the style of Electric Wizard.

There’s an eclectic mix of prime sludge riffs with a hardcore edge and vocal delivery. I hate to call it ‘sludgecore’ but I guess that’s what it is. The influence of ‘My War’ era Black Flag is evident, but so is the nihilistic groove of sludge behemoths like EyeHateGod or 16. My favourite track has to be the sludge blues of ‘Snake Oil Dealer’. It has it all, the riffs, the cleaner intro, the tortured howl of vocalist Charlie Tousell. Before three minutes of it is over, the riff drops out into crashing waves of heavy. For a place so far away from the spiritual home of sludge, ‘Snake Oil Dealer’ has pure NOLA written all over it.

The album continues with such weight, it’s impossible not to be impressed. From the crushing and instantly catchy ‘Palace Of Thorn’ to the closing monolith ‘Plague Widow’, the album displays a startling maturity. ‘Shooting Down The Sun’ could be the darkest country song ever written, and even though it appears very different from the tracks around it, it fits seamlessly in with the overall feel of the record. There’s a haunting nakedness to it, a stripping bare of a band that up to this point has been caked in muddy riffs. But then the vulnerability is gone, swallowed back within gang vocals and tar thick riffs. But it was there, like a ray of light through the black, itching for the moment when it can be released again. My instinct suggests that they should embrace that.

City Of Dust’ is a record by a band coming into their own. It possesses a much more assured sense of identity than their ‘Wolves’ EP, while retaining that release’s sense of groove. Godhunter could become something very special one day, and this is only the beginning.

This was originally published on The Sleeping Shaman here:

This is also a very important review for me because the Roadburn Festival chose this as part of celebrating Kuolemanlaakso as their band of the day. For such a prestigious event to use my work is something that makes me very proud and humble. I only hope that stuff like this can continue happening for me.

Kuolemanlaakso’ is Finnish for ‘Death Valley’. That’s pretty metal to start us off. Kuolemanlaakso are also only onto their second record, which is more surprising considering the assuredness with which they ply their craft. ‘Tulijoutsen’, which translates to ‘The Fire Swan’ (check out that beautiful cover art), is a thunderous slab of pure Finnish death/doom in the tradition of Swallow the Sun, with whom they share their vocalist, Mikko Kotamaki.

The trick with death/doom as a genre is to bring together the mournful melodies and crushing heft of doom, with the howl and aggression of death metal. To do all this, while remaining interesting and without falling into monotony, is difficult. Too many death/doom bands forget to add shades to their palette. Take opener ‘Aarnivalkea’ for example. We have the requisite iceberg-sized doom riff, with the growled vocals, but we also have layers of clean and almost mourning vocals. There’s something almost My Dying Bride-esque about it. There is plenty of the death about it too, particularly later in the track, but the pureness of the genre shines through. ‘Verihaaksi’ slows it down even further, with yet another huge riff. It reminds me of Candlemass, in the best possible way. It’s a bit more towards the death metal side, with a more vicious vocal delivery, but all the while tectonic riffs collide in the background. The quieter moments have an almost black metal atmosphere, full of menace.

Their previous album, ‘Uljas Uusi Maailma’ was a good, solid debut, but Kuolemanlaakso have used ‘Tulijoutsen’ to push themselves further. The record oozes power, confidence and most of all maturity. Sometimes bands have too much ambition and not enough raw talent. Not here. ‘Me Vaellamme Yössä’ is another thunderous track, positively rampaging out of the starting blocks in comparison to previous tracks. Mikko Kotamäki shows his vocal range here, from his wind tunnel death growl (reminds me of Mikael Akerfeldt) to his more measured, almost whispered cleaner vocals. Starting ‘Arpeni’ with a titan riff and a tolling bell is possibly too close to parody, but the rest of the song has weight, emotion and some damn great riffs. Again a My Dying Bride influence shows in the conveying of sadness in the spoken sections, and again I cannot stress enough how varying riff patterns help the songs stand out. It continues through the icy majesty of ‘Musta’, through the crushing ‘Tuonen Tähtivyö’ to the monolithic closer ‘Raadot Raunioilla’.

In fact, the only thing that I don’t like about this record is the folky acoustics of ‘Glastonburyn Lehto’, which seems so out of place that I’m wondering if I’ve missed something here. Is it meant as an interlude piece or as something experimental, I don’t know? All I know is it doesn’t feel quite right here.

The production is thick and warm, allowing the true strength of the vocals and guitars to show through, without dampening any of the raw emotion disappear. As I stated before, Kuolemanlaakso keep things varied but not disjointed; the riffs are great, and the SONGS are great. Actually, considered how close it was to cliché, ‘Arpeni’ became my favourite track on a record full of great tracks. I’m definitely going to be looking at this further on through the year as an early contender for my favourite record of 2014.

This review was originally published on The Sleeping Shaman here:

Do you remember Black Sabbath? I don’t mean the new/old reunion that released one of 2013’s best metal records. I mean the classic Sabbath, who with ‘Master Of Reality’ essentially defined doom with every classic element. Orchid remember them. Boy do they remember them…

The Zodiac Sessions’ is a remastering of Orchid’s debut EP ‘Through The Devil’s Doorway’ and record ‘Capricorn’ onto one CD, or for vinyl lovers 10″ & LP, with tasty new artwork. First of all, that artwork style is just gorgeous; taking you back to the early 1970s with its psychedelic and occult overtones. But what of the music? ‘Capricorn’ was a critically acclaimed record when it first appeared in 2011, and rightfully so. ‘Eyes Behind The Wall’ is an Ozzy wail away from actually BEING the reincarnation of Sabbath circa 1972. The title track is a throbbing, blues-drenched slice of doom rock, and ‘Black Funeral’ continues the Sabbath worship vibe. It’s a fine line to sound like someone, but not shamelessly ape their sound without originality. Orchid avoid this pitfall by simply writing good songs. ‘Black Funeral’ for example is painfully catchy, and it’s not the only one with a riff or melody that worms its way into your mind, plants a seed and lets it grow. ‘He Who Walks Alone’ is another one that is simple yet memorable.

Cosmonaut Of Three’ has a great fuzzy opening riff, and is a bit more expansive and progressive compared with what has come before. It’s a bit more psychedelic and different, which is no bad thing. An entire album of Sabbath tribute would have been a bit tedious after a while, but Orchid uses this track to establish themselves as a more twisted, unique entity. A wise choice. It makes them more than yet another Sabbath clone, it gives them identity.

Albatross’ closes the ‘Capricorn’ part of the remaster with a very ‘Planet Caravan’ vibe. There is definitely more of a tendency towards Sabbath worship here than there is on their stunning ‘Mouths Of Madness’ record from last year. On that they evolved into their own band playing their own music in the style of classic doom. On ‘Capricorn’ it veers almost too close to derivative. I still like the record a lot, but they get better the more of their own ideas and style they mix in.

The debut EP stuff is a lot more straightforward, with the hard rocking ‘Into The Sun’ a particular favourite. ‘Eastern Woman’ has a thick main riff that has a great blues swagger. It’s an interesting reference point to see where the band came from. ‘Son Of Misery’ has the groove and psychedelica, with also the first feelings of menace. ‘No One Make A Sound’ is a striding anthem, and it brings the EP to a satisfying end.

Orchid are now a great band. They have become a great band, from a good band that tended to rely on Sabbathisms a little bit too much for their debut. But in no certain terms is that a bad thing. Few bands could play like this and pull it off with vigour and soul. Orchid did that, and ‘The Zodiac Sessions’ is definitely worth a listen. It riffs and grooves hard, sometimes that’s all you need.

This is the best Sepultura album, period. Seems a strange way to start a review, surely I should explain my decision in a well thought out argument that tells you all just why exactly this is the case. But I have listened to this album countless times over the past years, and have never got bored of it. ‘Roots’ was more tribal, ‘Arise’ may have been the pinnacle of the band’s death metal period, and ‘Schizophrenia’ the under produced thrash gem, but it is ‘Beneath the Remains’ that welds those two styles together in a way that has scarcely ever been equalled since.

The title track opens the album with acoustic picking that is eerily reminiscent of Metallica’s ‘Call of Ktulu’, but then explodes into a hyper-speed explosion of thrash that barrels onwards at a hundred miles an hour. Max Cavalera gives the vocal performance of his career on this album, his rabid growl perfectly suited the raw, primitive feeling of the album. Second track ‘Inner Self’ slows the tempo but at no point loses the power of the opener. The drumming of Ivor Cavalera is strong, punishing and relentless in its pursuit of the riffing. This is a thrash album that rarely slows to draw breath before exploding off in another direction.

‘Stronger Than Hate’ is probably my favourite song on the album, with its lightning pace, hooky refrains and technical passages. It is a gem amongst gems, only bettering the others by pure personal choice. The palm muting frenzy of ‘Mass Hypnosis’ follows, with some great stop start sections and the most face meltingly good solo on the records. It is also obscenely catchy, something that should not necessarily occur with such brutal, relentless music but yet they have pulled it off. Almost every track has that element about it, not just the ‘oh this is Sepultura’ recognition but the ‘this is ‘Sarcastic Existence’ motherfuckers, let’s go mosh!’. It is an album where the riff is king, and you can take your pick to the best, but the opening burst of ‘Mass Hypnosis’ is mine, closely followed by the chorus of ‘Slave of Pain’.

Cavalera’s vocals and lyrics provides the perfect soundtrack to such apocalyptic sounding music. Be it war, death and destruction on the title track, anger and isolation, vengeance or death and pain, Max’s bark captures such themes with intensity and emotion it is hard not to get swept up along with him. His answer to coming destruction is to brave the degeneration of societal values by self trust and self empowerment, and preaches over some of the most self affirming metal ever written. It is an album whose poorer tracks, (Hungry, Lobotomy) still wipe the floor with 95% of all other thrash bands. By poor, I meant in comparison to the rest of the album, they are still of a very high quality.

Sepultura may have left this style behind, and Soulfly sure as hell haven’t written anything this good, but this is by far and away the best album the band have ever produced. It’s their ‘Master of Puppets’, their ‘Reign in Blood’, and deservedly should be spoken in the same breath as those as a classic thrash work.

Kylesa are a band who I’ve followed with great interest since I first heard the sludgy groove of ‘Time Will Fuse its Worth’. After the stunning ‘Static Tensions’, Kylesa has moved further from the sludge template that still underpins their sound, and moved into psychedelic rock territory. It isn’t quite as cathartic as it used to be, but it has revolutionised the band’s sound so that they are now becoming something rather special.

‘Spiral Shadow’ couples all of the swaggering rock and thunderous prog of their previous work, meshing it with an increasingly accessible sound. The band has grown greatly in songwriting, creating an album where the songs are all easy to tell apart; quite a challenge in modern metal. The dual drummers add a martial, tribal thunder behind guitarist Phillip Cope’s strong lead vocals, interspersed by Laura Pleasant’s beautiful melodious voice. The dual vocals are done well, neither overriding the other, merely interlinking as one solid whole. Riffs are still bread and butter to these guys, but the album’s highlights come from the slower, clean sections, such as the reverby intro to the title track.

The album is pretty streamlined, never dragging out a song longer than needed, and contains a good mix of stomping Baroness-isms and more introspective pieces. It’s something that the South-Eastern United States seems to be very good at: producing high quality sludge that is never afraid to mix in other elements to make themselves more unique, and therefore more important. Mastodon did it with ‘Crack the Skye’, an album that veered dangerously closed to being simply rock rather than metal, and Kylesa do the same with ‘Spiral Shadow’. The album is a triumph of songwriting and overcoming adversity; a loose theme that hangs around each track, and the band’s willingness not to do the obvious and rely on blood and thunder riffing is to their credit, especially on brilliant closer ‘Dust’. But it is album centrepiece ‘Don’t Look Back’ that is the definitive highlight,  a powerful and heartfelt piece that lodges itself in your brain until you finally accept that this is the album Kylesa were born to make.

‘Spiral Shadow’ was one of the my favourite albums of 2010. It showed that being Southern sludge meant nothing to Kylesa, and that they were happy to blaze a trail of thundering, psychedelic Sonic Youth worship with neither care nor abandon. It led them to make the staggering ‘Ultraviolet’ last year, and who knows where they will go from here. But the evolution was most evident here. ‘Spiral Shadow’ was the sound of a band finally finding exactly who they are.

Lists. Lists are both the bane and the joy of many metalheads’ lives. We are constantly in search of ‘the best death metal bands you’ve never heard of in Paraguay’ or something like that. We seek out the unknown, then attempt to quantify it in top 10s, top 50s, top 100s. Year-end lists are the ultimate expression of our desire to have an unarguable truth in what defines ‘the best’ of something. Yet, as music taste is subjective, we can’t really ever have something that satisfies everyone.

So, in the spirit of listing things, I have collected 23 lists of ‘best of 2013’ from a variety of magazines and websites, and put them into a spreadsheet to try and determine if there is any general correlation between the views of these people on the best records of 2013. Some things were not surprising (Motorhead, Carcass and Windhand did very well), some things were (no votes for new Suffocation? Really?). There were a great many records that only gathered one vote, one suggestion that it was a brilliant record as part of 2013. Some records didn’t appear that I enjoyed (Boris -Praparat and New Keepers of the Water Towers – Cosmic Child) and some that I felt were very poor (Megadeth – Super Collider anyone?) did.

But in the end, I am not here to judge, merely to report. I know what my favourite records of last year were, and most of them were here. Some weren’t. There’s just no accounting for taste eh?So, according to my research, the top records of 2013 are as follows:

1. Carcass – Surgical Steel (a clear winner with 13 votes)

2. Clutch – Earth Rocker and Windhand – Soma (both 8)

3. Black Sabbath – 13 (7)

4. Deafheaven – Sunbather, In Solitude – Sister, Motorhead – Aftershock, SubRosa – More Constant Than the Gods (6)

5. Altar of Plagues – Teethed Glory and Injury, Autopsy – The Headless Ritual, Avatarium – Avatarium, Beastmilk – Climax, Gorguts – Colored Sands, Kverlertak – Meir, Nails – Abandon All Life, The Dillinger Escape Plan – One of Us is the Killer and Uncle Acid & the Deadbeats – Mind Control (5)

In total, there were 331 different records on my list, many of which I know,many I don’t. But you can bet I’ll be looking forward to finding the ones I didn’t in the near future.

The following review was originally published here: and was my first proper publication of a review on a website. I’m proud of it for that alone, and for the fact that the dude from The Sleeping Shaman emailed me after it went up saying that the band had sent him the following message: Thanks a lot guys, maybe the greatest review we ever had! Sandy, you fucking rule…Much appreciated!

That was probably the most rewarding thing. So here it is:

There’s something wrong with Legion Of Andromeda. There has to be. There’s no way that this demo could’ve been put together by normal, run of the mill musicians. This is a dirty, nihilistic, twisted piece of sludgy death metal, with cavernous vocals and a coating of relentless hate and misery. It sounds like Portal crossed with Coffins.

Cosmo Hammer’ doesn’t change riff nor rhythm pretty much all the way through the song, it’s just one horrific, hypnotic riff. It sounds like your skull being sandblasted. You’re listening to your head being caved in, but in slow motion. And that’s only the beginning, as there’s 32 minutes of this sadism. ‘Overlord Of Thunder’ continues along the same path, dragging the listener deeper into the band’s own personal hell. The vocals are pretty much impenetrable, but in all honesty that’s probably a huge enhancement for the music. With a sound like this, the only thing that would suit it is tortured screams and belching growls. The simplicity and rawness of the tracks are staggering; it is the pure essence of death/doom, with hints of oppressive drone in the cyclical riffing.

My favourite track has got to be number three, ‘Sociopathic Infestation’. The intro riff is just immense, and it creeps forward, full of menacing hatred for anything you could call catchy. But it is memorable, the riffs stay with you and the vocal performance may never leave me. Produced by the mastermind behind Coffins (unsurprising once you hear it), the sludgy production benefits the style. Legion Of Andromeda are here for one reason; to bludgeon your ears until they bleed and then drown you in it. It’s a horrifying piece, and there’s almost an element of relief when you finally reach the end of ‘Fist Of The Galaxy’.

This has got to be one of the most intense, dark and violent things I’ve heard in years. It brings to mind when I first heard Portal; an otherworldly feeling of dread overwhelms you and won’t leave until the 32 minutes are up. Whether or not the effect would be lost on a full of album of this remains to be seen. Perhaps small doses are better for your sanity anyway.

I’ve been surfing many music sites over the past few weeks, trying to bring together many respected columns and their myriad ‘best of 2013′ lists so I can see what I missed to catch up on. Some records appear on almost every single one; Altar of Plagues’ triumphant swansong ‘Teethed Injury and Glory’ and Carcass’ astounding comeback record ‘Surgical Steel’ are two examples of this. But there are many others that I had either forgotten were even released this year or had slipped me by completely. The new Darkthrone record falls firmly in the former, but now I have been overwhelmingly reminded of its place as a top record for 2013. So I thought I’d get it pumped up and review it.

The direction Darkthrone has taken over the past few records, really since 2005’s ‘The Cult of Goliath’ has been described as ‘necropunk’. Its a little bit less ‘Blaze in the Northern Sky’ and a little more Motorhead fighting with Immortal. All well and good, and to be honest I’ve really enjoyed them all, but on ‘The Underground Resistance’, Darkthrone head back into the forests and have produced an (almost) old fashioned black metal record, the essence of the sound before they themselves helped to redefine it.

‘Dead Early’ opens the record with conviction and power; it follows their recent sound closely but contains infrequent nods to Mercyful Fate with necro NWOBHM riffs. It stands up there with ‘Canadian Metal’ and ‘I Am the Grave of the 80s’ as one of my favourite Darkthrone tracks from the newer records. ‘Valkyrie’ however begins with delicate acoustic picking before the band release their serious Mercyful Fate worship. Darkthrone gleefully abandon expectations of their necropunk phase continuing, and instead have given us something that is pure Eighties heavy metal; laced with the epic, the occult and some simply brilliant fist pumping anthems. Not something I thought I’d ever find myself saying, but this is possibly the most accessible Darkthrone will ever be, but this is not in any way to their detriment. In fact, Fenriz and Nocturno Culto have managed to give us one of the finest metal anthems in decades in ‘Valkyrie’, and ‘Lesser Men’ isn’t far behind in those stakes either.

‘The Underground Resistance’ takes its cues from quality, dark Eighties metal like Venom, Mercyful Fate and Celtic Frost. In fact, there’s something almost TOO Fate-like about ‘The Ones You Left Behind’, but it feels more like a tribute than a thieving. Some will weep and gnash their teeth and complain that Darkthrone are not black metal anymore, that they should return to those seminal early 90s days where there were funeral moons and blazing northern skies. But I don’t. They’ve taken black metal’s core attitude of ‘fuck you’ and applied it to pure heavy metal. That’s what makes this record so good; its a celebration of when metal was about banging your head and clutching those invisible oranges. ‘Come Warfare, the Entire Doom’ will appeal to the more necro among us and it definitely has more of a Celtic Frost vibe. The lengthy ‘Leave No Cross Unturned’ is another great track, ripping out the gates with an epic scream and a cracking thrashy riff. Nocturno Culto gives us his best King Diamond impression here, and it feels like we’ve stepped back into 1984.

What’s striking is the feeling of, dare I say, fun about the record. Darkthrone show no shame in aping their heroes, and have produced what could be considered one of the purest heavy metal albums in years. For fifteen albums in, the band sound more alive than ever and that is something we should all be truly thankful for.

I wanted to have New Year blog resolutions involving heavy metal, so I could look back at how many I DIDN’T achieve in January 2015, just like every year. But this year so far, I actually have managed to strike one off the list already: become a writer for an ACTUAL music site, rather than just on my one man show here. I answered an ad looking for new reviewers on The Sleeping Shaman and was accepted. I’ve only recently come across the site, but it contains some great writing on some great music, and I’m honoured to become a part of the community. I will re-publish my work from there here, but only after it’s appeared on their site first, out of professional courtesy. I’ve already finished my first piece for them, on Doctor Cyclops’ ‘Oscuropasso’ record, and without spoiling it, it’s a cracking record.

I’ve written my reviews for excellent metal community site Spirit of Metal and will probably continue to share some bits and bobs through that too. But I look forward to my new endeavour, and hope it’s going to be fruitful in both experience for myself and that the readers of the site get some good and responsible feedback on quality new music.

Do I even need to tell you what riff I’m on about? Electric Wizard, who have written riffs heavy enough to crack planets and sink continents, may never top this one. The titan main riff to the opening track of ‘Come My Fanatics’ is staggering in more ways than one. The simplicity of it is probably its greatest attribute, a slow motion dirge that evokes the end of the world, buildings falling into choking dust. It’s the Wizard’s finest riff, and it encompasses everything that is essential about the band and their sound. It’s huge, fuzzy and pure doom menace.

It may not be my favourite Wizard riff, that honour probably goes to ‘The Nightchild’ from 2010’s ‘Black Masses’, but ‘Return Trip’ is probably the most iconic, and the most representative of what Electric Wizard are. I once requested this in a rock bar in Glasgow, and watched as everyone sat and thought ‘what the fuck is this?’ Except for me, and one young lad who ran up to me and said, ‘Dude, what is this, its fucking awesome?’ ‘This is Electric Wizard son’ I replied, ‘and you should seek out more’