Feb 292012

Yesterday we sang the praises of MaxR’s Metal Bandcamp blog as the go-to window into what’s happening in the metal part of Bandcamp’s world. No sooner had we done that than he proved the point again by featuring a three-man Sacramento band called Plague Widow, whose new self-titled EP is now up on Bandcamp.

The band’s name rang a bell that reverberated in my hollow head, and I remembered that DGR (himself a Sacramento denizen) had recommended this band to me  in January. I have a bad habit of forgetting to follow up on music tips if I can’t do it immediately, and that’s what happened with DGR’s tip. But with MaxR’s reminder, I finally dived into Plague Widow’s music.

I’m inclined to presume that any band with the word “plague” in their name is going to be my kind of thing, especially when the cover art is as tasty as that skull-dominant rendering you see at the top of this post. The presumption proved correct.

Despite the fact that the band is very new, having been formed only this past winter by former members of other Sacramento outfits (guitarist Hal Rotter from Slaughterbox and drummer Danny Hynes from Cowboykiller) and vocalist Marc Dickson, Plague Widow have found themselves a winning formula.

Feb 292012

(BadWolf reviews KOLOSS. Need I say more?)

Meshuggah’s career boggles the mind. Now 30-plus years into their tenure, their ubiquitous style of polyrhythmic metal has crossed as many genre boundaries as it has informed — death, thrash, groove, industrial, ‘post-’. . . Meshuggah fits all of these containers, but never completely.

If you never have, I dare you to listen to their discography front-to-back. Witness their awkward beginning in And Justice For All... worship; the solidifying identity of Destroy Erase Improve and Chaosphere; the cryogenic sound of Nothing (itself as far ahead of its time as AJFA was); the cybernetic experiments of I and Catch Thirtythree; and finally the culmination of all that experimenting with even tighter songwriting in ObZen.

ObZen. There’s the rub — or rather the rub lies in its tour. Meshuggah toured behind that album with Cynic and The Faceless. I predicted [here] just weeks after seeing it that the ObZen tour would spawn a new era of metal. As far as I’m concerned, I was right: Djent started its ascent shortly thereafter. Sure, Tesseract, Textures, and Periphery existed before, but their major breaks and endless legion of imitators followed after.

What was Meshuggah to do, having inadvertently created a new vision for what Heavy Metal could be?

They took the ball in the opposite direction, and created Koloss. Instead of a new vision of metal, these ten tracks aspire to the traditions of classic metal records—punchy riffs, structural songwriting. For the first time since Chaosphere, Meshuggah sound like five men in a room together, not disembodied entities conjuring sound from a digital hell.

Feb 292012

“As an early fan of Sweden’s The Haunted, I was deeply disappointed by their seventh studio album, Unseen, released last year. Andy Synn loved the album, though he admitted in his review that it was a true “grower” and not without its flaws. I’m afraid it didn’t grow on me. Though it had its moments, it seemed instead like another milepost in the decline of a once invigorating band.”

That’s how I began a post on February 3 called “Remembering When The Haunted Were Worth A Shit”, which was about a curious turn of events in which The Haunted released a previously unreleased video for the song “99″ from their 2004 album, rEVOLVEr, which happens to be the last album from the band I really enjoyed. I wondered why was it being released then, eight years after it was made. I wondered if the band felt the need to remind fans of an earlier time when their music meant more to metalheads than it seems to mean today. But there are now bigger mysteries surrounding this band.

About four hours ago, The Haunted’s front man Peter Dolving left this message on his Facebook page:

“I am officially quitting The Haunted. After years of working with the band, I am out. I have had it. I will NOT answer questions to why. It’s no one elses business. Thank you very much. I am looking forward to seeing you people at other shows with other projects.”

Doesn’t sound like it was one of those “amicable partings”, does it?

Feb 292012

I’m going to do to you what I did to myself last night, and I hope you get the same charge out of it that I got. It will take more time than it usually takes to zip through our posts here, but even if you choose to stay with me for only part of the journey, I think it will be worthwhile. It starts with Solstafir, it continues with Dimma, and it ends with both of them, in the closest thing I’ve ever seen to a live tag-team performance by two bands.

SOLSTAFIR

I’ve lost track of how many times I’ve written about Sólstafir and their brilliant two-disk 2011 album, Svartir Sandir. They’re only a borderline metal band, but the borderland they occupy is a place I go to live in my mind quite often. There’s a song that ends the second disc called “Djákninn”. It’s a jam that’s nearly 11 minutes long, and I get lost in it every time I listen.

Listening is like getting behind the wheel of a car with some muscle under the hood, starting from a standing stillness and patiently shifting through the gears as it builds speed on an a climbing open road with some curves ahead. You hear the engine begin to purr, and as the throttle opens up in stages, it begins to roar, and then you’re really cruising like there’s no tomorrow, with the wind rushing through the open windows under a blue sky with not another care in the world.

Feb 282012

What a coincidence: Three days ago I decided to catch up with LA’s Dreaming Dead in a post called “Lapse”, mildly whining about the loooong wait for their Midnightmares album, which the band have been keeping to themselves for almost a year and a half while searching for a label. Really, my whining wasn’t intended as criticism of the band, but instead as a reflection of my own greediness/neediness, because the songs from the album that have surfaced over time have been so impressive.

Well, guess what? Today the NCS carrier pigeon squadron delivered a press release with this announcement:

“Los Angeles-based progressive/melodic death metal act DREAMING DEAD has set April 20th as the release date for their highly anticipated sophomore effort, Midnightmares. The follow up to 2009′s Within OneMidnightmares showcases DREAMING DEAD’s ability to meld elements of black, death, thrash and Schuldiner-inspired progressive metal into one thought-provoking and intense sonic assault. . . DREAMING DEAD are working with director Thomas Mignone and Peter Leininger (known for their work with Morbid Angel, Sepultura, Megadeth and many more) on a video for the track “Corpse Mtn.” Details on the video shoot are forthcoming.”

Given the absence of a label mention, I assume this will be a self-release. I’m bamboozled over the fact that no label has pounced on this band like lions on lambs, but I’m also happy that the wait is nearly over. Nice to see that a new vid is on the way, too.  Stay tuned . . .

UPDATE: For more insight into the Midnightmare release delays and other interesting DD tidbits, check out the Jason Roche interview of Liz Schall published today (Mar. 2) at LA Weekly.

Feb 282012

In a relatively short time, Metal Bandcamp has become THE go-to site for discovering new metal on the wonderful Bandcamp platform.

If you already know the name of a band or album that you’re after, Bandcamp’s search engine works fine. And if you’re willing to put in hours of effort on a regular basis, you can browse all the bands whose music is on the site by using one of the “metal” tags (e.g., “metal”, “black metal”, “metalcore”, “thrash”, “doom” or “progressive metal”). But who has that kind of time?

The valuable service that Metal Bandcamp provides is not only to keep readers abreast of what metal is being added to Bandcamp on a daily basis, but also to act as a filter — providing music descriptions, brief reviews, and sample music from new additions that are worthy of your ears. Virtually every day, and often multiple times a day, Metal Bandcamp’s tireless proprietor MaxR adds posts spotlighting what’s new in the Bandcamp world of metal. (He was also kind enough to annotate all of the 2011 “Best of the Year” lists at NCS with links to Bandcamp sites for the honored albums, where they existed.)

Recently, Max created a new page on his site that lists the record labels (from major labels to small independents) who have established Bandcamp pages for their releases, along with brief descriptions. In addition, on that page you can find links to each label’s Bandcamp splash page, plus a separate link to bands from each label that have been featured in Metal Bandcamp posts.

Feb 282012


(We welcome hard-to-please NCS reader KevinP, who provides this guest review of the new album by Finland’s Black Sun Aeon. This is the second of two reviews of this album that we’re publishing today. For the first one, use this link.)

Some of you are saying, “Hey look, another Tuomas Saukkonen album. Does this guy ever take a break?” Well apparently not, as this is the third album he released in 2011 (FYI, he has written, produced, and played all the instruments on nine other full length albums since 2003).  But I digress…

This is also the third album in the Black Sun Aeon catalog in a three-year span.   Thankfully, it took me a few months to sit down and actually write this review, though.  Based on my initial impressions, this one was my least favorite of the three.  But as the months went on, it grew and grew on me.  I’m still not sure exactly why or how that came to pass, it just has.  Now, I‘m completely comfortable saying it’s their finest work yet.

So what changed since the double disc Routa in 2010? Tuomas still handles the growls (with guest dark vocals on “Brothers” and “Wasteland” by Mynni Luukkainen) and Mikko Heikkilä the clean male vocals, but Janeca Lönn (female vocals) plays a much more prominent role this time.  All three styles get their time in the spotlight, sometimes overlaying each other and used wonderfully, without feeling shoehorned-in just for the sake of being there.

Feb 282012

 

(DemiGodRaven reviews the new album by Finland’s Black Sun Aeon. This is the first of two different reviews of this album that we’re publishing today. Check out the second one here.)

Projects featuring Tuomas Saukkonen have a pretty bad habit of coming out of nowhere to little or no fanfare, only to be found later and leave people wondering why they hadn’t noticed it when it was first released. Such is the case with Blacklight Deliverance, which saw release in late 2011. Black Sun Aeon is now three albums deep, yet it seems that very few people have noticed them.

Tuomas is one of those people who seem to involve themselves in an almost infinite number of projects. Whenever some new band pops up, I half-jokingly wonder to myself if either he, Christian Älvestam, or Ripper Owens is involved in it, one way or another. Those guys have basically become the Samuel L ‘Motherfucking’ Jackson’s of heavy metal. They’re not going to limit themselves to any one project and instead have chosen to just never turn down any work. Between Dawn Of Solace, Before The Dawn, and now Black Sun Aeon, there is a vast amount of material featuring Tuomas — and those are just the three I’ve named off the top of my head.

Black Sun Aeon’s last release, Routa (2010) (also my jumping-on point), was an album that had a lot of potential but also some flaws. It seemed like maybe Tuomas was spreading himself a little thin with this project. Even though he had a friend along for the ride who contributed a large amount of the work, it still found itself in the shadows of both its own genre and Tuomas’ other, more mainstream band Before The Dawn. The melodic doom that it did tease at was enough to keep some people (including myself) eager to hear a follow up, and on the new album, the group have definitely delivered.

Feb 282012

(groverXIII reviews the new album from Japan’s Sigh, which will be released in North America on March 13 by Candlelight Records. The cover art is by Eliran Kantor.)

I don’t listen to a lot of black metal. That is, I don’t listen to a lot of straight-up black metal. I like my black metal to be experimented with, diluted, wrapped around electronic melodies (Thy Catafalque) or folky weirdness (old Finntroll) or prog (newer Enslaved). So, although I am a big fan of In Somniphobia, the newest release from Japanese black metal weirdos Sigh, my experience with them to date only goes back to their Gallows Gallery album.

I’ve been meaning to go back further, as I understand that they really started to experiment with their sound fairly early on, but I have too much music to listen to as it is. What I have heard, I have greatly enjoyed, and the three albums that I’ve listened to previously have all had their own interesting sounds, from the eclectic jazz-and-power-metal-influenced Gallows Gallery to the orchestral thrash of Hangman’s Hymn to the all-out orchestral insanity of Scenes From Hell.

Considering how different all of those albums are in relation to one another, I had no idea what to expect from In Somniphobia, but I suspected it was still going to be pretty fucking good. And I was not disappointed.

My biggest concern for In Somniphobia was the production. Scenes From Hell was a great album filled with real symphonic instrumentation, but it was hamstrung by an awful mix, where everything was compressed and flattened all to hell. It was still a well-written, interesting album, but what should have been an open, dynamic album instead felt somewhat lifeless. Thankfully, In Somniphobia does not suffer from the same problem. The mix isn’t perfect, sure, but it’s still a major improvement, and the album is that much the better for it.

Feb 282012

(Andy Synn reviews the first and only album by Norway’s Cobolt 60 — who now have a new album in the works for the first time in 10 years.)

Cobolt 60 is another project from Daniel Olaisen, AKA Død, also of Blood Red Throne, which sees him teaming up with original BRT vocalist Mr Hustler (handling both drums and vocals) with the sole aim of tearing the world a new one with a vicious brand of industrial-strength blackened thrash. The fruit of their unholy labours was the album Meat Hook Ballet, which whipped up a storm of controversy and critical acclaim, before the project was put on hold due to the increasing pressures and responsibilities of the pair’s regular endeavours.

Although Cobolt 60 actually predates Olaisen’s other endeavours, and the group has been inactive for over 10 years now, recently something has been stirring in its shallow, unmarked grave…

Thus it seems a perfect time as any to go back and inflict upon you all the chainsaw black thrash of their debut.

Right from the outset, the record pulls no punches, the menacing introductory bars of “Chainsaw Michaelangelo” finally exploding into a display of berserk aggression and air-tight guitar work. Revving and roaring as it bursts out of the gate, one thing that immediately sets the band apart from their thrashy-peers is their mechanical, almost industrial, guitar tone, one that is reminiscent of Zyklon’s trilogy of terror (for further comparisons in sound see The Wretched End) and makes each song grind and piston with atomic fury. Choppy, machine-gun riffage strafes the listeners, softening them up for the air-raid assault of warp-speed blasting and serrated tremolo guitars that pitch the track into full on extreme-territory.

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