(Andy Synn combines reviews of three 2017 albums by German metal bands.)
You know who’ve been absolutely killing it over the last few years? The Germans. Those guys (and gals) definitely know their Metal. From the Thrash to the Prog to the Black to the Death… and every permutation in between… our Germanic brothers and sisters have produced a significant number of my favourite albums over the last couple of years.
And, so far, it looks like 2017 is going to be no different, as the year has already seen a number of high-quality releases from across the metallic spectrum, some of which I’m highlighting here today, and some more of which I’m going to bring you in the next week or so.
So, let us begin, shall we?
DESERTED FEAR – DEAD SHORES RISING
The phrase “meat and potatoes” is often used as to criticise an album which is perceived as being a little too basic, a little too boring, a little too “lowest-common-denominator”. But while I understand the sentiment, sometimes “meat and potatoes” is exactly what you want, particularly when the meat is some grade-A metallic beef like this.
Granted, there’s nothing particularly unique or innovative about Dead Shores Rising – it’s basically just a hooky, riff-heavy blend of mid-late ’90s Hypocrisy and At The Gates (with maybe a little bit of A Predator’s Portrait-era Soilwork thrown in for good measure) – but what it lacks in originality it more than makes up for in sheer energy and enthusiasm.
After the seemingly de rigeur intro track, “Intro” (note to bands – stop doing this), “The Fall of Leaden Skies” delivers an instantaneous shot of Melodic Death Metal (that’s Death Metal with melody, not the more streamlined “Melodeath” of the Gothenburg crowd) adrenaline that’s both energetically aggressive and aggressively accessible.
There’s a slightly more frantic edge (no pun intended) to “The Edge of Insanity”, while “Open Their Gates” seizes on a riveting At The Gates/The Haunted/Hatesphere/Revocation style Death/Thrash groove, and “Corrosion of Souls” proves to be a heavier (albeit only slightly), and more darkly melodic, piece of prime Hypocrisy worship (although the gruff, thrashy snarl of vocalist Manuel Glatter is worlds away from the extraterrestrial growl of Peter Tägtgren).
Although I’ve seen a fair few Bolt Thrower references made here and there by people writing about this album, it wasn’t until the somewhat Heaven Shall Burn-esque “Towards Humanity”, or the crunchy, groove-and-gallop of “The Carnage” and “Face Our Destiny”, that these comparisons started to make sense to me, with the Germans hitting on a slightly chuggier, slightly more old-school, riffs-und-melody, approach (not to mention a slightly more guttural vocal attack) which definitely owes a distinct debt to the work of Willets, Bench, Kearns, et al.
By the time “Till The Last Drop” hits, you may well be feeling a little bit of “Metal fatigue”™, as although Deserted Fear do what they do very well, it’s certainly not the most varied form of Melodic, vaguely Thrashy, Swedish-by-way-of-Germany, Death Metal you’re going to encounter. But the band have certainly saved one of their best cuts for last, as the soaring leads, gravelly vocals, and relentless rhythmic hooks of “Carry On” demonstrate so superbly.
So if you’re after some no-frills fun, something that – while not the fastest, flashiest, or most extreme album you’re ever going to hear – is pretty much all killer and no filler (ok, barring the intro I mean), then this one might just be for you.
GLARE OF THE SUN – SOIL
I’m cheating a little bit here, as Glare of the Sun are actually a joint Austrian/German enterprise from Salzburg, but their music is so good that I think I’m more than justified in bending the rules a little.
The band’s intense, introverted take on Post-Metal – laden with sombre, shoegaze elements and weighty, Doom influences – captivates you right from the get-go, the soothing strains of “Awoken” transitioning seamlessly into the roiling sturm und drang of “One Step Nothing”, which shifts back and forth between brash, bruising riffage and eerie, anguished atmosphere, with the vocals switching accordingly from a gravel-throated roar to a wounded whisper.
The bleak, dreamlike ambience which opens “Extinction” demonstrates that sometimes less definitely is more, and contrasts nicely with the restrained metallic grandeur of the song’s second half, while the depressive Post-Rock/Post-Metal vibes of “Circle” – jangling, off-kilter chords building to a distorted slow-burn of crunching riffs and creaking, croaking vocals – plays with the old “quiet-loud” dynamic perfectly.
“The Drowning and the Hush”, as well as having a wonderfully evocative title, exploits some similarly dynamic interplay between echoing negative space and dense, wall-of-sound intensity, laced with delicate, desolate melodies and climaxing with a furious, blast-fuelled finale, after which the reverential “Degeneration” introduces some airy, Alcest-like clean vocals into the mix to help accentuate the light and shade contrast between the song’s melodic, Post-Rock inclinations and its more forceful, metallic moments.
Penultimate track “Groundwater” pushes the band much further towards Doom, all creeping, crippled chords and morbid, portentous vocals, along with a plethora of grim, gloomy hooks and some surprisingly sinister violin work, leading into the unexpectedly uplifting sounds of the climactic “Coldfront”, which balances its deep, dark shadows with some brilliant, blazing highlights.
In the end although Soil doesn’t add anything majorly new to the established Post-Metal formula, it’s the way in which the band mix and measure their influences and ingredients – a little less of this, a little more of that, a dash of something extra for added flavour – which makes them stand out.
In a genre which is, more often than not, accused of favouring style over actual substance, Glare of the Sun seem to have taken it upon themselves to prove that this doesn’t always have to be the case.
NAILED TO OBSCURITY – KING DELUSION
No beating around the bush here – this is one hell of an album. In fact, King Delusion is one of the most intriguing and engaging releases of the year so far.
Throughout numbers like the grittily intense title-track and the sombre “Deadening” they mine a rich seam of metallic misery – the riffs bristle and brood, the melodies weep and wail, the drums pound and pulse like a broken heartbeat – to produce a scintillating sound which straddles the line between the raging mood-metal of Novembers Doom and the depressive density of October Tide, without sounding exactly like either.
The vocals of Raimund Ennenga split their time between a grim and grievous growl and a solemn, yet sparingly-employed, croon, adding both heft and nuance to the gloriously gloomy guitar-work of Jan-Ole Lamberti and Volker Dieken, which really is the band’s greatest weapon (though one mustn’t forget the contributions of bassist Carsten Schorn who, thanks to a phenomenally dynamic production job courtesy of V. Santura and Woodshed Studios, holds his own in the mix with a powerful low-end presence), whipping up an enviable, and seemingly endless, array of moody melodies, haunting harmonies, and rumbling, ruminating riffs across the album’s eight impressive and intricately composed songs.
Indeed, it’s the strength of the band’s songwriting which really carries this album to greater heights. Often this form of Euro-centric Death/Doom can fall prey to its own melancholy, descending into a rut of stultifying self-pity and self-importance at the expense of any sense of energy and excitement. But not so here. Here there is energy and creativity to spare, not to mention some welcome variety of style and character.
Whether it’s the elegant, Opeth-tinged strains of “Protean” or the gloomy power and grandeur of “Memento”, at no point does it sound like the band are simply going through the motions, or merely following the formula blindly. And nowhere is this more obvious than during the titanic twelve-and-a-half minute “Uncage My Sanity”, which not only serves as the linchpin around which the album revolves, but which never once threatens to outstay its welcome.
Concluding with the punchy hooks and poignant harmonies of “Devoid” and the proggy rhythms and forlorn guitar work of “Desolate Ruin” (which itself climaxes with a majestic, mournfully melodic instrumental outro), King Delusion is definitely one of those albums I expect to make a significant impact come year’s end, particularly with anyone who has an appreciation for some truly heartfelt metallic doom-and-gloom.