Smell the glove and make the sign of the umlaut, kids: announcing the sixth installment in our latest genre study, with Black Star Riders, Venom, Raven, Blind Guardian, Brothers of the Sonic Cloth and more. Go here to read the first episode, Pt. 666.1, here for Pt. 666.2, here for Pt. 666.3, here for Pt. 666.4 and here for Pt. 666.5 —if you dare. Incidentally, following the text are links to audio and video of the bands discussed, so check ’em out.
BY METAL MIKE TOLAND
It’s not rare for the old guard to make a comeback with a second or third wind – Iron Maiden and Black Sabbath stand as bands of a certain age that have undergone respectable resurrections. Less common is an older artist putting him or herself in a new band that continues prior traditions. Thin Lizzy guitarist Scott Gorham kept the Lizzy flag flying as a touring act, but when it came time to make new music, he changed the band’s name to Black Star Riders out of respect for Phil Lynott’s memory. BSR debuted a couple of years ago with the solid, if unspectacular, All Hell Breaks Loose, on which Gorham, guitarist Damon Johnson (Alice Cooper, Brother Cane), singer Ricky Warwick (the Almighty), bassist Marco Mendoza (Blue Murder, Ted Nugent) and drummer Jimmy DeGrasso (Alice Cooper, Megadeth) tried to expand beyond the classic Lizzy sound. Apparently that approach is out the window for The Killer Instinct (Nuclear Blast), which abandons the more generalist hard rock approach of the debut to hone straight in on what made Lizzy great. Gorham and Johnson make a formidable guitar team, expertly balancing melody and power, while DeGrasso and new bassist Robbie Crane (Ratt, Lynch Mob) juggle anything the riffmeisters throw at them. While he’s no clone, Warwick borrows liberally from Lynott’s conversational vocal style, making the tracks seems like letters from home as much as entertainment. From the Celtic metal of “Soldierstown” and the chugging “Sex, Guns & Gasoline” to the brooding crunch of “Charlie I Gotta Go” and the very Lizzy-like anthems “Finest Hour” and the title track, the band finds the sweet spot between accessibility and aggression that Lynott himself was so adept at exploiting. Phil would be proud.
Speaking of the old guard, Venom, the band that gave the black metal genre its name, crawls back From the Very Depths (Spinefarm). Still led by bassist/singer Cronos, the trio doesn’t make much progress on its 14th album, but why should it? No one does the Satanic punk/metal thing as well as the originator – cf. “Grinding Teeth,” “Mephistopheles” and “Smoke” – and if the band sometimes resembles Motorhead (complete with Phil Campbell-like axeslinger Rage), more Motorhead emulators in the world ain’t ever a bad thing. A fellow power trio of similar vintage, Raven also comes blazing out of the gate with its thirteenth album Extermination (Steamhammer/SPV). Though associated with thrash and speed metal, due to early patronage of Metallica and Anthrax, in truth the British band deals out fairly styleless beatdowns, ignoring genre in favor of riffs and sheer energy on “Feeding the Monster” and “Destroy All Monsters.” Frankly, the 62-minute record would have been more effective at half the length, but in short bursts it’s damned exhilarating.
While elder statesmen like Raven prove they’ve dropped no gauntlets to be picked up, young guns still pop up to keep the trad metal fire burning. On the Swedish quartet’s second album From Beyond (Nuclear Blast), Enforcer parties like it’s 1984, complete with monsters, magic, demons and evil deeds afoot. Fortunately, “Mask of Red Death,” “The Banshee” and the title track are the kind of gleefully over-the-top, riff-chugging anthems that require no understanding of lyrics in order to appreciate.
Visigoth, hailing from the would-be metal Mecca of Salt Lake City, mines the same rich vein of fantasy-driven mania on its debut The Revenant King (Metal Blade). Whether due to its heightened melodic sense or the burly charisma of singer Jake Rogers, the quintet takes battleaxe metal to another level, lighting “Dungeon Master,” “Creature of Desire” and the title ditty on fire with chest-thrusting power. Coming in from the West Coast, Night Demon have faced charges of copycatting older, better bands (Iron Maiden, Diamond Head, Angel Witch) on its full-length debut Curse of the Damned (Century Media). Clearly in thrall to the more melodic of the early NWoBHM bruisers, the Ventura, CA trio certainly won’t win any originality awards. But the band clearly loves playing with these toys, and “Screams in the Night,” “Livin’ Dangerously” and “The Howling Man” satisfy too well to worry about stylistic pilfering.
The menacing sludge strangling the self-titled debut (Neurot) by Brothers of the Sonic Cloth hints at its creator: Tad Doyle, late of namesake Tad and Hog Molly. The Seattle singer/guitarist/producer molds BotSC into a far heavier and dissonant entity than any he’s led before. “Unnamed,” “Empires of Dust” and “I Am” lumber forward like dinosaurs before their coffee, with Doyle’s harsh roars and growls urging them on. The LP reaches a monstrous apex of sorts with the massive “La Mano Poderosa,” a multi-pronged shaft of blackened acid doom. Brothers of the Sonic Cloth may be the pinnacle of Doyle’s heavy rock obsessions. Also getting meaner and noisier in his old age, Aaron Turner – leader of late prog metal iconoclasts Isis and doom pranksters Old Man Gloom – launches Sumac with The Deal (Profound Lore). Clashing chords bat the melody around like a cat torturing a chipmunk, Nick Yacyshyn (Baptists) pummels the kit while somehow maintaining swing and Turner growls in a voice so guttural you want to get him a cough drop. The trio creates a visceral brand of atmospheric art doom that expands boundaries while still staying true to form – cf. “Blight End’s Angel” and the title track.
Portland’s Lord Dying, meanwhile, follows up its promising debut Summon the Faithless with Poisoned Altars (Relapse) maintaining its balance of roaring thud and ripping crunch. The title ditty, the mighty epic “Darkness Remains” and the delightfully titled “Sucking at the Teat of a She-Beast” wield chunky riffs like bloody hammers, softening you up for Erik Olson’s hellish drill sergeant bark.
Less avant doom abounds as the ever-elegant Torche continues its practice of injecting gobs of singalong melody into savory crunch on Restarter (Relapse). Leader Steve Brooks grafts catchy vocal lines from early 90s alt.rock records to 70s-style doom, leading to accessible, ass-kicking tunes like “Bishop in Arms,” “Believe It” and “Loose Men.” Not to mention the title track, nearly nine minutes of amp-frying, synapse-abusing cosmic doom of a classically heavy stripe. The career of Sorcerer, meanwhile, dates back to the late 80s, though the Swedish quintet never released an album during their original lifespan. A couple of decades later, the band finally releases In the Shadow of the Inverted Cross (Metal Blade), its debut slab of epic doom. Like fellow countrybeast Candlemass, Sorcerer plays to the seats behind the cheap seats, thanks to singer Anders Engberg’s sweeping clarity and guitarists Kristian Niemann and Peter Hallgren’s mighty riffs. “Prayers For a King” and “The Dark Tower of the Sorcerer” keep the melancholy melodies vibrating with dark atmosphere and electric power.
On its self-titled second LP (RidingEasy), Brooklyn’s Blackout dives deeper into the same acid pool that soaked its first album, letting “Nightmare” and “Cross” ooze with psychedelic doom. The trio’s New York neighbor Geezer goes for a similar vibe on Gage (Ripple Music), putting a bluesy spin on “Thorny” and “Ghost Rider Solar Plexus” and going full space rock on “Tales of Murder and Unkindness.” It ain’t all new faces, though, since As Heaven Turns to Ash (Southern Lord), the debut and sole LP by long-defunct Massachusetts trio Warhorse, has been re-unleashed on an unsuspecting world. The band’s brand of psych-tinged sludge/doom is common currency these days, but back in 2001 it made (ugly) waves amongst aficionados of black lights, bongs and the devil. Beside bruisers like “Black Acid Prophecy” and “Lysergic Communion,” the reissue also features the songs from the band’s final 7-inch EP I Am Dying.
A forward-thinking black metal act looking at twenty years of existence, Amsterdam-based Melechesh weaves threads reflecting its Assyrian, Armenian and Israeli heritage into thrashing savagery on Enki (Nuclear Blast). Keeping the blast beats to a minimum and the riffs (many of them played on 12-string for an extra six strings of oomph) to a maximum, Melechesh downloads Jewish, Christian and Muslim lore into robust files of Middle Eastern-frosted melody and take-no-prisoners brutality, brought into focus by leader Ashmedi’s otherworldly shriek. Parsing the band’s complex theology challenges and the epic prog metal of “The Outsiders” and acoustic ambience of “Doorways to Irkala” stun, but the sheer headbanging rush of “Multiple Truths,” “The Pendulum Speaks” and “Metatron and Man” satisfies most sweetly. In Times (Nuclear Blast) is the latest slab o’ grandeur from the mighty Enslaved, Norway’s best-known purveyors of progressive black metal and another twenty-year vet. Like fellow traveler Opeth, the Haugesund quintet freely moves between sweet and sour, countering harsh roars and a rampaging attack with mellifluous singing and accessible melody. After two decades of practice, the form verges on formula, but the band’s enthusiasm for its chosen path keeps “One Thousand Years of Rain,” “Building With Fire” and the title track on message.
It doesn’t get much publicity even in these days of vinyl fetishism, but metal and hard rock bands like to be cool and put out seven-inch singles as much as punks and indie rockers. Johanna Sadonis, former singer of the great but sadly short-lived duo The Oath, debuts her new outfit Lucifer on “Anubis” b/w “Morningstar” (Rise Above), a pair of delightfully eerie and broodily melodic doom monsters that show off her haunting pipes. Lucifer’s labelmate Horisont also teases some kickass times ahead with “Break the Limit” b/w “Yellow Blues” (Rise Above). The A-side chugs with beer-fueled bravado, like a 70s opening act that knows better than the headliner, while the flip spices its widescreen roil with burbling Moog and duelling guitars.
Germany’s Blind Guardian also teases its latest opus with “Twilight of the Gods” b/w “Time Stands Still – At the Iron Hill (live at Wacken 2011)” (Nuclear Blast), the former a rampaging slice of Queenly power metal and the latter a majestic live track recorded at Germany’s premier heavy music festival. Finally, Ides of Gemini resurrect a song recorded during the sessions for but not included on its most recent LP Old World New Wave – “Carthage” b/w “Strange Fruit” (Magic Bullet) puts a brooding acoustic/electric slice of heaviness on the A-side and a haunting psych metal version of the Billie Holiday standard on the flip. (Be advised that the meatspace version of the single goes out of print following Record Store Day.)
Miscellaneous: Karma to Burn returns to action with the mighty Arch Stanton (FABA), a rampaging collection of psychedelic dinosaur killers and scorched earth boogie. Powered by a swingin’ rhythm section and layered with guitar tones so thick they’d withstand a rhinoceros charge, “23,” “57” and “54” don’t just rock – they roll, over the hills, through the woods and on up to your doorstep, collecting heads along the way. Portugal’s Moonspell reasserts itself as South America’s paragon of gothic metal on Extinct (Napalm), a hard-rocking LP that may appeal as much to fans of Sisters of Mercy as to those of H.I.M.. Check out anthems “The Last of Us” and “Medusalem” to sample both the band’s inherent tunefulness and singer Fernando Ribeiro’s ability to go from croon to bawl to blargh without dissociative personality disorder. Fulgora consists of members of grindcore/extreme metal royalty Pig Destroyer, Misery Index and Agoraphoric Nosebleed; Stratagem (Housecore) collects the four songs from the trio’s Dischord singles, plus three. “Splinter” “Merdian” and “Artifice” smash shins with chugging noisecore, with hard rock riffery and articulate shouting distinguishing them from grindcore’s usual inchoate rage blur.
Hailing from Leeds, England, A Forest of Stars emerges from its ancient castle with Beware the Sword You Cannot See (Prophecy), a weird and wonderful melange of black metal, prog, Celtic folk and quirky British sensibilities. As blackened vokills sidling up to arch spoken word passages and dreamy violin swells duel with crunching guitars, “A Blaze of Hammers,” “An Automaton Adrift” (part V of an inexplicable song cycle) and “Drawing Down the Rain” should border on batshit insane. But the septet (led by vocalist Mister Curse, violinist/singer Katherine, Queen of the Ghosts and keyboardist the Gentleman) values craft over chaos, keeping on track and letting each ingredient in the stew get a chance to shine. Best song title, maybe ever: “Proboscis Master Versus the Powdered Seraphs.” Similarly eclectic, though more concerned with emotional power, is Pyramids, a Denton, Texas ensemble that conflates prog rock, shoegaze, black metal and doom into the remarkable ball of earwax A Northern Meadow (Profound Lore). Though burdened with titles like “I Have Four Sons, All Named For Men We Lost to War” and “The Earth Melts Into Red Gashes Like the Mouths of Whales,” the record nearly perfectly balances beauty and brutality, not so much shifting between moods as indulging in them all at once. Thus a melancholy croon floats above harsh guitar grind, and a majestic melody emerges from brooding dissonance – a difficult meld to mold, but Pyramids get it right.
Cheerily starting its second LP with a lovely acoustic ditty called “Suicide Note,” eclectic extremists Voices slither and blast all over the map on London (Candlelight), named for the quartet’s hometown. With roots in adventurous black metal troop Akercocke, it’s no surprise Voices veers between melancholy melody and savage brutality – or, for that matter, the egomania and alternative sexuality celebrated in “Last Train Victoria Line,” “The Ultimate Narcissist” and the charming “The Fuck Trance.” The frequent narration indicates a storyline of some sort.
Blurring the lines between genres even further, Karyn Crisis debuts her new project Gospel of the Witches with Salem’s Wounds (Century Media). Death metal, goth, grunge and the occult fuse in the former Crisis leader’s new vision, with “The Secret,” “Goddess of Light” and “Mother” giving her plenty of room to growl and howl as sidefolk drawn from Ephel Duath, Immolation, Tombs and Vaura attempt to keep up.
Finally, metal wouldn’t be metal without royalty asserting itself, and thus we have debut EPs from a pair of Kings. Fronted by Kristina Esfandiari, late of shoegaze rockers Whirr, King Woman lowers itself into a molten vat of doom on the four-song Doubt (The Flenser). “King of Swords” and “Candescent Soul” blend the singer’s former and current projects, allowing her to mix her voice in as texture, rather than lead instrument. King Hitter, on the other hand, prefers chugging boogie metal to dreamy doomgaze on its self-titled five-songer (Restricted Release). Led by ex-Leadfoot members Scott Little and Karl Agell, who also sang for Corrosion of Conformity on Blind, King Hitter lays down the pound on “The End,” “Feel No Pain” and its eponymous theme song, kicking out the kind of jams that require a convertible with the top down and a long stretch of highway.
Columnist Michael Toland lives and works in Austin, TX, where, during the recent SXSW festival, it was reported that an RV transporting young Swedish attendees was seen in the vicinity of several area Baptist churches that later burned to the ground. Toland, however, claims to have no knowledge of any of this. His Lone Star State accomplices include The Austin Chronicle and KLRU-TV.
Below are links to audio and video of most of the artists detailed above. Be sure you surf anonymously, however, because government officials will be monitoring them….
Black Star Riders – “Finest Hour”
Venom – “Grinding Teeth”
Raven – “Destroy All Monsters”
Enforcer – “Destroyer”
Visigoth – “The Revenant King”
Night Demon – “Screams in the Night”
Brothers of the Sonic Cloth – video teaser:
Sumac – “Blight End’s Angel”
Lord Dying – “Poisoned Altars”
Torche – album stream:
Sorcerer – “The Dark Tower of the Sorcerer”
Blackout – album stream:
Geezer – album stream:
Warhorse – album stream:
Enslaved – “One Thousand Years of Rain”
Melechesh – “Multiple Truths”
Lucifer – Anubis
Horisont – “Break the Limit”
Blind Guardian – “Twilight of the Gods”
Karma to Burn – “55”
Moonspell – “The Last of Us”
Fulgora – “Splinter”
Voices – “The Fuck Trance”
Karyn Crisis’ Gospel of the Witches – “Mother”
Pyramids – album stream:
A Forest of Stars – album stream:
King Woman – “King of Swords”
King Hitter – “King Hitter”