Death Angel, Under Pressure review (Nuclear Blast 2020)

Metal icons Death Angel release a four track acoustic EP of three covers and one new song.

Fans of Death Angel are used to crushing Thrash riffs and blistering lead breaks. Quiet, slow acoustic melodies barely even waft through the transom of your mind when Death Angel is on. Usually. But these are weird times and all sorts of unusual things are happening.

The set is titled for the Queen/David Bowie song “Under Pressure,” which was a huge pop hit way back when. Death Angel’s version is an acoustic replication that is an homage in a clear show of respect to the artists and composition of the original. The new song is “Faded Remains.” It is a song of hopelessness and plays like a Murder Folk entry with an exceptional lead moment. You can bet this one will be in the live sets when the world comes back.

The other two pieces are acoustic versions of well-known Death Angel songs: “A Room With A View” from Act III and “Revelation Song” from Humanicide. The former song was largely acoustic in its original incarnation but it had a heavy middle. Here there is a nice acoustic lead break in the middle and what sounds to me like a quiet electric guitar, too (and again at the end). For “Revelation Song,” the guitars are very aggressive, pushing the threat level up for an instrument of pacifism. The vocals are also gruffer, pledging a direct line to the original version from last year’s original.

This is most definitely a different take for the band, and that is exactly what it is supposed to be. Recommended.

The digital EP is available right now. Look for it on Amazon and other outlets (link below to streaming sources).

Links.

Band website, https://www.deathangel.us/

Band Facebook, https://www.facebook.com/deathangel/

Nuclear Blast streaming link, http://nblast.de/DAUnderPressure

YouTube video of “Under Pressure”, https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=-hCy1Y5_-k8

Death Angel, Under Pressure review (Nuclear Blast 2020)

Blue Öyster Cult, The Symbol Remains review (Frontiers Records 2020)

The iconic rock band Blue Öyster Cult releases its first full-length studio album in nineteen years.

Here is where I am coming from as far as Blue Öyster Cult goes. The first three albums are unassailable. As far as I am concerned, nothing serious can be said against them. After that, I have unpopular tastes with regard to the catalogue. Agents of Fortune (1976) is a classic, true, but I never really connected with Spectre (1977) or Mirrors (1979). I absolutely love the sequence of albums from the early 1980s: Cultosaurus Erectus (1980), Fire of Unknown Origin (1981), and The Revolution By Night (1983). Also Imaginos (1988) – an excellent reimagining. The other albums are good, and I listen to them still, but not as much as the ones on my list. Blue Öyster Cult has created a large catalogue of amazing music and some song or another of theirs is always in my rotation. They are one of my all-time favorite bands.

I’ve been waiting for The Symbol Remains anxiously, wanting new music I would really like to listen to. With so much great work that had come before, a reasonable person faces new music from a band that hasn’t put anything out in a long while with some trepidation. Like when Black Sabbath released 13 (2013). They had not released a full-length studio album as Black Sabbath for almost twenty years. I sweated that one, but 13 was excellent, and the band supported the album with a great tour. Fingers crossed, then, for the new Blue Öyster Cult. The band is Eric Bloom (vocals, guitar), Donald “Buck Dharma” Roeser (guitar), Richie Castellano (keys, guitar, vocals), Danny Miranda (bass), and Jules Radino (drums). With the two originals Bloom and Roeser, and the longtime bandmates Castellano, Miranda, and Radino, the lineup is rock solid.

The hour-long album starts with a banger, the single “That Was Me.” It has the kind of sound I was hoping for, from the crisp guitar work to the distinctive vocals. This is Blue Öyster Cult. The next two songs (also released as singles) show a tonally lighter side to the band, demonstrating their musicianship and compositional prowess. Throughout the album, their creativity is on display from the amazing guitar work on “Nightmare Epiphany” to the theatrical Danny Elfman-esque “Edge of the World.” “Florida Man” is a quiet song with a lyrical lead break and rich harmonies. “The Alchemist” is dark and heavy, pushing out heavy threatening riffs and a wicked fantasy narrative. “Secret Road” is a desert driving song that will make you see rattlesnakes in your sleep. The variety is intoxicating.

Having listened to The Symbol Remains three times in a row, I know now that I was wrong before – there was never anything to worry about. This is an excellent album. This is Rock and Roll. Highly recommended.

The new BÖC album is out now. You can listen on Spotify and buy on Amazon and other places. The important thing is to here it.

Band photos snagged from the official website.

Links.

Band website, www.blueoystercult.com/

Frontiers Records, http://www.frontiers.it/index.php

Blue Öyster Cult, The Symbol Remains review (Frontiers Records 2020)

Scaphoid, Absent Passages review (Shunu Records 2020)

The first full-length album from Scaphoid is a straight-forward exposition of instrumental guitar fervor.

Scaphoid is Matt Hobart, an Austin, Texas musician who is a one man orchestra. In late 2016 he released a 25-minute EP (Dies Mercurii) under the Scaphoid name and since then has been quiet on that front. Absent Passages is a long awaited and very welcome return.

My earliest exposure to instrumental rock/metal guitar music was Frank Zappa and Shut Up ’N Play Your Guitar (1981). What an eye-opener that was. That album (3 LP set) was a collection of individual pieces Zappa had played from many different places, so it didn’t have a cohesiveness that a planned instrumental album would have. I heard that for the first time in Surfing with the Alien (1987) by Joe Satriani. Since then, for more than thirty years now, I have been constantly on the lookout for high quality instrumental rock guitar. I just found another one.

The single off the album is “Marauder,” and it leads off with a “let’s get acquainted” easiness. The Prog starts to pop at about the one minute mark, and the music takes off from there. When the lead appears, we know we are out of the parking lot and on the road. The style is matter-of-fact, the tone is establishing. Throughout the set ideas and emotions emerge and evolve, as with the very next song, “Shores of Ruin,” that moves the needle from the opener, then has some of its themes reëmerge later in songs like “Celestial Ego.” There is a direction, a trajectory that winds past many wonders but keeps heading for the destination. The closing number is “Infrastricken,” a fourteen minute mini-epic that might just be that destination we saw on the horizon or it could also be a launching pad for whatever comes next. The guitar work by this point has gone through many manifestations and takes, yet there is still more. The creativity and exploration of this final element of Absent Passages is an elegant summary and conclusion to the collection of songs, and could also easily be a stand-alone EP. High regards. Recommended.

On Friday, October 9th you can lay your head back and let the music seep in. Shunu Records and Bandcamp have the goods at the links below.

Links.

Scaphoid Bandcamp, https://scaphoid.bandcamp.com

Scaphoid Facebook, https://www.facebook.com/scaphoidmusic

Shunu Records, http://www.shunurecords.com

Scaphoid, Absent Passages review (Shunu Records 2020)

Ixion, L’Adieu aux Etoiles review (Finisterian Dead End 2020)

The fourth album from French Doom duo Ixion is a further exploration of sound, feeling, and meaning in the dark corners of existence.

Ixion is Julien Prat and Yannick Dilly. They have been releasing albums since 2011 in the vein of Atmospheric Doom, on the edge of Funeral Doom, really. Their most recent album is from 2017, Return, and it had a lighter feel to it in expression and tone compared to the first two albums. The new one sidles up to the dark side again taking the music on a deep space doom journey.

Ixion is the name of a king in Greek mythology that was condemned to spin on a “fiery wheel” for eternity for recalcitrant un-smiled-upon deeds. Traversing first in space and later in hell (Tartarus), Ixion is an icon of suffering. The firmament of this legend enhances the listening experience of L’Adieu aux Etoiles – I can see the burning wheel spinning in my mind while the music plays.

“Stellar Flight” is a somber traversing through the vacuum of time, and it is here the journey begins. All the primary elements are introduced from the enrichment of the dark forever to the melancholy of elegant doom. Throughout the album vocals both clean and corrupt wander the ethereal landscape of guitar and synthesizer. Occasional Prog sentiments appear but they do not stay long. There is a commitment to gloom and what sounds like either hopelessness or regret. Or both. The sorrow conveyed by the bowed string instruments on “Havoc” is elemental. The choir heard in the background of “The Black Veil” is beautiful, angelic, and sinister. Every texture has a surface feeling and a deeper layer, sometimes many, that bleed through the more you listen to them. The meaning is there if you want to know it. Recommended.

L’Adieu aux Etoiles is out on Friday, October 9th from Finisterian Dead End and available through Bandcamp. The back catalogue is on Bandcamp too for the committed.

Links.

Band, https://www.ixiondoom.com/

Bandcamp, https://ixion.bandcamp.com/

Band Facebook, https://www.facebook.com/ixiondoom

Finisterian Dead, https://finisteriandeadend.com/shop/en/29-ixion

Ixion, L’Adieu aux Etoiles review (Finisterian Dead End 2020)

Yatra, All Is Lost review (Grimoire Records 2020)

Yatra release their second set of masterful doom this year: All Is Lost.

The first album from Yatra was Death Ritual, released only two years ago. Blood of the Night followed in January this year, and now there is All Is Lost. The three-piece band from Maryland is Dana Helmuth (guitars and vocals), Maria Geisbert (bass), and Sean Lafferty (drums). The sound they create is fundamental but I wouldn’t call it stripped down. It is heavy with purpose and lithe as a leviathan in the ocean.

Recorded in June this year, All Is Lost is the perfect theme for 2020. The themes are ominous and dark. The lyrics are less about narrative structure on many songs and are filled with vivid imagery. The perfect example is “Blissful Wizard,” which repeats the refrains “blissful wizard / rides the night” and “bless this mountain” to convey the thematic structure while the music fills in the story. This approach puts the listener in a general conceptual frame of mind and allows subtleties to be individually interpreted as the music speaks in ways everyone can experience differently.

The music is doom – heavy guitar riffs, gruff vocals, pulsing rhythms. The opening song is the title track and it starts the set off on the path of fear, uncertainty, and darkness. There is a real feeling of not knowing what is going on but knowing for sure that it is bad. “Reapers ride the blackest winds / harvesting the death foretold.” A blackened prophecy of death seeping in, unstoppable. The lead breaks are potent and brief, as in “Winter’s Dawning,” where it lives between tectonic riff shifts. A track that sticks out in my mind is “One For The Mountain.” It is a dark fantasy theme carried on a veritable river of music created by the guitar in both lead and harmony. This song is the set stone piece for the album to my ears, and it is surrounded by metal that is going to have a lasting impact on heavy music. Highly recommended.

All Is Lost is out this Friday, October 9th and this is one you don’t want to miss. The digital, CD, and limited vinyl (100 copies) are available through Bandcamp. You can get ready for the new one by catching up on the first two albums if you haven’t heard them yet.

Band photo by Nichole Strouse.

Links.

http://yatradoom.bandcamp.com

http://www.facebook.com/yatradoom

http://www.grimoirerecords.com

http://grimoirerecords.bandcamp.com

http://www.facebook.com/GrimoireRecords

Yatra, All Is Lost review (Grimoire Records 2020)

Enslaved, Utgard review (Nuclear Blast 2020)

The incredible 15th album from the Bergen, Norway metal band Enslaved is Utgard, another impressive achievement in their long career.

The most recent previous studio album was E in 2017, and the songs on that album were generally long (most around eight minutes or longer), which is the usual way Enslaved creates music. On Utgard, the band’s compositions are tighter and yet every bit as creative as earlier releases. The band is now made up of long-time members Grutle Kjellson (vocals and bass), Ivar Bjørnson (guitars and effects), and Arve “Ice Dale” Isdal (guitars), along with newer recruits Håkon Vinje (keyboards and vocals) and Iver Sandøy (drums). The confluence of these musical elements is an alchemy all its own.

“Fires In The Dark” opens with an acapella treatment (in Norwegian), followed by an acoustic guitar moment, sudden heavy riffs, wispy atmospheric sounds, then a narrative element. Sort of a heavy version of Andrew Lloyd Weber in that it is a big production and a complex construction. The melodies in the guitars have a very magic carpet, djinn feel to them in the second half – a mystical desert vibe. The integration of diverse elements is the mainstay throughout. “Jettegryta,” the next song, does this too, in a very different way. It is not simply the variation of coarse and clean vocals but also shifts in musical cadence and style, sometimes perpendicularly, that throw you off cliff after cliff then lift you up on hurricane winds. We hear Epic Metal then Prog then a classic metal riff, here and there and all around.

On side two, “Urjotun” is a peppy straight-up prog rock song that is taken over by darkness as it progresses. “Flight of Thought and Memory” wells up feelings of sorrow and regret, while “Storms of Utgard” is more confrontational with amazing lead guitar work. The closing song is “Distant Seasons.” You can feel the curtain falling when it begins in its quiet and gentle way, but the power wells up soon enough. The relatively brief nature of the songs is a departure in a way for the band, but all the elements we have come to expect from Enslaved are nevertheless here in full force. Recommended.

Out now from Nuclear Blast, you can get Utgard on CD and vinyl and of course as a download – Bandcamp is best place for the digital.

Links.

Band: http://enslaved.no/

Band Bandcamp: https://enslaved.bandcamp.com/album/utgard

Band Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/enslaved

Nuclear Blast Shop: https://shop.nuclearblast.com/en/products/sound/vinyl/lp/enslaved-utgard-black-vinyl-.html

Enslaved, Utgard review (Nuclear Blast 2020)

Anaal Nathrakh, Endarkenment review (Metal Blade Records 2020)

The rejection of “Enlightenment” would be, logically, Endarkenment – exactly what you get from the new Anaal Nathrakh album.

Mick Kenney and Dave Hunt are the Birmingham duo who together make Anaal Nathrakh, a Black Metal band that has been on the prowl for two decades now. Over the years the music has become increasingly harsh, landing the band a label of Industrial Black Metal and even Grindcore. They always sound like Black Metal to me, from The Codex Necro (2001) to Passion (2010) to A New Kind Of Horror (2018). Whatever we might call the music, know that loud fast savagery is what you are going to hear. In a written introduction meant to get listeners ready for hearing Endarkenment, the band alerted us that “A musical bath in sulphuric acid awaits.” Take heed.

The title track opens the set with blistering guitars riffs, blast beat drumming, and screaming. The vocals are thereafter variegated, with more screams, coarse, Death Metal-like croaking, and what can only be described as beautiful, melodic singing. “Thus, Always, To Tyrants” is next and it is an emblazoned rush of musical chaos. The lead guitar can barely be understood. The entire album is a ravaging affair.

Two tracks stand out for me, although I think it is best to listen to this album from front to back in its entirety. “Singularity” has a menacing, discordant opening then presents a fairly formal musical ordering and represents in many ways the clearest presentation of the recurring themes in the album. And then the closer, “Requiem,” with a melody that sounds like a twisted, evil carnival, is coming with me on road trips from now on. Combine the music with the direct lines of the Requiem Mass and the dark beauty is almost overwhelming. A sorrowful lead guitar tells a simple and profound story in the second half, and the lasting impact of the composition is set in stone. Highly recommended.

Metal Blade Records lets Endarkenment loose on the world Friday, October 2nd through the usual outlets. It is harsh and that is just what fans are looking for.

Links.

http://www.anaal-nathrakh.com

https://www.facebook.com/Anaalnathrakhofficial

https://anaalnathrakh.bandcamp.com/

https://www.metalblade.com/anaalnathrakh/

Anaal Nathrakh, Endarkenment review (Metal Blade Records 2020)

Ten Million Lights, Shine So Bright review (2020)

Portland, Oregon’s own Ten Million Lights reach out through the murk of 2020 to pass along new music with the five-song EP Shine So Bright.

Ryan Carroll and Eric Block starting putting together the band a little over ten years ago. After a few EPs and two full length albums, Shine So Bright is the latest entry in the well hewn house of Ten Million Lights. The lineup is completed by Russ Ellis (bass) and Paul Hardie (drums), and these four musicians have together created a sound that passes between the realms of action and lament, haunting them both.

The set opens with a tromping beat and a little feedback on “Better To Know.” Carroll’s vocals are sweet and far away, floating in the world the guitars and pedals create. The music has a buoyant pop feel in the first three songs, and starts to turn more serious on the last two.

Given the generally serene and layered arrangements, the single element that stands out most is the drumming, which is crisp and clicks off the occasional free radical. The bass lines raise a voice of their own sometimes too, standing out in my memory on “The Swirl,” the longest song and most dismal in tone – also the closer. These five songs then listen like positive reassurance in the shifting sands we all now walk and also cautionary acknowledgement of the gravity of the situation. Balanced, I would call it.

Out on Friday, October 2, Shine So Bright can be had at Bandcamp and through the band’s website at the links below. Along with the singles that have been released from this new one, traipse through the back catalogue and associated music you can find on the band’s website. You are sure to discover some shining kernels there. Recommended.

Links.

https://tenmillionlights.bandcamp.com/

tenmillionlights.com/

https://www.facebook.com/tenmillionlights

Ten Million Lights, Shine So Bright review (2020)

Cosmic Reef Temple / Shrinkwrap Killers Split review (Wave Guardian Records 2020)

A quick shot of extra spacey heavy surf music is crashing your way with a new split from Cosmic Reef Temple and Shrinkwrap Killers.

Cosmic Reef Temple is a band of mystery, operating under aliases – according to the press release, the members are Wave Guardian Of The Reverberatory (guitar), Sub-Frequency Fractal Emitter (bass), Celestial Wind Talker (saxophone), Summoner of Galactic Storms (synthesizer), and Interstellar Time Keeper (drums). Instrumental in the creation of Surf Metal music, they have released a full-length album, Age of the Spaceborn, and a few splits. They contribute one song to this new issue, “Wave Constellation.” Surfy guitars starts us out, quickly joined by a peppy laid back bass line, then an eerie and beautiful saxophone. The second movement is a frantic speed / space / surf implementation with the saxophone becoming distressed. Part three is exposition, catching us up on the story so far while we drink coffee in a café somewhere in the Middle East. Toward the end we are looking back and wrapping up. You can hear the wind and the waves. Four minutes of instrumental wonderland.

Shrinkwrap Killers is Greg Wilkinson playing all the parts. The music is an evolving mix of surf and punk and whatever Wilkinson wants to put in there. The music is often heavier than what you usually hear in the surf lanes, and that is very appealing. On the split, there are two songs from Shrinkwrap Killers: “No Coordinates and I am Fucked” and “It’s Not a Dead Body Inside This Bag.” Both clocking in around the two minute mark, there is a lot packed into each expression, and the titles are strong clues to the feel of the pieces. The first song is a searching, lyrical guitar adventure. The second song begins like Part Two of the first, but the theme is not the same and it cranks off in a different direction altogether with electronic warbling crossing over between our listening ears, scarifying other sounds I cannot quite pin down, and a literal zipping up at the end. Journey complete.

Color me converted. Heavy Space Surf music it is. Recommended.

Out on Friday, October 2nd from Wave Guardian Records, the split will be available as a limited-edition seven-inch (black vinyl and translucent blue vinyl with 45RPM adapters) and as a download. Bandcamp is the place to make your choice.

Links.

http://waveguardianrecords.bandcamp.com/

http://www.facebook.com/waveguardianrecords

http://cosmicreeftemple.bandcamp.com

http://www.facebook.com/cosmicreeftemple

http://shrinkwrapkillers.bandcamp.com

Cosmic Reef Temple / Shrinkwrap Killers Split review (Wave Guardian Records 2020)

Kataklysm, Unconquered review (Nuclear Blast Records 2020)

The 14th album from Canadian Death Metallers Kataklysm is Unconquered, a massive earth shaker that will pin your ears back and squeeze your brain.

Kataklysm is a band that has been creating music since 1991, and they are mainstays in the heavy scene. Their catalogue is huge, with not only more than a dozen studio albums but also numerous splits, compilations, and live releases as well. Fans have always had something new to look forward to with this band. The musical style has evolved over the years but they have stayed in the heavy lane.

Founders Maurizio Iacono (vocals) and Jean-François Dagenais (guitar) are joined by longtime bass player Stéphane Barbe and Olivier Beaudoin on drums (according to The Metal Archives, James Payne has since taken over on drums). The new album has similarities to the earlier work of the band, and in that way might seem like an homage to the past. The renewed sound has a sustainability to my ear, a strong tint of permanence, pointing more toward a new direction than a nostalgic episode.

A hazy photo of Kataklysm at Heavy Montréal 2019 (photo by Wayne Edwards)

“The Killshot” opens the set, beginning ominously with a quietude we know cannot last. Sure enough. Aggressive drumming blasts ravage even as guitar rhythms offer a stabilizing reassurance that is itself shaken by rare discordant clangs. The vocals are strong and coarse, easily understood, thereby becoming a narrative instrument as well as a musical one. It is a savage start, and rolls right into “Cut Me Down” for more hostility. There is a quiet melody to this song that is lurking in the background, and that makes it even more disturbing.

There is no letting up in this album. Any airy component is accompanied by a frenzied partner that keeps you on edge throughout. This characteristic is exemplified explicitly by “Focused To Destroy You” and more implicitly with songs like “The Way Back Home,” which have plainer lyrical elements living with musical gunfire and lyrics like this: “I’ll dig your grave on my way back home / I’ll gut you out like the pig that you are.” There is no waffling there, or anywhere else throughout. I will renew my prediction that this ferocity is here to stay. Recommended.

Unconquered is out now. Nuclear Blast is offering many versions and bundles – there has to be something there for every fan.

Links.

The band’s site, https://www.kataklysm.ca/

Facebook, https://www.facebook.com/kataklysm

Ordering from Nuclear Blast, https://www.nuclearblast.com/en/music/band/discography/overview/70940.kataklysm.html

Kataklysm, Unconquered review (Nuclear Blast Records 2020)