Grendel’s Sÿster, Myrtle Wreath / Myrtenkranz review (Cruz Del Sur Music 2020)

The Myrtle Wreath EP from Grendel’s Sÿster gets a well-deserved broad re-release with Cruz Del Sur Music.

Everybody knows that Grendel’s mother was the one to watch out for, but nobody knows what to expect from his sister. That’s how I felt dropping the (virtual) needle on Myrtle Wreath / Myrtenkranz. – I hadn’t heard any of the band’s work before. They are a Folk Metal trio from Germany. This EP came out in 2019 and is getting wider distribution now. They also released an EP in 2018: Orphic Gold Leaves/Orphische Goldblättchen.

The thing about Folk Metal for me is that I have a short list of bands I like. Korpiklaani, Finntroll, Týr, a few others. I am not a deep diver in these waters, so I do not have a learned opinion. I just know whether I like what I hear. I really like Myrtenkranz.

There are seven songs and an intro bit, and they are presented in two versions each – one in English and one in German. I have a strong and abiding preference for the versions in German. No, I don’t speak German. To my ear singing in German simply sounds better with the music. Grendel’s Sÿster does not sound anything like the bands I listed, really. They are very much on the Folk side of Folk Metal. Plainly, it is like listening to folk songs that employ (fuzzy) electric guitars for instruments. The vocals are beautifully melodic and clear. Beyond traditional Folk constructions, many of the songs have the epic and march urgency heard in music from bands like Falconer, but not as loud. Lead guitar expressions are also low key and tastefully executed. This is a great album for when you are not in the mood to have your block knocked completely off. Recommended.

The physicals start shipping September 25, and the digital is available now at Bandcamp and elsewhere. The first EP Orphic Gold Leaves is not on Spotify (last time I looked) and the hardcopies are sold out, but you can still get the English vocal version as a download.

Links.

https://grendelssyster.bandcamp.com/

https://www.facebook.com/cruzdelsurmusic/

https://www.cruzdelsurmusic.com/blog/

https://cruzdelsurmusic.bandcamp.com/

Grendel’s Sÿster, Myrtle Wreath / Myrtenkranz review (Cruz Del Sur Music 2020)

Spellbook, Magick & Mischief review (Cruz Del Sur Music 2020)

Spellbook is the new name for the band previously known as Witch Hazel (not Wytch Hazel from the UK), and they have a new album out: Magick & Mischief.

As Witch Hazel, the band released three albums. The style of those is similar to what you hear on the new one, but a little murkier in tone. Two of the earlier albums, Otherworldly (2018) and Forsaken Remedies (2012), are on Spotify and are definitely worth checking out. The band for the new release as Spellbook is Nate Tyson (vocals), Andy Craven (guitar), Selbert Lowe, Jr. (bass), and Nicholas Zinn (drums).

The music on Magick & Mischief has a foot planted firmly in the early 1980s. Back then I was listening to bands like Omen and their amazing Battle Cry album from 1984, and Fates Warning’s occult masterpiece Night on the Brocken (also from 1984). Demon, too, from 1981, with their poppier take on the subject, Night of the Demon. Memories of all these bands cascade over me listening to the new Spellbook. The 2020 take on this style of metal cast refreshing glances toward unlikely corners of music and combines creative ideas that make this music genuinely new even as it creates pristine nostalgic flashes.

The first song on the album is “Wands To The Sky,” the title leaving no question in the listener’s mind about the subject. A jazzy drum roll folds into a stabbing prog-like rock guitar set-up, followed by the distinctive retro vocals. Homage riffs can be heard here and in “Black Shadow” – that is part of the appeal. “Ominous Skies” leads in with a challenging bass line, and “Not Long For This World” presents a doom throng as its introduction. There is a magic theme here, an occult perspective, and yet also sprinkled in are songs like “Motorcade” and the big closer, “Dead Detectives,” which are surprises. The first three minutes of the latter has the same kind of feel as Side One of Alice Cooper’s Muscle of Love – if you don’t know what I am talking about, take twenty minutes and go listen to the first four songs of that old AC classic on Spotify. Spellbook shifts into a steady rock vamp in the second part of the 11+ minute opus, segue to a voiceover to further the narrative, some more rock, finally fading out on a rainy street. It is like going to a Broadway show, and it is a strange yet compelling way to tie up the threads of the album.

Out on September 25, digital, CD, and vinyl versions of Magick & Mischief can be had from Cruz Del Sur Music through Bandcamp and others. A heads up that the track “Amulet” appears to be different on the LP compared to the other versions. Completists take note.

Links.

https://spellbookband.bandcamp.com/releases

https://www.facebook.com/spellbookband/

https://www.cruzdelsurmusic.com/

https://www.facebook.com/cruzdelsurmusic/

https://cruzdelsurmusic.bandcamp.com/

Spellbook, Magick & Mischief review (Cruz Del Sur Music 2020)

Stygian Crown, Stygian Crown (Cruz Del Sur Music 2020)

The inaugural album from the Los Angeles doom band Stygian Crown blends classical voice with tradition-respecting modern doom metal.

The sound of Stygian Crown is different enough that they have developed a new category for it: Candlethrower. Uh-huh. The band has the classic metal full line up of five principals: Melissa Pinion (vocals), Nelson Miranda (guitar), Jason Thomas (bass), Andy Hicks (guitar), and Rhett A. Davis (drums). Those names might ring a bell – Davis, Miranda, and Thomas were in Gavehill, and that in itself is a strong recommendation. This band, however, is not death metal but instead is a doom hybrid affair. A new direction, you might say.

After a spooky 30 second intro, the album opens with the bone crushing riffs of “Devour the Dead.” Our first glimpse (?) at Melissa Pinion’s vocals hit right away. Her voice is clear and strong, and her delivery is steady. She seems quite comfortable in the doom universe. The music is guitar-driven castle wall dreariness. Think Ritchie Blackmore’s formulations when the song is not about cars, or maybe a slowed-down Iron Maiden. The lead breaks are not so much shreds as they are studies in mood, although the guitars do occasionally cut loose (like in “When Old Gods Die”). The lyrics tell fantasy tales with a medieval orientation and a focus on violent conflict, plague, death, and darkness. The band is called Stygian Crown, after all. With this release, you are getting just what you expect. To bookend the set, “Two Coins for the Ferryman” is absolutely perfect for this album in atmosphere, theme, sound, and execution – from the spoken word intro to the extremely long fade out at the end. This band knows itself.

Stygian Crown will be released on June 26, 2020. Head over to the Cruz Del Sur store (link below) or the always reliable Bandcamp to examine all the available varieties.

Links.

https://www.facebook.com/stygiancrown

https://stygiancrown.bandcamp.com/releases

https://www.cruzdelsurmusic.com/store/

https://www.facebook.com/cruzdelsurmusic

Stygian Crown, Stygian Crown (Cruz Del Sur Music 2020)

Pale Divine, Consequence of Time review (Cruz Del Sur Music 2020)

Pale Divine brings a new perspective to their music with Consequence of Time, their sixth full-length album.

Pale Divine has always had great licks and sharp lead work. Go back and listen to their albums (on Spotify, say) and you will see what I mean. From Thunder Perfect Mind (2001) and Eternity Revealed (2004) – the one with “Serpents Path” – on to the super fuzzy Cemetery Earth (2007) all the way through to the 2018 self-titled release you hear great guitar work. There have been a few lineup changes here and there but the music has remained solid throughout. Heavy metal, in the classic lane. Current members include Greg Diener (guitar, vocals), Dana Ortt (guitar, vocals), Ron McGinnis (bass), and Darin McCloskey (drums). The most recent joiner is Dana Ortt, and it is tempting to think therein lies the source of the changes seen in Consequence of Time. And I am sure it is true, Ortt himself and the refreshing wave that passes over everyone else in the band when a new musician comes along account for the innovations. Pale Divine has no interest in sitting back and coasting.

What innovations? Let’s look at the two singles that have been released so far. “Tyrants & Pawns” first. The lead guitar is very active and plays the part of a second voice, really, along with the singer for much of the song. Separately, then, there are also lead breaks bleeding creativity and demonstrating precision. The singing itself has a different orientation and emotive quality in this song (and the whole album) compared to earlier ones. It is not that the previous albums are being eclipsed here; the new one is just a different space along the same path.

“Satan In Starlight” provides another, alternate example. You cannot miss the lead tear that rollicks through the second half of the song. Pale Divine has done this before, of course (e.g., “Lord of Sorrow,” etc.). The band’s reliable guitar work is what keeps me coming back over and again. What is noticeable now is a tangential lightness of being that allows the lead moments to wander in confidence, usually fiercely and yet sometimes almost lilting. The feeling I get from this album is that, while the band has never slowed down, it is now shifting into a different gear, showing us things we haven’t seen before.

Consequence of Time hits the streets on Friday, June 26. Check out the singles now and get ready for the full album in a few days. Recommended.

Links.

https://www.facebook.com/serpentspath/

https://paledivine1.bandcamp.com/

https://www.cruzdelsurmusic.com/store/

Pale Divine, Consequence of Time review (Cruz Del Sur Music 2020)

Dark Forest, Oak, Ash & Thorn review (Cruz Del Sur Music, 2020)

If you like your metal with a medieval story woven in, Dark Forest has a new album that fits the bill. Their fourth release, Oak, Ash & Thorn, is a well-crafted set that stands out among fantasy-oriented heavy metal music.

I have listened to all sorts of metal over the years, and I remember with admiration fantasy bands like Omen from way back (and Manowar and Iced Earth) and even individual albums like Fates Warning’s Night on the Brocken, which had a fantasy theme. You could argue The Sword’s Age of Winters and Gods of the Earth albums land in this genre, too, and they are highly technical metal. Then there are bands like Battle Beast which are fantasy-themed but push more in the stadium anthem direction. Another lane is folk metal, with bands like Korplikaani and Finntroll being good examples. It goes on and on. It is good to stretch out from time to time and listen to music at least a little outside your usual arena. If you are feeling adventurous and want to take the challenge, give Dark Forest a try.

Oak, Ash & Thorn is the first album I have heard from this band whose members include Christian Horton (guitar), Josh Winnard (vocals), Pat Jenkins (guitar), and Adam Sidaway (drums). I went back and did a deep dive on Spotify to catch up on their earlier releases before listening to the new one, and what I heard was solid writing and technical acuity. The themes are fantasy themes with a focus on English folklore. The new album points an eye toward the three sacred trees of England (see the title) and gains its launching point from a Rudyard Kipling book published more than 100 years ago. Very specific.

The album begins with a one and a half minute long intro, a nice quiet lute-like refrain with running water in the background. The first full song, “Wayfarer’s Eve,” opens with a piercing guitar, then a second, followed by a cavalry of percussion and rhythm introducing an epic tale. The vocals are clear and melodic, putting the listener in mind of a tale told by a travelling bard. The music is metal, and no mistake. Technical, precise guitars trounce along at a fast pace, and there is are excellent, well-paced lead breaks at just the right moments. There is a lot of production in the compositions – by that I mean there is a ton of harmony, the guitar often playing as a second voice along with the vocal. The songs are fairly long, most in the five minute range, with a couple of sevens and one just short of twelve minutes. The songs are virtually all fast-paced, even the short instrumental closer that sounds like a single. In all, it is an excellent, solid set. Recommended.

Oak, Ash & Thorn is out now from Cruz Del Sur Music and streaming everywhere.

Links.

https://darkforest-uk.bandcamp.com/album/oak-ash-thorn

https://www.facebook.com/Darkforestuk/

https://www.cruzdelsurmusic.com/

Dark Forest, Oak, Ash & Thorn review (Cruz Del Sur Music, 2020)

Death the Leveller, II, Review

Death The Leveller is an Irish doom metal band that has found the perfect name to describe the vibe and turn of its music. Clear, resonant vocals travel over the solid ground of heavy guitars and steadying percussion to convey elegantly the profound message of mortality.

The name of the band comes from a poem (published in 1646) with the same title written by James Shirley, an English dramatist. Shirley tells us in the poem what we already know but we like to pretend isn’t true: death will claim us all, and in that sense, we are all the same. Death is the great leveler. This theme is fertile ground to plow for a doom metal band.

In some ways, Death the Leveller is a continuation of the band Mael Mórdha, from which three members of the current line-up came: Dave Murphy (bass), Shane Cahill (drums), and Gerry Clince (guitars). Denis Dowling joined on vocals, and the band released its first album, I, through Journey’s End Records in 2017. Although it is referred to as an EP, the four songs on I total almost 40 minutes and that makes a full-length release in my book. Compared to the last Mael Mórdha release, I was more somber, more ponderous, and had no whistle. The thematic focus has tightened, too, and the attitude engendered by the name of the new band showed through on all the tracks.

The new release, II (Cruz Del Sur Music, 2020), is an expansion of the ideas from the formative release. Soaked with melancholy, the songs have the sense of epic ballads and the stories of loss and tragedy. This is not folk metal in any way, though. It is heavier. It is doom. The first song, “The Hunt Eternal,” sees life as an endless hunt where everyone plays a part: Are you predator or prey? This notion is fundamentally human. What the song brings out is the truth that the hunter/hunted, predator/prey relationship is also animalistic, and the proposition that this conflict is eternal. The music gave me a deep sense of solitude which is a juxtaposition to the universal nature of the roles – we all share in the situation and at the same time we are all alone. Primed by the opener, the second song, “The Golden Bough,” named after the famous mystical book, carries you away into the ether in the first half then blasts you with lightning in the second when the guitars turn sharper and more aggressive before finishing off with a shroud of pure desolation. “So They May Face The Rising Sun” is a bit more funereal at the beginning and the end, while the final song, “The Crossing,” is nearly an homage to the earlier album, but it is laced with the more biting tone of the inevitable future that awaits us all.

Death The Leveller II is out March 13th and you can listen to/watch the lyric video now for “The Hunt Eternal” (link below). You can also pre-order the physical from Cruz Del Sur Music – streaming and downloads will be available on Bandcamp and other platforms. If you want to see them live you need to go to Ireland, for the moment at least. With any luck Death the Leveller will play a few US dates in 2020. They would be a perfect surprise addition to Psycho Las Vegas …

Links.

Lyric video for “The Hunt Eternal,” https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=oSgcfhx1mjg

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

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

Cruz Del Sur Music, https://www.cruzdelsurmusic.com/

Death the Leveller, II, Review

The Neptune Power Federation, Memoirs of a Rat Queen (Cruz Del Sur Music, 2019).

I have really been out of the loop on The Neptune Power Federation. From Australia, the band members are a colorful collection of personalities. To wit: Imperial Priestess Screaming Loz Sutch – Vocals; Inverted Crucifox – Guitar; Search and DesTroy – Guitar; Jaytanic Ritual – Bass; and Mr. Styx – Drums. Despite the over-the-top stage names, the band’s sound is not a gimmick. The music is often described by reviewers and in press releases as space rock and metal. OK, sure. I’d say mainly it is catchy guitar-based rock and roll that lands on the heavy side, with numerous (too many to count) theatrical splashes. It reminds me a little of The Voluptuous Horror of Karen Black, except with a lot more variety. Also maybe a sinister hybrid of Blue Öyster Cult and Judas Priest. One of the most unique characteristics of the band’s music is the large number of sharp changes in the songs. They keep you guessing, and thereby interested.

This is how side one struck me after two listens. A snappy radio anthem “Can You Dig?” starts the set off with a spacey whurr. Next is the melodic beginning of “Watch Our Masters Bleed” that turns into a grinding guitar saw before rolling hooky into a pop metal valentine. “Flying Incendiary Club for Subjugating Humans” throws out great guitar licks to complement what might be a mission statement. “Rat Queen” has a de-synched dual vocal that is positively flabbergasting. It takes a hard left turn three minutes in with a transition of musical theater cowboy clicks that somehow lands in between squealing lead guitar and harmonica. Then the tempo changes. It is hard to keep up. And that’s just the first half.

Memoirs of a Rat Queen is available starting September 20 in full, but you can see a video of “Watch Our Masters Bleed” on YouTube now, and also a couple of live performance videos. Check them out. The music is solid and different. I have my fingers crossed for a US tour so I can see them live. Recommended.

Links…

Buy: https://theneptunepowerfederation.bandcamp.com/album/memoirs-of-a-rat-queen
Band website: http://www.theneptunepowerfederation.com/
Band Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/theneptunepowerfederation/

Words by Wayne Edwards, © 2019.

The Neptune Power Federation, Memoirs of a Rat Queen (Cruz Del Sur Music, 2019).