Cult of Lilith, Mara review (Metal Blade Records 2020)

Cult of Lilith release their first full-length album, Mara, in a stunning display of far reaching creativity and Prog Metal exploration.

Bands from Reykjavík, Iceland, might have faced isolation obstacles in the past, but in the modern world the distance from and to everywhere else is easily overcome and their music can be accessed and heard by everyone. Cult of Lilith could tell you that. Formed in 2015, they released their first EP, Arkanum, the following year. After adding a new singer from abroad (Spain), the creative forces solidified and the creation of Mara began. The band is Mario Infantes (vocals), Daníel Þór Hannesson (guitar), Kristján Jóhann Júlíusson (guitar), Samúel Örn Böðvarsson (bass), and Kjartan Harðarson (drums).

The music is described as “Necromechanical baroque.” It is a fusion of Death Metal in the tempos and rhythm with Prog Metal in the guitars interlaced with a wide variety of other musical influences ranging from classical to jazz and beyond. The lead guitar work has the speed and technical precision that rivals virtuoso metal bands like Exmortus. That is the Prog side coming out, the extraordinarily high level of musicianship required of the complex compositions. The other elements are expertly laced throughout into a seamless whole.

The album opens with 20 seconds of solo harpsichord before punching out blast beats under a monster guitar riff supporting rapidly shifting vocals, from death-coarse to melodic, all in the first minute. That is “Cosmic Maelstrom.” The lead guitar in the opener is lyrical and swirling, and the song ends in a mad rush. The next song is “Purple Tide,” and it does make you feel like you are at sea. It has a more serious and sinister tone than the previous song, including an almost maniacal screaming and whispering from Infantes. What you start to realize is that, while the compositions are wildly diverse and approach technical perfection, the vocals lead and direct the emotion of the songs. The music remains mostly fast and variegated throughout. Some songs have a slower tempo, like “Atlas,” but that does not stop them from being surprising and filled with creative changes and dodges. And then there are songs like “Profeta Paloma,” which have significant passages that are soft, acoustic moments of quiet and beauty surrounded by chaos. There is no chance to get comfortable listening to this album because there is too much going on. Cult of Lilith truly is a unique experience. Recommended.

While you are waiting for Friday to come, you could go to Spotify and listen to the Arkanum EP. It is exceptional, and a good launching point to get ready for the new (even with the different vocalist, Jón Haukur Pétursson). Plus, two singles are available now in advance of the full set dropping in a couple days on September 4. Metal Blade is offering CDs, vinyl, and downloads, and a t-shirt as well.

Links.

http://www.cultoflilith.com/

https://cultoflilith.bandcamp.com/album/mara

https://www.facebook.com/cultoflilithband

https://metalblade.com/cultoflilith/

Cult of Lilith, Mara review (Metal Blade Records 2020)

Ensiferum, Thalassic review (Metal Blade Records 2020)

Ensiferum celebrates 25 years of music with a new album, Thalassic – a Folk Metal epic tale told in heavy sea shanties.

I read that “Ensiferum” is Latin for something like “sword-bearing,” and that “Thalassic” is Greek for “relating to the seas,” so I do now definitely understand why the band’s music has often been called Viking Metal. Still, the broader Folk Metal label usually gets applied to them, placing the band among the storied list of famous acts like Korpiklaani, Finntroll, Amon Amarth, and stands with recent releases like this year’s Falconer album. It is a big tent, and this manner of metal music has legions of fans. Ensiferum brings out the heavy from every angle in Thalassic, the band’s first actual themed album.

The Helsinki band has been making music for two and a half decades, and has gone through many line-up changes and rearrangements throughout their journey. The current band is Sami Hinkka (bass and vocals), Markus Toivonen (guitar and vocals), Petri Lindroos (guitar and vocals), and Janne Parviainen (drums), with Pekka Montin (clean vocals and keyboards) contributing to the studio recording.

The maritime musical gets started with a sweeping orchestral opener, then dives straight into seafaring metal. “Rum, Women, Victory” is an anthem style radio song that alternates between gruff and clean vocals that ride along the waves of roiling guitars and peppering drums. The pace is fast and urgent, and, you can tell from the title, light hearted. This one is going to be a singalong at live shows for sure. The Greek mythology themes start to emerge with “Andromeda,” which takes a more serious and somber tone, opening the way for the full tale to be told. The production is front stage in this album, with a big full sound, a generous use of keyboards, and many moments of relief that keep the music and story moving along. It is designed to be theatrical and they pull it off well. The concept is fully realized and fans of the band and fantasy metal music are going to love this album.

Thalassic is available now from Metal Bade Records in many forms and functionalities. If you are looking for a big sound and a maritime mythology story to go along with it, Ensiferum has your number.

Links.

http://www.facebook.com/Ensiferum

http://www.ensiferum.com

http://www.metalblade.com/ensiferum

Ensiferum, Thalassic review (Metal Blade Records 2020)

Falconer, From A Dying Ember review (Metal Blade 2020)

If it is possible for you to imagine combining Middle English folk music like “Sweet Nightingale” with death metal blast beats and late NWOBHM guitar riffs, then you have an idea of what to expect from the new Falconer album, From A Dying Ember.

The origins of Falconer reach back twenty years when Stefan Weinerhall started musical conjurings after Mithotyn (1990s band from Sweden) split up. Falconer rose out of these early musings, releasing their first album in 2001. The response was positive from the beginning, and the band went on to produce seven more albums through 2014. The lineup is all rock and roll with vocals, two guitars, bass, and drums: Mathias Blad, Stefan Weinerhall, Jimmy Hedlund, Magnus Linhardt, and Karsten Larsson, respectively. On the new album you can also hear traditional folk instruments like “keyed fiddle and bagpipe” as well as piano, other keys, and strings on occasion. There is no doubting that Falconer’s music is guitar-driven, but their unique perspective and the inclusion of epic and folk metal expansions make them stand out.

There is not a typical song on the album. While the set works a regular theme, there is still a good deal of variety throughout. “Thrust the Dagger Deep,” for example, sounds like it is being sung by a medieval traveling minstrel who somehow is accompanied by electric guitars. “Kings and Queens” features epic-scale guitars up front with a convulsive drum track. Two minutes in there is a blistering lead break that puts you in mind of Savatage. “Bland Sump och Dy” begins with a meandering bass line, and is sung in Swedish. “Rapture” starts with strings that are soon joined by a riff so heavy it is almost doom. This album is at its core folk metal cranked up several notches. Along the way, though, Falconer takes you on a journey and gives you all sorts of different looks.

From A Dying Ember is out today, June 26. They have a big back catalogue for you to go through as well, and it is worth a dive if you like what you hear on the new one.

Links.

http://www.falconermusic.com/

https://www.facebook.com/falconermetal/

https://www.metalblade.com/us/artists/falconer/

https://falconer.bandcamp.com/

Falconer, From A Dying Ember review (Metal Blade 2020)

Sorcerer, Lamenting of the Innocent review (Metal Blade 2020)

The resurgence of Sorcerer continues with Lamenting of the Innocent, their third long form album.

Sorcerer has its beginnings back in 1988 in Stockholm, Sweden. They recorded a couple of demos that were well received, and they played several shows, but ultimately they disbanded in the mid nineties. The stirrings of a resurrection began about fifteen years later. One thing led to another and, in 2015, Sorcerer’s first full-length album, In The Shadow Of The Inverted Cross, was released by Metal Blade Records. Two and a half years later The Crowning Of The Fire King came out, and now we have the new one. The current lineup is Anders Engberg (vocals), Kristian Niemann (guitars), Peter Hallgren (guitars), Justin Biggs (bass), and Richard Evensand (drums).

The epic metal sound of Sorcerer is presaged by the introductory piece, “Persecution.” A dramatic and foreboding minute to say the least, leading into “Hammer of the Witches.” The music is a little bit like King Diamond, except without the falsetto and with more complex percussion. Or maybe Rainbow’s “Gates of Babylon” if it had been produced by Andrew Lloyd Webber. [OK, before I get angry DMs, that’s a joke] What does stand out in this song is the fullness of the sound owing to very well arranged guitars, the excellent drumming, and the mad guitar breaks – clever lead breaks like I haven’t heard before. Most of the songs on the album are quite long, with four of them being eight minutes or longer, and the shortest full song running nearly five minutes. Like latter-day Iron Maiden, you might say, except again with a fuller sound, fresher lead work, and Engberg’s unmatched voice. There are some slower pieces, like “Deliverance” which is essentially a ballad, and those with a modest tempo like “Age of the Damned” and “Condemned” – Indeed I suspect it is songs like this that gave the “epic doom” moniker to Sorcerer. I usually mean something different when I call a band a doom metal band. Whatever label we might use, the music is in a classic metal style, it is well executed, and it will appeal to fans of the aforementioned bands. They have found a lane and they are driving it well.

Lamenting of the Innocent is available now on all streaming platforms. You can buy a download at Bandcamp, and you can get LPs, CDs, t-shirts, and whatnot at the band’s shop (links below).

Band photo by Marieke Verschuren.

Links.

https://shop.sorcererdoom.com

https://sorcererdoom.bandcamp.com

https://www.metalblade.com/us/

Sorcerer, Lamenting of the Innocent review (Metal Blade 2020)

Cirith Ungol, Forever Black review (Metal Blade Records, 2020)

New music from Cirith Ungol in 2020. Things are finally starting to look up.

The name of the band comes from J. R. R. Tolkien’s writing, but I didn’t know that when I first saw the King of the Dead album at Stonehenge Records in Muncie, Indiana. What a cover painting (by Michael Whelan)! This was in the early 1980s and I had never heard of the band, didn’t know they were from California, or even what they sounded like. I put the record on and the first song started, “Atom Smasher.” I still remember the opening line, “Welcome to the brave new world! The future’s here or haven’t you heard?” The music was heavy, the vocals were out of this universe, and the guitar break was completely different from anything I was used to hearing. I was hooked. My favorite song on that album is “Master of the Pit,” which I still play surprisingly frequently decades later. I remember trying to find more music from the band and I couldn’t. Their first album, Frost & Fire, had been released in very small numbers and no copies had made it to rural Indiana where I was. I had to wait.

The band released two more albums, One Foot In Hell (1986) and Paradise Lost (1991). The former one is a killer, and you know from the jump (“Blood & Iron”) you are in for a wild ride. Their fourth album didn’t have quite the punch of the first three, but there is still a lot to like there. The writing might have been on the wall about the end of the band but I didn’t want to see it. Heedless of my wishes, in the early 1990s, the band broke apart.

Twenty plus years later, Cirith Ungol resurrected, with the lineup largely intact. The band today is comprised of long-time members Robert Garven (drums), Tim Baker (vocals), Greg Lindstrom (guitar), and Jim Barraza (guitar). Added to the pack is Jarvis Leatherby whose running the bass now. They sound great together, like no time has passed. The big question for me was always going to be Tim Baker’s vocals. His voice was so big and unique back in the day, and you could hear the force he exerted every time he sang. On the new album, Baker’s vocalizations are slightly smoother than on the earlier albums, but there is no mistaking him, and there is no question that this is Cirith Ungol music. The dark fantasy themes are there in the songs, the epic guitar structures, too. You can hear the classic metal forms in the writing, the heavy rhythms creating a fortress of sound for the voice and lead guitar to rise around and leap out. I like the album all the way through. The three songs that stand out for me are “The Frost Monstreme,” “Fractus Promissum,” and “Forever Black.” Especially “Fractus.” I can’t get it out of my head. It is a pounding anthem with an amazing lead break and lyrics you can’t forget, like, “Do we cower in the shadows or step into the light / Embrace the blinding fury borne of chaos’ holy might / Rise up from the darkness, put an end to wicked schemes / Or do we bow our heads and follow someone else’s dream.” Whether it is the 1980s, the 1990s, or the now, that sentiment is going to speak to people.

Forever Black is out now. Grab a download at Bandcamp, or get the CDs and vinyl while they last at your favorite retailer. This is exactly the album I was hoping for from Cirith Ungol. Highly recommended.

Links.

https://www.facebook.com/cirithungolofficial

https://cirithungol.bandcamp.com/

Cirith Ungol, Forever Black review (Metal Blade Records, 2020)

The Black Dahlia Murder, Verminous Review (Metal Blade Records, 2020)

The Black Dahlia Murder come out screaming on their new release, Verminous, the first full-length album from the band in three years and an excellent follow-up to 2017’s Nightbringers.

The Black Dahlia Murder is one of those bands whose name you are always excited to see on the lineup at a festival because you know they are going to be on top of their game and, wherever they are in the lineup, they will put on an amazing show. They made a big entrance with Unhallowed in 2003, and since then the band has released a new album every couple of years, on average. They have all been good, and eagerly anticipated by fans. Nightbringers was particularly sharp and fresh, integrating new ideas to grow the beast in innovative directions. It was natural to wonder what would happen with the new one – would it be a new season, another growth year? In a word: yes.

Verminous has a stadium-filling sound. Trevor Strnad’s voice is as strong and gruff as ever, and it encourages listeners to join in on the fray. The opening salvo is the title song and it is a race to the edge of the cliff – it is like turning on the engine and revving it up for about a minute before letting it rip. As you go along on the ride through the album, the scenery changes but the metal never fades away. “Removal Of The Oaken Stake” has soaring gothic guitar refrains that give you a feeling like you are surrounded by ancient stone, while “How Very Dead” is a late-night horror show filled with dramatic shocks and dripping blood. The percussion is furious and relentlessly pounding throughout, and the guitars are full force heavy in the rhythm while the leads are both piercing and melodic in turns, with the occasional nostalgic callback. “Dawn of Rats” is the closer, and it brings the set to a thundering climax. It starts with this, “Blood of our revenge awash / None sweeter to the taste / Flagellate the liar / Our verminous desire it must be;” and ends with this, “Did he toast with you / To their innocence / So fleeting and so sweet / The dawn has come of your defeat / We the rats must have our feast.” This album is destined to be a fan favorite for the next decade.

Verminous is out today, April 17, 2020, on Metal Blade Records and streaming in all the places you usually listen so lend it your ears. The Black Dahlia Murder is on an upward trajectory with this new one. Highly recommended.

Links.

http://www.tbdmofficial.com

http://www.facebook.com/theblackdahliamurderofficial

https://www.metalblade.com/us/artists/the-black-dahlia-murder/

The Black Dahlia Murder, Verminous Review (Metal Blade Records, 2020)

Allegaeon “Roundabout” Single Review

What happens when a death metal band covers a prog classic? The creation of a new standard, that’s what. Allegaeon has just released a cover version of the Yes song “Roundabout” from their classic 1971 album, Fragile. If you just say “death covering prog” it sounds like a train wreck, but if you are an Allegaeon fan you know in advance this is going to work out. The hyper-technical musical abilities showcased in their latest full-length album, Apoptosis, make it abundantly clear that Allegaeon can handle the statistical density of Yes’s complicated composition.

The first two and a half minutes of the song sound like if Emerson, Lake, and Palmer had covered “Roundabout” – musical perfection with a slightly harder edge than the original. But then you start to hear the differences. The guitars start to kick in even bigger with a power not evident in the original. The vocals initially are clear like the way Yes did it, but they start to get a growling layer about halfway through that works an harmonic magic. In the last two minutes, the lead guitars take off on a wild ride, always in the context of the Yeswork but colored Allegaeon. The song ends in the same harmonic fashion as the original, down to the da-das. Eight minutes and twenty-one seconds.

Here’s how you maximize your experience: listen the Yes original first, then immediately crank the Allegaeon version. It’s fantastic. And after that, give Apoptosis a listen if you haven’t already (or do it again if you have). Great stuff. Recommended.

Links.

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

Allegaeon Video, https://www.youtube.com/ALLEGAEON

Allegaeon  Twitter, https://twitter.com/allegaeon

Metal Blade Records, https://www.metalblade.com/us/

Allegaeon “Roundabout” Single Review

Review of “Rebirth By Blasphemy” by Midnight (Metal Blade, 2020)

Rebirth By Blasphemy is the new release from Midnight, out January 24 from Metal Blade Records, and it’s a scorcher.

I have always thought of Midnight’s music as Punk first and Thrash second, probably because the early Eps made a big impression on me, and because of the attitude of the that music. It was very Punk. Maybe labeling really doesn’t matter all that much, but it does you give you some idea of what you’ll hear if you are new to the band, or in this case, the person. The force in Midnight is Athenar, who has been the face (typically shrouded) of the underground band for almost twenty years, writing all the songs and playing on the instruments on the studio recordings. Along with a seemingly endless string of Eps and splits, Midnight has risen out of the shadows in the last decade, propelled by their full-length releases Satanic Royalty (2011), No Mercy for Mayhem (2014) and Sweet Death and Ecstasy (2017) on Hells Headbangers Records. Rebirth By Blasphemy is their fourth long play.

The album starts out howling with “Fucking Speed and Darkness,” a song filled with heavy guitars, rough vocals, and undeniably catchy hooks. The title track is next, and it has an anthem-like twist – everybody will be singing along with this one at the live shows. By the time you get to song #3, “Escape the Grave,” you’re hooked. The musical structure has all the heavy elements fans of the earlier albums will be looking for: speed, growls, short lead breaks, and memorable choruses. Over the years the songs have gotten longer, and have moved away from Punk a little toward the thrashy metal corner of the spectrum. Rebirth By Blasphemy has a lot of old school metal in it, and it works in as an intoxicating blend of intention and execution with a primal sensibility. It is heavy music from front to back and a welcome follow-up to Sweet Death. Recommended.

If you can’t wait for the whole set to drop, head out to the launch party Friday January 10th at Saint Vitus Bar in Brooklyn. It is open to the public and it is going to be a wild evening. Look for Midnight on the road – they are playing several dates here and there including Decibel Magazine’s Metal & Beer Fest in Philadelphia in April and the Northwest Terror Fest in Seattle in May. Their Facebook page (link below) has more information on their live shows.

Links.

http://totalmidnight.webs.com/ (mainly an archive site last update in 2016)

http://midnight-ohio.bandcamp.com/

https://www.facebook.com/midnightviolators/

https://www.instagram.com/midnightviolators/

Review of “Rebirth By Blasphemy” by Midnight (Metal Blade, 2020)

New Release Review: Oni, Alone (Metal Blade).

Oni is a progressive metal band that has been around for a lustrum or so. Their first album, Ironshore, came out in 2016 receiving good notices and much deserved attention. Making tour appearances with Gojira and Children of Bodom, Oni started to gain a following by more and more by fans. The EP Alone is out from Metal Blade on December 13, 2019 and sees a welcome return of the heavy prog sensibilities of Ironshore in a more compact package.

The new one is consistent with the debut, if a little more polished and absent the epic 11-minute song like “The Science” from Ironshore. One-at-a-timing it, “Alone” begins with a melodic trance and goes sharp fast, with popping percussion and piercing staccato guitars. Mournful lyrics get set aside by the band’s signature xylosynth breaks only to return before an abrupt ending that leaves you a little dizzy. This opener sets the tone for the the rest of the music, but does not give away all the surprises. Vocalist Jake Oni starts gruff with “Rift” before mixing in softer tones about being confused and lost. The music has a frantic wandering not seen since Saga’s World’s Apart album, touched quietly by the rare Jake E. Lee warble moment. “Dead Inside” is a hard-driving corruption, a pulsing expedition forcing its way through a thick jungle. It is rough and relentless with only the smallest pauses for rest in the middle. I expected a bit of a wind-down on “Breathe Again” just because of the rampant pace of the first four songs, but that does not happen – howls this time from the synth and swirling tension from the guitars, raw emotion in the vocals. The EP closes with a dissonant clap on the ears, “Faceless Portrait.” Showing the coarsest vocals of the set, and the tallest musical construction, Oni brings the hammer down on the final song with authority and crushing power.

No other band straddles the metal/prog in quite the same way was a Oni. But it is not just that the band has a different sound compared to other metal acts – what sets them apart is a vision and a message that is loud and clear in their live performances, and is conjured and solidified in Alone. The songs “Alone” and “Breathe Again” are the singles but you are going to want to listen to all five of them, preferably together. They really do hold up as a set, and there is a clear musical and narrative arc from the first to the last. Recommended.

Links.

https://www.facebook.com/TheOniBand

https://www.instagram.com/theONIband

New Release Review: Oni, Alone (Metal Blade).