Bonus: Not Above Evil—Always Darkest Before (2016)

Not Above Evil—Always Darkest Before (2016)

Not Above Evil—Always Darkest Before (2016)

Details

Written by Not Above Evil with Damien Levette (tracks 4, 5 and 9). Mixed and mastered by Daniel Mucs. Drum recording at Big City Jacks Studio. Engineered by Martin Corral.

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Band

  • Sideeq Mohammed—Vocals and bass
  • David Gwynn—Guitar and vocals
  • Daniel Mucs—Percussion

Tracks

  1. When the day comes
  2. Adrenaline
  3. Unleashed
  4. Fibre and sinew
  5. Elevation of the form
  6. The close
  7. Doors and desolation
  8. Compression
  9. Turning over
  10. And the skies return

Review

About a year ago I reviewed Not Above Evil’s second album  The Transcendental Signified (2011). I was impressed

“This is definitely a keeper for me. […] This is an album that I would seek out to listen to, not just not-skip-over if it came on random play. Good work Manchester metallers! ” (85%)

I kind of got that right. Three-piece melodic death metal outfit Not Above Evil hail from both Manchester, UK and Stockholm, Sweden.

In October, drummer Daniel Mucs messaged me on Twitter asking if I’d like to hear the new album. A few weeks later a CD metaphorically dropped through my letterbox. (It actually arrived at reception and I picked it up from my in-tray.)

Thanks to the madness that is wardennial work in a university hall of residence, the CD has been sitting on my desk teasing me for the last six weeks or so. What was I thinking?! I should have stuck it on straight away, because it’s brilliant!

“When the day comes” (track 1) begins quietly . I forget this every time and end up turning up the volume and getting a fright when the drums kick in about 20 seconds in. After that it’s a stately plod to the end. There is a slightly ‘doom’ feel to the song as it trundles along at around 76 bpm, but that gives it weight and it’s by far the heaviest thing that I’ve listened to all day.

“Adrenaline” (track 2) speeds things up a bit, with a straight forward, barked vocal and thundering tempo. The song breaks down about half way before building from a terrific riff that you can’t help but bang your head to.

“Unleashed” (track 3) has a horror feel from the start. Like the souls of a thousand death metal vocalists are trying to communicate something. This track lasts until about three-quarters of the way through before shaking things up a little. Then it’s back to the original riffs until it’s over the finishing line.

“Fibre and sinew” (track 4) begins with a delicate and harmonised guitar lick that sounds very old school Testament – someone has been listening to their copy of The New Order (1988) – before punishing the listener with another slice of modern, hi-gain over-driven death metal.

“Elevation of the form” (track 5) sees Mucs pounding about every drum on his kit as the song builds up to a no-holds-barred rich-sounding riff. It’s by far one of my favourite tracks on the album and they kept it for half-way through.

After such a huge song, it seems quite natural that the next track, “The close”, should be short, instrumental and contemplative. There is no indication on the sleeve notes, however, who the keyboardists/pianist is.

“Doors and desolation” (track 7) resets the proceedings to the to the original programme and we’re back into a fairly standard death metal offering.

Then just as you suspect the album may just see itself out with a few album fillers, the stop-start magnificence of “Compression” (track 8) begins. It has a slower, looser feel, but like the opening track it’s really heavy. It’s definitely one of my favourite tracks on the album.

“Turning over” (track 9) opens with a tremendous bouncing riff and drums that could summon an army of the dead. Not Above Evil demonstrate  yet again that they are not a one-trick pony when it comes to song writing. They introduce new elements and riff after riff that twists the song in different directions. It does follow a bit of a pattern though with the song quietening in the middle, heading off on an interesting meander before returning to a pounding riff.

Finally, “And the skies return” (track 10) closes out the album in style. Like the opening track this has a feeling of grandeur, but it soon steps aside to let out the churning, maniac of a riff that it has clearly been trying to control. Towards the end of the song, the guitars slow down and wail, and the song walks over the finishing line at a steady pace. Like that scene of the soldiers entering the sports arena towards the end of Black Hawk Down (2001).

Conclusion

Not Above Evil certainly seem to be finding their voice but it is in the slower, more progressive numbers like “When the day comes”, “Elevation of the form”, “Compression” and “Turning over” that I feel they have most to say. The song writing is layered and complex and, essentially, very interesting. More like this please.

If you are into heavy music, definitely check out Not Above Evil. Definitely another keeper for me.

Review score: 90%

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Bonus: Virvum—Illuminance (2016)

Virvum—Illuminance (2016)

Virvum—Illuminance (2016)

Details

Mixed and mastered by C. Brandes at Iguana Studios. Drums recorded at S. Egli and Hardbeat Studios. Vocals recorded at R. Beier and Ashburn Productions. Released on 16 September 2016 as an independent release on Bandcamp.

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Band

  • Vocals—Bryan Berger
  • Guitars—Nic Gruhn
  • Guitars—Toby Koelman
  • Bass—Arran McSporran (session musician)
  • Drums—Diego Morenzoni

Tracks

  1. The cypher supreme
  2. Earthwork
  3. Illuminance
  4. Ad rigorem
  5. Tentacles of the sun
  6. Elemental shift
  7. I: A new journey awaits
  8. II: A final warming shine: ascension and trespassing

Review

Illuminance is the debut album from Swiss progressive death metal band Virvum, who hail from Zurich and it’s really rather good.

The album opens with instrumental The cypher supreme (track 1) which initially doesn’t seem to promise anything new. It begins with an intricate, chopping riff but then opens up into a harmonised passage that reminded me of something from early 90s Steve Vai or latter-day Devin Townsend. The instruments dance around one another, they swoop and vie for attention. The track ends with a chugging, proper old school death metal riff that wouldn’t seem out of place on an Obituary album.

Earthwork (track 2) introduces us to Berger’s vocals, which are – as you might expect – deep, and gruff, so-called ‘Cookie Monster’ vocals. But in places they are double-tracked with a more metalcore, shouty vocal. The song showcases their progressive leanings with avant garde solos, and a song structure that twists and turns. Curiously, it stops suddenly around four minutes in and plays out as an ambient introduction to the title track Illuminance (track 3).

Tentacles of the sun (track 5) is one of my favourite tracks on the album. It beings at breakneck speed and promises to be a fairly standard death metal track, with an interesting preces and response-style vocal. But around a minute in to the 4:54 song, things slow down. A fabulous bass run weaves around clean arpeggios, until even that slows to a trickle, before exploding to a luscious chord sequence. It sounds like how dawn should sound every morning.

The album closes with a pair of songs, I: A new journey awaits (track 7) and II: A final warming shine: ascension and trespassing (track 8). The new journey begins instrumentally. It is peaceful and regal, it is grand and pompous.

(Oddly, MusicBee reports that the song is 3:10 but it ends at 1:42 then leaps to 3:10 before moving to the next song.)

The final track is more of the same but draws on elements from track 7. Around three minutes in things slow down again, for what is quite a recognisable pattern. And then the build… Around 7 minutes in the song takes another meandering twist which plays itself out, but for a brief thematic return to the death metal vocals and thrashing of earlier.

Conclusion

I’ve listened to this album quite a bit over the last few months. So I’ve come to appreciate it rather well. While it’s not my favourite album of the year, it is rather good. It has a few really beautiful moments suspended in an opus of fairly stock progressive death metal. But it’s those beautiful moments that transform this album from being just another death metal album.

It’s hard when listening to the album that this is just Virvum’s debut offering. This is a band, I suspect, who are still finding their voice. I’m excited to see where they go next, because as a start this is a fabulous place from which to begin.

Review score: 85%

Toxic Bonkers—Seeds of Cruelty (2004)

Toxic Bonkers—Seeds of Cruelty (2004)

Toxic Bonkers—Seeds of Cruelty (2004)

Details

Recorded at P J-Reda Studio in April 2003. Mastered at Kutno in February 2004.

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Band

  • Qboot—Vocals
  • Mumin—Guitars
  • Sme—Guitars
  • Grela—Bass and vocals
  • Klimer—Drums

Tracks

  1. Seeds of cruelty
  2. Homeless
  3. TV god
  4. Wrong way direction
  5. Weep
  6. Poisoned
  7. Can you see
  8. Free world
  9. Liars
  10. Don’t be afraid
  11. Vision

Review

Seeds of Cruelty represents album number three of five for Polish death/grindcore  metallers Toxic Bonkers and it is quite tremendous.

They sound like a perfect fusion of Florida’s Entombed with Brummie grindcore pioneers Napalm Death, certainly from the turn of the millennium.

The production on the album is a little poor, it’s very quiet which I particularly noticed while switching between Obituary, Napalm Death and Toxic Bonkers albums to compare them. The better supported artists certainly enjoy a clearer sound. But it’s nothing that turning up the volume doesn’t fix!

But the playing is fabulous. Not a note out of place. The bass and drums are tight, the guitars produce a wall of sound, which Qboot yells over.

The whole album weighs in at just a little over half an hour and it certainly doesn’t outstay its welcome. I would quite happily have listened to an album twice its length.

Conclusion

While I’m not overly fond of the band name, or the album cover, the music is fabulous and that, after all, is what it’s all about. If you like your grindcore to have a socio-political and anti-nazi slant, then I thoroughly recommend Toxic Bonkers.

Other than the production, I really can’t fault this album. It’s going up there with my favourites from this project.

Review score: 100%

BONUS Ocean of Grief—Fortress of my Dark Self EP (2016)

Ocean of Grief—Fortress of my Dark Self (2016)

Ocean of Grief—Fortress of my Dark Self (2016)

Details

Release 12 February 2016 on GS Productions (Russian).

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Band

  • Charalabos Oikonomopoulos—Vocals
  • Filippos Koliopanos—Guitars
  • Dimitra Zarkadoula—Guitars
  • Giannis Koskinas—Bass
  • Aris Nikoleris—Keyboards
  • Thomas Motsios—Drums

 

Tracks

  1. Spiritual fortress
  2. House of misery
  3. Futile regrets
  4. Drowned in nostalgia
  5. The birth of chaos

Review

Back in May I received a kind email from Phil Koliopanos inviting me to review his band, Ocean of Grief’s new EP Fortress of my Dark Self. Here’s the review, a couple of months later. Sorry about that.

Melodic doom/death metal band Ocean of Grief were formed in Athens, Greece in late 2014 drawing inspiration mostly from Saturnus and Slumber. This is their first official release.

My immediate response after listening to the album on Soundcloud was to email their guitarist saying simply “Wow! This is great! Loving is so far.”

Overall the EP reminds me very much of early Gothic-era Paradise Lost. And that, for me, is a good thing. A very good thing.

The EP opens with “Spiritual fortress” (track 1).  A grand organ sound introduces the song, over which the guitars weave a lamentful melody. Gutteral, deep, growling vocals carve their way through the music. It is a doomy, gothic, lamentation.

“House of misery” (track 2) begins with a descending guitar arpeggio that builds to another beautiful and simple guitar melody. “Futile regrets” (track 3) is an up-beat and rocky number that employs another simple melodic guitar line that carries the song. About halfway through the band drops out for a guitar-only middle eight that introduces a new tick-tocking riff.

“Drowned in nostalgia” (track 4) opens slowly and gently. It’s the eeriest, most haunting track on the EP. Which is built on later as the vocals descend to a whisper.

The EP closes with “The birth of chaos” (track 5), another upbeat (for doom!) track

Conclusion

If I was looking for some criticism, I might say that there is not much variety in the EP. One song almost blends into the next. But on a release of this quality I can’t fault it on that. The songs are solid, tight and hold enough interest and individual character that it simply reminds the listener that these songs are part of a coherent collection by the same band—part of the family. Albeit a dark and lamentful family that sings tales of death and doom.

All in all, a brilliant first release that took me back to everything that I loved about Gothic (Paradise Lost) but to which Ocean of Grief added their own character and other influences.

More like this please.

Review score: 95%

Residual Effect—In a World Where Pain is God (2006)

Residual Effect—In a World Where Pain is God (2006)

Residual Effect—In a World Where Pain is God (2006)

Details

Recorded at Void Studios, Dublin. Engineered and mixed by Mark Galvin and Residual Effect. Mastered by Marty Robison at Ferox Studios. All tracks written, arranged and performed by Residual Effect.

Band

  • Michael Higgins—Vocals
  • William Caulfield—Guitars
  • Andrew McCallistar—Guitars
  • Anthony McKee—Bass
  • Antony Weston—Drums

Tracks

  1. Second face
  2. Porcelain idol
  3. Morbid theme
  4. IV
  5. Withered
  6. Stronger again
  7. Pivotal

Review

Having loved their three track demo I felt a certain degree of anticipation and expectation when I fired up this album.

While I’m not entirely in agreement with the theological statement presented in the album title, _In a world where pain is god_ adequately continues the good work where the three track demo left off.

Unfortunately, I didn’t quite live up to the quality of the songwriting on the demo.

“IV” (track 4) is a nylon-strung guitar solo which takes me back to the classic days of thrash where every respectable heavy band nestled a classical-inspired track somewhere on their album: Exodus did it, Sepultura did it, even Metallica did it on the black album.

“Withered” (track 5) kicks off with a head-splitting guitar riff that saws right through you while remaining guitar, bass and drums piledrives that riff into your head, for good measure.

Flippin’ ‘eck! This should have been the album opener. Don’t hide this stuff in the middle order. This is is gold. Put it on display. Flaunt it! This is the kind of music the demo promised me there would be more of. I’d happily allow you your “Second face” and “Porcelain idol” further down the album. But give me this first.

The same goes for “Stronger again” (track 6) and to a lesser extent “Pivotal” (track 7).

Conclusion

The problem with this album, in my opinion is three fold: the songwriting isn’t quite as good (that’s okay, it happens); the vocals drift a little too often into just outright shouting, which at times feels lazy; and the songs are simply in the wrong order on the album.

But those are pedantic niggles on what is otherwise a very impressive debut album British (and for the real pendants: Northern Irish) album.

Review score: 75%

Residual Effect—3 Track Promo Demo (2005)

Residual Effect—3 Track Promo Demo (2005)

Residual Effect—3 Track Promo Demo (2005)

Details

No details on inlay card. Independent release.

Band

No details available.

Tracks

  1. Less than this
  2. Slit wrist
  3. Living through mime

Review

You couldn’t really hope for a better intro to this three track demo from Belfast (Northern Ireland) based melodic death metallers, Residual Effect.

When “Living through mime” introduces the demo it does so like a brick to the face. The musicianship is excellent, the riff is heavy and dark, and the the bass tone in particular is very pleasing. (I’m not sure I could write a more British thing in a metal review!)

“Less than this” (track 2) proves that this wasn’t just a freak accident. Another heavy riff that begins like a tank being started, before trundling off down the road to crush everything in its wake. (Do tanks have wakes?)

“Slit wrist” (track 3) hits the ground running with a relentless, bouncing riff. Gutteral vocals are barked. Guitars that sound like chainsaws buzz through the song, as te drum kit is pounded to within an inch of its life. The initial, very repetitive riff is broken up nearly two minutes in with a slight change of direction. To be honest, I didn’t think this song was going to cut it but these cunning deathsters brought it round in the end.

Conclusion

This is one of the most promising and exciting demos that I’ve listened to in a long time. To be honest, it’s significantly better than an awful lot of albums by signed bands that I’ve had to listen to.

To date Residual Effect have only put out this 2005 demo plus one full length album, the following year. Thankfully that album is scheduled for next week. Expectations are running high. Don’t disappoint me team Ireland!

Review score: 90%

Raise the Dead—Hymns of War (2005)

Raise the Dead—Hymns of War (2005)

Raise the Dead—Hymns of War (2005)

Details

Mixed, mastered and brutalized by Stu McKan and Jamie Graham. Recorded at Studio 6, Wooton Bassett, England. Released on Thirty Days of Night Records in 2005.

Band

  • Dean of the Dead—Vocals
  • Jamie Graham—Guitars and backing vocals
  • Khaled Lowe—Guitars and backing vocals
  • Chris Varnham—Bass
  • Chris Claydove—Drums

Tracks

  1. Prelude to war
  2. Zone of magical immunity
  3. Warcraft
  4. The curse of years
  5. Sea of dead souls
  6. Cloak of mist

Review

It feels like an age since I’ve mentioned CD packaging, so let’s start there. The front cover, as you can see from above, features a very beige-dominant mediaeval battle scene; assuming that the crusaders fought armies of skeletons. I wouldn’t be surprised if there was more than a little Tolkien influence here with his armies of the dead from The Lord of the Rings.

What I really like, though is the booklet which has the feel of a stylised Book of Kells, like an illuminated manuscript from the Middle Ages. The first five pages contain song lyrics, resplendent in a thankfully-readable Old English style typeface; the last page lists thanks.

Hymns of War in a mediaeval style

Hymns of War in a mediaeval style

Of course, the booklet looks more like a ye olde gospel than a hymn book but we’ll let that one pass. It does look fab and it’s nice to see the band putting in some thought about the packaging. It’s just a shame that (and this is obviously entirely subjective) the art quality in the cover doesn’t match that of the booklet. It would have been great to have the two tie-in much more than they do.

Anyway, it’s the music we’re really interested in.

Raise the Dead were a thrash / death / metalcore band from London/Peterborough between 2004 and 2006. They released only two records in their three years: a three-track demo, Famous Last Words, in September 2004 and this six track EP in December 2005. The only common track was “Warcraft”.

The album opens with an atmospheric track (“Prelude to war”) of monastic chant interrupted from time to time by peals of thunder and a continuously ringing bell. When the chanting ends, footsteps lead to a single note, more thunder and the gentle growl of who knows what monster.

“Zone of magical immunity” (track 2) is a fast paced death metal song. The guitars have a pleasing overdriven tone, double-kick drums underpin the rhythm and Dean of the Dead’s guttural vocals sound terrifically meaty—it’s not just uncontrolled screaming. There are certainly enough dynamics within the song to hold interest. It almost has a progressive metal feel to it.

“Warcraft” (track 3) offers more of the same, the whole song built around a very death metal lead guitar riff. Towards the end the track slows right down into an almost sludge metal-style riff. Curiously track 4, “The curse of years”, follows exactly the same recipe right down to the sludge style stomp towards the close.

“Sea of dead souls” (track 5) opens with a very Annihilator-style arpeggio riff that reappears throughout the song. Thankfully this song closes differently with a very Slayer-like screaming and diving solo: fast and tight right to the end.

The closing song, “Cloak of mist” (track 6) is perhaps the most death metal song on the EP, both musically and lyrically. It’s a study in hatred. “Hate is a strong word / but I feel it for you / I should have buried you in a ditch / the day you were born”.

“Cloak of mist” is probably the strongest song on the album and I can’t help wondering if it indicates the direction that Raise the Dead would have taken had they not split nearly ten years ago. Perhaps we’ll never know.

Conclusion

All in all, this was a pretty solid debut EP from a UK extreme metal band. I really can’t help feel anything but admiration for the band and the recording. It’s by no means perfect but it is pretty darn good none-the-less. They certainly showed promise. Wherever you are now guys, I raise a glass to you—I can’t quite manage raising the dead.

Review score: 85%