King Leviathan—Paean Heretica (2017)

King Leviathan—Paean Heretica (2017)

King Leviathan—Paean Heretica (2017)

Details

“Two years in the making, it is our darkest and heaviest work to date, encompassing themes of loss, abandonment, blind faith and what comes after death. Our 9 track, 45 minute collection of psalms was recorded and mixed once again by Paul ‘Win’ Winstanley at Brighton Electric, but this time mastered by Alan Douches at West West Side Music and with art crafted by Alex Norman.” Released on Infernum Records, August 2017.

Bandcamp | Facebook | Soundcloud | Twitter | YouTube

Band

  • Adam Sedgwick—Vocals and guitar
  • Rob Kuhler—Lead Guitar and backing vocals
  • Sam Forrester—Bass and backing vocals
  • Danny Yates—Drums

Tracks

  1. Primitive baptism
  2. Sanctification
  3. Kingdom
  4. Agony
  5. Doomsayer
  6. Coffin swallower
  7. Harrowing eyes
  8. Like wolves to the throat of the lion
  9. The grand congregation

Review

This is another album that I’ve been sitting on since November but which I’ve been very much enjoying playing over the last few months.

King Leviathan are a blackened thrash metal band from Brighton on the south coast of England. Paean Heretica is their debut album, having previously released a couple of EPs (check out their Bandcamp page for those).

The album is dark and brooding, a fusion of thrash, black metal and doom.

The opening track “Primitive baptism”

“Sanctification” (track 2) hits you in the chest, straight out of the gate, with galloping wall of thrash that relents only a little to carve into you with a simple two-note riff. The song continues its almost progressive route, gruff vocals barking out its message, interrupted occasionally with soaring clean vocals.

“Kingdom” (track 3) is in a similar vein. The production is superb. The distorted guitars are warm, the solos cut through clearly. When the chorus hits it sounds familiar and timeless. About halfway through the song grinds to a sudden halt. Arpeggios and growls. This song has an epic, old school thrash feel to it. But thrash that’s been steeped in black metal for a month.

“Agony” (track 4) opens with a rolling drums and bass riff, overlaid with a moving guitar arpeggio (guitarpeggio?) and then by far my favourite riff on the album. This is one of my highlights of the album. It’s a dark, ponderous song that resonates with my current feelings of agony. “I will give all / I will give everything in atrophy / Be my love in / Be my love in agony”. This song is perfection.

“Doomsayer” (track 5) has that classic, old school thrash double guitar thing going on. One guitar cracking out the chords while the other plays an acidic-sounding picked chord over the top of it. Think Beneath the Remains era Sepultura. The song takes about a minute for the vocals to come in—again a combination of gruff death vocals and clean, like a combination of Opeth’s Mikael Åkerfeldt and ex-Sabbat Ritchie Desmond.

To be honest, by this point in the album “Coffin swallower” (track 6) the first half of the song sounds a bit samey to what has come before. The breakdown around halfway through, though, is a nice departure. It is gentle and fragile. “I am alone in the dark  / swallowed in rags in a burial crib”. And then the most magnificent bass twang breaks that spell and we’re back up to full pace.

“Harrowing eyes” (track 7) is a solid, heavy rocky song with a strong melody. “Reaper is coming… to harvest life […] don’t ever forget, her harrowing eyes”. Something cheerful to get you through the day.

“Like wolves to the throat of the lion” (track 8) has an awesome fast-picking opening to a fabulously interesting and quite progressive song. I could listen to this and “Agony” back to back all day. The riffs are sublime. The guitar solo towards the end is simple but gorgeous. A lot of album have a few good opening tracks and then it’s filler until the end. This album throws in arguably their best song just before the end. Something to aim for or perhaps the whole album has been building to this all along.

“The grand congregation” (track 9) opens with a suitably sinister sounding riff that leads to a pounding riff and soaring guitar solo. It’s a glorious summary of everything that has come before it. It closes with pounding guitars and drums, before descending into a thunderstorm and quietly fading to silence.

Conclusion

This album is a journey. I feel both exhilarated and exhausted at the end of it. It is dark, heavy, and brooding journey through themes of loss, abandonment, slavery and life beyond death.

At this point, I’m really searching hard for things to criticise. Some of the songs, in places, do feel quite samey and while Sedgwick’s clean vocals are a bit too operatic for my liking, that’s a minor criticism: they work, they fit the music and the songs brilliantly.

More of this please. Very much more of this. British metal is very much alive and… well, swallowing coffins, I guess.

Review score: 95%

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Toxic Holocaust—An Overdose of Death… (2008)

Toxic Holocaust—An Overdose of Death… (2008)

Toxic Holocaust—An Overdose of Death… (2008)

Details

Recorded 11 to 20 May 2008 by Jack Endino at the Soundhouse, Seattle, WA. Released on Relapse Records.

Encyclopedia Metallum  | Bandcamp | Facebook | Twitter

Band

  • Joel Grind—Vocals, guitar and bass
  • Donny Paycheck—Drums

Tracks

  1. Wild dogs
  2. Nuke the cross
  3. Endless armageddon
  4. Future shock
  5. War game
  6. In the name of science
  7. March from hell
  8. Gravelord
  9. War is hell
  10. The lord of the wasteland
  11. Feedback, blood, and distortion
  12. Death from above
  13. City of a million graves

Review

And the award for metal band logo that looks most like some kind of geometric shape jigsaw goes to… Toxic Holocaust, multi-instrumentalist Joel Grind’s speed/thrash/black metal outfit.

This is one of those albums that when I heard the first song my heart sank a little. Opening track “Wild dogs” isn’t entirely representative of the whole album. It has a bit of a raw, punk feel which contorts about halfway through into a fairly palatable early thrash-style riff.

But the rest of the album improves greatly. It has quite an old school thrash vibe to it, in the same way that Evile does. The more the album progressed the more I really began to get into it… riff after riff, twist after twist, classic 80s-style thrash with modern production.

Conclusion

If anything, in opinion this album could have done with a little editing, fewer tracks perhaps, to deliver a more consistent and focused album. As it is, it’s a pretty decent thrash album.

Review score: 88%

Stampin’ Ground—A New Darkness Upon Us (2003)

Stampin' Ground—A New Darkness upon Us (2003)

Stampin’ Ground—A New Darkness upon Us (2003)

Details

Produced, engineering, mixed and mastered by Andy Sneap. Recorded in the summer of 2003 at Backstage Productions, Derbyshire.

Encyclopaedia Metallum | Facebook

Band

  • Adam Frakes-Sime—Vocals
  • Scott Atkins—Guitar
  • Antony “Mobs” Mowbray—Guitar
  • Ian Glasper—Bass
  • Neil Hutton—Drums

Tracks

  1. A new darkness upon us (intro) (instrumental)
  2. Don’t need a reason to hate
  3. Behind the light
  4. Killer of society
  5. Dead from the neck up
  6. The cage
  7. Bear the scars
  8. Betrayal has a face
  9. Pain is weakness (leaving the body)
  10. Unmarked grave
  11. Ashes to scatter
  12. Mantra of a dying world (outro)

Review

I’m running hugely behind on reviews this autumn and for some reason I really thought  I had already written this review. Probably because I’ve listened to this album more than probably any other album I’ve reviewed during this project. It sat in my car CD player for weeks. Last.fm tells me that I’ve played 90 Stampin’ Ground tracks in the last 90 days; they are my fourth most-played band in the last six months.

This was one of those albums that hit a chord with me on my first play through. Stampin’ Ground from Cheltenham, Gloucestershire here in the UK play fusion of hardcore and thrash. Imagine Exodus, Slayer, Hatebreed and Biohazard forming a supergroup and you more or less have their sound down to a tee.

A New Darkness Upon Us (2003) is the band’s fourth, and to date, last full-length album. According to Encyclopaedia Metallum the band formed in 1995 then took a hiatus from 2006 until 2014 when they reformed. I’d definitely love to hear both their back catalogue and whatever they might release next.

Conclusion

Keeping with my tradition of writing really short reviews for the albums that I love most, I find myself writing the conclusion already.

This is an album I could listen to on repeat for days – and have done. While the album isn’t entirely perfect, I can’t but give it a full 10/10: the flaws just don’t seem important enough to quibble over. I can see me listening to this album for a long time yet.

It is discoveries like this one that makes me love this project and probably is why I am running behind on reviews (it’s currently early October): I just don’t want it to end.

Review score: 100%

Scythian—Suffering to the Conquered demo (2007)

Scythian—Suffering to the Conquered demo (2007)

Scythian—Suffering to the Conquered demo (2007)

Details

Recorded and mixed by S. Vrath at Pulse and NLE Studios between7 December 2006 and 7 May 2007.

Encyclopaedia Metallum | Bandcamp

Band

  • S. Vrath—Vocals and bass guitar
  • A. Satyruss—Guitars
  • J. C. Volgard—Drums and backing vocals

Tracks

  1. Astral assassins
  2. Shattered idols
  3. Pray to war
  4. Spires to ashes
  5. Suffering the conquered
  6. Holocaust (Bathory cover)

Review

England isn’t particularly renowned for its death metal bands. Scythian appear to have come to put a stop to all of that. And to be fair, given that this is only their demo (they have since been signed to a label) they did a pretty decent job of it.

On Encyclopaedia Metallum this release received two reviews, both gave it 100%. What did I think about it, well, a little history first, I think.

The Scythians were a nomadic tribe of Iranian Eurasians who dominated the central European steppes (from modern Czech Republic in the west to central China and south Siberia in the east) from around the 9th to the first centuries BC. They were amongst the earliest peoples to master mounted warfare.

As a demo this is an impressive release. The production is great, it doesn’t sound too tinny (which is my biggest criticism about many a metal album), there is a depth to the sound and enough bass to get a sense of how powerful they might sound live.

“Astral assassins” (track 1) opens with an eerie soundscape for 50 seconds before launching into a fabulous double-kick-drum-led riff. However, no sooner had I uttered the words “Oh… I like that” out loud, the band hit the Tasmanian Devil button and they upped the pace and went all-out thrash-style mental on the track. They bring the pace back to that opening riff about three and a half minutes in, and that’s where I think they are best and the heaviest. I like fast, thrashy music. But in those few moments they sound heavier and nastier than almost anything I’ve ever heard.

“Shattered idols” (track 2). Ah, good! They’ve been listening. It opens with a doom-like riff that chugs away at the bottom end, and then… no! They’ve done it again. Someone has flicked the switch from 33 to 45 rpm. For the majority of the song, however, they play around riff that grinds away like some kind of underground drill boring through granite.

And so the rest of the demo goes with Scythian morphing from thrashing moments of breakneck speed to ponderously heavy moments of doom-laden riff upon bouncing doom-laden riff. The music sounds like a fusion of death, thrash, black and doom metal. And for the most part it really works.

The final track is a cover of black metal Bathory‘s “Holocaust” (from their Blood Fire Death album, 1988). It has an authentic early thrash/black metal production to it, which is nice, with the bass levels rolled back a bit.

Conclusion

Overall, I enjoyed this. It doesn’t quite the spot for me but there are some brilliant moments that genuinely made me smile when I heard them for the first time. I’d certainly be interested to check out their newer material on Bandcamp.

Review score: 80%

Ramming Speed—Brainwreck (2008)

Ramming Speed—Brainwreck (2008)

Ramming Speed—Brainwreck (2008)

Details

Recorded onto 2 inch tape by Jordan Levantini (with assistance from Nick Wolf) at New Alliance. It was then dumped into Protools before being dumped back onto tape for mastering by Nick Zampiello at New Alliance East. Released on Teenage Disco Bloodbath Records in 2008.

Band

  • Pete “Za” Gallagher—Vocals
  • Kallen “Lock ’em up” Bliss—Guitars
  • Ricky “Ta Speed” Zampa—Guitars
  • Derek “The Bass Player” Cloonan—Bass
  • Jonah “The Laser Storm” Livingston—Drums

Tracks

  1. Speed trials
  2. The threat…
  3. Lazer assault
  4. All in all
  5. Shane Embury is the Brad Pitt of grindcore
  6. Bogus facade
  7. Sound the alarm
  8. Immigrant song
  9. Political party
  10. Man vs machine
  11. Arrested development
  12. A modern myth
  13. Heavy metal thunder

Review

From the moment I listened to the first track I knew that I’d like this album. To be honest, I had a sneaking suspicion before that when I read through the lyrics printed on the inside of the CD packaging. This is a band with both a sense of humour and a political opinion.

I first noticed the song “Immigrant song” and wondered if it was a cover of the Led Zeppelin classic. It’s not. But it’s brilliant: a commentary on how badly migrants are treated. It ends with “We’re so fickle with the arguments we choose / Many of our ancestors faced hardships when they arrived / So let our new immigrant amigos just live their lives”. Well said!

Something I noticed too when typing out the band members’ names. How upset must Derek Cloonan be to get such an unimaginative nickname?! We Pete “Za” Gallagher on vocals, Kallen “Lock ’em up” Bliss and Ricky “Ta Speed” Zampa on guitars, and Jonah “The Laser Storm” Livingston on drums. How on earth then did Derek Cloonan only get given the nickname “The Bass Player”? That’s about as creative as when Jason Newsted joined Voivod and inherited the moniker Jasonic.

Conclusion

This debut album from US thrash / crossover merchants Ramming Speed is really rather good. It has a very old school thrash/punk feel to it. Think Evile meets early Suicidal Tendencies.

This album will definitely be on my playlist throughout 2016.

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%

Endorphins—Where Evil Lies (2006)

Endorphins—Where Evil Lies (2006)

Endorphins—Where Evil Lies (2006)

Details

Recorded at Chemical Sound Studios in Toronto, Canada in July 2005. Produced by Ian Blurton. Engineered by Rudy Rempel and James Heiderbrecht with Dean Marino. Edited by Chuck Carvalho. Mixed by Church Carvalho and Michael Amaral.

Released on Urgent Music Records, 2006.

http://www.metal-archives.com/bands/Endorphins/6649

Band

  • Michael Amaral—Vocals and guitar
  • Mike Antunes—Guitar
  • Rob Amaral—Bass
  • Patrick Santos—Drums

Tracks

  1. Flux
  2. Welcome to my Hell
  3. And God sent suffering
  4. Diagram
  5. Haunting them
  6. 26 hours
  7. The rise and fall of Lord Hades
  8. Ex
  9. Taste of blood
  10. Living in the shadows

Review

Endorphins was a thrash/groove metal band from Toronto, Canada who split up in 2008, thirteen years after being formed, with one EP and this their first and last full-length album under their metal-studded belts.

You know they say you should never judge a book by its cover? I’m going to be honest and say that I judged this album by its and didn’t expect to like it. I’m not usually so critical about covers but I really didn’t like this one: the colours, the image, the font, even the band name. (I keep thinking it has something to do with dolphins.) Did I get out of bed the wrong side this morning?!

Biologically, endorphins (endogenous morphines) are brain chemicals known as neurotransmitters that are released during stress and pain to reduce our perception of pain and create feelings of euphoria; they act in a similar way to opiates such as morphine and codeine (which metabolises as morphine in the body).

So… which is it to be: pain or euphoria?

Well, as a gentle smack in the face to my design snobbery, it’s really not bad at all. I was pleasantly surprised. The production is solid, the four-piece are well balanced in the mix, the guitars have a full, meaty crunch with plenty of bass dialled in. The vocalist Michael Amaral has a throaty scream, but it’s controlled (like Lamb of God’s D. Randall Blythe) is it’s not just indiscriminate shouting.

Very often when I listen to a band I’ll think, “Oh, this is Godflesh meets Entombed with a sprinkling of Death” or something similar, to give me a ballpark of where it fits in the wide world of rock n’ roll. I’ve struggled to be so specific with this album. It definitely has elements of old school thrash (as well as new old-school thrash outfits like Evile) but with nu-metal and punk elements thrown in for good measure.

The open tracks “Flux” and “Welcome to my Hell” are fast-paced, get-your-blood pumping songs that really make an impact. The latter even features female vocals (courtesy of Jennifer McInnis) which brings an almost ethereal, European dynamic to it.

I’m really impressed with the songwriting on this album. The riffs are different enough to keep things interesting, and the songs are short enough to keep my attention. It’s such a shame that Endorphins split. I’d really like to have heard where this progressed to: the difficult second album.

Just over half way through the pace changes and “26 hours” (track 6) opens with what sounds like an FM radio, before a rolling clean riff and drum pattern fades in and we’re treated to something more atmospheric, more experimental. It’s more rock than metal but I really like it. It reminds me of Inverness, instrumental prog band Shutter meets Pantera’s cover of “Planet caravan”.

Interlude over. Back to the face-ripping metal. The album plays out pretty much as it began: interesting riffs, foot-to-the-floor thrashing.

Except that—and this is my first major criticism of this album—”26 hours” has a profound impact on the album. It changes the pace and feel. It’s like being gently lulled into a state of relaxation only to have a bucket of ice-cold water poured onto you as you lounge on the sofa! If anything, “26 hours” is an album closer.

Placing that track at 6/10 makes this album feel too long. And it’s not: it’s only 12 seconds shy of 45 minutes. It would even fit on one side of a C90 cassette, that’s how old school it is!

I had a similar experience with Mastodon—The Hunter (2011) when I argued that track 3 “Blasteroid” was in the wrong place. It’s funny how your perception of how balanced an album is can be thrown by even just one track.

Conclusion

I’m sorry Endorphins split, they certainly showed spirit, courage and promise. I guess that 13 years was maybe long enough for them to keep plugging away with ‘only’ an EP and a LP to show for it. But then, you never know what their goals and ambitions were.

Whatever the truth, their legacy is a solid metal album (with a rather dodgy cover).

Review score: 70%