SHORT REVIEWS Our tenth edition of Short Reviews for 2023 finds us still stuck on the first week of March’s new releases and touching upon black/death metal, various forms of thrash, grind, and some interesting heavy rock variations. I’ve done my best to showcase the most interesting works that I come across while still presenting some decent variety here but choices boil down to what sticks, what inspires or what is worth writing about. These are more easygoing than longform reviews, so relax and think for yourself — If you find something you dig go tell the band on social media and support them with a purchase! If you’d like your music reviewed, read the FAQ and send promos to: firstname.lastname@example.org
Bordeaux, France-based technical death metal band Gorod arrived onto the then exploding European technical death metal scene back in 2004 under their previous name, Gorgasm, and quickly became one of the big “it” bands from the earlier Willowtip Records stable thanks to ‘Neurotripsicks‘, a record that set their vision in good company next to favorites Spawn of Possession and the more persistent Psycroptic. This tends to be the era I associate the band with most often for the sake of a time when tech and progressive death metal wasn’t yet a machine-learned, saturated thought which’d still allowed for tics, unusual ideas and a bit of personality that wasn’t reserved to the prog-deathcore showtunes of today. The band may be very well conscious of this association as they’ve never been entirely shy about cutting back to the root of their gig with a new, wizened set of tools. This was the case with ‘Æthra‘ back in 2018 and seemed to be the general first impression as I settled into this independently released seventh full-length. This one is a bit different though, far more laid back than Gorod have ever been but no less inspired.
‘The Orb‘ was introduced by its title track, “The Orb“, which is perhaps the catchiest bit of alt-metal they’ve ever attempted, more than a hint of change persists in the air thought this pieces is not necessarily a full indication of what the bulk of the album sounds like. Still, the listening experience generally does move in the direction implied, a sort of early 2010’s transitional Gojira-esque feeling which is not far outside of their wheelhouse based on more recent material. This more-or-less opens the floodgates for a very accessible prog-death record as we touch upon “Savitri” and “Waltz of Shades” which will undoubtedly feel far too commercial metal in style for the old guard of tech death who might still recognize the Gorod name. If you do make it to the end of the album, yes, that is a cover of The Doors‘ “Strange Days” and despite how stiff and strange their interpretation is, I’d appreciated it. If anything it left me wondering why they’ve not incorporated more keyboards into their gig elsewhere. All things considered I don’t believe ‘The Orb‘ manages to make any too outrageous choices within its foil and won’t ultimately land a “love it or hate it” response from already attentive fans. Just don’t go in expecting them to be stuck on what they were doing two decades ago.
Denver, Colorado-based melodic death meets black/thrash quartet Necropanther continue their thread of niche cinema themed full-lengths with a concept based on The Warriors for this third entry. They’ve not rocked the boat too hard beyond ‘The Doomed City‘ (2019) in terms of aesthetic, sound design, and style though we do find the final result less abrasive in render with the still quite loud (and even more varied) vocals tamed to allow more room for a strong bass guitar tone and plenty guitar detail. Fans of Skeletonwitch and Revocation will quickly appreciate the style of this band for the melodic black/death approach which is still rooted in the commanding wallop of post-2000’s thrash (per the ex-Havok rhythm section) but I continue to appreciate their conglomerated vision as a modern form of melodic death metal prone to rethink the classic approach to guitar harmonies and switch up their riffs between percussive stomp ’til more involved run-based phrases. There is a satisfying, certainly over the top technical flair here which continues to characterize their work yet it takes a while to start cracking into sounds and ideas we’ve not heard before in their previous work, in this sense ‘Betrayal‘ feels inspired yet iterative. Though it took about 4-5 runs to sink in beyond the excitable noise of it all hitting at once I’d felt like this record successfully learned from and boosted beyond the already impressive standard of their third full-length. It is well worth noting this is yet another impressive independent band who’ve put in the work for a professional result with all angles considered — fine/stylized artwork, high production values, etc. while still doing exactly their own thing.
Phantom Fire are a Norwegian black/speed metal band who’ve managed their own unique creative streak between an inspired first single and now two full-length albums. Much like its successor ‘Eminente Lucifer Libertad‘ is a fast burning event rooted in 80’s black metal, daemonic speed metal and this time around a few hits of traditional heavy metal swagger (“Derive From Ash”) which give it a black n’ thrash n’ roll feeling at times. Unpredictable, off-kilter, and pocked with far too many interludes this time around the main duo (plus session work from Enslaved‘s Iver Sandøy) have a devil may care attitude about most of these shorter, more bruising works though there are some obvious standout moments. “De Taptes Dans” fumes with psychotic black metal energy, “Bloodshed” and “Ritual” set up Side A with plenty of mayhemic intent by way of cutting riffs and “Mara” is maybe the last gasp before the record phases itself out. The only real complaint here is that a few big pieces are just there to fill space, “Satanic Messenger” and “Pentagram” are interesting enough and had me thinking I’d accidentally switched over the another record to start but they’d felt entirely skippable per my taste after a few full spins through the record. The overall effect is memorable even if by some strange and ugly means, an “fun” and interesting approach to black/heavy metal ideals either way.
Athens, Greece-based sextet Ocean of Grief offer an entirely classic example of lead-driven melodic death/doom metal on this second full-length. An imposing, sometimes claustrophobia inducing production value is successfully de-weighted by soaring leads and the use of present yet distant keyboards for an effect which feels heavily influenced by the mid-2000’s era of this sound, minus the progressive leanings of the time. ‘Pale Existence‘ definitely has a bit of Saturnus and Draconian in its blood but doesn’t really delve into the gothic spectrum in the way that those bands did at their best, instead the steady semi-melodic death metal feeling of the band carries my interest as a persistent mood without vestigial interruption. The only detractor here is that the leads don’t always direct these ~6-7 minute pieces in any certain direction, meandering one moment (“Imprisoned Between Worlds”) and leading successfully the next (“Cryptic Constellations”). Though I am not sure this is a release that will stand out too heartily in the average listeners ear it will read as a perfect ratio of sombre moods, heaviness and lead guitar interest for the die-hard melodic death/doom metal fandom. Highlights: “Pale Wisdom”, “Poetry For the Dead”.
Though Plague Bearer initially consisted of the original line-up of death metal band Drawn and Quartered this bestial black/death group appears to have eventually became the name for a side project which featured pieces that weren’t the right fit for their other band, this record includes ex-Abazagorath vocalist Nihilist. Their style is essentially early 90’s black/death metal with an emphasis on the semi-melodic shaping of black metal riffcraft, something like Lethal Prayer or maybe Prosanctus Inferi. You’ll definitely recognize some of these songs if you’ve picked up any of their demo compilations in the past, otherwise the general muscle memory for their other group is very much there on certain pieces. The string of heavy metal leads on “Under One Sign” stand out alongside some of the more melodic riffing on “Churches are in Flames” and “In Satan’s Name” should be expected highlights if you are familiar with their 2001 and 2008 demos. Maybe I am too familiar with these songs or had been expecting something a bit more abrupt but this one didn’t stick with me from the start. Nonetheless the full listen manages some interesting riffs, I’d felt it all landed a bit sleepy beyond the much more awake accost of the vocals. Good stuff, and I’m glad they made good on a lot of their best songs, but not a great record.
Nuclear Holocaust are an entirely straightforward ‘old school’ grindcore band out of southeast Poland in the spirit of the late 80’s/early 90’s US grindcore thanks to prominent thrashcore and death metal influences. This third full-length maintains a sparse recording, focused on the thrash/hardcore guitar sound and a distant presence beyond occasionally doubled growls of the vocalist. This adds to a classic approach unhindered by the later 90’s amping of production values in the grindcore space which still feels punkish, disturbed, aggressive and naïve in a good way. The only catch is that none of it is all that memorable or varied as we cut through ~25 minutes of single-minded beatings. “The One Above the Mankind” takes a late 80’s hardcore hit and they hit a few blasts around “Like Lambs to the Slaughter” but these guys have aimed for the laser focus of the most classic stuff and the result will likely only get a rise out of classicists looking for the old ways. Nothing I’d flip my shit over but I will definitely keep listening.
Mur.Doc 104 is a Malta-based thrash metal quartet quintet who take most of their influence from the Bay Area thrash metal headspace of the 80’s. Vocalist Luke does a fine job matching a sort of ‘Impact is Imminent‘-era Exodus cadence meets a hint of Bobby Blitz‘ register which fits the more groove oriented riff style of the band as a strong point of personality. These four songs showcase a strong enough standard of production though they’re all a bit mid-paced for my taste. Likewise the first impression is strange since the name of the band doesn’t make much sense and I’m not a fan of the album art. A familiar sound, some wild narration, and entertaining enough pieces here but I’d like to see what they could do with the speed cranked a bit.
Perception, communication and human absurdity factor into the growing pool of themes which Potsdam, Germany-based progressive rock quartet Kaskadeur bring to their ~second full-length. Active for quite some time as Stonehenge but now two albums deep into this freshly rebranded entity we find their efforts still built upon stoney rhythms and eclectic rock but now much more focused on a modern-yet-ancient feeling prog rock exuberance. Think along the lines of Wobbler to start but with some math rock quickness, jazz fusion influences, bluesier breaks and a general sense of overactive minds detailing each of these pieces. Most readers will not have any particular interest in this style but I think folks could easily be won over by songs like “Join the Cult” and “All Comes From Nothing” if there is any interest in modern/eclectic progressive rock. Bonus points for the album art looking like a bundle of melted pink dildoes.
Brackwasser Knipp is a Berlin, Germany based noise rock/sludge solo project from A. Donnermann who continues to play with a sort of Melvins meets math rock bent, bringing to mind the early era of bands like Helmet and Tad thanks to stabs at guitar feedback and layered-but-blunt shouted vocals. All of it plods along at similar pace dominated by a big distorted bass guitar tone and plenty of shouting and this’d allowed for the drone of it all to reek of frustration and sink into its gloomed-out rhythms. The record goes places which should appeal to early sludge metal fans but I figure most won’t get that deep into it due to the bland aesthetic and singular bass-driven voice of the rhythms. Highlights: “Shaolin Mensch”, “Inkognitiv”.
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