SHORT REVIEWS Our twelfth edition of Short Reviews for 2023 finds us inching toward the end of the month with a set of releases coming up on the 24th, most all of these are very high quality or exist within a great tradition. 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
Danish death metal quartet Hyperdontia must’ve been listening to a ton of death-thrash and ‘Human Waste‘-era Suffocation while putting this latest 12″ mLP together because ‘Deranged‘ manages to be some of their most charged, riff-choked chunks of wrathful ‘old school’ brutality to date. Though I wouldn’t say Slayer-esque guitar progressions weren’t ever on the table within their sound in the past this is an especially stoked nod to the late 80’s rhythmic strike of death metal and how it’d spread beyond Florida, at least that is how it’d hit me from the first listen. The only reason I didn’t end up doing a longform review for this one is because I’d only gotten it a few days ago and I’d wanted to include it this week to get the word out while the iron is still hot. At this point these guys are quickly becoming one of my favorites in general as they continue to release insanely high quality records which have all the right moves, or, riffs. I’ve seen a shit-ton of Riddick drawings in my day and this cover art is one of my favorites for how well the scene rides with their logo and fits the raw, thrashing attack of this record.
This impressive and now prolific German black metal band comprised of folks from Mavorim, Asenheim and Slagmark present their work as proudly vulgar hate music but that doesn’t mean they’re not having a great time making it. There is a thrashing, punkish, heavily melodic bierhaus-sized exuberance to their greater celebration here on their third full-length album and I’ve found it hard to step away from per the sheer variety of sounds they’ve turned up, the catchiness of each piece and the wry grandeur of their work which only becomes more curiously endearing with each release. Eisenkult had already revealed their hand as folks with a knack for anthemic and catchy black metal pieces rooted in the second wave on previous releases but this album particularly stretches outside of those boundaries for the sake of each song being as big, dramatic and memorable as possible. The use of keyboards here always comes inspired, even if it’ll read as campiness at first they’ve always planned somewhere interesting to go with each piece and this makes a somewhat long black metal record worth every second of every spin. Even if I couldn’t find the words for a longform review this’ll more than likely end up among the best of March as I’ve logged at least ~30 listens of it in just a short while.
Tokyo, Japan-based beatdown death/doom metal crew Kruelty continue to stand an inch taller than most in the lingering headspace occupied by extreme metallic hardcore which focuses on plain and simple death metal sound design. While the sub-genre combination continues to be an effective crossover in a live setting it begins to sour into a drying trope on record as it becomes clear many songwriters are not all that invested in either post-’95 metallic hardcore or classic death metal enough to bend those ideals at will. Anyhow, I say this because I think Kruelty have a stronger understanding of beatdown, however streamlined it is, which lends something extra to ‘Untopia‘ by way of sound design and a few well-placed breakdowns. This time around I felt like they’d gotten the drum sound just right, could always use more ping though, though they’ve only begun to chip their way outside of the box in terms of the death/doom influenced side of things with the title track and “Maze of Suffering” feeling like some new ideas showcased. Of course the average fan will just have a good time with these grooves and breakdowns and the appeal of this stuff is straightforward as it should be.
The 1990’s post-thrash metal reality produced a whole new generation of slow and slovenly riffcraft, the skies darkened before us, and somehow the true Hell on Earth revealed itself as a reality where the best selling stuff at the time was indisputably “melodeath-thrashers” basically folks who’d sparked up listening to early Pantera and made its biggest waves during the wane in popularity melodic death metal experienced when In Flames went alternative metal. It was an easy formula: Groove metal + simplified melodic death riffs with maybe some death n’ roll in the periphery for some. At the time, as a teen, the maddening thing was that a whole generation of young folks were calling The Haunted, Dew-Scented, and Carnal Forge “death thrash” metal bands and generally interrupting the legacy of the good stuff with screamy groove metal. Outside of the expected en masse nostalgia that style hasn’t been all that enduring because even the best bands were so prolific and unflinchingly repetitive with their craft that the possibilities suffered an exhaustion beyond the mid-2000’s. You can throw the lesser-known Danish quintet HateSphere in with that crowd and if you’re not familiar already, they’re now on their 11th full-length and haven’t evolved too considerably over the years. ‘Hatred Reborn‘ isn’t a comeback album though it has been about five years since we’ve heard from them. The core appeal of the band is all here despite constantly changing line-ups over the years and even if I’d found it old hat there is no denying that their main songwriter has a knack for catchier grooves, speedier half-thrash songs, and just enough melodic death in there to keep their whole gig from greying itself out. The production values are fine enough and the song memorable enough that it should be a relatively harmless, somewhat memorable listen for folks interested in this style.
Vancouver, British Colombia-based heavy metal quintet Gatekeeper make such an entrance, such a grand first impression on this second full-length album with the inspired music video for the opener/title track (“From Western Shores“) that it sets expectations which don’t entirely match up with the, eh, just alright modern power/heavy metal record that it ends up being. Don’t get me wrong here Jeff Black‘s vision for the band once again meets a higher standard than prior in terms of production values, lyrics, and an altogether more professional result yet I cannot help but be stuck on the replacement of vocalist Jean-Pierre Abboud who’d been a signature that’d drawn me in to their gig. This new fellow Tyler Anderson (Odinfist) isn’t half bad, quite the silken tone a la Visigoth, yet his arrive brings quite a strong change to the vocal cadence and melodic focus of Gatekeeper and to the point that I’m not sure I recognized the signature of the band up front. There are some strong power metal swings here, though, such as the satisfyingly interruptive and tuneful “Twisted Towers” and the charge-out of closer “Keepers of the Gate”. The rest of the album just didn’t stick with me and always felt like it was missing a more directorial edge, a bit more conviction.
Finnish septet Hanging Garden have been around just under two decades having managed eight full-lengths in a gothic doom and melodic death metal inspired style which has evolved with the times generally speaking. ‘The Garden‘ finds the band shifting between more ethereal uplift and stagnant miseries from song to song, a bit of an all over the place style of gothic metal which I have very little patience for in general. I don’t find the trio of vocal styles harmonize well most of the time but the control and softer register of Riikka Hatakka ends up carrying the first third of the album at its most profound. “The Journey” seems to find the right thread and “The Fireside” fully finds a captivating moment to nestle within but at some point the hooks and the greater drama of each piece began to feel formulaic or at least repetitive in its melodic language for my taste.
Woe Unto Me is a Belarusian sextet who’ve been at it since 2007, having now released three full-lengths in a style which progressed from funeral doom metal to an atmospheric melodic death/doom metal influenced sound which has now given way to a Katatonia inspired progressive metal direction several years later. ‘Along the Meandering Ordeals, Reshape the Pivot of Harmony‘ is certainly ambitious within each of the five ~13 minute pieces here but each generally capitalizes upon one sweet spot and wrings it of its worth, holding the ear captive for their duration. The band do a fine job of keeping some compelling next piece of the puzzle on the tip of their tongue and thus it still reads as funeral doom influenced for the ever-lingering possibilities which build throughout. The major highlights here for my taste were “The Great Waste of Withered Pipedreams” for its desolate feeling atmosphere and “Mired Down in the Innermost Thicket” for its earlier November’s Doom feeling movement and vocal style.
Turin, Italy-based noise rock/post-hardcore duo The Turn Horse are finally back with a follow-up beyond their tentative 2018 mLP and this time around they’ve got a load of actual noise to scrabble in your face alongside a fully reconsidered approach to sludged-at noise rock. Harsh feedback loops, scraping thunder, and some impressive variety of noisome experiments gild every transitional moment of ‘Unsavory Impurities‘, keeping the listener on their toes and far from the usual associations. You can still find a bit of the late 80’s/early 90’s distraught anti-rock fuel in their tanks but that isn’t where they stand out, but rather the psychedelic swerve they’ve set into their odd-metered steps along the way which create an unusual, certainly unique form of post-hardcore hustle. This’ll have to be the sort of album that needs to stew on the brain for a while, to sink in beyond the nausea created by sequencer blips, crying babies, and various harsh noise vignettes ’til the guitar driven songs have a chance to stick out just as much. Unsane, John Zorn and earlier Today is the Day come to mind along the way.
Hellcrash are a very straightforward ‘old school’ black/speed metal band out of Italy and this second full-length album confirms they’ve a somewhat punkish side to their gig, likely to impress fans of NWOBHM era dark lords like Warfare and their countrymen Bulldozer but not likely to surprise anyone geared into this ages-old tradition. This is not the most memorable record I’ve heard in this style and the recording quality is demo-level at best so the only rationalization for the higher score here comes from it being a fairly memorable listen. The riffing never quite stacks up otherwise I’d be an easier mark for this type of thing. Otherwise there really isn’t a big conversation to have around this type of album, they just hit the black/speed metal note and push on with it. Note: Apologies for censoring the cover image, it was for the sake of YouTube policies and not this site.
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