Fu Manchu-Clone of the Universe

It’s 2018 and we have a Fu Manchu sighting!  Damn, these guys.  These guys just keep on chuggin’, don’t they?

For some reason, Fu Manchu reminds me of Thin Lizzy.  Thin Lizzy always had this really warm and friendly guitar tone that just put a smile on my face.  I always got positive vibes whenever I’d hear one of their tracks.  I get the same exact vibe from Fu Manchu.  I think it’s just that fuzzy stoner bliss that comes through their guitar and bass sounds.

This record is exactly what you’d think it would be.  You’ve got six fairly straight-forward stoner rips that lead up to something monumental at the end of the album.  The last track on the album is an 18 minute epic entitled Il Mostro Atomico.  This track will end up being one of the more memorable jams to come out this year.  It just builds and builds and is jammed packed full of tasty stoner riffs.  Plus, they somehow managed to finagle Alex Lifeson of Rush to play on this song.  Just an awesome, awesome song.

4 flip flops out of 5

Saxon-Thunderbolt

Well, lookee here!  A brand spanking new Saxon album.  Let’s break out the checklist to see if everything is in order.

1. Songs about rockin’:  Check.  (They Played Rock and Roll (Motorhead tribute))
2. Songs about fast cars/motorcycles:  Check.  (Speed Merchants)
3. Songs about battles/dying in glory:  Check.  (Sons of Odin and Sniper)
4. Songs about the brotherhood of metal: Check.  (Roadies’ Song)
5. Songs about events in history:  Check.  (The Secret of Flight)
6. Songs about mythological gods:  Check.  (Thunderbolt)
7. Songs about fantasy/horror:  Check.  (Nosferatu and Wizard’s Tale)

Yep.  Textbook Saxon album

I kid of course.  I fucking love Saxon.  They are one of those quintessential metal bands.  They are one of the originals of the NWOBHM and if they have a bit of a familiar pattern nearly 40 years into the game, so be it.  What they may lack in breaking new ground, they more than make up for it by shooting pure professional no-nonsense metal straight into your veins.  Thunderbolt is just vintage Saxon.  Crunchy guitars.  Bombastic drums.  Biff and his trademark nasally wails and bellows.  They even work in a duet with Biff and Amon Amarth’s Johan Hegg which is absolutely perfect.

Go see these guys when they open up for Judas Priest when the two British legends tour the States during the Spring.  It’s going to be a blast of classic metal done proper.

4 flip flops out of 5

Howling Sycamore-Howling Sycamore

I mean this in the most positive manner as possible, but this is one seriously schizophrenic album.  This debut album seems to take elements of power metal, blackened death metal and jazz and combines them in a manner that actually works quite well.

I’m not entirely sure that you can fully characterize Howling Sycamore as a proper band.  It seems more like the brain child of former Ephel Duath guitarist, Davide Tiso, and he has enlisted admired musicians to flush out this chaotic musical vision.  You’ve got ex-Necrophagist drummer, Hannes Grossmann, Gorguts/Dysrhythmia guitarist Kevin Hufnagel and Yakuza sax man, Bruce Lamont all playing on this thing.  So, the lineup is fairly formidable.  The most interesting choice of personnel is having ex-Watchtower and Dangerous Toys vocalist Jason McMaster on the mic.  Everything about this project just screams death metal vocals.  Instead, you’ve got McMaster providing some downright soaring classical heavy metal vocals overtop of the musical madness.  I was skeptical at first (I mean, this is a long way from Teas’n Pleas’n and Sportin’ a Woody), but dammit, he really nails it.  The whole thing is just so out of left field that it really struck a nerve with me.  I kept being reminded throughout of the post-Death Chuck Schuldiner project, Control Denied.  Howling Sycamore has the same progressive death metal sound with clean soaring vocals that I think Schuldiner was ultimately going for in his post-Death career.  I haven’t come across any band that comes close to the same sound as that lone Control Denied album.  I think we have finally found a worthy successor in Howling Sycamore.

4 flip flops out of 5

Tribulation-Down Below

So, I might be off base here, but this is the sense that I get when I see/hear Tribulation.  If you took the New York Dolls and made them a little more gothic instead of the street shabby chic glam look they had and they played a stripped down punk-flavored version of occult-rocking death metal, you’d pretty much sum up Tribulation in a nutshell.  Hell, the first time I saw them play live, I could have sworn that guitarist Jonathan Hultan was channeling a dark version of Stevie Nicks.  A little androgyny and death metal are a weird mixture, but these guys manage to pull it off.  Once again, here’s another band trying to put the traditional metal norms on its collective head.

These guys started making a name for themselves with their previous release, Children of the Night, which ended up on quite a few best-of lists for the year of 2015.  They hit some prime opening spots during the touring cycle for that album (Abbath and Ghost) and it really felt like this was a young band with a bright future ahead.  Which means that this new release is an important album for them.  After a couple of listens, I have to say that I’m not entirely sure that they knocked it out of the park.  The album is not bad by any stretch, but it doesn’t quite live up to the old school rocker vibe of the previous release.  All in all, the songs just don’t crackle.  It all feels just a little staid.  A little too by-the-numbers.  Maybe it’s just how it was recorded.  These songs may come alive more in a live setting than in the studio.

3.5 flip flops out of 5

Orphaned Land-Unsung Prophets & Dead Messiahs

Orphaned Land is a metal band from Israel.  The main focus of this band has been the downright kooky idea of unifying people of Jewish, Muslim and Christian faiths.  Yeah, that’s right.  A metal band with a goal of peace in the Middle East.  Suck on that, Jared Kushner.  Next time someone tells you that metalheads are just a bunch of devil-worshiping troglodytes, you tell ’em to stick Orphaned Land in their pipe and smoke ’em.  I’m not really sure what that means, but you get the picture.

Musically, you’ve got a mixture of traditional and death metal combined with traditional Middle-Eastern instruments and melodies.  I love metal bands that come from non-traditional locales because they general bring some of their local flavor to the traditional tropes of metal and they create something wholly unique.  Lyrically, the songs are fairly ambitious.  The current album is an allegorical tale that cautions one against sitting on the sidelines when confronted with injustice and authoritarian regimes.  So, you know, topical if you happen to live on Earth.  I don’t think the new album quite lives up to Orphaned Land’s epic The Never Ending Way of the ORWarriOR, but it is definitely a stronger effort than their last release, All Is One.  Added bonus on the album of notable guest spots by Blind Guardian’s Hansi Kursch, At the Gates’ Tomas Lindberg and Genesis guitarist Steve Hackett.

3.5 flip flops out of 5

 

Agrimonia-Awaken

Crusty.  This seems to be the keyword for everything I ever read about this band.  I’m not really sure where it started, but somehow it just managed to stick to this band.  Sure, they’re a little rough around the edges, but I’m not really sure “crusty” is the right descriptor for this band.

I stumbled upon these guys a few years ago when they released their second full-length, Rites of Separation.  To me, that album was a loud announcement that an ambitious and forward-thinking death metal band had arrived.  It was just full of inventive and hard-driving riffs.  And then, silence.  It just seemed as if these guys appeared and then dissipated back into the mist from which they mysteriously appeared.  Oh, so happy was I when I saw their name pop back up on the release calendar.

So, how’d they do upon their long-awaited return?  Damn close to five years of gestation for these songs, I had to expect that these would be some well-crafted epics.  You’ve got five proper songs with one additional instrumental interlude.  My first pass on the album left me with an overall impression of “Hmmmm.  Good, but not entirely blown away.”  On my second pass, the nuance of the songs really started to come out.  This is a very dense beast and it’s still going to take some time to fully come to terms with it.  Ultimately, this is a band to reckon with.  There’s not much flash to their game.  I think a better descriptor than “crusty” would be “earthy”.  There’s just something organic about their sound.  I have a feeling that by the end of the year that this album will just continue to rise in terms of its lasting impact.

4 flip flops out of 5