Belphegor-Totenritual

Real metal music is always going to have dark undertones.  It’s part of the appeal.  It makes the whole enterprise a little risqué.  Black metal takes these dark undertones to the extreme in both imagery and lyrical content.  There’s kind of a dividing line between the black metal bands into two camps.  One hand side you have bands like Ghost, who are more of a tongue-in-cheek campy embrace of the dark side while mocking the stuffiness and hypocrisy of organized religion.  It’s more of a Vegas-style show than anything approaching real evil.

On the other hand, you’ve got bands like Belphegor.  These guys are not fucking around and are honestly a tad scary.  In addition to being into all things Satanic and blasphemous, these dudes hail from Austria.  I’ve always kind of viewed Austria as a more rigid version of Germany.  I just can’t really picture these guys in this band ever smiling or laughing.  Do they ever have fun?  Do they frolic with puppies?  Do they go to the park on a sunny day for a picnic or to fly a kite?  Do they secretly binge watch seasons of Grey’s Anatomy and swoon over McDreamy when they aren’t on tour?  I’d like to think that they do, but, shit, I don’t know.  They may just be this grim all the time.

So, seeing as though these guys are scary as shit and listening to one of their albums pretty much reserves a spot for yourself in one of the lower rings of hell, why should you give their new album a chance?  Well, it’s pretty damn good, that’s why.  Is it worth spending the afterlife in eternal hellfire?  Probably not, but it’s still a solid black metal album.  The normal Belphegor sound is your traditional black metal with blast beats all over the place and Helmuth’s anguished screeches and wails overtop.  This time around, it seems as though Helmuth and his minions decided to pull back on the reigns of the sonic chaos a bit.  The latter half of the album has a decidedly slower pace which actually results in the songs sounding a bit heavier than normal.  It was a really nice decision and direction for the band.  I really think that this new album may open them up to a little wider audience.  I mean, they aren’t going to be booked on the Jimmy Kimmel show anytime soon, but I think this album ends up being their biggest seller to date.

3.5 flip flops out of 5

Nervecell-Past, Present…Torture

One of the cooler aspects of metal is the global reach it has gained over the years.  Let’s face it:  along with it being the most awesome musical style ever conceptualized, it is also about community.  There is something about this music that touches people of all different kinds of cultures, backgrounds, religions, etc. and brings us all together in celebration of heavy riffs and black t-shirts.  It is with this thought that I bring you today’s review of a band from Dubai called Nervecell.  Yeah, Dubai!!  How awesome is that?  Heart of the Middle Eastern desert and these guys are blasting some serious death metal.  I love it!  Heavy Metal:  bringing people together since 1969.  Kumbaya, bitches!

Much like some of the other metal bands to come out of the Middle East (Melechesh and Orphaned Land come to mind), these guys let their Middle Eastern musical heritage blend into the metal that they create.  This is my first exposure to Nervecell and upon the first couple of spins of this new album I am seeing them as a less brutal (or br00tal, if you will) version of Nile.  In contrast to Nile, they have slowed things down a bit and aim to bring a little more groove to the proceedings.  There’s not a whole lot of variety among the tracks presented.  It seems these guys are about creating a pounding riff and just following it to its straightforward end.  It’s a nice solid album even though it’s not really breaking any new ground.

3 flip flops out of 5

Overkill, Crowbar, Havok and Black Fast at Come and Take It Live, Austin, TX, 9/19/2017

The Wrecking Crew.  They’ll wreck your necks, indeed.

Even if a great majority of the population of our country doesn’t even know who these guys exist, Overkill are a goddamn national treasure.  There hasn’t been a metal band going over the past 30 years that puts this amount of energy and animation into a live performance.  Vocalist Bobby “Blitz” Ellsworth is firmly in the category of truly legendary frontmen in metal.  His vocal delivery is not of a Dickinsonian or Halford-esque level, but the stage presence he brings to every show is irrepressible.  From the wide array of hand gestures and poses to the ever-present mischievous cackle to the wise-ass New Jersey brand of sass and “fuck you” attitude, Ellsworth is the ultimate lovable heavy metal scamp.  This version of the band is also simply a machine.  You’ve got longtime bassist, DD Verni, holding down the foundation with guitarist Dave Linsk and Derek Tailer supplying a blistering amount of thrash riffs overtop.  The addition of new drummer Jason Bittner has added a bit of new thunder to the sound as well.  The set list was a fairly even blending of newer material off the past few albums with classics such as Rotten To the Core, I Hate, Hello From the Gutter, Horrorscope and Elimination.  Go see these guys if you haven’t before.  I guarantee a good time will be had.

Supporting the Mean, Green Killing Machine was New Orleans sludgelords, Crowbar, up-and-coming thrash outfit from Denver, Havok, and a thrash/speed band out of St. Louis, Black Fast.

Crowbar are another of these bands that are just an institution at this point.  Thick and meaty Sabbathian riffs provided a nice counter balance to speed of the other thrash bands on the bill.  Ever since Kirk Windstein dropped out of Down to refocus full-time on Crowbar, they have been very consistent in delivering top-notch sludge metal.  This evening was everything that you would expect out of an abbreviated set.

Havok is definitely a band of the upswing in the metal world as evidenced by the raucous reaction the crowd gave these dudes.  Maybe I’m having a get off my lawn moment and showing my age a bit, but I still think these guys have some ripening to do.  There is definitely talent in this band, but their sound still feel a bit too derivative of past bands.  I keep hearing Bonded by Blood by Exodus playing in my head whenever I hear Havok play.  It just feels like we’ve heard these songs before.  Keep plugging, guys.  I think you’ve got monumental potential.

Overkill-Rotten To the Core

Overkill-Wrecking Crew

Overkill-Ironbound

Crowbar-Walk With Knowledge Wisely

Havok-Unnatural Selection

Mogwai-Every Country’s Sun

The first time I heard of Mogwai I though to myself, “Aw, that’s cute.  Someone named their band after that little kid from Jungle Book.”  I think it was years until I realized that it was Mogwai and not Mowgli.  Sometimes I ain’t too swift on the uptick.  Whatever.  Mogwai/Mowgli; to-MAY-to/to-MAH-to.  And yes, I do know that Mogwai is the little fur ball from Gremlins

Anyway, I digress. I’ve been kind of a fan from afar of these guys.  They are a nice listen when you’re in a somewhat introspective chill sort of mood.  Cool instrumentations and a spacey/spooky vibe is generally what you can expect out of these Scottish lads.

The new album doesn’t really provide any surprises.  It’s solid.  Not great, but solid.  The sound is more in the vein of a post-pop rock sort of vein.  I was kind of hoping for some more goosebump-type moments than I received.  Anyway, if you’re a fan of this band, you’re probably going to enjoy it just fine.  That’s really about all I have to say here.

Oh, and Mogwai is Cantonese for evil spirit.  I Wikipedia’d that shit.

3 flip flops out of 5

Arch Enemy-Will To Power

So, we’ve got album number two in the era of Alyssa White-Gluz as frontwoman and first album with guitar hero Jeff Loomis in the fold for the long-standing melodic death metal institution, Arch Enemy.  When White-Gluz first came on as vocalist, I was pretty excited about it because she had a really nice track record during her years with The Agonist.  She has as powerful a death growl as any dude in the game.  However, I really found War Eternal, the first album Arch Enemy put out with her on the mic, to be very lackluster.  It was just a paint-by-numbers affair and just didn’t seem very inspired musically.  So, it was with somewhat subdued expectations that I approached the newest release.

My expectation levels dropped even further when I read an interview with lead songwriter, Michael Arnott, that said that Jeff Loomis did not contribute any songwriting to the new album and that he only contributed guitar solos.  Loomis has been a long time favorite of mine from his days in Nevermore and I had really hoped to see what a full Arnott/Loomis collaboration would look like.  I was really disappointed to hear that Loomis was going to be nothing more than a hired gun during the creative process.

Well, I’m starting to wonder how much of a part my expectation levels end up playing on my final impressions of an album after listening to it a few times.  As outlined, my expectations on this one were pretty low.  And, after giving it a fair shake, I can say that I am pleasantly surprised with the outcome.

You’ve got a solidly written and professionally executed slab of infectious death metal tunes that really have an inspirational tone throughout most of the songs.  This positive outlook is honestly kind of refreshing for a death metal band.  You’ve got quite a few anthems about empowerment and staying true to one’s nature in light of outside pressures.  I have a feeling that a lot of the lyrical content comes from White-Gluz’s experiences in establishing herself as a frontwoman in a field of music that has traditionally be the realm of men.  Musically, Arnott has stepped up his game in a very large manner.  Whereas War Eternal felt generic and dated, Will To Power has some very inventive and infectious riffs throughout.

This is a solid addition to the Arch Enemy discography.  Now, let’s just hope Arnott opens up to some collaborations with Loomis next time out.

4 flip flops out of 5

Akercocke-Renaissance In Extremis

Akercocke is another of these bands that are releasing a new album after a long period of inactivity.  I entirely missed this band on their first era and, from what I tell online, they were kind of known for being the black metal group who performed in dapper suits.  Which is weird.  I mean, isn’t part of the appeal of being a professional metal musician the perk of not having to wear a suit during your gig?  Dudes just seem to be doing it all wrong.

Anyway, moving on to the music and the new album.  Not having been versed in their back catalog, this newest release is really kind of all over the place.  Musically, it is fairly straightforward and tends to reside in the progressive thrash area.  However, it seems like each song has enough variance into some gloomy/gothic passages to keep things from getting staid and repetitive.  The musicianship of the band is probably the most impressive thing about the album.

However, I think the thing that really keeps this album from elevating from a run-of-the-mill release into something more substantial are the vocals.  Vocally, this thing is really a grab bag across the gamut of metal vocal styles.  You’ve got the deep guttural death metal growl.  You’ve got the shrieking black metal screech.  You’ve got the weirdly emotive gothic-tinged clean vocals.  You’ve even got some hearty thrash-style yelling.  It’s just all over the place and it just makes the entire album just seem uneven.  I understand the blending of styles and many bands strike a nice balance between clean and death style vocals.  But, this random cluster of vocal styles just didn’t quite serve the material very well.

3 flip flops out of 5

Paradise Lost-Medusa

It looks like one of the long-standing doom bands just decided to show all of the up-and-coming and bandwagon jumping doom bands how it is done.  Paradise Lost has been at this game for a very long time and this new album makes a definite statement.

The past couple of albums from these guys have been absolute masterpieces.  After spending a few years in the late 90s where they seemingly lost their way with some gothic synth-pop stylings, Paradise Lost has since regrouped into one of the more consistent bands going.  Whereas the last couple of albums has had a bit more of an up-tempo (well, at least up-tempo for doom) foundation, Medusa sees the band slowing things back down into dirge territory.  It’s almost as if they have heard the past couple of Pallbearer albums and said, “That’s nice, but let me show you youngsters how this shit is done.”  There are no light moments on this one as evidenced by tracks like From the Gallows, The Endless Winter and Until the Grave.  Nick Holmes’ vocals on this one strike a nice balance between clean and growl.

These guys are just one of the class acts going.  Give this one a listen.