Monday, September 12, 2016

Neurotech-In Remission

Keeping with the one-man band theme from yesterday, the country of Slovenia gets in on the act, as Neurotech has emerged. The brainchild of Wulf since 2012, he has had four albums under his belt under the Neurtoech name that plays symphonic industrial metal. His latest album In Remission becomes album number five.

In Remission is 35 minutes of ambient industrial metal that isn't going to necessarily blow you away, but provides enough in the way of atmosphere to keep your attention. While most of the music is predominantly programming, there is the standard guitar, bass, vocals, and drums combo that many bands have, and they all seem to work in concert with one another. Vocals-wise, they're clean with a small amount of distortion thrown in periodically and rarely rise above the music. While atmosphere is created fairly well and the music is rather straightforward, it also happens to be a problem, as the limitations of incorporating programming into the music often leave little to the imagination, as many of the tracks tend to sound the same. Only the last track "Alleviate" truly stands out, and it also happens to be one of the slower songs on the album that also gets time to develop. Other than the last song, the rest of the album is just there, as it doesn't jump out in any way, good or bad.

Neurotech has an interesting approach when it comes to industrial metal, and while there is potential for greatness, far too often on In Remission, it just settles for a middle ground. It's not terrible, but one gets the feeling that so much more was expected. It's good for a curiosity listen, but anything more than a couple of spins may be pushing it for enjoyment factor.


Friday, September 9, 2016

Assignment-Closing the Circle

Sometimes, it is better late than never when it comes to bands getting their act together. Such is the case with Germany's Assignment, who began in 1994 as a thrash/death metal outfit, but later changed their sound to progressive power metal. Their debut album Progressive Changes wasn't released until 2003, nine years and two demos after they formed. Seemingly on an album every five years deal, their latest album Closing the Circle, their first on Massacre Records, breaks that spell in a major way.

The opening track "Evolution" begins with about a minute of sound samples before the actual music hits, and while it doesn't blow the listener away, Diego Valdez's vocals adds something to it, as one gets the feeling that he took cues from Ronnie James Dio. The title track and "Presence of Death" show more of what Assignment is capable of, as musically, they match Valdez's energy and vocal range with musicianship that is top notch. On the subject of vocal range, Valdez expands it on "Genetic Slavery," as he begins with what many would describe as the normal singing voice, alternating between it and the power metal vocals during the song. The intro to "Crimson Poison," as well as the brief guitar wails during the opening of "Chemical Healing," shows that the music is more than just straight ahead power. "Chemical Healing" is also where the first pronounced solos appear, as prior to that, they didn't stand out from the rest of the music on the album. "Variaxis" has what sounds like flamenco guitar opening the song, as well as a guest vocal appearance from Maria Jose Pot. It is also the closest thing to a ballad, as it is not quite as strong in terms of overall power, but both sets of vocals work well together, particularly since there is full range in all facets of the music. "Entering the Universe" and "Between Parallel Worlds" are concept songs that are broken into three parts each, and given the time of each, it's not surprising that they're also the best songs on Closing the Circle, as the music is given time to develop. The only drawback on the album is that the solos could have been a little more pronounced, as musically, in terms of ability and storytelling, it's excellent, and the vocals are what make it memorable.

For as long as they've been around, Assignment hasn't found that special spark that would get them more recognized. With Closing the Circle, they may have found that spark, as it has the ability to be remembered as a special album. If you're looking for something worthwhile in the progressive power metal genre, Assignment has the album for you.

Tuesday, September 6, 2016

Scarification-Scarification

There seems to be something in the New Mexico sun that causes people to form black metal projects, as there has been a few of them coming out in recent years. The one man band that calls itself Scarification and is made up of a man known only as Rott. The self-titled effort is the second album from the project, and the results are interesting, at the very least.

Many of the ten tracks on the album fall under the four minute mark, with just two of them going over that mark (the self-titled track and "Fortress of the Dark"), so it would stand that Scarification would put their best within the time confines that it sets upon itself. Heavily influenced by bands such as Mayhem, Burzum, and early-era Darkthrone, it is obvious from the the opening track "Spirit of the North" that it goes for a raw black metal sound complete with production values that recreate that sound from the time period. The lo-fi effect makes for an album that has to be turned up to hear everything that the album has to offer. The overall speed of the music is also similar, as it doesn't go fast, instead stretching out notes to  prolong the aural agony that it wishes to inflict on the listener.
The atmosphere, particularly on the self-titled track, has a nighttime in the forest in the winter feel to it, something that is pulled off with surprising efficiency given that it's coming from a band from the predominantly desert land of New Mexico. At times, the low production values work against Scarification, as even with the sound turned up, it's still somewhat difficult to pick up what is being put out there. What does work though is the disjointed nature in which the songs are presented, something that at times, hides the fact that the songs have mostly the same consistency in terms of delivery and tempo.

Scarification is definitely a product of the bands that it looks up to, and while it doesn't break any new ground, it does pay homage to bands such as Mayhem and Burzum well. While the low production values do add to the sound, it also overdoes it a little, as even with the sound turned all the way up, it's still somewhat inaudible. Scarification is worth a listen or two if raw black metal is your preference.

Thursday, September 1, 2016

Subrosa-For This We Fought the Battle of Ages

Salt Lake City may be one of the least likely places to find good metal music, but much like the city itself these days, it's growing, and at the forefront of the metal music movement there is Subrosa. Considered one of the best bands that few have heard of, that label is in danger of being shed as they gain more recognition, so pressure to produce another great album is naturally on for them. Their latest album For This We Fought the Battle of Ages is quite possibly their most complete album yet.

With six tracks clocking in at just over an hour, Subrosa sets the tone with one of the deepest songs on the album in "Despair is a Siren." As the title says, despair is the main theme, and the music portrays it perfectly, with violins providing the feeling alongside the pained vocals of Rebecca Vernon, the measured guitar riffs, and a rhythm section that ensures things don't get out of hand. The bass lines that begin "Wound of the Warden" give way to an equally beautiful composition that shows a slightly darker, angrier side to the album. Vocal range is on display for "Black Majesty," and like the rest of the album, it doesn't disappoint when it comes to atmosphere or musical composition. There is a small break on the album with "Il Cappio," which is the only track that is under seven minutes by a lot, as it is only a minute and a half long. Even that isn't allowed to go to waste, as between the singing in Italian and the use of a lyre, it provides a nice bridge to the next song in "Killing Rapture." The closing track "Troubled Cells" begins with guitar strains that eventually serve as an underlying layer to the vocals that remain as hauntingly beautiful then as it was when the album began. The consistency on For This We Fought the Battle of Ages is remarkable, even as the previous albums have been works of art unto themselves, but it is taken to a new level, as the elements of their music truly come together.

If you were to put together an album that served as a soundtrack to the possible end of humanity, Subrosa's For This We Fought the Battle of Ages would be it. Naturally, it figures that the inspiration for the album is taken from a near 100-year old dystopian novel entitled We by Yevgeny Zamyatin. Subrosa's work already stands out on its own, but with the increasing recognition they're getting within the doom metal scene, it is great that they're not letting up when it comes to creating compositions worthy of an art museum. For This We Fought the Battle of Ages is a must have for doom metal fans, and even if you aren't a fan of doom metal in general, it is still an album to own.

Tuesday, August 30, 2016

Roman Khrustalev-Our New Sun

In the never-ending search to find metal music in all corners of the world, another spin of the Metal Archives random band generator brings us to the country of Kazakhstan. The band, or artist, in this instance, in question is a guy by the name of Roman Khrustalev, an instrumentalist who handles everything on his albums, and with a new album out in Our New Sun, it's an exploration for the ears.

For all of the songs except the opener "The Halls of Extinsion," which is basically rhythmic chants, it is purely instrumental, so any and all commentary is musicianship and just how well it all comes together. Since Khrustalev's music is generally classified as progressive power metal, one would expect powerful solos and precise musicianship that is thorough in its approach. Given the album title, one would expect a little science fiction element to creep into the sound, as is done on songs such as "Voyager." Another aspect to note is that other than "The Halls of Extinsion" and "Last Night on Earth," the songs do run long, with each one running over the five minute mark. The longest songs on the album ("Cold Roots of Earth," "World's Heart Bleeding," and "When the Sun Fades Away") are also ones that top the 10-minute mark, and not coincidentally, they're the ones that are given the most time to develop in terms of total music ability. The album as a whole isn't just one long guitar solo, as so many instrumentals before it have shown. In fact, the synths tend to get as much air time as the guitars, and there's even room for bass and drums to get in on the act on their own.

Roman Khrustalev is an immensely talented musician that can handle any instrument that he gets his hands on well. Our New Sun is a testament to not only how well he can play the instruments, but also put together compositions that create stories that listeners can put together in their own minds. Done correctly, instrumental albums can be just as great as albums with vocals, and Roman Khrustalev proves this point with Our New Sun.

Monday, August 29, 2016

Untimely Demise-Black Widow

When one thinks of metal music in Canada, it's usually Toronto, Montreal, or Vancouver, with a band or two popping out of Calgary or Edmonton. Left out in the cold (no pun intended) are the provinces of Manitoba and Saskatchewan. Not since Into Eternity broke out in the early 2000's has a band from Saskatchewan emerged with even a moderate amount of success. The Saskatoon thrash trio known as Untimely Demise is looking to make a name for themselves, and as they release the all-important third album in their discography, titled Black Widow, it is where they will be made or broken.

The heart of Untimely Demise is brothers Matt and Murray Cuthbertson, and with what can be best described as a revolving door of second guitarists and drummers (they're currently operating without a second guitarist and are on their third drummer in Bryan Newbury), getting the sound the band wants has certainly been a challenge.

Black Widow begins with "Forgotten in Time," and while it is a decent opener, the track length is what works against it, as it seemingly takes forever to get to the point. "Enslaver" does a better job of getting the point across, and compared to the previous track, is the more well-rounded track, as it shows more speed to go with its thrash, and also features more in the way of vocal range. The title track is a grittier song that shows Untimely Demise and their ability to get dirty when needed, as well as a guitar solo that shows their musical ability. "Calling Me Back from the Light" ranks up with "Enslaver" as one of the best songs on Black Widow, as it shows everything that Untimely Demise is capable of musically. Vocal range is somewhat a weakness with most thrash bands, and Untimely Demise is no different. However, they do make an effort on improving it, as "Sickening Repression" proves. Certainly, Untimely Demise is going all out to make Black Widow their best album yet, as they recruited Shawn Drover (ex-Megadeth, Act of Defiance) and Tim Roth (Into Eternity) for guest appearances, Justin Bender (Into Eternity, Third Ion) to produce the album, and renowned thrash cover artist Ed Repka to contribute to their album.

Knowing that the third album is usually a make or break album, Untimely Demise pulls out all the stops to ensure that they mean business. Black Widow is one of the more pleasant surprises of the year, standing out in what is often an over-saturated thrash metal market. Sure, there are a few blemishes on the album, but those are often correctable in time, but there is considerable potential with the band, and there is much to like about the album. A dark horse for the year-end list.

Friday, August 26, 2016

Delain-Moonbathers

This year marks ten years since Delain formed, and with a number of albums and tours under their belts, the growth has been noticeable. From being just a studio project of Martijn Westerholt, who had been forced out of Within Temptation due to health issues at the time, to becoming one of the bigger names to come out of the Netherlands, they've accomplished much in a relatively short amount of time. This year, on the heels of opening for Sonata Arctica and Nightwish, their latest album is ready to go in Moonbathers.

Moonbathers opens with "Hands of Gold," which is a fairly good opener, but even with the appearance on Alissa White-Gluz as guest vocalist, one gets the feeling the album will be closer to the level of We Are the Others, one of their lesser efforts. While "The Glory and the Scum" and "Suckerpunch" offer some push to the band's sound, the album gets dragged down by two ballads in a row in "The Hurricane" and Chrysalis - The Last Breath." Thankfully, "Fire with Fire" comes in and puts things back in order with Delain's hardest effort yet. Things do get better with "Pendulum," which proves to be just as guitar driven as the previous song. The ritual chant-like opening to "Danse Macabre" gives way to perhaps vocalist Charlotte Wessels' most complete performance yet, as the range finally shows itself. Further pushing their limits, it's the guitar's turn to do so, as heard on "Scandal," and in many ways, having the full-time second guitarist allows for a little more freedom. Of course, it also gets pushed by Wessels' vocals on the song to step up their game along with the rest of the music. A slower song follows in "Turn the Lights Out," which allows for the listener to catch their breath a little while the closer "The Monarch" is mostly an instrumental that puts nice bow on the proceedings. Musically, the talent has always been there, but the songwriting sometimes left the listener wanting more. While it takes time to get into Moonbathers, the rewards are worth it.

In an often crowded female fronted metal scene, especially in their home country of the Netherlands, Delain has managed to not only stand out, but also become of the premiere bands to emerge from that country. Moonbathers is an appropriate name for their latest album, as it goes through phases, from pretty good to slow and uneventful to fast and powerful to calm and sleepy. Yes, the album is a mixed bag, but the good tends to outweigh the bad here, and is at least worth a few listens.