Tuesday, February 28, 2012

R.I.P. Mark Reale

Before I get to the blog-related content of this post - and I will keep this short because I didn't know the guy personally - I would like to express my sorrow at the passing of Mark Reale. I know it was a while ago at this point, but it still feels poignant seeing as the last post I made was on a Riot album (which I posted just a little while before he passed away, actually). I know it's a rather hollow gesture just putting this in words on some obscure blog in a dark corner of the vast ocean of the Internet, but he did write some albums that were and still are very important to me. So, my condolences to his friends and family. Thundersteel will forever be one of the greatest albums ever recorded.

Tuesday, November 22, 2011

Riot - Thundersteel

Genre: Heavy Metal
Country: United States
Year: 1988
Label: CBS

Behold, one of the greatest heavy metal albums ever recorded. I mean this with full, unabashed sincerity; Thundersteel is, simply put, as close to perfect as a metal album gets. It has everything: awesome riffs, scorching leads, unforgettable vocals, killer rhythm section, and a production that leaves absolutely nothing to be desired. Every last note on this album strikes true, without a single wasted moment ever. It's actually amazing how enchanting this album still is to me considering how I have absolutely listened it into the ground. I really don't think it will ever, ever get old. Every single song on Thundersteel is a bonafide classic, with sweeping, catchy choruses and fantastic, thoughtful compositions that absolutely glow with the obvious fact that a lot of time, passion, and care were put into crafting them. Riot has released numerous high-calibur albums, like the rockin' Narita, the classic scorcher Fire Down Under (another essential album!), or the overlooked and underrated Nightbreaker, among others. But nothing ever came close to touching the pure, molten majesty of the mighty, ineffable slab of heavy metal perfection that is Thundersteel. Mark Reale must have channeled the very gods of metal themselves while penning the songs on this album, because there truly isn't a single weak moment across its entire length. Every riff is solid and serves a strong purpose, every lead is soulful and immaculately executed. And speaking of immaculate, holy shit did Tony Moore's vocals rip on this album! His performance here is one of the most awe-inspiring vocal endeavours I've ever heard. His vocal melodies have true life to them, soaring and dancing above the songs with purposeful power, all delivered with his signature charisma and incredible range. The timbre of his voice is very unique - the second you hear any song off this album, you instantly know who's singing. All the tracks have these incredible choruses that stick with you long after the music is over. It's just inescapable! This is some of the most memorable music ever penned. At this point in my writing, I cannot stress enough that I feel utterly helpless in accurately expressing how I feel about this album. I simply don't have the words for it. This is one of the best - and, in my opinion, important - collections of metal songs ever recorded. Thundersteel is an essential component to any headbanger's collection, an untouchable monument in a class of its own. Perfection.

For fans of Witch Cross, Liege Lord, Vicious Rumors, and Fifth Angel.

Monday, October 24, 2011

Heathen Hoof - Rock Crusader

Genre: Heavy Metal
Country: Finland
Year: 2011
Label: Metal Warning

Finland's Heathen Hoof is definitely a Very Cool Band. They mix influences from early NWOBHM, classic early-80s American heavy metal, and 70s hard rock to arrive at a timeless sound that really delivers. I was a big fan of their The Occult Sessions EP, so when their full-length dropped I was all smiles. This is really just a good, solid, unpretentious album brimming with honesty and a vibe that these guys really, really love rock 'n' roll and classic heavy metal. This album is almost too short to be a full-length, clocking in at barely over a half hour, and I wish it were longer because this is great music. The guitars have a kind of low-gain crunch to them, and the vocals are a gritty, throaty snarl that bring to mind bands like Tank or Motörhead. The songs in general are pretty much a timewarp back thirty years, but not in a hackneyed or smug way. It's 100% honest and heartfelt, like these guys are writing music like this because they couldn't imagine writing anything else, not because they're riding some kind of 'retro' trend. I feel like this band is probably best experienced live - there's just a kind of electric energy to it that seems like it would truly come to life in a live setting. Regardless, this album kicks ass and you'd do well to check it out. Righteous.

For fans of Tank, Metal Inquisitor, Motörhead, and Desolation Angels.

Monday, October 17, 2011

Bolt Thrower - Honour Valour Pride

Genre: Death Metal
Country: United Kingdom
Year: 2001
Label: Metal Blade Records

Big, chunky, muscular death metal from the UK is the order of the day. These Brits truly worship The Riff. That's what Bolt Thrower is all about. This isn't technical or 'brutal' stuff; rather, Bolt Thrower chooses to steamroll over your blasted corpse with the iron weight of a Leman Russ Demolisher. Every single song on this album has these huge, monstrous riffs that rumble like the thunder of gauss-cannon fire, absolutely annihilating everything in their path. Due to their being one of the most consistent and long-lived death metal bands kicking, it's tough to choose a favourite Bolt Thrower album, but Honour Valour Pride would definitely be a top contender were I forced to do so. I just love the pummeling feel to the entire ordeal, the music really feels like the killer Warhammer-themed Games Workshop cover artwork. These guys (and gal) are masters at their craft, and will always be one of the coolest death metal bands in existence. If you're looking for a heavier-than-lead death metal album that relies on mid-paced anvil-crushing riffs to deliver the mortal blow, look no further. Crushing.

For fans of Benediction, Runemagick, Unleashed, and Cianide.

Friday, October 14, 2011

Metal Inquisitor - Doomsday for the Heretic

Genre: Heavy Metal
Country: Germany
Year: 2008
Label: Hellion Records

I cannot begin to tell you just how fucking hard this album rocks. Everything about Doomsday for the Heretic is a metal fan's dream come true: killer riffs, awesome vocals, cool lyrics - these Germans have it all. There is absolutely no bullshit to be found here, just pure heavy metal played the way it was meant to be played. Every chorus is memorable, every riff demands your head to bang until you snap your neck, every solo gives you no choice but to break every string on your air guitar. The guitar tone is perfect, low gain but crunchy so every note cuts through the mix like a Visigoth's sword through a Roman's chest, with a full-sounding production that sounds absolutely killer when played very, very loud. El Rojo's vocals give me a kind of Manilla Road/Leather Nunn vibe, but he definitely has his own thing going on, and he really adds a cool element to the music. It should also be pointed out that there is nothing 'modern' to be found here - this is absolutely, heavy-handedly traditional - but the music feels very honest and alive. There is nothing contrived or stale-feeling about Metal Inquisitor's approach; these guys clearly live and breathe heavy metal, and they are irrefutably making a relevant contribution to the genre. Any fan of true heavy metal cannot afford to miss out on these guys. Mandatory.

For fans of Leather Nunn, Motörhead, Manilla Road, and Judas Priest.

Thursday, October 13, 2011

Root - The Temple in the Underworld

Genre: Unclassifiable (Epic Black/Doom Metal?)
Country: Czech Republic
Year: 1992
Label: Monitor

Another absolute favourite of mine, Root is a Czech band whose genre is nearly impossible to pin down in a concise fashion. At their inception, they were a first-wave black metal band, having formed in 1987. Accordingly, their early output had a kind of Venom/Celtic Frost/early Bathory vibe, but as time went on, their sound evolved into something utterly unique and entirely their own. This, their second proper full-length, is my favourite album from their diverse discography. As previously stated, it is really difficult to describe the music at hand. I suppose I'd pin it somewhere in some kind of epic black/doom/death metal realm, but that doesn't even begin to do it justice. It really just has to be experienced first-hand. Temple in the Underworld is definitely an album that you should set aside some close-listening time for, as there is a lot going on here and it's really worth giving it your undivided attention. The vocals of the mighty Big Boss are, as with most Root albums, the most immediately memorable part of the band's sound. He issues forth a clean, resonant tenor as well as strange, throaty growls and everything in between, and listening to his charismatic delivery is truly a treat. Nobody - and I mean nobody - sounds like Big Boss. The moment he starts singing, there is no question which band you're listening to. But I don't want my enthusiasm for his vocals to overshadow the absolutely killer music on display here. Guitarist Petr "Blackie" Hošek is a true artisan at his craft, imbuing the songs with spectacularly imaginative riffs and structures. (He has, unfortunately, departed from the band, and his absence is definitely apparent in the post-Blackie material.) The battery is handled by Evil, and his drumming displays an enormous amount of skill and creativity. There's always cool cymbal work or intricate fills going on, and it really keeps things interesting in the rhythm section. There is a deeply pervasive atmosphere to this album, lending the entire length a very mysterious, arcane feel. The reverb-drenched production actually has a surprisingly professional edge to it, but it is by no means 'over-produced' or plastic sounding - it's full and heavy without sacrificing the organic feel this kind of music demands. This is a top-notch album played by amazing musicians. Easily one of the coolest extreme metal recordings ever put to wax.

Wednesday, October 5, 2011

Wolf - Edge of the World

Country: United Kingdom
Year: 1984
Label: Mausoleum Records

Wolf formed under the moniker Leviathan in 1977, later changing their name to Black Axe, and finally being persuaded by their record label to settle on the name Wolf. Under this name, they released Edge of the World, their only full-length album, and one of the most epic, haunting, powerful albums ever to emerge from the NWOBHM. The songs on this record really demand your attention thanks to the spectacular vocal performance by Chris English. He has just the right amount of grit for this style of music, and he commands a true master's knack for absolutely killer melodies that stick with you long after the album ends. Every single time I spin this, the choruses to 'Highway Rider' and 'Shock Treatment' are inevitably stuck in my head for the next couple days. Unlike many of their British peers at the time, Wolf had a bit of a melancholy edge to them that is really difficult to pinpoint in words, but it is definitely there, and it really gives Wolf something unique. That's not to say these boys didn't know how to rock - there are blues riffs in spades with swagger to spare, but some of the songs just have a kind of somber, epic vibe to them, which is part of what makes Edge of the World so great. If you're a fan of NWOBHM, or just a fan of sincere, passionately-written music with unforgettable vocal hooks in general, this album is absolutely essential listening. A tragically forgotten classic.

For fans of Witch Cross, Spartan Warrior, Blackmayne, and Grim Reaper.

Wednesday, September 28, 2011

CastleAxe - Castlemaster

Genre: Heavy/Speed Metal
Country: United States
Year: 2011
Label: Self-Released

Today I bring you one of the best bands from my local area. The outfit known as CastleAxe (after recently changing their name from Speitre) plays a balls-out brand of heavy/speed metal that is sure to get your head flailing and your sword-arm flexing. The twin guitar attack handled by Hölger and Grög forms the foundation of CastleAxe's sound, harkening back to the glory days of speed metal. Dual harmonies and leads abound, there is no mistaking what these guys are all about - real metal, no ifs ands or buts. Drummer Sürt and bassist Prybar provide a nice, solid base, rumbling along in a meat-and-potatoes fashion - no wonky crap going on here. Vocalist Manchester has a unique delivery, and CastleAxe would not quite be CastleAxe without his crazy, out-of-control-in-a-cool-way falsetto at the helm. The Castlemaster EP features four studio tracks and three live tracks, all with a very professional-sounding recording job. This is especially notable on the live songs, which sound absolutely fantastic, having been mixed post-performance. Plus, if you listen closely, you can hear me in the crowd. ;) I do want to make it clear that I am not just plugging these guys because they are friends of mine - I am posting this because I genuinely think it rules. Support!

For fans of Mercyful Fate, Artillery, Whiplash, and Portrait.


*For some reason, Metal Archives rejected the submission for their name change and new EP, so for now you'll have to look CastleAxe up on Metal Archives as "Speitre", their former name.

Monday, September 5, 2011

Argus - Argus

Genre: Heavy/Doom Metal
Country: U.S.A.
Year: 2009
Label: Shadow Kingdom Records

Time for another installment of "I Will Never Have the Words to Describe How Incredible This Music Is". Seriously though, Argus is one of those rare bands who have managed to craft a sound that is both classic and timeless yet very much their own. This has been one of my most-played albums since around its release in 2009, and I still spin it regularly. The music at hand is heavy metal with a doom streak running through its core. The songs are generally at a mid-paced stomp, but occasionally they do wander into monolithic, arcane doom territory. There is a lot of dual-guitar sorcery going on here, and it yields truly spectacular results. The twin-axe brew concocted by Argus' resident string-slinging duo of Jason Mucio and Erik Johnson is a low-gain affair with plenty of crunch to spare, and the approach fits the music perfectly. The twisted, winding licks and bone-crushing riffs never cease to amaze, and every solo is inventive and immaculately performed. The rhythm section is a force to be reckoned with, marching forth with the combined efforts of Andy Ramage's expertly-handled bassery and Kevin Latchaw's genius drumming. The entire affair is topped off by the mighty, ineffable presence of Butch Balich, whose majestic, dire vocals are truly awe-inspiring. Every single word on this album is sung with deep conviction and import. His delivery is simply gigantic; his voice fills the musical space in a way only the very best vocalists can manage. That being said, these guys are the real deal, the full package, the cream of the crop. This is truly incredible music. I could exhaust every superlative in the English language trying to express how much I love this band. Absolutely essential.

For fans of Sinister Realm, Doomsword, Solstice, and Hour of 13.

Sunday, August 28, 2011

Hammer - Contract With Hell

Country: United Kingdom
Year: 1985
Label: Ebony Records

This will be a bit of a shorter one in the interest of time, but I wanted to make sure to bring you guys something seeing as it's been a couple days since I last posted. Hammer was one of many one-off NWOBHM outfits who released a single album and then disappeared. Hey, at least they released a proper full-length - many of the bands from the movement didn't even make it that far. The cover artwork suggests a much darker affair than the music actually offers, as the tunes here are relatively upbeat rockers with a smattering of keyboard work here and there (we're talking rock organs and synthesizers, this is 1984 Britain after all). There's a lot I like about Contract With Hell; cool production, solid riffs, and great vocals. This is just a good, fun album that is absolutely certain to please fans of the NWOBHM.

For fans of Saracen, Dark Star, Demon, and Blade Runner.

Contract With Hell

Tuesday, August 23, 2011

Skullview - Kings of the Universe

Genre: Heavy Metal
Country: U.S.A.
Label: R.I.P. Records
Year: 1999

Here we have one of the most criminally overlooked bands in the U.S. underground. Skullview are a true through-and-through heavy metal outfit playing a take on the genre that crushes like a thousand-ton hammer of war. All of their albums completely fucking rule, and it was nearly impossible to choose which one I wanted to post first, so I went with the one that had my favourite artwork (painted by the inimitable Kris Verwimp). One of the things that really makes Skullview stand out is the vocals of Mike "Earthquake" Quimby Lewis, a man whose embedded nickname instantly makes sense the first time you hear him. His voice is somehow insanely chaotic yet entirely under control - every time you think what he's singing is going to get away from him, it locks right in and rips your face off. He's a very, very unique vocalist in a good way, and the second he starts singing you know you're listening to Skullview. The music that he sings over is simultaneously heavy, barbaric, and epic, distilling everything that is great about true heavy metal down to its bare essence and unleashing it full-bore through your speakers. The riffs gallop, stomp, and charge across the raging battlefield that is the band's rhythm section. The compositions can be surprisingly complex at times; the songs herein are generally far removed from standard rock structures, offering something more arcane and adventurous. It's really a shame that these guys don't get talked about more. Skullview are unheralded heroes of American heavy metal, and they are definitely not a band to ignore.

For fans of Manilla Road, Dantesco, Manowar, and Satan's Host.

Kings of the Universe

Saturday, August 20, 2011

Chastain - Ruler of the Wasteland

Genre: Heavy Metal
Country: U.S.A.
Year: 1986
Label: Shrapnel Records

This is a heavy, vicious United States heavy metal album featuring some of the meanest female vocals ever put to tape. Leather Leone's aggressive, powerful voice dominates the sound here, but that isn't to say that David Chastain's guitar work isn't blistering - the leads rip and the riffs scorch, all riding atop a pummeling rhythm section. Basically this just rules top-to-bottom. There's not much to say about Ruler of the Wasteland, but that's not a bad thing by any means - it's just a no-frills, no bullshit heavy metal album that rules from start to finish. My only real complaint here is that it's a bit short at under 37 minutes, and I'd like this thing to kick my ass for a little longer every time. Killer.

For fans of Vicious Rumors, Metal Church, and Warlock.

Ruler of the Wasteland

Thursday, August 18, 2011

Solstice - New Dark Age

Genre: Epic Doom Metal
Country: United Kingdom
Year: 1998
Label: Misanthropic Records

Behold, one of doom metal's greatest masterpieces. There is absolutely nothing I can write that will do this unbelievable music justice, but I will give it my best shot. I felt it appropriate to post this as a follow-up to Isen Torr, seeing as both bands are masterminded  by Rich Walker. So, enter Solstice: this is true, epic doom in a one-of-a-kind vein that simply cannot be imitated, standing right up there with Candlemass' Nightfall as a towering monument to what the genre is capable of. Crushing, megalithic riffs wander across rich, sweeping soundscapes as unforgettable lead melodies wind their way over it all. Deep, arcane atmospheres absolutely envelop the listener throughout - but not without plenty of moments that induce compulsory headbanging! Solstice certainly haven't forgotten the 'metal' part of doom metal, churning out riff after riff of pure molten steel. The distinctly British vocals of Morris Ingram feel a bit strange at first to some listeners, but I assure you, they will grow on you until you wouldn't have anyone else at the mic. His English folk-infused delivery and unique diction add a lot to the atmosphere of the whole affair, and if it doesn't click with you during the a cappella break a third of the way through 'Cimmerian Codex,' then nothing will. Even the lyrics are in a realm of their own (definitely take the time to read them at some point, they're incredibly cool). There are definitely deeply-rooted folk influences throughout New Dark Age, but make no mistake, this is not teeny-bopper folk metal by any stretch of the imagination. There are no sugary keyboards, no borderline-hardcore yapping about plastic Viking helmets, none of the crap that usually comes with the words 'folk influence' (also note that this album was released in the early 90s, before that was all a common trend). Rather, it is intrinsic to the epic doom metal that Solstice plays, coming through tastefully in the leads and vocal melodies. What is truly awe-inspiring about this album, however, is how many moods and atmospheres it covers while each song still clearly feels like a part of a greater, cohesive whole. Walker doesn't let his propensity for long songs run amok - they are tightly composed and perfectly paced, with intriguing, complex structures that really keep the listener's attention through every last note. There are a couple of acoustic/vocal interludes as well, but again, that does not at all mean what it has come to mean these days. No, these are not pretentious, masturbatory exercises in "look at how mysteriously I can neofolk at you while being introspective in the woods." Instead, they are thematically consistent with the rest of the album, blending Walker's epic lyrics with Ingram's medieval English vocal style to further enhance the engrossing storytelling aesthetic. Everything about this album is damn near perfect. It takes my breath away every single time I spin it, and it has secured an unflinching spot among my absolute favourite albums of all time. There never has and never will be another album quite like this one. It is unique, beautiful, savage, complex, heavy, and epic in a sense not even remotely encompassed by the word. Absolutely essential.

For fans of Candlemass, Ereb Altor, While Heaven Wept, and Mael Mórdha.

Tuesday, August 16, 2011

Isen Torr - Mighty and Superior

Genre: Heavy Metal
Country: United Kingdom
Year: 2003
Label: Metal Supremacy

This is really a bittersweet one; more on that later. Mighty and Superior is the only release from Isen Torr, an English outfit featuring members of a handful of other awesome bands. The band is the brainchild of Richard M. Walker, guitarist of the mighty Solstice and head honcho of the legendary Miskatonic Foundation record label. Originally their plan was to release three EPs which told of the exploits of a mighty Saxon warrior. Unfortunately (and here's the bittersweet part), the band is now on hold due to, amidst a myriad of other problems, the death of vocalist Tony Taylor. Taylor's main gig was, of course, Twisted Tower Dire, one of the United States' absolute best heavy metal bands. His life ended abruptly in a motorcycle accident last year. It is uncertain whether or not Isen Torr will continue without him, and I'm not holding my breath. But tragedy aside, let's talk about the massive, sweeping, epic, timeless, unforgettable music on this lamentably short EP. It houses two songs and clocks in at just over 17 minutes, and god damn, what a 17 minutes it is! Every single time I listen to it, it takes my breath away. This is truly incredible heavy metal. Everything about it is perfect; the guitars are huge and heavy, the drumming is versatile and tight, and of course, the vocals are downright ultimate. Anyone who knows Richard Walker knows well his proclivity for amazing riffs, and they're in true form here. There's not a single wasted note at any point during Mighty and Superior, not one. The songs both clock in at over 8 minutes, yet they feel much shorter because of how hard they rule. Tony's vocals soar across the sonic battlefield of the music in a way only his voice could. There's no mistaking his pipes, and Twisted Tower Dire fans will immediately fall in love with this for that reason alone (though there is far more to love about it than just his singing, of course). The production is immaculate, with every instrument being clearly audible and suitably pummeling. The music has a larger-than-life quality to it, providing the perfect aural backdrop for the mighty tale of battle and glory purveyed by the lyrics. It's the kind of music that has you looking at the record or disc wondering how the hell they fit such massive sounds onto a small lump of plastic. As far as I'm concerned, this is a must-listen for any true-hearted heavy metal fan. Perfect.

For fans of Twisted Tower Dire, Atlantean Kodex, Solstice, and Battleroar.

Mighty and Superior

If you wish to delve a bit deeper into the history of Isen Torr, click here to check out an in-depth retelling of the band's story by guitarist Perry Grayson (who also handles guitar and vocal duties in Falcon as well as session bass work Pale Divine).

Sunday, August 14, 2011

Witch Cross - Fit for Fight

Genre: Heavy Metal
Country: Denmark
Year: 1984
Label: Roadrunner Records

Fit for Fight is the incredibly cool full-length release that (unfortunately) stands as the only long-player in the Witch Cross discography. When I say incredibly cool, I mean it: this album just plain rules from start to finish. I actually read a review of Fit for Fight on Metal Archives a while ago that echoed and confirmed the exact same sentiment that I've always felt about Witch Cross: vocalist Alex "Savage" Nyborg Madsen's voice bears a striking resemblance to Tony Moore, the man whose godly pipes graced Riot's Thundersteel album (one of the finest collections of songs the entire metal genre has ever produced). With that comparison jumping so immediately to mind, it should go without saying that Madsen's vocals completely and utterly rule. While he does serve as this album's highlight, the rest of the music is suitably rad as hell - this is one of those albums where, during at least one point in pretty much every song, you smile to yourself and think "damn, this owns so hard." And that's because it does! Witch Cross's one and only full-length was a well-written, expertly played, full-of-heart exercise in good, old-fashioned true heavy metal. It seems like every time I listen to it, I'm surprised by how good it is, no matter how many times I've heard it before. That's the sign of a great album right there. Definitely don't pass this one up.

For fans of Riot, Wolf (UK), Ostrogoth, and Desolation Angels.

Enforcer - Diamonds

Genre: Heavy Metal
Country: Sweden
Year: 2010
Label: Earache Records

Holy shit, these guys nailed it! I mean they really nailed it! This album absolutely rips from start to finish. One of the first things I noticed about Enforcer was how damn British they sound. This sounds much more like the UK circa 1985 than it does Sweden 2010. That isn't to say it's entirely derivative; Enforcer have "it" - that special something that separates the good bands from the truly awesome ones. Everything about Diamonds is pure gold. Adam Zaar and Joseph Tholl have a killer low-gain guitar tone that lends fantastic clarity to the high-octane riffs, Tobias Lindkvist utilizes his clearly audible (but never overpowering) bass to crank out some truly cool bass lines, Jonas Wikstrand's drumming is energetic and tight, and Olof Wikstrand's vocals are of a rare quality. The guy's voice is really great, combining a high-end range with a healthy dose of wild, raw charisma - truly a treat to listen to. He has an incredible knack for wondrously catchy melodies. Seriously, you'll have half the album stuck in your head after first listen. The songs themselves were all clearly crafted with great care; not a single track gets boring, and they each have their own unique identity while retaining a cohesive feel as a whole. I've been spinning this regularly since its release last year, and it still hasn't gotten old. Basically, there isn't anything about Diamonds that sucks even a little, so get it, play it loud, bang your head, and thank the Metal Gods that these immensely talented Swedes got together to create this gem (pun most certainly intended).

For fans of Angel Witch, Diamond Head, Avenger, and Raven.

Saxon - Denim and Leather

Country: United Kingdom
Year: 1981
Label: Carrere

Ahhh, good ol' Saxon. These guys will be releasing killer records from their graves, I swear. This year's A Call to Arms was absolutely fucking awesome, and Biff Byford is 60 years old! The guy still sounds like a demon! For some reason, this band gets looked at as 'second-tier' NWOBHM band by a lot of people, and I will never for the life of me understand why. Hell, I even love their so-called 'mid-period slump'. But I digress; let's turn the clock back to 1981, when the mighty and criminally underrated Saxon unleashed Denim and Leather, one of the most essential releases in their rather expansive discography. This takes has everything that ruled about early NWOBHM and catapults it into the stratosphere. The riffs will rock your head right off your neck, the vocals are powerful and charismatic, the solos will leave your air-guitar in need of a serious tune-up - everything is just perfect. If you aren't all grins from the moment 'Princess of the Night' kicks in, then you simply aren't cut out for metal, there's no two ways about it. Every cut on here is a memorable, rip-roaring tour-de-force of hard rockin', blues riffin', rough-ridin' New Wave of British Heavy Metal served piping hot with a generous side of attitude. Biff Byford's unique, unmistakable vocals have always been one of the best things about Saxon, and naturally he's in top form here, and the axework provided by Graham Oliver and Paul Quinn is absolutely sublime. Steve Dawson and Pete Gill's workmanlike rhythm section forms a solid, well-performed foundation. It's probably no secret at this point, but Saxon is one of my all-time favourite bands. If you haven't taken the time to really check them out, I suggest you treat yourself. I'll definitely be posting more Saxon later on down the road, but this is a good place to start. After all, denim and leather brought us all together!

For fans of Demon, Angel Witch, Diamond Head, and Mythra.

Denim and Leather

Demon - Night of the Demon

Country: United Kingdom
Year: 1981
Label: Carrere

Another NWOBHM classic for you guys. Demon's debut full-length was more on the rockin' side of the NWOBHM than the duelling guitar pyrotechnics side, and trust me, Night of the Demon has swagger to spare. Despite the dark cover artwork and a brooding, evil intro track, this is actually a rather feel-good album overall. Solid, hard rockin' riffs are coupled with Dave Hill's powerful, gritty vocals to form the core of Demon's sound. There are definitely vestiges of 70s hard rock making their presence known across the album's breadth, lending an overtly bluesy flavour to more than a couple of the tracks. If you dig early NWOBHM with strong 70s rock vibes, Night of the Demon definitely won't disappoint.

For fans of Diamond Head, Rainbow, Saxon, and Dark Star.

Friday, August 12, 2011

Elixir - The Son of Odin

Genre: NWOBHM/Epic Heavy Metal
Country: United Kingdom
Year: 1986
Label: None (Independent Release)

Elixir is a NWOBHM band that had a bit of a darker, more epic take on the genre. They did away the catchier, more upbeat rock-'n'-roll-infused approach of their countrymates in favour of galloping, stomping riffs and mid-ranged vocals. Elixir seems to have a nice helping of traditional epic U.S. heavy metal influence in their sound, a lá Omen or Brocas Helm, and it's a fantastic fit. They sound less barbaric and raw than the aforementioned American outfits, offering a slightly more 'refined' take on the style (for lack of a better word). Vocalist Paul Taylor's grittier, mid-ranged voice definitely invokes the late, great, and mighty J.D. Kimball more than just a little bit, and the album's production gives his voice a good amount of space in the music. The bass is also given ample breathing room, giving the entire ordeal a big, booming, expansive feel. This album is absolutely essential listening for fans of heavier, darker NWOBHM as well as American and Hellenic epic metal. A lost classic.

For fans of Omen, Brocas Helm, Cloven Hoof, and Battleroar.

Hey everybody, I'm back!

It's been nearly a year since I last posted here on the Tabernacle. Just one month shy, actually. But here I am, writing to let you all know that I will be bearing the torch once more! I've made a new header and changed some colours to make it all official. Regular readers (if there are any of you left), please, be patient as I get back into the swing of things. I haven't done recreational writing for quite some time now, so my skills in this area are going to be a bit rusty (and the last thing I want is for Morbid Tabernacle to sound like all the boring education writing that I spend most of my time yawning over). But anyway, who cares? There's metal to discover! Onward to glory!

Friday, September 17, 2010

Hyborian Steel - An Age Undreamt Of...

Genre: Epic Heavy Metal
Country: U.S.A.
Year: 2009
Label: My Graveyard Productions

Alright, alright, I know I'm a total sucker for this kind of thing. Robert E. Howard references everywhere, hand-drawn fantasy cover art, Manilla Road, Omen, Heavy Load, and Pagan Altar listed as influences by the band... yeah, I was bound to love this. Basically, this is along the lines of the epic heavy metal style first pioneered by the 'Road, and Hyborian Steel have provided us with a disc that seems to get better with each listen. There's a lot to enjoy here, but the highlights for me are the riffs (of course) and the production, which couldn't be more perfect for this album. It's difficult for me to describe exactly what it is about the atmosphere created by the music, but it is really something special. An Age Undreamt Of... truly takes you away to the Hyborian age with fantastic songwriting, great riffwork, tasteful, epic guitar solos, and a production that gives it all that authentic underground touch. If these guys keep up the good work, I think they have a pretty decent shot at becoming a go-to name as heroes of underground epic heavy metal. Mighty, true, and completely fucking worthy.

For fans of Manilla Road, Ironsword, Omen, and Atlantean Kodex.

Old - Down With the Nails

Genre: Black/Thrash Metal
Country: Germany
Year: 2006
Label: Tyrant Syndicate

Awww yeeaahhhh, that's the stuff! I'm sure many of you are already familiar with this gem, but for those of you who aren't, prepare to have your face ripped off by this filthy, delicious, stripped-down slice of German black/thrash slayage. This is a zero bullshit album brimming with awesome riffs and vitriol-drenched vocals all wrapped in a savage, visceral production that couldn't be more perfect for this style of music. Down With the Nails truly captures that old-school feeling, and pulls it off with every ounce of genuine honesty one could hope for. As is the case with many albums in this vein, there's not much to be said beyond the fact that it rules. Old certainly didn't reinvent the wheel with this one, but they did a damn good job of paying homage to the music they obviously have a lot of love for - which is absolutely fantastic, because that's the point. Be sure to check this out if you in the mood for some good old-school beer-swilling face-shredding black-thrashing mayhem. Awesome.

For fans of Celtic Frost, Sodom, Darkthrone, and Destruction.

Thursday, July 29, 2010

Bal-Sagoth - A Black Moon Broods Over Lemuria

Genre: Symphonic Black Metal
Country: United Kingdom
Year: 1995
Label: Cacophonous Records

A band that requires no introduction, Bal-Sagoth has been churning out their own unique brand of epic symphonic black metal since 1989, their first demo surfacing in 1993. It wouldn't be until 1995, however, that the world would hear their their first full-length album. This is my favourite release from these fantasy-obsessed Brits, and they would never record an album quite like it again. The atmosphere is much darker here than on their later work, and the production evinces a more obscure, arcane atmosphere. Honestly, I think this is the band's most epic work. Many people will likely disagree with me on this, seeing as their future releases are drenched in keyboard symphonics, and while it's cool for what it is, A Black Moon Broods Over Lemuria had the most vivid and encompassing atmosphere which I feel really enthrones it at the top of their discography. Granted, I'm not intimately familiar with Battle Magic or Atlantis Rising, but the handful of listens I've given them seem to further cement my opinion on the matter. I find myself reaching for A Black Moon Broods Over Lemuria far more often than The Power Cosmic, Starfire Burning Upon the Ice-Veiled Throne of Ultima Thule, and yes, even the revered Chthonic Chronicles. As I mentioned previously, this is a decidedly darker album than anything that succeeded it, and I really like the way the symphonic elements aren't quite as over-the-top as they are on the band's other discs. Vocally, Lord Byron switched between the expected black rasps and his trademark spoken word passages, but he also used death growls that would never be heard again on a Bal-Sagoth album. I enjoy his vocal performance on this release immensely, and I actually feel that it was his best overall. Chris Maudling's riffwork is also a highlight, delivering a crushing fusillade of black and death metal magefire that stomps its way across the band's soundscape like an ancient warmachine. The combination of the leaden riffs and tasteful symphonics truly brings to mind the images of the cyclopean cities, eldritch spires, bloody battles, and unfathomable ancient gods that have always pervaded Bal-Sagoth's awesome lyrics. In short, this album is heavy, atmospheric, evil, arcane, and epic all at once - just the way I like it. Definitely worth checking out if you haven't already.

For fans of Emperor, Sear Bliss, Limbonic Art, and Summoning.

Sunday, July 25, 2010

Sacramentum - Far Away from the Sun

Genre: Melodic Black Metal
Country: Sweden
Year: 1996
Label: Adipocere Records

Sorry about the delay on new posts, guys - I've been very busy over the past two weeks. But here I am now, so onward to more metal! Today I'm going with Sacramentum's Far Away From the Sun, an awesome and, according to many fans, criminally overlooked and severely underrated Swedish melodic black metal classic. The first discussion point when talking about this album is  usually whether or not Sacramentum were just a Dissection clone. The answer here, I will venture to say, is no. Sure, the unmistakably Swedish melodic tendencies are there, as is the magnificent Kristian Wåhlin cover artwork, but Sacramentum were indeed their own band. While Dissection incorporated touches of death metal elements and went for a decidedly more aggressive approach on their landmark albums, Sacramentum had both feet firmly planted on the black metal side of the fence for this one, opting for a more atmosphere-centric sound, Far Away From the Sun being an ice-cold, mist-shrouded journey through majestic nightscapes that truly embodies its own unique identity. This is a beautiful, epic album with an awesome production that allows all the instruments to be heard while retaining a distant, reverb-saturated atmosphere. I really love albums that truly sound like the cover artwork, and this is definitely one of those cases, the freezing, majestic riffs taking the listener on a journey through dark, arcane fortresses, ancient sunless forests, and towering snow-clad mountains, an atmosphere that truly pervades the music from the beginning of the opening track to the terminal fade of the final song. At the very least, give this an attentive listen before writing it off as a Dissection clone. The similarities are certainly there, as mentioned before, but this is definitely a beast of its own.

For fans of Dissection, Thulcandra, and Abyssos.

Friday, July 16, 2010

Just For Fun

A friend sent me a screenshot of this and I just couldn't resist posting it:

Hahaha, thanks for reading, everybody! Here's to 666 more!

Wednesday, July 14, 2010

Angantyr - Hævn

Genre: Black Metal
Country: Denmark
Year: 2007
Label: Det Germanske Folket

This is one of those albums that I love so much that I have been putting off writing about it. As always with albums I feel so strongly about, I feel there's very little I can say that would do it justice, but I will give it my best shot nonetheless! Hævn is an album whose revelry in the epic is very honest and mightily profound, relying only on beautiful, haunting guitar riffs to create its gigantic, sweeping atmosphere. The melodies that pervade its generous hour and eleven minutes are gargantuan soaring hymns of fury, sorrow, triumph, and defeat. This is as good as it gets: no gimmicks, no cheeseball synthesizers, no pop melodies, nothing but one man's pure, honest vision of what great Nordic black metal should sound like. And what a vision it is! Many bands barely manage 'epic' with a full array of symphonic keyboard patches at their disposal; Angantyr pretty much defines the word with nothing but electric guitars. There are a few (read: FEW) parts where keyboards are utilized, but it's always tasteful, underpinning whatever musical idea is driving the song at the time, never taking centre stage but rather helping to flesh out the atmosphere of that particular moment. As I previously stressed, it is not often that the keys make an appearance, so this is  in no way 'symphonic'. I believe Ynleborgaz himself refers to Angantyr's music as "raw melodic black metal", and that's certainly a fitting description. Yet despite the raw feeling of the production, it's surprisingly well done: the expertly handled drums sit perfectly in the mix (yes, this is a solo project with real drums!), allowing the majestic guitar melodies to really shine through. The bass is audible but,  as should be with this type of music, is much more felt than heard. The vocals are a rasp very well suited to the style, and ride in the middle of the mix, sounding both distant and forceful. The extended cello outro at the end of album closer (and this blogger's favourite track) "Blod for Blod, Liv for Liv" is unexpected and truly moving, its beautiful, sorrowful melodies echoing in the listener's mind long after it drifts into silence. This is truly one of the best black metal albums I've ever heard, and is absolutely essential to the collection of any fan of the genre. Incredible.

For fans of Aldaaron, Windir, Odal, and Mourning Forest.

Griftegård - Solemn, Sacred, Severe

Genre: Doom Metal
Country: Sweden
Year: 2009
Label: Ván Records

Here we have a great old-school style epic doom metal band from Sweden. Solemn, Sacred, Severe has a cavernous atmosphere with big, slow, heavy riffs to back it up. The vocals are on the theatrical side of the spectrum, singer Thomas Eriksson wailing in a very emotive, expressive tone that truly suits the music. His voice is one of the high points of the album, adding a lot to the feelings of gloom and solitude invoked by the slow, sombre guitar work. This is definitely an album that requires a certain mood in which to listen to it, but when you're in said mood, it really, really hits the spot. If you don't enjoy Solemn, Sacred, Severe during your first listen, set it aside and come back to it later. You might be surprised at how much of a difference the proper setting can make for this doom gem.

For fans of Candlemass, Reverend Bizarre, and Isole.

Solemn, Sacred, Severe

Sunday, July 11, 2010

Bewitched - Diabolical Desecration

Genre: Black/Thrash Metal
Country: Sweden
Year: 1996
Label: Osmose Productions

This is some good ol' head bangin' fun from Sweden. Diabolical Desecration is all about simple, stripped-down black thrash (more on the thrash side) that gets to the point: no-frills here, just good riffs and down to business songs. These guys certainly have no intention of reinventing the wheel, which is fine, because this album is crackling with energy and riffy goodness. My one complaint is that I would have liked the production to be a bit more raw and visceral as I think it would have served the attitude of the music a bit better. Not to say the production doesn't work - I just would've preferred a more chaotic feeling. Small gripe aside, this album has some great riffs (which evince a very strong Motörhead vibe more than a few times) and is definitely a worthy addition to any black thrash fan's collection.

For fans of Nocturnal, Desaster, Midnight, and Sabbat.

Saturday, July 3, 2010

Holy Martyr - Hellenic Warrior Spirit

Genre: Epic Heavy Metal
Country: Italy
Year: 2008
Label: Dragonheart Records

Holy Martyr's debut full-length Still at War was one of the first posts I made on this blog, and now it's time for their second offering to make an appearance here on the Tabernacle. Hellenic Warrior Spirit is more of what made Still at War an instant classic: epic, epic, epic memorable songs jam-packed with killer riffs, rip-roaring leads, deft drumming, and awesome vocals, all wrapped in a full-bodied production that really brings out every instrument and allows the band's music to really shine through. Did I mention that this album is epic? No keyboards, no gimmicks, the soaring, sweeping feeling exudes from the riffs, vocal lines and arrangements themselves. Alex Mereu's charismatic voice is definitely a highlight here, delivering infectious melodies and anthemic choruses with incredible aptitude and character, and you really can't help but sing along to just about every last word on this album (warning: there is a chance your spouse/significant other/sibling/roommate/parents may walk in on you with a red blanket tied around your neck while raising a broomstick above your head as if it's a Spartan spear at any point during the song "Spartan Phalanx"). The lyrics again deal with Hellenic history and mythology,  the themes of which lend themselves very well to the feeling of the music. I don't like this album quite as much as their debut, as I felt that Still at War was a bit heavier and more energetic, but Hellenic Warrior Spirit showcases a better production and still completely fucking rules. Three hundred men, the elite guard - you can't stop the Spartan phalanx!

For fans of Battleroar, Wishdoom, Omen, and Manilla Road.

Carnage - Dark Recollections

Genre: Death Metal
Country: Sweden
Year: 1990
Label: Narcosis Records

Carnage was an early death metal outfit that included musicians who would go on to play in some of the biggest names in the genre (Entombed, Dismember, Carcass, and a handful of others). Basically, this, their only full-length release, completely fucking kills. It's heavy, dark, and menacing, with a production job that is very much a foreshadowing of what would come to be the staple Swedish sound. It was all here - that thick, leaden guitar tone that crushes your skull as it stomps away above drums that hit your chest like a warhammer and never give you a chance to catch your breath. This is the real deal, and one of the earliest bands in the scene. As with many classics, there's not much I can say that hasn't been said before, so I'll leave it at that. Mandatory.

For fans of Dismember, Grave, early Entombed, and early Hypocrisy.

Wednesday, June 30, 2010

Abyssos - Together We Summon the Dark

Genre: Melodic Black Metal
Country: Sweden
Year: 1997
Label: Cacophonous Records

Holy riffageddon, Batman! Enter Abyssos, one of the most rifftastic bands in black metal. Every song this band has ever written is so jam-packed with cool guitar licks that I swear they're not even human. This was the first of the two albums released during their unfortunately short-lived career, and its sequel is of equal quality, so I decided to go with this one due to it being the band's original full-length effort. Now, before I continue, let me get this out of the way: this band sounds nothing - and I mean nothing - like Cradle of Filth, and the only reason people make comparisons is because they have lyrics about vampires. Really. That's it. There's no mallcore to be heard here, only top-notch, headbangin', catchy-as-hell melodic black metal. This stuff is guaranteed to have your air guitar flying and your head flailing, yet manages to retain a dark, misty atmosphere. There are sparse keys and a touch of clean vocals (both male and female) here and there, but they're used in strict moderation, which means Abyssos simply rely on their incredibly kickass riffs and ineffable knack for fantastic songwriting. Sure, the album cover is cheesy, but it's obviously rather tongue-in-cheek, and this really is gimmick-free music that exerts first-rate ownage of its own accord. These guys had their art honed to a science before calling it quits, and it yielded spectacular results. Overlooked and underrated.

For fans of Sacramentum, Dissection, Aldaaron, and Vinterland.

Tuesday, June 29, 2010

Tyranny - Tides of Awakening

Genre: Funeral Doom
Country: Finland
Year: 2005
Label: Firedoom

From the deepest filth-ridden crevasses of R'lyeh comes Tyranny, one of the most epic, evil funeral doom bands on the planet. Okay, they're actually from Finland, but the five sun-crushing dirges on this album will have you thinking Azathoth decided to write the ideal soundtrack to himself devouring the cosmos. The production is unfathomably huge, the drums sounding like they're rising from the furthest reaches of the ocean depths, the behemoth cyclopean rhythm guitars churning and writhing beneath sinister leads, all underpinned by subtle, textural keys that enhance the stygian, otherworldy atmosphere. Any sanity you might have left is utterly annihilated by the downright demonic vocals, whose visceral, infernal rumble truly thrusts Tides of Awakening into its own realm of incredibly malevolent universe-murdering funeral doom. This is a must-listen for fans of the genre.

For fans of Thergothon, Catacombs, Wormphlegm, and Colosseum.

Pantheist - O Solitude

Genre: Funeral Doom
Country: Belgium
Year: 2003
Label: Firebox Records

Pantheist are one of the defining bands of the funeral doom genre, largely thanks to this, their monumental debut full-length. O Solitude is a beautiful, intricate journey through an ever-changing soundscape, always sorrowful but never stagnant. This is probably one of the more diverse albums in the genre, as Pantheist use a variety of different instruments and keyboard textures to enhance their sound, and are even brave enough to pick up the pace every once in a while for heavy (if short-lived) head-banging sections. The vocals are also worthy of note, showcasing clean male vocals for a good portion of the album. The rumbling funeral growls are still present, of course, but the cleans definitely take centre stage, mournfully crooning above the music to create a lush, sombre atmosphere. This is one of those special funeral doom albums that really never gets boring or repetitive, always evolving, sometimes surprising, at other times with subtle finesse. Rest assured, doom fans: this album will captivate you from start to finish. Magnificent.

For fans of Skumring, Mourning Beloveth, Shape of Despair, and Colosseum.