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!