If you have found this blog, it probably means you were searching for something that isn’t in the public eye. My intention is to promote awareness of artists that you would otherwise likely never know existed. If you like what you hear, support the artist by purchasing their music so that they can continue to create, and enjoy the release in the quality they intended.

Over the years this has grown into my own personal project, reviewing the artists that I discover and interest me. If you wish to see more of my work, particularly my more metal-orientated material, you can find me as a regular contributor for the online magazine
Axis of Metal.

Therion – Beyond Sanctorum

Posted by T. Bawden Thursday, 9 April 2009 0 comments

Therion – Beyond Sanctorum – 4/5

Another one at the request of Lifer regular J. Chan, I must confess to being better acquainted with their latter, more symphonic material than their earlier death metal, yet despite knowing their origins, nothing could quite prepare me for what I would discover. With an opening track that could only be described as appalling, with tinny sounding drums overpowering the guitar work, and vocals that I couldn’t help but be reminded of the vocals from fictional band ‘dethklok,’ do yourself a favour and just hit that skip button, because its only after this that things really get interesting.

This is in no way a straight forward death metal album. You won’t be overloaded with blast beats, but rather serenaded with a variety of beats and fills, with each given ample time to be fully developed. The guitars as it turns out, well and truly steal the show, providing more aggressive riffs, in between doom-esque melodic interludes, thrash grooves and the occasional solo’s, at times almost reminiscent of power metal, to call the work here as anything short of creative genius would be doing them an injustice.

The vocals are used sparsely, relying largely on the guitar work to sustain interest. Where they are used, they present a variety of growls, both deep and high pitched, as well as softer choral chanting and even female guest vocals, making themselves apparent on ‘Symphony of the Dead,’ which gives a strong indication as to the direction they would head. Keyboards too, are used rather sparingly, to assist with the vocals, combining to often create an atmosphere, rather than perhaps the more conventional use of - the vocals in particular- as more of a focal point.

The production beyond the first track marks a drastic improvement. No longer are the guitars hidden behind layers of tinny drums, the vocals are crisp and clear, the guitars raw, distorted and muddy yet discernable, and the drums capable of producing a deep bass-filled thunderous aggression.

Despite all this variation and innovation, everything feels fairly rooted to the death metal genre. At no point does it stray too far beyond the realm of the genre to feel out of place, but at the same time, if you’re expecting a straight forward death metal release you’ve come to the wrong place. This is early experimental death metal, with both high’s and lows. The rather generic intro track, the static noise like sound on ‘Tyrants of the Damned,’ and the overtly bass-filled intro to ‘Enter the Depths…’ show that not all their idea’s were successful. Despite this, they have succeeded in delivering high quality music that remains unique and innovative more than 15 years since its release.

Highlights: Pandemic Outbreak, Symphony of the Dead, The Way

Note: This copy is the Nuclear Blast re-release. It contains some demo tracks, which are essentially tracks from the album with less production work.

Acid Drinkers – High Proof Cosmic Milk – 4/5

And so it dawns on me that we have had Miley Cyrus on the front of the blog for a couple of days, elevating this old favourite of mine to the top of the pile rather quickly. Whilst conventionally thought of as belonging to the genre of crossover thrash, particularly in this album I dispute that, opting for a more punk/thrash definition, as whilst it certainly has some traits of hardcore punk, the lack of aggression and rather more ‘shouted’ vocals over the more conventional hardcore rasp leads them to be a rather different beast from their brethren.

The drumming here is excellent, avoiding the use of repetitive beats found in their genre styles, with plenty of changes and fills, whilst perhaps is technical abilities are not to the level of many, his creativity greatly assists in their highly unorthadox sound. The guitar work, whilst at time fairly psychedelic (e.g. High Proof Cosmic Milk) largely adheres to what we would expect from thrash if we removed the aggression. As much as I hate to use the term for the negative connotations attached, describing them as ‘groove’ would certainly apply. Now, before you all switch off at the mention of this, this isn’t another case of a thrash act that simply couldn’t play very quickly, it creates an unusual trance-like atmosphere, a melody that wont leave you alone until the very end.

The vocals too are fitting, as previously mentioned often shouted, or cleanly sung on the slower tracks, but are in themselves nothing to rave about. Rather, it’s the effect the whole has when it comes together. Its unusual atmosphere, variety in pace, from a slow psychedelic crawl to more conventional thrash tones, it all adds up to create an rollercoaster ride of an album, the fairly raw production giving it a little ‘rough around the edges,’ only adding to this effect.

And a line needs to be said about the cover work; simple yet brilliant. Tired of thrash sounding all the same? I welcome you to the world of Acid Drinkers, filled with nonsensical chorus lines and tempo shifts. Acid Drinkers; thrash to get stoned to.

Highlights: Rattlesnake Blues, Be My Godzilla, Blind Leadin’ the Blind

Bonus Round: Acid Drinkers – Are you a Rebel – 3.5/5

The debut album sees a far less psychedelic, and rather more comical style, and thought the sound is rather more raw in nature, the end result is relatively similar. Not perhaps as good, but certainly worth it if you enjoyed their later work. Plus, I already had it uploaded at the time of writing this, so why not.

Miley Cyrus - Breakout

Posted by T. Bawden Tuesday, 7 April 2009 2 comments

Miley Cyrus – Breakout – 0.5/5

And so it dawns on my 100th post on this forum. Now rather than do as I’ve done in the past, marking momentous occasions with albums from my past, or specials with multiple contributors to a theme, I thought I would tackle the exact reverse. Originally planning a garage black metal band, or something else equally horrendous, I reached the decision to peek my head out, not just slightly, but way out into the eyes of the mainstream pop industry, and pick out what I expected to be the biggest atrocity I could find.

Whilst I simultaneous thank my American friends for repeatedly mention just how terrible this artist is, know that without your comments I would have been blissfully unaware of her existence, so despite me writing this review, know that the next time you mention someone of this calibre and my curiosity gets the better of me that I’ll be giving you the finger from behind my computer screen. Next time a toddler ‘makes it big’ by flashing her underwear in front of Barney the dinosaur, and uses her new-found fame to launch a career in music, do me a favour and keep it to yourself.

To say I had any expectations of this album would be a lie, though I most certainly had hopes. Mainly that it would be short, and completely void of any frustrating giggling that annoys me to no end. I am happy report that both of these hopes have been fulfilled.

The backing consists of generic drumming and guitars, with the occasional chord played on the keyboard for atmosphere. About as generic as you can get, but since when was a mainstream pop album concerned with instrumentation? So, onto the vocals then.

She can’t sing. I mean, I never expected her to be able to, and I must say the ability for the music studio’s to hide this fact is astounding, but despite this they have failed to remove all traces of that bizarre accent she seems to have decided to sport. It doesn’t sound like a slack-jawed southerner so much as a terrible attempt for a rich kid to simply sound that way. Luckily for her, she was so poor at it that it largely remains hidden underneath layers of post-production.

Now I would guess that the old adage ‘write what you know,’ would present something of a dilemma to her, but then it would be naïve of me to think she actually wrote her own lyrics. Opening with the title track and the following lyrics:

“Every week's the same
Stuck in school's so lame
My parents say that I'm lazy
Gettin' up at 8am's crazy
Tired of bein' told what to do
So unfair, so uncool” - Breakout

Did nobody glance at this and think, hang on, is this really the best we can come up with? Surely there are children with ages not yet in the double digits who would be appalled at this. It’s not just that it’s generic, tasteless and immature, but it even has terrible grammar.

Comedian ‘Dylan Moran’ once said, and I quote; “I'm not saying it's a bad song, you know? Or anything like that. All I'm saying is that if you get, I don't know, a broom, say, and dip it in some brake fluid, put the other end up my arse, stick me on a trampoline in a moving lift, and I would write a better song on the walls." This is an apt description for each track on this album, and yet despite all this, there is the faintest glimmer of hope that this might not, in fact, be the worst album to ever reach platinum status. The ability to recognise that at some point, a change in pace may be a good thing, and the cover of Cyndi Lauper’s “Girl’s Just Wanna Have Fun,” shows inclination that perhaps she doesn’t yet believe what her manager is telling her in return for ‘special favours’. It’s shit, but at least its fairly short.

Highlights: The fact I forgot to turn the ‘repeat’ button on.

Rattlehead – Step Inside for the Slaughter

Posted by T. Bawden Monday, 6 April 2009 0 comments

Rattlehead – Step Inside for the Slaughter - 2/5

In the immortal words of Good Mourning, Black Friday “What the fuck is this?” The answer is clichéd neo-thrash. Now I can’t tell if I’m more pissed at having wasted time on this album or that there is now another piece of shit associated with the king of shit-heads himself, Mega-Dave. Mustaine might have heard this kind of treatment after The World Needs a Hero, but dammit, there are innocent thrashers like me being caught in the cross-fire. Have some decency!

No, I’m not being over-dramatic. What’s so wrong with this? Besides the fact this would have been below average if had been written 20 years, drags down the collective of ‘Deth fans everywhere, and belongs to a scene that’s rightfully accredited with being the most useless re-hash in history, not much. Now, don’t give me that look, I’m not hating because it’s neo-thrash. I like Gama Bomb and Lich King. Hell, I love Ballistic, though they aren’t generally thrown in with those kids. There are bands that can re-explore this and not come off like complete retards. This Rattlehead, on the other hand, is migraine-inducing from all the riffs I’ve heard a thousand times before, and didn’t like the first time.

Easily the most annoying part is the guitar tone. Godamn, if there’s one thing the Neos should have over their predecessors, it’s production. They should be able to find that balance between razor-sharp and space-filling, but somehow, this band thought that going for a tone that’s reminiscent of a flattened butter-knife would be a good idea. Now counter-act that with a soloing tone that sounds neo-classical, and you a have a sound more miss-matched then my black denim jacket and my mother’s polka-dotted skirt. And not the dark one, the one with pink and purple. Yeah, gross, isn’t it? The vocals, standard groove-esqe tough-guy bullshit, are hit and miss. Mostly miss, but there are times when he manages to fit the music, and still be aurally pleasing. Bless him for that. Him and the drummer, who manages to keep the beat, and throw in a decent fill to distract me form that stupid guitar tone once in a while. The bass appears two, maybe three times in the album, and the not very memorably. Shame, as that might have given the band enough of something to be enjoyable. Hell, I’d take a groove-filled album over this pile.

Good the songs flow together. The albums tracklist works fairly well, but if by some chance you have the album on shuffle, you start seeing ridiculous similarities between songs like Crystal Night and Burn the Witch. Yeah, they’ve got titles that stupid. If there was one place they might have gotten pity points, it would have been for the non-essentials; lyrics and cover art. Instead, completely asinine lyrics, and a more cartoony version of Gallery of Suicide. Step Insider for the Slaughter is absolutely terrible, feel free to avoid.

Now where did I put my Deceased CDs…

Hizaki Grace Project

Posted by T. Bawden Saturday, 4 April 2009 0 comments

Hungry for some more hot Hizaki action? Here’s a (mostly) live album, and two of his earlier EPs featuring vocalists from various bands. Both are solid efforts, with some good material but nothing distinctly spectacular. If you enjoyed ‘Versailles’ and ‘Curse of Virgo,’ its definitely worth a glance, otherwise you’re not missing much. As a note, ‘Dignity of Crest’ is largely a live performance (Track 5 onwards) which is largely the same as found in ‘Ruined Kingdom,’ and actually sounds remarkably similar to the studio version.

Hizaki Grace Project – Dignity of Crest [Live]

Hizaki Grace Project – Maiden Ritual [EP]

Hizaki Grace Project – Dance With Grace [EP]

Hizaki Grace Project – Curse of Virgo [EP] – 4.5/5

The most recent work of this guitarist, and it must be said there is a dramatic improvement here since his last effort. Most notably, the removal of the vocalist, which I must confess I am rather glad to announce. In fact, there is no vocalist present here at all, this EP, unlike his other work, really does feel like a solo work.

And what a punch he pulls here, from the sublime keyboard intro, to the hard hitting, almost psychedelic ‘Supreme Being,’ and the neo-classical perfection of ‘Race Wish,’ a song so addictive that it actually had me searching for a guitar tab, something which I so rarely do. In the space of 23 minutes he succeeds in outstanding diversity with the inclusion of ballads, aggressive thrash styles, as well as his standard neo-classical tones galore, always retaining that strong sense of melody that initially sparked my interest. Despite this its just as well its fairly short, as otherwise this could become a rather monotonous release – and the end of the day, it is still largely built around virtuoso guitar playing. Instead, he’s extracted the best of from his previous effort and condensed it into one glorious release, which doesn’t let up for its entire run time.

Containing the track that originally sparked the decision to write this special, and coming from someone who usually sees little attraction in neo-classical work, this is highly recommended to any fan of the genre. Never again do I expect to discover a transvestite that succeeds in being as beautiful as he is proficient in wielding his instrument.

Highlights: Supreme Being, Race Wish

Hizaki Grace Project – Ruined Kingdom – 3.5/5

This debut ‘solo’ effort from the neo-classical wizard Hizaki, contains a full line-up of musicians he has previously worked with. Featuring both the guitarists from ‘Versailles,’ as well as the bassist, it comes as no surprise that the resultant sound is rather similar. Coupled with a less proficient vocalist, and the distinct absence of a keyboard player, what results is a far more guitar-orientated album. It is hence prudent to point out that it’s rather a good thing that they are both on top form with this release.

Once again the drums are capable enough, though perhaps a little quiet at times, the aggression drowned in the final production when compared to the guitars. The bass too remains inaudible, and I almost wish the same could be said for the vocalist. Whereas in ‘Versailles,’ the vocalist rarely attempted the higher notes, here the vocalist, more akin to fronting the gothic metal band ‘Moi dix Mois,’ has no problem, happily wailing like your grandmother trying to sing like she could in her youth (e.g. ‘Ritual’). Combined with the overtly forced sound to the vibrato used, we have a force to be reckoned with. Mr. Bidwell once told me that in power metal, even the bad vocalists still aren’t terrible. After hearing this vocalist’s work, I beg to differ.

The guitar work is if anything, better than ever before, displaying excellent speed and fluidity through the numerous upbeat passages and solo’s galore, of which throughout the hard hitting riffs, melodic solo’s and classical keyboard interludes generously sprinkled throughout this piece, rarely does it falter, but even this cannot compensate for the vocals, really detracting from the end result.

If you are capable of ignoring the vocals, (which I have found to be possible) there is some excellent guitar work presented here, and some good tracks where the vocalist fails to detract from the end result, even though at times it does perhaps begin to feel a little monotonous, an unavoidable hazard of neo-classical territory. Whilst not a bad release, it fails to meet expectations.

Highlights: Distorted Thought, Philosopher

Versailles – Noble

Posted by T. Bawden 0 comments

The Hizaki Mini-Special

Right, so whats the cause for this little breather in the female fronted specials? In researching Japanese Power Metal bands, I happened across the work of this neo-classical guitarist. Unlike many contemporary artists, he has something of an 80s style flair to him, a strong sense of melody that too often gets lost amidst much in this genre, which begins to sound like playing fast simply because they can. He may not be as technically proficient as other artists with this style, but his compositional abilities haven’t failed to impress, and so here I am, assisting in correcting how poorly known this underrated musician is.

Versailles – Noble – 4/5

First up is this recent release from the Japanese Symphonic Power Metal band, where once again Hizaki’s signature neo-classical style makes itself known. Unlike perhaps a lot of notions of Japanese Power metal, this isn’t overtly flowery. Its symphonic but it still has its balls still firmly attached, combining upbeat drum work with melodic and neo-classical guitar solo’s and hard hitting riff’s. In fact, this can almost be described as a cross between Fairyland’s and Stratovarious’ style of thinking, this is the flower power that bites back.

After the epic rhapsody-esque intro finishes, we emerge into a triumphant main track that leaves no illusion as to the style their heading. Combining soft smooth passages with aggressive drum work and beautiful guitar harmonies, this is the sort of start to an album that has you eager to hear what else they’ve come up with, as if its this good then you know you’re in for a treat. Unfortunately, the quality does decline, but nonetheless they have produced a superb album.

The drumming is quick and upbeat, fulfilling the duties of keeping the beat with ease, and varying enough to help transition between the styles produced on this album. The bass is essentially inaudible (short of really straining), and the vocals can at times present a minor issue. Backed by the guitarists sporadically performing thrash-like yells in the more aggressive tracks, this lead vocalist has both a major strength and a major weakness. His ability to vary pitch and volume, as well as use vibrato so as to not feel overdone is quite noteworthy (despite his frequent smooth style) but he rarely hits his upper register, which is truly a shame as where he does he displays a considerable level of prowess (e.g. ‘Windress’). He is clearly a capable vocalist, but all too often he fails to show his colours.

Instead, a lot of emphasis is placed on the dual guitar work from the two guitarists – and with good reason – who share lead roles in this outfit. The number of styles approached by them varies immensely, from the thrashier ‘To the Chaos inside,’ the heavy metal groove-filled ‘Zombie,’ as well as the more neo-classical style expected featured prominently throughout this piece. And for those craving a fix of neo-classical solo’s, they perform outstandingly every time, never betraying the overall atmosphere of the song.

There is still room to improve on this effort, with less use of keyboards than I would like to see, and a vocalist performing below his capabilities, but despite this the variety in aggression and style shows considerable capabilities, and leave me with hope for promising work in the future.

Highlights: Aristocrat’s Symphony, Windress, History of the Other Side

Bonus Round: Versailles - Lyrical Sympathy [EP]

Not perhaps as strong as their debut, it nonetheless shows a perhaps slightly less symphonic, and more guitar orientated approach. Worth grabbing if you enjoyed 'Noble.'

Album: You're A Woman, I'm A Machine
Artist: Death From Above 1979
Released: 2004
Rating: 3/5

Death From Above 1979 are a duo made up of Jesse F. Keeler (bass, occasional synths) and Sebastien Granger (drums, vocals). You may have noticed that there weren't any guitars mentioned anywhere in that lineup. That's because DFA1979 don't use them. Instead, their idea is to strip dance punk and noise rock down to their most basic elements. The results are somewhat mixed.

After a few synth notes for introduction, suddenly Keeler's bass, distorted nearly beyond recognion takes over and Granger's basic drums support him and the album really begins. It seems pretty good at first, with the first track being a somewhat danceable and relentless assault of fuzzy distorted bass and drums. That is, until the second track begins, and it sounds pretty much the same as the first. And the third track once again sounds the same as the other two. And the fourth track... well, you get the picture.

The problem with You're A Woman, I'm A Machine is that while the tracks generally sound pretty good on their on, attempting to listen to it straight through becomes boring fast because of the lack of any type of stylistic variation. Only one track, "Black History Month", really sounds different from the rest, and it doesn't work all that well.

Probably would've made a good ep, but an album is too much.

Hihglights: "Turn It Out", "Blood On Our Hands", "Pull Out"

The Jesus Lizard - Liar

Posted by T. Bawden 0 comments

Album: Liar
Artist: The Jesus Lizard
Released: 1992
Rating: 4.5/5

The Jesus Lizard were one of the better known noise rock bands of the late 80's-early/early-90's. There's a reason for that. It's because they were better than most of their contemporaries. Bandmembers David Yow and David Wm. Sims had cut their teeth in the short lived but now legendary Scratch Acid and Sims had also been a member of Steve Albini's also short lived Rapeman project (Albini also produced the first four Jesus Lizard albums, including this one), so they knew what they were doing.

The opening line of the album is where I'm assuming it takes its title, Liar, from. As "Boilermaker" starts to suddenly launch out of the speakers and nearly physically assault you (credit goes to both the bands very committed performance and Albini's very clear production which really allows it all to come through), Yow screams "I'll calm down" repeatedly. Of course, he doesn't , and the band just hits the chorus where everything gets faster and louder and Yow becomes more unhinged until the song comes to a halt as abruptly as a car hitting a wall.

That's a basic overview of what The Jesus Lizard does, although they do vary it up throughout Liar. They take it slow a few times, which allows for some really (intentionally) uncomfortable songs that grind and twist carefully before exploding. Other times, they let in little bits of other styles, like the bits of western textures that show up on a few songs, or the often funky rhythm section. It's things like these that keep Liar continuously interesting instead of letting it grow monotonous like some noise-rock releases do.

The guitar is usually used in quick, violent, syncopated bursts, and, despite Albini's involvement, still sounds pretty much like a normal guitar on the album. More focus is placed on the rhythm section, which can manage some pretty funky moves, although people are more likely to bash each others skulls in while listening than dance. David Yow's vocals are comparable to the ranting of someone who's been locked away in an institution for the criminally insane (and, based on what I've heard about TJL's live shows, Yow probably belongs in one).

For anyone at all interested in noise rock, this is worth picking up.

Highlights: "Boilermaker", "Puss", "Rope"

The Offspring - Smash

Posted by T. Bawden Friday, 3 April 2009 0 comments

The Offspring - Smash - 5/5


FINALLY, we have reached numero uno of my top 5, and it's a sentimental one. Why? I grew up to this album (despite it coming out some 6 years prior to my listening to it), and I can almost place the honour (or blame?) of me being a music enthusiastic on this albums proverbial shoulders.

This album sums the scene up for me. It was a time when Nirvana were at their apex, and everything was all about Grunge and how brilliant and innovative it was. Enter Smash.

This album takes a raw sound, full of speed, melody and rage and thrusts it upon your ears. A nice sarcastic intro of a guy talking about how he likes to relax and listen to music followed by a drum intro not unlike that of Painkiller sets the tone. The guitars fuzz away furiously, with inventive plam-muting (for a Punk band) and full, penetrating (heh) chords. The riffs are fantastic, yet simple. The bass grumbles away, with just enough prominance in the balance. The drums are primal, and relentless. The iconic voice of Dexter Holland wails and cries with spectacular effect.

Everything about this album is just what I wanted from music at this point in my life. It sounds like it was recorded in a day on a tight budget, but the production is by no means bad or unbalanced. Down to the scraping of Noodles' fingers on his guitar strings, this is raw, but not so raw that it just sounds like a bag of preposterous noise. The lyrics are fantastic (I'll Be A Long Time is great, as is Smash) and the vocal melodies are nothing short of inspiring. The group vocals just give that feeling of unity, like they "get you" and they're with you all the way.

I would expect a good chunk of people who are reading this to have already listened to (and enjoyed) this, so much more description is redundant. If you haven't listened to this, then you really, REALLY should.

As a footnote, I'll ad that I couldn't give two shiney shites if The Offspring sold out. Same for any other band I listen to. If I cared, I'd be denying myself some great music, and that would be a cruime against humanity. I suggest people adopt something similar to this mentality, and just listen to good music, and seperate the politics.

Operation Ivy - Energy

Posted by T. Bawden 0 comments

Operation Ivy - Energy - 4.5/5


First of all, if there are any fools out there who have been following my countdown, I apologise for the delay. Second of all, I'm lazy, so get over it :P

I bought this album (again, in my teens) having loved Rancid and found out that this is the former band of Tim Armstrong and Matt Freeman (Vocals/Guitar and Bass respectively). I was expecting something at least as good as Rancid. What I got was something better.

This has every charm that Rancid had - the griminess, filthiness and generally scummy style of Punk that caught my heart - only it has a lot more Ska influence. That's not to say that there aren't any straight-up Punk songs to tickle your dirty fancy, because Hell, there is. Knowledge being an obvious one, a great singalong.

The value for money here is incredible. On one disc, you get a mammoth 27 tracks. That's because this release is the original Energy album, and an EP (or two?) tacked on the end. They all blend seemlessly, to great effect. The songwriting is nothing more than masterful - these guys really knew how to write a good, powerful Punk song. Another great inclusion is tracks like Bad Town which are pure Ska.

Anyone looking for something like Streetlight Manifesto or Less Than Jake won't quite find it here (although disappointment is unthinkable), as this is one of the prototypical Ska/Punk bands. The songs aren't especially long, but fuck, there's 27 of them to keep you going. You'll easily find at least 10 that you won't be able to stop humming, and will be looking forward to listen to. This album is quite essential for fans of the scene, and even people who aren't familar with the sound. Listen to this, you owe it to yourself.

Ancestral - The Ancient Curse - 4/5

Alright, so in my neverending quest for awesome Power bands, I chanced upon this little beaut.

Ancestral are another product of the (relatively unintimidating) Spanish Metal scene who manage to do their compatriots endless favours by simply being really very good.

What really caught me with this album is the riffs. They're fucking great, and almost thrashy at times. I might even say that if you know someone who says "POWER METAL HAZ NO BALLZ", then this would be an album to change their mind. Free Born has a fantastic opening, not to mention awesome chorus, and even an immortal "whoa whoa" section that WILL have you pumping those fists.

The drumming is really quite impressive too. The beats are constantly changing, and the drummer also makes refreshing use of his whole kit. All to often you hear a snare, bass drum, hi-hat and splash combo, with the odd tom roll here and there. But no, the drummer makes full use of his china, ride, etc which really keeps the album interesting. The vocals are relatively standard, but work very well, as he has a nice tone to his voice, almost that of a mid-nineties Punk vocalist. Unfortunately, one of the trends that is plaguing music these days is prevalent on his vocals. The dreaded auto-tune. I dare say he doesn't need it, but it adds an unnatural sheen to his voice that isn't very kind to my ears. On the bright side, I wouldn't let this spoil your enjoyment, as this is truely an excellent album, with some great songs to wind down that car window and sing/scream/shout along to. Fast, melodic and rifftacular.

Funeral for a Friend – Hours – 4/5

The Guilty Pleasures; Sgt. Ferret Furball Explains.

Modern Post-Hardcore. Stealing album titles from David Bowie. The Welsh. Can anyone honestly think of any good thing to say about any of these three things? Well imagine my surprise at the discovery of an album that not only accomplishes all these, but succeed in producing something beyond any expectations, and I have no difficulties in pointing out that this is one band I was wrong about.

I first heard them when a friend of mine started telling me they were going to be ‘the next big thing.’ He said the same thing about Trivium’s debut EP, BFMV’s debut EP, Spineshank, you get the picture. I hear a couple of tracks from their debut, and dump them in the pile of talentless mainstream crap. Enter an argument a few years later, a few newcomers to the genre try to pass them off as the best thing since sliced bread, and whilst that’s not even close to being true, it did help me learn a valuable lesson; don’t judge a band on past performance, as even the worst of the worst can surprise you.

One of the most notable things on this album is undoubtedly the production. Crisp and full, every instrument has been given precisely enough notice in the final mix to clearly to determine precisely what there are doing. The guitars are simplistic yet addictively well written, from the tapped riff in ‘Roses for the Dead,’ to the comparatively complex ‘Recovery,’ this isn’t an album to overuse chords and palm-muting, the riffs here are perhaps more readily compared to classic rock over their post-hardcore brethren, creating a depth of emotion in an almost post-grunge-like tone. Even the drums and succeed in producing emotion, from the slow yet ultimately thundering tone in ‘All the Rage’ to the gentle and tenderly performed ‘History,’ they lend a continual presence that often works with the music on a level all too often forgotten.

All this work could easily be unravelled by the vocals, being one who simply cannot stand that whining tone that seems to make the likes of ‘Avenged Sevenfold,’ and ‘My Chemical Romance,’ so popular, yet here he manages to tread a fine line that makes it enjoyable. Despite the generic topics, and relatively lacklustre emotion, he succeeds in adding a power and separate rhythm to the music, often acting as more of another layer of instrumentation than feeling like the focus. The lyrics too feel as though effort has gone into them, to not simply re-write old idea’s, with lines such as:

“With one hard look
I can tell
You’ve had enough of these useless sunsets

This could be a movie
This could be our final act
We don’t need these happy endings”

Brilliant the vocals and lyrics aren’t, but neither do they feel generic, and this holds true for the entire album. You won’t find anything revolutionary, or anything that goes against the grain with regards to the current scene, but you can expect to find here an example of how the genre should be written. I have firm hopes that one day this artist will find the missing element from the rest of their back catalogue, and not just be lost in time, forgotten as nothing more than another member of an undeserving musical era.

Highlights: All the Rage, Roses for the Dead, Recovery, Sonny

Note: This album was distributed on an independent label called “Ferret Music.” Coincidence?

Arkona – Vo Slavu Velkim! – 4/5

I must open by saying that this Russian folk band had me deliberating constantly over its rating. Not as strong as Crimfall’s debut, yet better than the Dalriada reviewed previously, this fits somewhere in between, being enjoyable yet not without its distinct flaws.

The first complaint going into this album is undoubtedly the vocals, not to say they’re especially bad, but given the high praise I’d seen them given I was expecting them to live up to that. Largely performed by a female vocalist, she retains an earthy quality, never straying to the ‘faux-operatic’ style, with a great deal of variety in tones, from the more boisterous and jolly, to the quieter, almost whispered notes, and even a few spoken sections. Combined with this is infrequent use of mid-ranged growls, which are rather more standard Viking-esque affair, and whilst used effectively within the music are nothing particularly special on their own.

The guitars are largely chord based, and serve to provide rhythm, though are given their moments to shine, and perform well. The drums work well in producing an effective tone, and are critical in this regard, being upbeat, aggressive, bombastic or calming, even managing to hold their own in ‘Tuman Yaron,’ which features no instrumentation beyond the female vocals and the drums themselves. Even the use of folk instruments, the accordion in particular are well utilised, never overused but given a notable presence.

In fact, all the elements when considered alone perform well, and whilst they don’t feel out of place in the tracks, they don’t feel integrated either. There is a distinct lack of harmonisation, rather the vocals will have a short bit, then the guitars will play a section before the accordion kicks in, and then back to the vocals. It feels as though each instrument is stepping forward, having their turn then allowing someone else to have theirs, and results in a distinct lack of layers. This is detrimental to its ability to last, as well as its ability to feel ‘catchy.’

Despite this, it remains a good listen, and whilst perhaps not one that is especially memorable, it is very consistent and well performed throughout. This makes for an enjoyable listen, but if this is your starting point for folk, there are perhaps better places to begin diving.

Highlights: Vo Slavu Velkim!, Tuman Yarom, Na Svarogovoi Doroge

Dalriada – Kikelet

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Dalriada – Kikelet – 4/5

Thus far, this is the album that has probably taken me the longest to listen to, and feel comfortable knowing well enough to finalise an opinion on. This is neither a good nor a bad thing, as whilst I find I lose concentration on it frequent, the broad range of styles produced here soon finds something to snap back my focus.

The most prominent feature of their sound often relies on the use of vocals, both clean male and female. The female vocals maintain a level of calm, whilst being slightly nasal in their tone. This is then interspersed with deeper male vocals, utilised in a similar manner, and result in an effective, if not overtly impressive result. The backing is largely done by a simplistic guitar or keyboard melody.

What is done well, however, is the extra layer that frequently presents itself. The use of violin and flutes, the times where the keyboard has their own segment, or where male growls are used to play off the female vocals, to produce a contrasting tone, but they come far too infrequently. It feels like a fairly similar track being played each time, with a slightly different top layer. Even the vocals, the main body of the sound, feel rather monotonous, and unenthused, and contribute little to sustaining interest.

The number of different styles experimented with feels vast, from the slightly doom-esque tones, the more epic tracks, the occasional keyboard-driven tracks offsetting the guitar, the rather more boisterous introductory track, and so on, it creates a variety without straying too far from an sound identifying the band. Unfortunately, it feels rather like they’ve failed to find a niche, that one thing they do better than the rest. If I wanted synth-led folk, I’d have Equilibrium playing. Crimfall, or Moonsorrow would be my choice for epic tones, Agalloch for Folk/Doom, Kalevala for the boisterous style, and so on.

This is not a bad album by any means. It’s varied, interesting and well done. It just leaves me feeling like they could have done better, they could have explored further in one – or even all – directions, they could have made more prominent use of the violin in particular, and overall could have done more. The end result is one that feels lacklustre, in need of polishing, perhaps a touch of re-working in places, but one that has me with hopes for the future.

EDIT: Just found out their last album dropped the violin entirely. Bollocks. >.<

Alkonost – The Path we’ve never made lands – 3.5/5

And we approach another Russian folk metal band, this time with a slight doom-like edge to them, with epic ballads to follow as they meander on their blissful path. Describing what to expect here is no easy challenge, as there is little to compare them to. They heavily rely on keyboards to produce the atmosphere, the majority of the vocals taken up by an operatic vocalist (who is actually operatic, not just a nightwish wannabe), interspersed with the occasional growl, whilst on paper it all sounds rather good, it felt lacking, not through doing anything particularly badly, but by simply not being done as well as it could be.

Now, I’m a big fan of ‘folk’ instruments in folk metal, the tin pipes, flutes, bagpipes, accordions, violins and so on. I’m well aware of how well folk metal can work without them, but I couldn’t shake the nagging feeling that here it was sorely missed. The soft and simplistic structure seemed ripe for a layer of flute work to spruce up the tone, to add depth to the atmosphere and for the best part of the album this could have worked wonders in improving it.

Instead we are left with the drums supplying a basic framework, built on by the guitars to supply rhythm and the keyboards to supply atmosphere. The guitars rely largely on chord work during the vocal passages, and interchange with the keyboards in supplying melodic riffs between vocal work, and it must be said they succeed in doing a good job maintaining tone. There are no virtuoso solo’s to be found here, rather interesting instrumental passages used to break up the rather lengthy tracks, which could easily become rather monotonous.

The vocals, however, are easily the strongest part of this album for me. Soothing operatic vocals draw focus, and provide much of the sustained interest in the album. The growls are used all too sparingly, and could have added much needed diversity to the sound, as even the wonderful operatic work prevalent here cannot sustain interest for even the full length of a song, let alone the entire album.

And that constitutes this albums major downfall, it’s too monotonous. The tracks all sound identical, they blur together and there is little to really separate them - even the guitar interludes seem rather similar. It is sorely lacking in energy, there’s a spark needed to really provide a thick atmosphere, a sense of strength but it ends up feeling like a rather lacklustre affair. It must be said, given the praise I’ve seen them given, this is rather disappointing.

Highlights: Track 1, Track 3, Track 7

Kalevala - Tow of Snow-white Flax (translated title) – 5/5

It took me a few listens to really get into this album, listening intently at the parts to see how they fit in, paying attention the guitars when focus wasn’t on them, to how the drums create a framework and so on, and it all initially came off as rather bland. It wasn’t until I left playing in the background that I realised how it was meant to be heard. Technically, this band is nothing to shout about, but once I’d stopped over-thinking it, I quickly realised that this is possibly the ‘bounciest’ folk albums I’ve ever heard.

The accordion plays a large role, fulfilling a duty often performed by the guitars, and it’s inevitable that some form of Korpiklaani comparison needs to be made, both featuring the accordion, and both producing folk-filled fun and boisterous music, so let’s keep it simple. This is the band Korpiklaani wishes they could ever be.

Now, if I were to tackle this from my normal stand-point, id refer to the drums as rather basic, the guitars whilst providing some excellent riffs at times, feel a little too subdued for the majority of songs (track six remains an exception) and the vocals are not as soft or emotional as many others. But none of this is important, as the jolly atmosphere from the vocalist, who may as well be dancing whilst singing, the accordion player who in my mind is too doing some form of jig, bounding from side to side as the drums pound away and the guitars work the rhythm takes any of this off my mind. The atmosphere, and the tone presented comes so thick that technical abilities become less important.

But what’s even greater than this, is the manner in which it grows on you. Rather than becoming less interesting with each listen, you pick up on something new, something you missed before that draws you right back in. This album actually improves with each listen, and there aren’t many albums around that I could say the same about.

If you’re after something deep and meaningful, or with clever and intricate musicianship, well you’re really barking up the wrong tree with this release. If you want something intended to be listened to with a skip in your step and a beer in your hand, this is one group of crazy Russians who will not disappoint.

Highlights: Track 3, Track 6, Track 10

Carved in Stone – Hear the Voice – 4.5/5

And I’m bending my own rules for this release, satisfying the requirement for being folk with ease, with plenty of pagan and Viking themes throughout, it is not by any stretch of the imagination metal. Rather an acoustic and vocally driven ambient folk album, it nonetheless is a joy to listen to. Composed entirely by one woman, who’s only other notable musical contribution consist of keyboard work for a Folk/Black Metal band, she performs here without a trace of her musical roots, which is rather impressive by itself.

There is the occasional presence of other instruments, notably the occasional use of keyboards and harp, and even the flute in ‘Jeg Ladge Meg Sa Slide,’ but they are done quietly in the mix, so as to enhance the tone created through use of guitar and vocals, wherein the focus lies. The guitars aren’t technical, but rather are used to create a peaceful and melancholic atmosphere. Don’t expect any virtuoso work, but this isn’t an artist limited to basic chord structures, the riffs have been carefully worked out to fit with the theme of the song.

This is an album dominated by gentle emotions, greatly assisted by the entrancing vocal work. Even the lyrics, which I usually pay little attention to deserve a notable mention, with tracks such as ‘Warrior and Man’ speaking of the greed of man, ‘Invictus,’ which uses the poem of the same name, originally written by English poet William Ernest Henley, or ‘Last Words’ intended as the last words spoken as death awaits, however, rather than take an overly depressive tone with such a morbid theme, takes a different approach, which she succeeds in explaining far better than I could.

“I lived a life full of pride
and a new life now shall begin:
Valhalla´s gates are opened wide
and proudly I walk in.” – Last Words

In fact, the main disappointment with the album was the fact that more than half the tracks are sung entirely in German and I’m thus unable to understand them.

The production is minimalist, fitting for a raw, down to earth sound that does nothing but enhance the atmosphere, and something that has been done to perfection. This is an album that nearly hit the top mark for me, and with comprehension of the rest of the tracks is quite possible that it would have. Definitely worth the effort for anyone interested in this style of music.

Highlights: Last Words, Warrior and Man, Invictus

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Battlelore – Sword’s Song – 3.5/5

This is a band that has been sitting on my shelf for almost a year now, and for some reason I never succeeded in giving it the time it needed to fully listen to them. I suppose the main reason for that lies in the misconception on my part of what to expect from them. With a name when broken down becomes “Battle” and “Lore,” it conjures epic images of battling Vikings, warcrys and plenty of fantasy-type lyrics. Whilst the fantasy-filled lyrics are present, the aggression and for the most part, epic tone isn’t. This is a band that is far more at home with the likes of Tacere than with Turisas.

There is one main problem I encountered in this album, much pertaining to the manner in which the songs unfold. When dealing with fantasy lyrics there are generally two tenses used, past and present. Whilst the former sings about old legends and myths, a falling of long past heroes, the latter takes you amidst the battle, as though you are one of the heroes. This band, whilst going from lyrics alone would adhere to the latter option, creates a certain dissonance in the use of clean female vocals (which have slowly risen to near the top of the pile in terms of favourite female vocal work) and growls, the mid-pitched growls interchanging so frequently with the airy, rather more delicate and distant sounding female vocals has you feeling distant from the events taking place, watching from afar, only to have you thrust right back again by the growls. If you can overcome this issue I had, then there is likely to be much to enjoy here.

Most of the instrumentation can be summed up rather quickly. The drums are rather repetitive, the bass inaudible and the guitars are rather bland, though effectively carry the rhythm. I can’t quite understand the purpose of two guitarists on this album, but nonetheless they assist in creating an effective backing layer. Instead, the interest arises through the use of vocals and keyboards, and it must be said they are rather effective.

Often used for atmosphere, the keyboards fulfil an important duty, being the primary instrument used to smooth the transition between the two vocal styles, where they have moderate success. In addition to this, they perform their own riffs on occasion, performing between vocal sections. It is here that we often find the keyboard player displaying their prowess, and is something I’d have loved to have heard more of on this album.

Despite the negativity that has been mentioned in this review, the vocals themselves are incredibly well performed. The variety keeps things interesting, if dissonant, and they both provide a unique tone. The growls are easily understood and sound barbaric in nature, and the clean vocals are done in such a mesmerising manner that when at their best, can easily hold your attention, and at their worst become merely above average.

This is an album I had difficulty getting into, the interchanges felt poorly done for the most part, and the bland guitar work in particular leaves much to be desired. Despite this, tracks such as ‘Buccaneers Inn’ and ‘The War of Wrath’ emerge, seemingly out of nowhere and have me mesmerised for their duration. Inconsistent here, but perhaps there is still hope for a knock-out release in the future.

Highlights: Buccaneers Inn, Dragonslayer, The War of Wrath

P.S. Before giving this a full listen, because of the manner presented I was under the assumption this was a folk metal band, and hence the place in this special. It should be noted there is a negligible folk influence, beyond perhaps the use of a flute intro in ‘Horns of Gondor.’ This is symphonic metal.

Dendura – New Life

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Dendura – New Life – 3.5/5

Egyptian themed folk metal bands seem like something of a rarity, and that’s a shame as it can often lead to a vastly different sound, one which has yet to really be explored. Enter Dendura, a progressive folk metal band that reminds me at times more of ‘To-Mera’ than the rest of their folk metal kin, who have come up with a good stab at delving into uncommon territory, and have emerged with pretty good results.

Their greatest strength is undoubtedly the instrumentation. Each musician knows their craft and can be heard in the end result. The bass succeeds in adding a depth, working with the rhythm guitar in an interesting, if largely simplistic manner. The drums are most impressive here, as the manner each track unfolds involves a number of changes in pace, in aggression, doom like atmosphere and in each change the drums prove pivotal in easing the transition, time and time again successfully ‘smoothing it out’ so that it doesn’t feel disjointed. Constantly providing variety without being overpowering, they do more than is required of them which is not commonly found. The lead guitars whilst certainly have their moments, the solo for ‘shadowman,’ or the intro for ‘Isis,’ for example, however they all too often feel a bit redundant, performing below what they are capable of.

The vocals here, they really are an odd brand. Raw, aggressive and emotional they sound uniquely ‘punkish,’ sounding more shouted at times than sung but what they lack in conventional beauty they make up for by simply being unique. Oddly breathy and thick, they present a plentiful range of coherent tones to draw you in. Unfortunately, they are likely to be one of the aspects that, given their presence, are likely to make or break your enjoyment of them.

The production too, is a problem to overcome, sounding rather amateurish, like an incredibly long demo tape than a full length release. Whilst I enjoy the raw tone preserved, and the clarity of the instruments, it all feels like its missing a coat of polish, something to make it a bit shinier, and constitutes a major drawback.

If it weren’t for these issues, it would have undoubtedly scored higher. This is a band with plenty of idea’s, a talented line-up, and have successfully made something from it. There is the potential here for the makings of a fresh sound in the folk metal genre, but this effort falls just short of the mark.

Highlights: I Have a Gun, Rage, Shadowman

Kivimetsan druidi - Shadowheart – 3/5

If you hadn’t yet noticed, this special comes with something of a folk theme. Purely by accident I might add, simply that I uncovered a number of female fronted folk bands and decided to run with it.

Here we have a band that for all its brilliance is frequently flawed. One that has you whisked off to a dream world, filled with atmospheric symphonies, beautiful guitar riffs and operatic vocals and then abruptly, harshly drags you back into a more aggressive territory. Whilst usually I’m all for as much variety as possible, here it simply doesn’t work; the way they’ve worked it has a habit of destroying the build up done previous to it and requires them to start from scratch, and right before they reach a climactic point of folk ecstasy, the process repeats itself.

This sounds like two bands mixed into one. On one hand we have mid-ranged growls, punchy synth work, frequent blast beating and fast paced aggressive guitar work. On the other, frequent use of acoustic guitar, soaring choral melodies and a wonderfully atmospheric use of keyboards, either of these styles on their own would make for interesting listening.

The female vocals, where utilised at their best, assist in providing a clean atmosphere, working well with the backing to produce a tone with a touch of gothic/symphonic about it, but at their worst they feel out of place, an angelic voice in what essentially feels a bit like a melodeath track, and after a while become rather grating and irritating. Much the same can be said for the growls, whilst nothing special, growls in a track reminiscent of symphonic/rock simply feels odd.

The guitars feel rather uninspired, the aggressive pieces often consisting of a fairly generic sounding riff with a lot of distortion, and the acoustic all too infrequently presenting us with something memorable. The keyboards, however, do an excellent job of creating a slow melodic tone in the slower sections, and go a long way in creating one of the albums highlights, the ballad ‘tiarnach,’ assisted by enchanting violin work. Even in the more aggressive pieces they are ever present, assisting the atmosphere whilst never making themselves overly apparent, subtly creating a tone to work with, and definitely constitute a highlight of the album.

To call this a mixed bag would be an understatement; for every flash of genius is something sounding so out of place it detracts from the end result. They seem to have a number of idea’s to work with, but one can’t help but wish they’d have expanded on them, seen them through to fruition. An intriguing debut, and one that shows promise, but ultimately needs work.

Highlights: Blacksmith, The Tyrant, Tiarnach

Crimfall – As the path unfolds – 4.5/5

So, just in case you m
issed it this is another one of those bands I needed to post before writing the review. In fact, I mentioned how good they sounded before the album was released, based on the little that they had released promoting it. Listening to the full album, I can proudly state that this is quite possibly the best folk metal release since Equilibrium’s “Saga’s,” which places it pretty damn high.

There is currently no shortage of folk metal bands around, with the community seeing a sudden surge in two-bit bands who sound largely like they use the idea as a gimmick, a joke. Brainchild of one man who plays all the instruments – and believe me when I say there’s no shortage of violins, cello’s accordions and various other instruments worked into the music with an air of magic, perfectly complementing the vocal work, remaining distinct between tracks and interesting without ever drawing too much focus.

The best thing about the musicianship is the atmosphere it yields. Deep, bombastic, and with more than a few subtle tones from German classical, for the most part it sounds as though it was something that could have been lifted straight from a Lord of the Rings film. This isn’t just a term being thrown around, this for me is the very definition of the word epic, a monstrosity easily likened to a Moonsorrow masterpiece, and yet somehow improved upon with added variety in the melodies and harmonies.

When Helena Haaparanta of Tacere announced her departure, I was disappointed, hoping for another flash of brilliance from one of the better bands in her field. One thing I did not anticipate was her work with this, sounding brilliant in a whole new setting, surpassing her previous achievements. With a tremendous variety of tones, what she brings here is not dissimilar to her work with ‘Tacere,’ providing at times some of the best ‘beauty and the beast’ style vocals I can think of, playing off the other vocalist as well as providing her own small additions. The second vocalist, usually more akin to growling in black metal feels at times a little lacklustre, easily understood adding an almost wintery chill to the atmosphere produced. Unfortunately, this for me contrasts many of the warmer tones produced by the instrumentation. Despite this, it still works out fairly well in the end, allowing for a sustained interest with little detraction from the atmosphere.

This is a must have for all folk metal fans, a real shoe-in for my affections this year. The mastermind behind the operation, originating from a power metal band with only a demo to their name has arrived and in an instant put out a phenomenally good album. Leagues ahead of much of their competition, prepare to transported to the hills of Norway in this epic tale of Viking glory.

Highlights: Crown of Treason, Wildfire Season, Shadow Hearth

Album: Penance Soiree
Artist: The Icarus Line
Released: 2004
Rating: 4/5

The opening song on this album is called "Up Against The Wall Motherfucker". At this point you should already be somewhat aware of whether or not this album is for you. This is the Icarus Line's second album, but before even releasing any music, they already had a large reputation built on insane on-stage antics that got them banned from many venues. They worship at the temples of The Stooges and The Jesus And Mary Chain. Even if they had never released so much as one single, they would probably have gained a cult following just for their reputation alone.

They've decided to release music, though, which brings us to Penance Soiree. PS is a nasty, grimy, fun, wreck of an album. Lead singer Joe Cardamone lives up to his name and really leads the album, screaming his head off like a deranged maniac about the two topics of this album: sex and drugs. The Icarus Line are not attempting to be deep, instead, they just want to get wasted, make some noise, and possibly get laid. Cardamore possesses a sneer resembling that of Iggy Pop (young Ig) or Darby Crash, which perfectly suits the music.

The music is stupid, loud and great. The drumming is mostly caveman-style bashing throughout, nothing complicated, but it certainly is satisfying. The bass (when it's audible) can either be really funky, like in "Up Against The Wall Motherfuckers", or it can just do simple chugs for the droney-er tracks. The guitars can switch between nasty, abrasive, scrapes that sound like they came from old Gang of Four or Big Black records and sweet, shoegaze inspired drones.

The problem with Penance Soiree is that the record contains some unnecessary filler that slows the record down during it's middle third. The album picks up again at the end, but it's momentum has been severely damaged by the weak tracks.

An entertaining album worth checking out for fans of noise rock, shoegaze, post-punk, or just plain good rock.

Highlights: "Up Against The Wall Motherfuckers", "Getting Bright At Night", "Seasick", "Party The Baby Off"


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Guide to the Ratings
0/5 - This caused me physical pain
1/5 - This is really bloody awful
2/5 - This was below average
3/5 - This was above average
4/5 - This was pretty darn good.
5/5 - I cannot fault this epitome of perfection.

I cant guarantee all reviewers adhere to these guidelines, but work as a general guide.

Author's credit is given on all posts.