Metal and Hard Rock Reviews, 2006-’08

Well, at least the rough drafts (notes? I Love Music posts?) seem to originate from the mid ’00s, as do almost all the releases themselves. Rhapsody apparently didn’t technically publish the blurbs until quite a few years later, and I can no longer precisely remember why.

Air Conditioning, Dead Rails 

These noise hipsters from Allentown, Pennsylvania sound like the kind of guys who  might’ve regularly enjoyed jumping the fence into the abandoned steel mill in neighboring Bethlehem as youngsters – maybe absorbing the sounds there, or the ghosts of sounds. “I Run Low” is some moderately tolerable three-minute quasi-Steve Reich minimalist meditative repetition, for instance, while “Accept Your Paraylysis/Cephalexin” is a 15-minute improv squawk marathon that it is definitely possible to sit through at least twice without throwing up. 

Akercocke, Antichrist

This London “blackened death metal” quartet (one of whom sports a totally awesome handlebar mustache) dish up a bearable-or-better mix of ogre-ific grumblegrunt with Porcupine Tree-type progitude. The guitar switcheroos in “Foosteps Resound in an Empty Chapel” might have you reaching for some graph paper, and “Man Without Faith or Trust” comes equipped with a decently rumbling undertow.

Blood Ceremony, Blood Ceremony 

This witchy-woman-fronted Toronto group mix up Sabbath riffs, Jethro Tull flutes, Uriah Heep organs and Grace Slick vocals reciting evil incantations, thereby conjuring middle-American myths of angel-dusted black masses in scary suburban culdesac basements at the moment that hippies started worshipping Lucifer. Plus, beautiful Euro-folk parts (“A Wine Of Wizardry”), jazz fusion sections with “Tainted Love” basslines (“Hop Toad”), and simmering instrumental jams stirring eye of newt and wart of crone into the brew (“Hymn to Pan”). Hey babe, my coven or yours? Go ask Alice, I think she’ll know.

Circus Diablo, Circus Diablo

These partly British hard rock Los Angelenos don’t quite hold up the promise that certain members’ pasts in the Almighty and Cult might imply, but “Loaded” is an okay Stone Temple Pilots-in-glam-mode thing; “Red Sun Rising” steals an AC/DC riff as sure as you’re born; and “Commercial Break” is a ridiculous Brit-accented spoken-word protest poetry-jam that comes off almost like a botched-homework attempt at “Religion I” from the first Public Image Ltd. album. Plus, the singer’s Billy Corgan-like whine is – surprisingly — not entirely unstomachable.

Cruachan, The Morrigan’s Call 

Excellently Pogues-jiggy extreme Irish shamrock-metal from Dubliners, with songs called “The Brown Bull of Cooley” and “The Old Woman in the Woods” that absolutely live up to their folkloric titles. Plus, yet another ale-hoisting cover (after ones by Tyr and by the Dropkick Murphys featuring Shane MacGowan) of  the 19th Century either-drinking-or-temperance tune “The Very Wild Rover” — the “very” of which those previous covers had left out of the titles, which means Cruachan’s rover is even wilder, right?

Damone, Out Here All Night

From a co-ed Massachusetts foursome, here’s some of the 21st  Century’s most irresistible false-metal yet, mostly about going out of one’s mind during the nighttime. Killer heavy chords and pissed-off growls (check “What We Came Here For”) balance out super-sweet Suzi Quatro-style summer-radio bubble-glam like “Stabbed in the Heart” and “On Your Speakers” (which rhymes with “worn-out sneakers”).  “Outta My Way” has Slade drums, Poison guitars, and gang shouts. And “Wasted Years” ends things by redoing an Iron Maiden sea chantey as prog-pomped Kelly Clarkson teen-rock, souped up with strings.

Destruction, D.e.v.o.l.u.t.i.o.n. 

A fast blast out of the thrash past, from veteran Germans who give their sonics more space and dynamics than casual listeners might’ve remembered. Also very propulsive drumming, screeching that manages not to sound strained, actual chorus hooks (“physical destruction! just kills!”), a bit of mechanical mulch, and a couple songs (“E.levator To Hell” and “V.icious Circle – The Seven Deadly Fins”) that recall Killing Joke for some reason. It gets a bit wearing over the course of an album, though. And the album title, sadly, has nothing to do with Devo — It’s just an acronym.

Dodheimsgard, Supervillain Outcast 

Black metal guitar noise from some evil Norwegian science-experiment laboratory, frequently veering off into unexpected and delightful twists and turns, most notably in “Apocalypticism,” “Foe X Foe,” and “Vendetta Assassin.” Tracks tend toward brevity, and start out real ugly, then little binking noises open up hidden windows so dancey beats can poke out of the goop and eventually take over – Honestly, it works almost like an alternate universe version of dub reggae. Taking in the entire 15 songs in one sitting is an awful lot to ask, though, especially if you’re a wuss like this reviewer.

Endeverafter, Kiss Or Kill

Billed by their label as a “return to real rock” or something equally silly, this L.A. band actually makes for a distinctive case study in that the guitars, especially at beginnings of songs (speedy New Wave Of British Heavy Metal riffola in “I Wanna Be Your Man” and “Poison”; excellent Van Halen rip in “From the Ashes of Sin”) are approximately one million times more entertaining than the whine-stained Clear Channel screamo vocals. “All Night”‘s semi-38 Special/Rick Springfield hard pop is the one notable exception; closing ballad “Long Way Home” starts okay, but quickly wears out its welcome.

Everlovely Lightningheart, Cusp

Call it a single, call it an EP, call it an album, call it whatever you want – But this one-track, 40-minute art-metal curiosity buries  medieval classical lute somewhere amidst its sludge — and then, at the 23-minute mark, old-school-industrial Test Dept. quasi-tribal 20-drummers-beating-on-oil-barrel imitations of Brazilian rain-forest drum rhythms, winding down to some halfway decent whoosh. Music for the post-death metal-concert chill-out room — And frequently rather lovely in the background at home as well, while you’re reading or doing your taxes maybe.

Fentanyl, Feeble Existence

These Dutch thrashers look like stevedores working the docks and sound like very early Voivod, when Voivod were basically a twisted and rrröööaaarrring high-speed/short-song hardcore band who hadn’t quite mastered their instruments yet. Except Fentanyl are hookier, with almost oi!-like shouts amidst total poverty-budget production, plus surprising moments where shortwave transmissions seep in or the music drops out and singer Eddie Nado comes back yelling – apparently about nuclear and chemical warfare (“Bhopal,” “Chernobyl,” “Gazzattack,” Sarin”) or ethnic cleansing (“Sectarian Slaughter.”)

Hammers Of Misfortune, The Locust Years

These San Francisco prog-metal exotics come off a little cold sometimes, with perhaps a pinch too much Mary Poppins in their visual trappings – sometimes it’s easy to wonder whether they want to be a Scissor Sisters or Dresden Dolls for headbangers. But they manage to work plenty of engineering-school schematic into the majestic arrangements on their third album — not to mention a capella madrigal harmonies, overblown piano-prog bombast, and a medievalist “War Anthem” that melodically suggests they could pull off a Boney M cover if they really tried.

Kotipelto, Serenity 

Finnish power metal of the Helloween school, sometimes with riffs almost verging on straightforward rock — notably in the quite rousing “Dreams and Reality,” though “Sleep Well” has guitars kicking off like “Round and Round” by Ratt then turning more Scorpions-like, along with comprehensible words about a lady who needs her rest. “Mr. Know-It-All” has jaunty Jon Lord/Ken Hensley-style Hammond hooks; “Once Upon a Time” is a speedball with old-school operatics as much Uriah Heep as Iron Maiden. And even the obligatory AOR power ballads feel like anthems.

Krypteria, Bloodangel’s Cry 

Fraulein-fronted Kraut-metal so Eurovisionary that “Somebody Save Me” either sounds an awful lot like Celine Dion or like “Time After Time” by Cyndi Lauper. Also commendably non-thrashy: how the speedier songs roll as much as they rock, and how the opera quotient reaches over-the-top, approaching Carl Orff levels in 10-minute closer “At The Gates of Retribution”. More often the Gregorian parts feel like mere embellishments, serving an emotional purpose that precludes them wearing out their bombast welcome. All in all: a charming enough sense of cheese to keep the pomp from turning into tedium.

Leaves’ Eyes, Legend Land

Six songs, including an “extended version” of the title cut, is about a perfect for these symphonic-metal Scandinavians and Germans. The belle of the ball is Norway’s Liv Kristine, formerly of Theater of Tragedy and a sometime Cradle of Filth gal pal. The music is operatic diva-schlock rituals amid the druids — uplifting yet frequently fragile Eurometal bombast for Celine Dion fans. And the clodhoppy dude whose job it is to grunt in the background (think of Evanescence) mostly keeps his trap shut. On the cover, Liv wears a lovely red dress by the seaside.

The Left, Jesus Loves the Left: The Complete Studio Recordings

This platter collects everything ever waxed (almost all in the mid ‘80s) by misanthropic and politically incorrect Maryland greaser-gutter punks and audibly confirmed 13th Floor Elevators/Blue Öyster Cult/Stooges fans the Left – which is to say, all their singalongable face-punches about big-headed moron underage cops and teen suicide and TV addiction and male prostitutes risking deadly venereal diseases and Skynyrd rednecks beating up 7-11 customers and how 5 A.M. is the most hopeless time of night and (decades before Clint Eastwood’s Gran Torino!) Viet Cong moving in next door, plus more. 

Litmus, Planetfall  

A long hour of zoomful Hawkwind-infused Brit astro-metal, typified by “Expanding Universe,” which universally expands for 15 minutes. Like the Voivod spinoff Kosmos, Litmus have their own mothership song, and along with “Singularity,” it ranks among their speedier cuts (almost a staccato kind of post-punk: hence, maybe Hawklords-infused instead?) “The Machine Age” sounds as mechanical as its title, which title you can also actually figure out from the words they’re singing. “Under the Sign” is a nicely clamorific jam workout, and “Planetfall/SETI” ends the set on several jazz-fusion notes.

Lucifer Was, The Divine Tree 

This ancient Norwegian psych-metal outfit reportedly first got together band-wise in 1969, stayed that way until 1974, then went their separate ways for 20 years. But they’ve put out at least three albums since the late ‘90s, and this one makes for a better Uriah Heep approximation than certain likeminded young whippersnappers have pulled off. Probably helps that they have so many people: Hammond organ player, three lead guitarists credited (one of whom doubles on Mellotron and another on Spanish guitar), a flautist. Plus, two of the instrumentalists and somebody else act as a choir sometimes. 

Mississippi Mudsharks, Train Rolls On 

Mississippi Mudsharks are three hefty blues-rock he-men from, well, San Diego, actually; their frontman Scottie Blinn calls himself “Mad Dog.” Guests help out on pedal steel (two songs) and “chain” (one). Their album-opening title track ain’t quite the “Train Kept a Rollin’” it wishes it was, and neither is the bleh ballad “Slow Rollin’” they close with. But in between, they’ve got shuffles evolving into badass boogie, bike-leather rockabilly (“Crimson Sky” and “Devil’s Road”), and some gratifying Black Oak Arkansas and ZZ Top tendencies — the latter most notably in “Throw It in the Hole.”

Persephone’s Dream, Moonspell

This Pittsburgh outfit’s homemade 1999 release gives atmospheric lady-vocaled goth-metal some graspable hooks and tunes. It’s more electronic and ethereal than riffy – Dead Can Dance moodiness broken up by early ’80s Rush parts, folkier ballads, an extended drum solo, and a 12-minute world-music lesson. Karin Nicely comes off even more new-age than the frontwomen of the Gathering or Lacuna Coil, but her band looks (and often sounds) like old prog-metal guys, not death-metal guys. And it’s notable that this band’s sonics grew more, not less, metal as time went on: Usually, the opposite happens.

Rhino Bucket, And Then It Got Ugly

This 2006 set marks the return after 12 years of L.A.’s Rhino Bucket , whose original drummer Liam Jason was once replaced by AC/DC’s Simon Wright, before a sex-changed Liam came back as a lady named Jackie Enx. Here, ex-Kixer Bryan Forsythe provides Angus riffs while Greg Dolivo opts for blood, sweat, beers, and hard-luck women (chronicled with notable empathy) over “pretentious crap.” “Hammer and Nail” and “She Rides” swing tougher than AC/DC has in decades, and closing working-man’s ballad “I Was Told” (sounds more like “I was stoned”) is as much Blood on the Tracks as If You Want Blood

Spi-Ritual, Pulse

These so-called “ethno-metal” Germans claimed to be a “unique musical blend of world music and death metal,” included “information from German anthropologist Dr. Christian Ratsch” on their enhanced 2006 CD, and insisted they traffic in “an aggression that should be enjoyed with a smile, not with an imaginary fist.” All of which are clues to their actual sound, which conflates Ofra Haza with early Theatre of Tragedy (i.e.: attractively soaring female goth vocals switching with grumpy male growling) in ways more listenable than (speaking of ethno-metal) Sepultura and System of a Down combined.

Warmachine, The Beginning Of The End

From Canadians who might need to play fast as a shark to keep their hands warm, here some super-catchy, anthemic, and muscular Iced Earth/Jag Panzer-style warrior metal, but with fancy guitar parts and clear vocals that often recall Geoff Tate of Queensryche. Tracks like “Empty,” “Fate, “Eye for an Eye,” and the title track pack metric tons of melody into guitar lines and vocal lines alike. And there’s much more brutal beauty where those hail from. 

Zao, The Fear is What Keeps Us Here

This noisy and long-promising West Virginia-via-suburban Pittsburgh Christian math-thrash band’s 2006 album climaxes and concludes with “A Last Time For Everything,” an incessantly rumbling louder-and-louder hoarse-whisper-into-the-dub-cavern rampage that probably sounds how Killing Joke wish they sounded these days, and producer Steve Albini probably knows it. Otherwise, we get some cat-and-dogfight snarls, some stops and starts, a few seconds resembling Pink Floyd. All adding up to one screeching racket.


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