Satan – Life Sentence

Satan - Life Sentence

If you have never listened to Satan before, stop whatever you are doing right now and go listen to their classic 1983 album Court in the Act, which is probably the greatest NWOBHM album made by a band not named Iron Maiden. I was introduced to this band when I heard Blind Guardian’s cover of Trial by Fire, and I was instantly floored by it beccause it was easily the best thing I had heard from Blind Guardian up to that point. Court in the Act itself floored me again. Every song on it was absolutely perfect, everything metal should be. So yeah, go listen to Court in the Act before you do anything else. So after Court in the Act, Satan’s history becomes messy and convoluted, with changes to both the line-up and the name (I think  they changed the name like three times over their career). But what matters here is that this is Satan’s first new material in 26 years, and that the line-up here is the same that was on Court in the Act.

In the past few years, there has been a trend in old NWOBHM bands reforming and releasing new stuff. Sadly, most of them either suck or are just kind of there, The only ones who have escaped that fate that I can think of are Pagan Altar and Trappazat, but in both those cases all their stuff was written back in the 80s, and they’re just now getting around to releasing shit (though Pagan Altar’s stuff was floating around on bootlegs since the 70s). I can gladly say that Satan have managed to join those hallowed few. This album is seriously good. Insanely good. The songs are not boring (Angel Witch), they did not drastically change their sound to try and appeal to the “kids these days” (Cloven Hoof), and the modern production is neither annoying nor distracting (Hell). Satan have still got it to a ridiculous degree.

I read on the Terrorizer stream of this album that when they were writing the music for this album, singer Brian Ross says “Rather than just do a new album why don’t we try and get our heads into the way we would have been in 1984 and had we stayed together, the songs that we would’ve written, the songs that we would’ve put together to follow ‘Court In The Act’ is the album that I think we should write now.” This is pretty much the exact attitude all these reforming NWOBHM bands should take. Trying to modernize their songs to appeal to new fans is ultimately a doomed effort, because the NWOBHM for anyone not named Iron Maiden is such an obscure niche, that the only people who care about these bands reforming are the die hard fans of the 80s material.

So the old school mindset has really paid off for Satan, because from this album it sounds like Satan has not missed a single beat.

Satan has always walked the line between heavy metal and speed metal, with songs like Trial by Fire leaving many of the band’s contemporaries in the dust. So it comes as no surprise that the most stand out tracks (Time to Die, Testimony) on this album border more on speed metal than traditional NWOBHM. The crisp burst of guitars that opens the album immediately pump the listener up, and give them a taste of what’s to come. What follows is an amazing meld of speed and old-school melodicism wrapped up in excellent songwriting that few bands can hope to match.

Given the band’s track record, I knew that the songs themselves would probably be pretty good. But going into this album my biggest question was about how Brian Ross’ voice would sound, since singers are usually the band member most affected by time, and 30 years is a long time for a singer. I was happy to discover that Ross still sounds amazing. He obviously isn’t hitting the falsettos like he was back in the day, but otherwise he sounds great. His mid-range vocals manage to be both energetic and emotive, perfectly able to carry the songs on his own if he has to. Luckily for us, he doesn’t need to.

Ultimately, this album is good. Real fucking good. Amazingly good. Age hasn’t slowed the band down, nor has the time apart. Satan managed to come back after 30 years and put so many younger bands to shame. Probably the best album I’ve heard all year.

Darkthrone – The Underground Resistance

Darkthrone - The Underground Resistance

At this point in their career, Darkthrone are known primarily for two things.

1.) Fenriz being a really super cool dude.

2.) Doing whatever the fuck they want.

Over the course of their long career, they’ve drifted further and further from the classic black metal sound that they defined along with Burzum. And now they have arrived here, on The Underground Resistance. This album is a blatant throwback to 70’s and 80’s metal, but it still manages to sound like a Darkthrone album. To be quite honest, I think they changes that have occurred over Darkthrone’s career are overstated. The main thing that has changed is the asethetics, the production, the way everything is presented. The core of the their music has remained fairly consistent. I just think people have been blinded by the change from this to this.

Now don’t misunderstand me, I’m not saying that this Blaze in the Northern Sky pt. II and everyone is to blind to see it. I just hear a lot of similar riffing, even if one album is clearly black metal and the other is pure old school metal. There is a somewhat repetitive droning quality to the riffs here, and I say that in the best possible way. The cores of these songs are all simple and solid old school riffs that generally leave one banging their head. There is nothing fancy here, just blunt no-bullshit metal. In addition, I’ve always been a fan of Nocturno Culto’s clean singing. I think he’s pretty good.

Not much to say about this album really. It’s good, it’s fun, it’s fucking Darkthrone.


Enforcer – Death By Fire

Enforcer - Death By Fire

Sweden’s Enforcer return for a third album. Since their last album, 2010’s Diamonds, they’ve lost the talented guitarist Adam Zaars, who left to focus more on his death metal project Tribulation (I’ll get to The Formulas of Death, because holy shit that album). Despite the loss of such a talented individual, Death BY Fire manages to greatly improve upon Diamonds. To be honest, I was never really that big a fan of Diamonds. With the exception of the opener “Midnight Vice,” none of the songs on that album really managed to grab me. I could appreciate how ridiculously 80’s the band managed to sound on that album, but I found most of the songwriting uninteresting. The problems with that album are mostly fixed on Death By Fire.

The first thing I  noticed upon pressing play is that this album is much faster, much more energetic than their previous stuff. They mostly have dropped the midpaced rock/NWOBHM sound and, taking a page from the Skull Fist playbook, crafted a slightly glam infused speed metal album. Pretty much every song rockets out of the starting gate, never slowing down, but never sacrificing the catchiness that was their strongest asset on their earlier work. Every song has ridiculously catchy parts, though the chorus for “Take Me Out of This Nightmare” takes the cake in terms of getting stuck in your fucking head.

As mentioned, this album takes a lot of cues from 80’s speed metal, so we aren’t exactly looking at entirely original riffing here. However, every riff on this album is extremely solid, and sounds good both alone and in the context of the song. The melodic leads take their cues most obviously from Maiden, but there’s a hint of some heavier acts like Satan and Trojan. The bass is extremely audible, and like every Trad band since 1978, sounds like Steve Harris. I have no problems with this, and really like the bass playing on this album, probably one of my favorite aspects of this album. Olof Wilkstrand’s vocals are mostly unchanged, being that high-pitched classic 80’s singer, but the intensity of his voice has stepped up along with the speed of the songs.

Enforcer aren’t even coming close to trying to reinvent the wheel, just polishing their own chops. Seeing as how this is Enforcer’s best album, they’ve done that fairly well. Ultimately a very fun and solid album, if nothing else. If you’re looking for some good 80’s Trad-Revival, you could do much worse.

On a scale of Poison to W.A.S.P., I give Death By Fire a Dokken with George Lynch.

OLD MUSIC: 40 Watt Sun – The Inside Room

40 Watt Sun - The Inside Room

Salvaging one of my few Number of the Blog reviews that I could find.

Pat Walker is one of those unfortunate musicians that will probably never escape their past. Walker will pretty much always be best known for the album Watching From a Distance, and he really should feel no shame about that, seeing as how WFaD is widely considered a classic of modern doom metal. Even though there is no shame being associated with that album, the shadow that a monolithic album like that can cast over one’s career is hardly enviable. Everything Walker does now will inevitably be compared to that album. With that little intro out of the way, let’s move on to the album at hand: The Inside Room by 40 Watt Sun.

So yeah, this album sounds like Watching From a Distance, but “different”. How is it different? Well, all the same elements are there: slow plodding guitar riffs with a faint hint of melody rising above the distortion, lyrics about love and loss, and of course Pat Walker’s amazingly emotional vocals over the top of everything. The difference lies in the feel and the atmosphere of the album. Whilst Watching From a Distance was bleak and pitch black, with not a glimmer of hope, The Inside Room offers some hope. Like standing on a thin grey ledge, with darkness and despair below, but with a light at the other end of the ledge (if that makes any sense). Looking at that description, it sounds pretty stupid, but that’s the best way I could phrase it.

Musically, this album is pretty damn simple. It plods along, hammering out funeral doom riffs that just happen to be sped up. The guitars are extremely fuzzy and distorted (for the most part, there’s an occasional acoustic break), so a lot of the riffs are a bit hard to discern, but not too hard. Occasionally you will hear melodies rise above it all, but on closer listens it becomes apparent that those melodies are pretty much omnipresent throughout the album. Drums and bass aren’t anything spectacular or standoutish, as they serve their purpose and never take center stage (The drums you don’t notice tend to be my favorite kind of drums). It’s fine that there’s nothing spectacular about the instruments on this album, as this is not an album that one showcases their technical ability on. Rather, the instruments serve more as a soundscape for Pat Walker’s vocals to soar over.

And that brings us to one of the main draws of this album: Walker’s vocals. Walker’s nasally voice (which is never annoying) is highly emotive, though not always completely clear. It can be hard to make out some of the lyrics at times, though you are never in the dark as to what the lyrics are trying to convey emotionally (as Walker’s voice expresses them perfectly). The band also does not release lyrics, so I’ve had to puzzle them out on my own. From what I can tell, they’re far more hopeful than Warning’s stuff.

So yeah, I think this album is absolutely amazing in every way shape and form, and can’t think of a single negative thing to say about it (it’s too short, maybe. But at 47 minutes, that’s more just me not wanting it to end than anything else). We shall see if this album stands the test of time to become a classic doom album that will be spoken of with reverence in the future. For what it counts, I think The Inside Room completely deserves that status.

OLD MUSIC: Forgotten Spell – Desecrated, Decayed and Still Holy

Forgotten Spell - Desecrated, Decayed, and Still Holy

Salvaging one of  my few Number of the Blog reviews that I could find.

German black metal is an interesting beast, in that a lot of it sucks, but sucks in a very endearing manner. Some of Germany’s best black metal releases are sloppy and amateur sounding, making up in effort and soul what it lacks and professionalism. But occasionally a German band comes a long that is able to buck the trend of enjoyable shittiness. Your Tha-Norrs, Lunar Auroras, and now Forgotten Spell.

Let’s start with the obvious thing: The production on this demo sucks. There’s no dancing around the issue, it just sucks. In fact, it makes Moon seem decently produced in comparison. Everything sounds buried or feels like it was recorded at a distance, with the drums heavily muffled, and the vocals barely being audible over the constant roar and screech of the guitars. The whole thing has a very dry sound, if that makes any sense (It makes my mouth feel dry; odd that music can do that). But yeah, Dimmu Borgir this ain’t.

Another thing one might notice when looking at this tape is how insanely long it is. Consisting of 9 tracks and clocking in at just under 90 minutes, Desecrated, Decayed, And Still Holy is longer than most full length albums. Two of the songs clock in at 16 minutes long, and sitting through the entire demo can be hard at times. It does require a certain patience to sit through, but if you’re looking for obscure black metal demo tapes, you’ve probably built up a tolerance to this kind of bullshit.

Anyways, let’s talk about the music (the reason why Forgotten Spell is awesome). Not gonna beat around the bush: The riffing on this demo is some of the finest riffing that I’ve heard from a black metal band in a long time (excepting the riff-masters Immortal and Inquisition). There are so many riffs on this album that it’s hard to count them all. The muddy production also has a tendency to blend many of the riffs together, so the transitions seem to happen without notice. But that’s ok, it’s part of the charm. And with riffs as awesome as these I’m not going to complain about some muddy transitions. I think my favorite riffs are the ones in ‘The Incarnation in Contemplation of the Creator’ and the title track. The album also has some pretty good melodies, but those are kind of hard to pick out over the rest of the murk and noise.

Now, this band follows the Orthodox Black Metal trend that has been making waves lately. While I find the concept of Orthodox Black Metal almost as stupid as Christian Black Metal (since Orthodox BM is based around the premise that Catholicism/Christianity is true, but the bands have chosen to venerate Satan rather than God. It differs from your typical Satanic stuff in that it treats God and Satan as real beings rather than symbolic icons (or just being Satanic because that’s what black metal bands do)), there are some Orthodox bands I like. But overall I’m kind of meh on the whole movement. Forgotten Spell reveals the true potential of the scene, managing to create and maintain an atmosphere of evil and obscurity much better than certain other bands that shall go unnamed.

In summation, if you want to hear some German black metal at its finest, than I highly recommend Desecrated, Decayed, And Still Holy as it is far superior to many many full length albums.

Magic Circle – Magic Circle

Magic Circle - Magic Circle

I was introduced to this band by my (internet) friend and former fellow TNOTB writer Zane (Sophus), with him saying something to the effect of “boy, do these guys love Pagan Altar.” Now, comparing something to Pagan Altar is one of the fastest ways to get me to check out a band (because Pagan Altar rules you see). When I heard the title track, I was instantly struck by how much it reminded me of ‘Judgement of the Dead,’ so I knew I would have to check out the rest of this album.

Magic Circle hail from Massachusetts, and are apparently made up of a bunch of dudes from various hardcore punk bands, but despite the  dissimilar background, these guys have a supremely good ear for old school doom metal. As the first paragraph mentioned, these guys are heavily influenced by the almighty Pagan Altar, though the title track / Judgement of the Dead comparison is the only one that’s really obvious, if you listen closely and are familiar enough with Pagan Altar’s music you’ll definitely began to hear not only the similarity in riffing, but also a similar type of lead playing, being shreddy and virtuosic while staying rooted in its subservience to the riffs, much in the way Alan Jones plays.

Now don’t get me wrong, despite how much I’ve mentioned them, Magic Circle is not just a blatant Pagan Altar clone. The influence is obvious but they stand out enough on their own to be their own entity. One of the most obvious differences lies in the vocals. They’re nasally but ultimately full of energy and vigor, which shows up a lot throughout the album. Nasally yet throaty, I guess. They certainly sound like their own thing, and Brendan Radigan doesn’t sound like he’s trying to ape anyone in particular, though he does sound a bit like Ozzy, which is honestly just a thing that tends to happen in this genre. In addition to the energetic vocals, Magic Circle will often pick up the pace of the riffing at several places, providing a nice balance between the slow plodding doom, and the faster US trad metal sound.

All in all, this is a really nice album. While it doesn’t do anything particularity new, Magic Circle manages to create their own definite sound while paying homage to the masters of their genre.

On a scale of Trivium to Manilla Road, I give it a Covenant-era Morbid Angel.

Sacriphyx – The Western Front

Sacriphyx - The Western Front

Here’s another band that was introduced to me by Sophus. Actually, he only reminded me of this album, since I’m pretty sure I’ve run across these guys while looking through Nuclear War Now!‘s bandcamp page. Anyways, Sacriphyx are a black/thrash band. From Australia. I don’t need to do the math for you (black/thrash + Australia = probably really damn good). They’ve apparently been floating around since 2007, but this is their first album after a demo and a couple of splits. Upon being reminded of this band’s existence and the impending release of The Western Front, I went and listened to all their previous material. From those releases, I realized that Sacriphyx had a lot promise to live up to on this release. Thankfully they manage to surpass my expectations here.

The Western Front is very much a thematic album. By which I mean the lyrical subject is mostly singular and really drives the direction of the music. As you can surmise from the album title and cover, this is all about the western front of World War I. The atmosphere that Sacriphyx seem to be trying to create here is one of both aggression and sorrow, capturing the sorrow of the pointless mass slaughter of an entire generation, while also maintaining the ferocity of war.

Unlike Bolt Thrower, the focus of this album is not pounding aggression but rather overwhelming oppression. The riffs are pretty much all mid-paced Australian black/thrash riffs, but the production gives them a weird jagged quality that is slightly strange but all the more captivating. The sorrow of WWI musically comes through in the form of the melodic leads woven throughout the entire album. The leads range from slower, atmospheric solos to fast shredding. Even without the lyrics the sorrow and horror of WWI comes through all to clear.

One last thing; I really love the lyrics on this album. Yeah yeah metal has covered the horrors of war many times over, but the stark reality of these lyrics, the lack of any glorification, of heroics, or of any triumphs mark this album. Seriously, these lyrics are graphic and depressing:

Draped over the trench, a bloated and sickening corpse
Staring down from above with its leering vacant eyes
Its mouth slightly ajar, perhaps in a mocking smirk
Its skin seems alive with a hundred flies

Ultimately, this album is amazing. One of my absolute favorites of this year. Every song is amazing (yes, even the acoustic ballad), and every song contributes to the rest of the album as a whole. Far more than the sum of its parts, even though all the parts are amazing. The whole thing is streaming over at NWN!’s bandcamp page, so go give it a listen.

On a scale of Pantera to Iron Maiden, I give this album a Running Wild.