This Town Ain’t METAL Enough for the Two of Us: Untamed Land — Like Creatures Seeking Their Own Forms Album Review

These days, it’s easy to assume that America’s culture consists mainly of racism, memes, and failed promises. However, this nation—as much of a zoomer as it is—has about two centuries of history, and thus, about two centuries’ worth of culture. And one extreme metal outfit known as Untamed Land has set up a roaring campfire in the wild west, ripe for some Americana storytelling. 

Untamed Land hasn’t been around for too long. The band was founded in Ohio by Patrick Kern, and—like Mammoth WVH—he’s the only member. Today’s album review is of its second record, Like Creatures Seeking Their Own Forms. I already listened to its debut, 2018’s Between the Winds, and I was sold pretty darn quickly. Let’s see if the follow-up, well, follows up.

Most atmospheric bands I’ve seen have very hand-painted-looking, beautiful cover art of landscapes that don’t at all look like it would belong to an extreme metal band. That is also the case with Untamed Land’s previous album art. Like Creatures Seeking Their Own Forms, however, is a lot different from that. It’s darker, with a sketchy, cross-hatching-covered aesthetic. The Neanderthal-looking dude in the center is kind of creepy, but the background art has a weird, abstract beauty. Something about the red sun on the right, contrasting the weird castle-looking structure on the left… I don’t know. I just love how it looks.

In terms of the basic style, Untamed Land has what you expect: a lot of riffs, the “duduholaduhdoladuhdola” guitar thing, and some “AAAAAAAH!” screechy vocals (those are professional Layman’s terms, btw). And to be honest, THIS is the band I should’ve compared to Sojourner, instead of Stormruler. Like Sojourner, Untamed Land is slower and more ambient.

But what’s different from Sojourner is, of course, the actual theme. In addition to the essential metal components, Untamed Land uses… er… crap, I have no idea what the instruments I’m about to describe are called, so I’ll use my professional Layman’s terms again! If you’re familiar with Clint Eastwood and High Noon, you’ll recognize the very U.S.-Western-style saloon piano, cowboy trumpet, and twangy string instrument (see? Professional!). But as novel as these additional instruments make the band sound, it feels like they come from a synthesizer. I’m not so hard on that, since the intent gets through well enough.

Like Creatures isn’t just the same thing over again; in fact, as with the cover art, it’s much darker than its predecessor. While the previous album feels like a cowboy shoot ’em up starring Clint Eastwood and Daniel Boone, this album—by comparison—feels like telling ghost stories by the campfire. However, the more somber theme doesn’t make it less epic; expect the same extreme riffs, rumbling drums, and very un-cowboy-ish growling.

If there is any tangible flaw with this album, it’s the record’s short-lived-ness. Despite it being considered full-length, it’s really an EP; there are only seven tracks, two of which are shortened versions of existing tracks. I don’t want to sound like that guy who’s all “NEXT ALBUM WHEN”, but the fact remains that this was a three-year wait following Between the Winds; I can only assume it’ll be a similar case in years to come. With less than twenty tracks total in its discography, coupled with the band’s novelty, expect new music withdrawal to hit fast.

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Final Verdict: 8.8/10

Yeeeeeeeeee-haaaaaw! Untamed Land has proven itself to be one of the most novel and underrated metal projects in recent years. And not only that, I feel like I’ve learned a little bit about the nation I was born and raised in. Recommending it now is a hard sell right now because there isn’t much, but what is there is worth its weight in California gold. I reckon you’ll like it if you give it a chance!

Where Has This Band been All My Life?!: IOTUNN — Access All Worlds Album Review

One thing I’ve learned about extreme metal is that it’s become about as varied a subgenre of metal as non-extreme metal (the problem is that they tend to be overshadowed by classic death metal bands, who happen to have X-rated imagery and lyrics, but that’s a topic for another day). IOTUNN is one such extreme metal band that has a bit more novelty than, say, Cannibal Corpse. There are two reasons why I was drawn to their full-length debut, and the first is its cosmically awesome name: Access All Worlds.

The second reason is the album’s incredible artwork. I never thought I’d want to stare at a giant man bathing in a planet for so many minutes, and to be honest, I could stare at it all day. The artstyle itself is very appealing as well, since it reminds me of old-school science fiction book covers.

I’ve literally had to keep the band’s Facebook page open as I typed this paragraph in which I introduce the band members. That’s because they’re from Denmark, and have names where I need to insert a lot of special characters in order to spell them out properly. Rambling aside, IOTUNN consists of vocalist Jón Aldará, guitarists Jesper Gräs and Jens Nicolai Gräs, drummer Bjørn Wind Andersen, and bassist Eskil Rask.

Access All Worlds incorporates familiar elements of prog and extreme metal. Most of the tracks are incredibly long, as you can expect from the former. This might just be because the band is new, but I don’t find that to be a problem this time. When it comes to IOTUNN, it feels like they know how to intersperse singing and different instrumental sections in the right way to keep you on your toes (unlike some of the newer Iron Maiden tracks). The riffs are also very atmospheric, similar to bands like Sojourner, which makes the longer songs engaging in that same manner.

But despite me describing the music as “atmospheric”, IOTUNN is actually VERY loud. The guitars have a commanding presence, with crunchy roars that feel as heavy as vanilla death metal bands like Behemoth. The fact that such forceful music can also be described as atmospheric—scratch that, I’d call it spiritual—is really impressive, and show’s extreme music’s versatility. Of course, there’s no shortage of songs that go all-in, such as ‘Laihem’s Golden Pits.’

Also, is Aldará the one and only vocalist? Because it feels like there’s three different ones on this record. Throughout Access All Worlds, you’ll hear raw, throaty growls, gravelly shouts, and very operatic clean singing. With an echo effect to make them sound more cosmic, I was enthralled by all three of these performances. If it really is all one person, then I’ll be triply-impressed.

And of course, prog isn’t worth salt without strange and interesting lyrics, and IOTUNN delivers. If you watched the embedded MV, you’ll see that the theme of this album is sci-fi, but describing it as just that would be a disservice. They each tell a story, most of which involve space travellers or some such finding a strange planet and being like “WTH is this, bro?” And according to their bio on Metal Blade Records’ website, it’s up to you to interpret the chronological order of the tracks, as well as what they’re about in the first place. 

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Final Verdict: 9.5/10

I would give Access All Worlds a perfect ten, but I didn’t want to set up an impossible standard for the band to follow-up with (also, I’d prefer to give their next album a higher rating than this one just for my own sake). While it’s not Wizardthrone’s nonsensical space opera death metal, IOTUNN has made something very special in its own right (and probably something I’ll grow to like more than Wizardthrone) that I feel deserves to be heralded as the best metal debut of the year. Anyway, I recommend Access All Worlds if you really wished there was a more extreme version of old-school prog bands like Yes.

PS: I’m going to Disney AGAIN! Will be back in early November!

My Thoughts on the Hypest Metal Debut of the Year: Spiritbox — Eternal Blue Album Review

As someone who is so disconnected from society, it makes sense that I would have been out of the loop for the new, borderline-mainstream Canadian outfit, Spiritbox. They have established a massive following with only two EPs and a couple of singles, and their first proper album, Eternal Blue, has been hyped up as the best metal debut of the year. I listened to their earlier stuff out of curiosity, but this is the real test. For the sake of keeping up with the metal market, I had to listen to this highly anticipated album.

Spiritbox was originally composed of vocalist Courtney LaPlante and guitarist Mike Stringer. They released the original Spiritbox debut EP by themselves, but since then have recruited bassist Bill Crook and drummer Zev Rose. Apparently, their 2020 single ‘Holy Roller’ was what put them on the map. Will Eternal Blue slap, or will they be a one-hit wonder?

I normally talk about album cover art first, but what is there to say? It’s blue, and… eternal. They’re new, so I’ll give them slack. Also, I gotta stop having OCD for good album covers, because some artists just don’t have those.

As far as Spiritbox’s musical style is concerned, I have—surprise, surprise—failed to see their novelty. The reason is, similar to VEXED, I went into their music knowing what subgenres they were labeled under. And to be blunt, I think only one of them actually applies. From what I’ve read, Spiritbox is considered “post-metal” and “djent” in addition to metalcore and prog-metal. It sounds like a lot, but that happens when you make up subgenres that aren’t real (Oooooooooh snap!).

To use Layman’s terms, Spiritbox is prog-metal, albeit very moody prog-metal. For how crunchy the guitars sound, most songs are very melancholic, and have a very echo-y vibe to them. That’s it. If this is supposed to be post-metal, then I don’t think post-metal is “post” enough. Also, how can a music genre be “post-something” if the original genre still exists?

Musically, Eternal Blue is very solid, and very heavy. There are a lot of unexpected tone shifts, often in the space of the same track, and there is an impressive amount of variety when it comes to different atmospheres. The lyrics, however, didn’t really resonate with me. It felt like a more progressive spin on early 2000s Evanescence stuff, a band whom I wasn’t entirely sold on. The only song I really felt something toward was the final track, ‘Constance’, a song dedicated to LaPlante’s late grandmother, and people who have dealt with dementia.

Need more hot takes? I’m not particularly impressed by LaPlante’s performance. I’m sure she’s a good person, but when reviewing music, I must evaluate how vocalists sound. And here’s my evaluation: LaPlante’s got solid clean vocals, but has pretty meh growls. To use another 2021 debut by way of comparison, I enjoyed Megan Targett from VEXED marginally better, at least in the growling department. 

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Final Verdict: 8.75/10

Despite my complaints, Eternal Blue is a solid enough record for me to at least keep my eyes trained on Spiritbox in the years to come. You could chalk it up to me as “not being cerebral enough”, but the real struggle with Eternal Blue is understanding what makes it cerebral in the first place. Sure, there’s whacky, out-of-left-field hooks, but that’s just a metal thing, because metal musicians can do whatever the ding-dang-crap they want. Eternal Blue feels like nothing more than a great album, as opposed to “a game changer”, according to Metal Injection, who also say “the metal scene may never be the same after this”. I’d recommend it, but I wouldn’t consider it the debut of 2021. Even if you could exclude Wizardthrone—the band I had named debut of the year—because of the controversy, I have been listening to another contender who’s been under the radar, and you’ll see my review of that record fourteen days from today!

I Actually Agree With Public Consensus for Once?!: Mammoth WVH — Self-Titled Album Review

I don’t intend to be out of the loop with literally EVERYTHING; I just am. If this band wasn’t loosely considered metal, I wouldn’t have seen it pop up on Apple Music’s Metal tab, and I would have never known about it EVER. Maybe Eddie Trunk would have talked about it, but I’m always at work when Trunk Nation is on. On impulse, I gave this new artist a try. But why did I decide so impulsively? That’s not like me.

Well, in case you’re like me and don’t know what is so significant about this band, pay attention to the acronym “WVH”. Those are the initials for Wolfgang Van Halen. Yep, the son of the late, great Eddie Van Halen. This solo career began in the aftermath of Eddie’s tragic passing [insert blurb about how last year was an absolute catastrophe even though there were a lot of worse years out there here], and Wolfgang fully intends to carry on his family’s legacy on his own. And I literally mean “on his own”, considering that he is the vocalist as well as EVERY SINGLE INSTRUMENT performed on the record.

I normally don’t care for rock or hard rock album cover art, but I gotta say that Mammoth WVH has some awesome cover art. It’s not the fact that a giant crab is attacking a parking lot that gets me, it’s the businessman in the foreground. He is just so nonchalant about the whole thing. It looks like all he’s thinking is “Goddammit, that’s MY car! F***, my insurance does NOT cover Kaiju attacks!”

Initially, I was very concerned with this, not because of anything regarding the music itself, but me; thing is, I was never a particularly big fan of Van Halen. I acknowledge Eddie’s talent as a guitarist, but the band itself just didn’t quite speak to me for some reason. I still put on some of their songs occasionally, but I would pick a lot of my eclectic, modern European metal bands over Van Halen. I don’t know if it’s hyperbole to say that my life would be at risk if I didn’t like Mammoth WVH, especially since it appears to be doing really well across the board (it’s probably riskier to say that I don’t like Van Halen).

Fortunately, I don’t have to worry about not liking Mammoth WVH because I actually LOVE this album! To make up for conforming, here’s a hot take that’ll make you hate me: I think I like this better than anything Wolf’s dad ever put out. The reason for that is simple; this sounds nothing like a Van Halen album.

And I believe that is objectively the best aspect of the record, not as far as the music is concerned, but when it comes to Wolf as a person and a musician. Influence from Van Halen can be gleaned from the album, sure, but this isn’t Eddie, it’s Wolf. The different-ness of this record from anything released by Van Halen fills me with admiration for Wolf, and how he lives his father’s legacy. He’s a really cool dude, a REALLY cool dude. I wanna emphasize just how cool he is because he apparently gets a lot of trolls on social media from toxic Van Halen “fans”, and that’s just not cool. I’m just gonna make a wild claim: I don’t think anyone would know Eddie better than his son. That just seems logical.

Anyway, this is more-or-less the first old school rock n’ roll album that I have ever voluntarily played since becoming a metalhead. Technically, Band-Maid counts, but they definitely lean more strictly toward metal when it comes to hard rock. Mammoth WVH is a lot more like that old song that tells the terrible lie of “New music ain’t got the same soul, I like that old time rock n’ roll.” Basically, what I mean is that the songs are simple and catchy. Some are heavier than others, but overall have that super-retro feel to them. Since it’s Eddie’s son, there is no shortage of sick riffs, such as the one on the second verse of ‘Mr. Ed.’

If I have any problems with the record, it’s the lyrics. As not just as a metalhead, but a super backwards-thinking metalhead with autism, I tend to lean toward the nonsensical end of lyrics. And since Mammoth WVH is an old-school album, it warrants old-school lyrics. You know, the usual themes of “Be angry at everyone besides yourself” and whatnot. Of course, there are songs pertaining to Eddie, such as ‘Distance’, and those are the times where the lyrics slam like a brick wall of feels. But other than that, it’s pretty garden variety stuff. Of course, that’s just me and my bias against rock.

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Final Verdict: 8.75/10

Since it’s technically not metal (I think?), I can at least say that Mammoth WVH is without a doubt the best rock debut of the year. I actually still prefer Band-Maid’s Unseen World since it’s heavier, but this is a really good start for Wolfgang. The fact that someone who was never a huge fan of Van Halen has such a glowing review of this album should say something. I am definitely going to commit to following Wolfgang’s new solo career, and I recommend you do the same.

Well, This is Interesting: Wizardthrone — Hypercube Necrodimensions Album Review

[Writer’s Note: This review was written and completed well before the incident regarding Christopher Bowes and the members of Gloryhammer. For those who don’t know, leaked private chats from four years ago have revealed the men to be racists and sexists. I do not want to open the endless debate regarding cancel culture, and at this time, their fate is undecided. After much deliberation, I have decided to leave the original post as is, but I at least acknowledge that I am aware of the controversy.]

When it comes to the very popular subgenre of metal known as death metal, certain household names come to mind: Cannibal Corpse, Behemoth, Children of Bodom, Arch Enemy, and more. Yet, being the uncultured, un-cerebral pig I am, I have yet to enjoy death metal at all. In fact, I only ever gave the second aforementioned band an attempt and I hated them. Since death metal has had such an influence on the metal community, to the point where most bands these days at least have a growler on backing vocals, I felt I had no right to be considered a metaller unless I could like a death metal band. And my most recent attempt is a new outfit known as Wizardthrone.

Wizardthrone entered our realm, in the midst of the ongoing, unholy pandemic. Sporting Jordi LaForge glasses, these wizards have graced us—unworthy as we are—with their presence… Their members’ first names are merely initials, and yet… one of these guys feels familiar. C. Hyperiax Bowes in particular makes me think of pirates and undead unicorns of war for whatever reason. Some individuals might glean other things, such as goblins, from specific members of the group. In 2021, they unleashed their first album, known only as Hypercube Necrodimensions; the topic of today’s post.

I normally despise death metal album covers for trying so hard to be scary that they look like nonsense. Fortunately, Hypercube Necrodimensions‘ art is legitimately awesome. The composition is exquisite, with a lovely combination of green and black. I can actually identify the image’s subjects along with its background, unlike other album artwork of this ilk.

It was my pitiful human brain’s fault for having any doubt in these wizards of death metal. Right off the bat, I was blown away by the incredibly intricate riffage that makes the subgenre appealing. However, Wizardthrone kicks it up a notch. In addition to the hyper-aggressive jams, they incorporate synth and symphonic elements as well. They even have a dedicated narrator. Hm… it’s like a more extreme version of Gloryhammer. I suppose that they could’ve learned from all three of their albums and made a whole album of their own in the brief time they’ve been in our dimension; they are wizards, after all (it’s not like at least one of them is actually IN Gloryhammer). 

If you watched the music video, you’d notice that their lyrics don’t have anything to do with death, murder, or various methods of torture. A lot of newer extreme bands have actually broken that stereotype (they just happen to be the ones that aren’t talked about enough), and Wizardthrone is one of them. They tell a lot of fun and nonsensical space opera stories, some of which pertain to the Wizardthrone they name themselves after. 

“Four billion years have passed and all we truly know is this” / “That astral deities still dwell within the deep abyss” / “Beyond the universal law of stellar entropy” / “Extra-galactic masters of mortal reality” / “The path we chose must soon me judged in kind” / “A quantum flux until the end of time” / “A black sun rising, the eldritch moon” / “Behold! Arise! Macrocosmic doom!”

Of course, these lyrics would sound like drivel if their vocalist wasn’t good at his job. Fortunately, that’s not a problem. With a more tenor and gravelly voice, Wizardthrone’s vocalist sounds both fluent and venomous. It must be really hard to have to speak our substandard, primitive language, let alone growl in it. Props to him!

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Final Verdict: 10/10

As much as I loved Avaland and VEXED’s debuts, Wizardhtrone’s Hypercube Necrodimensions both met and surpassed my initial expectations. I know this is a hot take, but I would definitely claim this to be the best metal debut—and my new musical obsession—of the year. It’s incredible how they’re able to make death metal that doesn’t sacrifice extremeness in favor of accessibility (as someone who’s listened to Behemoth, I can say that Wizardthrone is at least as heavy as them, if not moreso). Even if you don’t like death metal, I’d highly recommend Wizardthrone. I particularly think that Christopher Bowes, the creator of Alestorm and Gloryhammer, would love this band. Wait… Christopher Bowes… C. Hyperiax Bowes…? Nah, that’s impossible!

P.S. No post this Saturday. I don’t think I need to tell you why.

Some Old-School Prog for a New Year: Silver Lake by Esa Holopainen — Self-Titled Album Review

Part of being neck-deep in the metal hole is an obligation to look into new artists as they appear. Well, in this particular case, I wouldn’t call Esa Holopainen a new artist, but this solo project of his, Silver Lake by Esa Holopainen, is new. Plus, it’s my first time ever hearing of Holopainen himself, so he’s new from my perspective. Anyway, I think I’ve said a number of times that most dedicated metal bloggers only cover the extreme, underground stuff (and the rare time I’ve delved into those subgenres, it’s with bands that they DON’T cover). So yeah, I wouldn’t be surprised if the amount of reviews of Silver Lake’s self-titled debut album can be counted on one hand.

According to the Internets, Esa Holopainen is the guitarist of Finnish prog-metal band Amorphis… which have been around about as long as Dream Theater. Cool. Well, I only JUST caught up with Dream Theater, so… Sorry, I’m sure Amorphis is great, but my hands are tied by the march of time. Anyway, I don’t know much about this Silver Lake project other than that Holopainen, well, decided to do it. An interview with him I read on Nuclear Blast Records’ website said that this side project of his might be a one-and-done deal, although he has also considered following it up. Well, if it is a standalone album, then that saves me time in the long run!

The artwork doesn’t look too impressive at first; after all, it’s just a posterized photo of—surprise, surprise—a silver lake, with the project’s name smack dab in the middle like a perfect Pokémon Snap picture. But for some reason, I dunno… something spoke to me about it. It’s very much in the spirit of old-school prog, and that choice of font style for the name is beautiful. Props to whoever designed that.

Silver Lake starts with a three-minute acoustic intro track. Yep, that’s prog alright! It’s melancholy, and weirdly beautiful, a perfect lead-in to an equally melancholy song called ‘Sentiment’. Well… that’s more-or-less how the whole album goes. Overall, it’s a very strange record.

I know it sounds like hyperbole to say that “every song on an album is different”; even I’m willing to admit that a lot of my favorite bands merely expand on an established formula as opposed to breaking it completely. Silver Lake, however, really makes every song stand out. There’s the aforementioned acoustic track, along with whimsical yet epic ballads (such as the MV embedded below), a track that’s just powerful riffs playing over some guy narrating, and even a track with death growling. 

What helps is the wealth of vocalists who perform in this album. I have no idea who any of them are, but they all end up being more than talented enough for Silver Lake. The lyrics, however, I cannot decipher to save my life. In fact, I don’t even know if this is actually a concept album or not. 

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Final Verdict: 8.85/10

The only real flaw with Silver Lake by Esa Holopainen is the possibility that this really is a one-off project. While not album of the year to me, this is a hidden gem that gives classic prog that modern pizzaz. I recommend it if you’re someone with super eclectic taste.

Take a Drink Every Time I Compare This Band to Sojourner: Stormruler — Under the Burning Eclipse Album Review

I have a story about the subgenres of black and death metal. To sum up, I tried Behemoth (who are both subgenres at once), who—hot take—I didn’t enjoy. But then, I found out that Christopher Bowes’ new band Wizardthrone would be a death metal band, and I would be inspired to try some black metal to get myself wanting to try Wizardthrone. I tried Sojourner before this band, and I actually really liked it. Unfortunately, they were bizarrely soothing, and not a good gateway to the super extreme stuff. Meanwhile, I had some interest in the brand new black metal band, Stormruler, most of which is the fact that they’re signed to Napalm Records, who have a great taste in bands. So yeah, if you’re reading this review of Under the Burning Eclipse, then that means I at least liked Stormruler enough. 

The hardest part of reviewing these bands is knowing enough about them to even post an overview of who they are! I’m starting to consistently listen to bands that don’t have Wikipedia pages. Thank Facebook (even if their page is unverified)! Stormruler consists of Jesse Schobel and Jason Asberry, straight from the U.S. of A. They’ve been in so many bands before Stormuler, that you can literally say that the lineup features members from three or more bands; more than the amount of members! 

Most black metal album covers look so intentionally fuzzy that I can barely define what’s on them. Sojourner subverts that trope, but Stormruler is more keeping in tradition. Fortunately, it’s not to the point that I can’t identify the artwork, and Under the Burning Eclipse has some great artwork. Simply put, it’s a badass knight on a… lizard? Horse? Lizard-horse? Well, whatever it is, it’s cool looking.

Upon starting the album, it is readily apparent that Stormruler and Sojourner are absolutely nothing alike. That does mean, however, that Stormruler is—at the very least—the band I needed to train me for Wizardthrone. They’re faster and do not incorporate clean vocals nor woodwind instruments like Sojourner does. But then comes the million dollar question: who is more accurate to black metal? The Wikipedia page for the subgenre mentions fast tempos and atmospheres, but Stormuler and Sojourner only check out for the former and latter respectively. Subgenres, man. SUBGENRES.

Rant aside, Under the Burning Eclipse is… a record? I figured that black metal is supposed to have intentionally bad sound mixing, but this has REALLY bad sound mixing. It’s almost impossible to hear the vocalist at all, let alone what he’s saying. Even Sojourner’s records are crisp and clear by comparison. 

And you know what, sorry to say this but, it’s almost good that you can hardly hear this guy. Whether it’s Schobel or Asberry doing it… I just… look, he’s not very good. I get that it takes talent to be able to dedicate yourself to growling (or screeching as it seems here), but—I sound like a broken record here—he’s not that good at it compared to other growlers I’ve heard. Based on the lyrics listed, some of the stuff he says doesn’t seem to match at all. Apparently, all vowels are the “AH” sound, and whether or not some syllables even need pronouncing seems to be a case-by-case basis. Is this normal for black metal? Sojourner’s Emilio Crespo doesn’t sound like this, and he sings the same style. Furthermore, guys like Gg6 and Mark Jansen from Amaranthe and Epica respectively sound perfectly fluent.

I sound like I’m complaining a lot, but Stormruler did end up growing on me. The songs are wild but not to the point where it’s straight-up death metal. The lyrics are also themed after fantasy and mythology, as opposed to your usual themes of violence and Satan. They also have a plethora of atmospheric interlude tracks to break up the action and make the album stand out. But to add one more complaint—which might just be something in character with the subgenre—the beginning of every song feels exactly the same, with the same fast drum beat and the “dudololololola-dudolololola” sound of the guitar. Wait, why did I bother trying to write onomatopoeia for the guitar if I was going to put the MV in the post anyway?

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Final Verdict: 8/10

Under the Burning Eclipse is a good album, but it’s not the most promising debut compared to others I’ve heard. Most black metal fans would probably tell me to try older black metal bands instead of one of the newest, but to clarify, I avoid the older black metal bands specifically because I figure that newer bands would’ve worked out the kinks by now. Plus, Stormruler is signed to Napalm Records, who are pretty close to my wavelength, meaning that I had a better chance of liking them than any of the “classics”. As far as recommendations go, I have no idea if a black metal fan would like Under the Burning Eclipse because I have nothing to compare it to. But if you’re thinking of getting into black metal for the first time—sorry, but—I recommend Sojourner over this (at least for the time being).

New Decade, New Edge: VEXED — Culling Culture Album Review

I’m not generally a cynical person, but I have let other people’s cynicism affect me on a very unhealthy level. That’s why I never listened to bands like Living Colour; their lyrics were so on-the-nose they would make me depressed. And yet, I decided to give the new U.K. alt-metal band, VEXED, a try, despite the fact that cynicism seems to be their brand. They seem to hate quite literally every aspect of first-world society. And as someone who’s had to get over depression from being around doom mongers who read headlines (and good people who listen to doom mongers), VEXED would definitely not make me mentally ill! Not at all!

According to Napalm Records, VEXED consists of the following: vocalist Megan Targett, guitarist Jay Bacon, drummer Willen Mason-Geraghty, and bassist Al Harper. This is my first ever experience with the alt-metal subgenre, and any alternative music, period. I wonder if there even is a musical distinction to be made in the first place.

But before we can figure that out, I must write a blurb on the cover art! There’s a lot of orange in it… Buuuuut, I think it’s supposed to be a car that’s on fire. One cool thing is their choice to include the track listing on the front cover instead of the back. Also… Oh God, is that a “Parental Warning: Explicit Content”? Well, to be honest, I don’t know what the threshold for that tag is. Disturbed’s Immortalized had it, and that album wasn’t too different from their usual angst. But given VEXED’s brand, I have a feeling that Culling Culture is going to be a bit more explicit.

Right off the bat, my expectations were both exceeded and unmet at the same time. The music, especially for a debut, is very powerful. But here’s the disappointment: How is this alt-metal?! As I initially suspected, there’s nothing that different from most modern metal bands. The only possible explanation is that I’ve listened to alt-metal before, but the million dollar question now becomes this: What bands were those? The only ballpark guess I can make is In This Moment.

And speaking of In This Moment… Holy crap Megan Targett! More like, Megan Targets you and opens fire with a Maria Brink-like combination of banshee death growls and emotive clean vocals. But unlike with Brink, Targett definitely prefers the growling. You might want to have the lyrics pulled up if you listen to this stuff, but at the same time, her growls are surprisingly easy to understand once you get used to them.

So, musically, VEXED definitely shows their anger right off the bat. They already figured out how to make themselves sound, a surprising feat for just their first album. I don’t usually put esoteric descriptors for stuff, but I literally mean it by saying that even their guitars sound “rude”. If you’re not used to metal, then this might give you anxiety.

Speaking of anxiety, let’s address what I’ve been building up as the elephant in the room here: the lyrics. Although I sound like a cool dude, I’ve been having heaps of anxieties over some invisible obligation to give a crap about things that have nothing to do with my life. I was worried about VEXED reminding me of all of this and making me feel like garbage. 

Fortunately, that’s not quite the case here. VEXED’s lyrics are more personal, dealing with the topics of removing—or culling—toxic people from your life (or technically, Targett’s life, but it’s supposed to be relatable). She draws from actual life experience, and the fact that there are this many songs with this theme makes me feel really bad for her, but I also admire her for being able to successfully deal with so many toxic relationships. The lyrics initially come off as that early 2000s emo sh** á la Slipknot, but VEXED already has much more substance:

“This is not a warning” / “It’s a f***ing threat” / “Remember lies have a price” / “And karma’s calling in your debt” / “This is not a warning” / “It’s your demise” / “Remember this” / “Narcissist, you’re nothing but a parasite”

(Disclaimer: I swear that it was a complete coincidence that I chose Targett’s favorite set of lyrics from the whole album for my example. It just goes to show you that she liked them for a good reason.) See? Way better, although Targett is just about as much of a pottymouth as Corey Taylor. Whoever writes these lyrics—be it one or more members of the band—bravo to you. However, it’s still nowhere near as cynical as Oceans of Slumber or Living Colour (wow, America having something super cynical, that’s new). Unfortunately, since my anxieties aren’t caused by people I know in my personal life, it doesn’t exactly help me either. But at the very least, it’ll probably help more neurotypical people who naturally seek relationships.

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Final Verdict: 9/10

Color me surprised. Despite the fact that I have no idea what makes this “alt-metal”, VEXED’s Culling Culture is a great start (and it seems to be doing well too). I’d say I like this as much as I did Avaland’s Theater of Sorcery. But due to the added addition of knowing the band’s background better, and being legitimately surprised at how sophisticated the music is for what it is, I think VEXED might just be my favorite metal debut of the year. I am 100% on board with them, and I hope that their career in metal is a lengthy one. I recommend it if there’s someone in your life who absolutely sucks and you need a kick in the pants necessary to kick them in the pants.

Imitation and Flattery to the Nth Degree: Icon of Sin — Self-Titled Album Review

I know you shouldn’t judge a band by its record label, but I’ve had a good enough track record doing just that. A lot of my favorite bands of all time are signed to Napalm Record, for one thing. And conversely, a number of my biggest disappointments have been signed to Frontiers Records. It’s gotten to the point where I’ve been ignoring artists that I would be interested in, such as former Styx vocalist Dennis DeYoung’s solo career, and former Queensrÿche vocalist Geoff Tate’s new band Sweet Oblivion. The only band of theirs that has remotely impressed me is the young and fresh Brazilian unit, Icon of Sin.

Icon of Sin is heavily influenced by the classics, specifically the 1980s. According to Frontiers, vocalist Raphael Mendes is a popular YouTuber who does metal vocal covers. That must be true, because—as per my nature—I had no idea who he was up to this point. In any case, he’s got a band now.

But first things first, album cover art! Normally, I’d give debuts the benefit of the doubt, but that’s not necessary here, because HOLY CRAP this album looks lit! It’s so cool… a gruff, forty-something-year-old man, with his car parked in the middle of the road (which hopefully talks), fighting demons coming out of the maw of Satan from within some vaguely Tokyo-ish city. The combination of red, black, and purple makes the album stick out like a sore thumb, and it has the feel of a turn-your-brain-off popcorn flick. I love how this thing looks… Let’s hope it sounds at least just as good.

What immediately jumps out is Mendes, and I’m not necessarily sure I mean it in a good way. Technically, his singing is very, very good. However, he very disturbingly sounds exactly like Iron Maiden’s legendary vocalist, Bruce Dickinson. Like, wow. I got used to Todd La Torre in Queensrÿche faster than I could get used to Mendes. I mean, being influenced by someone is one thing, but emulating them to that point is just… I don’t know. By comparison, Seraina Telli and Laura Guldemond, the former and current vocalists of Burning Witches respectively, both clearly try to be Rob Halford, but they manage to be something that isn’t quite him that is entirely their own thing. What Mendes does is absolutely astounding, but it feels like it’s something more tailored to a YouTube career, not a music career. I want to hear Mendes’ voice, not Dickinson’s. Unless, what, was he just naturally born with a singing voice that sounded exactly like Dickinson? 

Fortunately, I warmed up to the music fairly quickly. Icon of Sin is what it says on the tin; classic metal and 1980s culture (except for the one track called ‘Pandemic Euphoria’. I have a strange feeling that it has nothing to do with the ‘80s). Not all the songs are, as the young’uns say, “bangers”, but I thoroughly enjoyed a number of the album’s tracks. Favorites include ‘Road Rage’, ‘Virtual Empire’, and ‘Arcade Generation’.

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Final Verdict: 7.75/10

I’m sorry for the disgustingly short review, but there really isn’t much to say about Icon of Sin’s debut other than what’s been said. It’s safe, clean metal that does what it sets out to do. If you like the classics, this band will likely strike your fancy. While I didn’t find Icon of Sin to have started out on the best foot, a lot of these types of “emulate classic” bands take more than one record to not come off as knockoffs of their idols. Even Ghost’s first album was just them getting their feet wet before ascending into something more than just emulation. Here’s hoping Icon of Sin’s follow-up ends up being a good one!

A Brand-New Metal Musical: Avaland — Theater of Sorcery Album Review

I’m deep enough in the metal rabbit hole to follow new bands as they come. Of course, since metal marketing is very difficult in the U.S., my ability to find these depends entirely on the “Coming Soon” tab in Apple Music’s metal page (unless they’re signed under Napalm or Nuclear Blast Records, which are pretty damn good at promoting). One such band is a new French symphonic metal band, Avaland. They claim to be a “metal opera”, which sounds an awful lot like Dark Sarah and Gloryhammer (two of my favorite bands of all time). Since I love those bands, I had to try Avanland’s debut album, Theater of Sorcery, ASAP. 

Like with many concept albums, I only have a vague idea of what’s going on. Avaland is named after the story’s fictitious setting. The young wizard, Adam Wilstrom, is the one who has to save it from some sort of curse. In any case, despite this being a band, in the sense that it has more than one member, it seems that founder Adrien G. Gzagg is the band. He didn’t just write all the lyrics; according to their Facebook bio, he also composed the music all by himself.

Of course, I gotta go over the album cover art first. To sum it up, Theater of Sorcery looks amazing. It’s all mysterious and strange, with great composition and an appealing combination of purple, blue, and yellow-orange. I really want to know what the dude in there is up to, dammit! And the only way to find out is to listen to the record.

Since metal has to be infinitely complex… ugh. Avaland really isn’t that symphonic at all, to be perfectly honest. Symphonic elements show up just often enough to remind you that they exist. Fortunately, they don’t really need that fluff. In fact, Avaland weirdly reminds me of old-timey musicals, specifically from the 1970s. In particular, ‘Let the Wind Blow’ (which I can assume is one of the hits of the record) sounds like it would be in a disco movie. Heck, one of the guest singers sounds  like the backup vocals on Phil Collins’ ‘Easy Lover’. 

Hey, now that I brought up the guests, let’s discuss them. In essence… They’re good, but I don’t know who the f*** any of them are. The reason is that the streaming service I use doesn’t have the track listing specify who’s actually singing. Gzagg himself could be one of the vocalists, and I would be none the wiser. In any case, my favorite vocalist ended up being the deep, shouty guy; whoever says the lines “Here you come into the fabulous place of Avaland” / “Just take your seat and watch the actors play.” He’s good, man.

The one issue I had is the way the lyrics were written. I get that English is insanely hard to learn, but the bad grammar is kind of laughable. I get that grammar sometimes needs to go out the window for the sake of better flow, but I have a feeling that lines like “A hurricane was just about to ruin down on my life” were not intentional. But for all I know, the singers’ accents might be so thick that the lyrics generator mistook what they said. On the flipside, the less-than-fancy vocabulary makes these songs easy to remember and sing along to.

In terms of atmosphere, Theater of Sorcery has a wide range of moods. There are epic tracks like the titular opening song, prog-metal-like tracks such as ‘Gypsum Flower’, as well as the distinctively disco-esque tracks such as ‘Deja Vu’ and the aforementioned ‘Let the Wind Blow.’ But no matter what this album sounds like, it really reminds me specifically of the 1970s. Even the vocalists have that tinny, sound that I feel like a lot of 1970s rock singers had. In all seriousness, I apologize if I’m completely off the mark about all these ’70s comparisons, which l likely am.

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Final Verdict: 9.15/10

It goes without saying that there’s no way in hell I was going to enjoy this album as much as anything from Dark Sarah nor Gloryhammer, especially the former. Nonetheless, Theater of Sorcery absolutely rocked. Apparently, Gzagg is just in diapers when it comes to music experience, but it definitely doesn’t sound like it. There are veterans that I think he’s already outclassed with Avaland. Unfortunately, they will likely be at a disadvantage without bigger names performing the songs. But you know what, you gotta start somewhere! I will definitely be supporting Avaland, and if you like metal-infused musicals, then I recommend you support them as well!