STILL Heavy and Colorful: More Diversity in Metal

I know that the National Day of Racial Healing was four days ago, but… well, I have no excuse. That’s just what happens when you only do one post a week, and that day of the week isn’t on the holiday. In any case, this may or may not be the last time I do something for the National Day of Racial Healing, since a lot of bands like this are—sadly—still quite under the radar. We’ll cross that bridge when we come to it, though!


Bloodywood

A literal month after I published the post from last year, something truly miraculous happened. A 100% independent band from New Delhi, India, unleashed its first album—Rakshak—and actually took the world by storm! For once, I’m not alone in loving a weird niche band from East Jabip (even though most people still liked Lamb of God, Slipknot, Lorna Shore, etc.’s albums a lot more by comparison).

What makes Bloodywood special? Well, kind of everything about them. As a folk metal band, they incorporate heavy modern instruments alongside traditional Indian ones. The music is exceptionally well-composed; and they’re not afraid to throw in some electronic sounds to spice things up. The lyrics are also exceptional, going into themes like personal struggles and politics. In fact, I think Bloodywood is perhaps the only band able to discuss the latter without trying to divide the community like an overtly Left or Rightist band would. These lyrics are conveyed—you guessed it—exceptionally well by Jayant Bhadula, who growls in Hindi, alongside Raoul Kerr’s rapping prowess.


Cemican

The only Mexican musicians I listen to other than Mariachi Cobre in EPCOT’s Mexico pavilion, Cemican is a unique folk metal band that uses Mesoamerican instruments in their heavy sound. They have elaborate costumes that represent their native roots, and look fun to see in concert, based on the clips they’ve shared on Facebook. They really get the ball rolling on their third album: In Ohtli Teoyohtica In Miquiztli. They haven’t released anything new since COVID, but have been pretty busy with gigs, so they seem to be doing alright for such a niche band. Hopefully, you’ll be a fan of theirs as well.


Blackbraid

Of course, Mexico isn’t the only country with marginalized Indigenous people (well, technically, EVERY nation has some but I’m just trying to make a segue here). Sgah’gahsowáh, the sole band member of Blackbraid, is another excellent example of native people going heavy. Hailing from the Adirondacks, this man delivers top-dollar black metal (with the occasional woodwind accompaniment) and has left a lot of people wanting more. Fortunately, as someone who sold VERY well on Bandcamp, we’re pretty likely to get more in the future. Time to be good noodles and wait!


Bloody Tyrant

Taiwan has had a passionate metal scene since its important pioneer band, Cthonic. However, the country in general is still pretty slept on, even in the metal community. Sounds like a perfect place for underground enthusiasts to search, with Bloody Tyrant being one potential result of said search.

It took a while for them to get the ball rolling though. Their first album, while still enjoyable, is pretty garden variety black metal, but over time, they started to incorporate the Eastern folk instrumentation that makes them stand out. Each album has gotten better, with their most recent record from 2020 being a legitimate knockout. I can’t wait to hear what’s next!


hanabie.

LEWD WARNING for this this one!

Of course, I HAVE to gush over at least one Japanese band; at least this isn’t one I’ve discussed before, like with last year’s entry. As much as I hate the excessive amount of metal genres, I feel like hanabie. (yes, the period is part of their name) should be referred to as “otakucore”. They attack with aggressive metalcore energy, dual vocalists, and an uncharacteristically silly vibe. A lot of their song titles have to do with being nerds and hikikomori (and presumably the lyrics as well?)—hence the “otaku” descriptor from before—with the occasional cultural commentary. They’re pretty new to the scene, but they’re off to a strong start, and the prestigious Dutch metal festival they’ve been booked for later this year will probably earn them international attention.


Te Ruki

Thank goodness for Black Metal Promotion; they know how to help the little guys.

Despite the wild success of Disney’s Moana, Polynesian culture is still dying in this world. A new hope emerged in 2018 when the wildly successful New Zealand Maori metal band, Alien Weaponry, began their career in reclaiming their people’s culture. While that band is all well and good, it turns out that “Polynesian” is an umbrella term for numerous Pacific islanders. The people of French Polynesia are in even BIGGER danger; according to Te Ruki’s page on Encyclopaedia Metallum, only a few thousand people can speak their unique Tumutoan language. As far as I know, they are this ethnicity’s only voice in pop culture whatsoever.

Fortunately, it’s a damn powerful voice. In fact, they are everything I’ve wanted out of Alien Weaponry and more. However, unlike their Maori cousins, they employ primal-sounding black metal. Performed with tribal rhythms and singing in their native language, Te Ruki’s rituals knock it out of the park. The cherry on top is the use of TWO sets of percussion instruments: the usual drum kit, along with a set of traditional Polynesian drums.


Heilung?

Does this neofolk group even count? Sure, they represent pre-Christian Europe, which is kinda-sorta a marginalized culture, but… they’re still European. Well, for three White people, their popular music is almost scientifically proven to break barriers. I mean, just look at their policy: “Remember, we are all brothers. All people, beasts, tree and stone and wind, we all descend from the one great being that was always there, before people lived and named it, before the first seed sprouted.” I HAD to include them here, despite them technically not being a metal band (although they are still popular among metalheads, and are signed to a metal-devoted label).

In any case, Heilung is an uncharacteristically bizarre band, considering their immense fame. With pretty much no rules to their music, they can have an epic, melodic masterpiece like the embedded video… or six-plus minutes of Nordic ASMR. They mold the ancient instruments of the past into something new and otherworldly; something beyond comprehension that we can all be baffled by together, regardless of our color and creed. Heilung is one of those groups who can’t NOT be described without hyperbole, because they are just that kind of experience. 


Closing Thoughts

People complain about there being a lack (still) of diversity in popular culture these days, music included. Yet, as you can see from this post and its prequel from last year, that lack isn’t exactly—you know—real. Not to sound rude, but it’s honestly people’s fault for listening to the same small group of household names over and over again and never going out to discover anything new. That’s just how the mainstream works, I guess. This might be the last time I can do a post like this, but if I can find MORE good groups, then we’ll meet each other again next year.

My Final, Definite Top Ten Favorite Japanese Music Artists List

I’ve done at least eighty iterations of this post, because I keep finding new artists and my tastes keep getting more insane. Back in the day, I only liked music from Japan, but that’s changed… somewhat. Now it’s 20% Japan, 75% Europe, and 5% other, but that’s besides the point. Anyway, my older lists were outdated. Just for closure, here’s my real list. NOTE: Contains artists I have talked about before.


10) MYTH & ROID

My first ever exposure to modern music. If it wasn’t for this band, I would still be a classic rock boy. This progressive hard rock duo is everything you could ask for: heavy beats, heavy synth, and emotive female vocal work (with the latter courtesy of the talented Kihow). They’ve been pretty quiet though, with only sparse releases of singles and EPs. I don’t listen to them too often anymore, but I definitely keep my eyes trained on them.


9) nano

My other first exposure to modern music. nano is an anything-goes bilingual hard rock soloist who has pumped bangers for over a decade. I remember when they hardly showed their face, and now… we just know what they look like. What a trooper. Anyway, nano’s music is simple with relatable lyrics, but it’s great stuff. Their talents have been wasted on openings for anime that the community never seems to care about, but whatcha gonna do. The fans still love nano nonetheless.


8) RAISE A SUILEN

I haven’t talked about this band in years, and that’s because I hadn’t listened to them in years! Of all the Bang Dream! outfits, they were the one I was obsessed with. However, I eventually fell out of love with them, mainly because right after their debut came out I had discovered Amaranthe, a band that’s been doing the same type of music for longer and better. However, as superior as a lot of bands are to RAS, it turns out I still love RAS all the same.

RAISE A SUILEN is Bang Dream!‘s heaviest band, standing right on the line that separates rock from metal. Just like Amaranthe and many others, they frequently use electronic elements to give their music extra zing. I honestly don’t know what my beef with them was… and honestly, I’ll cringe at myself if I go back to the old review of their full-length and find out. Feel free to bash my past self if you so choose!


7) Mili

I don’t talk about this experimental J-pop group too often, considering how much I love them; always have. This trio knows how to make any idea into a good one (even a cursed song like ‘Ocean Bby’). With moving piano playing accompanied by all forms of symphonic and electronic effects, and lyrical themes ranging from food to existential horror, Mili almost always delivers. They are a group that feels metal in terms of creativity, despite not sounding metal whatsoever. Of course, vocalist Cassie Wei brings the band’s weird lyrics to life; easily one of J-pop’s best and most underrated voices.


6) BAND-MAID

I’ve gushed about them many times and I’ll do it again, except with even more fervor than ever because they’ve gotten REALLY GOOD lately. BAND-MAID is considered hard rock, but they have a heaviness and aggression that sounds more like metal. They hit hard with an old-school feel, and it hurts so good. Also, vocalist Saiki Kasumi has an amazing singing voice.


5) Lovebites

Being a Lovebites fan was hard once upon a time, but fear not: they have a new bassist. Since their inception, Lovebites has put forth some amazing classic-style metal and power metal. Vocalist Asami has a powerful voice, but her English isn’t the best. Hopefully she’ll improve with time. Anyway, expect me to fan-gush over their first album with the current line-up when it drops later this year.


4) Crossfaith

Apparently, this was my second ever metalcore band. While I felt like they had a rough start (although I might think differently now if I go back to the older stuff), they’ve gotten to the point where they hit hard with metal and meaty synthesizers to create futuristic heaviness. Vocalist Kenta Koie takes some getting used to, especially in the older stuff when his English wasn’t as good, but he definitely shows his capabilities soon enough. In case you’re still intimidated by those extreme vocals, Crossfaith does tend to incorporate more melodic stuff, giving them even more tools to work with. Unfortunately, they’ve seem to be on hiatus, question mark? They generally put out at least SOMETHING every year, even if it’s just a single, but they’ve been quiet lately.

Naturally, with Crossfaith being my second metalcore band, you might surmise that my FIRST metalcore band would ALSO be Japanese. That assumption is resoundingly correct! Only a certain popular Japanese metalcore band would give me my first exposure to extreme music…


3) Crystal Lake

Psyche!


3) PassCode

You really thought I would actually like a POPULAR band? Well, believe it or not, I had a phase where I didn’t like PassCode at all (and now they’re THIS HIGH on the list). The irony is that—of all things—this niche alt-idol outfit truly is my first ever experience with metalcore! Additionally, the first unclean vocals I ever heard came from them. This band is basically why I had a history of underwhelm-ment with BABYMETAL; I found PassCode first. 

My reason for not liking them was because their songs were so intricate at the time I first listened to them. Metal-virgin-me had figured that I didn’t like a song if I couldn’t commit it to memory in the first several listens. Now that I know that’s not the case, I eventually missed and returned to PassCode, more in love with them than ever. I wish I had never left, because the band has only grown, especially after 2020’s Strive (holy crap). Imagine Perfume but with metalcore (or you could just watch the video so you don’t have to imagine it at all).


2) Utsu-P

Utsu-P is special for multiple reasons. One is that he churns out music like a factory, juggling his own solo career with a band AND producing for an idol group. Another reason he is special is because he’s hired an unusual assortment of vocalists… or should I say, Vocaloids. Oh, and did I mention that his music is heavy and chaotic djent metal?! That’s right, Hatsune Miku and her friends sing and even perform death growls in Utsu-P’s staggeringly large catalog of insanity. Right, and the final reason why Utsu-P is special is because his music is simply some of the best that Japan has got. He’d be in the number one spot, if it weren’t for…


1) Broken by the Scream

I’m sure you know of BABYMETAL: one of the—like—three globally, truly mainstream Japanese music artists, earning collabs with death metal icons like Alissa White-Gluz (actually she might be the only death metal icon to collab with them… for now), and having endorsements from veterans like Rob Zombie and the Metal God himself. If you know me, then you know that I find them to be… okay. Broken by the Scream is the same idea—Japanese idol pop with metal—but on steroids. BBTS takes it a step further, focusing exclusively on extreme metal elements. Connoisseurs of the current extreme music scene can easily recognize death metal, metalcore, and even deathcore in BBTS’ practically perfect cacophony of J-pop. It is the kind of chaos like when you boot up Katamari Damacy for the first time… every time I put them on, I am always boggled with how they managed to pull it off.


Conclusion

This went from having Dempagumi.inc and MYTH & ROID having top spots to only the latter being on the list at all. Hooray for metal. Anyway, Japan has amazing music; I don’t know why South Korea gets all the love now. In any case, this is the FINAL LIST. I will not update it even if I actually end up believing the positions need to change (which you won’t know regardless). If you like the embedded MVs—which I actually put in this post unlike the other lists—then check out the artists yourself!

Mack’s Music Highlights: Second Half of 2022

This was supposed to be a good year. I was planning to start this paragraph where I say 2022 was turning out to be one of the best years for metal, and that we were FINALLY free of COVID. However, that didn’t happen (thanks, Putin!). Well, at least music is still great. Seriously, though, music REALLY went off the rails this year (and I didn’t even review the popular records that people actually care about!). Get your popcorn; we’re gonna be here a while.


Alestorm: Seventh Rum of a Seventh Rum

The animation has no right to be this good.

Going into this record is really… weird, to say the least. For some reason, last year’s controversy regarding Christopher Bowes and his other band, Gloryhammer, seems to have vanished off the face of the earth. That particular controversy is also a heaping huge contradiction to my belief in metal’s capability to fight racism. At the very least, I have been able to enjoy their music since, if only because pirates are—historically—pretty immoral dudes. Let’s see what Alestorm’s latest full-length work has in store.

As much as I hate to say it, this is perhaps their best record yet, and one of the best of the year. They fire on all cylinders, and make sure the album is well-rounded with everything that makes the band great. This includes catchy power-folk metal and silly memes. The album also has their lewdest song since ‘F***ed with an Anchor’, a less meme-y, more power metal-focused remix of ‘Tortuga’, and… a THIRD installment of ‘Wooden Leg’?!

Final Verdict: 9.75/10


Oceans of Slumber: Starlight and Ash

Oceans of Slumber have been building up this newest album of theirs to be a huge departure from their usual stuff. To be honest, it’s not. Well… it sort of is, but isn’t at the same time. 

There are some noticeable changes if you’re familiar with their other stuff. Right off the bat, the songs are WAY shorter. Secondly, there is some added focus to the twangy acoustic guitars of the American south over your usual electric guitars. I suppose comparisons would immediately be made to Behemoth vocalist Nergal’s dark country band, Me and that Man, but I wouldn’t know… since I’m an uncultured swine who never listened to it. Oofies.

Another thing that’s the same is how dreary the songs are. As expected, each track is slow, with a melancholic atmosphere that’s both haunting and beautiful in that Oceans of Slumber way. What brings it all together is the outstanding vocal work of Cammie Beverly. As always, she’s on another level .

One last thing I want to say about the record is that it’s a kick in the pants the fandom needs. Every review, even positive ones, say that this album isn’t metal. Even the band says it isn’t metal. However… I don’t agree. Even if it’s against the band’s wishes, I still want to consider Starlight and Ash to be a metal album. In the short time I’ve listened to metal music as a whole, I’ve had a gut feeling that there is more to metal than the specific type of sound that’s understood as “metal.” It’s something that can’t quite be described in words, and Oceans of Slumber gets that. TL;DR, subgenres suck ass. We are blessed that this band has unleashed something utterly uncategorizable onto the world.

Verdict: 10/10


Dreadnought: The Endless

I literally found out about this band the day the album was announced. Thank goodness they have so few tracks per album, or I wouldn’t have caught up to this one in time!

Anyway, Dreadnought employs a combination of—no, scratch that. I am not doing them a disservice by using subgrenes to describe their unique style. However, to get you interested in them, I will say that they incorporate folk instrumentation and smooth jazz into the mix.

Well, I say that, but The Endless pretty much abandons all that. What’s left is still some of the weirdest metal in the market. In fact, I’ve listened to this and their four other studio albums, and I still don’t know what to make of the band. When I’m listening to them at the moment, I think it’s amazing, but looking back, I wonder what I even listened to in the first place. Well, whatever it is they do, they keep getting better at it! 

Verdict: 9.45/10


Kardashev: Liminal Rite

In the world where everything gets categorized, you’d think we’d be out of new subgenres. However, Kardashev shows that there’s still room for more! They have pioneered a combination of post-metal, shoegaze, and deathcore(?!) that they dub “deathgaze”. With this unusual union, Kardashev manages to be both dreamy and visceral, and by some miracle, it works really well.

Boy, this band’s growth has been insane. If you start from the beginning, you’ll hear the evolution in the band’s sound. Heck, the older stuff is still really good. In any case, Liminal Rite comes out swinging, with more intricate, heavier tracks that still have that signature Kardashev feel. Being a concept album about an old man suffering from dementia, this is also the band’s most emotional record to date. 

What ties it all together is vocalist Mark Garrett. I generally find the deathcore style to sound try-hard and stupid, but the right person can turn it into an art, and Garrett does it. His growls, screams, and crooning all bring out the emotions of the album in a truly stunning and surprising way. Overall, Kardashev is on its way to stardom… or at least a very passionate cult following. I’d say it’s another contender for album of the year (which I doubt is on anyone else’s list because only popular bands are allowed to be on those).

Verdict: 10/10


Heilung: Drif

As much as I love folk metal, sometimes it’s good to have just the “folk” and not the metal, especially with a group as unusual as Heilung. They’ve become one of today’s most popular folk groups. It was inevitable that I would want to give them a try, considering their name is German for “healing”; something we ALL could use.

However, they took getting used to, and not because they aren’t metal. Their sound design and production are absolutely top-notch at immersing you in whatever atmosphere they try to convey. The problem is I wouldn’t call a lot of their songs “heilung” in the literal sense of the word; a lot of them can be described as “terrifying” or even “ASMR” (literally half of their first album were songs of just a guy talking). Sophomore album Futha is a LOT better, though, and single-handedly got me hooked on the band.

Anyway, we’re supposed to be talking about Drif, not Futha! In any case, Drif continues Helilung’s tradition of top-dollar and otherworldly folk. Heilung continues to do whatever it wants, taking inspiration from all parts of Europe’s history. From whimsical melodies, to atmospheric soundscapes, every song on the album is quite DRIF-erent from one another (I should let myself out, shouldn’t I?). While mileage may vary because of the wild nature of the band, it doesn’t really matter how much I like an individual track; regardless, Heilung always has me wanting more. This is one of those rare times when an experimental band becomes mainstream, and they deserve it.

Verdict: 9.25/10


Spiritbox: Rotoscope (EP)

The statistically most popular metal band of the decade that will inevitably define said decade (whether you like them or not) somehow broke into the mainstream with last year’s full-length debut, Eternal Blue. While we ponder where they could possibly go from there, they have given us three new songs to lose our minds over. With this release, Spiritbox proves that Eternal Blue wasn’t a fluke. Rotoscope maintains the band’s combination of deceptively accessible melodies with djent-progressive-metalcore. I think it might be heavier than Eternal Blue was. As much as I hate being mainstream, I can’t deny that Spiritbox has at least earned some of the accolades they’ve been getting (even if I still don’t agree with everyone’s claims that Courtney LaPlante is the most powerful woman in metal right now). To be honest, Spiritbox is probably my third favorite debut from 2021 now. 

Verdict: 9/10


Queensrÿche: Digital Noise Alliance

After three years of posting old band photos on their Facebook page, prog-metal veterans Queensrÿche return with their fourth album featuring the current lineup: Digital Noise Alliance. Their previous outings did an admirable job at maintaining the band’s legacy, however, it’s hard to top the Geoff Tate classics. Will this be the one to do it?

Well, to be honest, I’m not really qualified to say. My tastes in metal have changed a LOT since I started getting into more current stuff, and… er… I don’t know if I’m a big Queensrÿche fanboy anymore, versus when I was a teen. Sure, it still holds up, but on the witness stand, I would rank a lot of bands above even the Tate era. 

Regardless, Digital Noise Alliance is this lineup’s most well-rounded effort yet, reflecting every face of Queensrÿche over the years. It’s by far the best album they’ve put out in a while, but like I said, it’s greatly outclassed.

Verdict: 8.85/10


Mori Calliope: UnAlive & Shinigami Note

Hang on… did I just include a famous V-tuber on the list?! Well, funny story: I still have yet to watch a V-tuber’s videos (you actually thought I’d swim with the mainstream?). I kind of just stumbled upon Calliope, saw that her name was Latin, and an interest in her music career grew from there. Yes, I was expecting something like Powerolf from her, as low as those odds were. Also, I REALLY want to like the up and coming idol group, SG5, and I need to train myself up with more mainstream J-pop to prepare.

While her music isn’t European gothic in any way despite her design, Calliope has pretty good stuff. There’s surprising variety for a mainstream artist, and the songs themselves have the youthful, chaotic energy I expect from J-pop. She also has a great singing voice, although I don’t know if it’s autotuned or not. I’m also not sure how much creative control she has over song compositions. Her lyrics seem to revolve around her built-in lore as the Grim Reaper’s apprentice, which is nice and nonsensical as opposed to the nihilist crap that seems mainstream these days.

Verdict (UnAlive): 8.75/10

Verdict (Shinigami Note): 8.9/10


Blackbraid: Blackbraid I

Well… this is awkward. I can’t possibly discuss this artist without outing myself as a user of Bandcamp. I got an account to support my favorite bands, and I didn’t want it to be something linked to my identity here on WordPress. The cat would’ve come out of the bag eventually, probably—like now, since it’s pretty much impossible to know about Blackbraid without being a Bandcamp user; the guy’s a Bandcamp celebrity right now, with his debut—Blackbraid I—being one of the highest-selling metal records on the platform.

What stands out at a glance is that Blackbraid—a.k.a. Sgah’gahsowáh—is a Native American from the Adirondacks. Although he’s not the first Indigenous metaller, he’s perhaps one of the best. His music isn’t exactly unique, but it’s still really good. There is a great balance of epic and atmospheric black metal here, and two instrumental pieces to boot.

Verdict: 9.45/10


The Hu: Rumble of Thunder

HOW MANY MORE BIG BANDS ARE RELEASING ALBUMS THIS YEAR? Heck, this list only scratches the surface of that laundry list. Anyway, The Hu has managed to become borderline mainstream with their blend of classic metal and hard rock with traditional Mongolian folk music. I wasn’t 100% sold on their debut album, The Gereg, although it was a solid and novel record nonetheless.

With Rumble of Thunder, I’m sold now. It feels like they’ve managed to strike a more proper balance with Eastern and Western instruments, while having catchier, heavier songs to boot. This record’s a certified banger (well… not really since Metal Hammer decides that, but you know what I mean).

Verdict: 9.5/10


Ozzy Osbourne: Patient Number 9

I think most of us thought 2020’s Ordinary Man would be the final Ozzy album. Well, as if 2022 wasn’t more clogged with new releases by big artists, here he is with Patient Number 9! This is probably the last one for real, right?

I’m generally not a fan of vanilla metal anymore, nor do I listen to the classics too often, yet—possibly because of nostalgia—I still come back to Ozzy. Despite how new and novel a lot of modern artists are, there’s still something to take away from the simple yet feel-like-I’m-locked-in-an-asylum groove of classic Ozzy metal.

I really enjoyed this one a lot. I don’t know if it’s because of the guest musicians—ranging from Zakk Wylde, to Toni Iommi and Eric Clapton—but this is probably the best Ozzy album since No More Tears. It’s not really too different from his previous stuff; it’s just really high quality. The guests do bring their own personas to the table, at least from what I could tell; the song with Clapton could easily be confused with Cream. However, like I said with Queensrÿche, I do think the veterans have been long since outclassed. On the flipside, not many metalheads can brag about being in the business for fifty-four years.

Verdict: 9.25/10


BAND-MAID: Unleash (EP)

Well, it’s BAND-MAID, so you know what I’m going to say. To those who don’t, here’s a TL;DR: these girls know how to jam better than most men, and their music has only gotten heavier. Also, the MV for the title track is anime. That alone makes this a great release.

Verdict: 9.5/10


Zmey Gorynich: Izhitsa

It’s a Christmas miracle that this unique and hilarious folk-deathcore band gets to release its third album. Why is it a Christmas miracle? They’re Russian. I got into this band and fell in love with them a literal month before Putin’s attack on Ukraine. I haven’t followed Russia’s metal scene since—not because of any racist thoughts on account of Putin—but because, due to the brutal sanctions from NATO, I figured that the market would be ground into dust. However, it seems that the sanctions didn’t amount to much (big surprise), because it seems many-a Russian metal band have survived, Zmey Gorynich included. So, here we are with Izhitsa

Well, somehow, they did it, and despite the circumstances, the band is stronger than ever! As expected, the songs are unapologetically heavy and unapologetically polka. Russian meme-y-ness assaults your eardrums, and makes you feel like you’re drowning in kvas. Pretentious hyperbole aside, this is another banger. Is it too much to hope they’ll be making more?

Verdict: 9.75/10


Defacing God: The Resurrection of Lilith

Of course, the 2022 debut I waited the longest for took this long to drop… Well, the wait was worth it, for reasons I will discuss. Defacing God’s name sounds super blasphemous, but that’s just because they’re themed around witchcraft and Feminism; two things that do NOT mesh with Christianity. 

As a symphonic melodic death metal band, you can expect it to be both aggressive and catchy, with plenty of that old-time European mood sprinkled throughout. It’s over-the-top and feels very theatrical, which is exactly how I like it. Oh right… and their vocalist is a witch. The band is fronted by the titular Lilith herself, and boy, she proves the idea that metal is just the modern evolution of witchcraft. She feels right at home in the band, with high-pitched growls that fit their imagery quite well; definitely do not expect a cup of tea, a cookie, and yoo-hoo from her. 

Verdict: 9.85/10


Remina: Strata

ANOTHER debut I’ve been looking forward to all year?! Well, fortunately, I at least knew what to expect, since Remina—consisting of Sojourner’s Mike Lamb and former Draconian vocalist Heike Langhans—had already released 4/7ths of Strata‘s tracks prior to release. So yeah, at least I was a fan before it was cool. 

Lamb is clearly a master of atmospheric music, whether it be atmospheric black metal back in Sojourner, or—as Remina calls itself—cosmic doom metal. In essence, the band consists of big riffs accompanied by space-y synth. Langhans’ performance throughout the album is also phenomenal; what a beautiful voice. The cherry on top is the epic seven-minute track embedded above you. Any BLAME! fans reading this post? Well, watch the video, and you’ll see their tribute to Tsutomu Nihei. 

Verdict: 9.75/10


Brand of Sacrifice: Exodus (Single)

I literally said I don’t talk about singles, yet I’ve done that with Gloryhammer in the other post, and I’m doing it again here! This is also my first time on the blog fan-gushing over Brand of Sacrifice. I’ve been following them for a few months now. For those who don’t know what makes this brutal deathcore group special, here’s three words: Kentaro Miura’s Berserk. Yes, that’s their lyrical theme.

In any case, this latest song of theirs is a lot. Their music has always been a lot, but this is A LOT a lot. As usual, you have ludicrously heavy instrumentation, and various synth effects to give them a Hiroyuki Sawano-like epic quality to them. What’s different is their vocalist, Kyle Anderson the Demon King. Clean vocals appear for the first time (I’m still not convinced that it’s him singing those), but his growls continue to be guttural and plentiful. The song’s bridge is the most intense arrangement they have ever created thus far… it’s just wow. The press seems to have decreed this the heaviest song in all of 2022, yet there are still bands I’m more afraid of than this. 

Moving on… I’m a bit concerned that they’re going to pull a Shadow of Intent and abandon the beloved nerd I.P. in favor of the usual misanthropy. Anderson’s blurb about the song doesn’t say it’s a reference to Berserk, nor does he say they’re dropping the—no pun intended—brand. Oh well, we’re just gonna have to wait to find out!

Verdict: 10/10


Broken by the Scream: RISE into CHAOS

I’ve known about this band for years, yet I never got around to them because their sophomore album wasn’t available at the time, and by the time it got added, I forgot about the band. It’s a shame, because Broken by the Scream would have otherwise been my first extreme metal band ever, and it would’ve blown my mind. Oh, and here’s the real kicker: they are like BABYMETAL, but better. BBTS has everything that I felt was lacking in BABYMETAL: chaos, raw energy, and death growls. 

Anyway, this album—as usual with BBTS—is ridiculous. Unclean vocalists Io and Kagura continue to be some of the best I’ve ever heard (and they’re young women to boot), while Tsubaki and Ayame’s clean vocals continue to contrast. The music, as usual, is something akin to blackened melodic thrash/death metal with elements of electronic, power metal, and the occasional deathcore breakdown. Heck, I don’t even know if all that nonsense I just said is accurate. All I do know is that BBTS has put out another masterpiece.

Verdict: 10/10


Electric Callboy: TEKKNO

This might just be the greatest music video ever made.

As an Amaranthe fan, it’s no surprise that I also fell in love with Electric Callboy’s fusion of metalcore and EDM. It’s taken FOREVER for me to catch up, and I barely managed to finish their newest album, TEKKNO, in time for the post. Anyway, the band is catchy, memey, and lewd.

The band has also really grown. They had already hit it out of the park with their debut album in 2012, but TEKKNO is a magnum opus. Heavier and meme-ier than ever, this album does everything right. Their popular song ‘We Got the Moves’ is by far my favorite Electric Callboy song of all time. However, the entire album is a masterpiece beyond my highest expectations. It seems like the new vocalist, Nico Sallach, who joined when they did the MMXX EP, has helped breathe new life into an already excellent band. Seriously, this album is so perfect. I had considered Amaranthe my favorite metal band with pop elements, but TEKKNO is easily better than anything that band has ever put out (still love them though). It’s obvious that I have it as another contender for album of the year, regardless of if Metal Hammer agrees.

Before giving the album its score, I must also give a shout-out to the band’s amazing music videos, such as the masterpiece embedded above. They must be really popular in Germany in particular (that’s where they’re from btw), because their videos have really high production values, with elaborate sets and lots of extras. I usually call music videos dumb and corny, but Electric Callboy injects a sense of humor and absurdity into them that only adds to their songs. How have these guys not been nominated by the Grammys nor MTV yet?

Verdict: 10/10


Disturbed: Divisive

Gotta end this post with the only early 2000s nu-metal pioneer that I actually love: Disturbed! Even though ‘Down With the Sickness’ continues to overshadow their twenty-year career, Disturbed has always been delivering heavy bangers that deal with personal struggles and societal issues. Hopefully the title of this album won’t reflect its reception…

Well surprise, surprise, it doesn’t (at least not for me). What stands out with Divisive is that it—once again—shows that Disturbed are one of the few current bands who actually became adults over the years. Social commentary has become a staple of the band’s career, and this time, they go into the heart of the matter: the current endorsement of outrage in today’s mainstream. While most bands these days are part of the problem, and willingly fan the flames, Disturbed goes out of character and speaks out against it. That’s the entire theme of Divisive, and it’s a wake-up call we need more than ever.

Not to sound like a hot take guy (again), but I kind of feel like ‘Don’t Tell Me’ was a letdown. What stands out is that it’s a collab with none other than the original queen of heavy music, Ann Wilson of Heart. The issue is that you only get to hear her during her solo verse, and she is drowned out when harmonizing with Draiman. Also, I feel like it’s a cover of some cheesy Barbara Streisand song (or something) because the song has the weakest, most generic lyrics on the album, and has nothing to do with its themes (my salt could just be because I was physically ill when I put it on for the first time). Otherwise, Divisive is easily Disturbed’s best album since Immortalized.

Verdict: 9.75/10


Conclusion

Well, we survived 2022. Putin’s still wrecking Ukraine, and nature just will not let up with COVID. At the very least, the human race is going to go out with a bang! Anyway… there’s still music I have yet to talk about from this year, some of which I have yet to finish. I guess I’ll be making an un-classy follow-up to this post in 2023!

Mack’s Music Highlights: First Half of 2022

Welcome to yet another new attempt at formatting my blog! In case you couldn’t tell from reading my music reviews, I struggle hard with them. For some reason, other music reviewers can really break down each individual track, and provide distinct descriptions for each one, using terms that I don’t even understand. They’re super professional, and I am not. However, I was able to salvage two pretty meh reviews I did recently by combining them into one post. The reviews were still what they were, but for some reason, the post just felt more substantial by having two short reviews of those albums instead of me trying to replicate what I read on other sites. Mack’s Music Highlights is the same idea on steroids.

I plan to post this new series on a bi-annual basis. Like this, I can put short blurbs that more-than-sufficiently do the bands justice. More importantly, I can cram in as many bands as I want, as opposed to having to schedule one day for that one album review. I can also cover bands I wouldn’t normally talk about, due to my desire to prioritize more obscure bands over popular bands that I happen to like. Word of warning in case you’re new: I mostly cover metal here. I would call this “Mack’s Metal Highlights”, but there are a few non-metal bands I follow, and I love them just about as much as any metal outfit. Anyway, without further ado, let’s begin this… thing!


Power Paladin: With the Magic of Windfyre Steel

Power Paladin is my first ever impression of Iceland’s metal scene. The band consists of bassist Kristlefur þorsteinsson, drummer Einar Karl Júlíusson, guitarists Bjarni þór Jóhannsson and Ingi þórisson, keyboardist Bjarni Egill Ӧgmundsson, and vocalist Atli Guðlaugsson. Like with many new and obscure bands, that’s all I know about them. Holy crap, it took me at least five minutes to type the members’ names because of how many special characters I had to use!

What immediately jumps out is that Windfyre Steel is eighties A.F. Sure, I once said that DragonForce was “Survivor but with a touch of very fast metal” back before I knew what power metal was, but Windfyre Steel REALLY feels eighties. The tempo is a lot slower than DragonForce (i.e. normal, human speed), and the sound of the vocals is way more reminiscent of the time as well. In fact, the whole production has that tinny quality of a lot of hair metal, and it felt very nostalgic. There’s also the added benefit of it having nonsensical medieval theming versus the “I wanna grab that girl’s massively large posterior” that a lot of actual hair metal was about.

Verdict: 8.5/10


Vorga: Striving Toward Oblivion

I know nothing about Vorga other than that they’re from Germany. Don’t blame me; their label is literally called Transcending Obscurity, so this is one of those bands that’s proud to be underground. Unfortunately, here’s where it gets awkward. As of the release of Striving Toward Oblivion, their drummer has left the band. It must be really weird hearing an album that was recorded with the original lineup, but without that same lineup existing in the present. I wish them luck in finding a new member, or that one of the remaining members can play drums. 

I wasn’t expecting much with Striving to Oblivion, but it ended up surprising me as one of the best black metal debuts of the year. As evidenced by other sci-fi black metal bands like Imperialist, the subgenre really conveys the darkness of space (which is ironic, considering that most sci-fi extreme metal bands are technical death metal). However, I found Vorga to really kick it up a notch. While you might not like their modern sound (versus the REALLY staticy old black metal), each song is engaging and powerful. It’s nothing new, but it’s something worth checking out!

Verdict: 9.45/10


Pure Wrath: Hymn to the Woeful Hearts

According to Encyclopaedia Metallum, Pure Wrath is an atmospheric black metal band run by a dude named Januaryo Hardy. Although, to make things more confusing, Pure Wrath considers itself to be “melancholic black metal” on its Facebook page. Cool. I love subgenres.

Pure Wrath’s basic style is that of a more aggressive Sojourner. There’s some fast tempos, but always time for some string and woodwind instruments to put the “atmospheric” in atmospheric black metal. However, Woeful Hearts is a lot more intense. Surprising, I know, considering the cover art is an old lady with her back to a burning house. Pure Wrath’s 2020 EP, The Forlorn Soldier, was about the dark side of Indonesian history, and I can only assume it’s a new lyrical theme for his career moving forward. With that in mind, it makes a lot of sense for this album to be so much heavier than the previous outings. Unfortunately, Hardy’s vocal performance isn’t the most fluent. Well, it’s the emotions that count, right?

Verdict: 8.9/10


Bloodywood: Rakshak

Apparently, Bloodywood is this year’s Spiritbox; i.e. 2022’s most anticipated debut. However, unlike with Spiritbox, I was on the hype train for this as well, even though I barely managed to board it on time for the album release! All you need to do is look at the epic cover art (not pictured) to know exactly what Bloodywood is about: folk metal straight from India.

However, it’s so much more than that. Bloodywood incorporates electronics and rap in addition to the usual traditional instruments and multilingual lyrics. Unfortunately, that’s about all that can be described in words, because you have to listen to the embedded music video to get an idea of just how good this record is. I’m totally not just using that as an excuse to make you watch the video and give them YouTube money. I also won’t tell you to share the band’s existence with everyone you know, but I highly advise it.

The band’s best strength, other than its youthful energy, is its lyrical themes. Rakshak goes through a wide variety of emotions, from anger, to joy, to loss; mostly anger, though. Half the songs on here are brutally honest social commentaries, but for some reason, something is more cathartic from them than any other metal band that covers politics. Even their angriest song shows some hints of hope for a peaceful solution. The lyrics themselves are also clever; only they can roast politicians and WWE during the course of the same song. To be perfectly blunt, Bloodywood saved my life. Although for the sake of staying on topic, I’ll elaborate in a future post.

Verdict: 10/10


Ghost: IMPERA

One of the worst aspects of this new series is that I really have no room to gush over cover art anymore. It sucks because I love showing my appreciation for a lot of the talented illustrators who make this artwork, especially whoever does Ghost’s art. This band’s album covers have been consistently getting better, and IMEPRA is a cut above the rest. It’s so intricate and detailed, yet not busy. I wouldn’t mind a mecha anime with this Papa Emeritus Gundam they got here.

For the past ten years, Ghost has employed an evolving but simple marriage of old-school metal and 1970s pop. However, IMPERA shows that they’re still capable of catching us off-guard.  ‘Twenties’, for example, is just… really weird. Every time I hear the word I’m instantly going to think of the high-pitched “Twen-tieeeeees!” in the song’s chorus for the rest of my life (along with the “Yesssss” in ‘Griftwood’). Of course, there are some normal-er Ghost bangers, such as ‘Call Me Little Sunshine’, and ‘Hunter’s Moon’, the latter of which was wasted on Steven Spielberg’s “final” Halloween movie. Overall, IMPERA was well worth the wait.

Verdict: 10/10


Vanaheim: Een Verloren Verhaal

Bloodywood might be the big folk metal band everyone is talking about, but from within the Netherlands rose an underground sleeper hit: this debut album by Vanaheim. Ironically, I only found out about them by Googling Bloodywood and this having come up in the “people also search for” tab. With no real experience in Dutch folk metal, this was an easy impulse listen.

I’d say I made a great call. Basically, take the extreme metal elements of Hand of Kalliach—one of my favorite debuts from last year—add the catchy pagan anthems of Elvenking—one of my favorite folk metal bands of all time—and you get Een Verloren Verhaal. The lyrics are also sung in Dutch to boot. It’s a no-brainer that I love everything about this record.

Verdict: 9.5/10


Esprit D’Air: Oceans

I had tried to get into this famous Japanese-British soloist, but for some reason… their music just didn’t quite hit me. I liked about half the songs they had been putting out, but that’s not enough for me to be a fan. I wasn’t too excited for their new full-length, Oceans, but Esprit D’Air’s cover art is always so eye-catching that I just had to give it a whirl!

Surprisingly enough, I really enjoyed it. For a while, I felt like Esprit D’Air’s style was more of a poppy sound with metal instrumentation, but I didn’t get that vibe on Oceans at all. It’s much heavier, but with no shortage of the artist’s usual, whimsical synth sounds. There are also some growling guest vocalists to contrast mastermind Kaito Takahashi’s silky-smooth clean singing. Overall, it’s a solid record.

Verdict: 8.4/10


Angel Nation: Antares

Boy, I really shot myself in the foot with this one. In my review of Catalyst Crime’s self-titled debut from last year, I said I would cover Angel Nation’s third album, and here we are. 

Angel Nation likes their music nice and simple. If you enjoy old-school, 1980s-pop-y metal, this band has it all, and Antares is a further step in the right direction. There are also plenty of synthesizers to boot.

Verdict: 8.4/10


Luminous Vault: Animate the Emptiness

I just learned of industrial metal, which is yet another of metal’s umpteen subgenres. I’ve apparently listened to a lot of bands considered industrial, and loved them without even knowing what it was. At first, I thought it was just a term used for high-synth elements in metal. Seems arbitrary.

However, on Luminous Vault’s debut, Animate the Emptiness, I learned of an important distinction that I would personally consider blasphemous: the drums are fake. I find percussion to be of utmost importance in music, and generally, those synthetic boots n’ cats just sound lifeless and wrong to me. Yet here we are with Luminous Vault, integrating that stuff with black metal.

Despite how much I don’t like not-drums, I actually found the album to be pretty solid. The sense of wrongness with the fake drums coupled with the actual guitars was very interesting. To give credit where credit is due, though, Luminous Vault is not remotely the first band to do this; apparently this style was pioneered by a band called Blut aus Nord from WAY back in the day (they just released a new album, and since they’re a popular band, I of course haven’t listened to it). In any case, this album’s pretty interesting.

Verdict: 8.5/10


Moonlight Sorcery: Piercing Through the Frozen Eternity (EP)

Hot take: I don’t exactly like old-school black metal. I tried with Behemoth, and I found myself pretty underwhelmed by them (well, there goes any qualifications as a metalhead that I could possibly have). However, I was still drawn into Finnish trio Moonlight Sorcery, on their compressed-as-all-get-out debut EP: Piercing Through the Frozen Eternity.

Moonlight Sorcery specializes in a rare subgenre called “melodic black metal”, which was apparently very criticized in the 1990s for no good reason. The icey-sounding synthesizers (which are the only other instruments that you can hear clearly besides the guitars) really sell the band’s brand, and make the album quite whimsical. What also stands out is hints of power metal melodies. This band has a lot of potential, hopefully to become the even rarer subgenre of “blackened power metal” in the future. We’ll have to see where their path leads them next!

Verdict: 8.55/10


Gloryhammer: Fly Away (Single)

I normally don’t talk about singles, but I REALLY feel like I need to discuss the current state of this band as soon as possible, just to get it off my chest. For those who don’t know, Alestorm vocalist Christopher Bowes has also been running a memey power metal band called Gloryhammer, chronicling the Scottish hero, Angus McFife, and his quest to defeat Zargothrax in the distant future of the 1990s. The band hadn’t done much after the third album, which ended with the presumed death of McFife. However, last year, they fired the charismatic Thomas Winkler, who had taken the role of McFife. Literally a day later, the band was accused of White Supremacy and misogyny, with evidence found in leaked private chats from several years ago. 

They survived cancel culture by maintaining radio silence, and it somehow worked. Despite the possibly unjustified hatred (honestly, I didn’t read the source posts since they were supposed to be PRIVATE, so I don’t really know the truth), they were able to hire former Helion Prime vocalist Sozos Michael to assume the role of McFife. I didn’t exactly like his presence in Prime’s second album, since it was more sci-fi oriented than the band’s usual brand of real-world science. However, in an over-the-top sci-fi-fantasy metal band like Gloryhammer, Michael couldn’t be a better fit. While his tenor voice isn’t quite as good as Winkler’s, Michael has the passion and energy to be McFife. Oh, and the song’s great too. The only issue is that it doesn’t really seem to explain his situation. It seems to take place in McFife’s consciousness, moments before his death. We’ll have to wait for the actual fourth album to find out what actually happens next!

Verdict: 9/10


Planeswalker: Tales of Magic (EP)

Speaking of Sozos Michael, here’s his current band now! Alongside Jason Ashcraft—also of Helion Prime—these two have created an old-fashioned power metal band themed off of Magic: The Gathering. Everything about the sound production and composition has that same Prime energy, but with some fantasy whimsy instead of edutainment. This album helped me to appreciate Michael’s ability as a songwriter. 

The highlight of the album is no doubt the twelve minute song shown in the embedded MV: ‘Oath of the Gatewatch’. It contains three guest vocalists: original Helion Prime vocalist Heather Michele, the iconic Brittney Slayes from Unleash the Archers, and whoever R.A. Voltaire is. While the whole album (other than an out-of-place KISS cover) is really good, this song is definitely a banger that’s worth checking out. Also, I really hope this band does more music please.

Verdict: 9/10


Conclusion

Well, I definitely feel like this is the way for me to cover music reviews moving forward. I don’t have to worry about making them poetic and verbose like most actual reviewers do. With that, let’s see if the rest of the year will be as good as this first half (music-wise)!

I Review a Pop Album for Once?: millennium parade — THE MILLENNIUM PARADE Album Review

I’m a big metalhead, but as much as I want to say I listen to metal 100% of the time, I don’t. The total is 99%, which feels like more than most metalheads, who enjoy even mainstream pop from time to time. If I can like a band as light as The Hu, then I really have no excuse. This review is super-late and unprofessional, but here it is anyway: my review of millennium parade’s debut album, THE MILLENNIUM PARADE.

My story with millennium parade is a long one. The band was formed quite recently as a side project of Daiki Tsuneta, the lead vocalist of super-popular Japanese rock band King Gnu. I had tried King Gnu in my pre-metal days and didn’t quite like it. At that time, however, millennium parade had released a few singles, most notably the opening theme of Ghost in the Shell S.A.C. 2045. I liked it significantly more than King Gnu, but it wasn’t long after that I got into metal. Their full-length debut has now premiered, and the band’s newest release happens to be one of the theme songs in Mamoru Hosoda’s Belle

Normally, rock bands have crap cover art (as much as I love BAND-MAID, they could use better art a lot of the time). However, millennium parade already stands out with their first album’s artwork. It’s an ukiyo-e-inspired illustration of yokai dancing about. It ties into the album’s intro track, ‘Hyakki-yagyo,’ which bleeds into the already-famous ‘Fly With Me’ (the aforementioned GitS OP). 

millennium parade’s basic style consists of an overwhelming amount of strange synthesizers and autotuning to create a vast and otherworldly soundscape. Apple Music calls it “alternative”, a genre that I still don’t know how to recognize, considering I’ve listened to a lot of the metal take on alternative (apparently). However, if I could call a pop artist “alternative”, then it would be millennium parade. 

The other draw to them is that they are definitely from Japan. That nation’s long history of social isolation that ended only one hundred and twenty years ago has created a very complicated society that can almost be described as “dystopian”. A lot of what initially enchants Westerners is just the unadulterated, unhinged strangeness of what they’ve put out, which contrasts with the centuries of ancient traditions. That shows in THE MILLENNIUM PARADE, whose incredibly modern sound contradicts the old-timey style of the cover art.

Sadly, that’s about where the positives end. Alternative or not, I think pop is superficial to the core, and so far, millennium parade is no exception. I had the same problem with King Gnu. Just like millennium parade, King Gnu had a lot of weird effects and crap in it, but musically, it was basic rock. The weird sounds might help millennium parade stand out among pop artists, but it doesn’t add anything. While I can appreciate them having animated music videos, they only serve to further disguise the basic pop beats beneath.

The vocals are… okay I guess? While ‘Fly With Me’ is sung by a masucline vocalist who sounds like Tsuneta himself, most tracks are by what sound like a female vocalist. Of course, how can I tell, when they all have eighty autotunes going on? Whatever person or people are singing, I do suppose they give THE MILLENNIUM PARADE its desired feel. However, the caveat is that they sound very robotic and deadpan; not at all my speed.

I might sound like I’m just being biased as a metalhead, but here’s the thing: there’s a pop band that I DO unconditionally love. The band is Mili, and ironically, they’re also from Japan. Mili is an independent outfit that I’ve discussed before, and despite my migration into the metal hole, Mili always has me coming out for a spell. They manage to sound perfectly “alternative” but without sensory overload; the core of most of their songs are vocals, percussion, and a piano. The melodies are legitimately not mainstream pop, and their vocalist Cassie is phenomenally talented, packing both personality and a memorable voice. Of course, it’s me of all people who says that a couple of people with no record label are significantly better than one of Japan’s most popular musicians. 

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Final Verdict: 7/10

THE MILLENNIUM PARADE is decent-at-best. Similar to King Gnu, I can’t exactly say I’m a fan of this band, especially when compared to Mili. At the very least, they’re marginally better than most of today’s biggest popstars. You can give them a try if you’re sick of hearing ‘Shake It Off’ on the radio ad nauseum.

Dream Unending and Hand of Kalliach: Two 2021 Metal Debuts I Missed

There’s so much metal out there… seriously. The underground market is even larger, and as a blogger who likes to highlight obscure stuff, I feel pretty overwhelmed. I missed a lot of metal debuts last year, and I’m already behind on debuts from this year. Let’s catch up by discussing two of those debuts from 2021!


Dream Unending: Tide Turns Eternal

I don’t know much about Dream Unending except that it consists of vocalist/drummer Justin DeTore, and guitarist/bassist Derrick Vella. One member is from the States, and the other Canada, but Encyclopaedia Metallum doesn’t say who’s from where. Also, they’re so edgy that they don’t even have a Facebook page; the only way to follow them is through their label, 20 Buck Spin.

I usually dislike album cover art that looks awful, especially since a lot of the REALLY popular bands have awful cover art for some reason (I mean, look at Zeal & Ardor’s self-titled album for example. Two hands suspended in a white void, whoop dee doo). However, despite how awful Tide Turns Eternal looks at first, I found myself unable to look away. It’s incredibly fuzzy, with only three colors. Yet… there’s just enough there for the brain to vaguely form a sense of composition. I hate that I have no idea what I’m looking at, and that’s why I’ve come to love the artwork. 

I knew that Tide Turns Eternal was going to be a trip (also, take a shot for every paragraph I start with “I”), but it threw me for a loop minute one. Even with all the contrasting dualities that I’ve heard, Dream Unending is utter tonal whiplash. I don’t know what to call those riffs that are reminiscent of late 1960s acid rock, but that comes up just about as often as the doom metal subgenre’s signature deep guitar riffs. 

I don’t like the late 1960s era, but I was hooked on Tide Turns Eternal despite that. People love using the hyperbolic word “otherworldly”, but sometimes, there’s no other way to describe something. This record is a groaning, melancholic experience. Every track has a memorable and ominous atmosphere.

I have heard death growls in a myriad of ways. People can really draw them out, screech like banshees, and even rap in this style. However, DeTore taught me that… you can whisper in death growls? This man’s voice is scary in the best way possible. Instead of just trying to sound like a ravenous pig (apparently, that’s deathcore territory *shivers*), he uses the aforementioned technique to prove the deceptive versatility of extreme vocals.

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Final Verdict: 9.4/10

It’s amazing how fast I’ve gotten acclimated to metal. I go from resenting extreme metal, to now having my Top Three 2021 debuts all being extreme metal, with Tide Turns Eternal in third place (the moles in Earthbound would be proud). This album… just wow. Like with IOTUNN, I should’ve listened to it much sooner than when I did. Tide Turns Eternal truly is a dream unending. Even if you’re off-put by extreme metal, I recommend you give this a try; it’s just that unique and bizarre.


Hand of Kalliach: Samhainn

I know nothing about Hand of Kalliach, other than the fact that they are a husband and wife duo. Sophie and John Fraser hail from Scotland… and that’s literally it for what I know. Hooray for the underground! Oh, here’s one tidbit I learned: I don’t know if it’s the sole purpose of the project, but they supposedly donate some amount of their proceeds to a charity that they support. Follow them on Facebook for details (#notsponsored)!

I love the cover art… whatever it is. It looks like a wizard on a robot horse riding on a turbulent sea? Oh wait, that’s his left arm, not a horse’s head… In any case, I’m no doubt off the mark with this art, but that’s the thing about art; the emotion felt by the viewer. And the emotion I felt was anticipation for what Hand of Kalliach had to offer!

The thing I’m used to with folk metal is for there to be, well, folk instrumentation implemented with the metal sounds. Hand of Kalliach, however, doesn’t even have one bagpipe pipe. Despite that, however, something about it screamed “folk metal” to me.

Or rather, it growled “folk metal”, for Hand of Kalliach is a death metal band at its core. Don’t worry though; they’re not old-timey violent death metal. If anything it’s melodic death metal meets atmospheric black metal, kind of like IOTUNN, the otherworldly new prog-metal band whose debut I covered not too long ago. In a similar sense, the music is thunderously heavy, but there’s still a strange melancholy to the overall sound.

Of course, just because I’m comparing them to IOTUNN doesn’t mean the two bands are anything alike. In fact, “apples and oranges” couldn’t be a more apt analogy here. Hand of Kalliach, like I said before, manages to scratch that folk itch with pretty much no help from actual folk tradition. I honestly don’t know how they did it, except they did it, and REALLY well at that. Every track on Samhainn slaps with a whimsical and heavy atmosphere that I haven’t quite heard anywhere else.

The vocalists really tie the album’s sound together. Yes, vocalists. Most of the singing is done by John, who takes the role of the growler. He sounds like a feral beast, and sadly, isn’t as fluent as others I have heard. However, I didn’t get mad at that for some reason, like I did when I first heard Behemoth’s Nergal (I know it’s a hot take to not like Behemoth, but that’s just me; a butt-load of hot takes!). For some reason, his growls just worked, and I can’t imagine Hand of Kalliach without him. Same goes for the wife, Sophie. Her clean vocals are delicate and flow like a gentle stream, forming a perfect contrast with her husband’s savage growling.

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Final Verdict: 9.45/10

Hand of Kalliach proves both the versatility of extreme and folk metal. I believe Samhainn is a masterpiece, second only to IOTUNN’s Access All Worlds for my favorite 2021 debut. If you aren’t too off-put by how damn heavy it is, I highly recommend giving the record a spin.

Heavy and Colorful: A Look at Diversity in Metal

Metal has come a long way from leather-clad men with crazy hair. It’s a living entity that’s constantly growing, and has even come to welcome those in marginalized cultures. With all this color mixed in, the genre has exploded into a rainbow of infinite creativity. Let’s go over a small trickle of these diverse bands.


Wagakki Band

As a weeb, I have to start by discussing a Japanese band. Early on, all my music posts were exclusively about Japanese bands. And if I had to pick one for this post, it would be Wagakki Band.

Since the early 2010s, this group has combined the gentle beauty of traditional Japanese folk music with that of Western rock and metal. Despite the duality, this combo works really well. They’ve gotten enough acknowledgement to be allowed a collab with Amy Lee from Evanescence in 2020 (even though I think Wagakki Band is better than Evanescence and the honor should be Lee’s). 

The problem is that they’re a bit inconsistent with their style. Even during the course of the same album, their musical style has ranged from folk metal to folk pop, the latter of which completely abandons Western instrumentation and has simplistic, easy melodies. Their newest work, 2021’s Starlight EP, is the lightest thing they have ever released. As they become more popular internationally, I worry that they will be forced to sell out and not be metal in the future. But I guess we’ll never know until their next full-length album comes out!


Living Colour

I was reluctant to listen to this band, considering the searing nature of their lyrics; however, I gave them a try. Living Colour, known for their first hit single ‘Cult of Personality’, is an iconic example of a band consisting entirely of Black men, which was very rare at the time, since a lot of metal bands only had White guys. Beyond that song is a discography spanning six full-length albums in an ongoing career of over three decades, and they’re working on new music right now. 

The band combines funky fresh beats with hot n’ heavy metal. Naturally, a lot of the lyrics are sociopolitical commentaries on America, and—of course—racism is involved. The lyrics are brutally honest and, well, brutal. Living Colour is the only band to have me break out into uncontrollable sobbing. The song in question is ‘Flying’, their tribute to the 9/11 attacks. Of course, the rest of their stuff doesn’t slouch. Their newest album, Shade, is my favorite work from them thus far. Given the past couple years, expect their next outing to be brutal.


The Hu

Due to my anxieties discussed in the New Year’s update, I might have BS’d myself into loving this band. In fact, you probably heard of them, since they are hugely popular worldwide (based on what I read about them). Regardless of if I should like this band, I’d rather listen to The Hu than any popstar.

The Hu are from Mongolia, and incorporate the corresponding folk traditions into their music. However, the fusion between Eastern and Western is very loose; there really aren’t any electric guitars at all. Despite that, the musical style—using the Mongolian instruments—is undeniably that of Western rock. Although considered metal, The Hu really aren’t “heavy.” The songs are very catchy, and definitely feel a lot more like Mongolian rock n’ roll than folk metal.

But for whatever reason, I find myself captivated by the band, even though, as a pure metalhead, I shouldn’t be. The singing techniques sound really cool, and the instruments are neat to boot. Maybe they’ll get heavier when they follow-up their debut album, The Gereg, but we’ll never know until that next album comes out! 


Myrath

I had zero African bands on my docket for the longest time. The only African band I had heard of was South Africa’s Vulvodynia, a super duper violent death metal outfit; no thanks! I wanted African folk metal, but there were slim pickings. Of those pickings was Tunisia’s Myrath, and while not exactly what I was looking for, I ended up developing an interest in them all the same.

Incorporating Middle Eastern instruments, Myrath is a brilliant progressive folk metal band, although they lean toward the Western end of the fusion. Their style gradually shifts toward power metal (as shown in the embedded MV) which might be off-putting for some, but the songs are still fire, so it really just shows the band’s versatility. 


Alien Weaponry

Alien Weaponry is one of the more recent examples of metal being used as an instrument to fight for civil rights, and quite a successful one at that. This New Zealand outfit is descended from said nation’s native people, the Maori. Sadly, New Zealand’s British-run government has been systematically stamping out what little of the Maori remain (read this article for more details). With metal, Alien Weaponry seeks to represent their heritage and raise awareness of racism.

Unfortunately, I found them to be my second least favorite band on this post. The songs in which they incorporate their Maori language are great; they have a tribal and barbaric sound (which is exemplified by the fact that they perform with no shirts on). However, that’s only half the battle. A lot of their music is sung entirely in English, and when they do this, Alien Weaponry seems like a completely different beast. While the lyrical theme of racial injustice is still part of it (albeit in a different language), the all-English songs feel very contemporary and garden-variety by comparison. I usually do a three album rule if I can at least see potential for the band to grow (a rule that may or may not have been inspired by the notorious three episode rule for anime), so I’ll keep my eye on them for now. As it stands, Alien Weaponry is a pretty typical Western-style outfit with a Polynesian paint job.


Voice of Baceprot

This young Indonesian outfit seems to be the most popular band out of everyone on this post. Of course, they happen to be my least favorite as well. However, that’s not a particularly fair assessment since they have only two singles and several covers of early 2000s metal songs that I don’t like. 

What makes them attractive is that they are seriously young; I think they’re still teens. They’re also all girls who practice Islam, which apparently forbids music (at least where they’re from). VOB has become insanely successful, not only gaining a large swathe of metal fans, but the favor of political figures as well. Their critics, on the other hand, are so passionate as to threaten the girls’ lives. I don’t mean they are Internet trolls; these people have made actual, cruel attempts to murder the members of VOB.

I wanna support them, but what they have put out so far doesn’t impress me. Voice of Baceprot sounds like a very basic hard rock band. Their lyrics are definitely heavy, but the music just doesn’t accommodate. Regardless of what I think, people love them, and I’m willing to bet that a potential full-length debut album will be the most anticipated metal debut of the decade; likely the one thing that can dethrone Spiritbox. You can give them a try I guess. If you watched the embedded music video, you’ll have already heard 50% of their discography anyway.


Whispered

Okay, so this is the most unorthodox band I have on here. I have included Whispered only  because I want to bring up the concept of “cultural appropriation”. Like Wagakki Band, Whispered incorporates Japanese folk into heavy metal. Unlike Wagakki Band, Whispered are from Finland. 

I read up on cultural appropriation, and I’m afraid that Whispered might fall under it, and their very underground status is probably what’s kept them from any upheaval. The music is really good, basically a more extreme version of Wagakki Band, with that over-the-topness of European metal. It’s actually a really, really good band. I’d almost say they’re better than Wagakki Band. They incorporate the rare fusion of melodic death with power metal, and have taught me that Wizardthrone was not at all the first band to do it (in fact, Whispered would make a perfect replacement for them if they were to disband).

Whispered is taking its sweet time, with only three albums out in the course of a decade, and no set date for the fourth album has been confirmed. The lyrical themes are mostly bushido stuff, and sometimes cover Japanese mythology, but both check out based on my own knowledge of the culture. 

I don’t really know the nuances of cultural appropriation. The first and foremost thing is that it’s supposed to be offensive, but how do you know for sure? When I read up on it, I saw one example of Justin Bieber being accused just for wearing dreadlocks. Maybe he was wearing it “wrong(?)”, but I don’t know how you can be racist by wearing a cool hairstyle. Whatever the case may be, I’m concerned that the current mindset on racism will make it so that only people of a given ethnicity can be inspired by the corresponding culture. That sounds like the opposite of what needs to be done to me.


Arka’n Asrafokor

Despite the massive burst of inclusive media, there’s still a long way to go. As I mentioned before, I wanted African folk metal, specifically that of West Africa; the kind that’s represented at Disney’s Animal Kingdom and Animal Kingdom Lodge. Togo’s Arka’n Asrafokor is the first band that came up when I searched, and according to what I’ve read, they’re the only metal band from Togo to begin with.

Like many underground units, they need time. Since its formation in 2009, the band has only released one album—2019’s Zã Keli—under its old name, ARKA’N. The album isn’t just novel; it slaps. As it says on the tin, it is a fusion of metal, and those old-timey African vibes. Using English, French, and their native Ewe, there are a lot of different vocal performances you’ll hear. I particularly love when they harmonize in the latter. 

According to my research, Zã Keli was very well-received when it came out, and most people who’ve listened to the band are already devoted fans. However, the fact still remained that I needed to Google Search this specific type of music for me to find them by happenstance. From what I read about them, the process of finding the necessary equipment was exceptionally difficult where they’re from, and that would probably explain why the album took so long to make. I hope that the stars will align with them in the future, because this is a band I want to see become more mainstream. While a lot of the diverse stuff in the mainstream emphasizes how great each culture is, they don’t really showcase either of those cultures “together”, if you catch my drift.

Unfortunately, it really seems that Arka’n Asrafokor is one of a kind, not just in Togo, but the world. Like I said, this is the only result I got for “African folk metal”, and that makes me feel sad. I wish this band takes over the world going into the 2020s. PLEASE.


Conclusion

We have a long road to travel to reach racial tolerance. In the meantime, these bands—and many more—are here to stay and won’t take no for an answer. Maybe someday, metal will remind us that we’re all human beings. If not, then pop will probably take that mantle instead. Hopefully, you’ll have been encouraged to broaden your horizon of music!

Second Album Already?!: Ad Infinitum — Chapter II: Legacy Album Review

Since I only ever discussed Ad Infinitum in my Top Five Song Covers post, I’ll reiterate how much I love them: A LOT. In fact, they’re one of my favorite new bands of the current decade. Their debut, Chapter I: Monarchy, was a pleasant surprise in that [insert hyperbolic negative adjective here] of a year. And barely a year after that, they’ve put out their next album with Chapter II: Legacy

Ad Infinitum formed in 2018 with former Rage of Light vocalist Melissa Bonny at the helm. She was still in Rage of Light while working with them, but ended up leaving them to focus solely on Ad Infinitum. Good call, girl (sorry, Rage of Light fans). 

So far, Ad Infinitum has a pattern of crazy, Hollywood-movie-poster-esque album cover art going for them. They are always well-dressed, and the band members’ all-too-apropos plague masks help the group stand out (although, this time, their masks aren’t covering the parts that make you sick). The sepia-like yellow and ebony color palette is also consistent with their previous outing.

In terms of style, Ad Infinitum is an old-fashioned, no-gimmick symphonic metal band. They have an epic, orchestral feel similar to Epica, albeit without a choir. However, the melodies have a more Disney-ish-feel, like with ILLUMISHADE, who debuted in the same year (what a coincidence, since they just had a gig together). As an Epica and ILLUMISHADE fan, my love for Ad Infinitum makes a lot of sense. 

This time around, Chapter II is a bit heavier. Don’t worry; the songs are still catchy in that European metal fashion. And, well, what else can I say? This album is really good. One of the best aspects is the song ‘Afterlife’, with guest vocalist Nils Molin. Most of you probably never heard of him, but if you’ve been following me, you know that I’m obsessed with Amaranthe. Molin is one of their vocalists, so hearing his sexy voice in an Ad Infinitum song makes me happy.

Bonny is also a very solid vocalist. It took me until I listened to this record to recognize that the occasional death growls incorporated into the band’s style were from Bonny and not another one of the members (I’m not trying to imply that women can’t growl, but the difference between clean and unclean vocals from the same person is like apples and oranges). Unsurprisingly, Bonny’s growls are as savage as her clean singing is beautiful.

The big thing I don’t get about Chapter II, and Ad Infinitum in general, is why I love it so much. As with Catalyst Crime, there really isn’t much that differs stylistically from normal symphonic metal. Yet, this album is my second favorite of 2021, only behind Epica’s Omega. Ad Infinitum is particularly similar to Beyond the Black, yet I found that band to be very unremarkable by comparison. Of all subjective tastes, music is probably the one that is the least explainable in human language. In case you couldn’t tell, I struggled with my music reviews because of this.

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Final Verdict: 9.5/10

Although I can’t put my finger on a reason, Ad Infinitum is seriously worth their weight in gold. Chapter II is a fantastic record from start to finish, although that’s just my subjective experience talking. If you like the embedded music video, then you should have no problem with the rest of the band’s music.

It’s a CRIME That They Aren’t More Popular: Catalyst Crime — Self-Titled Album Review

Well, it’s the end of the year, and it’s pretty much decided that Spiritbox is not only the new band of the year, but the decade (okay maybe that last bit is overselling them but still). However, that didn’t stop new bands from coming out after-the-fact. One example is a group that debuted during my most recent Disney trip: Catalyst Crime. Time for me to give them some limelight!

Catalyst Crime is made up of people from the States and Europe. According to Encyclopaedia Metallum, they consist of drummer Gerrit Lamm, bassist Matt Federoff, his daughter vocalist Zoe Marie Federoff, keyboardist Jonah Weingarten, and guitarists Kaelan Sarakinis and Chëna Roxx. Aaaaand that’s literally all I know about them.

The cover art is pretty eye-catching, featuring a model, wearing exotic-looking clothes, and clutching a human heart. And for the record, the model isn’t Zoe Federoff herself; that’s something I can see potentially confusing people.

Catalyst Crime’s style, at least for this debut, is pretty garden variety symphonic metal. It has a quiet, yet aggressive sound that reminds me of Angel Nation, an underrated band whose third album I plan to cover whenever it’s released. But as someone who admits to reading battle shounen manga over and over again, I don’t necessarily think Catalyst Crime being garden variety is bad; there’s just only so many ways to describe a band that doesn’t brand itself as having twenty subgenres.

Unlike Icon of Sin, however, I already saw potential for Catalyst Crime to grow. As expected, the songs have that catchiness which makes me fall for European metal hook, line, and sinker. And speaking of falling for things, the reason why I even got into this band was because of the track ‘Cognitive Dissonance.’ That song features Jake E, one of the former vocalists of Amaranthe, which happens to be one of my favorite bands of all time.

The best part of Catalyst Crime thus far is Zoe Federoff’s performance. She is no doubt the most soprano voice I have ever heard in metal. Of course, that’s not a bad thing (especially since Simone Simons and Megan Targett are sopranos, and I love their singing). Her growls are equally high in pitch, and don’t fall short of expectations.

If there is any problem I have with Catalyst Crime, it’s that I did feel a bit ripped off. They claimed to be “cinematic” metal, putting them in the ballpark of Dark Sarah, another one of my favorite bands of all time, which incorporates theatrical elements into their metal style. I didn’t really feel that with Catalyst Crime. But as someone who doesn’t know anything about musical theater, it could just be that they were influenced by a different composer than Dark Sarah was.

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Final Verdict: 8.65/10

They’re no Epica, but Catalyst Crime is off to a great start. And sadly… I did rate it slightly lower than I did Spiritbox’s debut. Eternal Blue has much more going for it at this stage, while Catalyst Crime is very straightforward. Regardless, this is a promising new face in metal, and it goes without saying that I would recommend it to symphonic power metal fans.

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!