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.

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.