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.

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)!

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.

~~~~~

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!