Taravana “Prevail” (2015)

After the discovery of Midvinterblot, I set out on a quest for more awesome folk metal. As it turns out, there is a lot of shitty music out there in general, but especially in folk metal.
The first part of the last sentence is a part of the problem with the Internet and the advancement of technology: too many unskilled “musicians” are able to record music and distribute it to the whole world. The last part, about folk metal, I think could be some sort of reaction to this new world: an urge to go back to the roots, to pay homage to our ancestry.

I welcome well made folk metal like the next guy, and any good music for that matter, but at some point people need to start to critically examine their own work. “Is this something I want to put my name on?”

This lengthy ingress has probably made any reader very off-put towards the album at hand: Taravana‘s Prevail. But you see, this album is so wholesome and well-arranged that it is a great example of a folk metal album done right. It contains an interesting narrative, for anyone who usually listen to the lyrics. I don’t, but I still get most of the story by now. But besides that we also get some inspired instrumentations. Even the completely instrumental tracks are interesting (one of them contains what appears to be a professional cellist).

The title track has one of the best guitar leads I’ve ever heard, between 1:35-2:50, which then continues with a great chorus until past the 4:30 mark. During this lead the drumming is extremely engaging, and an important part of why the lead works so great. During the whole running time of the album stick-man Aaron Maloney (also on bass, vocal harmonies and additional keyboards) does a great job of keeping the album together, but he really shines in the mentioned passage.

Main man Alex Newton together with guitarist Dan Bussells has rounded up a gang of talented musicians for this album. As I understand it, Newton is doing most, if not all of the lead vocals, and he showcases skills at both cleans and growls. The spoken parts sound a bit awkward, but only Christopher Lee is a convincing narrator, so that’s forgiven. All in all, the album is very coherent, professional and thought through. The earlier Taravana releases are nowhere near this level of quality. Only the band logo was cooler before.

  • TBOJ score: 4.5/5
  • DR score: 11

This review had me rambling on so much that I have to categorize it as an article as well…

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Necroblaspheme “Destination : Nulle Part” (2008)

​This is modern death metal done right, and it’s French! I wish I had discovered this album earlier.
The style on this album is instantly recognizable but still kind of unique. D:NP is modern death metal, but neither technical nor simple. The songs are not without scalework, but they are more grounded on riffs than soloing. That works super for me, and this record is one of the finest products in its field that I have come across in a long while.

It is a pretty short album, but it has fantastic replay value. The production is spot on. I especially like how the bass sometimes comes through in short bangs. The drumming is very proficiently keeping up with the guitars, and even though I normally don’t like these gruff kind of vocals, on here they don’t bother me at all.

I wanted to give Necroblaspheme‘s later material a whirl, but found their style to have shifted to something more akin to post metal. That disappointed me. They created something great with Destination : Nulle Part, their second album. To satiate my curiosity of the band I guess I have to track down the debut.

  • TBOJ score: 4.0/5
  • DR score: 7

Kreator “Gods Of Violence” (2017)

Holy fork! I really liked Phantom Antichrist, but that Kreator would follow up with such a smash as Gods Of Violence was beyond my expectations.

It has been spoken about a thrash revival for some time, and last year culminated in quite a few high profile releases. Nothing whets my appetite as news of new Kreator however. They have been iconic since the very beginning, being one of the oldest and most important bands in teutonic thrash metal since their debut in 1985. I have not dug into mid-era Kreator yet, it’s on my to do-list, but all their early material as well as their latest efforts have all been great. Pleasure To Kill is my personal favorite, but damned be my sock drawer if Gods Of Violence is not taking the second spot.

Everything about this album just exudes thrash and heavy metal. There are lyrical choices made to comment on our current world and the vocal performance by Mille is probably his best work yet. He sounds so good; angry yet with a harmony to his screamed vocals. The compendium of riffs that this record holds is the next best thing. Every song is memorable and has its own identity. The drumming is energetic and does not over-complicate anything. A perfect example of how it should be done for a classic thrash metal album. The bass is the weakest instrument. It’s present, but not remarkable in any way, but that is also to be expected. So, while it’s mostly unnoticeable, it’s also perfect in a way.

As I said, every song is memorable. The in-your-face thrashers are delivered with more fervor than I was expecting. But I was also surprised by how the band have approached the slower parts and incorporated classic heavy metal influences so well with more than one example of dual lead guitars à la Iron Maiden. We are served some epic moments, where the title track stands out, and every song on here has a chorus that is ready to be screamed by the audience at future gigs.

Kreator have done it! To me, this is the best new thrash album in quite some time, and I won’t be alone in hoping for a shorter lead time before the release of the next one than this time. I only wished they would have made a proper song out of the intro, because that lead is the catchiest thing on here. And that’s saying something.

  • TBOJ score: 4.5/5
  • DR score: 6

Árstíðir Lífsins “Heljarkviða” (2017)

I got the tip to check out this Icelandic outfit a few years ago, but the person who recommended them has a tendency to proclaim every record a masterpiece so I didn’t take it to heart. But while I did not make an effort to listen to any of their records, I did sign up to follow them on Spotify and later on Bandcamp. And so it was that on a fateful night in late January in 2017 that I got an email saying that Árstíðir Lífsins had just released a new album.

As I said in the preview post there are only two songs on this release, but they are both monumental: the total running time is almost 44 minutes. And while it’s short compared to their other full-lengths I find it pretty strange that people would call this an EP.

Heljarkviða is built up just how I like it. There is a soft introduction, but it’s part of the first song. There are ebbs and flows, but always interesting. There are harmonic parts, and there is straight up demoncy. There are lots of nuances. There is a true sense of authenticity and there is some really great musicianship. I really like the level of folk/pagan flavors because it’s never over the top, but serves so well to complete this production of atmospheric black metal.

Speaking of production however, one could wish for a lot more separation of the instruments. In the most condensed parts of the recording there is just so much sound that I have actually had to lower the volume a few times during my listening sessions. This kind of music would really be in favor of a mix and master with more air to it, and I’m sad to say I have found a new victim of the Loudness War. I’m usually not that perceptive of these things, but my copy and the online stream of the album both even crackle at times.

So, the overall result is suffering from bad production, but Heljarkviða is still an enjoyable experience. I have no idea what they are singing about, since I don’t understand Icelandic, but for me it comes across as an introspective journey. And not a very bright one.

  • TBOJ score: 4.0/5
  • DR score: 6

Defiatory “Extinct” (2016)

Thrash or trash. That’s always the question. Not the spelling, of course. The music that Defiatory defines is thrash metal in its most cliché form. What I mean is, is it good or bad? 
Extinct hit me square in the face, now over half a year after its release. First impressions didn’t stay with me long, however. After a few spins I started to get bored with the vocals and formulaic riffing. There just wasn’t anything new to find on this platter.

But after a few more replays I started get hooked again, and the vocal harmonies that had rubbed me the wrong way was suddenly the most interesting thing on the record, and my overall sense was that this is a pretty solid piece of thrash I have gotten served. 

The guitars are riffing away in the same manner as every Exodus rip-off band has done for decades, but – coming up to speed – now the cliché has turned novel and I really appreciate the honoring of the good ol’ times of classic Bay Area thrash. The drumming is top notch and although the vocals are full of force and sound positively raunchy I think they should have been dialed back just a little in the mix.

Extinct is a pretty coherent slab of thrash metal, so it’s difficult to point out any specific songs, but the one that has made me look at the playlist the most is track three, “Aeon’s End”. I have yet to find out if Defiatory share any members with now defunct death metallers Aeon, but the title looks like a nod towards them.

Go check it out for yourselves!

While fetching the code for the Bandcamp player I read the description of the album more closely and found this:

After the departure from Aeon, Ronnie started up Defiatory in early 2015. […] A new demo was recorded at Garageland Studios during the summer of 2015 called ”Aeons End”. A three song demo that started the whole writing of the debut album.

So, there’s that mystery solved.

  • TBOJ score: 4.0/5
  • DR score: 5

Midvinterblot “Skymning” (2016)

I didn’t know I was missing folk metal. Midvinterblot almost gave me a boner the first time I heard them.

Skymning is the debut full-length of this Swedish band, and they are keeping very true to the musical heritage of our nation. I am not schooled enough to recognize the any traditional arrangements, but the flutes and violins sound perfectly authentic.

The album starts off with your usual totally pointless instrumental intro that only serves to (almost not at all) build up to the intro of the first real song. Even though I can get heated about such foolishness, the anger quickly subsides when Skymning proper is in effect.

This is a great album, and a stark contrast to the modern trends of metal where guitars sound like they are being played by a thirty-fingered machine, and a bass should have no fever than six strings.

But, however organic this record sounds, I would like more rawness to the guitars. The guitars are mostly the weakest part of the whole experience. They are not as colorful as the wonderful folk instruments, the heady drums and the kitchy interplay between the male and female vocals. The growled vocals are OK, not much more. The real gems are the folksy choirs.

So, here we have a blinding example of subjectivity. There are things on Skymning that should make me stop listening to it, but I can’t keep away. I stumbled across it at just the right time.

  • TBOJ score: 4.5/5
  • DR score: 10

    Slightly Satanic “The Old Songs” (2017)

    New from Slightly Satanic! Well, not new exactly. This is a three song EP with old recordings, as stated in the description on Bandcamp:

    Three old western swing remnants of the pre-“Club 666” era, recorded live at a stage rehearsal in march 2012.

    If you haven’t heard Club 666, I don’t blame you, but it’s a real gem in the realm of nekro lounge music. The band turns metal on its head. They have kept the lyrics and evil connotations, but channel it through the appearance of well-clad gentlemen and the music of a hotel restaurant Saturday day night live act.

    As the description hints, these old recordings are no way near the professional production of the album, and the western thing is not something that has come to mind while Club-ing. But it it’s evidently the same band and it works.

    If Slightly Satanic were are more established group on a major label, this had probably been released in a very limited vinyl format to bleed us consumers, but now it mostly serves as a reminder of a band that pretty much doesn’t exist.

    • TBOJ score: 3.0/5
    • DR score: 8

      Need “Hegaiamas – A Song For Freedom” (2017)

      Need are a Greek band until now unknown to me. Hegaiamas is apparently their fourth album, and it shows that it is not a bunch of teenagers we are dealing with.

      I found the album during a check up of new releases the other day in the afternoon. Hegaiamas had just been released, and I had been in the mood to discover some music with clean singing; be it progressive, power, or heavy metal. What I wanted was something that was modern, preferably on the “epic” side of the spectrum (the other being what, “punk”, “raw”, EP?), but the most important thing was that it needed a good singer.

      Need have that singer. Jon V. has great range and manages to shift between powerful and harmonic vocals throughout the length of the record. On the softer parts he sounds a lot like the singer from Labyrinth (I don’t have the umlaut on my keyboard right now), and when in mid-tempo he and the whole band reminds me of Ne Obliviscaris. Without the violins, in case you were wondering.

      Hegaiamas has only seven tracks (including a dialogue between an older man and a woman, talking about a cosmic dream she had experienced), and yet it’s over an hour long. But that is wholly because of the title track which clocks in on close to 22 minutes. What’s remarkable is that it doesn’t feel close to those numbers, neither the song nor the album.

      Every song is engaging. Captivating even. In many ways it’s a template progressive metal album, containing odd-paced numbers interspersed with rhythmic strumming and guitar wankery, but it never feels “by the numbers.” Actually, it’s in the nature of “progressive” to be unique. Need is not the most unique music you will ever hear, but they do deliver in quality (and if that’s your thing: quantity).

      • TBOJ score: 4.0/5
      • DR score: 7

      Balfor “Black Serpent Rising” (2017)

      Finally, some really fresh music. Black Serpent Rising was released just the other day, on January 15th. Their profile on Bandcamp says: “Balfor is a Ukrainian Black Metal band from Kyiv featuring Khors, Raventale and ex-Hate Forest members.” Those words – since I really like Khors – together with the very well-rehearsed review over at Angry Metal Guy made me itching to experience the whole thing for myself.

      Disappointment is not the word I would use. Black Serpent Rising is amazing in most every respect. The symphonic parts (this is a symphonic/melodic black metal album after all) are well-placed in the mix and not overly exuberant, but instead complete the overall instrumentation fantastically. The guitars are spewing out some fantastic riffs, and sometimes the bass breaks through with its own noodles. The drummer is both blasting and full of groove, and of top of it all there are these amazingly evil vocals that sound so relaxed but still in-your-face. 

      I love this record, and I really hope it will stand the test of time. Right now it’s a clear contender for any 2017 top list I might write, but I’m hesitant to hand out the full monty 5/5 score because sometimes the vocals sound almost out of place being so wet and evil to this music that’s (great, but) a bit on the easy-listening side. And I find that the snare almost vanishes during the blasting parts. I don’t know whether it’s the production that is at fault or if the drummer needs to work out more with his left arm, but it literally needs more punch.

      This is nitpicking on a high degree though. My first contact with Balfor have given me a thirst for more, and the album is a great start to 2017.

      • TBOJ score: 4.5/5
      • DR score: 6

      Sidenote: I am awaiting answer if the band is in any way related to the American actor Eric Balfour.

      Legacy Of Brutality “Giants” (2014)

      As I have said before, I am not an audiophile, and because of that I don’t have the same ear for technical details in a music production that a studio engineer needs to have. I have mostly read about the Loudness War, but not suffered much from it. But one record that I have experienced the expected pitfalls from loudness compression on is “Giants” by Spanish death metal inquisadors Legacy Of Brutality.
      I remember the very first time I had the reaction “wow, this record is loud!” It was the second Mystic Prophecy album (or was it the Dehester demo?), “Regressus” (which I now measure to have a DR score of 6 = nothing extreme), that had a volume way beyond the normal when I first played it on my stereo. Back then, in 2003, I hadn’t heard about the Loudness War or Dynamic Range – it would be some ten years before I first read about this – but I knew something was off. However, as expected, my reaction actually was positive. Loudness is an immediate attention grabber, and I had been sucked under. When I first experienced “Giants” however, my reaction was the opposite: “oh, no.”

      When I previewed the album on Bandcamp, I played a couple of the songs in my browser, and that doesn’t give me the same conditions as when I have it downloaded (and payed for). But well on my local music player I immediately recognized the high volume, and as I said, on this album I really hear how that messes up the sound stage. The guitars breaks the limit on every song, and even though the bass is audible I suspect that it could have sounded so much better, together with the drums. 

      But the instrumentation is fantastic and there is an amazing forward momentum in all the songs. It’s like the drive of a good thrash album with the angled riffing of a progressive death metal ditto, without being overly technical. And behind the frantic string work there’s a drummer with five arms, four feet and three brain halves. 

      Check out this video of the drummer, found in the description on the Bandcamp page:

      • TBOJ score: 4.5/5
      • DR score: 4