Album Review – The Agonist / Eye of Providence (2015)

Veni, Vidi, Vicky.

Rating3

the agonist_eye of providenceAfter a really long and disquieting wait, and obviously after one of the most impactful changes in their entire career, Canadian Melodic Death Metal/Metalcore icons The Agonist finally return with a brand new album, the highly anticipated Eye of Providence, their fourth full-length studio album and, more important than that, the first with the stunning Vicky Psarakis on vocals. But were they able to deliver something as remarkable as their previous releases? Well, not only they nailed it, but Vicky also proves why she was the perfect choice to be the new frontwoman of one of the most influential bands in the recent history of Canadian metal.

With songs revolving around technology and how it affects modern society, as well as some other intimate topics, the whole album has a pleasant and smooth flow that allows the listener to thoroughly sense an interesting interconnection between all songs and, even more important than that, focusing less on melodic metal music and more on raw contemporary Heavy Metal and Rock N’ Roll than their previous albums. In addition, maybe due to the release of the album being delayed for a few months (it was originally scheduled to be released mid-2014), the band added a few extra songs to it, resulting in expressive 13 songs and over 58 minutes of music, around ten seconds longer than Prisoners, from 2012.

If you’re a longtime fan of this Montreal-based band and keep updated with everything they do you already know the opening track, Gates of Horn and Ivory, and you also know how awesome Vicky sounds. Besides, this song has extremely catchy lyrics that will stick deep in your mind for a long time (“With fire at my back / I will tame the waters / I will learn to swim / Fear is not my master”). Would that be a message from Vicky to the world, telling how she’s dauntlessly braving the rough waters of The Agonist? In My Witness, Your Victim, which by the way has a really entertaining and kind of disturbing official video, Vicky’s clean vocals are very solid and match perfectly with the music while her growls give it a fair dose of violence, with the final result sounding robust and gripping.

the agonistHow did they manage to blend Swedish Melodic Death Metal with North American Metalcore so beautifully like in the awesome Danse Macabre? Danny Marino and Pascal “Paco” Jobin deliver some thrilling guitar lines while Simon McKay keeps his beats totally in sync with them, and of course, Vicky’s vocals full of passion and feeling are outstanding in this song. I Endeavor reminds me a little of their classic song “Business Suits and Combat Boots”, especially its drumming and vocal lines, with highlights to the soulful guitar solo at the end of it; while Faceless Messenger is maybe one of their most “European” songs in terms of melody, and I would love to see them playing this song live. Vicky does such an amazing job during this track, ranging from light and smooth vocals to the harsh screams of an evil entity, it doesn’t even sound it’s the same person singing.

Although Perpetual Notion has a promising start, where an acoustic intro suddenly turns into melancholic and violent metal, the rest of it is nothing special, lacking more creativity and depth; while A Necessary Evil is an incredible display of “old school” The Agonist (well, not that old) with a very intense and solid sounding. The whole band is on fire during the entire song, with Simon and Vicky being the sergeants leading the squad. Then we have Architects Hallucinate, which sounds like filler compared to the others despite not being a bad song, and the mighty Disconnect Me, one of the fastest and heaviest of all tracks. It’s Metalcore at its finest, boosted by its futuristic lyrics (“Initiate the procedure to transform my body / Into a greater form to serve your gain / Access the brain to eliminate / The source that constrains us to be humane”) and some great riffs provided by Danny and Paco, while Vicky delivers the goods once again with a brilliant vocal performance.

But The Agonist are not finished yet, as there’s a lot more to come in Eye of Providence:  in The Perfect Embodiment we can see how wide Vicky’s vocal range is, convincing me (and probably all listeners) she can sing pretty much anything she wants to. In addition, it’s interesting to notice how the guitar lines seem to mimic Vicky’s vocals and vice-versa so connected they are. If A Gentle Disease gives us all a chance to see the band in an acoustic version, with Vicky using all the finesse in her clean vocals to help it become a true love ballad, the fiery Follow the Crossed Line, a song full of melody, rhythmic breaks and effective guitar solos, showcases some Black Metal-ish growls by Vicky, adding even more obscurity to it. And lastly, we can savour almost eight minutes of pure professionalism and emotion in As Above, So Below, with highlights to the passionate performance by Vicky who relies almost 100% on her clean vocals to give more life to the song.

I believe you’ll agree with me when I say the album art expresses everything the music in Eye of Providence is: futuristic, aggressive, organic and distressing, which is exactly what we all want to hear from a band so captivating as The Agonist. In regards to the length of the album, I’m more than happy with the fact there’s a lot of The Agonist in all shapes and sizes for us to absorb and enjoy in the following months and years in Eye of Providence until they release a new album again. And at long last, Danny might still be the one to lead the band’s musicality with his passionate guitar lines, but as already mentioned we must admit Vicky is the breath of fresh air the band needed so much. If I was asked to summarize her overall performance in just a couple of words, I would adapt the famous phrase used by Roman general Julius Caesar to inform the Senate of his victory in his war against Pharnaces II of Pontus at the Battle of Zela around 46 BC: “Veni, Vidi, Vicky”.

Best moments of the album: Gates of Horn and Ivory, Danse Macabre, A Necessary Evil and Disconnect Me.

Worst moments of the album: Perpetual Notion and Architects Hallucinate.

Released in 2015 Century Media Records

Track listing
1. Gates of Horn and Ivory 3:25
2. My Witness, Your Victim 4:47
3. Danse Macabre 4:01
4. I Endeavor 4:08
5. Faceless Messenger 5:00
6. Perpetual Notion 4:34
7. A Necessary Evil 3:44
8. Architects Hallucinate 4:30
9. Disconnect Me 3:32
10. The Perfect Embodiment 5:13
11. A Gentle Disease 3:45
12. Follow the Crossed Line 4:11
13. As Above, So Below 7:57

Band members
Vicky Psarakis – vocals
Danny Marino – guitar
Pascal “Paco” Jobin – guitar
Chris Kells – bass
Simon McKay – drums

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Album Review – Marduk / Frontschwein (2015)

The Babylonian gods of Black Metal return with more of their blasphemous and apocalyptic war-themed music.

Rating3

coverWhen Swedish Black Metallers Marduk added interesting topics such as Third Reich history and World War II to their lyrical/conceptual themes, starting with their 1999 album Panzer Division Marduk, I guess many of their diehard fans weren’t really sure what was going to happen to those guys that once stated they wanted to become the most blasphemous band in the world. If you look at their very first demo, the controversial Fuck Me Jesus, which was banned in several countries following its release due to its explicit cover art, and look at their brand new album, Frontschwein, it’s noticeable they’re not as blasphemous as before. But who said that change wasn’t for good?

Following their excellent 2012 release Serpent Sermon, Frontschwein (their thirteenth studio album) is not only a lesson in Black Metal, but also in Military and World War History, and let’s face it: no other music genre can represent the agonies and destruction caused by any war better than Death/Black Metal. Frontschwein is a war-themed concept album with every single song talking about a specific fact related to war, all of course impregnated by Marduk’s obscure musicality. If you love reading and studying about war, and if you’re a metalhead whose blood boils to the sound of nonstop blast beats and harsh growls, this album is perfect for you.

Despite its melodic intro, the opening track Frontschwein (which by the way means “frontline soldier”) quickly turns into badass Black Metal, with the unstoppable drumming by Fredrik Widigs and the truly devilish vocals by Mortuus (especially during the chorus) making sure any candy-asses stay away from this album. On the other hand, I have no idea what the band wanted to do with The Blond Beast: what the hell are those horrible “pop music” drums? I mean, the riffs and vocals are quite decent, but those lame commercial beats ruin the entire song.

bandFortunately, that’s the only mistake the band made in Frontschwein. In the bloodcurdling Afrika, Marduk offer us an extremely dense music carnage, with Morgan and Widigs redefining the word “wicked” with their sick guitar lines and bestial drumming respectively. The slower but completely demonic tune Wartheland, which talks about a Nazi German administrative subdivision formed from Polish territory annexed in 1939, focuses on the desperate screams by Mortuus boosted by a maleficent atmosphere. Following that lesson in vileness,  in Rope of Regret the band returns with their “heavy artillery”, and in spite of all the sonic insanity their music is far from being a mess, as you can perfectly listen to and enjoy each instrument throughout the entire song.

Between the Wolf-Packs couldn’t sound more traditional, displaying all those unique elements that fans enjoy in Black Metal, whereas Nebelwerfer (or “Smoke Mortar”, a World War II German series of weapons) emanates darkness, with an incredible Doom Metal ambience mainly due to its slow-paced grim rhythm. And Falaise: Cauldron of Blood gets back to straightforward Black Metal, with highlights to the interesting addition of some slower breaks amidst the furious blast beats, and to Mortuus sounding even more amazing with his 100% barbaric guttural vocals.

mediabook

Frontschwein Mediabook Limited Edition

The longest track of all, Doomsday Elite, is another “anthem of despair” without a single second of peace, with all band members giving their best and adding a lot of power to the song, while the excellent 503, which I believe talks about German Tiger Tank Battalion 503 in World War II, sounds actually like a tank: it’s slow, extremely heavy and very imposing, with its Doom Metal elements and gruesome bass lines by Devo turning it into an outstanding moment of the album. And finally, the last regular track in Frontschwein, Thousand-Fold Death, makes sure no one survives the band’s brutal assault. It’s a nonstop tune that will put a huge smile on our faces and an even more gigantic pain in our necks, with kudos to Morgan for his awesome guitar riffs.

The mediabook limited edition of Frontschwein comes with a very generic bonus entitled Warschau III: Necropolis (a variation for the city of Warsaw, Poland), an instrumental track with some obscure growls, but nothing that adds any value to that version of the album. Anyway, it doesn’t matter if you’re a huge fan of Black Metal or not, the new album by Marduk is worth a listen. If you don’t know the band that well, you’ll be surprised by how entertaining their apocalyptic dark music can be, and if you’re a longtime fan of the band, I guess I don’t need to say this is a mandatory addition to your evil collection.

Best moments of the album: Frontschwein, Afrika, 503 and Thousand-Fold Death.

Worst moments of the album: The Blond Beast.

Released in 2015 Century Media Records

Track listing
1. Frontschwein 3:12
2. The Blond Beast 4:26
3. Afrika 4:00
4. Wartheland 4:17
5. Rope of Regret 3:52
6. Between the Wolf-Packs 4:28
7. Nebelwerfer 6:17
8. Falaise: Cauldron of Blood 4:58
9. Doomsday Elite 8:11
10. 503 5:12
11. Thousand-Fold Death 3:46

Mediabook Limited Edition Bonus Track
12.Warschau III: Necropolis 2:59

Band members
Daniel “Mortuus” Rostén – vocals
Morgan “Evil” Steinmeyer Håkansson – guitar
Magnus “Devo” Andersson – bass
Fredrik Widigs – drums

Album Review – Starkill / Virus Of The Mind (2014)

These promising American death metallers return with an interesting mix of symphony, harmony and darkness.

Rating4

starkill_coverAs promised HERE, it’s time to review Virus Of The Mind, the brand new album by one of the most promising Melodic Death Metal groups in the market today (and they’re not from Sweden this time), American band Starkill. Sounding like a hybrid of Behemoth and Arch Enemy, with lots of symphonic elements and the band’s own unique dark touch, this is an excellent choice for fans of a more contemporary Symphonic and Melodic Black/Death Metal, which is at the same time brutal but very harmonious.

Born in 2008 in Bloomington, Indiana under the name of Ballistika and then Massakren, before changing it once and for all to Starkill and moving to Chicago, Illinois, the band was kind of “catapulted” to significant stardom at the end of 2012 when they signed to Century Media Records, releasing their debut album Fires Of Life in 2013. Now with Virus Of The Mind they sound even more prepared for reaching new heights, especially due to their capacity of mixing so many different genres and subgenres of heavy music such as Melodic Death Metal, Power Metal, Thrash Metal and Symphonic Black Metal in the most professional and polished way possible.

And their symphonic vein can be noticed from the very beginning of the opening track, Be Dead or Die, where the awesome keyboard lines blend perfectly with its Power Metal-ish drums at the speed of light by Spencer Weidner, all guided by one of the band’s trademarks, the harsh growls by Parker Jameson. Winter Desolation follows a more Melodic Death Metal line, especially its riffs and solos à la Arch Enemy, and the first “batch” of clean vocals is a welcome addition in order to expand their music range, while Breaking the Madness elevates the adrenaline of the listener, being perfect for live performances. Moreover, despite the vocals being so harsh, it’s easy to understand the dark and interesting lyrics Parker is singing (“Madness permeates / Into my body and my mind, it starts to break / Bit there is fucking nothing left to take / Nothing to feel / Trapped in the labyrinth, losing sight of what is real / So hard to tell which way to go”).

The title-track Virus of the Mind is a very symphonic tune where the smooth keyboard notes make an interesting paradox with the harsh vocals, while the also atmospheric and dark Skyward focus on the synergy between its guitar effects and keyboard notes. Before Hope Fades, one of the singles of the album, is a good reason why they should stick to fast and heavy music: it sounds a lot like the bland material from the last couple of albums by Nightwish (except for the vocals, of course), being so pop and generic it doesn’t represent at all the true heavy music the band is capable of doing. At least they get back on track with some Symphonic Black Metal the likes of Dimmu Borgir in Into Destiny, albeit the clean vocals do not sound as if they belonged to this song.

starkillThe last part of Virus Of The Mind has its awesome and pretty bad moments at the same time, starting with the amazing apocalyptic musicality in God of This World, focusing heavily on its keyboards and the more obscure and violent lyrics (“I shall smite the earth with a curse / Enemies to ashes on the soles of my feet / Shedding blood as long as it takes / To cease this engine of grief”), followed by My Catharsis, where all elements of Melodic Death Metal can be found: very technical guitar solos, fast drums, heavy riffs and huge doses of guttural vocals. And finally, Convergence, which was supposed to sound more epic, but in fact it doesn’t live up to the expectations and ends up being just filler and, consequently, the worst song of the whole album by far.

In summary, the second installment by those American death metallers is not only a nice and professional combination of harmony and darkness, but above all it also helps consolidate Starkill in the heavy music scene today as one of the most promising names in Melodic Death Metal. Well, I guess we can already stop calling them “promising”, as they’re indeed a reality, right? And if they keep providing us such enjoyable music, maybe one day they can go even further and reach the status of classic.

Best moments of the album: Be Dead or Die, Breaking the Madness and God of This World.

Worst moments of the album: Before Hope Fades and Convergence.

Released in 2014 Century Media Records

Track listing
1. Be Dead or Die 4:36
2. Winter Desolation 5:16
3. Breaking the Madness 3:55
4. Virus of the Mind 4:47
5. Skyward 4:05
6. Before Hope Fades 4:52
7. Into Destiny 4:02
8. God of This World 5:39
9. My Catharsis 3:54
10. Convergence 4:18

Band members
Parker Jameson – lead guitar, vocals, keyboards
Tony Keathley – guitar, backing vocals
Shaun Andruchuk – bass guitar
Spencer Weidner – drums

Album Review – Insomnium / Shadows Of The Dying Sun (2014)

Insomnium provide us high quality Melodic Death Metal just the way we like it, directly from the land of ice and snow.

Rating4

insomnium_sotdsAfter the huge disappointments from Ahola and Sonata Arctica this year, we’re finally able to enjoy some decent Finnish Heavy Metal with the album Shadows Of The Dying Sun, from Melodic Death Metal band Insomnium. Although this is the sixth full-length album from this Joensuu-based dark and gothic band formed in 1997, it’s only the first with guitarist Markus Vanhala (Omnium Gatherum), and the final result is so professional and enjoyable that it might soon be considered by fans the best so far in the band’s career.

Their lyrical themes may not be the happiest in the world, as Insomnium usually sings about pain, loss, darkness, and especially how we cannot beat time, which in the end is the main connector of all those elements, but that doesn’t make their music less exciting. Quite the contrary, when a band is capable of awakening inside us a feeling that time is passing by and that we should do something about our lives, in other words, when a band makes us THINK about our lives, that’s when their music deserves to be listened, shared and truly appreciated.

One of the most interesting characteristics in Shadows Of The Dying Sun is that it’s not only Melodic Death Metal, but a substantial mix of other genres such as Doom, Black and even Folk Metal, which can be noticed since the very beginning of The Primeval Dark, with its enticing atmospheric instrumental, heavy riffs and deep vocals, working like an “intro” to one of the highlights of the album, the 6-minute melodic masterpiece While We Sleep, an awesome track with clean and guttural vocals blending really well, intense lyrics (“When all you ever wish for is to go back once more / When all you ever wish is to open that cage and long / When all you feel is remorse, pain and regret / When you brought on curse unable to move on?”) and a stunning riff in the background that gives the song an even more melodic sonority. Not only that, the smooth passage together with a nice guitar solo after 4 minutes until the end of the song is great, and don’t forget to check its superb official music video at the end of this review.

insomniumAnd that was only the beginning of the album, which goes on with Revelation, a song that constantly varies from raw to more melodic Death Metal and back again, with the instrumental always being very clean despite the heaviness of the music; and Black Heart Rebellion, a very melancholic and brutal track where drummer Markus Hirvonen abuses his double bass. The guitar duo and riffs are also amazing, and add to that some thoughtful lyrics and Niilo Sevänen’s above-the-average performance, and you have another memorable moment in the album.

Lose To Night is a more gothic song with some Paradise Lost-ish elements, moving it closer to Doom Metal rather than the band’s traditional Death Metal, while Collapsing Words brings the album back to a heavier sonority, again with awesome vocals by Niilo. These two songs are followed by The River, which has many elements from Black Metal (especially drums and riffs), with highlights to the semi-acoustic and very melodic ending; and the more commercial (but not less pleasant) single Ephemeral, with its amazing lyrics (“Darkness is ignorance / Knowledge is light / Fight only with yourself / Or the shadows of the night”) and a totally catchy chorus. Unless you have a very good reason for hating Insomnium, there’s no way you won’t get addicted to this song.

Finally, in order to end the album in a high note, the band offers us the beautiful ballad The Promethean Song, where the guitar riff works perfectly with the acoustic guitar, and Shadows Of The Dying Sun, with a dark bass tune to start it in an excellent way, a great chorus, and more powerful bass lines by Niilo along the whole song. Furthermore, if you’re a fan of the band, don’t miss the special limited digipak edition of Shadows Of The Dying Sun, which includes a bonus CD with four bonus tracks.

And was the album art inspired by Alfred Hitchcock’s classic The Birds, or by the zombie birds from Resident Evil? Anyway, although it can be relatively simple to our eyes, it’s darkly delightful and very effective in translating into images all the musicality in the album. In short, this is the high quality Heavy Metal we always expect from any band that comes from the cold and marvelous Finland, and as previously mentioned the intensity the band puts in their music and lyrics is commendable, elevating them to the status of one of the best active Finnish bands today.

Best moments of the album: While We Sleep, Black Heart Rebellion, Collapsing Words and Ephemeral.

Worst moments of the album: Revelation and The River.

Released in 2014 Century Media Records

Track listing
1. The Primeval Dark 3:16
2. While We Sleep 6:20
3. Revelation 5:15
4. Black Heart Rebellion 7:03
5. Lose To Night 4:56
6. Collapsing Words 4:38
7. The River 7:57
8. Ephemeral 4:01
9. The Promethean Song 6:41
10. Shadows Of The Dying Sun 6:32

Limited Digipak bonus tracks
11. Out to the Sea 5:17
12. The Emergence 1:46
13. The Swarm 2:54
14. The Descent 3:11

Band members
Niilo Sevänen − vocals, bass
Ville Friman − backing vocals, guitar
Markus Vanhala − guitar
Markus Hirvonen − drums

Album Review – Triptykon / Melana Chasmata (2014)

Gothic, Black and especially Doom Metal as grandiose as they can be.

Rating2

Triptykon-Melana-ChasmataOne of the most expected albums of 2014 from one of today’s darkest and heaviest bands has finally arrived: Melana Chasmata, or Μελανά Χασματα (in the Greek alphabet), which can be translated as “black, deep depressions”, from Swiss Gothic/Doom Metal band Triptykon, has everything it takes to be one of the most acclaimed albums of the year, and undoubtedly the best in terms of extreme music.

This Zurich-based Doom Metal “dream team” founded by Heavy Metal icon Tom G. Warrior (Hellhammer, Celtic Frost) is as cohesive and effective as possible, and of course, totally wicked. There isn’t a single song on this album that can be considered filler or commercial: quite the contrary, Triptykon offer us a masterpiece of darkness, with lots of melancholy, pain and hopelessness, perfect for people who hate all those disposable pop songs made for that annoying and fake sense of “collective joy”.

Tom & Co. open the album with a pure Black Metal track called Tree Of Suffocating Souls, with a fuckin’ heavy instrumental, especially bass and drums, which sound simply amazing together. Moreover, the lyrics are also very intelligent and controversial, making the whole song even better. And what can I say about the Gothic/Doom Metal work-of-art Boleskine House? Its low resonant bass and the female vocals give me the shivers, and make me want to literally feel this song at a Triptykon concert. It’s a flawless brilliant composition, the best song of the album, and the lyrics are those things we feel grateful for being able to enjoy (“Your eyes that once / Have gazed the waves / Have long been closed / Become enslaved / Within these walls”).

Altar Of Deceit continues with the greatness in Melana Chasmata with its dark intro, Tony Iommi-ish demonic riffs, desperate vocals, and a very nice solo at the end, while Breathing, another extremely dark track with a depressive and at the same time beautiful intro, suddenly accelerates to an awesome mix of Death and Black Metal and ends in a very good “old school Slayer” way. What else do we need in a song, right?

The following two tracks are the epitome of evil: Aurorae is a dreary song, tailored for people who enjoy “suffering” alone while savoring the most obscure tunes a band can produce, and its guitar solo gives it an extra touch of fineness; and Demon Pact sounds like if its riffs, vocals, drums, bass and everything else were actually recorded in hell. Based on the name of the song I wasn’t expecting anything less evil, making it one of my favorite tracks by far.

triptykonIn The Sleep Of Death, a very atmospheric and eerie low-paced song, has some more desperate vocals, followed by the longest track of the album, Black Snow, a lesson in Doom Metal with over 12 minutes of obscurity and awesomeness. Tom proves here he’s the beast incarnate, and it’s impossible not to scream together with him “Black snow! Black snow!”. And to close this stunning album in a majestic way, we have Waiting, with its delicate rhythm and mesmerizing female vocals. It’s a very gothic and beautiful song, and I’m sure lots of fans will consider it one of the highlights of the whole album.

The album art, once again created by Swiss surrealist artist H. R. Giger, who has already worked with music icons such as Emerson, Lake & Palmer, Carcass, Celtic Frost and Danzig, perfectly represents all the density in the music in Melana Chasmata. Besides that, one thing I need to say is that, although all musicians are amazing and Tom G. Warrior is a genius, the badass bass lines are my favorite part of all songs. Vanja Slajh is a Doom Metal Goddess, no doubt about that.

Tom always says that only Death is real. However, he forgot to say the same about his band Triptykon, and now about Melana Chasmata, an album we’re more than glad it’s a reality. Eparistera Daimones was already a great album, but this time Triptykon took Doom Metal to such a level of grandiosity it’s hard to find words to describe it. When music is able to reach our souls like what’s found in Melana Chasmata, we know there’s something special about it. And if Triptykon go to your town for a live performance, don’t miss it by any chance: it’s going to be a unique and thrilling experience that very few bands can provide you nowadays.

Best moments of the album: Boleskine House, Breathing, Aurorae, Demon Pact and Black Snow. As a matter of fact, I should say that the whole album is amazing.

Worst moments of the album: It’s difficult to find a weak song in Melana Chasmata, but if I really had to choose one I would say In The Sleep Of Death.

Released in 2014 Prowling Death Records/Century Media Records

Track listing
1. Tree Of Suffocating Souls 7:55
2. Boleskine House 7:12
3. Altar Of Deceit 7:32
4. Breathing 5:50
5. Aurorae 6:17
6. Demon Pact 6:07
7. In The Sleep Of Death 8:10
8. Black Snow 12:24
9. Waiting 5:55

Band members
Tom G. Warrior – guitar, vocals
V. Santura – guitar, vocals
Vanja Slajh – bass, vocals
Norman Lonhard – drums, percussion