Album Review – North Hammer / Stormcaller (2018)

Armed with his debut album and a strong passion for all things Viking and Folk Metal, here comes a dauntless one-warrior metal machine from the winterly lands of Canada.

“Thou camest near the next, O warrior Thor!
Shouldering thy hammer, in thy chariot drawn,
Swaying the long-hair’d goats with silver’d rein.” – from ‘Balder Dead’

Inspired by the Viking and folk music played by renowned acts such as Wintersun, Ensiferum, Amon Amarth and Blind Guardian, and in special by Swedish multi-instrumentalist Tomas Börje Forsberg, the iconic Quorthon (1966 – 2004) from Black Metal institution Bathory, who’s also credited with creating the Viking Metal style, here comes Folk/Viking Metal one-man army (or one-warrior metal machine, as he prefers) North Hammer armed with his debut full-length album, Stormcaller, a 21st century continuation of the work of Norse bards who inspired the ancient poem above.

Formed in 2017 in the northern lands of Edmonton, in the province of Alberta, Canada by multi-instrumentalist Andrew James (Eye of Horus, Shotgunner), North Hammer is the representation of the common theme winter that comes up in metal music and a reference to Canada (the “north”), and Andrew’s personal tribute to Mjolnir, or Thor’s Hammer. Andrew wrote and recorded the vocals, guitars, bass and orchestration in Stormcaller, along with drums done by Doug Helcaraxë Nunez and a classic artwork by Mark Erskine (Erskine Designs), and his goal with North Hammer and his new album is simple but powerful. “The experience I’m trying to give the listeners is that of a fellow fan. I want people to be euphoric for other bands that mean something to them like Ensiferum, Wintersun and Amon Amarth. To connect personally with my music and realize that I love and worship these bands.”

Epicness takes over the atmosphere in the opening track Avatar, filling every empty space before Andrew begins his growling attack, also bringing heavy and traditional riffs while Doug keeps the music at a vibrant pace. In other words, this is a beyond solid “welcome card” by North Hammer, setting the tone for Wanderer, and let me tell you it can’t get any more Folk Metal than this, as our minds and souls are treated to a strong and vibrant tune where Doug takes care of the song’s inspiring pace while Andrew continues to impress with all instruments and his harsh vocals. And presenting an introspective, catchy intro, Written in the Stars evolves into modern-day Folk Metal with Melodic Death Metal nuances, with Andrew’s vocals getting more intense and enraged, effectively accompanying the heaviness and melody of the guitars.

Magic Mead is one of those songs tailored for fans of the dancing heavy music by Ensiferum, showcasing more rhythmic, epic moments intertwined with sheer speed and progressiveness while its lyrics exhale Folk and Viking Metal (“Soilent earth sewn with blood / The enemy lays in the mud / A victory not to forget / And celebrate the worthy dead / In his eyes unrest subsides / For dreams of destiny he strides / Through the day and through the night / To behold this astral sight”); followed by an inspiring speech that ignites a feast of heavy and fast sounds titled Tip of the Spear, presenting the duo Andrew and Doug in perfect sync while they head together into the battlefield, with its classic guitar riffs and solos helping enhance its overall impact. Then it’s time to bang your head and raise your horns to all soldiers in the world to the flammable Folk Metal hymn A Soldier’s Song, led by the aggressive and potent growls by Andrew, keeping the album at a truly epic level.

Black Forest Rain is a serene, introspective instrumental bridge, with the sound of the acoustic guitars guiding us to the world of Spellbinder, where a soulful guitar solo by Andrew kicks things off before all hell breaks loose in another blast of classic Viking Metal perfect for singing along with Andrew and for slamming into the pit. Then we have the song that carries the name of the band, North Hammer, an Epic Metal extravaganza with all elements we love in the genre such as powerful vocal lines, gripping guitars, pounding drums and poetic lyrics (“Crack through the ice / Swim through the depths / Pulsing through your veins / Forget all the rest / High into the Skies / Relic of Old / North Hammer”), resulting into one of the best moments of the album without a shadow of a doubt; and North Hammer’s final breath of fire and thunder comes in the form of a song named Lion’s Winter, a demolishing Folk Metal chant where Doug is bestial on drums while Andrew takes his growling to a deeper and more violent level, flowing smoothly until its melodic finale.

One thing I’m only going to mention now about Stormcaller (which is available for a full listen HERE) is that this is a concept album describing the trials of a hero in a Nordic fantasy setting. The album has been rearranged in order to place appeal to the broader audience, but the actual progression of the story line is Written in the Stars, A Soldier’s Song, Magic Mead, Black Forest Rain, Wanderer, North Hammer, Tip of the Spear, Avatar, Spellbinder, and Lion’s Winter, which means if you buy the album from the band’s own BandCamp page, from Amazon or from CD Baby, you’ll be able to rearrange the tracks yourself and follow the story as it’s supposed to be. In addition, while North Hammer is a studio project at the moment, Andrew plans to put together a band of top-notch like-minded musicians in a not-so-distant future, and if you want to show your support for such brave metal warrior go check what he’s up to on Facebook, on SoundCloud and on ReverbNation. And of course, don’t forget to praise the Norse Gods whenever you’re about to enter the battlefield, inspired by the music by North Hammer and by all renowned Viking and folk bands Andrew loves so much.

Best moments of the album: Wanderer, Magic Mead and North Hammer.

Worst moments of the album: None.

Released in 2018 Independent

Track listing
1. Avatar 4:46
2. Wanderer 3:42
3. Written in the Stars 3:27
4. Magic Mead 4:11
5. Tip of the Spear 3:49
6. A Soldier’s Song 4:34
7. Black Forest Rain (Instrumental) 2:10
8. Spellbinder 3:36
9. North Hammer 3:26
10. Lion’s Winter 3:34

Band members
Andrew James – vocals, guitars, bass, orchestration

Guest musician
Doug Helcaraxë Nunez – drums

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Album Review – Kantica / Reborn in Aesthetics (2018)

Binding Heavy and Power Metal sounds to the orchestral parts of classical music, here comes a promising Italian act with their very melodic and symphonic debut full-length album.

Raised from the ashes of a band named Keeper of Time (which by the way was originally called Guardian of Time when it was created back in 2012), Italian Symphonic Metal act Kantica was born around 2014 from the idea of guitarist Matteo “Vevo” Venzano, who searched for musicians to start a band where they could bind Heavy and Power Metal sounds to the orchestral parts of classical music.  After many lineup changes and a shift from male to female vocals, this Savona, Ligury-based band finally changed its name into Kantica in April 2016, reaching a stable lineup the following year and consequently getting into gear for the release of their debut album in 2018, titled Reborn in Aesthetics.

After the recording of the album, Kantica suffered another lineup change with drummer Daniele Barbarossa leaving the band, being immediately replaced by the young and talented Tiziana “Titti” Cotella. Titti now joins frontwoman Chiara Manese on vocals, Andy “K” Cappellari and Vevo on the guitars, Fulvio De Castelli on bass and Enrico Borro on keyboards, aiming at spreading their heavy and symphonic music born from the fusion of different styles, backgrounds and experiences from the band’s current and former members. In Reborn in Aesthetics (which by the way features an array of guest musicians such as Fabio Rinaudo on bagpipes and Stefano Pellegrino on cello), not only the band successfully achieves their main goal, but they also put the charming port city of Savona on the map of Melodic and Symphonic Metal.

The cinematic intro (Re)Born Unto Aestheticism transports us to the epic world ruled by Kantica, with Fascination of the Elements bringing a fast and furious start that quickly morphs into pure Symphonic Metal led by the beautiful voice by Chiara and the flammable guitars by Andy and Vevo. Then, getting to an even more symphonic sonority led by the band’s former drummer Daniele Barbarossa and his precise beats, the band enhances their epicness and electricity in And Then There Was Pain, with Chiara stealing the spotlight with her potent vocals. And presenting hints of Folk and Epic Metal (which boosts the flavor of the band’s classic Symphonic Metal) we have Hellborn Lust, showcasing a great job done by both Andy and Vevo on the guitars as well as Enrico with his whimsical keys.

Enrico continues to mesmerize us with his keys in another powerful tune by Kantica, titled Albatross, where Chiara’s voice sounds fantastic once again, not to mention Daniele and his kick-ass fast-paced drums. In order to makes things even more flavorful, the band offers us a gentle break before returning with their full-bodied sonority, with Andy and Enrico delivering excellent solos until the song’s finale. In R.E.M. State, operatic elements in the background make the music even more epic and impactful than usual, with Enrico, Andy and Vevo, together with Fulvio on bass, creating a wall of sounds with their strings; followed by From Decay to Ascension, another song with a Folk Metal vibe without losing the band’s core symphonic essence. Put differently, this is a movie score-inspired creation by Kantica where Chiara embellishes the ambience with her passionate vocal performance once again.

Illegitimate Son brings a Nightwish-like sonority, presenting all elements fans of the genre enjoy such as rhythmic drums, melodious riffs and strong female vocals, with adrenaline and passion flowing throughout the entire song which, in the end, makes it one of the top moments of the album without a shadow of a doubt. And speeding up their pace, Kantica awes us all with Psychological Vampire, a full-bodied shredding feast-like song with Andy and Vevo being absolutely on fire with their axes, also with Chiara increasing her vocal reach, culminating in a truly inspiring performance by our Italian diva. The second to last song in Reborn in Aesthetics, named Lovecide, is an interesting power ballad by Kantica, displaying pounding drums and a dark and ethereal atmosphere, with the music flowing smoothly from start to finish thanks to the excellent guitar lines by both Andy and Vevo. And closing the album there’s more first-class Melodic and Symphonic Metal for our avid ears in the form of a song titled Mescaline, with its solid and steady musicality being complemented by eerie sounds and elements in the background, captivating our attention while Enrico and Andy have a short and sweet solo duel.

You can take a full, detailed listen at Reborn in Aesthetics on Spotify, keep up-to-date with everything Kantica on their Facebook page, and grab your copy of such excellent display of symphonic and melodic music on the Revalve Records Big Cartel, as wel as on iTunes or on Amazon. After listening to Reborn in Aesthetics, it seems that after all lineup changes Kantica have finally reached their desired shape and form, providing fans of Symphonic Metal a well-balanced and fun alternative hailing from the Italian underground scene, and let’s hope the magic crafted by Kantica goes on for years to come with more top-tier releases like their debut installment.

Best moments of the album: Hellborn Lust, Albatross, Illegitimate Son and Psychological Vampire.

Worst moments of the album: None.

Released in 2018 Revalve Records

Track listing
1. (Re)Born Unto Aestheticism (Instrumental) 1:14
2. Fascination of the Elements 5:55
3. And Then There Was Pain 4:23
4. Hellborn Lust 4:23
5. Albatross 4:59
6. R.E.M. State 4:42
7. From Decay to Ascension 3:10
8. Illegitimate Son 5:10
9. Psychological Vampire 5:00
10. Lovecide 5:11
11. Mescaline 5:13

Band members
Chiara Manese – vocals
Andy “K” Cappellari – lead guitars
Matteo “Vevo” Venzano – rhytm guitar
Fulvio De Castelli – bass
Enrico Borro – keyboards
Tiziana “Titti” Cotella – drums*

Guest musicians
Fabio Rinaudo – bagpipes
Michel Balatti – tin whistle, flute
Stefano Pellegrino – cello
Mattia Fenoglio – percussion

* Drums recorded by Daniele Barbarossa

Album Review – Unshine / Astrala (2018)

Druids are coming directly from Finland, bringing with them songs from the invisible side of the Earth that aim at reuniting the old bonds between the dolmen gods and digitised mankind.

Hailing from the Finnish capital Helsinki, here comes a band that transcended their own influences to create their own unique sound, inspired by artists as diverse as Enslaved, Led Zeppelin, Jethro Tull, Tangerine Dream and Iron Maiden. That band is called Unshine, who since their inception in 2001 have been delivering a distinct fusion of styles described by themselves as “Druid Metal”. As a matter of fact, Mother Nature is the true influence on Unshine’s music, as all five members of Unshine, friends for many years, were all raised in the countryside villages of Western Finland. “The songs try to reunite the old bonds between the dolmen gods and digitised mankind. Nature is not our enemy, it’s our physical and especially spiritual home”, said the band’s guitarist, keyboardist and mastermind Harri Hautala.

With a long history of recording and playing behind them, Unshine are beyond excited with the release of their new full-length album Astrala, the fourth in their auspicious career, inspired by the “invisible side of the Earth”, as mentioned by Harri, who also complemented his though by saying that “the first five album songs address the manifestations of Astrala and the last five songs describe travels to Astrala. The album has a touch of Nordic melancholy written all over it, also in the lyrics, and it includes music meant to create landscapes and themes from folk stories, mythology and nature religions, but also to present personal views describing the spiritual meaning of a forest as a cultural concept. The binding theme here is forest, although this is not a theme album.” After such distinct explanation, are you ready to venture through the invisible side of the Earth with Unshine?

Birch of Fornjotr is one of those cinematic intros exhaling epicness, telling the listener a metallic adventure is about to begin in Kainuun Kuningas (or “king of Kainuu” from Finnish, with Kainuu being one of the 19 regions of Finland with its geography and landscape consisting of lakes, hills and vast uninhabited forest areas), a Scandinavian feast of Folk and Epic Metal led by the charming and potent vocals by frontwoman Susanna Vesilahti, with the song’s Finnish words giving it an extra touch of eccentricity. Furthermore, the band’s guitar tag team Harri and Jari Hautala provides a solid balance between rhythmic riffs and melodious solos to the overall musicality, which is also the case in Jack’s Feast, as melodic as its predecessor with drummer Jukka Hantula bringing heavier and tribal sounds to the music. The only problem is that despite having a lot of potential to be more thunderous, the song never really takes off, remaining too “folky” and for way too long.

The following tune, titled The Masks of Enchantment, is indeed a very interesting depiction of Druid Metal, with some orchestral elements in the background provided by Harri and his keys enhancing the taste of this semi-power ballad, also showcasing a beautiful performance by Susanna with her ethereal voice; whereas in Pan the One get ready to prance around the fire pit to the sound of the minstrel-like vocals by Susanna, accompanied by the whimsical sounds blasted by the rest of the band (especially the exciting keys by Harri). And if Irish singer Enya suddenly went full metal, the fun Druids Are A-Coming would probably be how she would sound like, being faster and more piercing than any of the previous tunes thanks to the cutting guitars by Harri and Jari, not to mention the galloping bass by Teemu Vähäkangas.

Their Epic Metal vein arises once again in the mid-tempo, heavy chant Slow Moving Creatures, with its guitars inciting you to bang your head together with the band, while in Visionary’s Last Breath it’s time for Unshine to invite us all to dance to a fanciful “druid waltz”, presenting very traditional elements from Folk Metal blended with the heaviness brought forth by Jukka’s beats. Then we have the touching ballad Suo (Kantaa Ruumiit), which should translate as “swamp (carry the bodies)”, also sung in the band’s mother tongue with Susanna stealing the spotlight with her passionate vocals. Moreover, there’s a lot of dark elements in this imposing composition, making it extremely catchy and somber from start to finish. And finally we’re treated to 10 minutes of epic and ethereal passages in The Forest, where the stringed trio Harri, Jari and Teemu keep the music flowing at a pleasant pace, allowing Susanna to shine once again with her vocals amidst the song’s symphonic elements and dense atmosphere, ending the album on a climatic and melancholic note.

You can take a full listen at Astrala on Spotify, follow the band on Facebook, nad purchase a copy of the album from the Rockshots Records webstore, from Record Shop X, on iTunes or on Amazon, and let your soul roam free through the forests of the invisible side of the Earth ruled by Unshine. And who knows, you might not only meet some druids during your visit to Astrala, but also decide to stay there permanently, dancing to the music by this talented Finnish squad forever and ever.

Best moments of the album: Pan the One, Druids Are A-Coming and Suo (Kantaa Ruumiit).

Worst moments of the album: Jack’s Feast.

Released in 2018 Rockshots Records

Track listing
1. Birch of Fornjotr (Instrumental) 1:35
2. Kainuun Kuningas 5:13
3. Jack’s Feast 6:38
4. The Masks of Enchantment 4:54
5. Pan the One 4:44
6. Druids Are A-Coming 4:11
7. Slow Moving Creatures 5:19
8. Visionary’s Last Breath 5:32
9. Suo (Kantaa Ruumiit) 6:06
10. The Forest 10:28

Band members
Susanna Vesilahti – vocals
Harri Hautala – guitar and keyboards
Jari Hautala – guitar
Teemu Vähäkangas – bass
Jukka Hantula – drums and percussions

Album Review – Rexoria / Queen Of Light (2018)

Welcome to the amazing world of Melodic Metal ruled by an up-and-coming four-piece act from Sweden.

Hailing from Jönköping, is a city on the shores of Lake Vättern, located in southern Sweden, Melodic Metal quartet Rexoria have been on a fast and healthy rise since their inception in 2016, having already toured several countries with bands like Bloodbound and Crystal Viper, as well as supporting renowned acts such as Backyard Babies, Entombed A.D. and Battle Beast in their homeland Sweden. And the reason for that amazing upward trend is obviously the extreme talent of their band members, their devoted passion for Heavy Metal and, as the icing on the cake, the stunning performance by frontwoman Frida Ohlin, who by the way was one of the finalists in the Swedish competition Årets Rockröst in 2016 (which would translate as “The Rock Voice”).

Blending their core Melodic Metal with folk influences, Rexoria released their debut EP in 2016, entitled Moments Of Insanity, followed by another EP in 2017, The World Unknown, both presenting what this talented Swedish band is capable of. However, it’s now with their first full-length album, elegantly named Queen Of Light, that fans of the more melodious side of Heavy Metal will be able to experience a full-bodied, detailed blast of the classy music crafted by Rexoria, heavily inspired by the golden years of Heavy Metal and spiced up by nuances of contemporary Power and Folk Metal. Put differently, if you’re crazy for Scandinavian Metal the likes of Stratovarius and Nightwish, you might have found your next addiction in heavy music.

The movie-inspired intro The Land in Between transports the listener to the whimsical and unknown world of Rexoria, with the guitar duo comprised of Jonas Gustavsson and Cristofer Svensson opening the gates for the harmonious vocals by Frida to welcome us all to the first song of the album, titled Stranded, a precise fusion of Melodic and Symphonic Metal highly inspired by bands like Epica and Nightwish; followed by the title-track Queen of Light, feeling even more imposing and melodic and also bringing elements from the classic Heavy Metal played by Doro, or in other words, it’s 80’s metal with a catchy chorus and electrifying riffs and beats where you can sense the amazing smell of epicness and power that permeates the air throughout the whole song. And leaning towards modern Folk Metal we have Voice of Heaven, with the keyboards by Frida generating a gentle ambience while the rest of the band makes sure the sounding remains as metal as it can be.

Way to Die is another stylish tune that effectively combines the more trenchant elements of Heavy Metal with the elegance and delicacy of symphonic and operatic music, with Frida once again having a remarkable performance with her potent voice. After such high-end display of heavy music we’re treated to a passionate, melancholic and gripping ballad named Song by the Angels, again taking us back to 80’s Heavy Metal with pure romance flowing from all instruments, especially the guitars by both Jonas and Cristofer which add tons of feeling and electricity to the overall result, whereas in Next Generation old school guitar riffs are in perfect sync with the precise beats by drummer Martin Gustavsson, not to mention the song’s fiery guitar solos and the epic vibe that supports the band from start to finish. The next tune, entitled The Saviour, offers more of Rexoria’s traditional metal lines with hints of Folk Metal and 80’s Hard Rock, with Jonas and Cristofer displaying all their passion for Melodic Metal by delivering smooth lines with their instruments and building the stage for Frida’s vocals to shine once again.

Hurricane is perhaps the most Heavy and Power Metal of all songs of the album (and definitely the most inspiring one), which is something you can already expect taking into account its name, showcasing an accelerated rhythm led by the potent drumming by Martin while Frida steals the spotlight yet again with her resonant vocal lines. Now think about an epic tune with a serene background led by the stunning vocals of a female warrior? That’s exactly what you’ll get in My Spirit Will Run Free, a song that can’t get any more 80’s than that, before the closing act You’ll Be Alright brings more of the band’s traditional musicality, with Jonas, Cristofer and Martin providing a beyond solid support for Frida to mesmerize us one last time, and when the song is over you’ll simply realize there’s nothing bad or out of place in the entire album.

You can purchase Queen Of Light at several online stores such as Pride & Joy Music, Nuclear Blast, Ginza.se and Bengans, as well as on iTunes and on Amazon, and remember you can always keep track of all things Rexoria through their official Facebook page, and listen to their music on YouTube and on Spotify. Then after having Queen Of Light on your hands, you’ll finally be allowed to enter the fantastic world of Melodic Metal ruled by Rexoria and let those four Swedish metallers guide you on a journey through the waves of harmonious and elegant Heavy Metal.

Best moments of the album: Queen of Light, Song by the Angels and Hurricane.

Worst moments of the album: None.

Released in 2018 Pride & Joy Music

Track listing   
1. The Land in Between 1:40
2. Stranded 4:49
3. Queen of Light 4:18
4. Voice of Heaven 4:43
5. Way to Die 4:16
6. Song by the Angels 5:36
7. Next Generation 4:18
8. The Saviour 4:44
9. Hurricane 4:53
10. My Spirit Will Run Free 5:11
11. You’ll Be Alright 5:37

Band members
Frida Ohlin – vocals, keyboards
Jonas Gustavsson – guitar, bass
Cristofer Svensson – guitar
Martin Gustavsson – drums

Album Review – Dzö-nga / The Sachem’s Tales (2017)

A demonic entity hailing from the United States gives life to the Algonquin folklore in a brand new concept album of vibrant and classy Atmospheric Black Metal.

In case you’re searching for the next name in Atmospheric and Epic Black Metal, you must take a listen at The Sachem’s Tales, the brand new concept album by an American Black Metal project that goes by the name of Dzö-nga (pronounced “zone-gah”), formed in 2016 in the city of Boston, Massachusetts, United States by multi-instrumentalist Cryvas. By the way, did you know Dzö-nga is the name of a cryptid or demon that is said to haunt the mountain Kangchenjunga, the third highest mountain in the world lying partly in Nepal and partly in Sikkim, India? Drawing inspiration from world mythologies, Dzö-nga is definitely the perfect name to represent the music by this heavy and eccentric monster of underground extreme music.

The Sachem’s Tales, Dzö-nga’s second full-length album and a concept album about the Algonquin folklore from creation mythos (“Against the Northern Wind”) to apocalyptic prophesies (“A Seventh Age of Fire”), is the project’s first release to feature Grushenka Ødegård on vocals, with Cryvas and Grushenka being joined by guest musicians Aaron Maloney (This or the Apocalypse) as their session drummer and Lilith Astaroth (Sorrowseed) lending an ethereal voice to “Halle Ravine”. Featuring a classy cover art titled “The Wendigo”, designed by British illustrator Frank Victoria, The Sachem’s Tales will certainly please all fans of the more atmospheric side of extreme music fused with folk elements, especially the ones who love the sound by bands like Agalloch, Falls of Rauros, Moonsorrow and Coldworld, among others.

Midewiwin Lodge, a serene instrumental intro led by the acoustic guitars by Cryvas and spiced up by elements from Mother Nature, sets up the ambience for the melancholic and gripping To the Great Salt Water, with the contrast between the piano and the blast beats perfectly supporting the gentle voice of Grushenka and the growls by Cryvas, enhancing the impact of its fairy tale-inspired lyrics (“What shall I tell our children? / Tell them our story / Tell them who they are / Far beyond the mountains / Where wild-men roam / Over the raging river’s foam / Follow the Whiteshell west”). Put differently, this is a beautiful rollercoaster of emotions crafted by Dzö-nga, going from deeply enraged moments to slower passages of pure tenderness. Then in The Wolves Fell Quiet what starts in a calm mode with the suave notes of the piano embracing our souls suddenly explodes into magnificent Atmospheric Black Metal, with Cryvas growling and gnarling like a hellish entity. Furthermore, multi-layered waves of blackened sounds mixed with ambient music turn listening to this tune into a distinct and dense journey through darkness.

In the acoustic ballad Halle Ravine, it’s time for Lilith Astaroth to give life to the song’s poetic lyrics, bringing hope and melancholy at the same time to our hearts, with the song’s smoother sonority also showcasing how versatile Cryvas is as a musician; followed by Against the Northern Wind, where blast beats ignite a flammable fusion of Atmospheric Black Metal with Folk and Dark Metal, once again presenting paradoxical elements that create a unique experience to the listener. Moreover, Cryvas’ demonic roars and Grushenka’s angelical voice complement each other in a superb way, making it impossible not to feel touched by all sounds blasted by the band, all reaching deep inside our hearts and souls. A Seventh Age of Fire brings forward almost 10 minutes of top-tier extreme music by Cryvas and his crew, where Aaron not only proves he’s a rabid beast behind his drums, but he also displays an extremely refined technique, therefore adding tons of intricacy to the musicality. And effectively complementing this stylish aria, Cryvas offers us all some epic church-inspired pipes, with all instruments converging to a climatic acoustic ending with the song’s lyrics yet again coming from a dark and thrilling fairy tale (“Be brave and you will be protected / Be wise and you will be rewarded / (Hear in our silence that we are at peace / Our mantle passed to you) / Light again the ancient flame / Lead our people back home”). And before all is said and done, we’re treated to the instrumental outro The Witching Meadow, a song that contains several elements found in Folk Metal, with its kick-ass piano notes generating a comforting atmosphere to end this fantastic album in great fashion.

You can enjoy this fairy tale of Extreme Metal in full on YouTube, follow Dzö-nga on Facebook, listen to their other creations on SoundCloud, and obviously purchase The Sachem’s Tales at the band’s own BandCamp page, at the Avantgard Music’s BandCamp, on Amazon or at Discogs. Having said that, let’s hope that this gargantuan, hazy creature named Dzö-nga keeps haunting not only mountain Kangchenjunga, but everywhere else in the world where high-quality metal music is appreciated for many years yet to come.

Best moments of the album: To the Great Salt Water and Against the Northern Wind.

Worst moments of the album: None.

Released in 2017 Avantgarde Music

Track listing
1. Midewiwin Lodge (Instrumental) 2:35
2. To the Great Salt Water 8:49
3. The Wolves Fell Quiet 7:23
4. Halle Ravine (feat. Lilith Astaroth) 4:04
5. Against the Northern Wind 7:16
6. A Seventh Age of Fire 9:23
7. The Witching Meadow (Instrumental) 3:26

Band members
Cryvas – vocals, all instruments
Grushenka Ødegård – vocals

Guest musicians
Aaron Maloney – drums (session)
Lilith Astaroth – vocals on “Halle Ravine”

Album Review – Al-Namrood / Enkar (2017)

Unafraid of exercising their freedom of speech in their homeland, three dauntless Saudi black metallers keep fighting against tyranny, oppression and authoritarianism with their brand new, distinct and acid album.

Forged in 2008 in the fires of Dammam, the capital city of Saudi Arabia’s Eastern Province and the sixth largest city in Saudi Arabia after Riyadh, Jeddah, Mecca, Medina and Taif, Black/Folk Metal trinity Al-Namrood is another one of those cases where no matter how talented and bright the band members are, the religious and political leaders of their homeland will do whatever it takes to end their career (not to say something even harsher than that), restricting their reach and forcing them to remain anonymous to stay alive (as you can read in an excellent and very detailed article titled “Witch Hunts, Resurgence and Defiance: Heavy Metal In The Middle East”, published by an online publication named The Quietus). However, the only Black Metal band in Saudi Arabia doesn’t seem to be scared to exercise their freedom of speech with their brand new album Enkar, where once again Al-Namrood translates into first-class metal music their austere position against their own country’s authoritarian regime.

Al-Namrood (or (النمرود‎ in Arabic) means “Nimrod” (which translates to “the non believer”), a Babylonian king who ruled the world maliciously and stated “I am the God of all creation”, and the group chose the name as their form of defiance against religion. After the successful release of their 2010 album Estorat Taghoot, the band decided to shift their focus away from the ancient Babylon land to a hub with deeper Arabian aspect, pronouncing the utter darkness of the Arabian Peninsula and therefore playing what can be called “Arabian Occult Metal”. If you love Black Metal in the vein of bands like Marduk, Darkthrone and Bathory mixed with the most obscure and anti-religious aspects of the music by Candlemass, Black Sabbath and Kreator, all embraced by the unique tones and sounds from the Middle-Eastern culture, then you must take a listen at Enkar as soon as possible, as this album might change considerably your view of underground Extreme Metal.

And those sounds from the Middle-East are joined by metallic lines to form a unique musicality led by the enraged and sick vocals by Humbaba in the opening track, titled Nabth, a feast of eccentricity and sheer madness, with the guitars by Mephisto sounding truly mesmerizing. In addition, the song’s official video, with its images of protests, riots and police brutality from across the Middle-East, match perfectly with the music played by Al-Namrood. Enhancing the lunacy flowing from the guitars, the band offers us Halak, a great display of Orient Metal tailored for banging our heads and prancing together with the band, with highlights to the electrified beats by Ostron; followed by Xenophobia, another acid creation by Al-Namrood that deals with an extremely controversial topic, with Humbaba firing some truly demented vociferations from start to finish to make the final result even more impactful.

Estibdad brings forward a kick-ass hybrid of Folk and Orient Metal where all band members are on fire, in special Mephisto with his slashing riffs, not to mention you can feel the anger and rage flowing from Humbaba’s desperate growls. Efsad keeps the momentum going with its rhythmic drumming and Middle-Eastern-inspired riffs and bass lines effectively delivered by Mephisto, whereas Estinzaf, perhaps the most Heavy Metal (or I should say Black Metal) of all songs, presents more traditional guitar lines and drums, but of course still bringing the band’s own regional twist. Moreover, Humbaba sounds like a Saudi version of the iconic Mike Patton (Faith No More) during the whole song due to the level of lunacy and the weird noises he produces with his voice, which in the end is a very positive complement to the overall result. And in Ensaf we face a darker sonority that grows in intensity as time goes by, with even the vocal lines by Humbaba sounding more obscure and sharper than before, culminating in a mesmerizing pace with hints of progressiveness and Folk Metal elements to boost its taste.

In Egwaa we’re treated to what’s probably their most primeval mode, a hypnotizing and stylish break from all madness from the rest of the album deeply rooted in their own homeland’s traditions and sounds, with their smooth but at the same time extremely potent percussion stealing the spotlight. Then when it looks like that gentle break will still go on for a while, the band returns with an imposing, epic tune titled Ezdraa, transporting the listener to the darkest side of Saudi Arabia, with Ostron kicking some serious ass with his intricate drumming, before Entiqam, a nice ending to such distinct album, showcases a more-demented-than-ever Humbaba, leading the band’s ominous and classy musicality while the song’s Middle-Eastern elements sound heavier, crisper and more piercing than in all previous tracks.

You can enjoy all the madness, violence and hatred from Enkar by listening to the full album on Spotify, and of course purchase this Saudi gem at the Shaytan Productions’ BandCamp, on iTunes, on Amazon, on CD Baby or at Discogs. Al-Namrood, who can be found on Facebook despite the fact the band members have to remain anonymous, not only continue to pave a fantastic path in underground heavy music with this idiosyncratic album, spreading their music all over the world and always moving forward against all odds, but they also serve as some sort of inspiration for other musicians in Saudi Arabia and from any other countries with very strict laws to keep pursuing their dreams and to keep fighting against tyranny, oppression and authoritarianism, all in the name of freedom and metal.

Best moments of the album: Nabth, Estibdad and Ensaf.

Worst moments of the album: Estinzaf.

Released in 2017 Shaytan Productions

Track listing
1. Nabth 3:55
2. Halak 3:17
3. Xenophobia 4:24
4. Estibdad 3:23
5. Efsad 3:03
6. Estinzaf 3:17
7. Ensaf 4:28
8. Egwaa 4:02
9. Ezdraa 4:24
10. Entiqam 5:18

Band members
Humbaba – vocals
Mephisto – guitars, bass, percussion
Ostron – keyboards, percussion

Album Review – Mongol / Warrior Spirit EP (2017)

Paying homage to the hordes of the ancient Mongolian empire by blending heavy, melodic riffs with an array of folk instruments and Asian harmonies, raise your fists to this idiosyncratic six-piece Canadian Folk Metal squad.

Forged in 2009 in the frozen bowels of Edmonton, Alberta, more specifically in the city of Devon, situated 26km southwest of Edmonton and located along the banks of the North Saskatchewan River, Canadian Folk Metal act Mongol has continuously paid homage to the hordes of the ancient Mongolian empire, blending heavy, melodic riffs with an array of folk instruments and Asian harmonies, wielding a sound as diverse as the nations their historical influences conquered. Their unique sound has taken them on many exciting journeys, including co-headlining Noise Metal Fest, Mongolia’s first international metal festival, alongside Folk Metal icons Nine Treasures in 2014, as well as sharing the stage with renowned bands like Arkona, Kalmah, Nekrogoblikon and Havok, among others.

Since their genesis almost a decade ago, Mongol released the EP Leisurely Destruktion, in 2010, followed by the full-length albums The Altan Urug, in 2012, and Chosen by Tengri, in 2014. Now in 2017 those Mongolian warriors are back in action with a brand new EP titled Warrior Spirit, featuring three original compositions that, as expected, bring forward the band’s trademark sonority in honor of the Mongolian empire, all enfolded by a minimalist but impactful album artwork by Eric Dieterich, from Soloman Media. Warrior Spirit might be short in duration, with only around 19 minutes of music, but that’s more than enough for this idiosyncratic Canadian sextet to show how passionate they are about the “Land of the Blue Sky” and its history.

Mongol’s epic and warlike Folk Metal invades our ears from the very first second of the opening track of the EP, the excellent The Mountain Weeps, with bassist Sorkhon Sharr kicking ass with his low-tuned punches while frontman Tev Tegri leads his horde of Mongolian warriors with his potent vocals, effectively transmitting the strength of the song’s lyrics to the listener (“Like the mighty blade of the Gods reaching on to the Welkin, / and piercing our world as it guides our way to Heaven / Pilgrimage of kings, the mountains sing / somber songs of conflicts long untold”). Not only that, the folk sounds and noises by lead guitarist Zev are the icing on the cake in this Canadian Folk Metal hymn, while Bourchi showcases all his versatility by blasting rhythmic and progressive sounds mixed with fast-paced beats throughout the song’s six intense minutes.

With a traditional folk intro and a fighting atmosphere, River Child is absolutely perfect for prancing around a fire pit while drinking a cold beer with your comrades. The deep growls by Tev Tegri together with the fierce, accelerated guitars by Zev and Zelme set this awesome Folk Metal chant on fire, not to mention the song’s inspiring guitar solos, the furious drumming by Bourchi and its beyond catchy chorus, tailored for singing along with the band while slamming into the pit at the same time (“River child, wild and free / Come my brothers, and soon you will see / Grace of the faun and cunning of the hound / No one knows where the child is bound”). In the third and lats song of the EP, titled Warband, thunderous bass and drums dictate the rhythm while keyboardist Sche-Khe crafts an amazing background with his sharp notes. Furthermore, Tev Tegri keeps growling like a Mongolian warrior, giving life to another chorus that will enliven you for battle (“With rising glory, we find ourselves / Far away from the East. / We are nomads, we hold no home / We are War band, the Golden Horde.”), supported by all folk elements added to the musicality by Zev to spice up the final result.

You can have a very tasteful preview of the whole EP by clicking HERE, or listen to it in its entirety on Spotify. The unrelenting squad Mongol, who can be found on Facebook, YouTube and SoundCloud, has been doing a sensational job paying tribute to the Mongolian empire through their well-crafted metal music, and it looks like they’ll keep raising that flag high with their future releases based on the music found in  Warrior Spirit, which can be purchased through their own BandCamp page, as well as on iTunesAmazon or CD Baby. Genghis Khan once said that “a man’s greatest joy is crushing his enemies”, but I believe that in the case of Mongol, despite all their admiration for the ations taken by the Mongolian empire, their biggest joy is to keep generating thrilling metal music for us metalheads.

Best moments of the album: River Child.

Worst moments of the album: None.

Released in 2017 Independent

Track listing
1. The Mountain Weeps 5:50
2. River Child 5:14
3. Warband 7:05

Band members
Tev Tegri – vocals
Zev – lead guitar, vocals, folk instrumentation
Zelme – rhythm guitar
Sorkhon Sharr – bass
Sche-Khe – keyboards
Bourchi – drums

Album Review – Divine Element / Thaurachs Of Borsu (2017)

In the hostile lands of Borsu, witness the passage of a soldier through various levels of consciousness about the reality of war, human society and the fabric of the cosmos itself, all embraced by the fury and epicness of Melodic Death and Black Metal.

A comeback that has been slowly brewing since a few years now. Formed in 2002 in the city of Athens, Greece, Melodic Death/Black Metal act Divine Element was the first band of Spectral Lore’s multi-instrumentalist Ayloss and vocalist Antonis, releasing their self-titled debut album back in 2010. After a hiatus of almost seven years, Divine Element are finally back with the stunning Thaurachs of Borsu, the first chapter in many future ones to come under a new and ambitious conceptual undertaking, the combination of metal with fantasy literature and world-making. Featuring a classy artwork by Chilean artist Matias Trabold Rehren, Thaurachs of Borsu is based on the same-titled novel written by Ayloss, which will be unveiled not long after the album release (to be followed by short stories from Antonis), set on a medieval fantasy universe envisioned by the band.

Thaurachs of Borsu chronicles the passage of a soldier through various levels of consciousness about the reality of war, human society and the fabric of the cosmos itself, as the gritty and daring warriors of his nation, Borsu, fight to regain their ancestral homeland from a much more powerful enemy. Musically speaking, the album ties together several styles of metal to serve the higher purpose of epic storytelling, albeit taking notice to never fall into the typical clichés of “soundtrack metal”, keeping an old-school approach mostly centered around Death and Black Metal of the heavy, melodic variety. Put differently, after hitting play you’ll find yourself wandering through the lands of Borsu, ready for battle and eager for some blood, banging your head nonstop to the majestic heavy music played by Antonis and Ayloss, with the precise and masterful support of German drummer Hannes Grossman (Alkaloid, Hannes Grossman, Shapeshift) to make their sound even more enthralling.

A Realignment With Destiny is a fantastic epic intro to the battle that’s about to come, the title-track Thaurachs Of Borsu, where Antonis and Ayloss begin their crushing onslaught in total sync with the Amon Amarth-inspired beats by Hannes. In other words, this is superb metal music, dense and profound, with all instruments filling all spaces with sheer aggression and might. In addition, how not to fall in love for those monumental lyrics (“The valley folk to the mountains’ slopes withdrew / Surrounded only by unwrought stone / The sea lords to the dry desert driven / Οswan roams frenzied in a soundless plain / Mestyr hangs discouraged with a rusting blade / And all hearts bellow in a silent wailing / A resignation to oblivion”)?

In Onto The Trail Of Betrayal, Antonis’ potent deep growls keep rumbling the earth while the instrumental pieces invest in a more Black Metal sonority. Moreover, the intricate beats by Hannes go along flawlessly with the cutting riffs by Ayloss, resulting in eight minutes of the best underground Melodic Death and Black Metal you can get anywhere, where they not only play superior music but the story being told is also a work-of-art. Then in Beyond This Sea we’re treated to a calm and melancholic start before the sound of the sea and the guitar lines blend in a beautiful manner, creating a potent atmosphere for the metallic sounds that are about to come. Adding elements of Blackened Doom and Folk Metal to their menacing Melodic Death Metal, the result couldn’t sound more imposing and appealing, with highlights to how vocals and guitar follow the exact same lines.

The movie-inspired bridge Interlude (The Point Of No Return) sounds even more majestic than the album’s intro, warming up your fighting soul for the crushing Call Of The Blade, a gripping fusion of the music played by Amon Amarth with traditional Folk Metal, with Antonis sounding like a beast on vocals, enhancing the impact of the song’s already powerful lyrics (“The land speaks to me in an alien tongue / Though my blood was born in these shores / What will I find, if I dig to unearth these roots / The echo of old thoughts faints quickly here / As the collective energy rises triumphant / Powered by the fiery will of a few”). Traitor’s Last Stand is another belligerent tune by Divine Element, showcasing almost eight minutes of heavier-than-hell riffs, electrifying passages and enlivening breaks. Furthermore, Hannes brings a high dosage of intricacy to the overall musicality with his drumming, while Antonis keeps telling the story with precision and passion through his anger-fueled growls. The last part of the song exhales epicness, gradually morphing into the cinematic outro Augury For A Shapeless Future, where the gorgeous sound of a rough ocean, together with the orchestrations in the background, make it the perfect climatic ending for the album.

No words can describe with the right amount of detail how amazing Thaurachs Of Borsu is, which is why I highly recommend you go take a listen at the album in its entirety HERE, and also visit the band’s official Facebook page for more information and their YouTube channel for more awesomeness in the form of heavy music. Also, there are several locations where you can purchase Thaurachs Of Borsu, such as Divine Element’s BandCamp, the I, Voidhanger Records’ BandCamp or webstore, and the Season of Mist’s webstore, as well as on Amazon and at Discogs. And while we wait for the next chapter in the career of Divine Element, we have plenty to enjoy and absorb in this superb album where heavy music and a thrilling story-telling couldn’t be more connected, impactful and vibrant.

Best moments of the album: Thaurachs Of Borsu, Beyond This Sea and Call Of The Blade.

Worst moments of the album: None.

Released in 2017 I, Voidhanger Records

Track listing   
1. A Realignment With Destiny 2:13
2. Thaurachs Of Borsu 4:52
3. Onto The Trail Of Betrayal 7:45
4. Beyond This Sea 4:54
5. Interlude (The Point Of No Return) 1:30
6. Call Of The Blade 6:34
7. Traitor’s Last Stand 7:36
8. Augury For A Shapeless Future 2:39

Band members
Antonis – vocals
Ayloss – guitars, bass, synths

Guest musician
Hannes Grossman – drums (session)

The Headbanging Moose Show – Thursdays @ 20:00 UTC exclusively at Midnight Madness Metal e-Radio

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Attention, metalheads!

It’s time to rumble with THE HEADBANGING MOOSE SHOW every Thursday @ 20:00 UTC (with a reprise on Saturdays @ 19:00 UTC) exclusively at Midnight Madness Metal e-Radio, your London-based web radio blasting the best of heavy music nonstop 24/7!

Presented by Gustavo Scuderi, The Headbanging Moose Show will bring to you the cream of underground metal music, giving you a short and sweet background on every band played on the show. No silly jokes, no shenanigans… THIS IS PURE F****N’ METAL!

So remember, EVERY THURSDAY @ 20:00 UTC (with a reprise on Saturdays @ 19:00 UTC) tune into Midnight Madness Metal e-Radio to enjoy one hour of kick-ass underground metal from all over the world, courtesy of The Headbanging Moose!

Here are all the options where can blow your speakers with Midnight Madness:

Official website
Facebook
Twitter
Online Radio Box
Tunein
Streema
Listen2MyRadio
Radio Garden
Streamitter.com

Don’t forget to follow The Headbanging Moose on Facebook to know beforehand which bands will be played on the show every week.

And if you want to have your new album reviewed at The Headbanging Moose AND played at Midnight Madness Metal e-Radio, simply get in touch with us through our CONTACT US page.

Album Review – Aegri Somnia / Ad Augusta per Angusta (2017)

A compilation of Iberian popular folk songs from the late 19th and the early 20th century, where Spanish oral traditional music is mixed with the harmonic eccentricity typical of musical styles such as Black, Folk and Experimental Metal.

Whenever metal gets blended with any other type of music in the world, in special with more traditional styles and genres, the result is always beyond interesting, transpiring creativity, passion, feeling and entertaining us all in a different way than our usual metal bands. That encounter of the fury and darkness of heavy music with distinct non-metal sounds is exactly what you’ll experience in Ad Augusta per Angusta, the debut full-length album by Madrid-based Black/Avantgarde Metal project Aegri Somnia, where Spanish oral traditional music, unknown even for most of Spanish people, is mixed with the harmonic eccentricity typical of musical styles such as Black, Folk and Experimental Metal.

Aegri Somnia are Cristina R. Galván (also known as Lady Carrot), from the Castilian folk music world, and multi-instrumentalist Nightmarer, from the Avantgarde Metal scene (As Light Dies, Garth Arum), who decided to form the project in 2012 in an old ghostly house located in a northern Spanish valley, surrounded by loneliness, silence and the smell of wet earth. And it didn’t take long for the duo to give life to Ad Augusta per Angusta from the harmonious union of their skills and backgrounds, offering the listener a compilation of Iberian popular folk songs from the late 19th and the early 20th century, a travel through the rural and magical Spain with its lights and shadows, and a gaze into the abyss of the black and tenebrous Spain with the inner cruelty and brutality of human beings. Featuring a stylish artwork designed by Cristina and Nightmarer themselves, Ad Augusta per Angusta will certainly redefine the way you see folk and metal music.

Serene acoustic guitars and the delicate voice by Cristina kick off the folk composition Seran, full of traditional Iberian elements and showcasing a steady, melancholic atmosphere. Furthermore, all additional instruments played by both Cristina and Nightmarer are necessary to the music, never sounding out of place. Aegri Somina offer heavier guitars and a rousing vibe in the excellent and classy chant Señor Platero, presenting a great performance once again by Cristina on vocals while Nightmarer brings the word “metal” to the musicality in a perfect balance between extreme music and Iberian folk; followed by La Culebra, a song that’s at the same time tailored for a dancing performance and for a metal concert. Not only Cristina changes her tone a bit in this song, sounding more aggressive than before, but also the song’s symphonic elements enhance its darkness, cohesiveness and taste.

La Deshonra, the longest of all tracks, transpires melancholy through the beautiful acoustic guitars by Nightmarer and the passionate vocals by Cristina, and despite the music not having any breaks or variations, that doesn’t mean it’s not a great song. In fact, its constant rhythm is what makes it mesmerizing. In Molinero – Vengo De Moler, the fusion of metallic guitars and the classic sound of unique instruments like spoons, clamps and stomps, among others, creates a fantastic ambience for Cristina to declaim the song’s lyrics, filling all spaces in this exotic and fun composition, whereas in La Niña De La Arena, one of the best tracks of the album, the duo speeds up the pace and delivers sharp guitar lines, both electric and acoustic. This is indeed an intricate chant displaying several different instruments and layers, with nuances of modern folk music to spice it up a bit. And exhibiting a softer side, Cristina and Nightmarer focus on the more gentle sounds of their instruments in Romance De Santa Elena, generating a calm atmosphere where Cristina beautifully tells the story through the song’s poetic lyrics.

Ronda De Mayo brings Iberian folk with hints of modern Hard Rock, Folk and Progressive Metal, feeling like part of the soundtrack for a dark movie, with its percussion and synths working really well, keeping the music flowing smoothly. Then we have Rondón Del Enamorado Y La Muerte, another dancing tune full of clapping and acoustic lines keeping up with the Spanish traditions, with Cristina going back to her sharper vocal lines while Nightmarer does an amazing job with his unstoppable guitar, and Charro Del Labrador, where Cristina continues to showcase her tender vocal lines, with the musicality in this case being denser than usual thanks to the heavier beats and louder folk instruments. I personally think this experimental composition should sound very interesting if they record a full metal version of it. And Veneno, the last composition in Ad Augusta per Angusta, offers the listener atmospheric passages and a high dosage of melancholy, and albeit not being a bad composition, it’s in my opinion slightly below the rest of the album in terms of creativity.

It’s extremely easy to know more about Aegri Somnia and their music. For instance, you can listen to the full album on YouTube, where you can also watch an amazing video by Cristina herself speaking about the traditional percussion instruments used in Ad Augusta per Angusta and other details about the Iberian oral tradition (with subtitles in English available). You can also follow the duo on Facebook, and purchase Ad Augusta per Angusta at their BandCamp page, at the Symbol Of Domination’s BandCamp page, at the Satanath Records’ webstore or at Discogs. And if exploring new music is part of your life, then you’re more than welcome to join Cristina and Nightmarer in their voyage through the darkness and light of the rural Spain.

Best moments of the album: Señor Platero, Molinero – Vengo De Moler and La Niña De La Arena.

Worst moments of the album: Veneno.

Released in 2017 Symbol Of Domination/United By Chaos

Track listing
1. Seran 4:08
2. Señor Platero 4:51
3. La Culebra 3:13
4. La Deshonra 6:06
5. Molinero – Vengo De Moler 5:05
6. La Niña De La Arena 2:40
7. Romance De Santa Elena 4:28
8. Ronda De Mayo 4:17
9. Rondón Del Enamorado Y La Muerte 3:40
10. Charro Del Labrador 5:41
11. Veneno 4:51

Band members
Cristina R. Galvan (Lady Carrot) – female vocal, galician and castilian tambourine, pandero cuadrado, palo de agua, spoons, almirez, shells and claps
Nightmarer – male vocal, electric & acoustic guitar, fretless bass, keyboards/synths, programming, violin, accordion, wind chimes, claps and stomps