This week’s reviews include releases from The Atomic Bitchwax, Cleric, Diablo Swing Orchestra, Iron Savior, Leviathan, Lord Shades, Neocaesar, Pale Horseman, Pretty Boy Floyd, Thaw, Tongues, Wildestarr and Yob.
The ratings are on a 5 star scale.
The Atomic Bitchwax – Force Field (Tee Pee)
The Jersey power trio The Atomic Bitchwax are coming up on their 25th anniversary next year. They haven’t released a ton of albums over the years, but what they lack in quantity, they make up for in quality. Their latest opus is Force Field.
They play upbeat stoner rock, combining trippy ’60s elements with powerful ’70s riffs and hooks. The songs are short and focused, most in the two to three minute range, jam packed with memorable riffs and clever hooks. And though they are serious about their musicianship, the band’s sense of humor is evident as well. For being around so long, The Atomic Bitchwax (who have two members currently in Monster Magnet), aren’t as well known as they should be, so if you’re a stoner fan who hasn’t yet sampled their wares, it’s well worth experimenting with.
Cleric – Retrocausal (Web of Mimicry)
Bold and brash are accurate adjectives to describe Cleric’s Retrocausal, an album so obtuse and unforgiving that the general feeling from an average metal head will be sheer confusion. It’s free-form jazz in the middle of a death metal circle pit; noise mangled into a singular vision that feels 10 years ahead of its time.
Maybe if it was in EP form it would be more digestible, but Cleric decide 80 minutes is the right length. Is it though? Depends on a person’s appetite for the unusual. It’s both the most frustrating and intoxicating album this reviewer has listened to in 2017.
Diablo Swing Orchestra – Pacifisticuffs (Candlelight/Spinefarm)
It must be tough to follow up an album that is mandatory listening – Diablo Swing Orchestra’s 2012 masterpiece Pandora’s Pinata. Lineup changes, life events and extensive touring pushed their followup from 2015 to now. With a new singer and more writing contributions from the entire band, what will Pacifisticuffs come off like?
The good: new singer Kristin Evegård is fantastic, and many of the songs on Pacifisticuffs are as engaging, manic and enjoyable as ever. Drums, bass guitar and strings/horns are killer throughout. Unfortunately, unnecessary interludes, an almost complete lack of the band’s trademark groove metal guitar and a couple of songs better suited to a Frozen 2 soundtrack hold this album back from being another classic.
Iron Savior – Reforged: Riding On Fire (AFM)
The veteran German power metal band Iron Savior wanted to release a greatest hits album, but due to legal reasons they were not able to gain access to their early material. So they decided to go into the studio and re-record 19 songs for the double album Reforged: Riding On Fire.
The songs are from their first five albums, originally released on Noise Records from 1997 to 2004. Vocalist/guitarist Piet Sielck is the only current member to have appeared on all those albums, although two other members were on at least some of them. They stuck pretty closely to the original arrangements, but have a beefier sound with current production methods. Re-recording earlier material is a polarizing move, but Iron Savior fans should appreciate this wide ranging collection.
Leviathan – The First Sublevel Of Suicide (Ascension Monuments)
In 2003, following the issue of at least a dozen demos, the one-man black metal project Leviathan released their first full-length album, The Tenth Sublevel Of Suicide. Wrest (Jef Whitehead) has gone back to his vaults and unearthed some of demos for that album, released as The First Sublevel Of Suicide.
There are five songs included here, out of the album’s ten tracks. Coming from the original cassette tapes, the quality is obviously more low-fi. The arrangements are different as well. For example, the demo version of “Mine Molten Armor” is a couple minutes longer than the final album version. Conversely, the demo version of “The Idiot Sun” is four minutes shorter than what ended up on the album. The original album, running the gamut from raw black metal to dreamy ambiance, is one of Leviathan’s best, and it’s interesting to hear where it all began.
Lord Shades – The Uprising of Namwell (Self)
The Uprising of Namwell by Lord Shades is a mixture of black and death metal that will impress those who are already fans of the band. Lord Shades deliver their vision full throttle with this third installment of a trilogy, yet for those listening anew the album might play like parody. Epic fantasy always risks coming off childish, and there is a clear effort here make the genre dark and disturbing.
This record sounds like a movie soundtrack with wonderful percussion and addictive heaviness. It also lacks dynamics, as the growl vocal is always monstrous in a presentation more suited to multiple characters. Great sound effects. The choral overlays are sublime.
Neocaesar – 11:11 (Xtreem)
11:11 is the debut album from the Dutch death metal band Neocaesar. Their music is very harsh and aggressive with difficult to digest, but appropriate vocals. The band was formed by three former members of Sinister and it shows within the tracks themselves. There is a certain feeling of experience to be had here. That translates to strong death metal songs that are quite a spectacle to behold.
There is a ferocious aspect to the music that makes it quite impressive. It is quite heavy and features a good deal of aggressive riffing. This is still not a perfect recording, however. There is a great deal of originality lost as the band sounds a lot like Sinister the band itself. Still, I enjoyed the music and would recommend it to fans of death metal without hesitation.
Pale Horseman – The Fourth Seal (Self)
Chicago sludge quartet Pale Horseman are back with their fourth album (all self-released), The Fourth Seal. The band plays a form of heavy, nasty doom-infused sludge that draws heavily from bands like Neurosis and Bongripper – in fact, The Fourth Seal is produced by Bongripper’s Dennis Pleckham.
This is a long album – nine songs clocking in at nearly an hour – and while for the most part the performances are impassioned and crushing, some self-editing would do the band good. One can hear a lot of High on Fire in the music, and Neurosis in the vocals, which are both compliments, but the songs can drag at times. Still, overall a worthy addition to the band’s canon, and to sludge in general. Almost a 4 here.
Pretty Boy Floyd – Public Enemies (Frontiers)
Pretty Boy Floyd were part of the second wave of hair metal bands that flooded the market in the late ’80s before the whole genre imploded in the early ’90s. Their debut album Leather Boyz With Electric Toyz spawned the hit “I Wanna Be With You,” but they soon split, reforming a couple times over the years and releasing three more albums. Public Enemies is their first studio album of original material since 2004.
The current lineup includes original members Steve “Sex” Summers (vocals) and Kristy “Krash” Majors (guitar/bass) along with drummer Chad Stewart. It’s melodic glam rock with big hooks and singalong choruses. The lyrics are simplistic tales of sex and rock ‘n roll. For those whose youth is entwined with hair metal, this will be a nostalgic blast from the past. For an hour or so you can forget the pressures and obligations of adulthood and relive your misspent youth.
Thaw – Grains (Agonia)
Focusing on noisy and ambient pieces is what Thaw‘s music is known for, and playing black metal is just a small part of the whole picture. Instead of the traditional sound of other Polish black metal acts, Thaw concentrate on their own rendition of experimental, atmospheric black metal. With Grains, as their brand new album, they’ve followed the same musical path.
Grains portray Thaw’s eerie and unsettling music once again, revolving around long chapters of dissonant, droning guitar work and layers of noise, while drums and vocals have lesser roles. Boring and monotonous to some listeners and artistic and weird to many others, Grains isn’t an astounding album, but it is mesmerizing and cinematic.
Tongues – Hreilia (I, Voidhanger)
In the music world, December seems to be a forgotten month every year, as people look ahead or try to catch up on 11 months of albums. So a late-year gift like Tongues’ debut Hreilia doesn’t come to us often, but when it does, it makes up for the lull.
A seismic procession of death and doom, Hreilia can do a slow crawl as well as a vicious tempo uptick. The blackened progression in some of these songs emits a joyful whiplash that counters the album’s sullen lyrical outlook. Though there are only a few weeks left in 2017, Hreilia shouldn’t be passed over in favor of 2018’s hopefuls.
WildeStarr – Beyond The Rain (Scarlet)
It has been five years since the last WildeStarr album. The trio’s lineup includes London Wilde on vocals, her husband Dave Starr (Vicious Rumors, Chastain) on bass and guitar and Josh Foster (Mourn No More) on drums. Beyond The Rain is their third album.
WildeStarr play traditional metal infused with power metal, their songs having soaring melodies, gritty guitars and powerful vocals. While previous albums had lyrical inspiration from subjects such as Edgar Allen Poe, this time around Wilde drew on personal experience, the tragic suicide of her brother a few years ago. While the music draws on classic bands like Iron Maiden and Queensryche for inspiration, the modern production makes it sound more timeless than retro. There’s a lot of variety as well, from upbeat rockers to more menacing mid-tempo tracks.
Yob – The Great Cessation (Relapse)
In 2009, Yob released their fifth album, The Great Cessation. It received excellent reviews, as the Oregon stoner/doom band continued to make the case as one of the genre’s best bands. Originally released by Profound Lore, it is getting the reissue treatment from Relapse.
The album’s original five tracks have been remastered, with the epic songs sounding even more potent and dynamic than the original. Highlights include “The Lie That Is Sin” and the 20 minute title track. There are also two bonus tracks (“Blessed By Nothing” and “Pain Like Sugar”) that were previously available only on vinyl. It seems a little soon to reissue an album less than 10 years old, but it is one of Yob’s best, and the bonus tracks will make it appealing to those who already own the original.