Monday, December 11, 2017

Stälker – Shadow of the Sword

New Zealand’s Stälker is a new find from the ever-popular Napalm Records. These guys play raw, rough, and dirty speed metal. While their cover art might have you thinking of cleaner modern bands, Stälker finds themselves in an interesting position between having the precision and songwriting chops of these bands, but the production and attitude of less polished groups. This entire album feels like the band is just completely going for it: lots of shredding, wild high-pitched screams, and a general tendency to fly off the handle. Nowhere is this more evident than in the raging opener, “Total Annihilation”, which features some of the most brilliantly catchy speed metal around.

Stälker being a 3-piece is an interesting choice, as it has a two-pronged effect on “Shadow of the Sword”. The first is that there isn’t a lot of harmonized guitars, as the band would obviously be unable to replicate this live. For this particular sound, harmonization is often a big selling point, but it is the more aggressive side of the band that carries them despite a lack of killer harmonies. The other side of this, however, is the fact that it allows the bass to stick out often. Nearly every track has several killer bass licks, and at times, it’s hard to believe that the band’s low end is provided by the same guy who is shrieking his guts out.  

As you might imagine, the sheer speeds that the band often reach result in some thrashier moments. Early Razor is an apt comparison, as the bands both enjoy utilizing more simplistic, NWOBHM-influenced riffing at tempos that are off the charts. Stälker tends to utilize more basic choruses, comprised mainly of shouts of the title. The result is that each song is easy to sing along to even on a first listen, and most of them won’t leave your head for a while. “Shocked To Death” marks the obvious example, but nearly every track shares the same enthusiasm and straightforwardness. 

Towards the end of the record, Stälker covers one of the most covered songs in metal history: Death’s “Evil Dead”. Their rendition shows just how brilliant this song is because it works as well as a speed metal song as it does a death metal track. It seems like the band’s vocalist does go for some harsher, more drowned out vocals in the verses, but like most choruses on the record, he tears out his voice hitting the highest notes possible. The end result is yet another great cover of this masterpiece song! Overall, “Shadow of the Sword” is an impressive offering from a new band. There are no bad songs on this album; just songs that are better than others. Despite all of the bands playing this style, Stälker does feel just a little bit different from the others, and that makes “Shadow of the Sword” an immediate winner!

Be sure to check out and like Stälker on Facebook!

Highlights
"Total Annihilation"
"Shadow of the Sword"
"Shocked to Death"

Final Rating
4.4/5 or 88%.

Sunday, December 10, 2017

Blood Oath – The Line Between

Blood Oath is a relatively newer Chilean death metal band that just recently released their first EP “The Line Between”. The EP was first put out on tape, but is now being re-released on CD by Unspeakable Axe Records, and therefore has the mark of quality before even hearing it! After a short atmospheric intro, the band immediately begins laying waste to your ears with their brand of classic death metal. The intro to this first full track, “Lobotomy”, sounds like the musical descent into hell, as it clearly takes great influence from Slayer and their tremolo-bar abuse. But this is a death metal record, and it isn’t long before the other classic death metal elements come into play.

Blood Oath’s sound is fairly predictable, but that’s a good thing. They occasionally try to change it up on “Lobotomy” by introducing a couple of off-kilter drumbeats, but truthfully, the band is better at playing straight-ahead death metal. Their vocalist in particular is a major strength of the band. Though he has a deep voice, his screams sound more like a ghoul than the guttural beasts that dominate death metal. The best comparison would be to a slightly more untamed version of David Vincent’s vocals on “Altars of Madness”. This is partly because the vocals almost emerge from the background; they aren’t completely at the forefront of the music even though they’re very clear. The result is that they don’t overpower the rest of the music. 

This description is true of the rest of the band as well. This EP is perfectly mixed to make each element pop up at just the right time, with no one instrument dominating. The bass in particular is always easy to hear, and makes this dark release sound even murkier. Part of what makes “The Line Between” so great is that it exudes evil. Every single track is an exercise in atmosphere, and the band doesn’t ruin it by overdoing elements like blast beats or even double bass. They use plenty of both, but only when necessary. Much to my surprise (and delight), there are tons of thrashier moments on this record, especially from the drumming. As a result, this EP sounds like something from the late 1980s rather than the years that followed. Overall, “The Line Between” hits all the right spots for my admittedly narrow tastes in death metal. It isn’t as good as the classics, but is unique enough to stand on its own, and as a result, is well worth a purchase!

Be sure to check out and like Blood Oath on Facebook!

Highlights
"Lobotomy"
"Rites of Cruelty"

Final Rating
4.25/5 or 85%.