Friday, November 21, 2014

Phantom - …of Gods and Men

Phantom exploded onto the Toronto metal scene in 2013 with the release of “The Powers That Be”. That EP easily ranks among the greatest traditional heavy metal Toronto has put forth (which is a bold statement given the scene’s current selection of bands). About a year and a half later, the band is releasing their first full-length record “…of Gods and Men”, and it shows some serious development from their first release.

The album opens with a short instrumental entitled “Megalith”. This song is unlike anything the band has done before, as it is so incredibly heavy and crushing that one might mistake this for a death metal record. Though there aren’t any blast beats, the drumming is spacious and makes excellent use of cymbals to create an ominous mood that is enhanced by some wah-affected bass playing. This bass sound is the biggest difference between Phantom’s first and second releases; on the EP it was so high up in the mix that it made Steve Harris sound quiet. By contrast, on this album, the bass is mixed quite a bit lower, though is still easy to pick out (particularly when it is playing one of its many solos).

The key to any great traditional heavy metal record is to be filled with fist-pumping anthems. Phantom wastes no time delivering these, as the first full-length song, “Children of the Stars”, proves to be a charging, energetic affair that will get some necks moving. Additionally, the chorus is easy to sing along to, and is sure to be stuck in your head after a single listen. It isn’t long, however, before the band one-ups this song with something even more potent. “Blood & Iron” is the lead single from this album, and it’s easy to see why. The chorus of this song is dangerously catchy, to the point where it will probably be the first thing that many people associate with this album. It’s worth pointing out that Phantom’s hooks are not huge power metal-styled choruses. Sure, lead vocalist D.D. Murley is a great singer, but his vocal lines are a bit rougher and less soaring than one would hear from a singer such as Michael Kiske. Much of the album continues to display this inherent ability of the band to write songs that are incredibly memorable without being overly complex, or too simple. Other highlights in this fashion include the title track and “The Devil In Me”.

The most interesting song on “…of Gods and Men” is the near 8 and a half minute instrumental “The Kings Road”. This song shows Phantom picking up on the subtleties of classic Iron Maiden tunes and Metallica instrumentals. As you may have guessed, this song is driven by Necro Hippie’s stellar bass playing. The track weaves its way in and out of various riffs and sections, but is highlighted by some great bass melodies, as well as a bass solo (a recurring theme on this record). Additionally, the song gets a bit more laid back at times and lets Murley take the lead with his guitar playing. Ultimately, this track is a huge highlight because it shows the band’s ability to create something a little bit outside the norm for traditional heavy metal.

It is hard to find fault with “…of Gods and Men”. This is an album that should please fans of all of the classic ‘80s groups, as well as fans of the newer ones. One thing I wouldn’t mind is incorporating more guitar solos. Murley is a talented shredder (as evidenced by his solo on “Children of the Stars”), and it would be great for him to showcase this more often. It’s clear that Phantom’s guitar playing isn’t meant to be flashy in the same way that fellow Toronto bands like Skull Fist and Axxion are, but on the other hand, a band like Cauldron shows how you can incorporate several guitar solos into a song without it sounding over the top or absurd. Nevertheless, this is a minor complaint on an otherwise stellar album. “…of Gods and Men” is a must-buy for fans of old-school traditional heavy metal!

Be sure to check out and like Phantom on Facebook!

"Children of the Stars"
"Blood & Iron"
"The Kings Road"
"Of Gods and Men

Final Rating
4.6/5 or 92%. 

Written by Scott

Wednesday, November 19, 2014

Born Undead – Violator of Humanity

Death metal is truly some twisted stuff. The old-school stuff from the 80’s and early 90’s is always fun because of its horror-movie-esque approach, but it seems like some of the newer bands have really amped things up in terms of ridiculousness. Among them is Born Undead, an international (UK/France) project that provides absolutely putrid sounding death metal. Their first release, “Violator of Humanity”, while not quite brutal death metal (it is a lot less one-dimensional than brutal death metal), is definitely on that side of the subgenre. Surprisingly though, Born Undead injects catchiness and memorability into their music. The title track of this release has a repeated vocal pattern that is the kind of thing you can growl along to (in the same way that you’d sing along to Morbid Angel, for example). The end of this song shows the band taking a different direction, with some twisted harmonized guitars. Though a bit of a sharp turn at first, this section settles in nicely, showing homage to Autopsy, with its creepy, cemetery-like atmosphere.

The other songs are more in the brutal death metal vein. Blast beats are used more often, the grunting seems to be lower and less decipherable, and the emphasis is on crushing the listener under the weight of the music. The band’s emphasis on melody is not entirely lost though; “Revenge of the Necrovore” and "Undead Torment" both feature guitar solos amidst the carnage that the rest of the track causes. With that said, much of the band’s time is spent in more pummeling fashion. Born Undead is definitely more bearable within this style. Not only because of the aforementioned unique elements, but also because they lack a tinny production and constant snare drum abuse. Monotony is inherent to brutal death metal, which is why a band like Born Undead succeeds by bringing in new components to the style. Ultimately, “Violator of Humanity” is certainly a step above most brutal death metal because of the variety is provides.

Be sure to check out and like Born Undead on Facebook!

"Violator of Humanity"

Final Rating
3.5/5 or 70%. 

Written by Scott

Monday, November 17, 2014

Screamer Interview

Skull Fracturing Metal (SFM): Hi Henrik! I want to start by asking about the time before the first Screamer album. You released a demo in 2009 and did plenty of touring behind it. Were these the first four Screamer tunes written? Are there other songs from this time that didn’t make the cut for the first record?

Henrik Petersson (HP): Hey Scott!

Yes, "Never Going Down", "Can You Hear Me", "Screamer" and "All Over Again" were the first-ever Screamer songs. 

Martin, Chris and Anton had a prequel to Screamer, and we did actually use to play a couple of those live as well. Come to think of, I think "I Know" might be one of those actually!

SFM: Your website mentions that “Can You Hear Me” was played on Swedish national radio. As a North American this sounds quite incredible. What is the support like for metal in Sweden? Is it common for metal bands to be played on national radio?

HP: Yeah, we have great public service in Sweden, and over the years there's been programs like "Unsigned" and "P3 Rock" that play more than just the repetitive everyday bore you hear on the radio. It was P3 rock that gave us some exposure.

SFM: The first album came out in 2011, and it is one of the most genuine sounding metal albums I have ever heard. The band’s love of metal and rock really shine through on the album. What was the songwriting process like for the first album? Did this process change at all for the second album?

HP: Well, on the first album we just played straight from our hearts with no intention of trying to make any thing solid and consistent, rather "full speed ahead" without any real direction. It took us two years to write it. 

The second album was done and recorded within a year after Dejan had joined the band. I think it took three months in total to write, and I guess that's when we started to find a direction in which we wanted to go. Twin guitars, no unnecessary shredding. We sound like Screamer nowadays, not trying to copycat our idols(we're simply not good enough musicians haha) or following the surrounding trends that come with our musical territory. One could almost say we are growing up.

SFM: I first discovered your music when you opened for Alcoholator in 2011 in Canada. Though the crowd was somewhat sparse in Toronto, you guys put on an unbelievable performance. How did you guys get hooked up with Alcoholator, and what interested you about touring Canada?

HP: it was actually the summer of 2012 we had our first shows in Canada.
Toronto was quite hard the first time we played there, but we were so excited that it didn't matter if there was 15 or 15000 people in the crowd. Dejan and I have a good friend named Michaël (who runs Desbouleaux Fest in Montreal) and he introduced us to Alcoholator, we ended up on the same record label, started talking, and that was that. Those dudes are truly crazy, it was a hell of blast to tour with them.

SFM: One thing I have always wondered about is if the song “No Sleep ‘til Hamilton” was inspired after the Toronto show, as I believe you guys played Hamilton the very next night. Is this correct? If so, what can you tell us about the journey to Hamilton?

HP: yes, yes it was. As most people know touring costs a fuck ton, so we never planned at staying at a hotel that night, but rather crash on friends floor. Then Matt's (from Alcoholator) phone crashes with the number to where we were supposed to sleep, so we figured "Fine, let's just sleep in the cars". Except one of the cars had broken down and was in the repair shop over night, and we couldn't squeeze nine people in to a five seat Subaru. We tried to get a hostel for the night, but we gave up on that idea after four hours and decided to roam the streets of Toronto instead. Very nice and friendly city by day, not as nice and friendly for four hick country boys in the dead of night. The promotor suggested that we go sleep in a park but we kindly told him to screw off. 

The following night in Hamilton we decided sleep in the cars, now that they were both up and running again, but we quickly learned that in Canada you aren't allowed to sit and sleep behind the steering wheel, even without the keys, if you have had a beer. This resulted in the police forcing us to get a hotel where we got to sleep for two hours before we were off to next town for beer and breakfast. And that's just life on the road.

SFM: After the release of “Phoenix”, Screamer once again returned to North America. If memory serves correctly, I believe this tour was initially meant to be a full North America tour, but was eventually shortened to just Canada. What was the reason for the change in touring plans?

HP: A coast to coast North American tour, starting of with the first weeks in the US with Züül before we continued on our own, was the original plan. We filed our work visas to the states about six months before we were supposed to play our first ever show on US soil, but I guess we didn't start early enough. Bureaucracy got in the way, to make a very long story short.

SFM: Between the two albums, what are your favourite songs to play live? Are there any songs that you don’t like as much as when you first wrote them?

HP: Well, we always play Rock Bottom, Can You Hear Me, Demon Rider, Adrenaline Distractions, and Slavegrinder, they're our absolute favourites. A bunch of the old songs like "I Know", "Rising" and "Never Going Down" are the most often the songs that we never pick for a set. We've tried out "Lady Of The River" a couple times, and that truly is one hell of a funny and a bit out of the ordinary song to perform live.

SFM: Earlier this year, Christoffer Svensson left the band, and although Burning Fire from Night filled in for live dates, you are still looking for a new singer/bassist. What are you looking for in a singer? Are you willing to bring in two new band members, or will the new singer also have to play bass?

HP: Yes, we are in deed still looking for a new singer. Be that one who can handle a bass or not, is not a priority. We're looking for a new voice and someone to front the band, and someone that knows how to use the voice as a dynamic instrument rather than just falsetto squeeling, at the same time we've started to realise that we don't really know ourselves what we're looking for, but one day I guess we will hear someone and just say: " Yep, that's the person we want!" Haha

SFM: What are the band’s plans for the future in terms of touring and a new album?

HP: Well, at the moment our hands are tied and we can't really do anything other than keep on writing new tunes until we've got a full band together. In my opinion, what we've been working on recently is the best we've ever done. 

Hopefully all will sort out and we get to go back on the road before we record our third album.

SFM: It seems like there are a lot of great bands playing traditional heavy metal these days. In addition to the aforementioned Night, there are groups like Enforcer and Stallion, and Toronto has a fantastic scene as well featuring Cauldron, Skull Fist, and others. Why has this style of music seen a boost in popularity over the last few years? Are there any new up and coming bands you want to give a shout out to?

HP: As we've said many times before, we think it could be the search for pure joy of playing, living out your youth rock star dreams, rather than putting together a bunch of technical geniuses that can only play "drkdrkdrkdrkdrkdrkdrk" with palm muted guitars and overly trigged bass drums, but who are we to know. 

If you're in to kickass rocknroll you should definitely check out our pals in Dead Lord, and if you're more into the pure heavy metal sound, then check the crazy drunkards of Ambush!

SFM: Any last words for the fans out there?

HP: Hang in there, we'll be back sooner than you know! Remember to rock hard, ride free, and live without any regrets!

Be sure to check out and like Screamer on Facebook!

Saturday, November 15, 2014

Live Burial – Live Burial

Live Burial has been around for a couple of years, and recently put out a self-titled EP. It should be evident immediately that this group plays death metal, and from the second the first note hits, you’ll know that it is right in line with the more disgusting side of metal. Autopsy appears to be the main influence on this EP, though there are certainly others as well. Live Burial has an incredible ability to combine sludgy, slow riffs with brutally quick headbanging moments. During some of the faster moments (particularly on “Cast Back Into The Fire”) it is difficult to discern if the drummer is doing a standard thrash beat, or a more black metal styled blast beat (where the kick and the snare alternate instead of lining up). The difficulty lies in the fact that things are just so fast it manages to sound like both. In any case, it’s brutal enough to cause some serious neck damage, and that’s always a good thing. By contrast the slower sections are straight from the book of Chris Reifert. At times they are harmonized, while at others they are more simplistic. In either case, they’re always effective, and they allow the bass playing to rise to the front of the mix. Of course, the main focus on this record will be the guitars, and that’s because they’re the definition of buzzsaw. The guitar tone is incredibly sharp and able to cut through pretty much anything. Solos are in high supply, and are a bit less chaotic and more virtuosic than you might expect based on the rest of the music.

One thing Live Burial does quite a bit different from other bands comes from the vocals. Growler Jamie Brown has a really twisted voice. While some may think of the aforementioned Reifert, I found his vocals closer to Oscar Dronjak’s (Ceremonial Oath/Crystal Age). There’s a complete disregard for any sort of standard singing or technique, and instead, the most messed up sounds possible emanate from this man’s throat. He doesn’t really have a guttural approach, and instead goes for higher notes.

The only thing I find holds back Live Burial at times is the songwriting. This is definitely an EP that you need to hear front to back to appreciate best. A lot of death metal bands aren’t big on making individual songs catchy, and this EP definitely does not do that. There are things you’ll recall from a track as you listen to it a second or third time (and beyond), but there isn’t really anything to growl along to, nor much you can remember after finishing listening. Of course, this is something that plagues much of death metal as a whole, so it really doesn’t set Live Burial too far back.

Be sure to check out and like Live Burial on Facebook!

All of it

Final Rating
3.9/5 or 78%. 

Written by Scott

Monday, November 10, 2014

Walpyrgus – Walpyrgus

Walpyrgus is a relatively new heavy metal band from the USA. Although they’ve only been around for a couple of years, they bolster an impressive roster of musicians who have worked with some fantastic bands: Twisted Tower Dire, October 31, and Widow, just to name a few. Their first release is a 4-track EP, and is a release that showcases the band’s great songwriting ability. It is clear that these guys have been around the block in the music industry; they know how to create effective hooks and catchy songs without sacrificing riffs, solos, or grit. The first song on the EP, “Cold Cold Ground” is by far the best example of this. It has classic harmonized guitar leads that everyone should love, incredibly memorable vocal lines, and great pacing. Though the song itself isn’t excessively fast, the guitar work can be quite dazzling at times. The tempo of this song is another testament to the fact that Walpyrgus has some great songwriters. Usually a release will open with an incredibly fast, blazing tune. By contrast, “Cold Cold Ground”, while an upbeat rocker, certainly does not show the band playing their fastest (that would happen on “We Are The Wolves”. Despite this, it is the perfect opener for the EP.

Setting aside the cover song (a solid rendition of Mercyful Fate's “Doomed By The Living Dead”), this release has two more originals. Both of them are quite a bit shorter than the opener, but share many similarities in terms of style. Neither of them quite reaches the heights of “Cold Cold Ground”, but that’s only because that track set the bar high. What plagues this release, as much as I don’t like to say it, is the vocal performance. To be completely fair to Walpyrgus’ singer, he is incredibly talented. He hits every single note that he needs to, the construction of the vocal lines themselves is fantastic, and he doesn’t really do anything wrong. The problem is that his voice just isn’t suited for this style of music. He’s more of a rock singer than a metal one. There’s nothing wrong with that, but for me it’s a struggle for two reasons. The first reason is that his voice just feels out of place. When the vocal lines are incredibly strong (such as on “Cold Cold Ground”) it’s easy to overlook, but at other times it is more difficult. The second difficulty I have with his sound is that I just don’t like many rock singers. This second criticism is down to personal preference, and can’t really be held against him, but it definitely makes me quite divided on an otherwise great release. If vocals are something you can easily overlook (or you just happen to prefer someone more in a rock-vein), “Walpyrgus” is a must listen. Even if you are a bit turned off based on this description, it’s still worth hearing just because of how good the music is.   

Be sure to check out and like Walpyrgus on Facebook!

"Cold Cold Ground"
"We Are The Wolves"

Final Rating
3.8/5 or 76%. 

Written by Scott

Saturday, November 8, 2014

Dead Samaritan – The Devil Tunes

Up until the emergence of Lost Society last year, newer Finnish thrash was almost entirely off my radar. While I had no doubts that the country could pump out great thrash metal, it seemed harder to come by than music from Germany or the UK. Evidently I wasn’t looking in the right places until now because Dead Samaritan has been around for a while. Forming over a decade ago, this Finnish group recently released their second full-length album entitled “The Devil Tunes”. It is a fantastic mix of thrash, death, and black metal. At times, there are even hints of melodeath. Both the thrash and melodeath elements come through primarily in the songwriting and the riffs. There are plenty of furious, headbanging-inducing riffs. Additionally, however, Dead Samaritan knows when to use melody. Opening track “In For The Kill” has a fantastic palm muted riff just over half way through that shows the band’s melodic sensibilities. It isn’t just this track that displays this tendency towards melody though. Quite a few songs have great leads or harmonized sections, such as the intro to “The Madman’s Portrait”. Another example is the guitar solo section in "Darkness Brings The Beast", which sounds like pure classic 80's metal. Additionally, the band is able to keep the music interesting when there isn’t a thrashy riff, which is something a lot of thrash bands struggle with. One instance of this is the chorus of “Out With Your Feet First”, which hits some power chords that ring out, leaving room for the vocals. This section is catchy, and is reminiscent of something Carcass would do on “Heartwork”.

The death and black metal elements come through in the vocal performance of singer Valendis Suomalainen. Her approach is incredibly harsh, leaning slightly more towards black metal than death. Surprisingly, her words are quite understandable. While you won’t pick out everything she says, it is definitely possible to catch most of it with some attentive listening. Her voice is a major differentiating aspect of this record because it takes it in more of a Skeletonwitch vein than a standard thrash band.

It is difficult to be critical towards “The Devil Tunes”. Although the album doesn’t blow me away from a songwriting perspective, it is still a very solid effort. Every track is deserving of its place ands its length. The production works well (ie: the bass is easy to hear, and nothing sounds bad). There’s enough variety throughout the record to keep things interesting (largely due to the injection of melody). Ultimately, this album is a very satisfying experience and will appeal to anyone who digs thrash metal and harsher vocals.

Be sure to check out and like Dead Samaritan on Facebook!

"In For The Kill"
"The Madman's Portrait"
"The Devil's Tune"

Final Rating
4.0/5 or 80%. 

Written by Scott