Sunday, December 14, 2014

Phantasmal – The Reaper’s Forge

Phantasmal is an American blackened thrash metal band whose first demo just came out in late 2014. On “The Reaper’s Forge”, the band shows incredible attention to detail in terms of what makes this style of music so great. Sure, at its core, the demo is filled with relatively standard early Destruction and Witchtrap sounding riffs, but the release also shows some unique elements. Even the opening of the title track, for example, shows homage to the NWOBHM with its harmonized guitars. Though this section does not last long, and is something seen very minimally on the demo, it shows how Phantasmal is willing to spice up its sound a little bit by doing something different. The song later goes on to tastefully incorporate blast beats in a way that wouldn’t alienate anyone stuck in the 80s before blast beats became commonplace. Additionally, on “Queen Nightshade”, Phantasmal’s singer throws in an awesome high-pitched shriek. Again, this is the only place you’ll hear this on the demo, but it works magnificently.

Of course, the majority of this demo is witching black/thrash the way it was meant to sound. The riffs are pretty simplistic, but they’re energetic and exciting. Even on “The Eternal Campaign”, where the tempo is occasionally more plodding, these riffs manage to be enticing. The vocal approach on this demo doesn’t throw in many surprises. The singer is understandable, and throws some pretty disgusting venom into his bark. From a production standpoint, “The Reaper’s Forge” hits the mark perfectly. It isn’t crystal clear production, but nobody is fighting to be heard against one another, and everything is easy to understand. For this style of music, there is no better way to go about it.

On the whole, “The Reaper’s Forge” is a very satisfying release. The only real complaint you can hold against it is that it’s too short. Nevertheless, it is clear that Phantasmal is a band to watch, as they will almost assuredly blow everyone away with any future work. The key to their sound is an excellent execution of black/thrash with hints of other outside influences to keep things interesting. For that reason, “The Reaper’s Forge” is highly recommended to all thrash fans.

Be sure to check out and like Phantasmal on Facebook!

Highlight
"Queen Nightshade"

Final Rating
4.4/5 or 88%. 

Written by Scott

Thursday, December 11, 2014

At The Gates – At War With Reality

I might be the last person to on the At The Gates bandwagon. The band has a fantastic reputation behind them, and many other groups have made fantastic careers of borrowing from At The Gates’ riffs. Unfortunately, even more bands have had better careers by misusing these riffs (looking at you, metalcore). For that reason, I’ve always been hesitant to check the band out, but given that they finally put out a new record, it seemed like a good time to start listening to them. After two minutes of listening to this album, it became clear that I made a mistake to wait so long.

After a short intro, “Death and the Labyrinth” kicks off with one of the most potent riffs imaginable. Surprisingly, it’s more in the colder black metal vein (ie: Dissection). This is a recurring theme on the album. While not all of the riffs are necessarily black metal, many of them make excellent use of dissonance in order to create a feeling of despair. This adds an element of depth beyond bludgeoning brutality. Of course, At The Gates provides that as well. Some of these riffs are incredibly heavy, and the band occasionally pays great homage to the old-school Swedish death metal scene that they were bred in. The fact that the band is able to seamlessly switch between several different styles of riffs makes the album flow incredibly well. It also prevents the songs from blending into each other. Additionally, because all of the songs (other than the last one) are so short, nothing overstays its welcome. Each song simply provides a crushing, gut-wrenching experience, and then the band moves onto the next track.

As with many metal albums, the highlights on this record prove to be the songs with the most memorable and enjoyable riffs. The aforementioned “Death and the Labyrinth” is the best example, but the title track, “The Head of the Hydra”, and “The Night Eternal” rank up there as well. Beyond the great riffs, At The Gates also makes plentiful use of guitar solos, and while they are not necessarily as virtuosic as some of their peers’ guitar shredding, they fit the songs perfectly. They add to the feeling of hopeless despair that some of these riffs create, and ultimately create something very intense. On “At War With Reality” it immediately becomes clear that At The Gates are not only the primary influence for this entire style of melodic death metal, but also among the best bands to ever play it. If this record is any indication of the quality of their older material, it’s about time I get on investigating that as well!

Be sure to check out and like At The Gates on Facebook!

Highlights
"Death and the Labyrinth"
"At War With Reality"
"The Head of the Hydra"

Final Rating
4.2/5 or 84%. 

Written by Scott

Wednesday, December 10, 2014

Panikk – Unbearable Conditions

One thrash metal scene that has received little discussion is the one in Slovenia. Alongside Eruption, another relatively new group is Panikk. Their debut record, “Unbearable Conditions”, was first released in 2013, but is seeing a re-release in late 2014 through the always-reliable Xtreem Music. Even before you hear this record, it has already hit most of the thrash clichés. They’ve even misspelled their name with a “K”. So it is no surprise then, that the music follows suit. This is thrash metal in the vein of the more standard Bay Area groups (Exodus, Testament). From the opening riff of “Panic Attack” to the final note of the title track, you are assaulted by a barrage of riffs. Unfortunately most of these riffs tend to be pretty predictable, but that doesn’t mean they aren’t good. One thing Panikk does really well that a lot of other riff-heavy bands could benefit from is switching up the tempos and riff styles. A lot of bands go for extreme speed for 40 minutes without slowing down, whereas Panikk has some heavier riffs that have some groove to them (think of groove as a Vio-lence or Exodus style groove, rather than a Pantera one).

Aside from the riffs, Panikk provide all of the other elements that make thrash great. There are plenty of shredding solos that leave every face melted. In addition, Panikk makes heavy use of gang vocals. They appear all throughout the album, and aren’t just relegated to the choruses of songs. The lead vocals likewise consist primarily of shouting, without too much variation in tone. As you might imagine, the songwriting tends to be pretty similar throughout. After a couple of listens, it becomes clear that “Panic Attack” and “Messiah of Decay” are a cut above the rest of the songs, but after even more listens, it can still be difficult to discern amongst the other tracks. This isn’t a major problem though. It seems songwriting is secondary in most thrash bands, and while that is also the case for Panikk, they thrash hard enough to overlook it for the duration of the record. The band will occasionally throw in something unique, such as the strange melodies on "Away From Reality", but for the most part, expect a solid thrashing force on this record. Ultimately, this album is well worth checking out.

Be sure to check out and like Panikk on Facebook!

Highlights
"Panic Attack"
"Messiah of Decay"

Final Rating
3.75/5 or 75%. 

Written by Scott

Monday, December 1, 2014

Repulsor – Trapped In A Nightmare

Trapped In A Nightmare” is the first EP from Polish thrashing force Repulsor. Originally released in 2013, this EP was re-released the following year by Thrashing Madness Production. At just over 20 minutes, this release is a succinct burst of energy that is sure to impress. The most immediately noticeable thing about this EP is the incredible punishment that the rhythm section delivers. From start to finish, there is rarely a slow moment, as the band thrashes with severe ferocity. The average speed on this album is well in excess of what many thrash bands are doing (though admittedly it doesn’t reach Fastkill levels of absurdity). Repulsor’s tenacity is delivered through a fantastic sound. The rhythm guitars are crunchy and thick sounding, and the drums likewise provide a shot of adrenaline, with the unending crack of the snare.

Though one might imagine this aggression could lead to something relatively monotonous, Repulsor knows how to write a catchy tune as well. The shouting of “Toxic Tomorrow” proves to be memorable, and is an excellent start to the EP. Though nothing quite as infectious as this song follows, the band’s enthusiasm for thrash really shines through with their stunning ability to carve out riff after riff with no sacrifice in quality. “To The Coven” shows the band at their most technical, as the main riff in this track puts together some unique, unexpected rhythms. “Stained Heritage” offers yet another pummeling experience, and the opening riff on this song is definitely the most impressive on the record. Additionally, the short acoustic instrumental “The Summoning” provides a break amidst the madness. Sure, it’s cliché to include a song like this, but it still proves effective.

When the band isn’t delivering a neck-snapping riff, it’s likely that there is a guitar solo occurring. In general, the solos tend to be as unrelenting as the rest of the music, though a track like “To The Coven” shows a slight deviation from this approach as it has the occasional bluesy lick. Though the band incorporates many guitar solos throughout this EP, they never feel like the main focus. Instead, their purpose is to provide a break from the onslaught of riffs, as well as the vocals. The vocal approach on this record is relatively standard for thrash: mostly grunting and yelling. As the band is from Poland, Repulsor’s singer no doubt has an accent, though it is closer in style to a German thrash band than an Italian one, to give an easy frame of reference. Ultimately however, this singer has a bit of his own unique sound, which is definitely one thing that many newer thrash bands lack. On the whole, “Trapped In A Nightmare” is an inspired release that is dominated by great performances, impressive songwriting, and most importantly, savage riffs.

Be sure to check out and like Repulsor on Facebook!

Highlights
"Toxic Tomorrow"
"Stained Heritage"

Final Rating
4.4/5 or 88%. 

Written by Scott

Saturday, November 29, 2014

Alkoholizer – Free Beer… Surf’s Up

As if it weren’t already hard enough to stand out in the modern thrash metal scene, Italy is making things even more difficult. There are simply so many bands out there at this point that it’s difficult to attract any special attention, particularly when everyone sounds like Exodus. Fortunately for Punishment 18 Records recruits Alkoholizer, they’ve been around for a while, and already have a full-length album to their name prior to the release of “Free Beer… Surf’s Up”. As you may have deduced already, this new album is like much of what you’ve already heard from the Italian thrash scene: good (albeit generic) riffs, quick shouting with an accent, and lots of speed. Alkoholizer also makes plentiful use of gang vocals, to the point where it sometimes feels like there are more gang vocals than lead vocals (see “The Hogmosh – Nozno Strikes Back!!!” for an example).

The band’s approach to lyricism and fun is reminiscent of fellow countrymen Hyades. There are songs about skating and drinking, and tracks with an unnecessary number of exclamation points. Unfortunately the songs themselves do nothing to stand out. Sure, there are some really cool things about this album (the occasional high-pitched scream, absolutely shredding guitars, etc.), but they’re only good for as long as the album lasts. The only thing especially memorable about this album is – true to the track’s name – “Surfin’ Beer”, which features some surf rock melodies through heavily distorted guitars.

From a production standpoint, everything is up to par. The mix is good (even the bass), and the drums and guitars both sound heavy without being overbearing. The album leans more towards a modern, full sound rather than something deliberately poor sounding. Riffs are in no short supply, and the buzz of the guitars makes them that much better. Much like the vocals, there is simply such an assault of riffs that it becomes hard to differentiate one from the next. This is both good and bad; on the one hand, you get a record where you’ll find a new riff every time you listen to it. On the other hand, the flurry of riffs makes it impossible to remember any of them, particularly as there isn’t one that stands above the others.

In summary, this album is exactly what it looks like: a relentless thrashing record from a band whose heart lies with the Bay Area scene. If you’re still looking for more of this stuff, by all means check out Alkoholizer. As someone who has heard enough of this sound for a lifetime, this is an album I probably won’t reach for too often.

Be sure to check out and like Alkoholizer on Facebook!

Highlights
All of it.

Final Rating
3.5/5 or 70%. 

Written by Scott

Monday, November 24, 2014

Blind Spite – Extinction Event

Blind Spite hails from the UK and plays some extreme black/death metal. Despite the only having a couple of EPs and a few demos under their belt, this group has actually been around since the mid/late 1990’s. “Extinction Event” is their newest release, and is over 20 minutes of extreme metal madness. No time is wasted on the title track as you are immediately hit with a barrage of blast beats, screams, and noise. Thankfully it isn’t long before the drumming becomes a bit more varied, and you know not to expect 20 straight minutes of blasting. One comparison that came to mind is modern-day Belphegor; they aren’t exactly the same, but both bands overwhelm with brutality (Blind Spite doesn’t quite take the atmospheric approach that Belphegor does though).

The mix on this release appears to favour the drumming over all else. Both the vocals and the guitars are audible, but are in a constant battle with the snare and bass drums in order to be heard. As you might imagine, the bass is almost impossible to hear. Part of the problem here is the inherent nature of this style: the guitars are so downtuned that the low frequencies fight each other. On “Doubt”, where there are plenty of sections consisting of higher guitar notes, the guitars are more audible (granted, they are occasionally played without the drums in the background here, but they are still quite a bit louder than the rest of the time). This song is actually pretty cool as it has a bit of a doomy feel to it for a good portion of the track. It also has a riff where the second half of the riff is just straight downpicking, and it is reminiscent of some of the thrash greats. This is probably the best riff on the EP, but that’s likely more of a reflection for my preference for thrash to other styles of music. This song builds to a maddening combination of twisted vocals over top of a wild guitar solo that brings the sheer absurdity of the music to a climax.

Overall, “Extinction Event” is a pretty competent release. Everything is played well, and despite my complaints about the production, it actually doesn’t sound that bad. The songwriting is more memorable than your average black/death affair, which is a major compliment considering the struggles this style occasionally has with songwriting. If this style of extreme metal appeals to you, you don’t want to miss out on this EP.

Be sure to check out and like Blind Spite on Facebook!

Highlight
"Doubt"

Final Rating
3.7/5 or 74%. 

Written by Scott