Tuesday, October 21, 2014

Obituary – Inked In Blood

Obituary is absolutely legendary in the death metal scene. While nothing they’ve done in the last 20 years has ever quite competed with their first two records, you can always count on them for a reliable, caveman-esque death metal record. Their sound is bludgeoning, barbaric, and ultimately a lot of fun. “Inked In Blood” is the band’s first record in 5 years, and it wastes no time assaulting you with brutality. Less than a second into the first track, John Tardy’s demented and twisted vocals enter. He sounds as good as ever, and age is actually making him stronger. His voice is a bit higher than it used to be, and this makes his unintelligible growls even more entertaining, as there’s a bit more variety and absurdity to them. Although the opener, “Centuries of Lies” leans on Tardy a bit too much, the rest of the record does a great job of mixing instrumental parts in more evenly.

One complaint that occasionally is rallied against Obituary is that they’re too plodding, and don’t inject enough speed into their music. This album likely won’t change anyone’s mind in that regard, but it is certainly one of their faster and more brutal records. With that said, I think the more mid-paced moments are really Obituary’s bread and butter, as they’re heavy beyond belief. This brutality is aided by the production. As one would guess, the guitars and bass are a consistent rhythmic rumbling, but where this album’s sound really shines is in the drumming of Donald Tardy. His drums sound decidedly old school. The snare in particular has a fantastic crack to it. It makes each hit powerful, and it still works regardless of whether this is happening at Slayer speeds or at Sabbath tempos. This quality tone applies to his whole kit, and is most noticeable on a track like “Pain Inside”, where Tardy #2 delivers all sorts of fills and a wicked section with plenty of ride cymbal abuse.

If I were to fault this album anywhere, it would be in the songwriting. Most of the record is pretty strong, and some songs even manage to be catchy, but there are a lot of tracks here. By the time the album reaches the last couple of tracks, it feels like it has already run its course. To be fair to the band, if you’re buying this album (and you should), you probably aren’t tired of Obituary’s sound yet, so a couple more tracks is all the better. In any case, this album continues to solidify the band’s legacy as a reliable group that is still putting out worthwhile music. “Inked In Blood” more than does justice to the great name of Obituary!

Be sure to check out and like Obituary on Facebook!

Highlights
"Pain Inside"
"Visions In My Head"
"Inked In Blood"

Final Rating
4.0/5 or 80%. 

Written by Scott

Saturday, October 18, 2014

Mindwars – The Enemy Within

If the name didn’t give it away, Mindwars is the new band featuring former Holy Terror guitarist Mike Alvord. The general consensus on Holy Terror in the thrash community seems split. On the one hand, I have come across a staggering number of people who proclaim Holy Terror is the best thrash band of all time; on the other, many such as myself enjoy the music but do not think they stood above the crowd in the 80’s. With that said, despite hints of Holy Terror in their music, Mindwars is definitely a separate entity. Their debut “The Enemy Within” is a more diverse offering of thrash, as it brings in influences from outside the subgenre.

Punk is definitely the first influence that comes to mind. Alvord, who is also the singer, has a huge Uncle Slam/Suicidal Tendencies vibe going on with his voice. He is a really talented singer, but is limited mostly to the sound of the aforementioned bands vocally. This vocal approach is not particularly popular in thrash these days, and that makes “The Enemy Within” a refreshing change from many other thrashers. The music somewhat parallels those bands (Uncle Slam particularly). Although things definitely get fast, they are never at speeds that are out of control, nor are they excessively heavy. This might sound like a negative thing, but it’s really a positive element to Mindwars’ music. The lack of obsession over speed means that the band can focus on songwriting, and there are a few gems in here. “Death Comes Twice”, “Final Battle”, and “Chaos” are all relatively strong cuts that focus on catchy vocal melodies, fun riffs, and lots of headbanging. “Final Battle” in particular has a great pounding rhythm to it. Other times though, they go in a different direction. “Masters of War”, for example, also is quite rhythmic, but it spends a lot of time plodding as it builds to a more interesting section.

One element of “The Enemy Within” that is fantastic is the production. It is decidedly old school. It’s a bit more laidback in its approach, but still manages to sound great. The sound leaves a lot of room for the bass and drums to breathe, and these band members capitalize on this. The fills are really accented because of how lifelike and non-mechanical the drums are. One section where it all comes together perfectly to display the production’s merits is in the guitar solo section of “Chaos”. The solo is shredding and Alvord has a great tone, but the drums are monstrous as well, leaving plenty of room for Alvord to do his thing.

On the whole, “The Enemy Within” is a pretty solid record. Despite its 2014 release, this album is more likely to appeal to those fans seeking old-school sounding thrash. The Holy Terror connection seems more in name than sound, but fans of Holy Terror should still check this album out. Again, this album is most recommended to fans of Uncle Slam because every time I listen to “The Enemy Within”, I get huge vibes of “Say Uncle”. This is still a unique record in its own right, but that is definitely the closest comparison.

Be sure to check out and like Mindwars on Facebook!

Highlights
"Death Comes Twice"
"Final Battle"
"Chaos"

Final Rating
3.8/5 or 76%. 

Written by Scott

Wednesday, October 15, 2014

Exodus – Blood In Blood Out

After a long, long wait, the new Exodus record has finally arrived. Since the band’s last full-length album, things have changed quite a bit. Band leader Gary Holt has been pulling double duty as he tours with both Exodus and Slayer (often times simultaneously), and just earlier this year, frontman Rob Dukes was left behind in favour of returning vocalist Zetro. While most Exodus fans could likely write an entire book about their thoughts on Dukes (either positive or negative; I fall somewhat in both camps), the band is moving on without him. “Blood In Blood Out” is definitely not “Tempo of the Damned Part II”, but it definitely does bring back some thoughts of that album, primarily because of Zetro rather than the songwriting.

To be fair to Exodus, they have not compromised their sound for a second since returning in 2004. But they have progressed. “The Atrocity Exhibition – Exhibit A” showed a move to longer, more epic and progressive song structures. “Exhibit B: The Human Condition” still retained a couple of lengthier tunes, but in general, it cut down the individual song lengths while favouring faster, punchier tracks. In this respect, “Blood In Blood Out” is a continuation of the last record, only with Zetro on vocals. This aggression is most noticeable on the opening two tracks; after a short intro from Dan The Automator (whoever that is!), Exodus starts thrashing and rarely stops. Although there are slower moments (such as the groovy “Salt The Wound” or the more melodic and epic “My Last Nerve"), “Blood In Blood Out” features a lot of speed. As the album continues on, it continually gets increasingly impressive how Gary Holt (who wrote 9 of the 11 tracks) spits out riffs like rapid fire. As the record nears the one-hour mark, you might be expecting the band to get a bit tired, but even the very last track, “Food For The Worms”, thrashes absurdly hard. In fact, this song has the most pummeling and insane riff that an Exodus album has seen since “Deathamphetamine”.

As was just mentioned, this album is long. Many Exodus fans have made it clear that the recent records are far too lengthy, and Gary has made it equally clear that he has no intention of changing things up, but the good news is that this album is definitely better in its playing time than recent efforts. For one thing, “Blood In Blood Out” is about 10 minutes shorter than each of The Atrocity Exhibitions. This makes a huge difference in terms of holding the listener’s interest, and makes the album quite manageable to get through in one sitting. The other reason why this record’s length isn’t a complete detriment is because Gary and other guitarist Lee Altus (who wrote the other two tracks) really stepped up the songwriting. There is not a single weak track on the record, nor a moment of boredom. It isn’t particularly clear which element caused Exodus’ reinvigoration (Zetro’s return, Gary touring with Slayer, or having 4 years to write and record the album), but it is clear that this is Exodus’ strongest effort in the last decade.

One thing that continually astounds me about both Exodus and “Blood In Blood Out” is just how much better the riffs are than 99% of other thrash bands. Longtime readers of this ‘zine are well aware of many Exodus clones there are out there, to the point where I often use the term “Exoclone” or “Exoriff” because so many bands ape this sound. Despite how many times it feels like I’ve heard an Exodus-styled riff, when written by the master himself, Gary Holt, they are much more original sounding, and of much higher quality. In fact, the only riff on this album that sounds a bit repetitive given the band’s back catalogue is the main riff from “Salt The Wound”. Nevertheless, Zetro’s fantastic delivery of the lyrics and even the guest guitar solo from Kirk Hammett prop this track up quite a bit.

At this point, it is worth discussing Zetro’s re-appearance in Exodus. Although his voice always has his classic sound to it, there’s no doubt he’s turned up the aggression considerably since the 80’s. In projects like Tenet, he screams his lungs out, but in both Exodus and Hatriot, he manages to vary up his vocals as much as possible. This shows both his melodic side and his hostile approach. His anger comes through well in a track like “Numb”, which gives an apathetic view of the world. Though Dukes was also quite harsh in his delivery, this is something only Zetro could really pull off. Another highlight of Zetro’s is the title track, where he spits out words at a mile a minute, all with the intent of creating a thrashing beast that cannot be tamed. When combined with Gary’s always-brutal riffs, the end result is one of the best tracks on the record.

From a production standpoint, “Blood In Blood Out” sounds quite similar to the last few records. Bassist Jack Gibson is definitely more prominent than he’s been in the past (though he’s always been easy to hear), but things are the same otherwise. The guitars have the heaviest crunch known to man, while the drums are thunderous and crashing. The mix is perfect, with nobody getting lost. Even amidst all of the mayhem and noise that this record puts forth, all band members are easy to hear and giving their full effort. 

Although four years is a bit long for a new album, it was well worth the wait. “Blood In Blood Out” is by far the most inspired Exodus record since Zetro left the band. It is possible to find flaws with this record, but you’d have to look pretty hard. As someone who loves thrash and can never get enough of it, this album is everything I could want and more. If listening to “Bonded By Blood” at home still sends you into a 1-person mosh pit, “Blood In Blood Out” is going to have you tearing through your whole house!

Be sure to check out and like Exodus on Facebook!

Highlights
"Black 13"
"Blood In Blood Out"
"Salt The Wound"
"Wrapped In The Arms of Rage"
"Food For The Worms"

Final Rating
4.75/5 or 95%. 

Written by Scott

Tuesday, October 14, 2014

Ancient Dome – Cosmic Gateway To Infinity

Ancient Dome plays thrash metal and hails from the new capital of thrash: Italy. These guys are actually one of the longer standing and more prolific Italian thrash groups. They’ve been around since 2000, and “Cosmic Gateway To Infinity” marks their third full-length record. As the title and album art give away, Ancient Dome take a different thematic approach than many of their peers. This album is based around interstellar travel and other similar topics. While many would expect this lyrical direction means more technical music, Ancient Dome takes a different approach. The music is no more or less technical than the standard thrash affair; however, it is somewhat more melodic. On “Cosmic Gateway To Infinity”, the use of melody comes more from the vocals than the guitars (though the guitars are not absent of melody either). Singer Jerry De Feo manages to inject plenty of singing alongside his thrash grunt. This is most obvious in the chorus of the opener, “N.I.F. (New Interstellar Force)”, but is relatively prominent throughout most of the record, and is particularly noticeable in many of the choruses.

As the album continues on, it becomes clear that Ancient Dome truly does have a bit more experience than their peers. They manage to avoid many of the pitfalls of thrash, while providing their own unique sound. Although this album is fast, it never reaches absurd speeds, and the fact that this record still manages to be quite enjoyable in spite of its speed and melody is a testament to songwriting talents of the members of Ancient Dome. The song structures occasionally seem a bit dense, but that’s all the more reason to keep listening to the record to discover new layers to each track. The only one that will be immediately memorable upon first listen is the aforementioned "N.I.F. (New Interstellar Force)", but none of the songs are bad. From a production standpoint, everything is up to par. The mixing sounds good, and though the bass isn’t the most prominent, it isn’t impossible to hear. There isn’t too much more that needs to be said about “Cosmic Gateway To Infinity” because it’s a really solid release. The band manages to sound unique within the confines of a relatively restricted subgenre of metal, and although this album doesn’t necessarily stack up with the greats, it is a worthy listen for any major fans of thrash. 

Be sure to check out and like Ancient Dome on Facebook!

Highlights
"N.I.F. (New Interstellar Force)"
"A Sea of Stars"
"Cosmic Gateway to Infinity"

Final Rating
4.0/5 or 80%. 

Written by Scott

Saturday, October 11, 2014

Tormenter – Prophetic Deceiver

The last couple of years have not been kind to thrash metal. While there have been some great releases, it appears the onslaught of thrash bands are either disappearing, slowing down, or just getting worse. With the exception of Hatchet’s “Dawn of the End”, there hasn’t been a release in the last couple of years that brought me back to 2008 when I heard Gama Bomb, Bonded By Blood, and Evile for the first time. Until now, that is. Tormenter is a band that has been around for a while, and while their prior work was definitely quite good, their new album, “Prophetic Deceiver”, is propelling them to the thrash metal elite. This album brings together all of the elements that make a fantastic thrash record: impressive individual performances, variety, and most importantly, memorable songwriting. Although what Tormenter does is not fundamentally different from many other thrash bands, they add enough of their own personality to make this record unique.

One of many highlights begins with the opener, “Snakes In The Throne Room”, which shows the band’s melodic sensibility. Tormenter uses harmonized guitars effectively, showing great homage to the New Wave of British Heavy Metal. Alongside these leads are plenty of guitar solos (none of which relent in any way), and a chorus that is absurdly brutal, showing the drummer’s ability to pound away with double bass. “Snakes In The Throne Room” sets the stage for the rest of the album, as similar themes are prominent on every other track. Tormenter is not afraid to show an ear for melody, and it is the perfect contrast for their aggressive vocalist, Carlos Rodelo. Although his voice is certainly not as unique as those from the bands mentioned above, he takes a bit of a death metal approach, while still staying firmly planted in thrash, not unlike John Kevill from Warbringer.

As the album goes on, it is filled with highlights. The title track manages to be quite catchy, as screams of “Prophetic Deceiver” will be running through your head for hours. The track features a tribute to “Holy Wars…The Punishment Due” with a clean guitar section quite similar to Marty Friedman’s from that song. The short interlude track, “C.P.R”, is fantastic in that it really isn’t all that different from the rest of the album. It’s pretty shreddy, and shows the band’s talent well. The second half of the album is no different from the first, and also features some of the best tracks.

One element of the album that does need discussion is the production. I’m somewhat split on it. On the one hand, the drums and bass sound great. Every single fill is enhanced by how good the drums sound, and the bass is noticeable all throughout the record. The lead guitars are likewise pushed to the forefront. Perhaps most surprisingly for thrash is that the rhythm guitars are too quiet. All throughout the album, it feels like the rhythm guitars are fighting to be heard, and that is unfortunate given how good many of these riffs are. It is most noticeable about 25 seconds into “Sacrilege” where there is a buildup with the guitars playing a riff, and the bass and drums accenting it. Every time the rhythm section comes in, it is considerably louder than the guitars they complement. This problem is certainly not anything that ruins the album, and it is only a slight complaint on an otherwise stellar release. Even in spite of this issue, “Prophetic Deceiver” is easily one of the most inspired thrash albums I’ve heard in a while. For all those feeling a bit disappointed with a lot of thrash coming out these days, “Prophetic Deceiver” is the answer to all of your problems!

Be sure to check out and like Tormenter on Facebook!

Highlights
"Snakes In The Throne Room"
"Prophetic Deceiver"
"The Final Form"
"Cosmic Collapse"

Final Rating
4.6/5 or 92%. 

Written by Scott

Wednesday, October 8, 2014

Old Thunder – Slings & Arrows

Old Thunder is a one-person doom metal project grounded in the US. Mainman Dustin Grooms plays every single instrument and does vocals on the band’s debut EP “Slings & Arrows”. Irrespective of anyone’s thoughts on the quality of this release, that fact alone is always impressive. The good news is that fans of doom metal have absolutely no reason to question the quality of this release. The four full tracks on “Slings & Arrows” are competently played, and sound relatively up to par with much of the subgenre’s slower bands. I emphasize slow because, at times, Old Thunder is just too slow. The first full track, “June 2, 1910”, opens with some huge ringing chords, and drums underneath that sound like an eternal struggle to hit the beat (this isn’t a comment on Grooms’ ability to stay in time, but rather the sluggish pace at which the track moves along). After about a minute and a half of this, things speed up considerably, and this is where I’d consider the EP to be at its best. Although one could hardly consider this sound doom, whenever things are speedier and more energetic, the EP flourishes. This aggression is aided by Grooms’ superb growls. He leans in a bit of a black metal direction; his voice is raspy, but not particularly shrieky. Even when the music becomes slower again (thankfully not as snail-like as before), Grooms continues his hostile assault.

There is one area where it becomes difficult to appreciate Old Thunder’s sound, even for doom fans. On “June 2, 1910”, there is a clean guitar interlude about halfway through. The interlude itself starts off promising, and the guitar work is definitely very melancholic, but relaxing (a re-occurring feeling on this EP, particularly noticeable on "Serpent Sovereign"). Yet where this section fails is with Grooms’ clean vocals. He abandons metal altogether with his singing, and his voice is so far outside the realm of metal that I don’t even have a good comparison to give. When his harsh vocals return (in a fantastic transition, I might add) the song becomes enjoyable again, but this is just one section that should have never occurred. Interestingly, "Rainroom" also has some singing, but it is much better on this song, and similar to something that Insomnium would do.

Of course, there are 3 other tracks on this EP that exceed 4 minutes, but “June 2, 1910” was the most worthy of discussion simply because it covers the ground that the rest of the EP does as well. Thankfully melodic singing is used sparingly, but melody itself does return often. “Rainroom”, for example, features some fantastic harmonized leads. Their appearance alone makes the song a highlight, and they are relatively pervasive throughout the track. “Sinking” is a somewhat more plodding song, though it conjures an enjoyable atmosphere. At times it uses a quieter melodic lines that complement the tortured screams of Grooms, while at others, it chugs with riffs and mid-paced drumming to create a trance. 

In the end, “Slings & Arrows” is a relatively solid piece of doom. With its one flaw aside (that lasts no more than a couple of minutes), it manages to deliver a variety of interesting riffs while mixing up the tempo. Although it is not entirely the most memorable release, it is still a worthwhile listen.  

Be sure to check out and like Old Thunder on Facebook!

Highlight
"Rainroom"

Final Rating
3.5/5 or 70%. 

Written by Scott