Italian thrashers – aptly named Thrash Inc. – show off some impressive riffs some ripping speeds in their debut album, Black Tower.
With raw guitars and production, the album kick starts listeners with the title track. Singer/guitarist Paolo Iacono’s vocals feel like as a mix between Death and Pantera stylings, providing both a screeching and gutteral sound among the overall thrashy performance of the band. Nothing is too polished which gives the music an edge for sounding a bit different than a lot of the other modern thrash metal acts out there.
Among the headbanging, No More Lies invites chanting from listeners during the chorus, but ups the ante with fast paced verses and wailing solos. Clever vocal techniques like stuttering add a bit of flair to an already rocking song, and suggests a gentle nod to The Who’s My Generation. Meanwhile, with a mix between mid-tempo and high speed riffs in songs like Lobotomy, showcase a mix of talent and song writing capability among the band.
And still there’s songs like Whisper of Insanity which immediately felt like nod to Kreator’s Terrible Certainty and Regression which feels it’s alluding to Megadeth’s Sweating Bullets – letting the listener know where their loyalties in thrash metal lie.
Despite the thrashing nature, songs like Thor and Back to Hell come in with killer groove and riffs which keep the head banging along with feeling.
Featuring a lot of highs, the album hits a come down with Phobophobia – an instrumental which unfortunately lacks the oomph from the rest of the album. With a mix of different ideas coming together, the song unfortunately doesn’t hold its own when compared to the the album as a whole.
However, No Return and the cleverly-evil Salt Tears with its backwards “secret track” is yet another nod to the history of the genre which Thrash Inc. allude back to with great effect.
An impressive debut from the Italian trio, Thrash Inc.’s Black Tower is a great nod to thrash metal legends who came before while still establishing themselves as worthy to stand alongside them.
Following up from 2017’s semi-autobiographical In the Passing Light of Day, Panther redirects the focus of the band’s music onto the listener: “This album is for you, or someone you know. It is for the restless, the shy, the motormouths, the passionate, the ones who go far beyond the point of reason for what you believe in, the outsiders, the diagnosed, the medicated, the hungry, the sad, the ones walking around daily trying to understand how to fit in with this species, with this era … This is your album.”
The overall theme touches on just that – focusing on mental health and those who are made to feel different in a world that does not understand them. While the lyrics may be the physical understanding, Pain of Salvation manages to make the album sonically reflect those feelings as well.
In first track Accelerator, the intense polyrythms married with the lyrics, “I must be the problem here” add a level of indifference, stress, and confusion for both the listener and the reader – placing both as an observer witnessing someone with mental health issues and not knowing what to do. The musical anomalies brought about by the end of the song continue that reflection.
Moving into a somewhat familiar Pain of Salvation songwriting, Unfuture feels reminiscent of music from Scarsick. The switch in time signatures during the choruses intertwined with the fluctuating singing styles listeners have come to know from singer/songwriter Daniel Gildenlow, comes across almost like an anthem.
And in a complete 180 from Unfuture, Restless Boy sounds like nothing what the band has done before. With vocal encoders and tons of electronics built within to the instrumentation, the song comes across similar to the strange feelings Accelerator tries to portray – but does so in a much sinister, almost intentionally – and intellectually – robotic way.
With Then Wait the album takes another 180 from Restless Boy, bringing about a beautiful, melodic song with gut-wrenching lyrics, asking the listener for understanding and patience. The second-longest song on the album at 7 minutes, the song progresses musically like time – starting with a simple guitar melody and gradually growing into something bigger and more modern-sounding. It climaxes to a haunting and emotionally crushing chorus. While nothing changes lyrically, the progressions within the song build the moment to be much stronger than before for a devastating effect on the listener’s emotions.
Like the rest of the album, songs like Keen to a Fault showcase the brilliance of the band’s progressive music with yet more variations than songs before it. Both music and singing vary greatly, constantly keeping the listener on a wave of sensations. Panther rings electronic similarities to Restless Boy, while Species stands out as yet another separate song on the album which progresses with positivity and hope – almost in an empowering sense.
The final track, Icon, at just over 13 minutes is the longest song on the album and features probably the single most-haunting song Pain of Salvation has ever written. While the song feels like a bit of a drag in the early stages, it builds into a frightening and brutally honest reflection of how the mind works – bookending Panther in the most uncomfortable way – which arguably is what the objective of all the songs on the album have been. After all, the album is for a specific type of listener – the panther, if you will.
Like albums before, Pain of Salvation brings another roller coaster ride of feelings to the fray with Panther. The album is sonic journey with lyrical heart and a message to those who need it. While it may single out those who don’t understand, the inner machinations of Pain of Salvation will keep on ticking without them.
2020 has been one helluva year so far with new releases (not to mention other global issues). We wanted to go back and look at what really impressed us over the past five years – reminding us of easier, pre-COVID times. Given the vast nature of the death metal genre, we wanted to highlight some of what we felt were stand-out releases from 2015-2019. If you feel we missed anything, let us know in the comments below!
Outre-Tomb – Répurgation
HSP Productions, 2015
From Quebec, Canada, Outre-Tomb slam you down in their first track, L’antre de l’horreur and keep the pace up all the way to the end. Crisp production with an old-school vibe, Outre-Tombe’s debut establishes the band as a brutal force to be reckoned with. With incredible tempo-changing tracks like Psychose Toxique and thrash-influenced tunes like Mutation, Répurgation stands out as not only a solid debut but a must-listen to. Their 2018 album, Nécrovortex, should also be looked at (and spun regularly).
Aborted – Retrogore
Century Media, 2016
Seasoned musicians Aborted came out with a refreshing, almost up-beat album in Retrogore. With lyrical content based on the vibes the album cover gives, Retrogore is filled with blast beats, filth, and ripping guitars that makes us want to go back and listen to it again and again. Sven de Caluwé’s vocal versatility gives the impression there’s more than one singer on the album – and truly livens up the music. With its technical prowess and often-catchy hooks, Retrogore is hands-down one of Aborted’s best albums.
Gorguts – Pleiades’ Dust
Season of Mist, 2016
Our second band from Quebec, Gorguts’ follow up from 2013’s Colored Sands is vastly different than anything the band has released before. This 33-minute behemoth speaks about the fall of the House of Wisdom. While both historical and introspective in narrative, the music is beyond outstanding. With ebbs and flows, peaks and falls, each movement in the song speaks for itself. This is also the first album where Gorguts leader Luc Lemay allowed creative input from the rest of the band. The song speaks for itself.
Rude – Remnants…
F.D.A. Rekotz, 2017
The second album from the California death heads, Rude’s Remnants… is a reminder of what got us here regarding death metal in the first place. With production strongly resembling early-Morbid Angel, the songs are fresh and the riffs are heavy. Songs like Blood Sucker and Sanctuary are real bangers, while Fracturing the Gates of Truth really encompasses everything the band has to offer. Their 2014 album Soul Recall may have established the band to many, but it’s with Remnants… that Rude really blew us away.
The more this album is listened to the more there is to take away. Using technology to their advantage, there is always something that feels different on an Artificial Brain album. Bright, clean guitar tones mixed with a treble-laden bass guitar gives the band a truly unique feel. Their dissonant, diminished chords and song structures add a brilliant sense of drama to their music that is rarely encapsulated in the death metal genre. The beautifully sinister chorus from Estranged in Orbit is a testament to that. This is an album you must check out.
Ulthar – Cosmovore
20 Buck Spin, 2018
While we have just reviewed their 2020 release Providence, Ulthar’s debut Cosmovore is really something else. Ulthar manages to merge different genres together seamlessly on Cosmovore. The second track, Solitarian blends both screams and guttural vocals to give a wild impression to the music. The cool pacing of Infinite Cold Distance gives a plethora of different riffs and many crazy moments that absolutely impress. A debut album you definitely do not want to miss.
Augury – Illusive Golden Age
The Artisan Era, 2018
Yet another Quebecois metal band (believe us, the amount of bands from Quebec was unintentional), Augury returned from their nine year hiatus and did not disappoint. Incredibly brutal at times while still operatic during others, Augury provides a little bit of everything in their third album. Ripping scales and tempo changes galore, Augury still remind us on what Atheist would sound like if they upped the ante. With their mechanical prowess as strong as ever, The Illusive Golden Age is a triumph in technical death metal.
Ares Kingdom – By the Light of Their Destruction
Nuclear War Now! Productions, 2019
Intense and thrashing, Ares Kingdom’s fourth album hits the mark with their blazing solos and thudding percussion. It’s a rough sounding album which offers the raw feeling you’d want in a death metal album. The Hydra Void kicks off a brilliant start to the album with the pounding drums on the low toms and double-kick. Burn, Antares (Scorpius Diadem) comes with incredibly catchy riffs, while The Bones of All Men is just a magnificent ride into what death metal has to offer as a genre with its ungodly chugging. Ares Kingdom proves that four albums in, bands can still release their best material (see Aborted – Retrogore).
While Manor of Infinite Forms put them on the map, Planetary Clairvoyance, Tomb Mold’s third album, is just brutally enjoyable. The horror from their previous two albums bleeds into the science-fiction and alien-filled world of this release. The real charm from the band was arguably how simple everything sounds, yet comes together cohesively as a technical achievement. While songs like Beg For Life and Heat Death may only offer a handful of riffs, vocalist/drummer Max Klebanoff keeps things fresh with his variations in percussion. The old school death metal sound with modern production doesn’t get any better than it does with Tomb Mold.
Blood Incantation – Hidden History of the Human Race
Dark Descent, 2019
As most bands honor the legacies of the bands who came before them, Blood Incantation celebrates them. From Death and Gorguts to Pink Floyd and King Crimson – Hidden History of the Human Race comes with a plethora of new ideas and an unfathomably brilliant atmosphere to make an outstanding record to end 2019 with. The band’s thought provoking and technically savvy songs are intense, ambient, and most importantly, heavy as all hell. Unlike many death metal albums, there’s groove and feel that comes with many of the songs, such as the stoner-riffic Inner Paths (to Outer Space). There’s many incredible moments on this album. It’s not only a must-listen, but a must-own.
John Petrucci – Terminal Velocity Sound Mind Music
by Derek J. Smith
With the lockdown of COVID-19, Dream Theater guitarist John Petrucci finally began work following up his 2005 debut solo album, Suspended Animation. In 2020, Terminal Velocity features a bit of everything you’d expect from Petrucci. Surprisingly, however, there’s a lot more throughout the albums various nooks and crannies that makes Terminal Velocity one of the best things John Petrucci has ever produced – including his prior solo effort and most Dream Theater albums. With the title track as an impactful first song on the album, the listener may feel overloaded: “What else is there could Petrucci have to offer? Did I just hear everything he could do?” The other big question asked: “That was just one song – will Petrucci and former bandmate Mike Portnoy recapture the feeling of working together?”
Put it this way: There were no expectations which could prepare you for the incredible song-writing and musicianship encountered on Terminal Velocity.
The technical versatility may feel daunting but is not at all over-stated. Petrucci said he had a lot of time to write this album over the lockdown from COVID and it absolutely shows. Terminal Velocity is not the technical showcase which one would come to expect from Dream Theater albums. Petrucci’s songs feel well-plotted out all the while produced and written with feeling and emotions in mind. While Terminal Velocity feels as if it crams ideas together similar to Devin Townsend’s opening track on his 2019 album Empath – everything works together and establishes tidbits of what the album will be presenting as the listener gets into it.
The familiar intro to The Oddfather is rather tongue-in-cheek and may put a smile on the face of the listener. The Oddfather features so many delicious riffs in the song, making it feel like an early Dream Theater song with styles somewhat mixed in-between Dream Theater albums Awake and Systematic Chaos. Bassist Dave LaRue is simply brilliant, laying foundation across the track and adding a solid level of depth to the song.
Happy Song delivers just what the title suggests – upbeat progressions with bright and cheery lead solos. Meanwhile, Gemini kicks off with heavy riffs and a hefty dirty bass tone from LaRue, reminiscent of heavy grooves from Liquid Tension Experiment. Yet the song continues its various fluxes with Spanish influences-turned-shuffle, and powers through with a wider mix of different genres in its six-minute existence.
Out of the Blue is a nice, mid-paced song which was unexpectedly needed in the middle of the album, giving the listener a breather and soothing them down from the intensity before it. The song does a slow and progressive build up at the end, making the mid-tempo intro riff to the next song, Glass-Eyed Zombies even that more appreciated. In Glass-Eyed Zombies, the gradual build up of from its introduction is a brilliant way to get the listener up to the speed that marked the first half of the album with a ripping solo and chugging thrash metal rhythms.
The bright, almost operatic The Way Things Fall, lets LaRue shine in a handful of moments while still showcasing Petrucci’s solos. Meanwhile, Snake in My Boot portrays a rocking country-metal hybrid anthem we didn’t know we needed.
In the final track, Temple of Circadia, it’s easy to compare to introductions of Dream Theater’s Bridges in the Sky or The Shattered Fortress, yet much like the entirety of the album, there’s lots for the listener to chew over – from the odd time signatures to the intense polyrhythms Portnoy throws upon the song.
Although it definitely feels like a John Petrucci album – and that Mike Portnoy is certainly a big-name draw – there’s a history between these two musicians which cannot be replicated. One can really tell how the two musicians have bonded together. Despite it being over ten years apart from writing music with one another, the melding of their two minds works brilliantly. The emotional impact of two old friends working together is something which literally cannot be replicated if one tried.
The brilliance the two musicians achieve between one another is not hyperbolic if one reminisces of their halcyon days together. Petrucci and Portnoy are musicians who understand one another and are on the same wavelength when it comes to performance and song writing. Terminal Velocity, even unconsciously, comes together as an album celebrating both music and friendship. It may not have been intentional while writing the album, but it certainly feels that way when listening to it.
If we could only get more honest albums like this from musicians, the world of music would most certainly be a better.
Moaning Silence – A Waltz into Darkness Self-release
Into their second release, Moaning Silence’s A Waltz into Darkness features sonic familiarity which creates both a haunting and mournful album for fans of the genre.
Finding commonality with both early-My Dying Bride and Anathema, A Waltz into Darkness brings simple but dark and resonating riffs into their music – all the while, intertwining some melody for added ambiance and tossing in a few surprises along the way.
The opening track, Rite of Decay, builds harmonies with both male and female-led vocals to climax into a withering sound of despair. Listeners who let themselves get wrapped with the music will find themselves unexpectedly headbanging along; with the lyrical rhymes and drum beat by the end as the next song, The Silence of the Gods, keeps pounding the listener across.
Also surprising is how the keyboards feel like the unsung hero of the album: adding a sense of grandiose underneath all of the sadness. In the track Song for Winter, the piano takes lead among the female-driven vocals and bass tones. Especially near the end of the song, the keys act as a beautiful tie in-between both the sorrow singing and metal instrumentation. The keys can be heard again taking the charge in I Am the Sorrow – shining yet again with its ambiance.
Other surprising moments are the intensity of doom which ebbs and flows within different songs. With the ending of Stormbirds, chords become more uplifting than expected and almost pull the listener away from what had came before it. Yet some of the album’s heaviest sounds are shown in the middle of the track The Lights of Alexandria where the bass, keys, and slow-tempo drums create a tense march underneath a emotionally-driven guitar solo.
While the ebbs and flows within the songs work, one of the few drawbacks to the album was when vocal harmonies would occur as female vocals would tend to overshadow the male’s at some points. In some moments the guitars could have had some added oomph to their distortion, while the snare levels would vary from song to song – or sometimes even within the same song. Upon first listen, it felt as if the band was replicating Anathema’s Serenades in terms of production – which it almost does. However, Serenades was released in 1993.
Still, A Waltz into Darkness is a great album with plenty of introspective surprises for the listener along the way. From start to finish, the consistencies of both the song writing and performances keep the listener involved for the entire, brilliantly-gloomy ride.
After a lineup change replaced half of the band, the German symphonic folk metal group Varus return to the scene with their second full-length album, A New Dawn.
Bringing a medley of different instruments and styles to the table, A New Dawn is surrounded by familiarity yet still brings refreshing themes into each song. Throughout the album, each song brings its own set of elements to the table which work as standalone songs – almost showcasing the variety folk metal offers to those unfamiliar to the genre.
Songs like The Minstrels Chant brings about the common chanting/harmonic choruses one would come to expect from the genre. Yet a well-placed flute and guitar solo duel mixed into the middle adds some unexpected flair. The duel is then followed by heavy chugging of both bass and drums to keep the listener headbanging along.
Among the enchanting keyboards and symphonic sounds from Ein Lebewohl, the end of the song brings about a Baroque-style piano performance which both purposefully and eloquently add a subtle touch of a classical performance among the roaring music.
Die Letzte Schenke promotes itself with the stereotypical triumphant beer-drinking motif one would come to expect. Halfway through the death metal growls however, and brutality of the song pulls the listener down a darker path, only to be presented with a organ and guitar solo which surprisingly comes across as natural in the realm of the death metal.
That intensity of the genre continues to shine with the last two tracks: initially easing the listener in with operatic vocals, then pummeling the listener down with the ferocity of both riffage and thumping double kicks. As such, it feels that the album ends with a much more aggressive tone than how it started – and there’s certainly nothing wrong with that.
Despite the wide ranging offerings from each song, the title track is the only one that suffers from stereotypes of the genre. It’s slow paced and generic anthem-like nature feels like it could have been better suited in the middle of the album rather than kicking the album off.
With a wide assortment of different instruments, styles, and offerings for listeners unfamiliar with the genre, Varus’ A New Dawn is an impressive second album with many promising moments to leave the listener craving to hear what the band will have to offer next.