Review: Ulthar – Providence

Ulthar – Providence
20 Buck Spin

After the debut and well-deserved praise of their 2018 release Cosmovore, Providence ups the ante and solidifies Ulthar as a force of brutality to be reckoned with.

Swirling with a healthy mix of blackened death metal, Ulthar doesn’t just stop there: mingling with doom, thrash, and some psychedelic ambiance crafted seamlessly together forms an incredibly devastating album which makes the listener ask, “How can Ulthar think of this stuff?”

The opening song Churn hits the listener with full-force and keeps itself just around two-minutes, establishing the sound and feel of the music Ultar provides. Yet within the mere first moments of the second track, Undying Spear, everything previously listened to is turned on its head as a haunting ambient guitar medley plays before blasting the listener back into the chaos. And is it ever beautiful chaos.

Both vocalists, Steve Peacock and Shelby Lermo trade between two screaming styles which compliment each other well – similar to a call and response from early blues music. The riffage between the two is simply outstanding. The unison between both guitar and bass throughout most songs keeps the sound sharp and subtly emphasizes the complexity of the music. With so many variations in each song, the synchronization of instruments keeps the listener anticipating Ulthar’s next transition in the song or are made to hear the emphasis the musicians want to put on a particular riff. The bass and guitar will subtly rise and fall in the mix when there’s a transition to be listened to. It’s a clever way to make the listener focus on something distinctly.

Naturally, drummer Justin Ennis absolutely pounds the hell out of the kit. Keeping up with the variety of music styles throughout the album, one could assume they had a different drummer on different tracks. In a song like Through Downward Dynasties, the variations and subtle fills from Ennis are outstanding and really elevate an already crushing song.

One of the more noticeable things about the album is its production. Not only does it feel good, but the songs sound great. It’s not under produced like black metal or can be compared to muddy death metal. Nor is the album overly produced like some thrash or death albums. The sound of Providence is still havoc, but smart production makes it both clear and concise. As a result, the listener can appreciate the influences which came before the band while still absorbing something new and fresh from the genre(s).

Ulthar’s Providence is a complete package for anyone into the extreme. Providence comes with weight, brilliant songwriting, and production that should be envied. An absolutely solid second album by the Oakland, California band.

With newly established bands like Spirit Adrift and Tomb Mold, adding Ulthar to the mix, 20 Buck Spin have really solidified themselves as the go-to indie label for guaranteed up and coming bands in the metal scene.

Ulthar on Bandcamp

Review: Havukruunu – Uinuos Syömein Sota

Havukruunu – Uinuos Syömein Sota
Naturmacht Productions

With the release of their third album, the Finnish band Havukruunu prove once again why all eyes are on them on the forefront of pagan black metal.

Blasting right out of the gates, the self titled track feels like it throws everything you’d expect from the genre in one song – but it’s only the beginning. The triumphant melodies and searing guitar tones feel fresh and unique. The riffs are intense and dark, yet they are coloured with triumphant undertones. Enchanting vocal harmonies are intertwined with guitar melodies creating a brilliant, epic feeling.

The wonder of these moments can be heard in songs like Ja Vimein On Yö – where beyond the battery of the percussion, the uplifting darkness is built up during the chorus and then continues throughout. Among the call and response vocals in the song, guitar melodies shape the background and create a powerful ambiance ultimately transitioning into a impressive and moving solo. All of these efforts appear easy and natural but are certainly well thought out to achieve the presented effect.

The percussion intensity continues with Pohjolan Tytär – which is arguably the most straight-forward song on the album. Yet the beating of the drums vary enough, along with the haunting solos, and epic vocal harmonies, to create a wonderfully crafted feat. While the band may often be compared to others in the scene such as Moonsorrow and Mgła, Havukruunu manages to generate a particular feel and soundscape in their music which certainly makes them stand away from such comparisons.

In fact, Havukruunu almost makes themselves uniquely virtuoso with their guitar work. Varying guitar solos midway in the song Vähiin Päivät Käy stand out as some of the most pinnacle moments on the album. Transitions between the different solos are flawless and as the song goes back to its main riff, one cannot help but feel the chills go up their spine.

Meanwhile, the closing track features so much variation, fresh ideas, and feelings which seem somewhat unusual to pagan black metal. Havukruunu bring and transition modern concepts and technology to the genre to create an interesting final piece to the album that almost acts like a cliff hanger for their next release.

The dichotomy between Havukruunu’s pagan roots and modern concepts seam together flawlessly to create an absolute feat of an album. Uinuos Syömein Sota may be not only one of the best black metal releases this year, but one of the best albums released in 2020.

Havukruunu on Bandcamp

Honest Review: Testament – Titans of Creation

Testament – Titans of Creation
Nuclear Blast

Legendary thrash veterans Testament return with their much-anticipated thirteenth studio album, Titans of Creation. Heavy as always, Testament keeps the listener’s pulse pounding with yet another album to add to their extensive repertoire.

Blasting right out of the gates with Children of the Next Level, Testament keeps up with heavy chugging riffs and double kick gallops – calling for the listener to get the hell out of the way. Following, the seemingly tired thrash metal topic of World War III still feels fresh when Testament sings about it. With WW III, the riffs are intense and feel like they were written in the early days of the band. It is easily one of the best songs on the album.

While WW III is one of the best, Dream Deceiver is definitely one of the catchiest songs, with its sing-along chorus and an Alex Skolnick solo screaming with both melody and strength. It flows into the next song, Night of the Watch – my favourite song on the album – for its dark chorus and brutally battering verses.

It’s until after Night of the Watch where the album sort of loses some steam. City of Angels and what feels like a Megadeth-Sweating-Bullets-inspired song, Ishtars Gate, leave much to be desired from the already impressive set of songs that came before.

The intense False Prophets, the thrashing Code of Hammurabi, and the devastating Curse of Osiris offer nice reprieves, but the listener is at the end of the album at that point. Trying to win the listener back after being pulled away from the aggression is a difficult chore. While Testament almost makes it happen, the removal of one or two tedious songs would probably eliminate the issue.

That being said, the songs from Titans of Creation are still ever-powerful from Testament. However, as a whole they’re a bit of a jumble. With a strong start and solid finish, the lackluster middle could be forgiven since the band offers a near-hour of continuous headbanging.

While there’s nothing truly new or mind-blowing on the album from previous Testament records, Titans of Creation is still a solid release from the California thrash legends.

Uncanny Metal Score: 7/10

Testament on Nuclear Blast

Review: Fellwarden – Wreathed in Mourncloud

Project Renegade – Order of the Minus
Eisenwald Tonschmiede

Almost in an intrinsic way, Fellwarden drops some of the heaviest atmospheric black/folk metal one could ask for in 2020. With their second album, Wreathed in Mourncloud, Fellwarden has stepped up to the plate and released an incredibly powerful and moving album.

There’s a simplistic beauty within Fellwarden’s scope: it all feels natural. Wreathed in Mourncloud is not overwhelmingly produced, however it does not skimp out. The opening track, Pathmaker, establishes the tone for the rest of the album. The vocals sit in the background with the wall of sound wrapping around your ears. The choruses are melodic and both rise and fall with grace. If anything, there’s a familiarity with how the songs are structured; it’s as if I’ve heard catches and hooks before and they’re surrounded with something I’ve previously experienced. Some moments are almost stereotypical where one can predict how the song is going to go, yet it does so with such grace that it doesn’t really matter.

The songs on the album feels to be a mix between Panopticon and Borknagar but such comparisons really do not give them justice.

Moments such as the moody bass tones near the end of Scafell’s Blight stand out as interesting breathing moments to an intense soundscape. The chorus of the title track is another stand out moment where waves of feelings are brought to an already pulse-pounding track.

The natural sounds from the recordings certainly shine through the entire album and feels like they come to a worthy climax in the final track, Upon Stone. It was as if the whole album built for it. Upon Stone’s final few minutes feels like an old friend saying goodbye for the last time.

Some of the more interesting decisions on the album were how some of the vocal harmonies were recorded. As mentioned, the vocals at times felt tucked away in behind the music. There’s nothing intrinsically wrong with it – however there’s a small handful of moments I felt the drums could have taken a step back to let the harmonies shine. Yet, for black metal, the bass guitar chimes in when necessary and falls back when appropriate. It’s still a wonderful and smart mix.

Passionate, intense, brutal, and with a ton of heart, Fellwarden’s Wreathed in Mourncloud is an outstanding album that delivers on every level.

Fellwarden on Bandcamp

Review: Project Renegade – Order of the Minus

Project Renegade – Order of the Minus
Self-release

Out of Athens, Greece comes Project Renegade – a four-piece metal band which borrows from various genres and blends them into a cohesive sound. Released in the latter part of 2019, their first album, Order of the Minus, brings a mix of electronic, industrial, symphonic, and ambient elements to cement a pretty solid debut.

Order of the Minus opens with the electronic and ambient elements in The Big Boss then envelops the listener with one of their singles off of the album, Liber8. Vocalist, Maria Ioanna Florou, flourishes with a welcomed level of harmonies. The back and forth between samples in the song and Marianna’s singing balances well and feels natural. The feat in the first song continues throughout the rest of the album which surprisingly doesn’t begin to feel repetitive. There’s something going on there.

The album features some incredibly uplifting choruses which could almost confuse the band with power metal. Yet Project Renegade is anything but that. Both rock and heavy metal powers through each song and rarely gives the listener any down time. While songs like Sylar may showcase more restrictive guitar riffing from guitarist Nick K., it’s moments in songs like it which let both the guitar and electronic tones shine through – reminiscent of something off newer Evergrey albums.

Songs like The New Joker or the bridge in the song The Strain, offer some great variation within the album, showcasing drummer Odey and bassist Jay away from the vocals and guitar tones. That’s not to say there’s too much vocals and guitar. In fact, the mix of the album, given how electronic-like it began, does blend extremely well.

Nothing on Order of the Minus feels overproduced or exhaustive. The levels and balancing act in the mix are darn-near perfect. After a few spins, I still struggled to come across any faults with their sound.

If there was anything that came as a surprise to me was the flow of intensity from transitional songs: The Big Boss and A Demon Has Escaped the Triangle. Both transitions featured builds that I felt ended with a whimper. I had expected them to blow right into the next song with full force, but I felt they ended up taking the wind out of the sails. They’re not bad transitional songs – I just felt they didn’t transition well which is surprising given how well every song transitioned into the next, like The Strain into Respirator, or The New Joker into In Another Life.

That being said, the final and longest song, Black Mountain, features some of the coolest effects and transitions in the album. The slow, symphonic and harmonic build, “in search of a harmony,” finds itself as one of the strongest songs, ending the album on a high note.

With an extremely solid debut, Project Renegade’s Order of the Minus brings together a lot of varying musical styles together which can appeal to various listeners across multiple genres. Order of the Minus is a welcome surprise.

Project Renegade on Bandcamp

Review: Black Sun Omega – The Sum of All Fears

Black Sun Ωmega – The Sum of All Fears
Self-release

Released in December of 2019, Black Sun Ωmega’s debut album, The Sum of All Fears, is old-school thrash metal in a new age.

Mixing both thrash and death elements, Black Sun Ωmega crushes the listener with speedy riffs, pounding percussion, and dirty, raspy vocals.

Songs like Flowing Hate keep your head pounding for a near-six minutes. Hefty riffing and pull offs from both guitar and bass make for an incredible, pulse-pounding good time. Down My Sight is devastating right from the get-go. Like it, most songs evoke the listener to chant along, raise their fists, and run around. If an album can make the listener want to get moving like this one does – mission accomplished.

As for the mix, while I’m never expecting newer Overkill or Testament levels of production with a band’s debut album, The Sum of All Fears feels like a cross between Venom’s vocal styling and early-Voivod recordings, leaving a bit to be desired. As a baseline, the album does feel underground, but not as polished as thrash albums from underground bands like Power Trip, for whatever that’s worth.

However, Black Sun Ωmega’s songs rip. Hard. Ground of God, Arena of Souls, and World’s Demise stand out as what I feel to be the most powerful tracks – especially with World’s Demise guitar solo absolutely slaying. The musicianship is incredible and it certainly shines with each song – there was clear thought and care put into the written songs.

An incredible debut from this Greek band, Black Sun Ωmega’s debut The Sum of All Fears is something worth waking up in the morning to as it will kick your ass into high gear.

With a bit more polish in the back end, I can see these guys making waves.

Black Sun Ωmega on Bandcamp