February 2015 Rapid Fires

Monday, 2nd March 2015

It wouldn’t seem that a few days would make such a big deal, but it always seems like February just flies by. So, likewise, here we are with yet another serving of 15 short cuts featuring some winners, losers, and some that fall in between. This month we examine Axemaster, Call of the Void, Cowards, Dawn of Eternity, Death Karma, Ergot, Eternal Solstice (pictured above), Jacobs Moor, Manifest, Porta Nigra, Ruthless, Savage Machine, Soto, The Dead, and The Wolf Council.

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Axemaster – Overture to Madness (Pure Steel Records)
Plugging away in the power metal scene for 30 years could be admirable or insane – depending on the viewpoint of said band. For Kent, Ohio’s Axemaster and their third studio album Overture to Madness, they continue to plod along in a pedestrian old school manner through 13 songs – devoid of standout hooks or even exemplary lead breaks. Guitarist Joe Sims flurry of notes against the gang vocal chants for “Thirty Pieces of Silver” are quite comical, and main vocalist Geoff McGraw sounds better suited for possibly Molly Hatchet over melodic power metal. Proof that a cool logo and equally intoxicating cover art does not equate to stellar songs once you unwrap the package. – Matt Coe (Axemaster official website)

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Call of the Void – Ageless (Relapse)
Call of the Void’s latest album features crusty, d-beat hardcore/grind with a shade of black metal for fans of bands like Trap Them, Nails, and even Converge. While aggression and violent riffage seems to be the name of the game here, the one gaping flaw is that flat production. The energy is there, but it just feels a bit muffled when listening to the guitars. This is an album that could easily ooze venom with the proper production, but Ageless ends up falling a bit short because of it. If you can move past the production, Call of the Void do have something going well here. – Kyle McGinn (Call of the Void on Facebook)

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Cowards – Rise to Infamy (Throatruiner Records)
There’s something about the combination of sludge, black metal, and hardcore over the recent years that have made it a success-filled slurry. Cowards sophomore effort Rise to Infamy offers everything that the genre mashup can allow for. Meaning chunky and cesspool-ridden riffs, caustic vocals, and plenty of noise. Cowards also succeed in developing an overall gritty atmosphere that also feels a bit creepy at the same time. This is best evidenced by the band’s jumps from slower, sludge to faster and more chaotic hardcore driven moments, like in “Never to Shine.” All in all, some filth worth rolling around in. – Kyle McGinn (Cowards on Facebook)

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Dawn of Eternity – Guilty (NRT Records)
Dawn of Eternity play a gothic-tinged take on melodic death metal. The standard issue harsh growls/female vocal approach plays out here, with not much separating the band from the rest of the pack. Unfortunately Sara Seubert’s vocals come off as being a bit too upfront and dominating in the mix. The most unfortunate part about this release is that’s there is really nothing spectacular to comment on. There’s nothing really bad about it, but it’s just a middle of the road offering that may find some appeal for those digging it out, but is an album seemingly destined for the cut-out bin. – Kyle McGinn (Dawn of Eternity on Facebook)

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Death Karma – The History of Death & Burial (Iron Bonehead)
With songs covering different countries’ cultures in regards to death, Death Karma offers a unique approach to blackened death metal, which features some members of Cult of Fire. The band does have a good feel for mixing an older black metal approach with some subtle symphonic effects to enhance the flavor without making it seem overdone. The only fault is that the 6-7 minute songs could use some added variation to keep them flowing more smoothly, but the potentially intriguing approach to the subject matter keeps it in the worthy category, particularly for those that enjoy Cult of Fire. – Kyle McGinn (Iron Bonehead on Facebook)

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Ergot – Victims of Our Same Dreams (De Tenebrarum Principio)
A band dedicated to recreating the vaunted, but played-out sounds of late 90s black metal, Italy’s Ergot may fail to roll out the blustery, huffy and puffy keyboards, but they do properly stick to a lot of the sound’s principles on Victims of Our Same Dreams. Because of this, a vast portion of the songs here have some latitude, particularly “The Despair of the Rotting Christ” (surely they aren’t referring to the band Rotting Christ, right?) and “The Stolen Year,” two songs that uphold the melancholic and wind-swept view their Norwegian counterparts of old popularized two decades ago. Hard to believe we’re counting up to two decades on this stuff now, but Ergot is a rightful torchbearer for black metal’s hallowed past. – David E. Gehlke (Ergot on Facebook)

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Eternal Solstice – Remnants of Immortality (Dark Descent)
Old-school is really the only way to go for a band like Holland’s Eternal Solstice, who draw a straight line to the early 90s masterworks of Incantation, Death, and Asphyx. Not much in terms of technical forays, with the band (a three-piece!) keeping matters largely chunky and uncomplicated, something that helps out the Slayer-fearing “Ritual Prey,” and Death circa 1988-inspired “Encroaching Horde.” Because Remnants of Immortality displays such a nice balance between the fields of classic death metal and…classic doom metal, there’s ample allotments of heaviness, especially on the bruising “Bleed for Me,” and closer “Subconscious Burial Ground.” Dark Descent, who have made a name for themselves with their procurement of some of the best new death metal talent, have another winner with Eternal Solstice. – David E. Gehlke (Eternal Solstice on Facebook)

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Jacobs Moor – All That Starts (Bleedingstar Records)
A nuanced, modern, but rather progressive outfit from Australia, Jacobs Moor retain a lot of the qualities that made acts such as Brainstorm/Symphorce and Nevermore such winners. The band’s All That Starts debut adeptly straddles the line between the two aforementioned fields (modern and progressive), yet never dips into djent or “hip metal” territory. Rather, the band has some serious balls and variation, as found on excellent opener “Between the Lies,” or the multi-faceted “Final Sound,” a tune with a myriad of tempo changes and high-wire instrumentation. Any way one takes these lads, Jacobs Moor are off to an impressive start with All That Starts. – David E. Gehlke (Jacobs Moor on Facebook)

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Manifest – …And for This We Should be Damned? (ViciSolum Productions)
With hints of everything from The Haunted and Pantera to Napalm Death and Crowbar, there’s a hodgepodge of influences that creep their way out of Manifest’s latest album …And for This We Should be Damned. For the most part, this is a groove-ridden affair which keeps the emphasis on the mid-tempo and is full of snarled vocals. However, clean vocals sneak in and feel almost too gothic for the surrounding music (see “The Cadaver on Your Mental Doorstep”). But the melodies work and for the most part it’s a memorable offering, particularly when the band decides to pick the speed up a bit, like on “Justified Means.” – Kyle McGinn (Manifest official website)

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Porta Nigra – Kaiserschnitt (Debemur Morti Productions)
Can do weird, absolutely. Porta Nigra are certainly of that variety, a dark/black metal outfit with a flair for extraneous elements that make the band’s avant-garde range quite appealing. On Kaiserchnitt, the Germans take on a nihilistic tone, with all nine tracks being sung in the band’s native tongue. Just by the cadence and industrious music going on, Porta Nigra is able to present an album far off from the beaten path, with frothy numbers like “Die Munsur,” the grim/dirty “Femme Fatale,” or the spoken-word “Mata Hari,” each having a tumultuous, left-field approach that is quite engaging. Certainly not a venture everyone can take, Kaiserschnitt is another artistic venture into territories most bands wouldn’t graze. – David E. Gehlke (Porta Nigra on Facebook)

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Ruthless – They Live (Pure Steel Records)
Straight forward 80’s oriented power metal here from California’s Ruthless, their second album They Live is their first in almost 30 years. Reuniting after a two decade hiatus, the 9 songs in the main should delight those into Jag Panzer, early Liege Lord, and even underground legends like Cities. Only vocalist Sammy DeJohn and guitarist Kenny McGee remain from those early days – but this quintet is old school to the bone, as “Defender” and the guitar harmony heavy “Time Waits” make me relish the denim back patches, ice fog, and high pitched, mountain top melodies. Tacking on their 1984 Metal without Mercy EP as bonus material and now having Dark Angel’s Jim Durkin on second guitar could sway a few more consumers beyond European territories their way. – Matt Coe (Ruthless official website)

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Savage Machine – Through the Iron Forest (Self Released)
Originating in 2010 under the less than ideal Momentum, this Danish heavy metal quintet rebrand themselves as Savage Machine in 2014 – releasing this six song EP as their new launching pad. Mid-tempo rhythms and catchy choruses appear to be the order of the day on “Iron Forest” and the early Queensrÿche-ish “The Easy Way Out”. Singer Troels Rasmussen has a multi-octave ease and leather lungs (check out the killer screams and control on the 6:37 closer “The Final March”) that resemble Blessing in Disguise period Mike Howe during Metal Church’s late 80’s popularity. Musically in line with Iron Maiden and Accept, Through the Iron Forest has the hooks and riffs to lead the metal legions to battle triumphantly. – Matt Coe (Savage Machine official website)

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Soto – Inside the Vertigo (earMusic)
Powerhouse vocalist Jeff Scott Soto (ex-Yngwie, Axel Rudi Pell) starts a new band with a mixture of young musicians from Europe, South America and his familiar US shores for the 12 song Inside the Vertigo. Traversing known power metal lines on “Final Say” or the mystical, double bass fueled “Wrath”, there is a definite modern/aggressive vibe on most of these tracks that takes “The Fall” or the slightly commercial “When I’m Older” into Marilyn Manson meets Shinedown lines. Complementary guest support in the performance/songwriting side from Gus G and Casey Grillo notwithstanding, I doubt the older crowd will dig most of Soto’s contemporary outlook for this record. You can’t deny JSS still runs rings around vocalists half his age, I just wish the vehicle would showcase his more traditional leanings. – Matt Coe (Soto official website)

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The Dead – Deathsteps to Oblivion (Transcending Obscurity)
Yet another reason to take a trip down under, Australia’s The Dead play an innovative blend of doom, death, and sludge on their long awaiting return with Deathsteps to Oblivion. The slow, plodding pace of the band may not suit all, but their lack of speed is made up for in sheer heaviness. One of the strongest aspects of the album is how the crawling pace leads to some very strong melodies that never feel out of place and keep the otherwise minimalist nature of the songs in check. It’s so methodical that you may even get thrown off by the opening blasts of “The God Behind” before the band settles into their comforting lurch. Only those looking for a slow death need apply. – Kyle McGinn (The Dead on Facebook)

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The Wolf Council – The Wolf Council (Static Tension Recordings)
Three-dude, sludgy stoner metal…not really the most promising of prospects. Hailing from Minnesota, The Wolf Council parlay the ingrained styles of classic-era Sleep, Kylesa, and every other no-face sludge band into a relatively flat outing on this, their self-titled effort. Not surprisingly, there’s a lot of beefy, but purpose-less riffs, the type that have been put through the ringer by countless other greater (or equal) bands. There’s a few moments the band is able to squeak out, like the steamrolling “Send Help for the Rest,” or the fluid leads on “All That Was Yours,” but in essence, this is beginner’s sludge 101. Not exactly inspiring stuff… – David E. Gehlke (The Wolf Council on Facebook)