December 2019 Rapid Fires

Saturday, 18th January 2020

The year that was 2019 is now in the books, left in its wake countless best-of lists that pointed curious listeners in the right direction. To our eyes and ears, it is simply astounding the volume of releases that emerge with each passing year. There virtually no way to cover them all, but, we, like other reliable ‘zines try our hardest. Up for debate in our last Rapid Fires to cover 2019 is Benighted in Sodom, Blosse, Blossom Death, Burning Witches, Crystal Eyes, Exploring Songbird, Helldown, Koburg, Praying Mantis, Sonus Mortis, Vorna (pictured), and The Windmill.


Benighted in Sodom – Carrier of Poison Apples (I, Voidhanger)
The creation of Reuben Christopher Jordan (he of Ævangelist fame), Benighted in Sodom is the sort of warts-and-all, wrist-slashing type of dark metal that can either send listeners running to the hills or, draw them in with unfettered honesty. Either way, Benighted in Sodom whirls around the Bethlehem/Lifelover periphery, drawing out those sad, sad melodies, just without the obscenely tortured vocals. It’s a largely compelling piece of work, save for the fact Jordan doesn’t go harsh BM vocal route — his monotone delivery is enough to convey his unwavering despair. – David E. Gehlke (Benighted in Sodom Facebook)


Blosse – Nocturne (De Tenebrarum Principio)
Respected in the farthest reaches of the black metal underground, the French-Canadian black metal scene continually produces bands of value. While it does not appear the scene is going to have its next-level moment ala Cascadian black metal circa 2013-2014, it has a deep bench, including Quebec’s Blosse. On their third full-length Nocturne, main (and sole) dude Noctis combines the typical elements of French-Canadian BM with an ambient twist. The abyss awaits. – David E. Gehlke (Blosse Bandcamp)


Blossom Death – Mistaken (Sleaszy Rider Records)
A Greek quintet that describe their style as Southern Gothic Metal, Blossom Death on this three-song EP Mistaken blend together European gothic / groove influences with solid American mechanics and modern aspects. The focus of the riffs, dual male/female vocal melodies, and additional embellishments to build out these songs allows the title track to resonate for Paradise Lost/Theatre of Tragedy fans, while the follow-up “All That I Want” contains more of a southern C.O.C. meets 90’s-period Metallica atmosphere. At only twelve-minutes and change, Blossom Death whet your appetite for more – ideal for a newer band hoping to climb the ranks. – Matt Coe (Blossom Death on Facebook)


Burning Witches – Wings of Steel (Nuclear Blast)
Introducing new singer Laura Guldemond to the fold, Burning Witches release this EP containing the new studio title track and three live performances from this past summer’s Wacken festival. A vicious, speedy Priest-like riff charge and equally captivating vocal performance for “Wings of Steel” alerts the troops that even with a lineup shift, it will not deter these ladies from keeping the flame alive for heavy metal faith and strength in numbers. Choosing to showcase three songs live from the Hexenhammer record, it’s evident that the songs hold up well in a live environment, soaring melodies, catchy guitar riffs and harmonies, plus solid rhythm section mechanics bringing “Open Your Mind” and the title track to audience fervor. 2020 could be the year of a bigger breakthrough for these Burning Witches. – Matt Coe (Burning Witches on Facebook)


Crystal Eyes – Starbourne Traveler (Massacre Records)
Five years after their last studio album, Sweden’s Crystal Eyes return with a power metal vengeance on their eighth full-length Starbourne Traveler. Between vocalist/guitarist Mikael Dahl’s impressive Teutonic-edged voice and screams plus the plethora of engaging guitar melodies and harmonies, it’s obvious the steadfast temples of the genre come to light. Check out the thunderous Riot-like opener “Gods of Disorder”, Running Wild-esque follow-up “Side by Side” and cultural gallop-oriented “Into the Fire” for three of many highlights. This material rocks, pounds, and satiates in a way that older fans demand, while hopefully catching the ear of the second and third generation of power metal followers. If you love Gamma Ray, Iron Maiden, and the already mentioned Riot/ Running Wild, this is a no-brainer pick-up. – Matt Coe (Crystal Eyes official website)


Exploring Birdsong – That Thing With Feathers (Long Branch Records)
Fully indulging that itch for some gentle, melancholic material a la Anathema or the softer side of Anneke van Giersbergen, Exploring Birdsong have an elegant and emotive sound to their version of prog. It’s also worth noting that it is entirely piano-driven, so don’t expect a wall of guitars to hit you in the face. Lynsey Ward has the pipes to really bring this to the next level, completely taking the reins when necessary. But the instruments behind her give it that rich, poignant set-up that the concept (based on the Seamus Heaney poem Bye Child) needs. Sit back and reflect upon the music, and at the same time, wonder why more people aren’t talking about this act. – Kyle McGinn (Exploring Birdsong on Facebook)


Helldown – In Deaths Hand (Self-Released)
Jonesing for some straight-up thrash? Spry upstarts (In Deaths Hand is their second EP) are here to answer the call of ’80s-inspired thrash. Four tracks that essentially just go for the gusto, there’s definitely some Slayer nods to behold (see “Flames of Heresy”) but Helldown does bring an army of riffs with them. So while the territory feels pretty tried and true, there’s still quite a bit of energy to dig into. Plus, it’s simply a blast to crank up the volume and move right along with it. Can’t go wrong if you are into this sort of thing! – Kyle McGinn (Helldown on Facebook)


Koburg – Position of Power (Self-Released)
Symphonic/gothic act Koburg seems to straddle the rock/metal line pretty hard. Some of it has a more radio-friendly vibe to it (such as the HIM-ish feeling “We Could Be Angels”), particularly with the ear-pleasing vocals of Koburg herself. But some heavier sounding tracks, like “As Darkness Falls,” wrap a more symphonic vibe into it and couples nicely with the brass rock mentality. Only thing that really seems to hold it back is a bit of production, which never really brings out the guitars as much as this scribe would like to hear, which as is feels a little bit flat. Disappointing considering how catchy the rest of it feels. – Kyle McGinn (Koburg on Facebook)


Praying Mantis – Keep It Alive (Frontiers Music)
From their 2018 Frontiers Rock Festival V appearance in Milan, Italy, Praying Mantis issue their live performance on this brand-new live CD/DVD Keep it Alive. Intertwining material from their latest studio offering Gravity as well as some of their classics, this is another NWOBHM act that still shine bright thanks to their catalog and consistency. Songs from their 1981 Time Tells No Lies debut like “Panic in the Streets” and “Children of the Earth” stand up just as well for their AOR-tinged vocal melodies/keyboards against a straight-ahead metal platform, while newer tracks like “Keep It Alive” and “Mantis Anthem” possess that rich harmony-driven rhythm base, the Troy brothers Chris and Tino cranking out the songs and an integral part of the lineup since their 1974 start. An hour-long journey into melodic heavy metal that appeals to the older generation while teaching those young ones a thing or two about the roots of this movement. – Matt Coe (Praying Mantis official website)


Sonus Mortis – Hold This Mortal Coil (Self-Released)
Four years removed from Hail the Tragedies of Man, symphonic black/death outfit Sonus Mortis has triumphantly returned. The strengths of said album are here and well, as well as some further expansions of their sound. The title track brings in a fair number of gothic vibes that feel like a welcome addition, and a few extended tracks provide some added depth and progression without becoming overly complicated. There’s massive diversity to take in, and Sonus Mortis do an excellent job of layering in a bounty of discoveries from beginning to end. Equal parts gorgeous, melancholic, and brutal. – Kyle McGinn (Sonus Mortis on Facebook)


Vorna – Sateet palata saavat (Lifeforce)
About every box is checked here for true, dyed-in-the-wool Finnish melancholic metal: Moody keyboard motifs, forlorn melodies, harsh vocals and a suffocating atmosphere. Vorna ticks ’em all off on their third full-length, Sateet palata saavat, a sometimes overwrought, but mostly satisfying effort. Their willingness to stick to vocals in their language tongue is also commendable…it gives the entire thing even more weight. – David E. Gehlke (Vorna Facebook)


The Windmill – Dance of Fire and Freedom (Self-Released)
Citing influences such as Amorphis, Korpiklaani, and Insomnium, it doesn’t take too long to figure out what type of style The Windmill is going for. Folk/melodic death metal is the name of the game, with all of the folk-y instrumental trimmings you could imagine. It’s got that woodsy frolic to it with some tracks (“Nadchodzi Burza”), and a solid layer of melodeath riffing keeps it afloat. It’s enjoyable but it doesn’t offer much that can’t be found with many releases in the genre. The band would be wise to bring in a few more varied influences to broaden their spectrum if they wish to gain a stronger foothold in the scene. – Kyle McGinn (The Windmill on Facebook)