Archive for September, 2019

Album of the Week 39-2019: Hatriot – From Days Unto Darkness

Will Hatriot ever lose the stigma of being the hobby band Steve ‘Zetro’ Souza from Exodus and his sons had? Time will have to tell, but if their third album ‘From Days Unto Darkness’ proves anything, it would be that the band is every bit as viable without Zetro. Hatriot’s riffs are better and have more of a bite than those of the average retro thrash band and as a whole, the album is a tad more consistent than sophomore record ‘Dawn Of The New Centurion’. It might just be the best thrash metal album of the year thus far.

Those critical of the band have always complained about the fact that Hatriot sounds exactly like modern Exodus. ‘From Days Unto Darkness’ will do nothing to change those people’s minds. Bassist Cody Souza took over the vocal position and manages to sound almost exactly like his father – save for the occasional growl or hardcore bark – and Kosta Varvatakis’ riffs still sound like Gary Holt on a Destruction binge. The question is whether that is a problem. Somehow, Hatriot does contemporary Exodus better than Exodus themselves. ‘From Days Unto Darkness’ is more engaging and consistent than any recent release of their elders.

If there is anything Hatriot deserves all the praise they can get for, it is the fact that they take the admittedly limited parameters of thrash metal and truly make the most out of it. The time feel changes in a track like ‘Organic Remains’ keep it from being locked in strict categories like “the groovy song” or “the brutal track”, instead opting for highly dynamic thrash songs that manage to stay engaging despite the constant onslaught of aggressive riffs going on. Varvatakis is quite creative in his riffs as well. Naturally, there is always a bit of low E-string chugging, but he is quite playful with the notes between those chugs.

Creating an interesting 50+ minute thrash album is not an easy feat, but Hatriot succeeds seemingly effortlessly. Standout tracks are hard to find due to the consistently high level of the record, but ‘Ethereal Nightmare’ definitely stole my heart immediately with the eerie guitar harmonies in its intro and the whirlwind of semi-technical, almost Forbidden-esque riffs that follows. Those craving a more brutal approach to thrash metal will probably be delighted by the likes of ‘Delete’ and ‘World, Flesh & Devil’. ‘One Less Hell’ is an excellent introductory track, while tracks like ‘Frankenstein Must Be Destroyed’ and ‘Daze Into Darkness’ pummel your ear drums relentlessly.

Hatriot is no longer Zetro’s band, but ‘From Days Unto Darkness’ proves that has very little effect on the band’s sound. Sure, the lyrics aren’t quite as clever this time around, but chances are you won’t even be paying attention to them until a couple of listens in. As long as Varvatakis keeps on writing these killer riffs, Hatriot is easily the best thing modern American thrash has to offer since the first two Bonded By Blood albums. The highly versatile drumming of Nick Souza is the band’s secret weapon and Juan Urteaga’s production adds both punch and sharpness to the guitars. If you like bands that sound like the ones mentioned in this review, ‘From Days Unto Darkness’ is a must-hear.

Recommended tracks: ‘Ethereal Nightmare’, ‘Organic Remains’, ‘World, Flesh & Devil’

Album of the Week 38-2019: Tankard – One Foot In The Grave

When one looks beyond Tankard’s reputation as that punky thrash metal band with all the drinking anthems, a wealth of interesting material can be found. The band has always tried to strike a balance between alcohol-related content and socially aware lyrics. ‘One Foot In The Grave’ has a strong focus on the latter. And while the lyrics here are hardly the most nuanced or cleverly written observations of social wrongdoings, the atmosphere is more serious than one might expect from Tankard. And more importantly: the subject matter has apparently inspired one of their most consistent sets of songs to date.

Overall, ‘One Foot In The Grave’ has a somewhat melancholic atmosphere that really makes the album stand out in Tankard’s discography. Even the lone beer song (‘Secret Order 1516’) is a rather ambitious epic rather than the party vibe that the band is known for. The presence of guitarist Andreas Gutjahr makes such an approach possible, as his more melodic background has enriched Tankard’s traditional teutonic thrash sound with an almost melodeath feel in the riffing department, but the band as a whole never sounded as confidently melodic as on ‘One Foot In The Grave’, all the while retaining their aggressvie intensity.

The first thing that stands out about ‘One Foot In The Grave’ is how memorable the songs are. Tankard always had a handful of tracks with replay value on their records, but the ones that were not often had a tendency to blend together. This time, every track has a recognizable hook or – more often – a riff that will refuse to leave your head. There are some cool traditional thrashers, such as ‘Don’t Bullshit Us!’ and closing track ‘Sole Grinder’, but overall, the greater degree of dynamics really does wonders for the flow ‘One Foot In The Grave’ has.

Among the other tracks, ‘Syrian Nightmare’ is a highlight. The lyrics, written from the perspective of a Syrian boy, are actually surprisingly sensitive, but what is more important is that the music is really good. More intense than the lyrical idea might suggest, the triplet rhythms keep pushing the song forward, while Gutjahr adds some tasteful lead guitar parts here and there. The preceding title track is the best example of the album’s melodic sadness and has a bunch of fantastic guitar harmonies. ‘Northern Crown (Lament Of The Undead King)’ is a true gem as well, finding middle ground between Tankard thrash and epic heavy metal quite marvellously.

For those who would like to hear more of the melodic thrash that Tankard occasionally impressed with on albums like ‘The Beauty And The Beer’ or ‘A Girl Named Cerveza’, ‘One Foot In The Grave’ is likely the ultimate Tankard album thus far. Don’t get me wrong, the elements that make Tankard the band they are can be found all over the album, right down to Andreas ‘Gerre’ Geremia’s aggressive vocals, which have been left almost untouched by time. There are just more of those melodic touches that make latter day Tankard superior to their classic material for me on ‘One Foot in The Grave’. I hope they will continue this approach on the next album.

Recommended tracks: ‘Northern Crown (Lament Of The Undead King)’, ‘Syrian Nightmare’, ‘Secret Order 1516’, ‘One Foot In The Grave’

Album of the Week 37-2019: Capilla Ardiente – The Siege

Not too long ago, in a review about Capilla Ardiente’s debut album ‘Bravery, Truth And The Endless Darkness’, I voiced the hope that the sophomore album the Chilean doomsters were working on at the time would be as good. ‘The Siege’ is now available and it is good. Very good even. The band continues its epic doom metal sound with slight hints of doom/death riffing for extra despair, though the latter are slightly less pronounced than on its predecessor. ‘The Siege’ really elevates Capilla Ardiente above their status as promising, making them quite possibly the greatest doom metal band currently in existence.

As a whole, ‘The Siege’ has a slightly more epic heavy metal vibe than ‘Bravery, Truth And The Endless Darkness’, though never so much that one would confuse them with Procession, the other band of bassist Claudio Botarro Neira and singer Felipe Plaza Kutzbach. The overall tempo feels slightly higher as well, although there are still plenty of riffs that are close to dirge-like tempos. Not unlike the debut, Botarro Neira’s multi-faceted compositions steal the show here. And that is quite an achievement, considering that Plaza Kutzbach’s passionate, mournful and powerful vocal delivery is once again highly impressive.

Botarro Neira’s compositions kind of feel like multi-part suites with a greater deal of coherence than is usual with those kinds of compositions. Despite all the dynamics and – relatively subtle – tempo changes, the parts of all the songs feel like they belong together in one track rather than being haphazardly thrown together. And because of that, a song like thirteen plus minute opener ‘The Open Arms, The Open Wounds’ can move through several atmospheres and tempos without sounding disjointed. It is slightly more riff-driven and less reliant on atmosphere than previous opener ‘Nothing Here For Me’, but every bit as good.

Those who have heard ‘Bravery, Truth And The Endless Darkness’ know what to expect. There are some small surprises, such as the almost gothic-sounding bass and vocals only section right before the finale of ‘The Crimson Fortress’, and the excellent guitar solos courtesy of Julio Bórquez, including an acoustic one near the end of closing track ‘Fallen Alphas And Rising Omega’. There are a lot of twin guitar harmonies this time around, the beginning of the album’s most traditional doom metal-sounding track ‘The Spell Of Concealment’ in particular is loaded with them.

Keeping things interesting throughout four tracks that are all over nine and a half minutes is not an easy task. Many bands in the genre just resort to endlessly repeating a bunch of crushing riffs, but Capilla Ardiente obviously is not content with doing that. As I was hoping, ‘The Siege’ is another record full of great doom riffs, excellent melodies and the odd virtuosic moment by either Bórquez or Botarro Neira. And let’s not forget that voice! The production is slightly less explosive than on ‘Bravery, Truth And The Endless Darkness’, but you hardly notice that after the second playthrough. I could not recommend this more.

Recommended tracks: ‘The Crimson Fortress’, ‘Fallen Alphas And Rising Omega’

Album of the Week 36-2019: Sodom – Epitome Of Torture

Sometimes, good albums slip through the cracks for reasons beyond my comprehension. Despite getting Sodom’s fourteenth album ‘Epitome Of Torture’ around its release date, as I was quite fond of the four albums that preceded it, all I remembered about it all those years later was Tom Angelripper’s mispronunciation of “epitome”. A recent spin of the record was enough proof that it’s actually really good. Probably not the perfect album for those who prefer Sodom at their most primitive, but those who like a refreshing spin on the intensity of thrash metal should like ‘Epitome Of Torture’.

‘Epitome Of Torture’ was the first album Sodom recorded with drummer Markus ‘Makka’ Freiwald. Personally, I was quite fond of his predecessor Bobby Schottkowski, who also recorded the masterpiece ‘The Dying Race’ with Crows, also featuring guitarist Bernd ‘Bernemann’ Kost. Since Freiwald also plays with the hideously underrated progressive thrashers Despair, however, he was perfect for the more refined direction Sodom would take on ‘Epitome Of Torture’. Not unlike ‘In War And Pieces’ before it, ‘Epitome Of Torture’ is as brutal as one would expect Sodom to be, but the arrangements are smarter and the songs take some surprising twists.

Those fearing that Sodom had watered down their sound should not worry. The blunt force of the war machine seen on the album cover can still be heard in songs like the mounstrously heavy title track and the absolutely lethal ‘Stigmatized’. It just is not the only thing Sodom is after on the album. For instance, the hardcore-infused groove monster ‘Cannibal’ sounds unlike anything the Germans ever attemtped before. ‘Invocating The Demons’ and ‘Into The Skies Of War’ subtly flirt with some melody, which gives them a somewhat haunting quality. Closing track ‘Tracing The Victim’ and ‘Katjuscha’ are more “openly” melodic.

Sometimes the changes are more subtle. ‘Shoot Today – Kill Tomorrow’ is fast and brutal enough to sound like classic Sodom, but the riff work is quite intricate and the rhythms in the intro relatively unpredictable. ‘S.O.D.O.M.’ comes closest to the band’s frequent punky exploits, but is still quite thrashy, which is fortunate, as I don’t think punk is the band’s forte. Or anyone’s really. Highlighting the album, however, is the marvellous opening track ‘My Final Bullet’. After its clean intro, the song thrashes along at full speed, but there is something catchy and melancholic to the chorus. Absolutely one of the best opening tracks in a discography that also contains ‘Among The Weirdcong’, ‘Code Red’, ‘Nuclear Winter’ and ‘Agent Orange’. Impressive.

Of course, the album has parts that can be seen as flaws. The production and arrangements are probably too polished and well thought-out for those who prefer Sodom’s earliest work and I personally think Angelripper’s vocals move too much towards actual grunts at times, sacrificing a ton of character, but ‘Epitome Of Torture’ is definitely more evidence of why Sodom is easily the most relevant of the big three of teutonic thrash metal. Even the bonus tracks – the downtuned ‘Waterboarding’ and the dense, knotty ‘Splitting The Atom’ – are very much worth hearing.

Recommended tracks: ‘My Final Bullet’, ‘Invocating The Demons’, ‘Stigmatized’

Album of the Week 35-2019: Them – Manor Of The Se7en Gables

On the surface, Them seems like another one of those King Diamond and Mercyful Fate-inspired bands that seemed to pop up everywhere especially around Northern Europe about a decade ago. They even have the aesthetic down better than, say, Attic and Portrait. In fact, Them began existence as a King Diamond tribute band, but it’s almost ironic how little Them actually sounds like the Danish horror metal master. The inspiration is undeniably there – of course a concept album driven by a B-grade horror story is inspired by him – but Them took those influences and turned them into their own thing.

Upon first listen, you can almost hear what was going on in the heads of singer Troy Norr and guitarist Markus Ullrich. They heard King Diamond and thought: you know what this needs? Vocals that are consistently on pitch and more thrashy riffing.  Norr doesn’t even sound that much like King Diamond unless he’s speaking or using his falsetto. A closer comparison would be Winters Bane’s ‘Heart Of A Killer’. While not quite as technical, ‘Manor Of The Se7en Gables’ does feature a similarly theatrical heavy metal sound. Also, Norr sounds fairly similar to Tim Owens on that record, with maybe some ‘Nosferatu’-era James Rivera thrown in.

More importantly, the music on ‘Manor Of The Se7en Gables’ is simply really good. In all honesty, I could do wihtout the narrative disrupting the music, but fortunately, that doesn’t happen too often. What remains is some excellent, mildly technical contemporary heavy metal full of engaging borderline thrash riffs and climactic progessions. Ullrich and Markus Johansson have arranged their guitar parts effectively around each other’s strengths and Them is one of the few metal bands with a keyboard player (Richie Seibel) who doesn’t constantly push himself to the forefront, opting to enhance the horror atmosphere of the music instead.

Although ‘Manor Of The Se7en Gables’ is full of great uptempo tracks like the relatively thrashy ‘Refuge In The Manor’, the particularly aggressive ‘Seven Gables To Ash’ and the climactic ‘The Secret Stairs’, what really makes it superior to debut album ‘Sweet Hollow’ is the quality of its slower material. The mid-tempo tracks on that record weren’t bad by any means, but not nearly as memorable as the bombastic ‘As The Sage Burns’ or the melancholic ‘Witchfinder’. ‘Punishment By Fire’ rounds out the album nicely by tying all the stylistic elements together, resulting in an excellent slightly progressive metal track.

Them is at constant risk of being misunderstood. The band is no cheap King Diamond clone and I actually prefer both ‘Manor Of The Se7en Gables’ and ‘Sweet Hollow’ to anything King Diamond ever did. The conceptual approach gives the band direction, but in all honesty, this material would have impressed regardless, including the interludes. Any fan of eighties heavy metal who complains that no one makes anything like that anymore should certainly give ‘Manor Of The Se7en Gables’ a spin. It might be a more contemporary take on the classic stuff, but that only adds to the relevance of Them.

Recommended tracks: ‘The Secret Stairs’, ‘Witchfinder’, ‘Refuge In The Manor’