Posts Tagged ‘ death metal ’

Album of the Week 27-2019: Swallow The Sun – When A Shadow Is Forced Into The Light


Occasionally, there are rare instances in which the cliché that great misery inspires great art proves to be true. Swallow The Sun’s seventh album ‘When A Shadow Is Forced Into The Light’ is one of those instances. Rhythm guitarist and main songwriter Juha Raivio lost his wife, South African singer Aleah Starbridge, to cancer at the much too young age of 39 and her absence is felt throughout the album. Being a Finnish doom/death metal band, Swallow The Sun was never the most cheerful bunch, but the beautiful melancholy on display here gives the album its unique character within the band’s discography.

Even without knowing the story behind the album, one thing stands out immediately and that is the profoundly sad gothic atmosphere that defines a large portion of the album. There are still outbursts of extreme metal, but tracks like ‘Upon The Water’ and the gorgeous ‘The Crimson Crown’ are so full of arpeggiated clean guitar chords that they feel stylistically closer to Fields Of The Nephilim’s masterpiece ‘Elizium’ than to anything Amorphis ever released. In a way, the album reverses the process of ‘Songs From The North’ (2015), on which the band gave different discs to each aspect of their sound.

Bringing those extremes back together has really done wonders for the dynamics on ‘When A Shadow Is Forced Into The Light’. Mikko Kotomäki utilizes his deep, clean vocals for a majority of the album, but he is backed by electric guitars almost exclusively. These alternate between the aforementioned clean chord work and beefy doom riffs that are notably more spaciously produced than the guitars on the band’s earlier works. It helps that the riffs are significantly less chord heavy than on their previous albums; the single notes can really ring through with the intensity they should have.

While an album like ‘When A Shadow Is Forced Into The Light’ is best listened to in its entirity to let the atmosphere carry you away, anyone into the darker spectrum of music needs to hear ‘Stone Wings’. The song is mainly carried by a Nephilim-esque eye-watering guitar part and has what is probably the most hauntingly beautiful chorus released this year. There is a more extreme middle section, but even that part of the song is quite melancholic. By comparison: the aggressive middle part of the otherwise sorrowful ‘Firelights’ is the closest the band has ever gotten to black metal. Elsewhere, ‘Here On Black Earth’ contains a surprisingly dynamic guitar arrangement.

No, ‘When A Shadow Is Forced Into Night’ is not an easy record to listen to. It is in the sense that it’s probably the most accessible album Swallow The Sun has released thus far, but the feeling of loss hangs over the album like a pitch black cloud. As a result, the album is not for the faint of heart, but it is in fact the best record the Finns have released thus far. Its superior flow helps too; many of their earlier albums were difficult to listen to in one setting, but once the piano and string laden closer ‘Never Left’ extinguishes, I have been captivated for 52 straight minutes. One of the better metallic releases of 2019. Highly impressive.

Recommended tracks: ‘Stone Wings’, ‘The Crimson Crown’, ‘Never Left’

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Album of the Week 20-2019: Amorphis – Elegy


Perfection is hard to come by in music. More often than not, I refer to a certain aspect of an album being as close to perfection as it gets. In case of Amorphis’ third album ‘Elegy’, its atmosphere is just about as perfect as it gets. ‘Elegy’ was the second album on which Amorphis showed a massive stylistic change and it would not be the last, but it does say something that the signature sound they currently have is not too far removed from what can be heard on ‘Elegy’. It is simply an excellent work of melancholic Finnish metal.

In a way, it is odd that ‘Elegy’ is my favorite Amorphis album, as the band would become much better later on. Current singer Tomi Joutsen is vastly superior to both the throaty grunts of rhythm guitarist Tomi Koivusaari and the Hetfield-esque cleans of Pasi Koskinen, Santeri Kallio has a significantly more melodic style than ‘Elegy’ keyboard player Kim Rantala… Basically the only band member who is already close to the massive heights he would soon reach is lead guitarist Esa Holopainen, one of the most tasteful guitarists in rock and metal. And yet, everything on ‘Elegy’ is as it should be.

First off, the lack of vocal prowess does not hurt the music at all. Koskinen is the right fit for the melancholy expressed in the lyrics – all English translations of the poems in the ‘Kanteletar’, a collection of traditional Finnish songs and poems – and Koivusaari is buried in the mix. Besides, if I had to estimate, less than 25 percent of the album actually has vocals. ‘Elegy’ is the record that most clearly displays the influence that their fellow countrymen Kingston Wall had on Amorphis: it’s extremely jam-heavy, giving Holopainen plenty of room to excel, and the band opts to let the ideas unfold slowly rather than cramming their songs full of them.

Additionally, the eastern mysticism in Kingston Wall’s music is prominent on some of the Holopainen-penned songs, the incredible opener ‘Better Unborn’ in particular. That song deserves an award anyway. It’s easy to come up with something self-pitying for that set of lyrics, but Amorphis made something extremely powerful out of it, kind of like a Scandinavian metal interpretation of Led Zeppelin’s later works. ‘Song Of The Troubled One’ has a similar vibe, though notably more northern European. The twin guitar harmony laden ‘Against Widows’ is more propulsive, as is ‘On Rich And Poor’, which contains some incredible rhythm guitar work. The surprisingly good instrumental ‘Relief’ brings all the elements together.

Even when the band adopts a more laid-back approach, it sounds amazing. The climactic title track and the unbelievably gorgeous album highlight ‘My Kantele’ have some prominent Pink Floyd-isms, albeit with much more powerful rhythm guitar work. But really, only those who prefer Amorphis as a full-on death metal band might not find anything to like on ‘Elegy’, but I sincerely doubt if they ever were. The consistently melancholic tone is what largely makes ‘Elegy’ so amazing, but the unusually large amount of jamming helps too, plus the fact that Holopainen and Koivusaari hardly ever play in unison. A fairly unique album, even within Amorphis’ discography, that still sounds as fresh today as when I first heard it.

Recommended tracks: ‘Better Unborn’, ‘My Kantele’, ‘On Rich And Poor’, ‘Relief’

Album of the Week 09-2019: Sisters Of Suffocation – Humans Are Broken


Death metal that is both clever and varied without losing any of the aggression that is essential to the genre is hard enough to come by these days. That is exactly why it is good to have albums like Sisters Of Suffocation’s sophomore album ‘Humans Are Broken’ every once in a while. The music is complex, but not showy or hard to follow and while there are plenty of melodic touches and unexpected twists to surprise the listener, Sisters Of Suffocation never forgets the importance of brutality. ‘Humans Are Broken’ sets the bar pretty high for death metal in 2019.

Prior to the recordings of the album, Sisters Of Suffocation went through a couple of line-up changes. These changes have certainly had their effect on the outcome. New drummer and lone brother Kevin van den Heiligenberg makes his presence known through his powerful and varied drumming – you will never hear him play the same type of groove for too long – as well as his explosive and surprisingly natural drum sound. In addition, Emmelie Herwegh joined as a second guitarist, causing fellow axewoman and main composer Simone van Straten to really run with the idea of having two guitars. There are significantly more solos and harmonies here than on ‘Anthology Of Curiosities’ two years ago.

Another big plus about ‘Humans Are Broken’ is the amount of variety in material. Sisters Of Suffocation really explores all corners of death metal here, from the almost Bay Area thrash metal nature of the riffs in ‘What We Create’ right down to the subtle nods to black metal in more atmospheric tracks like ‘Liar’ and ‘The Next Big Thing’. Vocalist Els Prins has a few melodic outbursts here and there, but the music never veers into full-on melodic death metal or wimpy metalcore territory. Check out ‘The Objective’ for an example; the song is full of melodic guitar and vocal work, but the intensity does not let up for even a second.

Of course, anyone looking for a punch in the gut is served well by ‘Humans Are Broken’ as well. The absolutely annihilating main riff to ‘Blood On Blood’ will do just that and despite its progressive nature, there is plenty of pummeling riff work in the ‘Souls To Deny’-era Suffocation-esque ‘The Machine’, as well as what is probably the strongest guitar solo on the album. ‘Wolves’ packs so many ideas that it’s almost impossible to believe that the track is only three minutes long. And yet, the song never becomes disjointed, instead opting for a dark, immersive atmosphere.

While many younger death metal bands are trying to adhere to a certain trend or style, the main concern of Sisters Of Suffocation seems to be to write a good song and perform the hell out of it. And that is exactly how it is supposed to be. For some fans of certain subgenres within death metal, ‘Humans Are Broken’ may be too little of “their” thing, but really, everyone who likes their death metal interesting, slightly technical and somewhat melodic, the album is a must. If this line-up manages to stay together, I cannot see anything standing in the way of a bright future for Sisters Of Suffocation.

Recommended tracks: ‘The Objective’, ‘Wolves’, ‘What We Create’

Album of the Week 04-2019: Solstice – Solstice


Some bands are known for the musicians that play with them rather than the actual music than they play. Those who have heard of Solstice, will most likely know them as the band Rob Barrett played with prior to joining Cannibal Corpse, though drummer Alex Marquez and bassist Mark Van Erp are familiar names in the Floridian death metal scene as well. It is worth giving their music a spin though, as especially their self-titled debut album is an engaging piece of reasonably technical thrash metal, filled to the brim with all the precise, aggressive playing one could wish for.

Despite all of the death metal connections of the Floridian band, the death metal element in their music is largely limited to Marquez’ occasional blastbeats. If anything, hardcore seems to be a bigger influence on Solstice. Plenty of blunt force, but more importantly, the riffs are thick and beefy even at their fastest and most technical, which is of course helped by Scott Burns’ production. Also, Barrett’s aggressive barks have a distinct hardcore vibe. The overall sound is not unlike the likes of Demolition Hammer and Exhorder, with maybe some Malevolent Creation, with whom three musicians on the record have played, thrown in for good measure.

Riffs aplenty on ‘Solstice’, but where the band truly outshines its contemporaries is that the songs are surprisingly well-written. In this style, it is quite easy to get lost in a jungle of engaging, but poorly connecting riffs. Solstice’s songs generally make excellent use of dynamics, with especially the ever-changing rhythmic feel of the songs accounting for a longer attention span than with many equally technical, yet compositionally weaker bands. ‘Netherworld’ in particular has a great climactic build-up by starting slow and atmospheric and leaving room for the chorus and Dennis Muñoz’ fantastic guitar solo when it needs room to breathe.

Because of the way the songs are written – not a lot of melody, high tempos – the highlights of the album really boil down to which riffs you prefer. Personally, I really like how ‘Cataclysmic Outbursts’ unfolds from its almost teasing intro to its multitude of Dark Angel-inspired riffs, while ‘Plasticized’ is quite catchy and has a half-time middle section not unlike Suffocation would do on ‘Pierced From Within’. Another true highlight is how opening track ‘Transmogrified’ toys with different time feels even within its first 30 seconds, effectively giving you a pretty good impression of if you’re going to like the album or not.

Ultimately, only the Carnivore cover ‘S.M.D.’ is a bit of a weak spot on ‘Solstice’. The cover is done well, but the song lacks the sophistication of the rest of the album. Because writing an excellent technical thrash song obviously is something you don’t have to teach Solstice. The album definitely transcends the “curio because of the musicians involved” tag, as it is superior to many of the albums the involved musicians would later be involved in. I don’t say that to dismiss the works of Cannibal Corpse, Malevolent Creation or Monstrosity, ‘Solstice’ is just that good.

Recommended tracks: ‘Netherworld’, ‘Transmogrified’, ‘Cataclysmic Outbursts’

Album of the Week 01-2019: Vader – De Profundis


Vader is easily my favorite death metal band of the non-progressive variety. Unlike many of their contemporaries and a staggering number of bands that followed them, the Polish band around vocalist and guitarist Piotr ‘Peter’ Wiwczarek knows how to create something memorable if you don’t have a great deal of melody at your disposal. It’s their riffs rather than their choruses that are – for lack of a better term – quite catchy. Vader’s sophomore album ‘De Profundis’ is generally seen as their classic album and while I’m not sure if it’s their best, it is definitely the album on which Vader found its sound.

Debut album ‘The Ultimate Incantation’ was mostly a supercharged thrash metal record, which is a good thing, but it was awkwardly produced an Wiwczarek still sounded like any other grunter on the record. ‘De Profundis’ is the first showcase for his definitive voice, which is closer to a carnal, low pitched roar. He sounds commanding and full of character, which is why Wiwczarek is one of the few grunters I appreciate. Musically, Vader started enhancing their deeply thrash-rooted death metal with some more climactic or atmospheric songwriting reminiscent of a somewhat less pretentious – and therefore better – Morbid Angel.

Memorable riff writing is all over ‘De Profundis’. Everyone with a more than casual interest in death metal will immediately have the intro riffs to the likes of ‘Blood Of Kingu’ or ‘Sothis’ in their minds if you even so much as mention the titles. The latter is a masterclass in structuring a death metal song anyway; the way it moves from the pummeling mid-tempo intro to the increasingly faster sections in the middle of the song and back is dynamically very strong. The former is one of the slower tracks, built on a foundation of strong, moderately fast triplets that sound very driven and delightfully dark.

With ‘De Profundis’ being only 34 minutes long, there is not a whole lot of room for experimentation or sophistication, but the epic closing track ‘Reborn In Flames’ definitely does a good job highlighting different sides of Wiwczarek’s songwriting, while the strong opening track ‘Silent Empire’ manages to pack several different atmospheres and a large portion of riffs within only four minutes. ‘Vision And The Voice’ is a hidden gem, with its shifting rhythms and rare twin guitar middle section pushing it into borderline progressive territory, while ‘Revolt’ briefly flirts with black metal-inspired atmospheres.

Although I am not sure if I agree with the assessment that ‘De Profundis’ is the best Vader album – in my opinion, there are at least three albums equally deserving of that title – it is a fact that a lot of the elements that make Vader the band they are today first popped up on this great record. Personally, I am quite glad that happened without forsaking the band’s thrash-inspired riffing, as that is one of the factors that makes the band better than their peers for me. Anyone who likes their death metal fast and punishing will enjoy ‘De Profundis’, but so will anyone who likes some thought and depth put into the genre.

Recommended tracks: ‘Sothis’, ‘Silent Empire’, ‘Reborn In Flames’

Album of the Week 52-2018: Cradle Of Filth – Hammer Of The Witches


Cradle Of Filth’s immense popularity is at least as much a result of their image and provocative shirt designs as it is of their music. That does not mean that they never made any good music, but at times, it seemed like the market desired the band to put out albums faster than they could actually come up with enough decent material. Often, hollow bombast covered up the lack of durable songwriting. The opposite is true for ‘Hammer Of The Witches’. The orchestrations have been dialed back considerably, resulting in what is essentially a great riff-driven modern metal album.

It is only natural to assume that the changes that Cradle Of Filth went through contributed to this sudden indrease of quality. No less than three members debut on ‘Hammer Of The Witches’, including guitarists Marek ‘Ashok’ Šmerda and Richard Shaw. And they certainly make their presence known on the album. Especially their riffs are highly prominent. And since these riffs are closer to traditional heavy metal than the band’s black and death metal roots most of the time, the album gives off a somewhat Mercyful Fate-like vibe at times. The keyboards are the most subtle and tasteful on any of the band’s records.

Where Cradle Of Filth used to cram its records full of contrasting sections, the songs on ‘Hammer Of The Witches’ appear to be written with the idea of just making the best songs possible and it certainly paid off. The album never becomes as overwhelming as most of the band’s records and is dynamically excellent. Apparently, the current line-up of the band consists of the best riff writers the band had in ages and judging from the solo trade-offs in ‘Enshrine In Crematoria’ and ‘Deflowering The Maidenhead, Displeasuring The Goddess’, Šmerda and Shaw are an excellent lead guitar duo.

Atmosphere used to be provided by the keyboards and orchestrations, but the band seems to have learned that the real atmosphere should be in the melodies. That would certainly explain the fantastic doomy riffs of ‘Black Magick In Practice’ or the dramatic melodies that pop up in ‘Right Wing Of The Garden Triptych’. Elsewhere, the band goes for sheer destructive force with riffs that are almost thrashy in nature (‘The Vampyre At My Side’, the excellent epic closer ‘Onward Christian Soldiers’) and several songs contain elegant guitar arrangements somewhat reminiscent of Dark Tranquillity’s ‘The Gallery’ (the middle section of ‘Yours Immortally’). And it all works. More so than on any of their previous records.

Anyone who didn’t like Cradle Of Filth before may want to give ‘Hammer Of The Witches’ a chance regardless. Even founding vocalist Dani Filth is surprisingly bearable on these recordings by only employing his high-pitched shriek strategically. Those who were enamored by the band’s gothic leanings may be disappointed, but even those fans may be pleasantly surprised by the consistently high level of songwriting on the album. Boredom doesn’t set in until the bonus tracks, which are decent enough, but notably less interesting than the main album. That still accounts for almost an hour of powerful heavy metal that is really only pushed into extreme territory by the vocals.

Recommended tracks: ‘Onward Christian Soldiers’, ‘Yours Immortaly’, ‘Enshrined In Crematoria’

Album of the Week 27-2018: Obscura – Cosmogenesis


With the increasing popularity of nerd culture, it is not too surprising that there has been a veritable boom of technical and progressive death metal bands a couple of years ago. Very few managed to impress me as much as Obscura did, however, as the German quartet seems to forego pointless displays of virtuosity and aim at an immersive atmosphere and a strong sense of melodicism instead. In that regard, ‘Cosmogenesis’ was a breath of fresh air when it was released nine years ago. And though they have consistently released great music since, it is still stands as their best work.

Obscura’s music contains a lot of the elements that made Death such an amazing band a decade and a half earlier, but without deliberately trying to copy Chuck Schuldiner’s work. Sure, frontman Steffen Kummerer has repeatedly admitted to “totally ripping off Death” with ‘Incarnated’, but connaisseurs would never mistake Obscura for Death. The latter obviously laid the groundwork for this type of unpredictable, technically challenging extreme metal with fretless bass work, but the uptempo, insistent twin riffs are a characteristic that is quite unique to Obscura and Death never sounded this spacey. The conceptual focus on German philosophers creates this unique universe as well.

Another thing that makes Obscura favorable to most other bands in their genre is that they understand the concept of dynamics. Hannes Grossmann is technically capable of spending the entire album sounding like he’s falling down the stairs with admirable rhythmic precision, but instead he chooses his moments wisely and lets the music breathe when it has do. ‘Desolate Spheres’, for instance, is a dense song, but suddenly calms down during Christian Münzner’s fusion-esque solo to prepare for the final burst. The instrumental ‘Orbital Elements’ also makes excellent use of strategically placed, more subdued passages.

However, Obscura’s main asset is that they can combine intensity, brutality and technicality without sacrificing even the slightest bit of any of those. Opening track and audience favorite ‘The Anticosmic Overload’ is virtuosic, yet vicious, while there is more happening melodically than on an entire album of most of their peers. ‘Nospheres’ has some of the most violent riffing on the album, but also an incredible middle section with Kummerer and Münzner at their harmonic best, while closer ‘Centric Flow’ has an incredible finale that could just as easily have been on a classic eighties heavy metal record. ‘Incarnated’ could have been on a progressive power metal record, had it not been for Kummerer’s aggressive barks.

Though I often claim that I hate technical death metal, I would not be as averse to the genre as a whole if more bands had an approach similar to Obscura’s. For Obscura, their compositions are not a vehicle for their virtuosity. Rather, virtuosity is a means to increase the power of their songs when needed. The Germans – at the time with a Dutch bassist – are just as comfortable just letting the inherent aggression of their music take the lead. And isn’t that the characteristic that made metal so appealing in the first place?

Recommended tracks: ‘Incarnated’, ‘Centric Flow’, ‘Universe Momentum’

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