• Genre: Black Metal / Post Metal
    Label: Self-production
    Playing time: 26:57
    Band homepage: -


    1. Live In Despair, Die In Solitary
    Esthète Sinistre - Live in Despair, Die in Solitary

    Esthète Sinistre is a depressive post black metal project by one musician and one singer. It may come as a surprise to many that this grim and frostbitten project neither comes from the Métal Noir Québécois movement nor from a Scandinavian or Baltic country. The two persons behind the project hail from the busy and warm metropolis of Guangzhou which is included in the southern part of an impressive megalopolis on the Chinese coast. Despite the atypical surrounding and origin of this album, it makes you feel as if it was recorded during winter time in a bare cabin somewhere in the northernmost woods.


    The young band’s first release comes along as one atmospheric track that clocks in at around 27 minutes. It first offers us folkloristic samples reminding of traditional Scandinavian or Russian music. The listeners then get to hear some excerpts from speeches that seem to be taken from an old movie before samples of wind and wuthering are added to the formula. Once the track kicks off, it varies from depressive but laid back passages to pitiless and blistering parts with raw riffs and ferocious drumming. Some passages include noisy bass guitar parts while others come along with laid back piano passages, acoustic guitars, organ sounds or a few almost New Age driven orchestrations. All these elements perfectly fit to the general atmosphere and each instrument or idea has its shining moment. That’s why this song never gets boring despite its epic length. The vocals are emotional lamentations and don’t seem to include any actual lyrics. But they don’t need to because the atmosphere created by the music and these lamentations is stronger than simple words. The underground production perfectly suits this bleak epic as well. Even the misspelled song and EP title funnily fits to the genre’s underground image.


    I have listened to this gem four times until now and this little masterpiece keeps on growing on me. Its atmosphere isn’t only bleak but also includes many moments of melancholy and even hope. The musicianship is detailed enough to make you discover new little elements each time you are listening to this song. Esthète Sinistre are the best black metal newcomer band I have listened to in quite a while and may have released the best genre output this year. I hope to hear more from this band anytime soon. Spread the name that relevant grim and frostbitten black metal now comes from Southern China and give this epic a few fair spins on the band’s Bandcamp page: http://esthetesinistre.bandcamp.com/


    (Online December 30, 2013)

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  • Genre: 
    Label: Self-production
    Playing time: 01:19:34
    Band homepage: Alestorm


    1. The Quest
    2. The Sunk'n Norwegian
    3. Leviathan
    4. Shipwrecked
    5. Over the Seas
    6. Midget Saw
    7. Nancy the Tavern Wench
    8. Pirate Song
    9. Back Through Time
    10. Wenches & Mead
    11. Death Throes of the Terrorsquid
    12. Keelhauled
    13. Rumpelkombo
    14. Set Sail and Conquer
    15. Captain Morgan's Revenge
    16. Rum


    Alestorm - Live at the End of the World

    ALESTORM make songs about exactly two different topics only: alcohol and pirates. Sometimes, additional elements such as beautiful barmaids, epic quests or traveling in time try to cover the lack of originality. They don’t take themselves all too serious though and that makes these five guys from England, Northern Ireland and Scotland so sympathetic. Their joyous mixture of rough vocals, epic melodies played by guitars, keyboards and keytars and enthusiastic sing-along passages works best live. While the band looked a little bit chaotic and drunk when I first saw them back in early 2009, they still booze a lot on stage and interact in a very humorous way with the crowd but their musicianship seems to have improved since then and their sound is more structured as well. I really saw an improved performance by the band when I went to another show of them in late 2013 and that’s why I decided to purchase their “Live at the End of the World” package including a live disc and the entire concert on DVD plus a funny documentary and two video clips.


    The band takes us on a joy ride over more than ninety minute where they drink rum, cognac and beer on stage, have amusing discussions with the enthusiastic nine hundred fans in Melbourne and perform their greatest hits from the first three albums including slow paced epic pirate ballads such as “Nancy The Tavern Wench”, fast and partially almost thrash metal driven anthems like the fan favorite “Keelhauled” and even symphonic extreme metal parts as “Death Throes Of The Terrorsquid”. Other highlights include funny nonsense speeches as in the introduction to “Pirate Song”, the amusing band presentation in “Set Sail and Conquer” or the peaceful wall of death event during the band anthem “Captain Morgan’s Revenge”. In the end, this concert feels like a crazy party where the band and the crowd booze, cheer and sing together. Even though the band sounds better than in the past, the singer still misses many notes and some instruments get out of rhythm but ALESTORM are not about technical perfection but about having a whole lot of fun in life. That’s why this band really works better on stage than on a simple studio record.


    If you are a regular fan, this release will be the highlight in your collection and if you happen to be an occasional or new fan, let me tell you that this release is far more essential than any ALESTORM record because this concert and the following and surprisingly entertaining documentary represent all what this band is about. Switch your brains off, invite some friends and a couple of beautiful women, prepare some great drinks (some recipe suggestions can be read in the credits) and be ready to dance, mosh and sing along while watching or listening to this cool release. The only reason to not purchase this package is in order to save your money to see these guys live on stage in your town and be part of the party. Hurry up though as one never knows for how many years these guys may still be able to tour the world on such a high and wide level due to all their alcohol abuses and epic parties.


    (Online December 26, 2013)

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  • Shadow Host – Apocalyptic Symphony

    January 3, 2014 in Reviews

    Shadow Host 2013Shadow Host - Apocalyptic Symphony (2013)

    Reviewed by Sebastian Kluth

    Shadow Host is a Russian power metal band from Moscow that has been around for twenty years now, and just released its fifth studio album, Apocalyptic Symphony. Musically, the band is often compared to Blind Guardian for its epic tracks, Primal Fear for its classic eighties’ influences, or Metalium for its more speed metal-orientated sounds, but I would say the band sounds closest to Iced Earth. If you like any of these bands, you should also dig the best parts of this release.


    Many songs on this record are a matter of taste of course. The power metal here sounds much more American than European, and includes some ballsy speed and even ferocious thrash metal elements. Unfortunately, some tracks sound very alike as well. Just to give you an idea, the closer “Apocalypse Within” sounds like a bastard influenced by early Metallica and Blind Guardian records, and the shouted pre-chorus is something I would expect from early Anthrax. From time to time, I like these rawer sounds, but in general I’m much more a fan of European power metal sounds with a progressive twist.

    On the other side, the record really offers two tracks that stand out for me. “Divide And Rule” is varied, with a darker atmosphere and some heavy mid-tempo riffs, as well as menacing bass guitar play. The charismatic vocals are not a far cry from Ashes of Ares’ Matt Barlow or Rebellion’s Michael Seifert. My favorite song is the epic and melodic half-ballad “Seeds Of Sorrow”, which reminds me of a Metallica or a Bruce Dickinson solo record. The harmonious acoustic guitars and the vocal performance (which finds just the right place between rawness and melody) are both amazing. The whole thing is crowned by a touching and unforgettable chorus worthy of an anthem. In times like these, I even feel that the song has a harmonious and warm Christmas touch, without sounding cheesy at all. This is definitely one of my favorite songs of the year.

    Apocalyptic Symphony will be physically released by the end of December, but if you can’t wait to give the entire record a few spins, don’t hesitate to check out the band’s Bandcamp page.

    3.5 // 5

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  • Mirage – Mirage

    December 16, 2013 in Reviews

    Mirage - Mirage 2009Mirage - Mirage (2009)

    Reviewed by Sebastian Kluth

    Mirage is an atmospheric, emotional, and technical progressive rock/metal band from China. One could easily call them a Chinese version of bands such as Dream Theater or The Last Successor. It took the band ten years to record their first record, but it was worth the wait. Soon after, the singer quit and was replaced by a female vocalist from Taiwan, and I was quite curious to hear what was to come next from them.

    The band opens its self-titled album with its best song: “Mirage” from the album Mirage by the band Mirage. It’s a calm and atmospheric ballad with warm-hearted vocals and impressive but coherent changes. This being said, all vocals are sung in Mandarin Chinese (of course), and I translated the band name and song titles for coherency. We get a few almost jazz-oriented parts, faster metal passages, progressive rock keyboard solos in the key of Genesis or Yes, layered vocal passages, and a few gracious female vocal parts in the laid back parts. In the end, the record ends on a very peaceful note, and the vocals are a true tearjerker. Despite its nine minutes of running time, the song never gets boring and is probably one of my favorite progressive metal songs ever.


    The rest of the album is strong but can’t quite reach the quality of the opener. The second song, “Lonely Journey”, comes very close though. It has more of a vivid space rock atmosphere that would be a highlight on any Ayreon record. It convinces with an amazing keyboard performance, a good rhythm section, and melodic vocals. In only four minutes and a half, the band integrates more emotions and ideas than other bands or projects do in entire overlong conceptual records. “Money” experiments with a more direct vocal performance and crunchier, more modern, and sometimes even industrial metal-oriented riffs. The track is a nice variation, and the epic and almost Tang Dynasty-influenced chorus is the cherry on the cake (even though I prefer the first two, calmer songs).

    “Unreal Empty Shells” starts with dramatic orchestral sounds, and sounds like something from the soundtrack of a horror film. Once the vocals set in, the track gets more experimental and modern as it blends the styles of prior tracks togethe – blending original ideas like a fast, power metal guitar solo and a punching drum solo. The track definitely has its moments, but not all parts really fit together. The banal and basic vocal performance and the simple riffs don’t please me that much.

    “The Memory Of Times” is the longest track on the album, with a running time of over nine minutes. This song is completely instrumental, and even though it’s a track filled with changes from seventies’ rock passages in the key of Deep Purple up to virtuous guitar solos that sound pulled from a Fates Warning CD, I’m missing some vocals to carry this long song. However, even though I’m not a fan of instrumentals, this is one of the best I’ve heard in a while. As it’s hard to convince me with this approach, I’m aware of the fact that the band actually did a very good job on here.

    “Heaven” starts with modern electronic elements and strong bass riffs before things get more atmospheric in a dark and disturbing way. The dark vocals feel a little bit too direct, while simplistic groove metal riffs meet dominant keyboard sounds. This mixture sounds a little bit odd and too modern to me, and the song is rather hard to digest. The strong parts are what I identify as pre-chorus and chorus, where the vocalist can finally show what he is capable of, while he gets supported by majestic backing vocals. “I’m Still Behind You” is a calmer keyboard-driven ballad with powerful vocals supported by warm violin sounds. Again, the band simply sounds greatest in these laid back and magical moments. It’s a song for longing or romantic hours and a true tearjerker. This is really a well-kept secret, and one of the most profound moments on the album. It would have been a perfect close to the album, but the band chose instead to end things with the shortest song – “Water”. It’s another calm isntrumental track with excellent guitar work, but it’s more vivid than the previous piece. The orchestral parts sound a little bit artificial and unclean on here, and I think a better production or higher budget would have helped.

    In the end, Mirage delivers us a very well thought and emotional debut record, with fifty minutes of diverse and professional musicianship. The calmer songs on here are absolutely outstanding, while some tracks need several spins to open up (though I suppose that’s just normal for a progressive metal record). If a more famous western band had put out a record of similar quality, it would have been called a convincing return to the basics, I’d guess. That’s why it’s time to spread the name of these Chinese talents. Fans of bands like Dream Theater, Fates Warning, and the like need to look into this.

    4.25 // 5

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  • January 2, 2014 in National Styles

    Heavy Metal in China: Part III – Rising from the ashes (2003 – 2013)

    Band - Narakam (Hades)

    In 2003, SARS struck China and affected the entire society, including its musical culture. Famous bars were closed down, and more and more concerts and festivals got were canceled or postponed. Marketing business also suffered and broke down during that same year. Even the 2003 edition of the famous Midi Music Festival had to be canceled in May, and was finally postponed and held in October of the same year. The crowd at that edition of the festival was particularly aggressive and nervous, throwing bottles and eggs on stage when the Japanese band Brahman (“日本”) performed. Even the promoter, who tried in vain to calm the spectators, had his glasses broken by a thrown water bottle. Towards the end, the crowd finally ended up enjoying the show and cheered the Japanese band’s performance. I’m illustrating that, even from a musical point of view, Chinese and Japanese culture remains profoundly distinct from one another. These events led to a bad image of the metal scene and a lot of grim discussions, not only in Japan but also inside of the People’s Republic of China, after a year filled with bad coincidences.

    Even after the end of the epidemic, the Chinese rock and metal scene remained paralyzed. Many old venues remained closed, changed costumer bases, or had a complete change of style. After a half-year long hiatus however, the scene arose like the famous phoenix from its ashes, and many new bands began to spread their names abroad by performing shows and selling records in other Asian countries, but also increasingly in Europe and North America. International festivals inside and outside of Asia, from the Hong Kong Rock It Music Festival to the Wacken Open Air in Germany, helped the bands diffuse to a larger public and to get record deals with international labels. In 2012, three Chinese bands from Beijing played at Wacken Open Air: the Death and Thrash Metal formation Suffocated (“窒息”), and the Metalcore acts Yaksa (“夜叉”) and The Falling (“夜叉”).

    At the same time, more foreign bands began touring China, the first being a show by the (at that point) internationally rather unknown Italian power metal band Labyrinth in Beijing in 2004. In the years following, one could later cite bands such as the Dutch Street Punk formation Disturbance, German power metal icons Edguy, the legendary British rockers The Rolling Stones, and British alternative rock acts Placebo and Supergrass as playing in the Orient. In 2006, the female-fronted Austrian symphonic metal bands Edenbridge and Visions Of Atlantis arrived, along with American dark wave formation The Crüxshadows and thrash metal legend Testament in 2007, along with big names such as Nightwish and Dream Theater. German Medieval rock bands arrived around this time as well, including Corvus Corax, In Extremo, and Subway To Sally. The gates truly opened in 2009, with the arrival of Stratovarius, Turisas, Exodus, and Opeth in 2012. Many local bands were influenced by these concerts, and attendance increased in number. Several foreign bands recorded live albums in China, such as Taiwanese symphonic metal act Seraphim in 2006, and Corvus Corax at least partially in 2008. Foreign bands commentated frequently and very positively on Chinese crowds and the growing metal scene in the Middle Empire.

    Band OverloadThe internet also helped to rebuild the Chinese Metal scene, thanks to sites such as Douban in China, and Myspace on an international level. Small radio stations such as Hongkong’s Dragonradio formed in 2005, and steadily supported local underground scenes. New underground clubs such as Beijing’s D-22 venue became a new home to the increasing number of underground bands, and innovative events such as NOIShanghai helped organize and promote Noise acts from 2005 on. The Antidote Shanghai group united several disc jockeys, foreign guests, and local music producers who organized monthly music events around all kinds of electronic music, helping to diversify the Chinese rock and metal scene considerably in only a few short years. At last, these scenes were finally about to catch up with their respective Western counterparts.

    Many new compilation record series such as “Resurrection Of The Gods” (2001), “Dead Night” (2003), and “Black Battle Corpse” (2007) started to specialize in different subgenres, and often promoted underground bands without record deals. These compilations helped promising acts such as the Chinese progressive metal bands The Last Successor (“末裔“) and Mirage (“海市蜃楼”), or melodic black metal acts like Screaming Savior (“惊叫基督”) and Terminal Lost (“天幕落”) to increase their fame or even get their breakthrough.

    Projects like “Core In China” (organized by two people involved in the website “Rock In China”) received international acclaim in 2012 by spreading the name of bands such as Luktomo (“六道母”) or Why Lazy. Even though the metalcore bands Purgatory (“炼狱”) and Soma TNT (“索玛TNT”) didn’t release any official studio albums, they gained some popularity due to a Youtube video of the former band featuring the country’s first female guttural vocal performer Fan Doudou.

    The fact that many promising Chinese metal bands don’t release records remains a main problem. Despite emerging tendencies thanks to the internet, it’s an underground scene that basically exists around its vivid live shows in big cities like Beijing, Chengdu, Guangzhou, Shanghai, and Shenzhen, many underground fanzines, and obscure compilation records from black markets.

    Both the metal scene and the music itself became more and more open-minded as time went by. A good example is the band Voodoo Kungfu (“零壹”), that got together in Beijing in 2003 to play a mixture of black, folk, and industrial metal by including special members who performed a Mongolian Cello or who contributed traditional percussion and electronic samples to the sound. The metalcore formation Tarot Saint (“塔罗圣徒”), founded in the year 2007 in Beijing, mixes melodic death metal and modern thrash metal with folk influences. One could also cite the experimental psychedelic rock band LAVA.OX.SEX from Hefei, which is composed of four members with completely different or even conflicting musical backgrounds.

    Chinese bands also started projects with foreign musicians. The psychedelic, alternative folk rock formation Proximity Butterfly (“变色蝴蝶”) from Chengdu was founded by male and female musicians of American, Canadian, and Chinese origins in 2003. The post punk and gothic formation Boys Climbing Ropes was formed in Shanghai in 2006 by three Canadians musicians living in China, as well as a female Chinese keyboardist and singer. The melodic power metal band The Barque Of Dante from Mianying collaborates closely with Austrian singer Thomas Winkler and Greek vocalist Vicky Psarakis on the 2013 album Lasting Forever. Finally, the Beijing thrash metal act Raging Mob is fronted by German vocalist Robert Gonnella, and also features American guitar player David Hemmer.

    In Germany, Chinese artist, dissident, and political whistleblower Ai Weiwei (“艾未未”) released a controversial and highly experimental metal album entitled The Divine Comedy (神曲) in 2013, that talks about current problems in the country and the artist’s negative experiences with the Chinese government and other institutions. Indirectly, this political release introduced a larger public to the contemporary Chinese arts and music scene.

    Band - Ritual DayAlong with many new bands and original collaborations, some of the genre pioneers decided to explore new ground and become more active again. In late 2013, the legendary Tang Dynasty (唐朝) released a brand new album entitled Prick (芒刺), with a colder and more technical progressive metal sound, featuring a surprising title track accompanied by a video dealing with the horrors of the Iraq War. This release clearly strayed from the band’s melodic heavy metal sound that previously focused upon folk influences and lyrics about Chinese culture and history. Nine years after their last record, Chinese hard rock legends Black Panther (黑豹) also made their return with a mixture of classic and more modern elements with a new and energizing singer on the critically acclaimed album Who We Are (我们是谁).

    In 2008, the organization of the Olympic Summer Games in Beijing, the Zibo train collision, and the terrible impacts of the Sichuan earthquake led to many canceled concerts and festivals. In comparison to the SARS epidemic five years earlier however, the scene stood together this time, and improvised many charity events for the victims of the train accidents and earthquake. From that point of view, the metal scene even took certain advantage of these events and gained a lot of respect for its charity, which helped to slowly re-establish its lost glory from before 2003. The Shanghai Expo in 2010 led to several temporary shutdowns of important underground venues, but by this time the impact had become a lot less menacing for the flowering metal scene than expected. Instead, some artists realized the potential of this event and released an “Expo” compilation featuring ten rather unknown electronic independent artists like B6 and Sun Ye (“孙晔”).

    The rock and metal scene has finally built up a solid basis, and has continued to explore new ground and gain more and more international popularity. Thanks to the internet and movie projects like “Global Metal”, the Chinese metal scene is in a very healthy and stable state, and its future looks quite promising for 2014 and beyond.


    Important records (2003 – 2013):

    Voodoo Kungfu (“零壹”) – Voodoo Kungfu (“零壹”) (2008)

    The Last Successor (“末裔”) – The Last Successor (“末裔”) (2010)

    Rainbow Danger Club (“彩虹危险”) – Where Maps End (2011)

    Terminal Lost (“天幕落”) – Voulme Two: Phoenix Mountains (“卷贰 凤凰山”) (2012)

    Ai Weiwei (“艾未未”) – The Divine Comedy (“神曲”) (2013) 

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