• Spacemak3r - Spacemak3r III (2020)

    Spacemak3r's third output concludes the trilogy about a schizophrenic child named Alex who makes up imaginary creatures that haunt him in his eventful everyday life. The band describes its genre as circus metal and this is surprisingly accurate. Contemporary metalcore and nu metal meet chanson, circus music, dubstep, gothic rock and industrial rock. Imagine if members of Rob Zombie, Marilyn Manson and KoRn were asked to record the soundtrack to a Tim Burton movie and you might have an idea of what this record sounds like.

    This third release is as atmospheric, creative and diversified as its two predecessors. Creepy sound samples collide with menacing narrative sections to fusion with experimental soundscapes interrupted by angry metal outbursts. Despite the highly entertaining final result conceived by the project's mastermind Michael Gagnon, there are two minor problems that should be mentioned here. First of all, this album doesn't push things further than the two predecessors and even seems to rehash some ideas. Secondly, this album is missing a truly catchy, impressive and memorable tune like ''Circus'' or ''Trick 'r Treat'' on the predecessors.

    In the end, this album is nevertheless highly recommended to fans of experimental modern metal music who have a weakness for twisted horror stories. However, it's highly recommended to discover the project's three records in chronological order to understand all the references and especially the ambitious concept. While this third record is the weakest of the three, it still sounds unlike anything you might have heard from other bands. However, the sum is clearly greater than its parts since this trilogy is perhaps the best series of conceptual records of the past decade. Discover this unfairly overlooked underground project from Montreal where the worlds of circus shows, mental issues and modern metal collide in a unique way.

    Final rating: 75%

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  • Drakarium - Acte II (2020)

    DrakariuM is a power metal quartet that fluidly integrates folk elements, intellectual French lyrics and progressive song writing into its fascinating sound. The band started as a high school band a decade and a half ago and released its eponymous extended play five years earlier. This first full length effort called Acte II follows the path of the predecessor with a similar philosophical concept and was certainly worth the wait.

    The musicianship of the band members has always been great but has even improved over the past five years. The diversified, melodic and playful keyboards somewhere between folkloristic inspirations, progressive ideas and symphonic ambitions are still the domineering element that provides cinematic soundscapes underlining the conceptual lyrics. The energetic, tight and versatile drum play has always stood out and provides much energy to this release as well. The neoclassical guitar play has improved and harmonizes splendidly with the keyboards. The riffs have become heavier which should appeal to genre fans. Even the bass guitar sounds much more dynamic and even has a brief solo spot on this album. As if those excellent instrumental skills weren't enough, the band even invited an accordionist on two songs to enhance its conceptual guideline.

    While the band's music is certainly inspired by Scandinavian power metal bands such as Stratovarius and Sonata Arctica, the quartet sounds unique and offers much diversity. The opening instrumental tune ''Prélude'' for instance is on the atmospheric side with domineering keyboard sounds backed up by rhythmic drum techniques.

    ''Étoile à tribord'' is quite playful with extended and almost progressive instrumental passages without forgetting about focusing on catchy melodies and uplifting vocal lines.

    ''Pacifica'' quickens up the pace and can be described as classic Scandinavian power metal that recalls the genre's greatest hours of the late nineties.

     ''Tournesol'' on the other side is much calmer with appeasing guitar melodies, dreamy piano sounds and smooth vocals that make not only for a convincing power ballad but perhaps the best song on this record. 

    ''Humour au clavier'' might be the record's most ambitious composition however as it's an instrumental track with a running time of nearly eight minutes. This kind of song is often filler material on regular power metal records but that can't be said in this case. The rhythmic drum patterns, neoclassical guitar sounds, heavy guitar riffs, galloping bass guitar parts and cinematic keyboard sounds are all executed flawlessly and develop great chemistry. The transitions are smooth, each instrument gets the occasion to shine and the final result goes by much faster than its running time indicates. This courageous song grows with every spin and unveils the band's full potential.

    It's a mystery to me why no label has signed this band yet since DrakariuM is one of the most talented power metal bands to be around these days while several veterans are struggling. The band's folklotistic soundscapes, French lyrics and progressive song writing make the quartet sound dynamic, fresh and unique. DrakariuM is easily the most intriguing band to come from Saguenay since progressive thrash metal legends Voivod four decades ago. While both bands play completely different subgenres, they are united by their resilience and innovation. If you like creative power metal that walks off the beaten path, then support this band by picking up its two releases and spreading the word about it.

    Final rating: 95%

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  • Carach Angren - Franckensteina Strataemontanus (2020)

    Carach Angren's Franckensteina Strataemontanus is an elaborate conceptual record inspired by German legends that oozes with atmosphere, creativity and energy. The sixth studio album of the Dutch symphonic black metal trio might even be the group's greatest album to date.

    The record starts with a dreamy, melodic and ominous overture in form of ''Here in German Woodland'' that fluidly combines symphonic soundscapes, fitting sound effects and atmospheric narrative parts.

    ''Scourged Ghoul Undead'' continues the narrative parts and increases the intensity of the symphonic elements before a fierce black metal song breaks loose. The combination between atmospheric passages, melodic elements and unchained energy works splendidly. The final result makes for a versatile, creative and cinematic experience.

    'Franckensteina Strataemontanus'' then comes around with sinister piano sounds, heavy riffs and gloomy vocals that slow the musicianship down while increasing the record's conceptual elements.

    The album overall convinces with such subtle changes and offers a balanced mixture of aggressive, epic and melodic songs. Black metal collides with symphonic metal but also elements of contemporary gothic metal. The creative songs vary between running times of one minute and a half and eight and a half minute that unfold further with every spin.

    Each song works splendidly on its own but the sum is even greater than its parts as Carach Angren's Franckensteina Strataemontanus might be the most efficient conceptual record since The Vision Bleak's gothic metal masterpiece Carpathia: A Dramatic Poem released a decade and a half ago. This detailed, imaginative and intellectual record grows with every spin and is one of the very best black metal records in recent memory that might even compete for album of the year. The production needs to be pointed out as well since it integrates the numerous soundscapes fluidly without inducing headaches. If you like atmospheric black metal and traditional horror tales, you should definitely get your hands on this excellent output that deserves more attention, praise and support.

    Final rating: 95%

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  • Verotika Motion Picture Soundtrack (2020)

    One has to admit that Verotika's Motion Picture Soundtrack blends in very well with the actual movie: it's unintentionally hilarious, at times shockingly bad but weirdly entertaining. The movie is a project by musician, producer and writer Glenn Danzig who was involved in horror punk icons Misfits and Samhain. At age sixty-four, the American artist could finally create, promote and release the movie he had always been dreaming of. This movie that clocks in at eighty-nine minutes is a horror anthology consisting of three different stories. The Albino Spider of Dajette tells the story of a humanoid spider that murders prostitutes. Change of Face tells the story of a mysterious stripper who murders colleagues to collect their faces. Drukija Contessa of Blood follows a countess who kills virgin women and bathes in their blood to acquire eternal youth. The three segments feature wooden acting performances, numerous continuity errors, shallow dialogues, weak plots and laughable special effects. Many critics call it a future midnight movie in the key of Tommy Wiseau's The Room. I have to admit that I would certainly watch the movie with a few friends and a few good drinks at an underground movie theater to enjoy its sheer campiness.

    However, this review is supposed to be about the soundtrack and not the film. It consists of ten tunes varying from popular artists such as industrial metal heavyweights Ministry over rock 'n' roll newcomers such as Kore Rozzik to underground psychedelic rock groups like Studio 69. This eclectic mixture is actually quite entertaining since almost each song offers unexpected soundscapes. However, the quality of the selected material is often questionable.

    Danzig added an own song with ''Eyes Ripping Fire'' and this opener is one of the worst tunes here. Canny and tinny drum patterns without any flow or rhythm meet droning guitar riffs, heavily distorted lead guitars, stoic bass sounds and terrible out-of-tone vocals that sound as if they had been recorded at a party around two o'clock in the morning. The track sounds as if it had been written, recorded and released within an hour and is lacking any effort.

    The only intriguing thing about Ministry's ''Dancing Madly Backwards on a Sea of Air'' is its awkward title. Otherwise, we get an under-produced industrial rock tune with unimaginative rhythm section, far too many distorted sound samples and irritatingly processed vocals. That song sounds like a demo outtake from a Rob Zombie album of the late nineties rather than anything an honest artist would willingly submit to the soundtrack of a friend's movie.

    Another oddball is Pink Velvet's ''Allez Prenons un Verre''. This obscure one-woman project from Los Angeles flirts with psychedelic rock music of the early sixties. The French lyrics are performed by a singer who is unable to articulate said language properly. Instead of singing ''the night is young'', she is actually saying that ''the night is yellow''.

    There are a few decent songs here as well. Belgian rock band Fantome delivers a catchy tune with French lyrics entitled ''Je Suis à Toi''. Kore Rozzik's glam rock anthem ''Can't Stop, Won't Stop'' rightfully doesn't take itself so seriously and spreads some genuine joy. Dark wave band Switchblade Symphony offers an atmospheric, eerie and mysterious tune called ''Gutter Glitter'' that works splendidly as background music while reading a horror novel.

    The entire soundtrack can be found on YouTube but if you want to experience the music and the movie, there is a collector's edition featuring the movie and the soundtrack that costs approximately thirty Canadian dollars. If you think it's worth thirty bucks to watch a disaster piece and explore its quite experimental soundtrack with a couple of friends while sharing a few drinks, go give it a try. If you're not quite sure yet, watch a trailer for the movie and listen to some samples to get a better idea of what to expect. In the end, this soundtrack is at times unintentionally hilarious and features some really bad songs but redeems itself with a few hidden gems and lots of entertaining value.

    Final rating: 50%

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  • Mgla - Exercises in Futility (2015)

    Since Mgla's third full length effort Exercises in Futility has recently won the Metal Archives poll for best album of the decade, I became curious enough to give said album a spin. I had heard about Mgla before but never ever listened to a record of the Polish black metal duo. I usually appreciate black metal in combination with other genres. For instance, I appreciate its combination with symphonic elements as can be heard in records by bands such as Dimmu Borgir. The fusion of black metal and folk elements is also rather intriguing and I particularly appreciate the early works of Moonspell here. I have also a soft spot for experimental black metal such as its combination with crust and punk music as is the case for Putamen Insula. My main problem with Mgla's Exercises in Futility is that it represents what sounds like black metal by the numbers to me. I'm not saying that this is a bad album or trying to be contrarian. I understand that this might be a very good album if you are a black metal purist. However, it's only of an average quality in my ears and fails to stand out significantly to be considered the best release of an entire decade.

    There are several elements I actually like about the album. Its atmosphere is bleak, gloomy and sinister. The vocals are angry, desperate and energetic. The cold guitar riffs blend in nicely. The rhythm section is surprisingly diverse and the drum play in particular offers far more than expected blast beat passages. The final two tunes offers atmospheric transitions that give the two longest tunes some conceptual depth. The lyrics are rather interesting and offer some emotional and philosophical value instead of focusing on blind nihilism and predictable shock value.

    However, there are also a few negative elements that have to be pointed out. The song writing sometimes lacks structure and especially the first two songs rush by in a blur without leaving any memorable marks. The cold guitar riffs are typical for this type of music but they end up sounding uninspired, repetitive and exchangeable over the course of six songs and a total running time of forty-two minutes. The same can be said about the vocals that always sound the same instead of varying in order to add some atmospheric layers or accentuate the record's emotional outbursts.

    Throughout the album, only the variable rhythm section and thought-provoking lyrics can truly convince. Now, if you are a black metal fan who appreciates raw but melodic outputs by bands such as early Burzum, Dissection and Watain, you should certainly give Mgla's Exercises in Futility a try. However, if you are expecting a groundbreaking record that will surprise, move or impress you, I must disappoint you as you would rather find these attributes in the pioneer records of the aforementioned bands. In the end, Mgla's Exercises in Futility is an above average album for metal fans in general and perhaps a very good record for black metal aficionados. However, it certainly isn't album of the decade material in my book.

    Final rating: 65%

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