• Havok - Conformicide (2017)

    A band called Havok, an album cover with an illuminated skull and a Pantera cover song are strong indicators that this quartet is another aggressive nu thrash metal band. This approach can only work if the band either finds its own niche musically or is rightfully mad and delivers clear political statements that would rather come from a punk band. However, the band fails on both levels and this is what makes Conformicide particularly difficult to sit through.

    The opening song is always a strong indicator for the rest of the album, so let's listen to it. ''F.P.C.'' stand for ''Fuck Political Correctness''. I don't know why the band didn't write this out but maybe they weren't even convinced of their own vapid message. Let's talk about the music instead. Occasional groove and thrash metal riffs meet funky slap bass sounds, up-tempo pop punk drumming with unnecessary blast beats thrown into the mixture and annoying vocals somewhere between hoarse shouts and weird spoken word experiments. Some people might say that this mixtures seems to be quite experimental but it's a perfect example of a failed experiment where too many ideas lead to a confusing potpourri. This song sounds like a revamped version of Exodus' and Megadeth's worst moments increased by ten with a shot of Blink-182 and Pantera. If that sounds bad to you, expect something even worse. Musically, this might however even be the best song on the album.

    The other tracks aren't as experimental and all over the place as the opening disaster but stick continuously to the same tired Exodus-meets-Pantera-in-a-negative-way approach. The mixture of clinical production, one-dimensional song structures and whiny lyrics make for a quite soulless record despite its intention to spread moving messages. This band is as conform to exchangeable modern thrash metal as a case of Coors Light to a convenience store.

    Let's talk about the lyrics then. What is the band so mad about? Poverty in developing countries? Increasing homophobia and racism in their home country? The rise of terrorism in our world? The negative effects of climate change? The presidency of Donald Trump? No, the band decides to criticize successful businessmen, politically correct conformists, religious haze and the usual topics that have been treated a billion times before and fail to deliver a record on the pulse of time. Terms like death, disease, famine, genocide,radioactivity, slavery and war are used so randomly in the horrid ''Masterplan'' that it's almost disrespectfully shallow. Instead of addressing one concrete problem, the band talks about everything and nothing at the same time. Their lyrics against the system, no matter what aspect of it, remind me of the biased opinions of a pseudo-rebellious teenage punk band that plays improvised concerts in trailer parks before the members are going home to their parents’ basements to study for their Latin exam. The lyrics come off as biased, naive and superficial. No, I wasn't expecting lyrics about rose unicorns in wonderland but the fact that the band transmits exactly one single emotion and topic which is negativity gets quite tiring after a while.

    In the end, Havok have tried to grab metal by the pussy but have ended up falling flat on their arses. This record might sound good to you if you are fourteen years old, have never listened to thrash metal before and feel like being at war with society. For anyone else, just avoid this record altogether. The lyrics are embarrassing and almost laughable. The music rips off the usual genre suspects in a negative way without adding anything new to it. The production only increases potential headaches. I give that shiny new coaster ten percent because at least the band tried focusing on a concrete guiding line even if it didn't work out in my book. After all, Audiocide would have been a more appropriate title for that frisbee than Conformicide.

    Final rating: 10%

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  • Moldun - Moldun (2014)

    Moldun is a melodic death metal quintet from Reykjavík that received some attention for appearing as local live band in the stunning Fortitude television series where the lads put on a great show. This self-titled effort is the only release from the Icelandic band so far and leaves you wanting more.

    The band offers a balanced mixture of aggressiveness and atmosphere on the nine tunes with a total running time of thirty-five entertaining minutes. The cold and fast riffs, the vivid rhythm section and the raw lead vocals remind of early Gothenburg melodic death metal in the key of In Flames, Dark Tranquillity and At the Gates. The group also includes a few passages that slow things down and focus on melancholic, hypnotizing and atmospheric melodies that are typical for metal groups from northern countries. These parts are always well integrated into the songs and never feel out of place or watered down. The entire release sounds very balanced between these two extremes and unfolds its magic best when enjoyed from start to finish. No song particularly stands out because they are all high-quality tracks. My personal favorites are ''This Time You Dig the Hole'' that starts in a dreamy fashion to explode into a thunderous torrent of melancholic misery, the more complex ''Of Pigs'' with a running time around six minutes including well integrated sound samples and finally the short but highly experimental ''Goodbye & Godspeed'' with its gloomy spoken word samples and a very technical riff work that shows off the whole talent of the band.

    Those who aren't pleased with In Flames' contemporary experiments with clean vocals and alternative rock soundscapes and are longing for melodic death metal in the key of the late nineties and early years of the millennium should definitely give Moldun a chance. This release doesn't reinvent the genre and the Icelandic quintet is maybe still missing its very own style but the record is both atmospherically and technically convincing and sounds surprisingly fresh these days where only few bands revisit the original melodic death metal style accurately. Let's hope that this band that is currently on hold will build upon this promising debut record. On a closing side note, you should really watch the Fortitude television series.

    Final rating: 80%

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  • Kypck - Зеро (2016)

    Finnish melancholy meets the Russian soul once again on Kypck's fourth studio record Зеро. The album title and the cover artwork are clear indicators that this might be the coldest release yet of the Finnish quintet. Especially the bass guitar sounds lower than ever. Occasional atmospheric samples in a few tracks add even more mysterious gloom to the group's depressive soundscapes. The guitar riffs and drum patterns sound as lethargic as ever. The charismatic mournful vocals sound slightly throatier than on the last releases. As opposed to the band's previous releases, there aren't any particularly outstanding tracks on this album. This shouldn't be seen as a weakness though since the ten tracks are all equally strong and develop a gripping atmosphere of nostalgia, sorrow and winter from start to finish. It's safe to say that this record is the group's most radical release in terms of atmosphere yet and this focused effort really defines best what Kypck is all about.

    Obviously, you have to be in a very specific mindset in order to enjoy this kind of music. You will enjoy Зеро best when you are in a melancholic mood. You should be on your own while listening to this release. It's mandatory to put your headphones on in order to get completely absorbed by this record's addicting atmosphere. The album won't unfold its magic on a beautiful spring or summer day and is enjoyed best during a dark autumn or winter day. If you have a passion for the Russian culture and language, you will enjoy this authentic record even more. If you want to get in touch with a few tunes before digesting the entire record, the band's moody video clips in dark colours and settings inspired by historic events are also highly recommended. The suicidal and thunderous opener ''Я свободен'' with its eerie double vocal harmonies that seems to indicate that the narrator is everything but free as well as the exhausting soul-sucker ''Русофоб'' with its pressured vocals and extremely low bass vibes received two simple but very appropriate video clips for instance. The band even released a cover version of t.A.T.u.'s ''All About Us'' just before the album came out and the Finnish quintet managed to transform an already slightly melancholic pop song into a gloomy yet powerful track supported by a moody video clip about Soviet farmers.

    One track that needs to be pointed out is ''На небе вижу я лицо'', an epic doom metal monster which is by far the group's longest track to date with a running time of over eleven minutes. The track opens with mysterious sounds of nature and a sample of heavy breathing and a spoken word passage. The lead guitar plays a melancholic melody while the other instruments play low and simplistic patterns that create a drowning and hypnotizing atmosphere. The vocals vary between melodic and throaty parts but always remain mournful and passionate. The middle and closing sections add some diversity with whispered vocal efforts and melodic female guest vocals by Anna Jousne who is also an expressionist painter and singer in a Karelian folk group. The two vocalists harmonize perfectly and end this epic song on a melancholic climax that is both beautiful and heart-breaking.

    In the end, Kypck's Зеро is easily the most atmospheric metal record of the year and the band's most focused record so far. Some bands believe that it needs brutal growls, discordant riffs and fast rhythm sections to evoke a feeling of negativity but the opposite works so much better. Nothing is more painful than extremely low and slow riffs, mournful melodic vocals with a haunting raw side and a thunderous rhythm section where each plodding beat touches your soul. The band calls its style doomsday metal and that's exactly what it sounds like. Suicidal minds shouldn't take the risk of listening to this authentically sorrowful record but those who like to embrace darkness in order to enjoy life to the fullest in all its forms should purchase this release immediately.

    Final rating: 90%

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  • Blaze Bayley - Endure and Survive (Infinite Entanglement Part II)

    Blaze Bayley's Infinite Entanglement record was his most successful release since his debut solo record in the beginning of the millennium in terms of critical acclaim and financial profits. From an artistic point of view, it was however one of Blaze Bayley's least inspiring releases. Exchangeable traditional heavy metal with a terrible production met an average conceptual science-fiction story. The reason why this record was so successful is probably due to the fact that science-fiction themes are quite popular these days and it seems like Blaze Bayley simply jumped on the bandwagon here. Blaze Bayley is a hard-working, honest and sympathetic artist who surely deserves this success but I wasn't too excited about the fact that the last release was the first installment in a trilogy.

    Endure and Survive is a step in the right direction in my opinion. First of all, the production improved by a mile. The bass guitar isn't as annoyingly dominating as on the previous release. Maybe the bass guitar is even a little bit too much in the background this time around but that's still better than what was offered on the previous output where that instrument buried everything else. The vocals also sound a little bit more balanced. They are still nasal and overtly dramatic but this time the record doesn't sound as if it consisted of under-produced first takes only. Secondly, the release has a more cinematic and epic atmosphere thanks to more spoken-word passages and conceptual interludes. The story is also getting more interesting. It picks up exactly where the previous record left us and ends with quite a cliffhanger.

    This release's biggest flaw is that it sounds very similar to the first installment. The album basically consists of nine rather short mid-tempo heavy metal songs without any surprises and a more epic album closer that ends this release on a gripping note. The rhythm section sounds particularly uninspired since the bass guitar is almost inaudible and the drum patterns are as exchangeable as it gets. The guitar work is better than on the predecessor and offers enchanting acoustic guitar melodies, melancholic riffs and passionate solos. Blaze Bayley gives everything he has on the vocals and his enthusiasm is somehow contagious and almost carries this release on its own. Still, the album is definitely missing a standout track that delivers anything above a good average idea.

    Despite its futuristic topic, this album is as conservative as it gets from a musical point of view. If you like old-fashioned mid-tempo heavy metal that could have been released thirty years ago and a science-fiction story that could come from one of the numerous recent video games in the key of Alien, Mass Effect and Soma, this record will fully satisfy you. If you expect something more courageous and creative, you might consider this release good average at best. It's slightly better than Infinite Entanglement but not by much. On a closing side note, the silly album artwork is weird and looks as if the main character had digestive problems. I hope that Blaze Bayley improves in the artwork, production and song writing departments for the third and final part of the trilogy which is due to come out next year.

    Final rating: 72%

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  • Annihilator - Triple Threat (2017)

    Triple Threat is a package made for faithful fans and with some reserves also for potential new followers. It introduces the current Annihilator line-up that has been around for less than a year. This release exists in different versions but the most complete ones offer three different auditory and visual experiences. This package offers a regular concert recorded at Bang Your Head!!! festival consisting of eleven tracks and a running time around one hour. The second threat comes in form of an acoustic set filmed and recorded at Jeff Waters' home studio close to Ottawa with guest singer Marc Lafrance and guest guitar player Pat Robillard who played ten tracks for a running time slightly below forty-five minutes. As an additional gimmick, there is also a comment section where Jeff Waters discusses each of the ten acoustic tracks for about thirty minutes in total. The last chapter offers a documentary including interviews with former and current band members, friends and musicians as well as fans from all around the world for a running time around one hour.

    Let's take a look at the three different parts of this release. The regular concert is what you can expect from such a festival recording. The cuts are a little bit too fast in my book but the sound is overall massive apart of a section in the final track ''Phantasmagoria'' where the sound is off for a few short seconds on two occasions. It's possible that this is only the case for my copy but since I have read about the same issues concerning the same but also other songs in other reviews, I guess it's a general problem that couldn't be fixed. That definitely rates this section of the release down as it is a lack of attention, professionalism and quality but since it's only a minor problem, it will not reduce the overall quality of an overall strong concert. The new line-up has great chemistry and the four musicians clearly enjoy themselves on stage but still manage to play very professionally and nearly technically perfect. Rich Hinks and Aaron Homma are running around the stage like there's no tomorrow, Fabio Alessandrini nails his performance on the drums and Jeff Waters delivers his own triple threat by entertaining the audience, playing the guitar and singing all songs. The German festival audience is audibly enthusiastic which makes the show even more immersive. The set list focuses on the band's first four and current two records only but is rather satisfying for such a festival appearance. However, those who already have the special edition of Feast including the band's festival appearance at Wacken Open Air three years earlier, don't really need this new recording. Half of the set list is the same, the atmospheres are equally great and the bands delivered the goods on both occasion. A recording of a full regular Annihilator concert with some rare material would have been much more interesting. My final verdict is that this part of the package is very solid but not essential.

    The acoustic set is something Annihilator has never tried out so far in its long career. The band chose ten calmer tracks which consist mostly of ballads or half ballads. While all these songs are great in their own way and performed very well, they also end up sounding quite alike and the set gets a little bit redundant after a while. It would have been interesting to transform a few of the heavier tracks into acoustic cuts to have a more diversified selection. The performances of the bass and guitar players are compelling and guest singer Marc Lafrance, who does lead vocals on all songs, are appeasing and enchanting. On a few occasions, he struggles with some higher notes here and there but his overall performance is surprisingly solid. It's questionable whether this experience needed to be filmed. While the audio version makes sense to me, it's not exactly entertaining to watch five guys sitting on chairs in a basement for forty-five minutes. The additional comment section by Jeff Waters proves two things: Jeff Waters is a sympathetic guy who has been through a lot of interesting things but he also talks way too much. While some of his comments were interesting enough, others were repetitive and could be skipped. In the end, this section delivers outstanding music with boring visuals and an ultimately unnecessary comment section.

    The last part consist of a documentary that is all over the place. We get to hear interview segments with current and former band members, colleagues and partners of old date as well as fans from all around the world. Jeff Waters also answers fan questions in between and takes us on a ride through parts of his home town from downtown Ottawa over Dunrobin to Constance Bay. While Canada's capital region looks gorgeous and this documentary inspired me to go swimming at Constance Bay next summer, I wonder what the point of this documentary is. Jeff Waters probably wanted to put as many different aspects and ideas as possible in a running time of about one hour but the final product is lacking structure and includes both quite interesting parts as well as less compelling sections. Even the quality varies from cheap and shaky webcam sections with fans to very professional interview sections with the three new band members where images and sounds are crystal clear. After all, this documentary section is for very faithful fans only and has many ups and downs. On the other side, its unorthodox approach also has a sympathetic side to it.

    To keep it short, Triple Threat is an above average package with several highlights such as the acoustic songs and the energizing festival performance, some average material in form of the documentary and an unnecessary part with comments on the acoustic songs. Faithful fans should absolutely get their hands on this overall entertaining package. Occasional or new fans should only purchase this release for a low and reasonable price and should otherwise stick to one of the band's numerous compilations included as bonus discs on several regular albums or purchase the excellent Japanese greatest hits release Welcome to Your Death which came out less than three years ago.

     Final rating: 72%

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