• Hellyeah - Unden!able (2016)

    When I attended a concert of groove metal quintet Hellyeah a few years ago, some people commented that the band was trash and that it would be a waste of time going to their show. The band played a great concert and had an excellent communication with the crowd and those who were making stupid comments back then now regret not having seen drummer and founder Vinnie Paul on stage one last time before his untimely demise. UndenIable is the record the band promoted during the concert and the band's fifth studio record is also the last released while Vinnie Paul was still alive.

    This record finds the right balance between more aggressive groove metal tunes and more melodic and surprisingly catchy tracks that would deserve more attention. In the first category, one has to cite the extremely fast ''X'' with its diversified vocals, powerful rhythms and energizing gang shouts. The powerful title track ''Be Undeniable'' represents the band's raw side accurately as well and convinces with pressured spoken word passages and sinister bass guitar sounds.''Startariot'' does its title justice with distorted guitar solos and angrily overlapping vocal lines.

    In the second category, a first highlight is the sinister ''Leap of Faith'' that plays with grunge references and convinces with melancholic guitar leads and steady drum play. ''Love Falls'' features interesting vintage keyboard samples and overall elaborates upon a somewhat melancholic atmosphere with surprisingly melodic vocals. A very unusual and courageous song is the cover version of Phil Collins' ''I Don't Care Anymore'' that features guitar parts by the late Dimebag Darrel and I prefer this atmospheric rendition over the overrated original tune.

    In the end, Hellyeah's UndenIable is a great record of you like alternative metal, groove metal and occasional grunge reminiscences. The record finds the perfect balance between aggressive and melodic passages and is surprisingly diversified and entertaining from start to finish. That type of music usually isn't my cup of tea but I have come to the conclusion that the band is actually much better than its negative reputation.

    Final rating: 80%

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  • Bethlehem - Lebe dich leer (2019)

    Bethlehem is one of the most experimental black metal bands you will ever come across. The band's ninth studio record in twenty-eight years represents the quartet's unusual soundscapes rather well.

    Depressive, nihilistic and suicidal black metal outbursts with blistering rhythm section, distorted guitars and haunting vocals reminding of a squeaking pig meet elegiac ambient passages, female narrative sections and smooth folk transitions.

    On the positive side, this eclectic mixture of genres is entertaining, surprising and quite unique. You never know what to expect and this release invites you to fully focus on it and rediscover it over and over again. ''Niemals mehr leben'' which successfully transitions between thunderous black metal parts and atmospheric darkwave tones is an example for one of the most efficient songs.

    On the negative side, the different soundscapes don't gel well. Sometimes, one is at a loss and wondering what the band is aiming for. The fact that the experimental elements aren't just short passages but sometimes extended over several minutes or even entire songs doesn't make this record any easier to digest. A more streamlined, energetic and focused songwriting would certainly improve the sound. One of the worst offenders certainly is bonus track ''Laune der Natur'', an electronic ambient tune with narrative passages that plods on for four and a half painful minutes.

    In the end, Bethlehem's Lebe dich leer will please to fans of experimental black metal and those who search beauty in darkness with the band's quite negative lyrics. Black metal purists on the other side will have their share of problems with this at times challenging output.

    Final rating: 70%

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  • Les Ékorchés - Frères de sang (2011)

    Les Ékorchés play a very unique and interesting mixture of sludge metal with some hardcore roots that is mixed with the sounds of some acoustic guitars and especially an electric cello which gives some dark and dramatic vibes to the music. Those instruments get more and more integrated in the straight metal sound and the mixture sounds surprisingly homogeneous. The vocals are still very rough and sound as if the singer had a rope tied around his throat and wants to scream out his emotions, fears and angers in the last seconds of his life. He harmonizes surprisingly well with the music and sounds quite unique even if he could vary a little bit more and accord some more liberty to the other musicians. The band creates a more and more unique metal brand and prefers to create catchy mid tempo metal tracks instead of fast paced hardcore songs. Nevertheless, you should not expect any big experimentation such as ballads, orchestral tracks or fully acoustic pieces as the band focuses on a very precise and unique sound.

    The songs of the band are all as short and straight as the lyrics which talk about everyday problems in our society like complicated relationships, egoism, liars, thieves, loss of control, midlife crisis, anger about high gas prices or thoughts about being parents, feeling empty or approaching death. The band chose to write their songs in French but one should rather call it "Québécois" because the Canadian French isn't quite comparable to the original language from France. The band uses many swear words but beneath the very direct and emotional language are many hidden philosophical thoughts. The album is an authentic piece of Quebec's culture and worth to be purchased by anyone that would like to have something exotic and unique in his collection.

    The music varies from very dark tracks like "L'diable au corps" or the amazingly discording and at the same time harmonious "La grande faucheuse" which is one of my favourite tracks that makes me think of some straighter Apocalyptica tracks to short and fast killer songs like "Zodiac" that reveal the thrash metal and hardcore roots of the band. Many songs are very catchy and easily memorable. "Possédé" is a quite diversified but straight opener that should take no prisoners during the upcoming energizing live shows of the band and is surely one of the best tracks on the record. "Sortir ca tête" has some exotic Asian folk vibes and is the most outstanding track with "La grande faucheuse". A video has been made for the track "Burn out" that is another catchy track and reminds of the style of the last video "Juste assez sharp" from the band's second album.

    After the first two albums, the band parted ways with drummer Michel "Away" Langevin as Voivod began to continue its journey and he decided to focus on his main band. But even though a very talented musician parted this change helped the band to get the status of a regular band and not only a side project. He got replaced by a very diversified and talented new drummer and all members are now fully integrated in the band and into the new style they have created which is a big step forward for them.

    What we have here is a really unique and homogenous piece of straight metal music with electric cello, acoustic guitars and rough French vocals as well as highly interesting critical and philosophical lyrics. The album seems to be rather short but it almost has the perfect length for this kind of straight music and the most important thing is that there is no single filler on this record. The songs sound all rather similar but each song has something special and catchy that makes it stand out like a great chorus, a stunning riff, calm and epic cello passage, a little drum solo or a fast paced thrash metal part. There really isn’t much to criticize here as this record simply never gets boring. Be sure to check this very particular music out and broaden your horizons.

    Final rating: 85%

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  • Tainted DickMen - The Defects of Humanity (2013)

    The Defects of Humanity is the first demo release of Japanese group Tainted DickMen that combines blistering grindcore with raw thrash metal. The band sounds like a more contemporary, energetic and versatile version of  Stormtroopers of Death and the numerous groups these pioneers have inspired. This release exists in two versions. The original one includes four tracks with a running time just above ten minutes. One year later, this record was released with a bonus disc consisting of three more tunes. Here's hope the band will rerecord the tracks from this second release with the ones from the second demo Grind Mother and release them as a regular album that might be as great as the energetic full length Tornado Thrashing Bomber that I have actually purchased directly from Japan.

    Grindcore usually isn't my kind of genre but the band's relentless, insane and creative energy that harmonizes perfectly with raw thrash metal is so outstanding that this is one of the few genre bands I can listen to for prolonged periods of time. The tracks on this release already show the band's different strengths. The short ''Revolution'' combines guitar leads inspired by traditional heavy metal with fast-paced thrash metal riffs and blistering grindcore passages focusing on raw guitar play, pitiless drums and aggressive vocals in a blur. The group can also take its time to unfold its numerous songwriting ideas further without losing its pitiless energy. ''Immoral Engineer J'' combines gang shouts reminding of hardcore punk with rhythmic thrash metal and short but efficient grindcore outbursts in almost four highly addictive, entertaining and surprising minutes.

    If you have never liked grindcore, you should give Tainted DickMen a chance because the group efficiently interweaves these genre elements with traditional heavy metal and thrash metal with hardcore punk influences to create its very own unique style. If you are missing crossover bands like Stormtroopers of Death, your search might finally have come to an end with this crazy Japanese group. Genre fans should crank the volume up and party hard to this timeless demo debut that is on the same high level of quality as the band's later full length release.

    Final rating: 80%

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  • Les Ékorchés - IV démons (2009)

    Les Ékorchés' second record IV Démons is also the quartet's best release. The group's creative mixture of sludge metal, grindcore, folk music and classical music sounds more balanced, focused and structured than on the unstable predecessor. The record doesn't overstay its welcome with twelve tracks and a running time of just above forty minutes. The record starts very confidently and offers numerous highlights in its first half. Even though the second half is overall less impressive, it still manages to keep the listener's attention and avoid unnecessary lengths.

    The opening ''Juste assez sharp'' is a first highlight as it starts with melancholic but not melodramatic cello sounds with a theatrical narrative passage as the song builds up tension and evolves towards a rhythmic metal tune that flirts with sludge and thrash metal elements but also includes short blistering passages reminding of some of the band members' grindcore roots.

    The quartet continues on a high note with the more rhythmic ''Tu rayonnes la noirceur'', the menacing, evil and desperate ''Que la mort règne'' and the sad ballad ''Vieux moineau'' where the lead singer collaborates with his sister who performs in a hauntingly emotive manner. The lyrics of these songs are as inspiring as the unusual instrumental work and deal with sinister topics like assisted suicide, poverty and prostitution.

    The middle section of the record is solid but not as outstanding as the first four tracks but the second half still includes one surprising highlight in form of ''À côté de toé'', an emotional ballad with raw clean vocals and smooth cello sounds whose inspiring lyrics can be interpreted in several ways.

    In the end, Les Ékorchés is another creative, genre-breaking and unique metal band from Quebec that you should check out to broaden your horizons. IV Démons is the group's best effort thanks to focused songwriting, memorable music and emotional lyrics.

    Final rating: 90%

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