Heavy Metal Album Reviews: Week of December 16, 2014

The ratings are on a 5 star scale.

Astrakhan – 'A Tapestry of Scabs and Skin' - War On Music

Astrakhan – ‘A Tapestry of Scabs and Skin’. War On Music

1 . Astrakhan – ‘A Tapestry of Scabs and Skin’ (War on Music)

Genre: Progressive Sludge Metal
The new EP from Astrakhan, A Tapestry of Scabs and Skin includes the two tracks off The Pillarist EP and two new tunes. The four tracks are all crafted with meticulous precision forming an exploratory journey of epic progressive sludge.

That they’ve emerged from the Vancouver scene is apparent. They also display shades of Red/Blue-era Baroness and early Mastodon but their sound is all their own. The potent twin guitar attack brings engaging rhythms and an endless supply of riffs. They’re equally adept at pummelling heaviness as seeking out prog realms. A powerful vocal tandem works exceedingly well singularly and in harmonious glory. Seriously fantastic stuff.

Rating: 4.5
(Matt Hinch)

Drap - 'En Naturlig Dod' - Xtreem Music

Drap – ‘En Naturlig Dod’. Xtreem Music

0 . Drap – ‘En Naturlig Dod’ (Xtreem)

Genre: Grindcore/Crust
Take a big helping of grindcore, mix in a liberal dose of crust, toss in a hint of death and black metal, put it in a blender, and you’ll end up with En Naturlig Dod, the debut from Sweden’s Drap.

The songs careen along at maximum speed, driven by intense, angry vocals and clever riffs. There’s not a lot of finesse or subtlety, just a lot of aggression that’s surprisingly catchy. A little more variation in vocal delivery would make it even better.

Rating: 3.5
(Chad Bowar)

Dysangelium - ‘Thanatos Askesis’ - W.T.C. Productions

Dysangelium – ‘Thanatos Askesis’. W.T.C. Productions

-1 . Dysangelium – ‘Thanatos Askesis’ (W.T.C.)

Genre: Black Metal
Germany’s Dysangelium have more than a degree of seriousness about them with their very slick debut full-length album,Thanatos Askesis. It has an air of orthodoxy with what is obviously intended to be a very serious black metal album. Well produced with a crystal clear production, Thanatos Askesis is also beefed up by good musicianship and varied songwriting.

Influenced by bands such as latter day Marduk and French bands such as, perhaps, Merrimack, Dysangelium are making a statement that they have their eyes on the top of the orthodox black metal heap. Although quite good, Dysangelium probably need a bit more experience as songs are unoriginal and derivative of genre forefathers. Still, there’s a great deal of promise on display with Thanatos Askesis.

Rating: 3.5
(Dave Schalek)

Ill Omen – 'Remnant Spheres of Spiritual Equilibrium' - Nuclear War Now! Productions

Ill Omen – ‘Remnant Spheres of Spiritual Equilibrium’. Nuclear War Now! Productions

-2 . Ill Omen – ‘Remnant Spheres of Spiritual Equilibrium’ (Nuclear War Now!)

Genre: Death/Doom Metal
Originally released on limited cassette back in 2012, Remnant Spheres of Spiritual Equilibrium by Ill Omen is now seeing a wider release. Four intertwined tracks of lo-fi death/doom make up this intriguing and absorbing album.

Much in the same vein as Loss, Remnantis terrifyingly depressive, moving with sloth-like procession towards inevitable doom. Ominous synths and a syrupy flow pace the plod. It’s saturated with bleak atmosphere and foreboding melodies. Deathly whispered vocals, like the voice of a desiccated corpse speak spiritually with deadly countenance. Night, stone walls, candles and an open soul are the perfect conditions forRemnant.

Rating: 3.5
(Matt Hinch)

Mesmur - 'Mesmur' - Code 666

Mesmur – ‘Mesmur’. Code 666

-3 . Mesmur – ‘Mesmur’ (Code 666)

Genre: Funeral Doom
If you’re looking for some happy holiday music, the self-titled debut from Mesmurprobably won’t fit the bill. If you’re looking for some dark, depressing music just in time for the holidays, this will do just fine.

The songs are lengthy with thick riffs and ample atmosphere. As you’d expect from the genre the tempos are generally slow to medium, but they do shift pretty regularly. There are lengthy instrumental sections that are somber and ethereal, while elsewhere the guttural vocals add an ominous touch. It’s an impressive and varied debut with some avant-garde stylings that help Mesmur stand out from the typical funeral doom band.

Rating: 4
(Chad Bowar)

Morbosidad - ‘Tortura’ - Nuclear War Now! Productions

Morbosidad – ‘Tortura’. Nuclear War Now! Productions

-4 . Morbosidad – ‘Tortura’ (Nuclear War Now!)

Genre: Black/ Death Metal
Lurking in the far corners of the underground is Texas’ Morbosidad (by way of Oakland), a blackened war metal machine barking out various blasphemies in guttural Spanish. A long running band with a discography as long as your arm, Morbosidad are probably the Latino version of bands such as Nocturnal Fear or Impiety with a focus on bullet belts, spikes, and warfare worshiping atrocities.

I would imagine that Tortura, a four- song EP, is as good a place to start as any in exploring Morbosidad and the music fits the band’s image. Grimy blackened death metal with low-fi attributes, plenty of all out blasts, and nary a moment of melody in sight is pretty much what you get; but, then again, you probably knew that already from looking at the EP cover art.

Rating: 3.5
(Dave Schalek)

Oktor - 'Another Dimension Of Pain' - Solitude Productions

Oktor – ‘Another Dimension Of Pain’. Solitude Productions

-5 . Oktor – ‘Another Dimension Of Pain’ (Solitude)

Genre: Doom/Death Metal
They have been around for more than a decade, but the Polish band Oktor have only done an EP, split and a compilation appearance. They make their full-length debut with Another Dimension Of Pain.

The album is very deliberate and unfolds slowly. Instrumental piano tracks are followed by epic doom/death metal songs of up to 17 minutes long. There are spoken word vocals, clean vocals and harsh vocals. The music is equally diverse, ranging from heavy doom to moderate metal to classical flavored atmospherics. There’s a lot of absorb, but with repeated listens you’ll really feel the musical and emotional impact.

Rating: 3.5
(Chad Bowar)

StarGazer - 'A Merging To The Boundless' - Nuclear War Now! Productions

StarGazer – ‘A Merging To The Boundless’. Nuclear War Now! Productions

-6 . StarGazer – ‘A Merging To The Boundless’ (Nuclear War Now!)

Genre: Black/Death Metal
The Australian trio StarGazer includes two members of Cauldron Black Ram. Even though they have been around for almost 20 years, A Merging To The Boundless is only their third full-length album.

After getting off to a black/death metal start, the album takes a lot of twists and turns. It’s avant-garde and experimental in places, groovy and melodic in others. There are parts that are mellow and progressive, others that are intense and oppressive. StarGazer blend various styles and ever-changing tempos and textures into an album that is cohesive and compelling.

Rating: 4
(Chad Bowar)

Thaw - 'Earth Ground' - Witching Hour Productions

Thaw – ‘Earth Ground’. Witching Hour Productions

-7 . Thaw – ‘Earth Ground’ (Witching Hour)

Genre: Black/Experimental Metal
The Polish trio Thaw return with their second album Earth Ground. They blend traditional black metal with experimental and noise elements.

It’s quite a diverse effort, as black metal alternates with noise, ambient and experimental sections. Some songs are dissonant and dense, while others are more regal and measured. They shift intensities and tempos numerous times within each song. There are moments where everything clicks, but also times when things don’t work as smoothly.

Rating: 3
(Chad Bowar)

Zero Down – ‘No Limit to the Evil’ - Minotauro Records

Zero Down – ‘No Limit to the Evil’. Minotauro Records

-8 . Zero Down – ‘No Limit to the Evil’ (Minotauro)

Genre: Heavy Metal/Hard Rock
If you’re an ‘80s metal child who’s been hankering for some of that good ole cheese, don’t look any further than No Limit to the Evil, the new album from Seattle’s Zero Down, an old-school quintet with punk rock in their veins whose carefree and polished rock ‘n’ roll should appease fans of Scorpions, Judas Priest and Iron Maiden.

In keeping with their 2008 sophomore release, Zero Down’s fourth harbors a slick Ed Repka cover and a maniacal Pentecostal minister, lending the album a particular throwback aesthetic that only grows when tracks like “Phantom Host” and “Black Rhino” come riding across your speakers. A solid toe-tapping time to be had by all, especially with a couple brews, but No Limit to the Evil is often a bit too silly (“Suicide Girl”), and far more run-of-the-mill than it is run-to-the-hills.

Rating: 3
(Evan Mugford)