3 Years Hollow – ‘The Cracks’ (Imagen)
Genre: Hard Rock
The Cracks is the debut album from Illinois rockers 3 Years Hollow. While radio friendly, it has plenty of crunch to go along with the melodies.
The album was produced by Sevendust’s Clint Lowery, who also makes a guest appearance on “For Life,” which strangely enough has more of a Disturbed vibe than a Sevendust one. And like Sevendust, 3 Years Hollow have enough edge to appeal to some metal fans and enough accessibility to be embraced by rock fans.
Burial Hordes – ‘Incendium’ (Hellthrasher)
Genre: Black Metal
More than five years after their last full-length, the Greek black metal band Burial Hordes return with their third album Incendium. Their sound has grown more diverse, as they’ve added more weapons to their musical arsenal.
In addition to the typical tremolo-picked black metal riffs, you’ll also hear plenty of melody. Dense blastbeats give way to rollicking grooves and even some reasonably mellow sections. The vocals are more death metal than black metal, with guttural growls being the norm. There are still a few higher pitched black metal rasps as well.
Drawers – ‘Drawers’ (Kaotoxin)
Genre: Sludge/Stoner Metal
Mixing stoner and sludge metal, France’s Drawers have returned with their second full-length album, a self-titled affair that’s not as angry nor as progressive as their 2011 debut All is One. Instead, it hits a lighter note, sweetly balancing huge quirky riffs and bruising, infectious melody.
While Niko Bastide’s vocals are nastier and the band’s overall sound is a bit more grisly, Drawers play in a similar key to that of Florida’s Torche. Grooves and good vibrations run parallel to all of the record’s grungy, metallic passion, and the result is an awesomely fun, unassailably heavy record that is, to be certain, all about love.
Gholas – ‘Litanies’ (Dullest)
The New Jersey band Gholas are one of those artists whose sound is difficult to categorize. Their latest album Litanies explores, well, a litany of styles and genres.
Doom, sludge, post metal, shoegaze, drone, noise and punk are some of the influences you’ll hear, along with a few others. They play with intensity and passion, embodied by Bob’s strained vocals. In an interview, he says he actually passed out while recording vocals on the album because of the physical strain. You’ll hear that effort in every note. And even though the sound is hard to pin down, the quality of the album is evident.
Lay Down Rotten – ‘Deathspell Catharsis’ (Apostasy)
Genre: Melodic Death Metal
Germany’s Lay Down Rotten have ‘journeymen’ written all over them. A string of albums that straddle the line between melodic and semi-brutal death metal have landed them squarely in the middle of the second tier, a status that shows no signs of changing with Deathspell Catharsis.
Playing chunky riffs with a booming, mid-paced tempo that segues into the occasional blast beat, Lay Down Rotten employ a typical and formulaic approach to death metal. There are a few catchy songs, though, with moments of melody that appear in slower passages with pleasing guitar solos, but the one dimensional vocals of Jost Kleinert do little to elevate the music.
Mantar – ‘Death By Burning’ (Svart)
Genre: Sludge/Noise Rock
Mantar’s Death By Burning is what happens when two angry Europeans combine AmRep noise with some seriously blackened rock. And for a two-piece band with no bass, there’s surprisingly enough low end on this debut to level an entire city block. You see, Mantar are magicians, people. Warlocks? Yeah, let’s go with that. More evil.
The riffs on these ten tracks are dirty and infectious, the band eschewing speed and finesse for slow and mid-paced brutality. Oh, and the drummer sounds like he pounds his kit with Brontosaurus bones instead of sticks. The spoken word/instrumental track “The Berserkers Path” ends with the line: “They serve one master, that is destruction.” That sounds about right.
Mystifier – ‘Wicca’ (Greyhaze)
Genre: Black Metal
Alongside Blasphemy and Beherit, Brazil’s Mystifier were on the forefront of the early black metal movement. Performing brutal unfiltered black metal, their debut release Wicca was ahead of its time and on the precipice of the movement. Long out of print, it is now being re-released with a bonus DVD featuring two distinct live performances.
The production is raw and lewd, which fits the material perfectly. A cross between early Sepultura, Sodom and Bathory, Mystifer succeed when they slow the tempo down to break up the monotony. The vocals are beyond guttural, even by today’s standards and there is a looseness to the music that works to the material’s benefit. It’s more remembered for being iconic than the actual songwriting.
Solstice – ‘Death’s Crown is Victory’ (Into the Void)
Into The Void Records
Genre: Epic Doom Metal
Band founder Richard Walker and the self-proclaimed “boorish loudmouths” of England’s Solstice haven’t graced us with original songs since 1998, making the Death’s Crown is Victory EP their eagerly anticipated return to the battlefield.
At 26 minutes, it’s a generous helping of tasty, slow-cooked riffs, perfect when paired with fist pumps and mead indulgence. With Judas Priest’s anthemic grandeur and bouncier rhythms, Solstice fuse epic doom with mutton-and-taters classic metal, building upon Candlemass’ tried and true foundation to create an album that swaggers victoriously and rocks with power, grace, and surprising sophistication.
Stilla – ‘Ensamhetens Andar’ (Nordvis)
Genre: Black Metal
Following up a successful debut release is always a tough feat for any band to achieve. With the release of their sophomore effortEnsamhetens Andar, Sweden’s Stilla have not strayed far from their original formula and have tightened up the production. The vocals, while still harsh, are delivered with a greater clarity and are much more effective this time around.
Taking a heavy influence from ’90s black metal their sound is plastered with blast beats, tremolo guitar riffing and a healthy dose of symphonic elements. The songwriting is layered and atmospheric as four of the seven songs are over seven minutes in length. Sung in their native tongue, the material is steeped in tradition and carries an aura of authenticity.
The Unguided – ‘Fragile Immortality’ (Napalm)
Genre: Melodic Death Metal
Former members of Sonic Syndicate make up the bulk of The Unguided,which is evident by listening to their second album Fragile Immortality.Fans of their previous band will see that the two groups share a few aspects, including the dueling harsh/melodic vocal styles and upbeat keyboards prevalent in the mix.
The band straddles the boundaries of melodic death metal and metalcore, never fully committing to one side. The vocals and lead guitar work are strong, but the lack of stand out tracks hinders the record’s value. Fragile Immortality will have limited appeal beyond the fan base that came over from the Sonic Syndicate days.
Van Canto – ‘Dawn of the Brave’ (Napalm)
Genre: A Capella Metal
The drum was the first instrument man invented. Germany’s Van Cantoare the leader in the a capella metal genre. They use their voices and Bastian, their drummer, to knock out a mutant Nightwish goes Broadway kind of European power metal with all its usual heraldic allusions. The vocal sandwich of male, female and silicon chip is state-of-the-art for whatever art this is.
The ‘instrumentation’ is the equivalent of air guitar as interpreted by doo-wop vocals squeezed through boxes bright with red and blue LED displays. The songs are operatic and energetic, but as is the bane of a capella, the covers of metal classics are the most entertaining. Their versions of “The Final Countdown” and “Paranoid” (replete with voice-sample guitar synthesizer) are worth the price of admission.