The ratings are on a 5 star scale.
Axenstar – ‘Where Dreams Are Forgotten’ (Inner Wound)
Genre: Power Metal
Sweden’s Axenstar blend power and melody on their sixth release, Where Dreams Are Forgotten. Driven by intricate riffing and soaring melodies, they have a strong ability for composing memorable material. Like latter day Nocturnal Rights and Brainstorm, vocalist Magnus Winterwild utilizes a mid vocal range that flows well with the heavier style of power metal.
“The Return” captures the spirit of early Sonata Arctica, flowing smoothly with a ¾ time signature that peaks with an infectious chorus. Opener “Fear” rages out of the gate with blazing double bass drumming and an explosive guitar solo. Perfect for those that prefer their power metal a little tougher and heavier.
Bhleg – ‘Draumr Ast’ (Nordvis)
Genre: Black Metal
The duo of Bhleg are from Sweden, but their debut album Draumr Ast takes inspiration from the early days of Norwegian black metal.
The album uses simple repetitive riffs and atmospherics. Some songs are traditional black metal with raspy vocals, others are ambient and mellow instrumentals. There’s also some melodic singing. The mix is very treble-heavy, with the drums buried low in the mix and the bass virtually non-existent. Their influences include early Burzum and Ulver, and the album sounds like it was recorded in the ’90s.
Bog Oak – ‘A Treatise on Resurrection and The Afterlife’ (Svart)
Genre: Blackened Doom Metal
Gloomy doom metal, interspersed with a wonderful performance from vocalist Julie Seymour, makes for an engaging EP fromBog Oak. The fuzzy bass tones add to the noisy procession, while battering riffs illicit a brutal response. Seymour’s range is bountiful, as nasty growls give way to alluring harmonies.
Her melodic voice is the center point of the forlorn closer “A Sea Without Shore.” The punchy “Time Drift of Seasons” allows for a reprieve from the stifled mechanics of a tune like “The Science of the Afterlife.” Though seemingly emerging out of nowhere, Bog Oak have one of the best EPs of 2014.
Cadaveric Fumes/Demonic Oath – ‘Entwined In Sepulchral Darkness’ (Iron Bonehead)
Genre: Death Metal
Iron Bonehead Productions gets down in the muck once again with a split MLP release. Featuring two French bands,Cadaveric Fumes and Demonic Oath,Entwined In Sepulchral Darkness sports two tracks from each. Both bands are similar in that each plays grimy death metal with a powerful, bottom heavy sound, guttural vocals, a punishing percussion and an evil, thoroughly rancid vibe.
First up are Cadaveric Fumes, whose contribution is quite good with a deep seated sense of power and a concentration on mid-paced dirges entwined with a few blasts. Demonic Oath have a low-fi fuzz to their sound, robbing the music of a bit of heft. Each band is still quite good, though, and merit further investigation.
Eye of Solitude – ‘Dear Insanity’ (Kaotoxin)
Genre: Funeral Doom
Eye of Solitude embrace the “solitude” portion of their name to extremes on Dear Insanity. It’s a 50-minute track full of the deepest emotions formed in a darkened heart. When music really connects, we feel we aren’t alone, and Dear Insanity is the sound of loneliness.
From the tortured screams below meditative ambiance to the monolithic funeral doom comes waves of pain and loss. Beasts rise amid mournful synths. Clean vocals play with shadowy ambiance. As powerful as the doom is, the quiet sections are particularly sorrowful, especially the piano.Dear Insanity takes the listener from the very depths of despair and madness to a glimpse of hope. The sepulchral, sombre and grievous piece is best experienced all at once.
Fortress – ‘Unto the Nothing’ (Unholy Anarchy)
Genre: Doom Metal
The first full-length release from Maryland trio Fortress is a lifeless spectacle of static appreciation. Fortress envelop themselves in the buzz of guitar feedback, which can go on for minutes without interruption. Though a few calmer moments come out from the noise, they are fleeting at best.
This is a punishing record, with immense growls bellowing out of some shape-shifting abyss. “Fight The Son” is furious compared to the rest of the album, which is content with a tempo bordering on funeral doom. The gruesome cover art is a fair omen of the diabolical dissonance that lies within.
Johnny Wore Black – ‘Walking Underwater Part 2’ (Dead Cherry)
Genre: Alternative/Hard Rock
When he’s not a stuntman for Hollywood flicks like Fury and The Dark Knight, the enigmatic Jay is the mastermind behind UK rockers Johnny Wore Black. Playing moody yet distinctly radio-friendly music, JWB is releasing its second album of the year in the aptly titled Walking Underwater Pt. 2.
With many songs co-written by longtime Megadeth guitarist Dave Ellefson, the song quality remains at a consistent and catchy clip, ala “I Do Dissolve.” Jay’s vocals vary from good to mediocre, but the mellow style of music fits his tenor well, and while he’s no Whitman, his lyrical cadence is a selling point. Not a game-changer, but a surprisingly affecting album that features additional guest work by singers Sara Renar and Loretta Heywood.
Lotus Thief – ‘Rervm’ (Svart)
Lotus Thief’s debut is an eclectic clashing of metal, rock, and ambient. It took almost as long to figure out a genre description for this album as the review itself did. That’s because of the band’s sharp ability to remain outside of stringent genre lines.
There’s a black metal aura in the rhythm work, though the tuneful female vocals are far away from that. Extended outros in most of the songs are built upon calming synths and placated atmospheric touches. Rervm’s philosophical lyrical content adds a riveting spark to what is a spirited beginning to this group’s career.
Mors Principium Est – ‘Dawn Of The 5th Era’ (AFM)
Genre: Melodic Death Metal
The Finnish melodeath band Mors Principium Est have been around for 15 years or so, and return with Dawn Of The 5th Era. As you probably deduced, it’s their fifth album.
This is the second album for guitarist Andy Gillion and the first for Kevin Verlay. Their performance on the album is excellent. Galloping thrash riffs combine with groovier mid-tempo parts and catchy solos that create plenty of diversity. Subtle keyboards add a layer of atmosphere. Longtime vocalist Ville Viljanen delivers powerful harsh vocals that are also perfectly understandable. It’s another solid effort from an underrated band.
My Shameful – ‘Hollow’ (MFL)
Genre: Doom Metal
Finland’s doom duo of My Shameful find themselves blurring the lines between the darkness and light on their fifth effort,Hollow. With an overwhelming doom signature, the album’s eight tracks also touch on a post metal feel, as well as an underlying black metal meddling in modicum.
The vocals are superb, as is the ambience, yet the album fails to connect on various levels, notably the overdrawn songwriting that is dangling more with anticipation instead of execution.