Hell: Curse & Chapter
(Heavy Metal, UK)
Hell might not be the most original name for a metal band, but luckily their music is infernally too damn hellish that they deserve to keep it. Hell was formed originally in 1982 but disbanded after tragic events leading to Dave G. Halliday's death in 1987. The band regrouped in 2008 where David Bower joined ranks replacing the deceased singer Halliday. Halliday taught Andy Sneap to play guitar and Sneap mentions Hell as one of this main influences.
Hell's debut album Human Remains took the metal world and critics by storm and entered several year-end lists. For some reason that album didn't click with me at that time and I was not sure what to expect from the new album. On December 9, 2013 I was witnessing Hell opening for Amon Amarth in Kaapelitehdas, Helsinki and they really killed it that night. The band was on fire and especially the remarkable show of David Bower on stage was tremendous to watch: he hit all the impossible high and theatrical notes perfectly and changed from one costume to another with a blink of an eye. The vocals are one the most prominent and most difficult thing to grasp: they are twisted, they are deranged, they are over-the-top, they are insane and they are powerful. David Bower is the hellish lovechild of Mercyful Fate and Satan and he's on fire on this record.
Curse & Chapter is almost perfect traditional heavy metal album: it's catchy, it's melodic, it's cheesy to the point it needs to be, it has your favorite metal party songs and it is killing you from start to finish. To be precise not all songs on the album are new, some have been face lifted to 21th century without losing its original touch (e.g. Death Squad, Deliver us from Evil and Land Of The Living Dead). David Bower has also stepped up in writing songs for the new album and they fit perfectly. On guitar Andy Sneap (guitarist, songwriter and highly acclaimed producer) and Kev Bower lay a solid foundation for the songs and their professional touch makes the album shine even more. Production wise there is little to complain: the sound is rich, crisp and powerful.
If you crave for unorthodox traditional heavy metal in your life, this is an album (a future classic) you can jump on without hesitation.
Watch the video of Darkhangel below and prepare to be blown away!
(Heavy Metal/Rock, Sweden)
Ghost is another phenomena that changed the field of metal in 2010 with their debut album Opus Eponymous. They play soundwise traditional heavy metal or hard rock, but the lyric deal with occultism, darkness and evil. Most notable about the band are the vocals, performed by Papa Emeritus II (reincarnation of Papa Emeritus) which are soft, infectious, radio friendly and likable. If you have seen them live or any pics of the band you'll know the reason why they are so famous: none of us really knows their true personality as the rest of the band is known as nameless ghouls. They dress up for the shows in long black or white capes and wear make-up and masks hiding their faces. There is also minimum if any contact with the audience during their performance, which is fitting for the image of the band.
Infestissumam didn't impress me much of first or second listen. Hell, I even decided that I ain't got time to return to this album if I have to force myself into liking it. There were many months that I didn't listen to it at all, but I returned to it one day as I was fed up with everything at work. All of the sudden the songs started to make sense to me in some twisted way although the intentionally provocative and explicit lyrics kept bothering me. In the end I decided to just enjoy the ride and give up on any prejudices. Take Ghuleh / Zombie Queen, Secular Haze, Year Zero or Monstrance Clock and you are forced to admit that these are some of the most well-written and catchiest songs you'll hear this year. They are so infectious that you'll find humming them in your head whether you wanted or not. That is the undeniable power of the record and since resistance is futile all I can do is give in and yield: you won me over. What's your next move guys?
Watch the video for Year Zero below:
Carcass: Surgical Steel
(Death Metal, UK)
I have a confession to make: Heartwork is NOT one of my favorite metal albums from the 1990's. Actually I hadn't even heard of it until six or seven years later or so when I slowly started drifting away from power metal (and yes, I still love it!) and started my journey listening to metal bands having harsh vocals. When the news of Carcass comeback record started brewing after their regrouping in 2007, the fans went crazy and the expectations were sky-high. Surgical Steel is the band's first album in 17 years and you'd think they are old blokes now. Wrong, actually the dynamic duo Jeff Walker and Bill Steer are still in their prime: both are born in 1969 making them only 44 years young.
First thing that is metal about this album is the cover. It pictures some of the tools a pathologist uses in his work, the coloring is black and grey and the tools are made of steel, surgical steel: now how cool and metal is that? I don't know what the hell these guys have been doing during their break, but it has obviously done them justice: there is not one single bad song on the album. Actually you'd think that you are listening to a best of collection as all of the songs are killer and you finding moshing your head to the ruthless beat and playing that airguitar. The sound is melodic death/thrash metal and lyrical themes deal with gore, pathology and medical themes. Somehow the sound is true to the 1990's but still you know that you are listening to a brand new metal album. This means that it is not overproduced, the sound is dynamic and robust.
Surgical Steel is one the strongest returns in metal I have heard recently. It is almost uncanny to think that the gap between this and their previous record is almost two decades. I hardly think they'll retire again after such strong comeback and their true will to play and write killer songs. Without a doubt the praise this album has received all over the media is justified, it is very close to perfection.
Watch the video for Unfit For Human Consumption below:
(Death Metal, Australia)
Experimental death metal from Brisbane, Queensland Australia serving next, any takers? This year my hunger for extreme, obscure and underground metal took me to shows I could have even dreamt of doing fifteen years ago. Portal played together with another Australian metal ambassador, Vomitor, in Helsinki in July 2013 and I was one of the lucky ones to witness this demonic onslaught. I had absolutely no clue what to expect, so you can imagine when Portal started to play and I started headbanging the crowd did the exact opposite. I had not learnt the code and obviously the code in Portal gig is to stand still and witness the service silently and enjoy the dark mass. Luckily I rectified my actions quickly and blended in with the mass. Another valued memory is the setlist I was able to pick up from the floor, now if only I would remember where I have hidden it in my apartment?
Vexovoid continues the Portal saga with the familiar elements of the bands: distorted guitars, abrupt tempo changes and impossible sounding rhythms topped with furious drumming and deep, subtle whispers/growls. It is pretty hard to get into the band as there are no choruses that you could relate to and the overall sound is more or less chaos. This was one of the reasons I strayed from this album as the true revelation does not take place until you let go of your expectations and enjoy the entire demonic experience as a whole. Portal is one of those caveman death metal bands for me where production is not the key to the ultimate goal, it is the twisted journey where the haunting and primitive atmosphere offers a true feeling of danger and excitement.
Stream the album here and support the band:
(Black metal/crust, US)
Vhöl is another supergroup formed in 2012 by members of Hammers Of Misfortune, Agalloch and YOB among others. There have been quite a few supergroups emerging in 2013, but this is one of my absolute favorites. I haven't really actively followed the others bands the members are involved with, except Agalloch where Mr. Dekker plays drums. By the way, Agalloch is currently in studio recording their new album, which is scheduled for 2014 release, absolutely stoked about this as Agalloch is one of my TOP10 bands in the world.
Vhöl plays black metal/crust with heavy metal influences and the odd combination of styles is something really unique and devastating. First of all, the album features absolutely crushing and relentless drumming by Aesop Dekker (he posted a pic in Facebook of his hands where the skin had literally rolled off from his fingertips while recording this album). His flawless performance is on par with Jamie Saint Merat's drumming (Ulcerate) and together they share the #1 drummer place in my books. Secondly the relentless riffing and use of tremolo guitar by John Cobbett expands the sound to another level and crust influences work very well. Finally Mike Scheidt (vocals) and Sigrid Sheie (bass) complete the experience playing their part cleanly. Especially the vocal harmonies are addictive as hell, I simply adore them.
Vhöl's debut album is easily one of the biggest surprises in 2013 and another gem from Profound Lore Records. Knowing all the members are busy with other projects, it might take time before the story continues but I for one will wait eagerly for the sophomore album as Vhöl is crazy good.
Stream the entire album here and support: