Saturday, December 8, 2012

Baphomet - The Dead Shall Inherit [1992]

Every time there's a new morbid bludgeon going on in the current death metal underground, the origin of the that cadaverous formula is tightly bind to your typical Floridian suspects of brutality; Massacre, Morbid Angel to a certain extent, Deicide, and perhaps even some South American intensity thrown in. Though, I regret to admit that the current trends have taken reiteration to a point where it's almost a necessity, and while doing so, many overlooked gems are ignored or neglected. Borne of the crude and ghoulish cemetery grime and made of rotten flesh and bile, Baphomet is what you'd probably call ''a grotesquery of the genre'', which, at least circa 1989-1993, was considered  to be very true. Huddled in gore, filth and malignancy, Baphomet's ''The Dead Shall Inherit'' is a crudely underrated treasure to be found in the deepest, putrid trenches of the burial ground.

''The Dead Shall Inherit'' was probably overly brutal for even acknowledged mavens of old school Floridian brutality that I've mentioned, who brought the genre to a point of lush and wealthy, mainstream finesse. There's always some good in reconsidering the roots of one's masterful aesthetics that have been divided by dichotomy over years of development and sophistication. Baphomet still today sounds utterly regurgitating and macabre, weighing immense, muscular riffage upon heaps of carnality, forming an oblique hybrid of death and thrash fashioned in such a way that you'd get the feeling the composers were gushing out frantically in violent surge of adrenalin while shattering bones and flaying a marauded cadaver. It's possible that the band was trying to take the gurgling, decomposed ebullition of the roaming kings of gore and brutality at the time, so there are obvious differences; instead of keeping the listener distorted with clinical technical death metal showers, ''The Dead Shall Inherit'' weighs on pressure, excluding the busying, and fluttering their gory momentum with masterfully crafted implements of sordid, ruthless simplicity and sending the listener's pulverized skeletal complex into mire of blood. This is music that neanderthals would've simply adored.

Of course, all these primal incursions come with a cost. Any sort of mood, embellishment and technical diversity is left to rot, omitted. Therefore, in the sense that the band's only implements are pummeling grooves and upright beats, you could say they were pretty ''non-bullshit'', but then again they would probably tell you the same thing. In addition to the hammering rhythmic department, Baphomet had sodden bass lines that really quivered and enlightened the discharge of the guitars as to decompose them even further. Like on ''Valley Of The Dead'', on the legendary intro riff, the bassist literally exposes all the stomach-churning contents of his body while this four strings bob to attain undeniable headbanging pleasure. Tom Frost's vocal timbre is also a shaking feature and oblique like the guitar work; I can't quite relate it directly to any well-known guttural vocalist. Consistent and punishing like a shower of meaty bricks falling upon unprotected heads, ''The Dead Shall Inherit'' will leave the typical OSDM freak sweltering, and should be the weapon of choice for anyone looking for his/her USDM fix. Feel free to abolish you neck, but make sure your next appointment with the doctor doesn't involve any ugly, violent music being blasted out. The consequences will be vital.

''Valley Of The Dead''
''Streaks Of Blood''
''Vile Reminiscence''

Final Rating:
Awesome [8.2/10]

Tuesday, December 4, 2012

Grand Belial’s Key – Mocking the Philanthropist

Grand Belial’s Key is one of the more recognizable bands from the overcrowded USBM “scene” and a favourite of mine. Influenced by punk, speed metal, death metal, traditional metal and doom yet forever shrouded in a blasphemous black metal atmosphere, Grand Belial’s Key truly forged a sound that they could call their own, especially when it came time to unleash their debut album, “Mocking the Philanthropist”.

The album has a very dark and occult feel to it, mostly due to a very “natural” sounding recording. Although the production is a bit “amateurish” when compared to their later works, everything sounds heavy and full of tone with the guitars and drums especially packing a punch. The riffs are melodic yet beefy and have a bit of a “punk” drive to them in parts while the lead work is tasteful and accentuates the rhythm parts nicely. The bass is there, but doesn’t have a huge presence, just doing its thing and holding the songs together. The drumming, provided by The Black Lourde of Crucifixion is very unique (albeit a bit sloppy at times), in that he uses the whole kit and provides a solid sense of rhythm that is not often seen in underground metal. The Black Lourde… also provides vocals, which sound much deeper in pitch and raspier than one usually associates with black metal, making them, like his drumming, rather unique in this genre of music. Keyboards and organs occasionally pop up as well, adding a nice touch and some extra dimension to the music.

Lyrically, GBK can be compared to bands such as Profanatica, in that the focus is on perversion, blasphemy and a general hatred of all things religious. The lyrics are also well-written, which makes for a change when compared to other bands that use similar themes yet come across as immature or childish.

While GBK’s later two full lengths would turn out better, you really can’t go wrong with their debut as a solid introduction to their works and a classic album in itself, full of great songs and catchy, headbanging moments. No other band, past or present, sounds like Grand Belial's Key. 

Foul Parody of the Lord's Supper

The Slums of Jerusalem
Castrate the Redeemer 
The Holocaust Trumpeter

Final Rating:
8.0/10 Awesome (not as great as their next two albums, but still a classic)

Sunday, November 11, 2012

Necronomicon - Necronomicon [1986]

Necronomicon formed way back in 1983 but didn’t get a demo out until 1985 (they released 2 demos that year, actually) and released their debut self-titled full length in ’86, so I guess they kind of missed the ball on the whole “German thrash explosion” thing which prevented them from getting the kind of recognition that has seen Sodom, Kreator and Destruction heralded as 80’s thrash metal giants.

What can thrash aficionados expect from this album? How about something that sounds very similar to early Destruction? Snarling Schimer-esque vocals, crunchy guitars and killer riffs to match and competent drumming. Sadly, the bass seems to drop in an out here, but I think that’s more of a production problem which is unfortunate because aside from this small detail I think the production is perfect (keep in mind, though, I have the reissue which was put out in 2007 by Battle Cry records, which also has a different tracklisting to the original).

One thing about this band that will stick out to most listeners is the Destruction comparisons, which unfortunately can’t exactly be avoided, but I think it’s very unfair to the band to refer to them as a “poor mans Destruction”, because if you can ignore the comparisons I think you will find plenty to like with this band and their releases (the third full length “Escalation” is essential German thrash listening). Infact, after listening to this band for a long time, I actually prefer them over Destruction.

For me, the standout track on this album is “Possessed by Evil”, which is an absolute stomper of a thrash metal song and I would put it up there with the likes of “Riot of Violence” by Kreator and “Nuclear Winter” by Sodom. In other words; it’s a classic track!

The big let down with “Necronomicon” is that the tracks are pretty inconsistent with a lot of hit-and-miss going on, but they redeem themselves with tracks like “Possessed by Evil” and “Magic Forest”.

I would recommend this album and band to every old-school thrash aficionado out there. Give it a chance, and keep in mind, the band does improve on their later releases, so don’t be too put off by the sloppiness of their debut, if that’s the kind of thing that puts you off.

Possessed by Evil
Magic Forest

Final Rating:
7.5/10 Mediocre (poor choice of word in the case of this album; I would call it"above average but not brilliant, just a fuckin' good thrash record".)

Thursday, November 8, 2012

Gammacide - Victims Of Science [1989]

Although at the time there was Devastation, who delivered their smoldering masterpiece two years later, Gammacide were ultimately the most spastic, ballistic thrash metal act coming from Lone Star State. This would, unfortunately be the the sole full-length release by the band, but during the uttermost pinnacle for thrash Gammacide ruptures an absolutely tremendous cataclysmic boulder-shower of brickwall riffs and immense nuclear bombardments hailing in an all-out pernicious atomic explosion, and so infectiously captivating are their riffs that it was literally impossible to shelter from the brick rain that never seemed to cease; the band's shtick was thundering with ridiculous abominations of ferocity and and riveting attention with their meticulous obscenity.

The very first time I encountered this frenzy, I was perplexed, to say the least. Gammacide could have easily reigned over the parched wastelands of Texas with such a stomping precision, but such a fate was never written in the cards. But ignoring their future misfortune, ''Victims Of Science'' is the gathering of the most violent thrash that was available up to that point, a shrewd aversion against society's imprudent actions against the environment, and pure, unbridled anger, absolutely pulsing through the gamma-radiated veins of the band members. Gammacide delivered so many riffs in single three-minute tracks that they could even be considered omnipotent riff deities, and there's also Vernam Ponville's Sean Killian-esque approach that boasted of relentless fury, and spasmodic leads drilling into the listener's subconscious like some mutated laser - these were all the surgical twists they could pull off, and who knows, they might have even fabricated more and even catchier material if they had lived through the massacre of thrash during the mid-late 90's.

''Victims Of Science'' can well be considered as one of the most neck-wrecking extremities that was prevalent in those days, and it's absolutely straight up ferocity at its finest, most purest. I even consider counting the band's later demo material as an inimical piece of this puzzle, and hell, even if you can't show relative enthusiasm against this distorted nuclear bombast, I'm assuming many will still give into its lyrics:

In the race to win priorities lost
Victory assured at what cost?
Defense network spread far and wide
Works off human sacrifice
Radiation that leaves us dead
Won't harm circuits encased in lead
Countries of the world are robbed of life
Battles are waged by satellites

Machines are given full reign
Electronic soldiers feel no pain
If they win who's to gain?
Your fate is sealed by emotionless steel

For the typical, banging thrasher there's not a single fail in this album. Even a more reluctant listener might as well be content with a dozen of listens to bear and behold this imposing ferocity and the ludicrous ingredients that make if what it is. It's hardcore, it's thrash, it's sheer brutality, and no matter how overlooked it is it can still send countless numbers of its fellow competitors spinning in dazzled exhaustion and still explode with an hooking, atomic, and even cheesy discharge. 

Victims Of Science
Chemical Imbalance 
Endangered Species

Final Rating:
Awesome [8.7/10]

Tuesday, November 6, 2012

Helloween - Keeper of the Seven Keys Part I [1987]

Here we have an album that many consider to be one of the most influential Euro-power metal albums of all time, and that wouldn't be an inaccurate statement, only it was influential for a sound that I couldn't care less for. Helloween showed that they were a legit band capable of delivering doses of brilliance in their music when they released the masterpiece "Walls of Jericho," but this album is just... different. For one, "Keeper of the Seven Keys Part I" sees the introduction of Michael Kiske on vocals, and while I have nothing against the man, it's a shame that Hansen could no longer pulled double duty on guitar and as the frontman, because his unpolished and enthusiastic approach to fronting the band was a joy to hear on the debut EP and full-length. Kiske's vocals are on their own outstanding, but they suit a watered down version of Helloween a lot better, and that's really what the band is on their sophomore - watered down. 

It may sound like I'm bashing "Keeper of the Seven Keys Part I," but I do enjoy the album, it's not what I was expecting to hear after listening to the much more raw debut, a bonafide classic, and while this record is considered a classic, it just doesn't live up to expectations. For the most part, the kickass speed-oriented riffs that Kai Hansen and Michael Weikath mass-produced before are gone; replaced by more midpaced riffage akin to groups like Priest and Maiden, which isn't a bad thing, but it doesn't spark the same feeling that amazing songs like "Ride the Sky" and "Victims of Fate" had. It's not all bad, though, as songs like "I'm Alive" and "A Little Time" are great midpaced tunes that show off Kiske's great voice, as well as the non-stop shredding from the guitarists, with the former track featuring excellent solos that are actually some of the better parts of the music at points throughout the record. This album also has one of Helloween's best songs ever in "Twilight of the Gods," an epic anthem with an insanely catchy chorus, stellar guitar playing on both ends, and Kiske's phenomenal vocal performance. 

However, I find myself needing to complain about this album again. It's very short and with only six songs of actual substance, all six of these songs needed to be overly-exceptional, but that's not the case. "A Tale That Wasn't Right" is an acoustic ballad that just falls flat and makes me want to hit the skip button, while "Future World" is another song that just fails to retain anything that could be considered awesome. I don't want to sound like some miserable cunt, but the song is just too damn happy sounding and has no real substance to it. Had these two tracks been cut from the record, "Keeper of the Seven Keys Part I" would've made a terrific EP and another Helloween release that could be considered a major "win." The basic tale of the tape for this record is one that sees the band evolve their sound (which is a natural thing for bands, and one that we as fans have no control over), but not for the better. There are still some great songs here that save it from being a total flop, with "Twilight of the Gods" and the epic closer "Halloween" being worth listening to this record again on their own. This is a band that showed a lot of promise, but unfortunately fell short and it's safe to say this is the last record where I could summon enough fucks to give about the group after they teased me with their fantastic debut. 

"I'm Alive"
"Twilight of the Gods"

Final Rating
Barely Awesome [8/10]

Helloween - Walls of Jericho [1985]

Even with the sudden thrash surge that was taking over the metal underground in the mid to late eighties, Helloween didn't hop onto the bandwagon, at least not the way that other German acts were at the time. When the band released their debut full-length "Walls of Jericho," there were a few other up and coming bands in Germany by the names of Sodom, Kreator and Destruction, all of which released their ruthless music in one form or another around the same period, but instead of releasing a record full of vicious riffs and ugly vocals, Kai Hansen and company delivered the best record that Helloween has ever put their logo stamp on, and it had none of the aggressive assets that made those future-legends stand out. Sure, the music on here is faster than anything the band would ever release again, but I'd hardly call it aggressive or barbaric, especially with all of the melodies and solos that make up a significant portion of the music.

After releasing the five-song self-titled EP several months earlier, Helloween unleashed their debut full-length "Walls of Jericho" which could only be described as Europe's answer to American classics that were released a year earlier such as Omen's "Battle Cry" or Jag Panzer's "Ample Destruction." The Germans had the speed, riffs, melodies, solos and everything else that goes into making a top-notch '80s speed/power metal record. But most importantly, they knew how to write songs that didn't get boring or tread upon a repetitive path that would bore the listener. There's a great mix of faster riffage that was undeniably influenced by bands like Venom, Metallica and Slayer, midpaced riffs made to get your headbanging and plenty of phenomenal solos and melodies that provided even more reasons to fall in love with the music. Kai Hansen's vocals usually draw a pretty split response from Helloween fans, but I have zero complaints about his style or performance on this album. His vocals aren't exactly pretty (like the man who would later take the reins in Michael Kiske), but they fit the music. His high-pitched yells aren't on par with Halford, but they aren't horrible, in fact, they make classic songs like "Ride the Sky" and "How Many Tears" the epic anthems that they are as his vocals mesh with the rest of the music perfectly. 

The only complaint about "Walls of Jericho" that I can make is that the band decided to start the album with the best song the band ever wrote in "Ride the Sky," a masterful song full of terrific riffs, an unforgettable chorus and plenty of lead guitar wizardry. Luckily, the rest of the songs on this record are awesome as well. "Reptile" and "Guardians" are both worthy songs and both show off Markus Grosskopf's bass skills, which is just another reason why Helloween kicks so much ass on the debut. "Phantoms of Death" is a bit more epic than the other songs on here as the verse features (what I believe is a) keyboard parts that back Hansen's vocals as well as plenty of amazing solos and melodies throughout, while "Metal Invaders" and "Heavy Metal (Is the Law)" should please all of the speed-freaks who need their dose of fast riffs. This is definitely one of my favorite power metal albums and it's easily one of the best old-school metal albums from Germany. It's a shame that the band would abandon this sound down the line (the next album, actually) to pioneer the typical Euro-power metal (ugh) that's become prevalent today, but I can always come back to this masterpiece and enjoy Helloween in their finest hour. 

"Ride the Sky"
"Phantoms of Death"

Final Rating
Masterpiece [9.2/10]

Helloween - Helloween [1985] (EP)

Power metal wasn't a full-blown subgenre by the time 1985 rolled around, with only a handful of bands playing the style of music that was very rooted in the vein of bands like Maiden or Angel Witch, only the music was usually faster and thrashier. Bands like Omen, Savage Grace, Jag Panzer (and the earlier incarnation of Tyrant) and Fates Warning all took their stab at paving the way for this new form of music and they released some damn fine records, but this was mostly being done in the states. Enter Helloween and their self-titled EP, a five track showcase for the young group who would later become much more important in Europe's power metal movement. The music here isn't like the band's latter material that they're more well-known for, but it doesn't shy away from the speedy onslaughts that were made awesome on records like "Battle Cry" and "Metal Church," providing plenty of quickness in the riffs and a lot of substance as well. 

This EP is the brainchild of the master himself Kai Hansen, who not only brandished the kickass riffage on "Helloween," but handled vocal duties as well. His high pitched approach isn't anything overly special or innovative, but it suits the music perfectly and any fan of traditional metal probably wouldn't be able to complain about him. The man is also an absolute beast with his ax, too. The amount of insane soloing throughout this EP (and pretty much every other Helloween release he played on for that matter) is crazy. It doesn't matter if the man is shredding away, playing solos that are as fast as the riffs, or writing more melodic leads that are meant to add some memorability to the songs, this man does not know how to write a bad solo. The rhythm section is also solid. The bass playing and drumming aren't too much of a highlight on their own, but combined with Hansen's impressive guitarwork and vocals, they don't really need to shine so much. 

The EP kicks off with "Starlight," a catchy number that features upbeat riffs, ear-catching melodies and a lot of shredding from the German extraordinaire (which is a common theme for pretty much all of the band's early material that Hansen played on). "Murderer" and "Warrior" both tread along a similar path as both feature their share of solid riffage, solos galore and more over the top vocals (sound familiar?) Of course there's a bit more variety to this EP and that couldn't be more evident than on the track "Victim of Fate" which has some stellar melodic riffs and Hansen's best vocal performance. The way he yells "You will burn in hell!" is fucking killer and reminds one of Grim Reaper's Steve Grimmett, before the equally kickass solos come in and make the track a must-listen. The final track "Cry For Freedom" is almost as excellent as the preceding song; the acoustic intro with Hansen's vocals make for a nice change of pace and show that the band is more than capable of writing more than just fast riffs and a bunch of solos. "Helloween" is definitely a great way to make some noise for a young band getting their start, and while I wouldn't call it a must-have EP for every metal fan, it's definitely worth listening to if you're a fan of the band or the power metal genre. It's just a shame that Helloween would go on to create some shite music that couldn't be any further from the early creations that made the band so awesome, but again, that's a rant for another day. 

"Victim of Fate"
"Cry For Freedom"

Final Rating
Awesome [8.7/10]

Tuesday, October 30, 2012

Pestilence - Consuming Impulse [1989]

After delivering the awesome "Malleus Maleficarum" only a year earlier, Pestilence would unleash this monolith of death/thrash greatness on Christmas of 1989, and I could only imagine how awesome it would've been to unwrap a "Consuming Impulse" LP and see that near-iconic album cover staring back at me (what an unholy holiday that would've been). The thrashy record that preceded this one was a fantastic foundation for the Dutch quartet to build upon and they did just that, as nearly every aspect of the music on their sophomore is improved from the debut. The riffs, vocals, solos, songwriting, rhythm section and every other intangible part of the horrific music is better than it was on "Malleus Maleficarum," making "Consuming Impulse" a must-have for any fan of death metal, thrash metal or all around violent and gut-wrenching music made to crush bones and fracture skulls. 

I can't pick just a single highlight of this record, as it's impossible to choose between Van Drunen's brilliant vocals and the excellent riff-fest courtesy of Patrick Mameli and Patrick Uterwijk. Van Drunen provided one of his best performances on this album (second only to his amazing work on "Last One on Earth"), as he no longer sounded like the thrash frontman from the prior album, but a man who personifies death. Put together his brand of death growls which sound like someone who is dying from a slow shotgun wound to the chest with song titles like "The Trauma" and "Reduced to Ashes" and you've automatically got a winner. Throw in some of the catchiest riffs around and you've got an instant masterpiece. It also helps that the rhythm section is improved as well. I can actually pick out drum fills that caught my attention throughout the record and I never had a problem with the drumming during faster parts of the music or the fills during slower and heavier moments. Even the inclusion of synths at points doesn't bother me as the break in "Suspended Animation" is one of the most memorable moments of the album. The riffs are brutalizing, the vocals are horrendously perfect and the headbanging inevitably painful, yet entirely satisfying. 

When you kick off a record with a death/thrash classic like "Dehydrated" which features a terrific mix of thrashy and death metal influenced riffs, you've gotta wonder how the band would top that song later on, and then they do with another onslaught in "The Process of Suffocation." Every song features riffs of the "to-die-for" variety; riffs that are instantly ingrained in one's DNA and also induce plenty of whiplash, though no song has more chaotic and violent riffage than "Echoes of Death" which would put Demolition Hammer (the masters of violence) to shame. "Deify Thy Master" also balances out the heavy with the darker material with its sweet tremolo passages and melodies that foreshadowed what was to come later on in the band's constantly evolving discography. "Consuming Impulse" isn't only a vast improvement from the already stellar debut album, but a masterful work that has stood the test of time as one of the best death/thrash full-lengths ever. I can't recommend this album enough, so I'll let the music do the talking for me and if you haven't had the pleasure of listening to Pestilence's finest work, prepare to be reduced to ashes. 

"The Process of Suffocation"
"Suspended Animation"
"Echoes of Death"

Final Rating
Masterpiece [9.5/10]

Pestilence - Malleus Maleficarum [1988]

It probably isn't even necessary to get into any kind of detailed intro for this band. Pestilence is the reason for a couple of massive things in the metal world. Firstly, this is where the death metal god Martin Van Drunen got his start before venturing off onto other amazing projects (including Asphyx, Hail of Bullets and even Bolt Thrower for a bit). The other notable deed from the Dutch masters is the release of this awesome record "Malleus Maleficarum" and the masterpiece that is "Consuming Impulse." This album is the first of what would be a varied discography for Pestilence, as none of their full-lengths sound the same. The debut is definitely the most raw release (and it could even be considered primitive if compared to the later albums) and shows this four-piece band excelling in a genre that was still at a creative peak with other top-notch thrash releases like Morbid Saint's vicious "Spectrum of Death," Coroner's dark, technical thrashterpiece "Punishment For Decadence" and Forbidden's awesome debut "Forbidden Evil." 

I mentioned that this is the band that saw the introduction of my all-time favorite death metal vocalist Martin Van Drunen. However, his vocals on "Malleus Maleficarum" are unlike his tortured growls of his latter work, as they're more suited for a violent thrash group because they're much less throaty or deep, sounding like a mix of Chuck Schuldiner and Jeff Becerra. The riffage, too, is much more thrash-oriented than the band's later albums, but it doesn't affect the quality whatsoever. The wicked riffs that are seemingly littered throughout this album could hang with just about any of the others heard on plenty 1988 releases. The rhythm section didn't really do anything overly impressive, but they did their job well and that's plenty enough to make the music here heavy and headbang-friendly. The lead guitar work is another highlight on this album as the two guitarists showed that they're not just playing brutal riffs and trying to be heavier than the every other band, but that they're capable of writing memorable songs filled with awesome melodies and solos. 

The album-opener "Malleus Maleficarum/Antropormophia" starts the record off on a darker note with a kickass buildup featuring tremolo riffage which eventually leads to some thrashy riffs from hell. "Chemo Therapy" is an absolute curbstomper of a track with its whiplash-inducing riffs and an incredibly catchy chorus. "Parricide" and "Cycle of Existence" are just further proof that Pestilence are indeed masters at riff-crafting, with terrific midpaced sections and vile tremolo bursts. There aren't any complaints that could be made about "Malleus Maleficarum," and while it may not be as good as the record that came after it is still a quality listen and an album that is very worthy of your time. Let's just add this album to the list (and it's a pretty decent size list) of brilliant releases from the Dutch, sit back and bang our heads silly to some of the finest death/thrash to be bestowed upon the metal masses. 

"Chemo Therapy"
"Cycle of Existence"

Final Rating
Awesome [8.7/10] 

Tuesday, October 9, 2012

Asphyx – Embrace the Death [Recorded: 1990. Released: 1996]

“Embrace the Death” is Asphyx’s true debut album. Although it didn’t see the light of day until 1996 (Thus making it their 4th released album), the songs were actually written in 1988/89 and the album was recorded in 1990. Due to a dodgy label boss pulling a runner with all the recording money, this brilliant album was lost to the void for a few years. Unfortunate, as this is one of their best releases.

One peculiar thing you may notice upon hearing this record is that some of the songs have been released on other Asphyx albums in rearranged and rerecorded forms; some times appearing under a different title. Most of these mentioned tracks are presented in a more primitive and raw form here.

The main thing that I like about “Embrace the Death” is that it showcases Asphyx at their most evil, unpolished and obscure sounding. The rough and unprofessional production job makes it sound more like a demo than a full length, which only adds to the dark and heavy feeling.

Most of the songs tend to stick to a slow-to-mid pace, really focusing on the doomier aspects of the Asphyx signature sound. Sadly, this and “God Cries” are the only two Asphyx albums that featured the vocal and bass talents of Theo Loomans (R.I.P.), a man who brought a very rough and brutal edge to the band. His vocal style didn’t differ too much from Van Drunan, but his input helped to embrace the more barbaric side of Apshyx, which sets “Embrace the Death” apart from the rest of their catalog.

“Embrace the Death” is a forgotten classic and an essential part of any Asphyx collection. Or any old-school death metal collection, really.

Embrace the Death
The Sickened Dwell
Crush the Cenotaph

Final Rating: Awesome [8/10]

Sunday, September 30, 2012

Funebre - Cranial Torment [2012] (Compilation)

Man, I really love these compilations. Reissuing underrated albums for more exposure one thing, amassing extremely overlooked demos and EPs into single packages for gruesome, carnal delivery another. Xtreem Music has now gathered all the pre-1991 material of the Finnish cults Funebre in one case, and now, listeners can enjoy the ''Cranial Torment'', ''Demo II'' demos and the ''Brainspoon'' EP the same way they enjoyed the bands vile splash of vile that was ''Children Of The Scorn'', and what's more is that you can feel the rawness and sheer decomposed splendor of these ghastly tunes the way they were taken out of the oven, fresh but rotten, oldie but goodie.

As I said, the authentic production quality helps reinforce the notably primal disorder the album espouses, and you've got vitriolic churning of traditional decayed Finnish death metal in its most macabre and aggravated form, sticking to the path that Convulse or Purtenance took, with a heavy blend of charnel Swedish chainsaw insanity, the same way Nihilist did it in the late 80's. The amalgamation is, of course, nothing new if you've already witnessed the band's excellent full-length, but I've always considered contemplating certain band's primordial exhalations in order to compare it to their somewhat more polished released. In death metal, old school death metal, I have a strict little rule; the more crude and primitive the band gets, the closer it gets to perfection through dissonance and putrefaction. Funebre are easily one of the dominating Finnish death metal acts roaming around 1993-1988, and this temple of embryonic pain is the evidence, clearly.

Thanks to Funebre's slightly original tendencies, we can feel skull-crushing buzz-saw pressure at the same time as somnolent death/doom drudgery. Tracks vary, because the mix does not equalize them all into one single production quality, so songs from differing releases stand out with marginal qualities, and out of them all, my favorite would probably the ''Demo II'' material, which, obviously manifests the darkest and roughest peak of the band's adoration for esoteric and ephemeral horror, sending a barrage of chills down your spine as the ripping chainsaw fluctuates into a grisly slither of flesh and bones. Funebre are one of the best bands to come of the Finnish death metal scene, as already evidenced on their debut, but for furthermore proof of their crude agility, get this compilation and feed yourself all its disemboweled contents. 

''Expunging Mortalities''
''Grip Of Insanity''

Final Rating
Awesome [8.4/10]

Saturday, September 29, 2012

Incantation – Onward to Golgotha [1992]

Incantation has been one of the most consistent long-running death metal bands, releasing killer material on almost every release they’ve put out since forming way back in 1989. Their debut full length “Onward to Golgotha” is one of my personal favourite death metal albums and a total classic of the genre.

Combining a crushing guitar tone and some truly sinister riffs, some of the most guttural vocals ever achieved, interesting drumming and an atmosphere blacker than the Guinness I’m drinking as I write this review, Incantation created a truly evil and cavernous sound that many have since tried to top. Only few bands have come close to achieving such a feat.

The writing on this album is absolutely top-notch. While the songs do follow a similar formula, each one still manages to have its own flavour and fair share of decent riffs. There are moments that will cause your head to bang uncontrollably and moments that will suffocate you in total darkness. Incantation’s formula has always been to suck you in with infectious riffs and then hammer your skull in with that bone crushing bottom end.

Songs like “Devoured Death”, “Unholy Massacre”, “Christening the Afterbirth” and “Profanation” will stick in your head and destroy you from the inside out. It’s a shame that this particular line-up never recorded another Incantation album, as what they achieved here was truly something special. Old-school death metal perfection, if you ask me.

Devoured Death
Unholy Massacre
Christening the Afterbirth

Final Rating: 10/10 Legendary

Thursday, September 27, 2012

Manilla Road - Out of the Abyss [1988]

If someone were to listen to Manilla Road's pre-2000 output, they would more than likely notice that there was a constant changing in the band's sound, yet Shelton always retained a signature style that immediately let the listener know that they were in for a Manilla Road album. This listener might also notice that the changes in sounds came in pairs. The first two records clung to a proto-metal sound, while "Crystal Logic" and "Open the Gates" would go on to become masterpieces of the heavy metal genre, and the latter two albums "The Deluge" and "Mystification" would inject a healthy amount of thrash into the epic sound. Enter the band's seventh studio album and once again, there is an obvious shift in sound. "Out of the Abyss" is easily the darkest output for the band to date, conjuring up wicked sounds similar to groups like Iron Cross, Satan's Host, Metal Church, etc. 

There are a couple of reasons why "Out of the Abyss" has a much darker edge to the sound, but the main reason is once again, the absolute genius of Mark Shelton. Whether he's using sinister sounding and mysterious clean guitar sections ("Return of the Old Ones") or a much more insane vocal style with gruesome lyrics ("Whitechapel"), the music is undoubtedly more evil than it's been before. It would be a stretch to say that the Shark's vocals improved, but they definitely take on different forms throughout these nine tracks. The man sounds fucking deranged on the opener "Whitechapel" as his vocals perfectly convey the insanity of the man who the song is about (Jack the Ripper). "Rites of Blood" is another track that follows the precedent set by the album-opener, as the palm-muted riffs, catchy basslines and vocals all contribute to a more diabolical sound. Songs like "Black Cauldron" and "Midnight Meat Train" have a similar thrashing vibe to them that songs on the previous records have, and it wouldn't be much of a shock to see fans of tunes like "Masque of Red Death" and "Divine Victim" thoroughly enjoy these tracks. 

Of course, Manilla Road is a heavy metal band, and what kind of album would "Out of the Abyss" be without some epic songs that hearken back to the days of "Dreams of Eschaton" and "The Ninth Wave?" "War in Heaven" features the familiar clean guitar passages that serve as the perfect backdrop for Shelton's vocals that sing of battles between deities, before the song eventually turns into a distortion-laden one filled with incredible solos and faster riffs. The album closer "Helicon" is a stellar track to say the least, and one of my all-time favorite Manilla Road songs. Mark has one of his best vocal performances on this song, and every other part of the music followed suit to deliver a heavy metal classic. While I don't enjoy "Out of the Abyss" as much as the few albums before it, this record is still an enjoyable listen with some decent to amazing songs, that would only add to the band's legacy as one of America's premier metal bands. 

"War in Heaven"

Final Rating
Awesome [8.5/10]

Wednesday, September 26, 2012

Conqueror - War. Cult. Supremacy. [1999]

Your old mate Vagabond has been a bit busy with actual real life recently, so I haven't had much time to contribute to Nightmare Reality. With that being said, I've decided to transfer over some of the reviews I wrote last year for my "Arisen From The Crypt" monthly special which I stopped doing once I started doing old-school reviews on here....

Conqueror formed way back in 1992 and featured J. Read (Blood Revolt, Revenge, Black Witchery, Axis of Advance, Cremation, Kerasphorus, Arkhon Infaustus) on drums and vocals and R. Förster (Blasphemy, Domini Inferi, Revenge, Godless North) on the axe.

They played the most unrelenting war metal ever recorded. Constant blast beats, insane vocals that make your average black metal vocalist sound like Madonna and extremely fast distorted riffs all over the place are what to expect here, although it’s best to go into a release like this with no expectations, because whatever you’re expecting will be wrong.

In all honesty, this is the most savage album I have ever laid ears on. Most people who listen to “War. Cult. Supremacy.” will hear nothing but mush and noise, but the ones who actually “get it” will hear complete, utter primitivism and barbarity. This release is an audio war against humanity. No one is safe.

I have no other words for this. Get your hands on this any way you can and prepare to have your perspective on “music” changed forever.

The whole thing.

Final Rating: Legendary [10/10]

Saturday, September 22, 2012

Snyper - Manifestations [1988] (Demo)

Introducing Snyper, a carnal and highly overlooked British thrash assault. For many people, these UK thrashers are just another addition to a growing old school thrash demo collection, but for me, or any other thrash-obsessed metalhead, it's simply a marvel of the Internet. There are many reasons why this five-piece never made to the grand league, and probably the most crucial ones is that they were from the UK, which, although mustered a fair amount of convincing thrash acts including my favorite Xentrix, never actually got the attention or support they required, and the second one, is an even more obvious reason; the band could only spew forth a handful of short demos and a split with numerous English thrash vandals, and so, here is their premier demo, ''Manifestations''; where is all began, in a way.

Snyper's style was probably renowned and copied countless times before it was even released, so yeah, in terms originality, Snyper scarcely stands out. I suppose we can call it an estranged mingle of semi-technical thrash with raw Bay Area elements and a few speed/thrash twists here and there, and the reason I can't quite describe the style of this demo is that it consisted of only one damn song, which pretty much erases the hope of a long paean emerging out of nowhere. The sole ephemeral track ''Manifestations'' can nonetheless boast a fair measure of energy, and besides espousing this sort of dark undertone to go with raw projection of riffs, Snyper has a burden of happy, almost ecstatic melodies springing out of nowhere, and a vile sound that I can relate to Mercful Fate with bits and pieces of Venom and Bathory. No, this isn't black/thrash, but the vocals can deliver harsh and ruinous growls, which makes it sound as if a madmen of a surgeon were plucking out bits of your intestines with a blunt scalpel while you're still conscious. Yep, scary shit.

Snyper's beginnings were humble, but the band showed proficiency, and they were apt to improve, but that never happened, unfortunately. Their augmenting potential was probably obliterated somewhere in the early to mid 90's after they released their final demo ''Something Illusionary''. I don't think even most die-hard thrash fan will become deliriously addicted to this demo, or any of Snyper's material for that matter, but giving this demo a spin every now and then for the sake of its some what evil and spurious contents can never result badly, and what's more, is that Snyper's arsenal has just begun to expose its frivolous afflictions, so be warned, for the band's best is yet to come.


Final Rating
Mediocre [7.7/10]

Snyper - Obituary [1988] (Demo)

For a demo being released in the same year as the previous and somewhat immature installment ''Manifestations'', UK hit n' run thrashers certainly stepped up their game up by a good pace. Not only does Snyper ameliorate the material on the previous demo to form a robuster demo, but ''Obituary'' also stands out with its dexterous approach, its leaps and frivolous excursions, all building up into a single fifteen minute demo of three songs - possibly the best the UK thrashers will ever conjure. Seriously, you can never go wrong with such vigorous splashes in the face like this, and with a itsee bitsee bit of experimentation, Snyper are in the top of their game.

The ''experimentation'' I'm talking about here is lucidly not any major change in the bands style, and in fact, it would be wrong to actually call it an experimentation, but the thing is, on ''Obituary'', Snyper adorn the bloodthirsty thrash craze with fragments of queer twists, which, probably belongs to the same kind of ecstatic  diversity on the previous demo, only more embraced. First off, there demo has a far crisper and cleaner production than ''Manifestations'', and second, with the improved clarity and crunch, the riffs sound better executed, not to mention better penned. The band has obviously grown fonder of tremolos and brusque plods of melody entwining with carnal, raw chops and speed/thrash ruptures, and they utilize these blithe melodies to congeal with the tremolos, forming a solid hooking line of strident narrating riffs.

The vocals have stayed pretty much the same, which is something that I'm very glad about; they're still ghastly and throaty, the way I like it. This time, however, the importance of the vocals have increased. With the band sticking to the primal hostility that they had fancied quite a bit on the previous demo, the vocals become an essential part of the savagery department, emanating the raw insanity throughout the veins of the riff patterns and ultimately, pervading the primal energy. You're bound to have boisterous headbanging time whilst you listen to this, and moreover, this demo deserves accolades for having such a primitive and brisk feel to it, quite literally topping a good number of its fellow peers and countrymen during that time. My only complaint was that it was far too brief, as with all the band's demos, to fully enjoy, but hell, I still like it a lot.

Sacred Blade

Deathright At Sunset

Final Rating
Awesome [8.3/10]

Wednesday, September 19, 2012

Manilla Road - Mystification [1987]

Talk about being productive. Mark Shelton and the rest of his musical entourage continued to hammer out one awesome album after another, year after year. After releasing another terrific release in "The Deluge," it would come time to hit the grind once again, and the result was Manilla Road's six full-length "Mystification," an epic record that carried on where the previous full-length left off. To be honest, there isn't much of a difference as far as the overall sound is concerned between this album and "The Deluge," as both boast thrashy riffs that make the bulk of the rhythms which serve as the ideal backdrop for Shelton's constantly improving vocals and every fantasy-riddle theme that he could conjure up. 

Once the first song bursts through the speakers (or whatever you use to listen to your music) there's a huge sense of deja vu, as "Haunted Palace" kicks off with basic chords and intense drumming that reminds one of the opening song from "The Deluge," "Dementia" which has an almost exact same sound. The similarities do not stop there, though, as "Spirits of the Dead" blends clean passages and thrashy riffs perfectly to create a very memorable song (Something that this band doesn't lack whatsoever). The title track is another stellar song that takes the listener on a fun ride that starts with the oh-so familiar clean guitar passage and Shelton's instantly recognizable, nasally vocals that are very pleasant sounding on the ears, before it escalates into some thrashier riffs and solos galore. "Valley of Unrest," "Masque of Red Death," and "Death By the Hammer" are all songs that could easily be described as thrash songs, but of course with the signature Manilla Road flavor, which makes the songs much more multi-dimensional as opposed to just another thrashy song. 

To keep things simple, this album is almost "The Deluge" part II with different lyrical themes and different riffs, but the same spirit and structuring are present. I don't mean this in a negative way, because these guys could have kept releasing material that was just a re-hash of what they did before and I probably would still love it. But all of these songs are worth listening to, and some of them I would consider Manilla Road classics. If you're a fan of "The Deluge," or any of the band's earlier metal records, then "Mystification" is a record that should find no problem joining your collection, as this is epic thrashing metal in top form. 

"Spirits of the Dead"
"Masque of Red Death"

Final Rating
Awesome [8.7/10]

Tuesday, September 18, 2012

Burial – Relinquished Souls [1993]

Burial is an obscure Dutch death metal band that formed in ’91 and proceeded to release one demo and one album then, due to issues with their drummer, disbanded in 1993. Apparently the band was resurrected a few years ago.
Burial were very obviously influenced by the early works of two specific American death metal bands: Massacre and Death. There is no denying that this whole album reeks of fanatic worship of these two legendary Floridian acts. So, given that most of you will be familiar with these two bands, you should already have a good idea what to expect; technical yet powerful and catchy headbanging riffs, precise drumming, fast, thrashing tempos, complex song structures and aggressive vocals that could give Kam Lee a run for his money.
After hearing the killer opening track “The Second Coming”, the listener instantly knows what they’re in for and it’s one hell of a bloody ride! Along with the previously mentioned Massacre and Death influence, you’ll also find fleshripping thrashing moments that bring to mind old-school “brutal” thrash bands such as Demolition Hammer and Morbid Saint, which should definitely keep the average old-schooler entertained!
The real highlight of “Relinquished Souls” lies in the guitar playing. The riffs are complex but still catchy and nearly every song has multiple solos. The bass, drums and vocals are all great but the two guitarists really on a whole other level. It really is a shame that this band only released one demo and album before fading into obscurity, as I would love to know how they would have progressed over time.

"Abhorence Within"
"Frigid Cold"

Final Rating: Awesome [8.5/10]

If you’re a fan of old-school early 90’s death metal, I would highly recommend picking up the reissue of this album through Memento Mori Records.

Friday, September 14, 2012

Manilla Road - The Deluge [1986]

There was a clear evolution in Manilla Road's sound that was first evidenced when their masterpiece "Crystal Logic" hit the metal underground, and they would follow it up with an equally amazing record in "Open the Gates," and only a year later they would release their fifth full-length in "The Deluge." Much like the albums that preceded this record, there was still an ongoing evolution to the band's sound and if you recognize the year this record was released then it should come to no surprise that "The Deluge" embraced the rapidly rising aesthetics of the thrash subgenre to essentially deliver an awesome album that carried on the epic style from its predecessors while injecting a sizable dose of thrashy goodness, without forsaking any of the tenets of what made Manilla Road's earlier output so damn good. It would definitely be a stretch to consider this material thrash, but more along the lines of what the early US power metal bands (Omen, Jag Panzer, Attacker, etc) were doing, incorporating fantasy-themed lyrics with faster and heavier riffs than typical heavy metal bands. 

Much like "Open the Gates," Randy "Thrasher" Foxe lived up to his nickname again on "The Deluge." The opening track "Dementia" immediately showcases the man's intense and sporadic drumming which contributed greatly to Manilla Road's faster and heavier sound. Shelton also took pleasure in kicking the tempo up a notch, delivering thrashy riff after riff. One of the band's most memorable songs "Divine Victim" has upbeat riffs that are incredibly catchy, almost reminiscent of thrash acts like Anthrax or (early) Overkill, not to mention one of Shelton's best solos (and this man has a lot of 'em). "Taken By Storm" doesn't have any complicated structures or span 7-8 minutes, but its the perfect example of what Manilla Road accomplished with this album; it consists of mainly midpaced to fast riffs, yet it still retains the epic vibe that songs like "Witches Brew" or "Crystal Logic" had. "Hammer of the Witches" also proves to be one of Shelton's heaviest tunes yet, featuring crushing riffs and a stellar chorus that shouts "Burn them all!" in his signature voice, which proves to be just as strong as ever, even showing slight improvements from "Open the Gates."

And how could there be a Manilla Road album without a ton of solos and clean interludes? "Shadows in the Black" features Shelton's more soothing vocal stylings over the clean guitar before it eventually turns into another thrashy onslaught, while "Isle of the Dead" uses the clean guitar tone for a more sinister atmosphere that conveys the title of the track tremendously. Then there's the brilliant title track that lives up to the epic songs that came before it, as Shelton conjured up some jaw-dropping solos, magnificent vocals and plenty of memorable riffs that were executed flawlessly. The album closer "Rest in Pieces" is a wicked shredding piece that only furthers Shelton's legacy as a god with the guitar. While "The Deluge" is a notch or two below "Crystal Logic" and "Open the Gates," its still an incredible record worth the time of any Manilla Road fan, and it ranks up there with some of the best metal records released in 1986. 

"Divine Victim"
"Hammer of the Witches"
"The Deluge"

Final Rating
Damn Close To A Masterpiece [8.9/10]

Thursday, September 13, 2012

Manilla Road - Open the Gates [1985]

I cannot even fathom how difficult it must have been for Mark Shelton to top his previous masterpiece "Crystal Logic," a near flawless album that really defined Manilla Road's epic sound, but it was probably just another day at the office for the band when they crafted this very worthy follow-up in "Open the Gates." This record may not be universally recognized as amazing as its predecessor, but for myself, this album is right up there with "Crystal Logic." In fact, its a regular battle to decide which album I prefer with one being the favorite for one week and the other being my favorite the next. As amazing as the band was on the previous full-length, the effort and results on "Open the Gates" is just as phenomenal, as the epic factor would be kicked up a notch, while also making sure the shorter material was equally brilliant and memorable. 

Since this record came after "Crystal Logic," its only natural for there to be some similarities between the two albums. Both "Road of Kings" and "Witches Brew" provide the catchy headbanging tracks that compliment the more epic material perfectly (like "The Ram" and "Necropolis" did for the album before), as the songs have memorable riffs, vocal passages, drumming, solos and everything in between to create a couple of raging tunes, with the latter song being a Manilla Road classic. "Astronomica" serves a similar purpose as the title track to the previous full-length did, as it perfectly blends catchy riffs with an instantly memorable chorus and plenty of goosebump-inducing moments. "The Fires of Mars" is the answer to "The Veils of Negative Existence," with its haunting, yet beautiful aura. This song is also the proud owner of one of the greatest guitar solos in the known universe as Shelton wails away on his guitar like never before. And much like the previous effort, there are the songs that don't quite measure up to the others (and keep the record from being flawless) but remain a joy to listen to nonetheless in "Metalstrom," "Open the Gates" and "Heavy Metal to the World."

"Open the Gates" isn't an attempt at re-writing "Crystal Logic," though, despite the parallels I've drawn between the two. The music on here has an even more epic feel to the songs and part of that reason is because Shelton's vastly improved vocals that suit the style incredibly well. His singing on "Astronomica" is one of the reasons why I consider the song to be a timeless one, because it exemplifies what has always been the band's greatest strength, and that is Shelton's talent for making every part of the music, whether its the vocals, riffs or drumming (which also significantly improved here), flow together excellently. "The Ninth Wave" is another stunning song that was forged in the same vein as tracks like "The Empire" and "Dreams of Eschaton," only its a little more progressive, but a fucking terrific song regardless. Manilla Road definitely raised the bar for heavy metal with this mind-blowing release and it cemented the band's legacy as one of the premier American heavy metal bands. If you're a fan of the albums that came before this one, or even after then you shouldn't even think twice about listening to this masterpiece. 

"The Ninth Wave"
"The Fires of Mars"
"Witches Brew"

Final Rating
Masterpiece [9.6/10]

Wednesday, September 12, 2012

Manilla Road - Crystal Logic [1983]

With two albums under Mark Shelton's belt, it came time to continue Manilla Road's ascent to greater heights with the ushering in of a different and improved sound, and "Crystal Logic" is the vehicle for this advancement of the band's music (and career). After debuting with the awesome "Invasion" and then failing to follow up with another solid release ("Metal"), the Kansas group unleashed arguably their greatest collection of music, taking their proto-metal tendencies from the first two records and morphing them into an epic heavy metal masterpiece. The change in the overall sound for the band was so massive that the drummer at the time left the band because of it, but that's his loss because this is an album that is sure to go down in legend as a magnum opus of the epic heavy metal genre, especially for the Americans who were busy with the glam scene, punk and the spawning of the thrash genre. 

"Crystal Logic" is the execution of the hints of brilliance that were present on "Invasion." The epic "The Empire" from the debut showed what the band was capable of delivering, but not until their third effort, did Mark "The Shark" Shelton and company finally achieve the grandiose, yet entirely catchy sound that avoided Manilla Road on "Metal." The absence of catchy and memorable riffs on the previous full-length proved to be no concern on this album, as this album is a total riff-fest. "Necropolis" is an absolute classic, not only of Manilla Road's catalog, but of the entire genre, as the upbeat, near thrashy riffs keep the listener captivated throughout, while Shelton's trademark nasally-rasp vocals bounce along and create incredible moments like the ever-memorable chorus that screams three simple words repeatedly "Lost in Necropolis!" And the title track is no different as it features headbanging riffs that weave in and out of the ever changing tempo perfectly and much like "Necropolis," there's hardly any chance that anyone can listen to this track just once. 

Of course, the real epic here is the album-closer "Dreams of Eschaton," a masterful song that spans twelve minutes, but retains an amazing level of replay value. Its definitely not everyday that I can listen to a song this long over and over, but Manilla Road is that damn good when it come to creating this type of music. Other songs like "The Ram" and "The Veils of Negative Existence" are terrific as well, as they feature even more fragments of the band's sound. The former track is a catchy headbanger while the latter is almost doomy at times as it slays the listener with its melancholic riffs and lyrics("I will never put my sword down, I will never run away!"). I can't bring myself to utter a single sleight against "Crystal Logic," and had "Feeling Free Again" and "The Riddle Master" been on par with the other classics here, this record would be absolutely perfect, but being damn-near perfect isn't too bad either. It's obvious that this was the release that marked the beginning of something truly special for the band, and nearly thirty years later this album is still a pinnacle of heavy metal, and it will be thirty years from now too. 

"Crystal Logic"
"The Veils of Negative Existence"
"Dreams of Eschaton"

Final Rating
Masterpiece [9.6/10]

Friday, September 7, 2012

Manilla Road - Metal [1982]

When you choose the name "Metal" for the title of your new record, that implies a couple of things. The main thing that it implies is that the music found on this album should be heavy metal, but the music on Manilla Road's sophomore full-length is still very proto-metal, embracing the same sound that the previous album had, only Shelton and the gang decided to strip the music of its epic qualities and release shorter songs that had more of a "metal" resemblance. This turned out to be a horrible idea that saw the group fall into the "sophomore slump" as this is easily the most mediocre and forgettable album in the band's (Pre-2000) discography. 

Manilla Road's previous full-length "Invasion" was a terrific starting point that showed glimpses of what the band would accomplish in the future, while "Metal" is an album that should not have been released in the form it was, because there are definitely some moments where the band showed they were ready to take their sound to that next level, but for the most part the execution of that ideal sound was nowhere to be heard. "Queen of the Black Coast" is one of the two solid tracks on this album that is worth listening to, as mostly everything clicked on this song. Mark's ability to create music that flows together smoothly was nearly absent on this record, but on this particular song the riffs are rockin' and his vocals are tremendous. And much like the album that came before, the closing track "Cage of Mirrors" is an epic full of acceptable riffs, solos, and compelling vocals that bring a darker edge to the song, something new and fresh for the band. 

That's really where the praise for "Metal" stops, though. The other songs are far too forgettable to even try and re-listen to over and over hoping for them to suddenly grow on me. The songs started to get shorter, something that I have no problem with, but the music lacked anything memorable. The riffs all maintained an amount of rock attitude and fervor, but they don't seem to stick. In fact, I found the bassist's performance to be more acceptable because I can remember the basslines and fills more than the riffs (something that should not be happening). And of course, there's the incredibly misleading title track. While the lyrics are something that any proud metal fan should enjoy, the music is boring and played on a clean guitar (ironic?). This is an album that I probably won't actively seek out for quite a while, especially when the two songs worth listening to aren't even that great when compared to much better material produced later on in the band's career.

"Queen of the Black Coast"
"Cage of Mirrors"

Final Rating
Mediocre [7.2/10]

Manilla Road - Invasion [1980]

This is the album that started what was to become an incredible catalog of epic metal at its absolute finest, and it wasn't even a heavy metal album. Still, "Invasion," is well worth the time for fans of Manilla Road's other work, as there are plenty of seedlings for what Mark Shelton and (various different) company would later produce in their career. The six tracks on this record could all be considered proto-metal, as the music isn't too different from what bands like Heavy Load, Legend, Rainbow, etc were doing in the late '70s and early '80s, taking the rock n' roll attitude (and some riffs) as well and blending them with a heavier kind of sound. There are also some bits and pieces taken from the psychedelic bands of the time that could be plucked out of certain parts of the songs, but not enough to consider Manilla Road a psychedelic, flower-power band, because these guys were creating music about war games and mighty empires with songs that featured long, intricate compositions and an epic feel that would stick with the band for decades. 

Aside from the ballad "Centurian War Games," the songs on "Invasion" clock in from five minutes up to thirteen minutes, leaving plenty of room for the Kansas metalheads to leave an impression. There are familiar aspects in just about all of the songs in that they feature Shelton's unique vocal stylings, scores of solos, rockin' riffs and plenty of catchy moments to keep the listener enthralled. The thirteen minute opus "The Empire" is an essential listen for fans of Manilla Road or the epic style in general, as this track set the bar for the longer and more grand style of songs that the band would create later on. Mark Shelton's ability to craft music that flows together perfectly is displayed throughout the album, from the opening "The Dream Goes On," which blends traditional galloping riffage with vibrant rock n' roll styled hooks, to the aforementioned album closer that shifts effortlessly between soothing clean guitars and distorted, uptempo riffs. "Cat and Mouse" is an absolute solo-fest that has probably had many old-timers whipping out their air-guitars, while "Street Jammer" is a fun tune more along the rock n' roll side as evidenced by the riffs. 

"Invasion" is not the defining album for the prolific Manilla Road, but it was a great starting point for the band and their ever-evolving sound. Having the convenience of being able to listen to this group's latter music and then being able to come back to this record has allowed me to appreciate this one a bit more, because the overall sound of the music is obviously different, but the spirit of the music and the same fantasy-riddled atmosphere is present, having never left the fold from song after song and album after album. This album may not be one that strikes the listener upon the first listen simply because of how different the music is and it isn't necessarily "metal," but after giving it a few spins and letting the music digest, I would find it hard to believe that fans of "Crystal Logic" or "Open the Gates" cannot appreciate this record. 

"Far Side of the Sun"
"Street Jammer"
"The Empire"

Final Rating
Awesome [8.4/10]