One of the nice things about writing music reviews is that you get to hear about bands and styles of music you perhaps might not otherwise have had a chance too. The other nice thing is that you get to tell others about these discoveries as well! While its always awesome when a “big” release hits the doormat/inbox etc, its actually even better when a band you weren’t aware of pops along with some great music.
Metal Hell Records was officially started by Josh Cook in the summer of 2012 as a mail-order distro for vinyls, Cd’s, t-shirts etc. but Josh has a background in metal scene Zines where he founded “Maggot Colony”, which was a classic cut & paste, typewriter written, xerox style publication that covered punk, crust, experimental, black & death metal. From there, he has been at the helm (excuse the pun) of the long running, and now web based Battle Helm Magazine – http://www.battlehelm.com. Josh is also a very accomplished artist and has a background in sculpture and fabrication of action figures! Some of his more recent work can been seen on the cover of Onslaught’s classic thrash album “Killing Peace”. If there was ever anyone that was qualified to run a metal label, Josh would be it!
And so, lets get the musical party started:
UNIVERSAL THEORY – “Mystery Timeline” (2013)
Universal Theory are a relatively new band having been formed late 2011 and are based in Madrid, Spain. The band’s influences range from Therion, Type O Negative, Tiamat & The Gathering and you can hear the similarities shining through. Yet this studio based two piece (comprising of Jesus Pinilla – all music and male vocals, and Maria Jose Martos – all female vocals) add their own twists to the “Gothic Rock” genre.
Most of the tracks found on “Mystery Timeline” are fairly mid-paced, but not all of them are guitar based as i was expecting. Jesus’ musical ability shines through here as he has let the keyboard/piano be the lead on a the likes of “Grand Mystery” and “What Dreams Hide”, while “Enchantment” starts off with simple – but effective – acoustic licks, which then gives way to distorted guitars. It add to the variety
“Turn Me On” (the album’s opening track) ups the pace, and has some nice harmonized guitar parts that remind me of Paradise Lost. This track also introduces Maria’s vocals (albeit, rather briefly!) to the mix, but the formula works best when combined with Jesus’ on the dreamlike track “Conversations With Myself”. Its very atmospheric, and very easy to get lost in its swathes of subtle keyboard, bluesy guitar and rhythmic drumming.
“Let Your Desires” is a standout treat for me, it adds an intricate “electro” element to the blend and its catchy, enthusiastic manner immediately brings the likes of Lacuna Coil to mind, and i could well imagine this going down a storm in rock clubs the world over!
I don’t really want to end on a down note, but the only criticism i could find with “Mystical Timeline” would be the slightly weak production of the guitar sound. All the other instruments are given the chance to breath and make an impact, yet the guitars, while certainly present, could have been given a bit more “oooomph”!! Despite this (minor!) irk, there is a lot to enjoy here, especially if Gothic Rock is your thing. If it isn’t, it might be about time you gave it a go?
CROCELL – “Come Forth Plague” (2013)
I’ve always had a fondness for good ‘ol death metal, and that’s exactly what Crocell provide – GOOD death metal!
Originally released back in July 2013, this is Crocell’s third full length album and continues in their own brand of brutal death metal, something they like to classify as Classic Death Metal, but stylistically, there is a keen modern edge to it, and clear melodic leanings.
Bursting straight out of the gates is “Perfidious Ceremony”; you’d think this was a serious statement of intent, with its painfully low-end riffing and pummeling rhythms, but you’d be wrong! As excellent an opener as it is, the real show starts with “The Darkness I Will Inhale”. Covering all the best aspects of death metal in 3 minutes & 40 seconds, this whirlwind-masterclass in brutality cant possibly disappoint.
Things get mixed up a touch with “Trembling Realms” where the aforementioned melody starts to show its hand. Part Carcass, Part Amon Amarth, but yet its still all Crocell. “Teachings of Terror” has a gripping Morbid Angel “Domination”-era feel about it that shows perfectly that when death metals slows itself down, the heaviness raises straight to the top. The track rumbles along and draws you in to its murky depths. And then, like a sparkle of light in the gloom, the classy lead work of Tommy Christensen and Ken Holst (now replaced by Ex-Panzerchrist guitarist Rasmus Henriksen) throws you a lifeline.
Its on the track “My Path of Heresy” that the tide turns and using some enchanting acoustic guitars and subtle guitar effects, the intro belies the song true, as Crocell throw away the traditional chugging power-chords in favour of furious tremolo-picked harmonious passages that have as more in common with early Dissection as they do with any other comparison made so far! And then like the erstwhile tide, we then find the slowest, heaviest track of the bunch: “Seven Thrones”. It retains some of the previous tuneful elements of “My Path…” which only goes further to highlight the intimidating aspects of the track.
The final triumvirate of “Servants of Light”, “Scars of Red” & “Come Forth Plague” show the skill and the strong multifaceted approach Crocell have honed from years as an active touring band – you can tell these songs have been forged with the live arena in mind – as they pass through smatterings of thrash, black and of course their distinctive death metal.
If only I’d discovered these guys earlier – top stuff!
TENGGER CAVALRY – Ancient Call (2014)
To paraphrase a well known saying: And now for something a little different! If i was to throw the genre-phrase of “North Asian Folk Metal” at you, would you run and hide or would you stand intrigued (if somewhat perplexed!) to find out what it has to offer? For me, it was certainly the latter option – how on earth could any reviewer pass up the chance to hear something like this, let alone the metal buying public? Now, just humor me for a few moments… Just cast your eyes over your CD/MP3 collection and tell me – just how many folk-metal albums do you own? 3, maybe 4? OK, now how many albums do you own from China? I expect the answer to be “None”.
Now, ethnic music in Metal isn’t something new of course, as i expect you were all introduced to this cross-over of styles around about the time Sepultura released “Chaos A.D.” way back in 1993 (and of course their subsequent “Roots” album in 1996) and its since seeped into many other band’s portfolios: Orphaned Land, Nile, Turisas, and at a push, some Burzum. When its done well, its wonderfully refreshing. But, when its done THIS well, its something else.
Tengger Cavalry have been going since 2010, and “Ancient Call” is the band’s third full length release, yet they started as a solo project from main man Nature Zhang, until joined by the the rest of the troops in late 2012. The influences for the album are as vast and deep as the selection of techniques and instruments used on the recording. Citing: “…the ancient tales, the name of the band Tengger Cavalry expresses deep admiration towards great nature and the wolf, symbolizing the fighting spirit to protect the boundless grassland.” Its imperative you check out the bio on their site for the full picture.
So, the music itself? On the face of things, you have a classic black metal tone to the guitars – distorted and raspy in their sound, which at first seems a little “basic” in comparison to some recent higher profile releases, but it serves as a perfect highlight to the star of the show – the traditional Asian instrumentation and arrangements.
The intro “Dance with the Wolf” is a subtle starting point that builds in atmospheric acoustic guitars, eerie and hypnotic traditional “throat” chanting and militaristic drumming, which gives way to “Galloping Towards the Great Land” – never has a song’s title being more fitting! You can only imagine the charge of a warrior-tribe on horseback coming straight for you. Loosely sounding like mid-period Sigh (Japan), its the song’s bridge that will take your breath away. The use of the Dombra (a Kazakh, two stringed “guitar”), the “Horse-head” fiddle and Mandolin is so captivating – stirring almost.
But don’t be fooled in to thinking that the “metal” is an afterthought though – it really isn’t. There are riffs and rhythms on display here that will have you moving and thrashing like you wouldn’t believe. The combination of all the elements are very well judged. Each song being littered with just the right amount of ingredients so that you dont forget its a Metal album, and the Eastern sections don’t overpower.
I’ve fallen for this record big time – its just so entertaining, refreshing and enjoyable, and i wholeheartedly recommend this to the more adventurous listener out there.