At The Gates-The Nightmare of Being

Damn. I’m always impressed when a band really goes for it. I mean, for the most part, bands that have been around for 20+ years tend to get into a groove with things. It’s not necessarily that they get stuck in a rut or that they recycle similar ideas. But, there’s usually a formula for things. Album to album, especially in the latter era years of many bands, things may not seem as fresh or as daring as they were in their early days. Hell, that’s just life, ain’t it? We get comfortable. We slow down. We cease to grow. And that’s fine. It’s expected.

So, it gets my juices going when a long time band just tries some new shit out of the blue. At The Gates broke up in 1996 after releasing the landmark Slaughter of the Soul album. They reunited in 2011 and released two albums prior to this latest one. These two post-reunion albums were both very solid releases and really felt like the picked right up from where the band was in 1996. They were very listenable albums, but didn’t really break any new ground.

So, it was a surprise to hear some pretty creative and innovative stuff happening on post-reunion album number three. I would really love to know the backstory to the creation of this album because it feels like such a departure from any of their prior albums. What prompted the band to go out on a limb this time? I mean, it still sounds like At The Gates. It’s not that radical. But there’s a deliberate attempt at changing things up. Lots of clean guitars. Multiple songs with an almost spoken-word type delivery by Tomas Lindberg. Hell, they even jumped on the becoming-ever-more-prevalent-use-of-a-saxophone on one song. It honestly feels like a good portion of this album could be viewed more as a post-rock/metal type album than the traditional Swedish death metal sound that At The Gates helped establish.

There are probably fans out there that won’t like this album due to its different sound. I, for one, think it really works and is a breath of fresh air for the band. This album brought excitement to me when I first listened to it because it just wasn’t what I expected. It’s always a gamble to stray from the well-tread path. But, as At The Gates has shown, rolling the dice can sometimes result in some magic.

4.5 flip flops out of 5

Darkthrone-Eternal Hails……

Man, not to go all Strunk & White on their asses, but were six ellipses really necessary? I mean, I hate to get all critical on artistic choices, but those things just kind of hang there going on and on and on……………………. Hell, maybe that’s the point. See, they’re Eternal Ellipses.

So, Fenriz and Nocturno Culto are back and they’ve seemingly regressed in regard to sound production on this one. That is the very first thing that you’ll notice on this one: It’s back to sounding like they recorded this in some deep cavernous void located in some remote frozen fjord. Just like the classic old days. I don’t know. I guess it is a stab at nostalgia, but it just doesn’t work so much. They have used better production on past albums. We know they know how to put a bit of a polish on their sound. Frankly, in the end, it just takes away from the songs in my opinion. Both guitars and drums just sound like shit. The songs are fine. They’re nothing spectacular, but I can’t help but feel that they would have benefitted a bit from moving away from the unfrozen caveman schtick.

In the end, I have to get all critical on the artistic choices going on here. It’s my job. It just feels like a case of a band sabotaging the work they put into these songs by attempting to remain “Trve” to their black metal roots.

3 flip flops out of 5

Esa Holopainen-Silver Lake

Usually when a guitarist drops a solo album, the expectation is that you’re going to get a shred album. Something where the dude can simply lay down some insane leads to draw the proverbial line in the sand to all the other hotshot guitarist out there.

This is not that album.

Esa Holopainen, guitarist for melodic death metal lords, Amorphis, has crafted a fairly laid back affair for his first ever solo release. This album feels more like a singer/songwriter type album in a way. Now, don’t get me wrong, it’s not an acoustic guitar and a dude singing. It’s a proper band-centric album that features a multitude of different singers. The music varies from folk metal to pagan metal to a spoken word song performed in Finnish. Hell, he even recruits Amorphis’ vocalist, Tomi Joutsen, for one song that could have been included on the next Amorphis album. Minus this one song, everything on here feels like it differs enough from Amorphis’ sound to warrant the creation of this solo release. I just found it interesting that the focus of this album isn’t on the guitar at all. Sure, his playing is what you would expect from him, but it feels like he left the focus more on the songs and, in some instances, more on the vocal performances. I think that’s why I got a very singer/songwriter impression from the album. I just found it to be a very interesting choice to take for this album.

3.5 flip flops out of 5

Alustrium-A Monument To Silence

I really have a love/hate relationship with technical death metal bands. On the one hand, I’m always appreciative and awestruck by the level of musicianship some of these guys have reached. Sometimes, the technical skill of some of these dudes leads me to feel there has to be some sort of studio trickery involved because it feels as though some of the things produced don’t feel humanly possible (especially true of the drums). However, seeing a band in a live setting can separate the posers from the true technicians. Now, the other side of the coin on these types of band is that sometimes the songwriting and organic feel of the albums is sometimes lost due to the focus on pushing the technical boundaries ever further. At the far end of the spectrum, the albums can become sterile exercises of wankery that simply become unlistenable or memorable in any sense. Finding the balance of good songwriting and technical flash is a delicate one. I’ve beaten this dead horse many a time on this blog. I guess it’s an issue for me because I’ll find bands that are impressive at first glance due to their technical skill, but then after listening to the album a few times through, it ends up that beyond the flash, there is nothing of much substance. I’ve been burned by taking chances of so many bands in this subgenre that I’ve gotten to be a bit jaded on checking out any new bands.

Well, I’m glad I didn’t miss the boat with Alustrium. For the reasons outline above, I nearly didn’t buy this album. I was impressed with the few clips I found online, but I was really worried that these guys would fall in amongst the rabble of other technical death metal bands that leave me feeling empty after a few listens. Well, those concerns, thankfully, did not come to fruition this time around. Alustrium has found that nice balance of fusing the technical and the creative that results in one of the true pleasant surprises of 2021. This album reminds me quite a bit of early day Between the Buried and Me. It is just brimming with confidence and the different segues and detours the band takes throughout the course of this album really make it an interesting and engaging album. This is an album that should be set up as an example going forward of how to create an album in this subgenre. Cheers all around!

4 flip flops out of 5

Mother of All-Age of the Solipsist

Interesting little death metal album from Denmark, this one is. (I’ve been watching The Clone Wars lately. Rubbing off on me, Yoda is). Interesting I guess primarily in that it is a rare drummer-led project. Martin Haumann, drummer for Final Hour and live drummer for Myrkur, has had this solo project for some time now and is just releasing the proper full-length debut album for the project. Haumann handles the vocals and drums on the album and recruited Steve DiGiorgio (Testament, Sadus, Death, and virtually every other metal band you can possibly think of) to play bass and an unknown kid named Frederik Jensen to play guitar. The result is a fairly progressive and thrash oriented death metal album. Pretty standard stuff with some interesting choices mixed in here and there. Overall, pretty enjoyable listen.

3.5 flip flops out of 5

Crypta-Echoes of the Soul

Band break-ups suck. But, like a lot of things in life, things don’t always work out. However, on occasion, both camps in a split end up winning in a way. The Brazilian death metal band Nervosa split up a few years back. Guitarist, Prika Amaral, retained the Nervosa name and recruited a slew of badass musicians to reconstitute the band. Lead vocalist/bassist, Fernanda Lira, and drummer, Luana Dametto, remained together and recruited a couple of badass guitarist to form the new entity, Crypta. From what I can tell, the split was amicable and only due to musical differences. So, all in all, a win for all concerned, I guess. Both bands have put out their first albums this year since the split and both albums are no-nonsense death metal with that distinctive Brazilian sheen. After hearing both solid albums, it feels like the fans are in good shape in that we are left to two very capable bands.

After the first listen to the Crypta debut, it definitely comes across as a declaration of a band that is not fucking around. The two guitarists are given plenty of room to announce their presence in a loud and commanding manner. They flat out fucking shred. Major props to Dametto’s performance on the drums throughout this one as well. This feels as close to a downright Chris Adler-level performance of intricate drumming as I’ve heard in a while.

It’s a great start for a fledgling band looking to define itself.

3.5 flip flops out of 5

Alluvial-Sarcoma

Nice goat. Goats are fantastic. I’m not really sure where the “goats represent evil/the devil” comes from, but it’s kind of dumb. Goats are OK in my book.

Anyway, Alluvial is back with album number two (heh, heh…number two). First time around, this was a project of a couple of shredders named Wes Hauch (Black Crown Initiate) and Keith Merrow (Conquering Dystopia). Their first album was an instrumental album and it ended up making my Best of List back in 2017. Both of these guys are technical monsters, but are also very creative songwriters. The result was a nice mix of technical and experimental awesomeness.

On this latest album, Merrow has departed the fold and it is a Hauch led enterprises at this point. Hauch brought in a vocalist for Alluvial this time around and, as a result, the album has a much different feel than the debut. It is still the same sort of guitar work and sound, but the addition of vocals seems to have streamlined the songs into more straight-ahead death metal than the debut. I like a lot of the guitar work on here and I really feel like Hauch is an original voice in the modern guitar playing world. He really does have a distinctive style. However, it does feel like a bit of the adventurousness found on the debut has been dialed back a bit on this new one. The resulting product feels a bit more in line with a typical technical death metal album. It’s solid, but not great.

3.5 flip flops out of 5

King Buffalo-The Burden of Restlessness

Yes!!! YesyesyesyesyesYES!!! This is the goddamn album I’ve been waiting on all year. The year in metal has felt a bit underwhelming so far. To be sure, there has been some decent material released this year, but on the whole, there hasn’t been a lot that has completely captured my imagination. Hell, if you’re a regular patron of this site, you’ve probably noticed a dearth of output on my part. The thinness of the music being put out so far is a big reason why. I just haven’t been inspired to write about much of what has been released so far.

I’ve dug King Buffalo for quite a few years now after seeing them open up for some other band a while back. I don’t even remember who they were touring with, but they made an impression as being a cool little trio. They’ve always been a little on the spacey side of stoner/psychedelic rock. This latest release feels like their definitive musical statement up to this point in their career. There is a driving intensity and a sense of urgency on this album. Their past albums tended to focus on songs that would deliver a slow burn that start out super mellow and build to a rocking crescendo. This latest album feels like the preludes have been dropped and they are just jumping right into the meat of the proceedings. This is one of those albums that will make you want to pull on your denim jacket, light up a Marlboro and throw your devil horns in the air. Just a pure slab of innovative guitar riffs and rocking good times.

OK, metal world. You’ve been put on notice. The bar has been set and it is fucking high. King Buffalo has finally grabbed it’s throne and is daring you to knock them off. Good luck.

Oh, and by the way, they are supposed to release two more albums this year. Dudes weren’t sitting still during the pandemic shutdown. I’m going to be floored if the other two are as strong as this one.

5 flip flops out of 5

Red Fang-Arrows

Hey! Red Fang is back! It always good to hear these sludgy moonbeans come out with some new music (and their untouchable accompanying videos). I love bands whose beer bellies match my own. It feels like a really long time since Only Ghosts came out in 2016. Hell, everything before 2020 feels like it was damn near 20 years ago.

Our boys aren’t straying too far from their much tread ground on this one. I’ll be completely honest, however: the production value on this one really did no favors for the songs on here. This is a very muddy mix. Which, OK, this IS a sludge band. I understand that. Things are going to be muddled and fuzzed. But, the bass is so far forward in the mix that the guitars feel almost invisible. The whole sound of the album really colored my initial couple of listens. However, stick with it. By spin #3, the whole thing started to gel a little better in my brain and I found myself really enjoying the songs for what they are. Shit, I was dead set on giving this one a mediocre 3 on the flip flop scale, but I think that last listen really bumped it up to a passable 3.5. The way this one is going, I’ll probably have to revise it to masterpiece level by spin 8 or 9.

It brings me great joy to type this: Look for these dudes on the road later this year! Yep, they’ve set dates. Live music is slowly coming back. Be an adult and get your fucking shots. Let’s see some fucking music and smash into each other. My flippy-floppies are ready!

3.5 flip flops out of 5

Gojira-Fortitude

Gojira has been riding a pretty decent wave over the past few years and are rightly seen as one of the shining stars in the modern metal movement. Fortitude will do nothing but further burnish their stellar reputation.

This latest album feels like a nice blending of both old and new Gojira. You’ve got plenty of songs of that classic hard driving, odd time signature and sweep picking sound they are know for along with some very forward-thinking and progressive pieces to keep things interesting. I felt like their last album, Magma, was a bit too stripped down and straightforward. This latest album feels a bit more ambitious and in line with some of their classic albums. Standout tracks that feel like they are pushing the band forward are the Sepultura-influenced “Amazonia” (focused on the burning down of the Amazon Rainforest…the dudes still have a very environmentally conscious focus lyrically) and the very proggy “Hold On”.

It’s hard not to feel like this is the best album to come out so far this year. It’s not perfect, but damn, there are some serious riffs and percussive grooves to this one. This will be a good one to hear live once shows become a thing again.

4.5 flip flops out of 5