Oceans of Slumber-The Banished Heart

I’ve got a soft spot for bands hailing from the City of Houston.  I’ve been lucky enough to see these guys perform live in Houston a couple of times opening up for Pain of Salvation and Khemmis.  Both shows have showcased a band full of emotion and depth.

Their latest album is a classic doom declaration of loss and heartbreak.  The music is lush and hits all of the hallmark doom elements with some unexpected soft moments throughout.  Standout on this album has to be the performance of vocalist, Cammie Gilbert.  A lot of doom bands employ a clean vocalist with a higher range.  Gilbert brings all of the necessary range plus a sultry soul to the proceedings that gives Oceans a different feel than a lot of the doom bands going today.  Her voice just has a heft and an elegance that a lot of vocalist can’t capture.

This is another of those band to keep an eye on.  Here’s to hoping this new album increases the exposure they get on this latest touring cycle.

4 flip flops out of 5

Letters From the Colony-Vignette

Debut album from a group of Swedish lads who have apparently been worshiping at the altar of Meshuggah.  The weird djenty odd-time signature laden sound perfected by Meshuggah is the most obvious jumping off point for these guys.  You’ve got the underlying foundation that is just so solid.  It is concussive in its pounding.  Over top of this slab of heavy, you’ve got almost wistful and light touches of guitar textures.  It’s a weird and forward-thinking contrast to the songs’ overall bombast.  Letters From the Colony also manage to break out a few unexpected quiet and melodic passages throughout many of the songs.  In this vein, they join the growing legion of metal bands to employ a saxophone to deft use on the final title track of the album.

This may not be the most original album to come down the pike this year, but it is a solid release.  There’s enough meat to these songs to make me want to revisit them in the future.  Cheers to a promising beginning!

3.5 flip flops out of 5

 

Angra-Omni

Symphonic flourishes!  Neo-classical guitar solos!  Operatic, ear-splitting vocals!

Yep, we got ourselves a power metal band here.  There is a very, very fine line that power metal bands walk.  This would be the mystical Line of Cheese.  Most of the rabble of these bands just bulldoze right the hell over that line without a care in the world.  They push the boundaries of pomposity so far that they just explode in a tidal wave of queso that just destroys any remaining self-respect anyone in the vicinity could possibly hope to hang onto.  Yes, I’m looking directly at you, Hammerfall.

Angra flirts with this line.  They come screeching like banshee right up to the precipice and just managed to stomp on the brakes before careening into the Canyon of Corniness.  Seriously, this thing is perfectly balanced.  You’ve got serious guitar chops, mucho powerful vocals that soar for days and they all serve some great melody lines.  This is a solid album for those pining for the classic old days of metal. Highlight is a nice duet with Arch Enemy’s Alyssa White-Gluz providing her signature death growl for the featured character in Black Widow’s Web.

3.5 flip flops out of 5

Fu Manchu-Clone of the Universe

It’s 2018 and we have a Fu Manchu sighting!  Damn, these guys.  These guys just keep on chuggin’, don’t they?

For some reason, Fu Manchu reminds me of Thin Lizzy.  Thin Lizzy always had this really warm and friendly guitar tone that just put a smile on my face.  I always got positive vibes whenever I’d hear one of their tracks.  I get the same exact vibe from Fu Manchu.  I think it’s just that fuzzy stoner bliss that comes through their guitar and bass sounds.

This record is exactly what you’d think it would be.  You’ve got six fairly straight-forward stoner rips that lead up to something monumental at the end of the album.  The last track on the album is an 18 minute epic entitled Il Mostro Atomico.  This track will end up being one of the more memorable jams to come out this year.  It just builds and builds and is jammed packed full of tasty stoner riffs.  Plus, they somehow managed to finagle Alex Lifeson of Rush to play on this song.  Just an awesome, awesome song.

4 flip flops out of 5

Saxon-Thunderbolt

Well, lookee here!  A brand spanking new Saxon album.  Let’s break out the checklist to see if everything is in order.

1. Songs about rockin’:  Check.  (They Played Rock and Roll (Motorhead tribute))
2. Songs about fast cars/motorcycles:  Check.  (Speed Merchants)
3. Songs about battles/dying in glory:  Check.  (Sons of Odin and Sniper)
4. Songs about the brotherhood of metal: Check.  (Roadies’ Song)
5. Songs about events in history:  Check.  (The Secret of Flight)
6. Songs about mythological gods:  Check.  (Thunderbolt)
7. Songs about fantasy/horror:  Check.  (Nosferatu and Wizard’s Tale)

Yep.  Textbook Saxon album

I kid of course.  I fucking love Saxon.  They are one of those quintessential metal bands.  They are one of the originals of the NWOBHM and if they have a bit of a familiar pattern nearly 40 years into the game, so be it.  What they may lack in breaking new ground, they more than make up for it by shooting pure professional no-nonsense metal straight into your veins.  Thunderbolt is just vintage Saxon.  Crunchy guitars.  Bombastic drums.  Biff and his trademark nasally wails and bellows.  They even work in a duet with Biff and Amon Amarth’s Johan Hegg which is absolutely perfect.

Go see these guys when they open up for Judas Priest when the two British legends tour the States during the Spring.  It’s going to be a blast of classic metal done proper.

4 flip flops out of 5

Howling Sycamore-Howling Sycamore

I mean this in the most positive manner as possible, but this is one seriously schizophrenic album.  This debut album seems to take elements of power metal, blackened death metal and jazz and combines them in a manner that actually works quite well.

I’m not entirely sure that you can fully characterize Howling Sycamore as a proper band.  It seems more like the brain child of former Ephel Duath guitarist, Davide Tiso, and he has enlisted admired musicians to flush out this chaotic musical vision.  You’ve got ex-Necrophagist drummer, Hannes Grossmann, Gorguts/Dysrhythmia guitarist Kevin Hufnagel and Yakuza sax man, Bruce Lamont all playing on this thing.  So, the lineup is fairly formidable.  The most interesting choice of personnel is having ex-Watchtower and Dangerous Toys vocalist Jason McMaster on the mic.  Everything about this project just screams death metal vocals.  Instead, you’ve got McMaster providing some downright soaring classical heavy metal vocals overtop of the musical madness.  I was skeptical at first (I mean, this is a long way from Teas’n Pleas’n and Sportin’ a Woody), but dammit, he really nails it.  The whole thing is just so out of left field that it really struck a nerve with me.  I kept being reminded throughout of the post-Death Chuck Schuldiner project, Control Denied.  Howling Sycamore has the same progressive death metal sound with clean soaring vocals that I think Schuldiner was ultimately going for in his post-Death career.  I haven’t come across any band that comes close to the same sound as that lone Control Denied album.  I think we have finally found a worthy successor in Howling Sycamore.

4 flip flops out of 5

Tribulation-Down Below

So, I might be off base here, but this is the sense that I get when I see/hear Tribulation.  If you took the New York Dolls and made them a little more gothic instead of the street shabby chic glam look they had and they played a stripped down punk-flavored version of occult-rocking death metal, you’d pretty much sum up Tribulation in a nutshell.  Hell, the first time I saw them play live, I could have sworn that guitarist Jonathan Hultan was channeling a dark version of Stevie Nicks.  A little androgyny and death metal are a weird mixture, but these guys manage to pull it off.  Once again, here’s another band trying to put the traditional metal norms on its collective head.

These guys started making a name for themselves with their previous release, Children of the Night, which ended up on quite a few best-of lists for the year of 2015.  They hit some prime opening spots during the touring cycle for that album (Abbath and Ghost) and it really felt like this was a young band with a bright future ahead.  Which means that this new release is an important album for them.  After a couple of listens, I have to say that I’m not entirely sure that they knocked it out of the park.  The album is not bad by any stretch, but it doesn’t quite live up to the old school rocker vibe of the previous release.  All in all, the songs just don’t crackle.  It all feels just a little staid.  A little too by-the-numbers.  Maybe it’s just how it was recorded.  These songs may come alive more in a live setting than in the studio.

3.5 flip flops out of 5