Monday, July 31, 2006

man, am I glad I'm going to be in a temperate and probably wet cowfield next week

I just got this from my landlord:













My apartment's already a damned firebox, leaving aside this bullshit. Unfortunately, for general popular sanity, quality of living, and frequency of area metal shows, it doesn't get any better than least not in the US anyways.

more obstacles

I'm leaving for Wacken the day after tomorrow, but I just had to go and tweak something in my back last night; it's less painful now, but sleeping on the ground and in airline seats probably isn't going to be real helpful for it. However, this is quite a small price to pay in order to see Emperor together again.

(of course, I'm saying this now, not next Monday when I'm crawling home from the T and DMing the session from flat on my back)

If I can avoid dying overseas, I'm going to have a hell of a time; and it's not like I'm going to be standing up the whole time; sitting aint so bad, and I should be fine just going forward for the few bands I was going to go forward for anyways. If I actually get some painkillers before gaming tonight things should be better, and somehow I got through two serious knee injuries last time.

I haven't done a full gear-load yet (maybe tonight, definitely by tomorrow), but I think I'll be fine with my current pack and bag. Plenty of spare room on the way over, and then room to put all the stuff I brought over in the carryon into the backpack and carry T-shirts, CDs, and other junk back by hand. Oft-forgotten, this is the most important part of packing for festivals, because otherwise you're going to be throwing kit out to make room for it. I had to toss a lot of gear for water-related reasons last year, but hopefully I'll be able to actually re-use most of what I bring over.

How to not get waterlogged at Wacken:
- Put a tarp or groundcloth under your tent. The floor will stop being waterproof if it sinks into the waterlogged mud, and it probably wasn't real waterproof in the first place.
- Put a tarp over your tent. The roof will stop being waterproof when the rain does not stop for 18 hours at a time.
- Put a garbage bag over the end of your sleeping bag. This way the bag will not get soaked from the water you track into the tent.
- Bring a towel, even if you don't plan on using the pool. Sit on this when you're changing clothes and not in your sleeping bag yet. Also sit on this to put on and take off your boots.
- Leave your boots outside. They will stink less, and you will track in less water.
- Bring extra garbage bags to contain soaked clothing.
- Stop worrying about it and just resolve to dry/air your stuff out when you get back home.

Friday, July 28, 2006

now that that's out of the way...

....comes the situation that my Myspace is not deleted after all. :roll: This was kind of predicted, so it's not like it's like I wasn't planning on keeping it live for the near future. However, this move off towards the real internet is something I was planning on doing anyway.

I'm going to do some more cleanup and such probably next Monday, and then the week after that, there'll be a report from this year's Wacken Open Air. It may seem a little excessive to fly to another continent for a heavy metal concert, but it's the only way I'm likely to ever see Emperor with the full lineup, and Amon Amarth with their full Viking show. I'm hoping to run into some of the people I met last year, but there's 50,000+ people at this festival, always growing, and if I run into anyone I know it'll likely be purely by accident. Of course, as I continue to go back (Immortal's reuniting next year, so that's kind of a foregone conclusion), the number of people that I've randomly hung out with will continue to expand, and the overall chance will go up. This year will see more pictures, and hopefully more bands seen, but all is certain, even if the airline loses my gear and I end up sleeping under a tarp, is that I'll have a great time. (Large mugs of beer help with this, but are not the answer in and of themselves.)

In the short term I'm losing sleep; last night was writing up two weeks' worth of D&D materials, and tonight I have to do the Chinese homework I've been putting off all week, then do next week's tomorrow night so that I can go to Germany and not worry about leaving lessons undone. Maybe I should spread this out some, but the concentrations help me focus. Or, rather, this is a useful side effect of being generally lazy.

I am not cooking more Chinese buns for the session; I screwed up the last batch, but fortunately, everyone was more interested in the actual game than in eating, so I've been using them as a lunch substitute all week. The pork was a little old and I didn't prepare the steamer pans right, so it's actually a positive that I'm soaking it -- they weren't poisonous or anything, and I'm going to be living on doner, sausage and beer next week, so I need all the help I can get getting ready.

Shelfcore Quest 2006: Step 18 [33] (repost)

This repost is of fairly fresh material, but it's still more album review snippets.


God Forbid - IV: Constitution of Treason [6/7]
"...a strong pickup for open-minded metallers who aren't afraid to thrash, full of clean grooves and lyrical depth as well as annihilating riff blasts. ... One of the best records of 2005."

Anthrax - Stomp 442 [5/7]
"...there are some good songs on this one, but the band should have been able to muscle up and do fully committed work without wasting time agonizing about how much or little it was going to sell. The reissue has some good bonus tracks, but the sound on their Celtic Frost cover is far too clean for the material. Anthrax being Anthrax, as usual..."

Arch Enemy - Stigmata [5/7]
"The instrumental work is still incredible, but in places there's a sense that it might have been better with a little more focus or commitment to the music. It certainly doesn't sound mailed-in, but there's a certain degree to which the riffage exists as a necessary superstructure for the soloing rather than as the point and bones of the song. You can deal with this, of course, because it's the Amotts wielding the dual lead guitars..."

Arch Enemy - Burning Bridges [5/7]
"Arch Enemy's writing and focus take a step up here, but the punch of the riffs and the overall quality of the material aren't quite up to the standard of their previous release. The songs aren't so much forgettable as non-memorable; on point they're really good, but you won't be humming anything from this out of the blue..."

Black Sabbath - Headless Cross [4/7]
"...the music is flatly uninteresting and the result is 40 minutes of boring that nobody would care about, let alone waste cash on, if not for the Black Sabbath name on the front cover. Tony Iommi is a better writer than this, as attested by earlier Sabbath material and some of his later solo stuff, but you'd never know from the quality of the junk here."

Cannibal Corpse - Gore Obsessed [5/7]
"Cannibal Corpse often faces accusations of writing the same record over and over again, and this will certainly be the case here. It's nice and brutal, and on the whole well turned-out, but completely inessential if you've already got a Corpse disc or two. Among fans, this is not well-regarded, for these reasons, but there's nothing specifically wrong with it as such."

Damageplan - New Found Power [5/7]
"...Pantera was one of the revolutionary forces reshaping modern thrash, and Damageplan was at this point a work in progress, with the Abbotts still firming up their lineup and trying to work out what exactly they were as a band. Maybe, if Dime had lived, Damageplan would have gone on to equal their best work with Phil and Rex, but as it stands, this record is all there ever will be, and it has to be judged on its own merits, as a decent but not superlative modern thrash disc, inheriting from Pantera like so many others."

Extol - The Blueprint Dives [6/7]
"...there has not been a Christian band this smart and aggressive since Believer hung it up, and given that there have been few bands as brutally and fanatically progressive since Believer, this is quite high praise, which should turn around all but the most committed Satanists. It's not a perfect record, carrying too many soft, almost emo passages for my liking, but the great majority of it kicks ass, and most thrashers or metalcore aficionados with a taste for prog will enjoy it abundantly."

Impaled Nazarene - All That You Fear [5/7]
"...the world's best...grindblack band...continues to pound ahead. After a while, it gets old, but the individual components of the record are still good stuff. Among bands globally, it's pretty original...but still does sound largely like everything else Impaled Nazarene has done lately, making its value questionable to those who already have several of the band's discs."

In Flames - Colony [6/7]
"...this is the disc that broke In Flames first, such as that breakout was. At present, it kind of falls between the cracks, with a foot in each era of the band but not strongly a member of either, and it's lost its relevance as an index record of the band's greatness in favor of earlier stuff. It's still a good album, still worth picking up if you're into the band, but there's an argument to be made that it's among their less essential."

Korpiklaani - Voice of Wilderness [5/7]
"...this band is still under development, still trying to prove that Finnish bands can be folkish without sounding exactly like Finntroll. The success rate at this point is uneven, but they do show promise in their as-yet familiar-sounding mix of folk and black metal. In other places they sound much more like In Extremo, but they do it well enough that theyll be a real band to watch for as soon as they get their sound nailed down..."

Grave - Back From The Grave [6/7]
"...with this one Grave returned from an extended layoff with all the drive and firepower that made them one of the most influential Swedish bands in the first age of brutal death. ... There's not a lot of variety, and this isn't going to reach out and convert those not already into the brutal underground, but at they end of the day, that's not who this record is for..."

Grave - Sick Disgust Eternal [5/7]
"The recording quality isn't always the best, as there are a few sections where the master tape apparently got fucked up, but this is some damned prime brutal death metal, and recorded fairly well to boot. The influences are mainly Floridian, with Death being prime, but there's already original ideas taking shape and pushing the music heavier and more brutal from the springboard of Leprosy."

Grave - Sexual Mutilation [4/7]
"...similar to the prior demo, but the music isn't quite as memorable. There is less of Death and more of Grave in this one, but this one is probably going to be of fan interest only, without as much general appeal."

Grave - Anatomia Corporis Humani [4/7]
"...anticipat[es] early Mortician with deeper tunings and tinnier drums, but doesn't manage to recover the genius of their first demo. The print on this is a little beat-up as well, with frequent distortions or drops in the sound. While it's an interesting take on the band that they didn't end up pursuing, the production damage will probably mean that it's of interest to collectors only."

Dismember - Indecent & Obscene [5/7]
"...probably the least essential, but it's still some pretty cool stuff, less bottom-heavy and with a sound more along the lines of old Sodom than you might expect from a Stockholm band. People will want to start elsewhere with Dismember, but for fans this will still be on the list."

Dismember - Pieces [5/7]
"...goes down just right, with a little bit of solos and twist as well as the characteristic Dismember abrasion. Thoroughly good stuff, as with everything else these guys do, and just as accessible to dirt-thrashers as to death heads."

Airborn - Born To Fly [4/7]
"This demo is mostly 'just there' in the same way that a lot of power metal is 'just there'; it's decent enough musically, but not really inspiring or compelling. ... [P]ower metal fans of the German school may want to look into this group..."

Am I Blood - The Truth Inside The Dying Sun [5/7]
"After being dropped by Nuclear Blast, this band went on, but in a fashion most reminiscent of treading water rather than continuing the interesting style of their earlier work. ...this is as close to the clinical definition of 'Metalliclone' as I've heard in a long while, that same blend of aggressive but accessible mid-tempo thrash, but unfortunately not particularly inspired."

Aska - Avenger [5/7]
"The influences are the same (the opening track is largely stolen from Judas Priest's ''Desert Plains''), but the way in which they're being applied is different, and the result is a more serious, less jingoistic Aska that was probably aiming for the European markets... Fine for genre fans..."

DragonForce - Valley of the Damned demo [6/7]
"Principally the same as their Noise debut, this demo (originally issued under the name DragonHeart) is a little rawer and slower, but still managed to totally blow the band up in the underground. For better or worse, they have basically not changed since then; what remains on this one is awesome pyrotechnic power metal of fair creativity and loaded with solo hooks, but not the reality that the band has essentially stagnated since creatively."

Cianide - The Dying Truth [5/7]
"...people tend to forget the Midwest when it comes to death metal. This one ought to push them away from that mistaken thought pattern: the relentless, leaden, brutal grind here is an excellent representative of the ultra-slow, ultra-downtuned sound that also serves as the calling card of Broken Hope and Incantation, among others. Of course, the fact that this style of death metal is so grueling to listen to is probably a major reason why Cianide never broke out..."

Eyescale - Overexposure [4/7]
"...a decent work, though barely more than peripherally metal. Darkwave counts, but there is too much space in the sound and not enough chaos for this to push to the levels where most metalheads will listen to it."

Eyescale - Neogenesis [5/7]
"Though this is an electronic project, it'd probably be better recommended to fans of Burzum and the eastern school of black metal rather than to people into new Ulver, but you really never can tell. It's highly interesting musically as well as compositionally, and while there isn't a lot of metal punch in it, the misanthropic spirit of black metal is present in abundance..."

Gamma Ray - Alive '95 [5/7]
"This is a decent album, once you get past the fact that it's basically Land Of The Free Live .... Of course, the real reason that most people buy Gamma Ray live discs is to hear the band rip up on classic Helloween material, and they certainly don't disappoint with ''Ride The Sky'' and ''Future World'' here, for once not stuffed into a medley."

Gamma Ray - Who Do You Think You Are? [4/7]
"...a 3-song release consisting of the unexceptional and unduly Helloweenish title track, a version of ''Heaven Can Wait'' available on another EP, and, you guessed it, yet another version of ''Heading For Tomorrow''... The music is decent enough, but at this point, only die-hard Gamma Ray fans and collectors will want this -- though it's debatable who else would have wanted it in the first place."

Gamma Ray - The Spirit [4/7]
"With Helloween losing their way in the early '90s, Kai Hansen and Gamma Ray stepped in to fill the void. And fill it they did, though some stuff, like this ten-minute live single, is simply filler... At present, this one is mainly of interest to collectors; the music's good, but the cost of obtaining it is utterly out of proportion to both the quality and quantity of music offered."

Gamma Ray - Somewhere Out In Space [6/7]
"Fortunately, when Gamma Ray stepped up the UFO/sci-fi themes in their work on this one, they also took the music up a notch from their earlier output. There's a lot of interludes on this one, and it sprawls a bit, but there's a lot of really good power metal on here, the balladic material just as much as the light-speed hyperblasts."

Gamma Ray - Silent Miracles [4/7]
"...even 24 minutes is a little too long to spend in the company of four slow ballads without the slightest sign of anything fast, heavy, or really metal. However, the musicianship is good, so it's not a total waste, but I would absolutely not recommend this one to anyone but Gamma Ray completists, or to those who need a dramatic illustration of how power metal can lose its mind at times."

Gamma Ray - Rebellion In Dreamland [5/7]
"...23 minutes of sheer unimpeded nift, and while most of the record is available on the main album, ''Heavy Metal Mania'' isn't, and by itself it's nearly worth the price of entry. It's not a substitute for Gamma Ray full-lengths, but it's a pretty cool disc if you can manage to hunt it up."

Gamma Ray - Powerplant [7/7]
"Gamma Ray covers about the full range and breadth of the power and melodic metal genres on here, and integrates it seamlessly enough that the asskickers and ballads both feel like integral parts of the same whole. Along with Land of the Free, it's the essential part of your Gamma Ray collection..."

Gamma Ray - Live [6/7]
"If you're into old Blind Guardian and Running Wild but want to spread out your taste in German power metal, this is the disc to get into Gamma Ray with, and fans will also want to hunt it down."

Gamma Ray - Insanity and Genius [5/7]
" this point, before the fantasy paradigm took over power metal, they're still writing about just anything and everything, and cranking it over cool, tight, melodic structures which, on this one, are difficult to reconcile with modern definitions of the term ''power metal''. It's pretty cool, and a nice pickup for fans of melo-thrash who aren't exactly crazy about the knights-and-dragons school..."

Yes, that's a long streak of Gamma Ray at the end. By accumulating 62 points on 12 records, they moved from a tie for 37th to undisputed 2nd place on the total-points leaderboard, but they will probably not surpass Hypocrisy on the final record from them that I have in the queue. This project is telling me a lot of interesting things about my CD collection and my attitudes to it, but often the most surprising is seeing exactly how many records I have from this or that band. I didn't know that Hypocrisy had that many releases out, but I apparently own 15 of them...and still need to get Penetralia.

Dissection's cancellations of their US shows and Emperor's recent tour as the Ihsahn and his Amazing Sidemen Show have vindicated my compulsion for international travel to see bands. Condolences to anyone who was looking forward to Dissection, but in what world are you living where INS lets a rock musician with a murder conviction and ties to wannabe terrorist groups into the country? I was surprised enough to see Dissection actually playing Wacken last year. Emperor, though, will be no problem, especially as none of the current members have ever killed anyone, and Samoth was just around last year with Zyklon.

On a somewhat-related travel-related note, please enjoy this excerpt from this article, presented exactly as found:

"Many Qingdao citizens share the love for beer, especially Tsingtao Beer. Wherever they go, they order Tsingtao Beer. In the places where Tsingtao Beer is not available, they drink beer of other brands, but complaining, 'It does not taste as good as Tsingtao Beer.'

It is common to see people drink beer with bottles, straw pipes, steins, and even bowls, but containing beer with plastic bags should be a special habit of Qingdao citizens and is considered one of the eight strangenesses of Qingdao.

In summer, after getting off from office, people tend to find a nearby store, turn on the tap of a beer barrel, use a plastic bag to contain liters of beer, and take it home.

Some people spear a hole on the bag with a finger at a place above the upper line of the beer and use another hand to support the bottom of the bag, so that beer flows out from the hole, and one can drink the beer with his face turned upward. This also show the forthright character of Qingdao people."

"Forthright" is an excellent word to use to describe the willingness to drink beer out of a plastic bag. This is also seven flavors of awesome, and really makes you wonder what the other 7 strangenesses of Qingdao are. We don't have any tools there, but if I get sent over again and have some down time, it might be worth going to find out.

And to drink Tsingtao out of a plastic bag.

Shelfcore Quest 2006: Step 17 [45] (repost)

More reposted album review snippets...a little boring otherwise lately.


Vital Remains - Let Us Pray [7/7]
"Sharply cut and creative as well as relentlessly heads-down brutal, this is one of the highlight releases of the first generation of brutal death metal and something that ought to be regarded as essential even today."

Kreator - Enemy Of God [7/7]
"Even more than all these other thrash bands that have returned to the fold and returned to greatness, Kreator on this one present something that is fully as good and as strong as anything they did in the first part of their career; quite possibly more so for Mille's greater intellectual and musical maturity. This is an incredible record, and a titanic achievement of thrash metal; if you don't own it yet, get moving..."

Metal Inquisitor - Doomsday For The Heretic [5/7]
"...a nice tight package of fairly melodic thrash metal that inherits mostly from Judas Priest, Running Wild, and the early days of the American Big Four. Not real innovative, but mostly quite good, and if you, like 9 in 10 of the guys in the sleeve photo, have longish hair and a jacket full of patches, this will probably be right up your alley."

Nile - Annihilation of the Wicked [7/7]
"...the fusion is complete, with the Middle-Eastern rhythms transitioning into the main instrumental sound, and the result is simply huge masses of absolutely diabolical grooves. The sound is thick and dead-heavy without ever feeling cluttered, and the blasts pump and pulse with the genuine life that is really difficult to inject into brutal death, which occasionally tends to become machinistic as it becomes technical. A truly awesome, truly classic and essential album."

Tankard - Beast of Bourbon [6/7]
"While it's not always real original -- some of the distinctive appeal of Tankard is that they've substantially been playing exactly the same since 1982 -- in parts it's somewhat smarter than might be expected from a band named after a kind of beer mug, and it's uniformly fun and full of crunchy riffs; if you're metal and old enough to drink where you live you probably want this..."

Savage Circus - Dreamland Manor [5/7]
"'s largely a combinatorial rehash of Blind Guardian and Iron Savior, and when it isn't, it isn't so good. This is Thomen Stauch (ex-BG)'s new band, and barely separable from the old except in lack of inspiration. Among German power metal records, it's not awful, as even imitation Blind Guardian still comes out as good stuff, but it's hardly original or particularly appealing to those not into BG."

Vision of Disorder - Vision of Disorder [4/7]
"...some interesting parts here, but the fury applied is not being applied usefully, towards any particular ends, and the instrumental work is, from a metal point of view, fairly pedestrian. The lyrics are smart, of course, but it's nothing, really, that you can't get by playing Primordial and Ignite or the Clash back to back. At the end of the day, this record is inessential..."

Morbid Angel - Altars of Madness [6/7]
"For historical value and volume of good music, this one should be rated higher. Unfortunately, it hasn't been remastered yet... The record is essential, but fans should know going in that the soundprint doesn't quite accurately show Morbid Angel as they were."

Zero Hour - A Fragile Mind [5/7]
"...if they continue on with their development in this fashion, we may very well one day have an American prog/power band who can legitimately compete with Evergrey. However, they're not there yet, still stuck occasionally in hard-rock tropes and putting more emphasis on the structures of prog metal rather than applying those structures forward to carry riffage and melody. The places in which it sounds contrived are still present, though fewer, and overall, this one is a step up..."

Mercyful Fate - 9 [5/7]
"Apparently a concept record, like nearly everything King Diamond touches, the concept isn't terribly strong here, and the record is better for it. There are some uninspired parts to this one, but for the most part it's the clean, sharp power/thrash that Mercyful Fate made their name with in the early '80s, seamlessly brought forward into the modern era."

Trivium - Ascendancy [5/7]
"This band has a lot of promise, and there are some genuinely brilliant spots where they show chops equal to anyone in the scene, but the music is heavily 'cut'; diluted with retread material that will probably work on radio...but probably won't cut it among the metal scene at large. have the potential to develop, but they also have the potential to stagnate and become just another Roadrunner radio band."

Thrones - Day Late, Dollar Short [6/7]
"At the least, this compilation of B-sides and aborted projects is representative, showing off the stone-heavy and desperately weird genius of the band, but as such it's still extremely insular. If you're into the Thrones already, you'll dig this one, even in its imbalances and mistaken directions, because nobody does this kind of synth and bass sludge better -- and if you're not into the Thrones, you will instantly discover what you think of them before the first track finishes."

Ulver - Blood Inside [6/7]
"This isn't really a metal album, but among electronic projects, there are few more metal records. This is not really a return to form for Ulver...but there are arrangements and even sounds on this one that do hearken back to their black metal days; it's still going to require a fair degree of openmindedness on the part of the listener, but this is probably the record for metalheads to get into newer Ulver with."

Vomitory - Revelation Nausea [5/7]
"A good black/death metal disc, these guys have a sound reminiscent of Sacramentum and Zyklon, which is to say a black metal band biting at Morbid Angel. It's done pretty well, but the attack is so over the top that it's easy to dismiss, and once at this state there's little in the music that'll compel your renewed attention."

Borknagar - Epic [6/7]
"More black metal than Empiricism was, this will appeal to fans of both their progressive and aggressive sides in about equal measure, and has, as usual, a larger than normal share of pure awesome. ...[P]robably one of the least essential Borknagar records, but most people who own one of Oystein's discs will eventually acquire them all..."

Rumplestiltskin Grinder - Buried In The Front Yard [7/7]
"...not only do they recapture the punch and psychosis of classic dirt-level thrash, but they do it with modern twists and a sense of tongue-in-cheek humor, plus of course absolute instrumental dominance. If you get one retro-thrash disc before Municipal Waste's, it should be this one..."

In Flames - Come Clarity [6/7]
"...the band will not be returning to the Whoracle era any time soon, but among 'modern' NWOSDM/NWOAHM bands, this style is pretty good as well as accessible, and after a lot of stumbling around, In Flames partisans finally have a release which will stand up to what Dark Tranquillity and Shadows Fall have been doing lately. There are some weak parts, but over nearly all of the record, the feel is of In Flames' always-promising modern sound at last done completely right."

Subway To Sally - Herzblut [6/7]
"...the power of the music makes it through regardless of the [German] lyrics. If you're into In Extremo, this is worth ordering; closer to their later, more melodic and accessible stuff but still quite metal as well."

Bilskirnir - In Flames of Purification [6/7]
"Those who have political convictions strong enough to keep them away from this usually won't be interested in this Eastern-style black metal anyways, inheriting from the similar drone-and-shriek concepts of Burzum and Graveland, and won't care that this is one of the more seriously well-done works in this style."

Mayhem - Live In Leipzig [7/7]
"Mayhem are not real competent musicians at this point, but the rotten sound, perfectly capturing the local basement dive atmosphere, helps rather than hurts them, creating the 'necro' sound that many others were to imitate, never perfectly capture. As befitting an ex-bootleg, this one is less about the music than about the feeling, and the feeling of Mayhem at this point is indomitable."

Kyuss - ...And The Curcus Leaves Town [6/7]
"I'm not the biggest fan of the stoner genre, but I can follow these grooves along almost as far as they go, and the results are continually cool, a much better and somewhat deeper experience than Queens of the Stone Age, and more metal as well. This is of course metal in the early Sabbath sense, but twisted back in and over on itself for greater complexity within the same general framework of warm fuzz. Sincerely cool stuff..."

Municipal Waste - Waste 'Em All [5/7]
"While their later stuff has occasional suggestions of hardcore about it, this one resembles nothing so much as a Rumplestiltskin Grinder record attacked with an apple corer: all that's left are the crunchy riff bursts, absent solos or overarching composition, and if you can get it for EP prices, there's no better instant thrash hit."

Karl Sanders - Saurian Meditation [6/7]
"...none of the typical Nile brutality on Sanders' solo material here, but that doesn't mean it's any less awesome or anciently creepy. There are a few parts that committed Nile fans will definitely recognize from other discs, but a lot of it is new, and even where it isn't, the composition makes up for it."

Necrophagist - Onset of Putrefaction [6/7]
"Though the songwriting and arrangements are weaker in places, a lot of the riffs and leads are even better and more pinpoint than on their later work. What makes this more impressive is that Suicmez did nearly all of this, except a few of the bass lines, completely by himself. Oddly, it lacks the direction of later Necrophagist, probably due to lack of collective jamming ability, but as regards death metal guitar, it's still no shade short of brilliance..."

Edguy - Rocket Ride [7/7]
"...almost surprisingly smart as well as hook-filled and metallic; Edguy at long last is growing up, while retaining the stupidity and immaturity of their youth only where it's useful. They also start to separate themselves musically from Iron Maiden and Gamma Ray, but at this point it's still a matter of degrees; if you start your Edguy collection with this one, you won't be let down..."

The Dreamside - Spin Moon Magic [5/7]
"...more metal than some of the band's earlier output, this is still much more a goth record than a metal one, and those who have a lower tolerance for gothic stylings would be advised to stay away. Those who can make it through the slack parts will be rewarded; there's still a bunch of good music on here..."

Edguy - Lavatory Love Machine [4/7]
"...probably not worth importing. ... Aside from the video bonus, this one is totally inessential if you already have Hellfire Club, but if this is all you can find of Edguy, there's some good work on this one."

Nasum - Grind Finale [6/7]
"...after a while, one 70-second grindblast merges into the next, and the result is more or less a continual stream of blasting. On the other hand, it's over two hours of solid top-class grindcore, packed in with such a tremendously detailed booklet that it's almost like a mini-boxed set. Despite the occasional bad production on a few of the cuts -- a lot of this was restored from old tapes and not even Dan Swano can resurrect everything -- this is a good introduction to Nasum for those new to them, and of course essential for everyone who's already got the rest of their catalog."

Holy Moses - The New Machine of Liechtenstein [5/7]
"While there are some iconic songs on this one, the whole isn't terribly original: brutal thrash built around fairly simplistic grooves, Destruction by way of Motorhead. ... Holy Moses has some awesome records that should be purchased because they're awesome, but this is not one of them. Fans only..."

Cruachan - Folk-Lore [6/7]
"Cruachan's sound continues to be defined by the Irish whistle, but there's more and stronger of the traditional metal instrumentation than is usually expected of them, and surprise surprise, they're still a very good metal band. While they're not going to be challenging Primordial for their crown among Irish metal bands as yet -- too many songs are just going through the motions -- this release is a definite step up..."

The Vision Bleak - Carpathia [7/7]
"While The Vision Bleak have a peripherally gothic background, this record is a mix of heavy and black metal styles that captures the atmospheric feel of [King Diamond]'s classic, in the context of a new and even more impressive compound horror tale which takes H.P. Lovecraft as merely its point of departure. The result is an opus absolutely original and ceaselessly kickass, an Abigail for the modern day that can fully go toe to toe with the original classic."

The Vision Bleak - Live at WGT [5/7]
"...some pretty good stuff, and shows, if nothing else, that the band can take their distinctive sound live convincingly, even when most of it is being spread over session players (there are only two full-time members in this outfit). Despite the fairly small venue, there's a good sound from the crowd as well, making this a cool bonus..."

Impaled Nazarene - Death Comes In 26 Carefully Selected Pieces [5/7]
"'s good stuff, but you can only take so much [of this grindblack] at once before it starts to wear thin. There's not a lot of variety on this one, though the execution is top-notch, and though this is a live album, you can barely hear the crowd -- or any difference from a trebled-out studio take. It's still a cool record, but most people will want other stuff from this band first."

Exodus - Shovel Headed Kill Machine [6/7]
" thrash supremacy. The material on here is just as good as on Tempo..., and the delivery of it has been stepped up as well, showing that the band is still a vital force; with the new membership, if the lineup stays stable, they'll likely move from strength to strength."

MUCC - Kuchiki no Tou [5/7]
"I don't like Japanese visual rock. It's driven by marketing and image requirements as much as musical choice, and the result is that there are contradictions and oddities in direction all over the place. Such is definitely the case with this band, who can't decide whether they want to be Korn or Nevermore. There is enough good material on this one to build either a good nu-metal band or a decent real power/thrash metal act out of them, but the countervailing impulses pull them in separate directions at once, and the sound gets confused within as well as between songs."

Heaven Shall Burn - The Split Program II side 1 [5/7]
"...this isn't Heaven Shall Burn at their absolute best, but it's easily good enough to be the superior side on this recording. Their political side is more pronounced due to concentration, which should bring proper attention to the fact that the band is not only better but smarter than your average metalcore act."

Caliban - The Split Program II side 2 [4/7]
"Caliban tries hard to impress here, but most of their tracks aren't as memorable as Heaven Shall Burn's, and those that are are memorable more for their poppy factors than for stuff that metalheads are likely to value. There's some good stuff on here from them, but this side (appropriately the 'b-side') is not the reason that you buy this split."

Destruction - Inventor Of Evil [5/7]
"This one is full of good thrash metal, but it's merely good, not superlative, and it fades rapidly back down into the pool of general Destruction riffs. Thrash fans will dig this one, especially D-thrashers, but some will note that Schmier is principally still doing what the band's been doing since the '80s, while Sodom and Kreator have gotten better with age rather than remaining the same."

Hate Eternal - I, Monarch [5/7]
"...Erik Rutan did not learn, through his time in Morbid Angel, what it takes to turn a bunch of brutal riffs into a memorable and bangable song, or at least enough to apply that on a consistent basis. Death heads will want this one, but they'll also tire of it after a few spins; there's great work on here, but it doesn't always translate into great music."

Solar Signs - Wait Me At Dusk [6/7]
"This demo has long since faded back into the mists of history, but those who dig it up will be promptly amazed by the sounds that this Russian outfit was able to create, specifically with how unique they were even in that very experimental period for black metal. At times aggressive, at times closer to chillout trance, Solar Signs does nothing expected and everything interesting here, putting together a compelling collection of music..."

Criterion - The Dominant [5/7]
"...not the most original record in the world, but it's very well performed, and the room for innovation in true brutal death is somewhat restricted by nature in any case. For now, this one is for fans of the style only, though the band definitely has the potential to do something with wider appeal."

Temnozor - Horizons [6/7]
"With Temnozor, when ''white thunder roars'', the emphasis is certainly not on the 'thunder' part, and that needs to be borne in mind when approaching this record. The music is quite good, folk-driven black metal reminiscent of Nokturnal Mortum with clean vocals, but the political content of the lyrics is undeniable and inescapable as well as regrettable. Collectors will want to pick this up on sight, but other black metal fans are advised to think twice..."

Penitent - As Life Fades Away [5/7]
"The trend toward one-man synth-only albums was a legitimate outgrowth of the Norwegian black metal scene, and if this is more like an extended church organ concert than a Mortiis record, it should make it only that much truer. More interesting and fully sounded than Varg's keyboard works, Penitent takes strands from Mortiis' beginnings and Filosofem and combines them into a new and original sound, which unfortunately wears thin in places by the end of the record."

Nevermore - Nevermore [5/7]
"...the relative lack of focus can be forgiven given the quality of the music underneath. While this is a good record, it really pales in comparison to Nevermore's later work; there are few bands who have managed to develop and improve so much... those who are just getting into the band would be advised to start with one of their later works."

Odroerir - Gotterlieder [5/7]
"...some cool music here, though the bulk of it is melancholic folk rather than metal, but its appeal is the very definition of insular, even in Germany where people can understand the pagan creation myths being told in the lyrics. In the rest of the world, this record is of interest only to German-speakers with an extreme interest in the weird and obscure; not quite worth ordering..."

I also finally started Chinese this past weekend, and while devilishly hard, it looks like I'll be able to keep up with it fine. There are some really interesting parts of the language so far that work like stuff I've seen in software; the verb 'shi' (to be) can be used like Boolean T to respond in the affirmative to most questions, the particle 'ne' is an implicit backreference redirecting the last question asked, and the particle 'ma' "sets the W-bit", requiring a response to the question it concludes. Of course, I'll only keep up fine if I put time into drilling characters and make a set of flashcards to take on the plane to Germany. This class emphasizes characters, so I won't be able to struggle on in deliberate illiteracy...which is probably a good thing, but a whole hell of a lot more work.

Shelfcore Quest 2006: Step 16 [26] (repost)

More reposted album review snippets.


Infernal Majesty - One Who Points To Death [6/7]
"Because Canada has so few people, they have to economize on band output, and hence these guys are the Great White North's answer to Slayer, Death, and practically the entire first wave of death metal. This is a bit of a comeback record, but still tight and sharp even if it's not as revolutionary as their earlier material."

Hypocrisy - Osculum Obscenum [5/7]
"...raw and rawly recorded death metal, though the distinctive riffs and grooves are starting to emerge. The production works against it, but it's still pretty good; for a band that regularly puts out superlative stuff, it's sub-average, but fans will still dig it..."

Hypocrisy - Inferior Devotees [5/7]
"...from this point on, we have Hypocrisy as the classic three-piece lineup that would go on to do so much with and for death metal. Those records, of course, are still in the future here, and the recording still isn't to Abyss-standard, but this is an absolutely crushing EP that committed death metallers will definitely add to their list of essential Hypocrisy records."

Hypocrisy - Pleasure of Molestation [5/7]
"...a sound better than the full album, which by contrast doesn't seem either clean or dirty enough to really allow the music full rein. The narrower track selection gives greater focus on the parts of the Hypocrisy sound that would be important in the future, and the result is that this disc is a real precursor to The Fourth Dimension..."

The Black Dahlia Murder - Unhallowed [4/7]
"While the composition and arrangements are well-done, the writing is unimaginative and basically pulls from a bag of riffs that In Flames and Sacrilege had already long since exhausted. If you wish In Flames had repeated Lunar Strain and Subterranean instead of developing, you may want this..."

Deeds of Flesh - Path of the Weakening [6/7]
"...much of what they do here has already been done, in large measure, by Incantation, Suffocation, and other brutal death bands, but the band is able to successfully turn this around and inside out, making brutal music that most of the time sounds truly new and fresh, no matter how often the same concepts have been done before and since."

Melechesh - As Jerusalem Burns... [5/7]
"...there isn't much here that really sets the band apart as doing something original or even particularly interesting. There are definite cool parts, but many of them get somewhat lost if you're doing anything else while listening to the record; this becomes background music too easily, and this is never a good sign for a metal album. Underground collectors will want this, but everyone else can feel free to skip it..."

Decapitated - The Negation [6/7]
"This disc is as trim, tight, clean, and brutal as could possibly be desired, and full of a genuine fire that shows the band's commitment to their intricate technical structures is still ironclad; about the only knock on it is that it barely tops 30 minutes, and there's enough good ideas and kickass performance to make you really wish that it extended out to the 45-60 minute range."

Abigor - Channeling The Quintessence Of Satan [6/7]
"It's not the band's fault that a lot of the memorable points heavily recall Emperor's classic sound; they do it well, and that combination of instrumental tones is one of the classic sounds in black metal history. However, the necro production on this disc obstructs the fullness of the recording, preventing the musicianship from showing up fully in the riff sections. Even with this handicap, this is still a very cool album that black metallers will want in their collections..."

Slayer - Show No Mercy [6/7]
"The amount that I like this release is out of proportion to its actual quality. As music, it's still very good, but early Slayer, like early Venom or Bathory, has a lot of intangible value to it that is not really connected to the playing so much as the feeling behind it. As such, it's essential, but the actual music on here is good enough that those buying it for historical reasons won't be disappointed."

In Extremo - Sieben [5/7]
" amongst the singable hooks and choruses is relatively less that appeals to the metal side of the equation, which is a regrettable but probably necessary part of the compromise. On their following record In Extremo would unify their new mass appeal with thorough metal punch, as they earlier unified the metal and folkic sides of their sound, but on this one the fusion isn't perfect..."

Holy Moses - Strength, Power, Will, Passion [6/7]
"This isn't one of Holy Moses' historically canonical works, but time may later give it that status, and it definitely is the entry point that modern metalheads will want to use to get into the band. The sharp, clean production conveys the full power of their brutal thrash style, and the digressions into black and death metal only throw the main body of the riffage into fuller detail..."

Opeth - Ghost Reveries [7/7]
"When I first got this record, I wasn't this into it. Opeth has probably made better records, but this one is unique in that you can let it loop for basically forever, and while it never seems to really go anywhere, you don't really want it to. Both solidly metal and indescribably something else, Opeth is both accessible and impenetrable on this one, and the result is an incredible and inscrutable album that cannot really be cut apart or analyzed, merely experienced..."

Hypocrisy - Virus [6/7]
"Here as little elsewhere since Peter started Pain, the sound is a fusion of both the groove-ridden death metal and death-blasting electrogrooves that form the two usually distinct sides of his musical personality. This makes this record sound more like a Pain disc in some places, but in others, it sounds like nothing less than the perfect actualization of the Tagtgren experience. An awesome album on its own as well as for Hypocrisy fans and collectors, this is probably essential for anyone whos going to own anything beyond Abducted and The Final Chapter..."

Kataklysm - In The Arms Of Devastation [5/7]
"...this record shows a fairly accessible side of Kataklysm that is not immediately separable from a lot of other bands inspired principally by At The Gates. It's a decent record, but the distinctive sound has been mostly lost in the process."

Vio-lence - Eternal Nightmare [6/7]
" a lot of spots recalls Slayer a little too easily, but it's still a classic. I first heard this on vinyl in the basement of the radio station, and there's something about it that really demands those kinds of circumstances... This is the most essential of Vio-lence's works, and probably still the most important record that Rob Flynn and Phil Demmel have been involved with..."

Vio-lence - Live At Slim's [6/7]
"...not the best metal live in history, but it's pretty damn good and unexpectedly shows Vio-lence still at full power despite their extended layoff and member changes. A lot of the material is from Eternal Nightmare, where this is almost always packed in with the re-release, but that's kind of expected as it's their best album, and the performances are good enough that it doesn't really matter."

Bolt Thrower - In Battle There Is No Law [5/7]
"...the music is still pretty much thrash, with a lot more of the Bay Area in it than the nascent Birmingham death metal sound. ...If you like Bolt Thrower, you like extreme metal and will also like this, but it's not The IVth Crusade by any means."

DragonForce - Inhuman Rampage [6/7]
"This is a fairly good record that even people who don't like DragonForce ought to give a try, but it's not the disc that is going to achieve their full musical potential, or even break them out of their autopilot mode. When that one drops, though, you may want to have this one around to point out the diverse moments and say ''I told you so''."

Skyclad - The Answer Machine? [5/7]
" all too often, Skyclad doesn't know to stop putting songs on the CD when they run out of good ones. There's some cool stuff on this, but there's also some clunky and uninspired material that works much better as poetry than as metal songs which could have been safely and conveniently omitted."

Charon - Songs For The Sinners [5/7]
"...this whole disc sounds like ten singles that [Sentenced] didn't think had enough punch to go on their real records. It's decent enough music, especially if you want more Sentenced now that the band has lowered the flags, but it may not be metal enough for their older fans... Normal people should be satisfied with Sentenced's heroic body of work and leave this also-ran to collectors..."

Dio - Magica [4/7]
"...there are a lot of fairly boring interludes on this one, and the disc winds up with a 20-minute audiobook that has nothing to do with most of the tracks on the record. This short story covers the concept of the album, where the music doesn't by any reasonable listening standard, and the result is, frankly, a mess. The concept is fairly cool, and the story is well-done, but the music isn't tied into it as all, so the record kind of fails as a concept album."

Sentenced - The Funeral Album [6/7]
"If the band was going to go on, most of this would be somewhat mediocre, but the knowledge of their impending end really puts more into the last few tracks, so that you really notice that they really are giving their all here. That the album is as good as it is is an enduring testament to the power and quality of Sentenced; that it's not better is a testament to the fact that they made the right decision to hang it up when they did."

Hrossharsgrani - Of Battles, Ravens, And Fire [3/7]
"There's a fair bit of decent music on this record, but nearly all of it is stolen from Basil Poledouris, and the original music that flows in around the gaps in the Conan soundtrack is not particularly inspired -- and in a few cases, comically bad rather than just massively boring. By such, the disc becomes not atrocious, but merely totally superfluous..."

Dew-Scented - Issue IV [7/7]
"...relentlessly thrash while still fitting into the modern era, and I'm quite surprised that their US distro sucks as bad as it does. The silly name aside, this is some serious and strong metal that definitely belongs in your collection."

Blind Guardian - Live [6/7]
"...there's a lot of Nightfall and post-Nightfall stuff on here, which may or may not sit well with old-time fans, but it's certainly well-played, and equally good as, though quite different from, the older, thrashier stuff. It's a lot of material for an introduction to the band, but fans will like it, as well as those looking for a convenient compression of their late catalog."

Just striking out kind of wildly here, but if you or someone you know has a four-year degree in a CS- or engineering-related field and a basic knowledge of computer hardware and software plus a high tolerance for short-lead-time international travel, let me know (over email, obviously), because my section is hiring. No semiconductor-industry experience necessary, just the basics mentioned above and the ability to pick everything else up rapidly. More details will be provided privately to those interested.

verloren, aber keine niederlage / Shelfcore Quest step 15 [39] (repost)

This is a repost from the aftermath of the German team's eventual loss to WM-Meister Italy. ;_;


So Germany unfortunately lost yesterday, due entirely to allowing too many set-piece chances and being unable to finish runs even though they were carving up the Italian defense into many small pieces. It was a well-fought match by both sides for the full 120 minutes, and since many of the Italians are also with Juve, this is probably the last triumph they're going to enjoy for a while...though reaching the Cup final will probably make them celebrities in jail.

(For Americans and everyone else who hasn't been paying attention, Italy is currently going through a match-fixing scandal centered on the soccer club Juventus, which is probably going to end with jail sentences and relegations. This is kind of a regular thing in Europe; the Germans just finished theirs a year or so ago, though it was only one ref who was messing with matches, he still went to jail and IIRC there were a couple club records invalidated.)


Keep of Kalessin - Through Times Of War [6/7]
"...meld[s] technical mastery with the sonic atmosphere of the first years of the Nordic black metal eruption, and the result is a smooth mix of chaos that any scene head is going to have a difficult time putting down. Seriously good stuff, and highly recommended."

Leviathan - Tentacles of Whorror [5/7]
"...Leviathan desperately wish they were Burzum. ...fairly good music, and by underground standards, approximately a metric fuckton of it (73 minutes); as long as you don't get hung up over the lack of originality, this is good stuff for black metallers..."

Witchery - Don't fear the Reaper [5/7]
"This is the first Witchery disc on which you really get the feeling that this is a side project, and while it's a fun digression, a lot of the band members would probably rather be doing something else. A good record, but not essential..."

Winds - The Imaginary Direction of Time [5/7]
" metal done as thought experiment. However, this is kind of how these ideas have to be developed, by jamming, arranging, and never being afraid to ask ''what if''. It will fall to other bands to assemble these ideas into something more thoroughly metal, but this is still some pretty damned good music..."

Vried - Pitch Black Brigade [5/7]
"Put your hand up if you've ever heard of Bifrost, or remember Babylon Whores. This is substantially what's going on here, rock'n'roll inflected black metal that is experimental in the arrangements and playing rather than in the sound. As regards tone, mixing, and production, Vried sounds like nearly everyone else playing dirt-level black metal from Norway, but the music presented is fortunately a little different."

Vital Remains - Horrors of Hell [5/7]
"...sounds little like what Vital sounds like today, and as the disc goes on and further into the past, progressively less like what they sounded like even on their debut. However, it's still quality death metal, and there are touches in places that, had I been in a position to appreciate it in fourth and fifth grade, when this stuff was coming out, would have immediately marked this band as something special."

Twilight - Twilight [5/7]
"The idea behind this release is that a bunch of the one-man-bands in the US black metal scene combine, Voltron-style, into one super band that will be even darker, even colder, even more true than any of them could be separately in their own cold cellars and dark forests. They have forgotten, however, about something called the ''law of diminishing returns'', which means that this is only marginally better than the Leviathan and Judas Iscariot stuff that I've reviewed in the past, and is probably not substantially different from the Xastur and Krieg material that I will no doubt review in the future."

Samath Naur - Self Proclaimed Existence [6/7]
"...this is the most intense and driven progressive black metal I've heard since Meridian (with a totally different sound), but it is still more progressive than anything else. The drive and fretwork on this one will broaden its appeal out, but this music here is damned interesting, and it would be seriously surprising to see this act continue to languish in obscurity."

Summoning - Oath Bound [7/7]
"The points of departure are Burzum and late Bathory, and it would be a mistake to say that there's nothing of Poledouris' Conan score in here as well. But these are merely points of departure, and where Summoning goes with them, off into the mystic hills and mountainsides, is somewhere truly new."

Carnivore - Carnivore [5/7]
"...a classic of gonzo postapocalyptic thrash, infused with Steele's trademark humor as much as with blasting riffs. Its value is mostly as history at this point, but that doesn't mean it's not still damn cool."

Obituary - Frozen In Time [5/7]
"...a strong, serviceable death metal record that follows on exactly in Obituary's tradition without coming off as a retread of it. 'Serviceable' isn't such a bad place to start off for a band shaking off the rust, and fans certainly won't be disappointed with this one..."

Demons & Wizards - Touched By The Crimson King [6/7]
"This album is not the first record you should get from Demons & Wizards, and you should very much check your maturity level before picking it up. It's got some good thrashers, and it's grown on me since I first listened to it, but this is still an album whose strong parts are elsewhere, arranged such that they'll be easier for Old People like myself to get into."

Vlad Tepes - March to the black Holocaust [5/7]
"There are some interesting folkic instrumental moments, but overall it's a blend of Darkthrone's ancient days with Mayhem's Live In Leipzig, and is going to sink or float depending on your reactions to similarly styled black metal with similarly stripped-down production."

Thyrfing - Farsotstider [6/7]
"Mixing early Enslaved into late Einherjer, these Swedish survivors show that the authentic viking sound can still be carried forward. Not so much of battles and mythology as of wood fires and open boats, there is still a place for this kind of music, and if you're into cool niche music, it's in your collection."

Primordial - The Gathering Wilderness [7/7]
"...the performance is incredible, filled with the depth, punch, and emotion that Primordial bring to everything they touch, but this record also represents the apogee (so far) of their incisive and bloodsoakedly authentic observations about the state of the world and the mass of humanity that inhabits it. As poetry this record ought to open minds; as a metal album, it destroys barriers and amplifies the power and passion of the scene to a transformative effect, creative as well as destructive, upon society at large."

Running Wild - Branded And Exiled [5/7]
"If you're into slightly thrash-tinged power metal like what Blind Guardian was doing on their first 3 records, this might be a good release to pick up, but most people's interest in Running Wild should really begin once Rolf discovers pirates and consequently finds a gimmick to hang his three-cornered hat on."

Negura Bunget - Inarborat Kosmos [6/7]
"Negura Bunget shows off amazing musicianship and composition with crystal-clear production on this EP, which ought to expand their name amongst the scene...if it wasn't for some bizarre reason issued in a run of only 734 copies. I have one, and if you like messed-up, progressivized black metal, you ought to as well."

Wig Wam - Hard To Be A Rock'n'Roller [6/7]
"This is not very intelligent music, but it does not pretend to be, and it still does capture the fun of brainless '80s music, which is the whole point. There will probably be a lot of people who will be extremely reluctant to actually pay for this, but it's better to support people who are joking and manage to rock..."

Manowar - Sign of the Hammer [6/7]
"Probably Manowar's most musically essential album, and of course their least available; this is where ''Thor'' and ''Guyana'' come from, as well as the nearly forgotten ''Mountains'', in with the usual dumb Manowar stuff, which is somewhat less dumb here than might be otherwise expected."

Blind Guardian - The Forgotten Tales [6/7]
"This is a collection of B-sides, covers, alternate takes, and other junk that Blind Guardian fans will be all over without having to see this rating, and virtually no one else will be especially anticipating. Fortunately for BG's audience, the stuff here is fairly good; the performances are good, and the Beach Boys covers are finally properly canalized into an area where they aren't annoying."

Subway To Sally - Engelskrieger [6/7]
"Much like In Extremo, though less taken with traditional instruments, this album sees them pushing towards a more modern, more melodic sound than taken on some of their other works, one that has re-emerged in the present and has always been half-present in their sound."

Slough Feg - Atavism [7/7]
"There are Manowar bits that follow Dissection bits, and the arrangements and taste ensure that it's the very best of the band's influences that are being echoed, and that everything is mixed convincingly and solidly down into their own original sound. I can barely identify the good points of this one, but it's one of my favorite records, and one of the few that I can spin on for hours and hours on end."

Kiuas - The Spirit of Ukko [4/7]
"We already have one Children of Bodom, and even if they weren't sufficient, they also sound much less like Stratovarius than these guys do. This is the same kind of black-tinged power metal that we've become accustomed to hearing from Alexi Laiho's band, but it's not nearly as well done."

Finntroll - Midnattens Widunder [7/7]
"...authentically trollish music, Finnish polkas pumped full of metal and amphetamines, running frantically riot. The band's black metal roots are clearly evident, but the sound is entirely refocused; Finntroll at this point is not a black metal band playing humppaa nearly so much as a humppaa band with black metal instrumentation and vocals. The weird syncopations and psychotic folk-dance phrasing are probably the main draws, but the performance is quite cool as well..."

Nevermore - This Godless Endeavor [7/7]
"Nevermore continues to spread and expand their legacy on this one, forging ahead with an absolutely unique power/thrash sound. Definitely progressive, but not dominated by such, and still driven by well-knotted riffwork as well as godlike solos, there is not much that any rational metalhead can say against Nevermore."

Running Wild - Rogues En Vogue [7/7]
"I was not this big of a fan of this record when I first got it, as Running Wild has moved away from their bread-and-butter pirate themes, there's some frankly dumb lyrics on here, and the title is so incredibly silly as not to be believed. ...There are a few weak moments, but the majority of the record is filled absolutely up to the brim with truly classic guitar work; maybe this is an average record for Running Wild, but musically at least, it will dominate 90 percent of everything else out there."

Ektomorf - Instinct [5/7]
"My initial reaction to this record, last summer, was ''Ektomorf:Hungary::Sepultura:Brazil'', with the operative being ''is''; this mix of thrash and nu-metal is what Sepultura sounds like in the present day; those who remember more of their earlier pure thrash era will want to substitute in Soulfly. The sound is practically identical, and while there are some cool parts, there are also some that are totally empty-headed."

The Old Dead Tree - The Perpetual Motion [6/7]
"...this French act drags themselves out of the gwawth doldrums and into the outer reaches of Opeth/Katatonia territory. They're more rockish and more accessible, but they're also aspiring to the same degree of complexity, and to the ability to hit as hard both emotionally and viscerally. They're just getting their start, so while there's room for improvement, there's every reason to believe that it will take place..."

Spellbound - Incoming Destiny [6/7]
"Spellbound isn't the most original band in the world, but they do play good and convincing enough brutal semi-blackened D-thrash that this doesn't really matter. While the bulk of their material can't be well-distinguished from Kreator album fill, there are a few points where they set themselves apart, enough to hope for better things to come."

Vader - The Art of War [6/7]
"The production is excellent, allowing the musical muscle to push through, imposing exactly the crisp brutal death metal that fans have come to expect from Poland's best. There is a full album following this one, but for a band with this much under their belts, it would not be inconceivable to get into a cycle of putting out 4-6 kickass songs a year and just touring behind those."

Roadrunner United - The All-Star Sessions [5/7]
"There's a bunch of good material on here, and the DVD included with the limited really inspiring, but a lot of the material is forgettable dross, and by definition there's very little new here. The music suggests the recent Roadrunner lineup rather than the classic days, in the greatest part, and the result is there's a lot of stuff that might hit on the radio, but totally fails in the context of a metal album."

Vital Remains - Into Cold Darkness [5/7]
" in parts but definitely not up to the standard of their label debut. It's still good death metal, which fans will thoroughly enjoy, but there isn't much to separate it from everything else that was going on in brutal spheres at the start of the 1990s."

Sodom - Persecution Mania [6/7]
"This is a good album if you don't like your music too complex: intense and headbangable, it's also somewhat simplistic, but there are other thrash bands that go beyond that; all Sodom is concentrating on on this one is hitting you in the gut as hard as possible, and they do a fairly good job of it."

Sodom - Expulse of Sodomy [6/7]
"...the point of the release is thorough thrash blasting, and that's exactly what you get out of it. It's still not the world's most sophisticated music, but no metalhead is going to argue with the quality."

Sodom - In The Sign Of Evil [5/7]
"...a whole a lot dirtier and more bloody-minded than its American counterpart[s]. This is not Bay Area material by any stretch of the imagination, so those thrash fans that like clean production and longer songs that are more riff-heavy than absolutely riff-dominated might want to stay away, but those deeper into the truer underground will identify this as the wellspring of the extreme that it is."

Sodom - Obsessed By Cruelty [4/7]
"...while the material's ok, the composition isn't smart or varied enough yet to hold up over a full-length record. The result is kind of a mess, blending together over the run of the disc into a stew of ripping guitar riffs and almost-correctly-pronounced vocals. There are some people who will eat this up, and other who wouldn't take it for free; even among Sodom fans this disc can be recognized as having its problems."

Edguy - Burning Down The Opera - Live [6/7]
"...inescapable that this is an Edguy show, and there are going to be people who won't get into their take on German power metal, or even if they do, will find it getting old before they get into the second disc. They do a passable job of splitting Gamma Ray and Iron Maiden, and there's some really cool songs on here, but there's also a bunch of stuff that's boring and/or unnecessary."

Cryptopsy - Once Was Not [6/7]
"...probably not as essential as Whisper Supremacy, but it's still every bit an awesome record, for general percussionists as well as death metal devotees, who will get this for its neck-wrecking properties rather than as an audio clinic."

Atheist - Piece of Time [7/7]
"...both progressive and intensely aggressive, one of the first to fully combine death metal with avant-garde rhythmical and tonal approaches and likely a huge influence on the later development of Death, Cynic, and Pestilence. However, beyond that, the current re-release is twice as long as the actual album, packing on three full demos of rarities (in pretty bad recording quality in spots) as fan service to the Atheist devotees who have been waiting forever for this to go back in print."

Also this past weekend, I got set for my Chinese classes and finally finished moving nearly all of my junk out of its boxes. This did mean just moving it onto huge new bookcases, but the floor is clean and my room finally looks like a room instead of some kind of weird nerd munitions depot. Just a few more banners to put up; if ordering IRA, pirate, and Communist flags from a distributor in the Carolinas concentrating on the "patriotic" market doesn't get me on the government's enemies list, I'm really going to have to start trying harder.

Also changed out the improvised Vinland flag on my jacket for a real one, and added on my Amon Amarth pocket device. Now all I have to do is remember where the hell I put the Immortal and Agnostic Front patches I was going to use down by the cuffs....

Shelfcore Quest 2006: Step 14 [48] (repost)

Even more reposts of album review snippets.


Graveland - Following the Voice of Blood [5/7]
"In some places, the disc inspires a genuine trance feeling reminiscent of Burzum and early Mortiis, and in others there is the tinny, sharp black metal that Graveland is best known for, but over long stretches it's just boring, and you wonder when or if he's ever going to get back to the point. If you buy this one over The Celtic Winter, there's something wrong with you mentally..."

Cruachan - The Middle Kingdom [4/7]
"...not terribly consistent, or excessively metal. The sound is interesting, but the question of whether or not the sound will be universally interesting to metalheads is kind of open. Get another Cruachan record first..."

Root - Hell Shymphony [4/7]
"...this record is underproduced, poorly recorded, and not nearly necro so much as plain old difficult to listen to. It's got the schitzophrenic black metal sound expected from Root, but the writing is patchy and not always the most inspired, though Big Boss does a credible job turning the lyrics from laughable to chilling in his performance."

Root - Kargeras [6/7]
"Dense and still quite weird, this record is not going to be for everyone, but it's significantly more accessible than usual for Root, and more into an expansive ''epic'' style than the straighter black metal of their early days. ...the end product may a rough-tumbled diamond, but it's a gem nonetheless."

Savatage - Hall of the Mountain King [5/7]
"There's some essential material on here, namely the title cut and the reworking of the Grieg theme of the same name that precedes it, but the bulk of the disc is largely standard-form power metal of the older American style ... most people will want to buy/download just the central tracks rather than the album as a whole."

Neurosis - Times of Grace [7/7]
"In the lines of weird metal, this is one of the more accessible releases to normal metal audiences, as the weirdness lies mostly behind the walls of roaring riffage. It's also a good pick for those who are already into Primordial or Dysrhythmia or the Thrones, because accessibility is very definitely a side effect rather than a stated aim on this disc, which is bound up and wrapped over in truly awesome, truly brain-bending music."

Iron Maiden - Dance of Death [6/7]
"...Iron Maiden, conscious that they are no longer 25 years old, are concentrating on writing and playing awesome heavy metal that they can continue to perform as they move towards becoming Old People without being swallowed up by contradictions or collapsing under the weight of pretension. The sound here is much like it has been throughout Maiden's career, but the speeds are slowing down and the ranges are less extreme -- though careful attention has made sure that this doesn't make the actual songs any worse."

Ochlocracy - Woven For The Weak [4/7]
"...better than their earlier demo, but not by much, and the production is even worse. In the last analysis the music isn't so much trend as forgettable; they're less allied to nu-metal on this, but haven't really managed to crystallize anything interesting beyond that context."

Anthrax - We've Come For You All [5/7]
"...some nu-metal imitation and some Pantera biting, but on the whole it's decent thrash, and thoroughly in the tradition of what they've done before. It's not quite good enough to be essential for everyone, but for Anthrax fans it's a welcome return to form."

Exodus - Tempo Of The Damned [6/7]
"Speaking of returns to form, this one is only consistent with older Exodus in guitar tone and ferocity; the tempos and structures show Gary Holt's musical development in the years that the band spent on the shelf. However, it's definitely top-shelf thrash metal that both speaks to the old Bay Area traditions and proves its relevance in the modern era..."

Hellhammer - Apocalyptic Raids 1990 A.D. [5/7]
"Most of the disc is Motorhead-influenced proto-thrash, but there are clear black metal precursors as well, moving beyond Venom in intent and concept, if not much in terms of actual musicianship. ...all most people will want from this is ''Triumph of Death'', which is of strong enough historical relevance to overcome the fact that this stuff is amazingly badly recorded, on occasion so bad that you can barely make out the music."

Metallica - S&M [5/7]
"...not nearly so much Metallica being arranged for orchestra as it is Michael Kamen writing a bunch of orchestral side pieces to be played with selected of the band's songs. They deserve credit for being able to pull this post facto collaboration off live, but this would not work nearly so well as a studio release of original music. As an experiment it's interesting; as a recorded performance it's pretty much for fans only."

Amon Amarth - Versus The World [7/7]
"...not a true classic....but it does happen to be an incredibly strong and kickass album. If you think the Viking thing's gone stale, this is probably a 6, at least until the point when you actually hear the music, as the relentless battery and unstoppable grooves should turn your attitude around and inside out."

Amon Amarth - Sorrow Throughout The Nine Worlds [6/7]
"...a different side of Amon Amarth than is normally displayed; dirty, raw, and heavily influenced by black metal as well as death. Even so, the band's characteristic sound is indubitably present... short, but it's sharp, and it's top quality all the way down."

Amon Amarth - Arrival of The Fimbul Winter [5/7]
"Amon Amarth's sound is very raw here, but ''Without Fear'' is almost in the form that it would eventually go onto record in, and the other two tracks are good stuff as well. That their early demos are so good may well convince casual observers that Amon Amarth have never written a bad song: this is true, though they do occasionally write the same song multiple times over."

Amon Amarth - Thor Arise [4/7]
"...this first demo does not show Amon Amarth as focused as they would become, and does not immediately separate them from the hundreds of other brutal death bands that were operating at this time. Also, this was not well-done initially, and never subsequently restored, so it does sound like crap most of the time, obscuring the places where the band is starting to forge their unique sound."

Suffocation - Souls To Deny [5/7]
"...Suffocation have picked up here substantially where they left off, grinding out brutal, complicated death metal that is for the cult and the cult alone. Those who this release is for will dig it, but there isn't really anything new musically here..."

Barren Cross - Hotter Than Hell! Live [5/7]
"It's been a long time since Christian bands could get an audience by principally cloning Iron Maiden. Of course, the music isn't straight Maiden-transcription...but it's close enough that Maiden fans will probably dig it, even if they react negatively to the often preachy lyrics. The musicianship isn't always at that high level in this live take, but it's mostly pretty good..."

Evolution - Altered Reality [5/7]
"...strong and committed thrash-influenced death metal. The infusion of obscure themes from Dante's Inferno shows that they had the smarts to go places as well, but unfortunately not everyone is cut out to take the strains of playing in an underground band. ... Equal parts Nevermore and old Neurosis, this is one to watch out for."

Cradle of Filth - Damnation And A Day [4/7]
"It's not so much bad as it is shrieky and draggy, sprawling on for 76 somewhat boring minutes and very seldom bringing up the authentic ripping edge of real black metal. There are people who like this kind of music, and this release is more enjoyable than a lot of Cradle's output, but technically it's going through the motions and in many places the writing does not get to even that level."

Running Wild - 20 Years In History [7/7]
"If you don't like Running Wild, you don't like heavy metal: ripping guitar riffs, sweet leads, pirates, and just a dash of Satanism. ... For prices in line with a normal CD, you get two hours of piratical guitar rampaging pulled from the best of an extremely large catalog, and the old shit is largely re-recorded or at least remastered to take advantage of the fact that the band can now afford proper production."

Pestilence - Consuming Impulse [5/7]
"...fairly good death metal, with a degree of brutality that fans of the early groundings of the style ought to feel right at home with. The result is hardly essential, but decent enough that the collectors who dig it up won't go disappointed."

Manowar - Kings of Metal [7/7]
" incredible statement of heavy metal purpose that also happens to be heavily loaded with good music. Manowar are often trite and cheesy, but on this one they use that fearlessness and unselfconsciousness to actually articulate what most committed metalheads, deep down, really believe about their music. A lot of this album will really resonate with people... even if you can only listen through once before the cheese factor becomes too much..."

Emperor - Emperial Live Ceremony [5/7]
"What is done live is done mostly well, but the patches over the parts that were screwed up either by the band or by the crew are extremely noticeable and sound exceedingly odd. Fans will still want this, especially if they can't get to the Return shows this summer, but everyone else is probably better off listening to Emperor's studio platters..."

Children of Bodom - Something Wild [6/7]
"...a damn nice slice for those at that extreme who can also appreciate solid and melodic songwriting, as well as a nice shot in the arm for power metal fans needing a little grounding in the brutalities of reality."

Stonehenge - Scum Brigade [5/7]
"...the final product is much along the lines of, say, Before God, without the explicit racial intent... the same dirt-level thrash invigorated with extreme spirit and sharpened with good musicianship. This release is probably going to appeal only to collectors of the Russian scene, but it's fairly decent, and there aren't really any other bands that sound like this operating currently."

Morbid Angel - Formulas Fatal To The Flesh [6/7]
"This is a full-fledged Morbid Angel record, both awesome and intricate, and if the lyrics are not readily comprehensible or as meaningful as when Dave was spitting them out with both violence and articulation, that merely puts them back at the level of other awesome death metal bands."

Skinlab - revoltingRoom sampler [3/7]
"...on the basis of these simplistic thrash cuts without semblance of smarts, solos, or even particularly appealing riffs, the Skinlab album that this single is supposed to advertise will be bought by no one over the age of 13."

Queens of the Stone Age - Feel Good Hit Of The Summer [3/7]
"The final impression is that this is probably metal, but with interesting lyrics thrown into relief by what is largely uninteresting music. The record these tunes are off of (R) might be interesting, but it's not for most metalheads, and neither is this promo-slab."

Nonpoint - The Tribute [2/7]
"There are some occasional intelligent moments on this one, but the original track is largely the same thick-piled simplistic riffage and whining, and the title cut is three rap songs stuck together without much semblance of sense, brain-dead arrangements replacing their original beats and the singer(s) screaming out the lyrics like imbeciles; it's difficult to see who is being paid ''tribute'' by this rather than being normally ''insulted''."

Darkane - Expanding Senses [5/7]
"...there's not a whole lot to separate this one from what The Haunted have been doing lately... If you like recent Swedish thrash, you'll probably like this as well, but if you're just getting into it, there are better and more original places to start from."

Cruachan - Tuatha na Gael [5/7]
"Their style isn't very developed at this point, but black metal fans will probably welcome this; the sound is raw and black with the folk parts pushed to the edge, as opposed to piled up in the center as on later records. Fans of Nokturnal Mortum and Primordial will enjoy this one while RenFaire goths may not..."

Winter - Into Darkness/Eternal Frost [5/7]
"....this sort of grinding doom-death prefers a directionless morass to any other concepts of structure. It's very good, or at least very, for its style, ceaselessly pushing forward the bleak and hopeless, though there are moments where the necro production subtracts from the sound, rather than adding to it as is the normal case with this kind of music."

Carcass - Heartwork [7/7]
"There's an argument to be made that this is Carcass' second-best record as well as that it's their best, but no argument to be made that it's essential for death metallers and a strong pick for other metalheads as well."

Ancient - Mad Grandiose Bloodfiends [4/7]
"If this was released as a goth disc rather than trying to be black metal, it would be much more successful, but in this context its Corpsepaint: The Masquerade atmosphere almost fatally undermines it. Ancient's early stuff is fairly true, and their later work is allegedly pretty impressive, but this one is not only boring but totally inessential..."

Autopsy - Severed Survival [6/7]
"...very much in the sound of Death's epochal first disc. Sure, it came 3 years later and [Reinert] doesn't have the benefit of Chuck's writing and guitar skills at his disposal any more, but these factors mean that this is merely a very good first-wave death metal album, not a classic touchstone for the genre as a whole."

Autopsy - Retribution For The Dead [5/7]
"Autopsy slows down here, anticipating the developing doom-death field, and introduces a few riffs and lines more reminiscent of Black Sabbath than Death or Kreator. It's less unified than their debut, but good material regardless and interesting to general death metallers as well as fans of the band."

Iniquity - Five Across The Eyes [5/7]
"...technically competent as both writers and players, but do not produce much in the way of memorable or original music. ...a pretty good record for death metallers, but not one that is overcome with originality or anything that's going to appeal beyond the genre."

Rhapsody - The Magic of the Wizard's Dream [6/7]
"...if Christopher Lee's voice doesn't give a shiver down in your bones, there's something desperately wrong with you. ...[i]t's still Rhapsody, but Rhapsody buttressed by one of the more outstanding bass voices of our time can be pretty damn cool."

Stratovarius - Intermission [4/7]
" extremely long and extremely boring morass of B-sides, old bonus tracks, and other overmelodic junk that virtually everyone will do quite fine forgetting that it ever existed, but that fans may want for some bizarre reason. The technical work is competent, but wasted on boring arrangements and dumb topics, making this record not bad, just completely unappealing."

Chalice - Chronicles of Dysphoria [4/7]
"There is still some quality metal on here, though in low concentrations, and this is really more of a metallic goth record than a gothic metal album. As a change of pace it's not that bad if you come across it randomly, but it's probably not worth ordering all the way from Australia."

Possessed - Seven Churches [6/7]
"The musicianship is pretty good, despite the rough feel around the edges provided by the demo-quality vocals..., and for this style, as long as it shreds and feels right, it doesn't matter so much how it sounds. It could use a remastering, but even as it is, it belongs on your shelf."

Hypocrisy - Catch 22 [5/7]
"Even down to the clanky snare sound and moderately negative fan reaction, this is Hypocrisy's St. Anger ...a ''down'' disc, but more memorable than its followup, as Peter here is least still trying to be experimental and to push the boundaries. One of the less essential Hypocrisy discs, and even fans of the band may stay away, but it's a good pickup for open-minded people who don't mind their innovation being more noisy than strictly necessary."

Kreator - Violent Revolution [6/7]
"...a vigorous and fresh blast of pure thrash metal both timely and consistent with the band's classic material. We have not heard this stuff from Kreator before, but nonetheless it's what fans wanted to hear from Kreator, and the result has been a full-fledged resurrection of the band."

Fenris - Offerings To The Hunger [5/7]
"This is more of a viking record, but in more of the style of Ancient Rites than Einherjer or even old Enslaved. Despite the number of bands mentioned in this review, the disc is still fairly original, and would be a good pickup if it was more than marginally available."

Witchery - Symphony For The Devil [5/7]
"....quality blackened thrash that most metalheads into the extreme underground will thoroughly dig. The tempos are a little slower and the grooves are a little more prominent, with a touch more melody, but it's still Witchery and, likely, still going into your shelf."

Kharon - Raised By Hellish Demons [5/7]
"There are some interesting parts where they push the boundaries of the true oeuvre a little, but in the end they come back to a point midway between Darkthrone and Dissection; fans will be into this, but others will want to sit back at this point and wait for them to come up with something longer than 30 minutes, and more self-confidently original."

Mortician - Chainsaw Dismemberment [6/7]
"This album is pure formula, horror samples plus grooving unintelligible grind blasts all the way down, but the execution and presentation of this formula is absolutely top-notch. This is probably the Mortician disc to own, though this is a small distinction and for a lot of people, any other record from this band will fill the gap just as well."

Shelfcore Quest 2006: Step 13 [54] (repost)

Another bunch of reposted album review snippets.


Testament - The Very Best of Testament [5/7]
"...the compilation kind of fails in its mission: fans of the band already own all their albums (at least the good ones), and while this is a decent assemblage, it doesn't pack on enough really top material to pull in potential fans, who will start getting bored around ''Practice What You Preach'' as the band turns back to mid-tempo vanilla thrash and starts their decline."

Abscess - Through The Cracks of Death [5/7]
"...this band grinds out the old-school death with a firm conviction, an intangible attraction, and without any sort of self-consciousness. To Reifert et al, it is still 1989 and there is nobody to impress with how their style contrasts with modern trends because, effectively, they do not exist."

Abscess - Tormented [5/7]
"...basically part 2 of Autopsy... The sound here is thoroughly in line with the band's past works, but the evil boogie present on this one makes it the more preferable, if just in terms of novelty..."

Akercocke - The Goat of Mendes [6/7]
"Dense and inflected with death metal as well as electronic elements, this may not be as good as it's hyped...but it's certainly excellent and perpetually interesting black metal, capable of being otherworldly and infernal at once. It's not going to earn any accolades for trueness, but trueness was probably the last thing on the band's mind going into this one..."

Angel Witch - Angel Witch [5/7]
"Interesting, though hardly captivating or inspiring at this stage of the game described as a slight updating and up-tempo-ization of Black Sabbath, with more than a few early Priest touches, so if this sounds appealing, this may be something you'd want to pick up. For most people, though, it won't be essential..."

Black Funeral - Vampyr - Throne of the Beast [5/7]
"There are moments at which this release aspires to the glory of Emperor and Burzum in its evocation of highly atmospheric black metal, but too much of the time it remains merely pedestrian, stuck at the level of the Nebular Moons of the world, knowing what to do but not really how to do it to brew the really authentic stuff."

Mayhem - Deathcrush [5/7]
"This is quite likely Mayhem's least accessible record, even now, and one can only imagine how bizarre and out of place it must have been in 1987. This aside, the disc is probably essential for anyone into true black metal (like anything with Euro on it), but normal people can replace it painlessly with Live In Leipzig or De Mysteriis Dom Satanas...."

Black Hole - Black Horizon [6/7]
"A good collection of a solid band, this bootleg principally serves to increase frustration that Black Hole's releases are basically unavailable outside South Korea. Ranging from thrash a la Megadeth to power metal that takes most strongly after the old American school, the record covers most of their history and the breadth of their style, showing off some just plain fantastic guitar work."

Airborn - Flyin' Start [5/7]
"...not overwhelmingly original, but it's pretty fun, and doesn't suck nearly as much as it could have given that it's a demo from an Italian power metal band. This is probably because Airborn's music owes a lot more to Gamma Ray than to Rhapsody..."

Nile - In The Beginning [5/7]
"There's no lack of brutal material here, but the feel is much more in line with ...Catacombs... than what they've been doing lately. The production is fairly good as well, but bad enough to show that this isn't a remaster, just a reissuing of the originals."

Threshold - Extinct Instinct [5/7]
"I didn't like this record on the first pass, and I'm still not crazy about it, but I can at least recognize that it's well-crafted for prog/power metal. The instrumental and vocal work is technically solid, and the songs are well-written, but by being so self-consciously cerebral it limits itself, especially as it doesn't hit very hard or make itself memorable."

Pantera - Projects In The Jungle [5/7]
"Even at this early stage, and even though they're playing fairly uninspired material that is 70-percent Judas Priest and 30-percent Van Halen, Dime's guitar style is unmistakable, adding the shine of authenticity to this highly sketchy bootleg. It's basically average '80s metal, but this is dwarfed by the historical value of the album..."

Pantera - I Am The Night [4/7]
"...less of the straight Priest vibe from before. It's a little thrashier, but overwhelmingly less focused, which breaks up the quality of the material. It's still a default history buy for Pantera fans and metal collectors, but few or any of them will actually be inclined to listen to it."

Danzig - Danzig 4 [6/7]
"Danzig here is still working the goth-inflected blues metal that got him his start, and it's still being done at a fairly high level, even though it doesn't have as many recognizable hits as the first three. The record flows along and gets you nodding rather than banging most of the time, but the metallic spirit and intent is unmistakable."

Loudness - Lightning Strikes [4/7]
"...the band still sounds as much like Van Halen here as they did when I first got the CD...and first put it away after barely getting through it. The playing and structures are competent, and Loudness does have some significantly more metal records, but this one is nearly all surface, without much depth to speak of, like so much forgettable '80s metal. It doesn't so much sizzle as fizz off, and the result is that only hair completists and historians will really want this."

Apocalyptica - Plays Metallica By Four Cellos [7/7]
"The real secret about this release is that it is not, in itself metal, but true classical arrangements of metal songs for an instrumental configuration that does not exist in the classical context. The result is the unique sound that got Apocalyptica started, without other instruments, without amplification, without effects, just rosin, metal strings, wood, and horsehair. Not just for Metallica obsessives, this record belongs in the collection of anyone interested in original sounds and progressive music in the metal context."

Shadows Fall - The Art of Balance [7/7]
"There are a few genre-typical moments on this disc, but in the main this is just an incredible metal album with a few very well-done hardcore flourishes, and ought to be on the shelf of any metalhead who isn't in ultra-true-blindered mode. And for those that are, it's their loss: both melodic and thrashy, accessible but full of integrity, this is a killer release that would rocket any band to stardom, and may stand the test of time to grade out as a real classic."

Dragonlord - Rapture [5/7]
"It is not enough, when trying to create black metal, to know how to play it technically; no matter how troll-in-the-woods silly and pretentious it sounds, one must be black metal at a spiritual level to create anything worthwhile in the genre. This rings hollow all the way down, though it's technically well-assembled, and the absence of the true black metal spirit and ferocity undermines the disc."

Gamma Ray - Land Of The Free [6/7]
"...this record indicates the point at which Gamma Ray really came into their own... There are some less strong cuts, and the production sometimes feels like the low end more or less isn't there, but anyone with any interest in any breed of melodic metal ought to have this in their collection."

Melechesh - Sphynx [6/7]
"The a substantially black metal matrix in which are embedded death and thrash metal elements... The final product is well-finished, and a good pickup for open-minded black metal fans, but this is not the band's definitive work, and general audiences will probably want to wait for that one."

Witchery - Dead, Hot and Ready [6/7]
"Despite its shortness, this one is packed front to back with balls-out blackened thrash grooves, and driven by relentless speed to a fever pitch that recalls Slayer's best stuff. Some people may pass this over as not innovative enough, but that's their loss."

Thy Primordial - The Crowning Carnage [5/7]
"''Thy Immortal Clone'' must already have been taken. Seriously, this is a passable but totally inessential album of vicious yet evolved black metal that simply cannot escape from its influences. ...whatever you hear that appeals to you on this one, it's almost certain that Abbath et al did it both better and first."

Blind Guardian - And Then There Was Silence [5/7]
"This is one of the good tracks off A Night At The Opera, but the problems with that record are still in evidence here: overproduction, lack of metal punch, occasional lack of focus. ... this kind of ostentation is a little easier take in the context of something that is being explicitly plotted as an epic... Singles are usually fans-only, but people who are less into BG will want to get this one instead of the full album, as it does most of the same things in a more palatable miniature."

Sacramentum - The Coming of Chaos [5/7]
"Not derivative by any means, but not really pushing their mix of black and death metal forward with innovative conviction... This is a solid extreme metal record, but its appeal is probably going to be restricted to collectors... The style is interesting, but its development is incomplete..."

Kalmah - Swampsong [6/7]
"...politically aware Children of Bodom with even more incomprehensible vocals. This is probably the most limiting factor on the band, as there are plenty of people who would fall right in line with the band's ideas on privacy rights, genetic engineering, and the Mideast conflict, if only they could understand what Pekka's singing and get this stuff without reading the liner notes. ... Kalmah do rock here, and anyone into the extreme scene ought to give them a spin for the unique way in which they're carrying forward the heritages of Finnish black metal and Bay Area thrash at once."

Sakaratul Maut - The Land Called Mahsyar [5/7]
"If you liked Burzum's first disc and enjoy old Bathory, this Singaporean black metal import will be right up your alley. The overall plotting, arrangement, and production could use some work, but in places bring out just the right necro feel; this isn't going to break down any barriers and certainly isn't worth ordering from southeast Asia on its own merits, but will be a good pickup for collectors..."

Solitude Aeturnus - Adagio [4/7]
"...vaguely progressive, vaguely boring melodic thrash metal that is both difficult and pointless to get amped up about. The technical playing here is competent and professional, as is the songwriting, but both manage to be totally uninteresting, and even the very well-done Sabbath cover that closes the record can't save it."

Graveland - The Celtic Winter [6/7]
"...the eastern black metal sound is almost completely formed, deriving but distinct from Darkthrone and Burzum's precursors to it. The production is also pretty clean, allowing the sound of the music, rather than the atmosphere, to come through, making this a fairly essential release for those into the eastern scene."

Morgana Lefay - Maleficium [5/7]
"This release has some good music, but you really, really have to be paying attention to pick that out. Superficially, it's covered over by gigantic fields of boring that just run on and on, drowning the occasionally inventive or captivating bits in textbook vanilla thrash riffing that everyone listening to this has already heard several thousand times before, and most often from bands with better sense in songwriting who avoid being repetitive to the point of inducing the listener to fall asleep."

Cancer - The Sins of Mankind [5/7]
"Anything that combines Death and Carcass is of course going to have strong value for old-school death metallers, but this release is not the best presentation of the style... Given how difficult it is to find one Cancer record, casual death fans would be better off hunting down ...Gory End, though this will do in a pinch."

Pessimist - Cult of the Initiated [5/7]
"A passable death metal album with a few black metal and hardcore touches, this one shows Pessimist solidly within the heritage of other East Coast death metal bands... the musicianship is pretty decent, but with fairly typical minor-label production, this won't have much appeal beyond underground collectors."

Type O Negative - The Least Worst Of [6/7]
"With a good assortment of new material and re-arrangements, this is a fairly attractive package for a greatest-hits collection, probably because so many Type O fans are such extreme completists. ...This is a package meant much more for Type O fans than for general audiences...but it does have enough general value that metalheads who pick it up won't be disappointed."

Master's Hammer - The Filemnice Occultist [6/7]
"This record is not going to be for everyone. However, it's not trying to be, and in its deliberate disregard of what people expect in order to follow its own path, it anticipates works by Bethlehem and Lugubrum, who may have taken strong influence from this milestone document of frankly weird black metal."

Naglfar - Diabolical [5/7]
"Driven by speed and brutality, this is a good black metal album, but not quite as inspired as Naglfar would become later. The sound here is a blend of traditionally Norwegian and Swedish styles, though oddly enough more Norse, with a few original touches that the band would expand on in later works."

Phobia - Destroying the Masses [5/7]
"Despite the punk heritage of this band, this record would not be out of place in the collection of any devotee of brutal death metal...despite its paltry 17-minute runtime. If you can find it at appropriate EP prices, this is a good pickup; if not, it can be safely left be."

Gorgoroth - Pentagram [5/7]
"...this was an indication that the musical spirit of the Black Circle had not died out, and that the necro, satanic ethos would still carry forward in black metal. The music itself is not the world's most complicated, fundamentally doing the same things that Darkthrone and Emperor initially brought into the world, but with a few original twists that still manage to function exclusively within the 'true' paradigm."

Iced Earth - The Reckoning [4/7]
"...the feeling over most of this single is that it is doing the minimum possible to adequately uphold the Iced Earth legacy. Fans may want it, though the only new cut is the acoustic version of ''When The Eagle Cries'', but everyone else should ignore it in favor of the full release."

Rhapsody - Holy Thunderforce [4/7]
"It's a single from an Italian power metal band. This information alone should be sufficient to decide whether you want to buy it or not. This being said, Rhapsody is definitely much easier to take in smaller pieces, and this is comparatively early in their career, before they had shifted completely from a more or less conventional power metal sound to the singsong keyboard stew that has come to characterize the Italian sound."

Atoll Nerat - Art of Ancient Seers [5/7]
"I like Russian doom/death bands, and am willing to put the effort in to go dig them up. Others may not be, and will probably allow this release to pass them by without further comment. However, this is one of the best bands operating in this genre in Russia, better than Deimos and probably on the level of Mental Home, so those who pick it up will probably not be disappointed."

Anthrax - Fistful of Metal [5/7]
"Anthrax fans may or may not enjoy this. Iron Maiden fans, though, probably will, because there is nothing that Neil Turbin-fronted Anthrax sounds like so much as early, moderately-inspired Iron Maiden. As might be indicated, this is a decent NWOBHM record; it's a crummy thrash record, but now you know going in not to really expect thrash from it, at least not as it's currently understood."

Hecate Enthroned - The Slaughter Of Innocence, A Requiem For The Mighty [4/7]
"This record is mostly nice, with competent musicianship and arranging, but ''nice'', in actual use here, rapidly gives way to ''nice and boring'', and the music fades into the background, which should never really happen to metal, and never, ever, ought to be the case with extreme metal. If you generally like Cradle of Filth but wish they were truer, this might be a good pickup, but Dimmu Borgir is less boring at this level of integrity, and England now also has quite a few better representatives in the black metal arena."

Ancient Ceremony - The Third Testament [5/7]
"There is practically nothing on this disc that people in the scene have not heard several dozen times over, and while the band is fully competent, they are not better than the competition to the degree that this is what people might hear first from evolved black metal. The end result is a disc that is interesting principally to completists; there's little in the way of compelling writing on here and even committed scenesters have a long list of bands that they'd rather be picking up records from."

Iron Savior - Dark Assault [5/7]
"Fans of melodic metal will probably want this one, but given the lack of originality and the degree to which the sound oscillates between Gamma Ray and Primal Fear, it's probably void of appeal for general audiences. They're probably much better and more interesting live, but you're buying a CD here, not festival tickets...and in most cases here, not buying this CD."

Mayhem - De Mysteriis Dom Satanas [6/7]
"This is a legendary record, and probably essential for all black metallers, but just on a personal level it still loses out to Live In Leipzig. The production here is fairly good, allowing the band's full sound to come through -- and it works, proving that necro was not the only valid path for black metal -- but Mayhem as a cult and as an idea was much more important than Mayhem as a band, sitting here in between Emperor and Burzum's developing styles."

Blind Guardian - Tales From The Twilight World [7/7]
"A classic for power metal fans, but still eminently thrashy enough for general appeal, this album is one of Blind Guardian's best and substantially the one that got them their break. Driven by rampaging drums as much as the soaring guitars, this one is full of excellent music that practically all metalheads should be able to get into and turn way up."

Centurian - Of Purest Fire [4/7]
"...really more of an EP, and the sound isn't all that original either. However, it's very difficult to argue against anything with a track called ''God Got Killed''. This is not the most essential release from this band (the followup has a cover drawn in the guitarist's own blood), and there are legitimate arguments to be made that nothing Centurian ever did is truly essential, but this is good Florida-style death metal..."

In Flames - Reroute To Remain [5/7]
"Not as bad as it was initially estimated, this is a non-challenging, singable record that manages to be heavy in places and still show the band's distinctive style. ...while the underground may not react well to it, it may well pull in some of the trend kids to get a backbone and some of their older discs..."

Grave Digger - Excalibur [4/7]
"The writing is in most points barely average, holding back the musicianship with boring or staid structures that don't suggest either anything new or the band's long and occasionally remarkable history. On the music alone, there's nothing to distinguish this from any other German power metal disc, and in that line, no particular reason to pick it up."

Iron Maiden - Powerslave [7/7]
"While there may be some people who lose patience with the relatively light and melodic style on this disc, this should not dissuade the vast majority of metalheads from picking up what is already recognized as a permanent classic of the genre. The musicianship is impeccable as expected, and the songwriting is extremely solid, even over the 14 minutes of ''...Ancient Mariner''..."

Ancient Rites - Dim Carcosa [6/7]
"While it's top-notch, this is a style that's been mostly developed in Scandinavia, and it's debatable how much Ancient Rites has influenced anyone -- and hence how important they are. Some may not feel it essential, but those who are into musically developed black metal that still retains the old ferocity ought to at least give this one a shot."

Freya - split 2003 [3/7]
"The music here has nothing to separate it from the general mass of metalcore, and the vocals are friggin' emo crap. Hang 'em high and drive a spear through 'em; that's as close as this band will ever get to the mythological antecedents of their name."

Darkest Hour - split 2003 [4/7]
"Darkest Hour doesn't really provide anything new on this EP either, but their contribution is at least a little easier to listen to, a more or less straight-up blend of brutal hardcore and Swedish death. ...not terribly innovative, especially in the current metalcore-saturated climate, but at the least it's not totally unappealing..."

Old Man's Child - Born Of The Flickering [5/7]
"...where it can make it out of the mix, the instrumental work is among the best that has shown up in black metal so far. Given the band's other, better, better-presented records, this one will probably not be essential until it gets remastered, but fans of musically intelligent black metal will probably pick it up long before this point."

Sanctuary - Into The Mirror Black [6/7]
"Halfway between Nevermore and Metal Church, this is some seriously cool power/thrash metal much like what fans are used to from both bands. ... Obviously, it's essential for Nevermore fans, but general metalheads will also dig it -- if they can manage to outcompete the more committed people who are also striving for a copy."

Pantera fans interested in the two basically unavailable albums reviewed above can contact me through the usual channels for a distribution; those interested in Power Metal are out of luck, but they may still have Metal Magic at the used record shop on East Liberty Street in Ann Arbor. Anything else tagged as bootleg is also available on request; if the band's not making any money off it, no one ought to.