Friday, July 28, 2006

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.

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