Amon Amarth @ The Fillmore, Silver Spring 4/21/2016

“As a teenager, I really wanted to be James Hetfield. I know now that I was being silly. As an adult, I realize what I really want is to be Johan Hegg.” – George

Last night the mighty Amon Amarth returned to our shores and laid waste to the Fillmore in Silver Spring, Maryland. Allow me to recount our tale of high adventure.

The doors were set to open at 7 pm, and I rolled into town at 6 pm intending to meet up with Will and John beforehand. I parked in my usual parking garage and began making my way to the meeting spot at McGinty’s Public House, which is nearby the Fillmore.

While walking down Fenton Street, I started going over my mental inventory. I brought the establishment-allowed point-and-shoot camera to take some photos at the show. Check. I also had the portable recorder so the three of us could record a postmortem of the show for the podcast. Check. Earplugs to stave off any further damage to my already ravaged hearing. Checked and triple checked. I felt confident that I was adequately prepared for the upcoming show. And then I had this sudden flash of an image in my mind; a nightstand next to my bed, with a drawer, and in that drawer: my ticket. Still in that drawer. Fuck.

This disaster was at least the second time that I have arrived at a show, only to realize that my article of admittance is actually somewhere else completely. I had a brief moment of panic. Anyone around me on the street probably thought I was a crazy homeless person because I was just walking along normal and all of a sudden burst out into a seemingly random fit of Tourette’s Syndrome. I texted Will and John to let them know of my stupidity and made a detour for the Fillmore ticket office.

I was hoping the show had not sold out so I could buy another ticket. John purchased his ticket earlier in the day, so my hopes were high. The lady at the window informed me that, yes, there was still tickets available. With a sigh of relief, I handed over my credit card to buy another ticket. I started babbling to the lady about how I left my original ticket at home, which is an hour away. She tried explaining to me that I could just call Ticketmaster, and they could make a note in the system that would allow her to print me another ticket from my order number. One does not simply call Ticketmaster.

John arrived on the scene while I was talking with the ticket office lady, and I explained I was going to try calling Ticketmaster. The lady gave me a phone number and my order number and said to see her when I was ready. Well, if you have ever tried calling Ticketmaster (or the cable company, or the gas company, or any large company service) you know that you don’t just ring them up and have a nice chat. I spent some time going through many automated menus before being given the option of talking to a person. When I finally was moved on to the choice of a live person, I was told I had a 15 minute wait time, which in real Earth time means at least 45 minutes.

I shook my head in defeat and walked back to the ticket lady to just buy another ticket. The lady thought I was crazy, but there was just nothing to be done about the situation. I took my new ticket, and John and I headed over to McGinty’s.

Will said he was on the second floor, so we climbed the stairs and found him at a table near the bar. Will was scheduled to meet with Blake Harrison of Hatebeak and Pig Destroyer. Will is hoping to brew a beer for Hatebeak and wanted to pick Blake’s brain. Blake was also bringing Will a few bottles of 3 Floyd’s Brewing’s Permanent Funeral, which was brewed for Pig Destroyer (Will’s BREWHEAD review to follow…)

Blake and Will

Blake and Will

John and I greeted Will, and Blake arrived shortly afterward. The service at McGinty’s was, well, absent. In the 45 minutes or so that we were there not a single person inquired as to whether we needed anything. Will and Blake had to go directly to the bar to order their food and beer, despite all the employees wandering around.

The first band, Exmortus, was scheduled to start at 7:30, so that is when we began walking back to the venue. There was no line to speak of by this point, just a security line where they probe you like they are expecting to find ISIS hiding behind your nut sack. This dude was thorough. I will leave it at that.

Upon entering the Fillmore, one is immediately presented with the headliner’s merch booth. My eye was drawn to all the wonderful Amon Amarth gear; so it was inevitably my next stop. I could hear Exmortus playing in the background; they sounded good. After acquiring my beer-horn-adorned t-shirt, I entered the main room and sought out Will and John.

The room was already packed, and we ended up standing most of the way to the back. Our position in the room did not bother me; I think the sound was better toward the back, and there was also less chance of getting caught up in any unexpected pit action.

Exmortus

Exmortus

Exmortus looked and sounded excellent for the remainder of their set that I was present to witness. Buke asked me to pick him up an Exmortus shirt, and I obliged. I snapped a few photos of the band and then their set ended.

Scheduled next was Entombed A.D., or as I like to call them, simply, Entombed. I became an Entombed fan after the release of their 1993 album, Wolverine Blues. For me, Entombed peaked with the release of Wolverine Blues (yes the first two albums are good too), and they haven’t done anything since then that has impressed me nearly as much. That said, I have still always supported them, and I will be the first to agree that the pair of Entombed A.D. albums are their best showings in years.

L-G Petrov of Entombed A.D.

L-G Petrov of Entombed A.D.

This show was my second time catching Entombed live. The first time was opening for King Diamond at Jaxx in Springfield, Virginia all the way back in 2003. Thirteen years? Wow, time does fly; it doesn’t seem nearly that long ago. That was an early show for the George/Buke concert duo.

Entombed A.D. sounded pretty good on stage at the Fillmore. I wasn’t as familiar with all the songs as I would have liked to be, but they certainly brought the metal, and L-G Petrov’s voice seemed in good form. I was a little disappointed that they only played the title track from Wolverine Blues, but the other songs certainly were not lacking for the omission.

Johan Hegg of Amon Amarth

Johan Hegg of Amon Amarth

Finally, it was time for the headliner, Amon Amarth, to take the stage. We could see that there was something large underneath a lot of black sheets on the stage. Obviously, it was some large drum riser. Based on the shape underneath I speculated that the drums would sit in the middle of a large dragon ship. I was wrong, however, as when all was revealed it turned out to be a giant horned Viking helmet…with the drums in the middle. I am no historian, but I thought I had read at some point that Vikings never actually wore helmets with horns on them, at least not enough so that it should be considered typical. Since Amon Amarth are a Swedish band, I expect they are fully aware that this is simply a stereotype perpetuated by too many Hollywood movies, so I am a little surprised they would use something so historically inaccurate. On the other hand, they are entertainers and probably want to give the people what they are expecting, reality be damned.

Amon Amarth

Amon Amarth

Regardless, Amon Amarth played a killer set. My previous trip to see Amon Amarth perform was at the aforementioned Jaxx for the Surtur Rising tour. For that show I only recall the band having a backdrop of the album cover. Granted, Jaxx was a smaller venue, but Amon Amarth seem to have come along way in the last few albums, at least in terms of stage presentation.

Throughout the set, Amon Amarth featured three different large background banners. The first was the album cover for their current release, Jomsviking. The next was the album cover from Surtur Rising. I did not recognize the third, but it was cool. It looked like a comic book rendition of warriors headed into battle, complete with blood squirts.

Amon Amarth

Amon Amarth

In addition to the backdrops and giant horned helmet, periodically throughout the set two mighty warriors in chain mail and helm would amble out onto stage. The first time was to enter into mock combat right at center-stage and whack the shit out of each other until a victor emerged. The second time they each stood to one side of the stage and toted flag banners, which they would stomp on the ground in time to a drum hit. The final time the pair appeared they stood at the ends of the stage again, only this time brandishing longbows with arrows nocked. It was evident the arrows did not have tips, but all three of us laughed after the show when recounting how we all cringed a little whenever the bolts seemed to be trained on us. They still looked like they could be uncomfortable if the guitar player bumped into them and they accidentally let fly.

Amon Amarth

Amon Amarth

I started off this write-up with a fake quote from myself about James Hetfield and Johan Hegg. I did this because damn if Johan did not stir something in me that has been long dormant. I am of an age where I no longer ever think about what is “cool” or hip or fashionable. While Amon Amarth certainly are not hip or fashionable in the sense that matters to the world at large, to me, Johan is just about the coolest Viking son-of-a-bitch one could ever want to be. He is tall, bearded and tattooed, and has one hell of a crazy deep singing/growling voice. If that wasn’t enough, Johan looked like he was having the time of his life on stage. He was headbanging and prowling the stage like a Viking jarl firing up his warriors, but at times he would also laugh and make silly faces at the guys running sound. He made me proud to be a metalhead and honored to be there taking in the spectacle.

The rest of the band weren’t so bad either. The music throughout was, to not put too fine a point on it, killer. Before one song Johan stopped and introduced their new drummer to the crowd, followed by much applause.

Johan Hegg in disguise

Johan Hegg in disguise

The highlight for me, and seemingly for the rest of the audience based on their response, was the first encore song, “Raise Your Horns.” This song is brilliant. Not only is it a cool Viking song about drinking to your fallen brothers, but it is also conveniently named for what the band expects you to do at their show: throw the metal horns in the air.

Watching Amon Amarth perform it is easy to see how this band has become as huge as they have in the metal world. They consistently make great music and their live show seems to only be getting better with each passing tour cycle. If you have the opportunity to see these guys, even if you’ve seen them before, I highly recommend you attend. I was so fired up by the performance that I totally drank all the Kool-Aid afterward, as can be seen in the following photo:

Amon A-George

Amon A-George

Thanks to Will and John for making the night even more fun. After the show the three of us recorded a short postmortem in the parking garage. If you would like to listen to that, it will be at the end of our next podcast (episode 47), which will be posting early next week.

RAISE YOUR HORNS TO AMON AMARTH!!!

George, Will and John

George, Will and John

Rotting Christ - Rituals

Rotting Christ is one of those bands that's been around for a good long while (their full-length debut came out in 1991), but that I've just never gotten around to checking out. The truth is, I probably dismissed them after hearing their name, not for its shock value, but because I no doubt assumed, "I'm pretty sure I know what they are all about." Such is life. More metal bands are recording these days than one could ever hope to investigate, so the best you can do is dip your hand in somewhat randomly and hope you pull a winner. Unless you are George of course, in which case you actually will investigate them all…or die trying.

I had to familiarize myself with Rotting Christ's back catalog, and it's a model of evolution. Over the course of 13 full-length albums, song structures tighten, production improves, and the band slowly hones down to the laser-like focus presented here.

Rituals, or to quote the cover accurately,* Rituals by Rotting Christ*, is an apt title. The songs come across more as mantras or chants than they do traditional verse/chorus/verse fare. The band settles into a series of serious, hypnotic, sometimes murky grooves, and adorns them with something better described as recitation than singing.

We're getting into rather strange territory in the metal world these days. Categorization grows increasingly more challenging as genres bend, meld, and generally wander off the beaten path. This record doesn't help much in simplifying things, but I don't think it would be inaccurate to call it black metal. Purists will put it on and immediately wonder what the hell I'm talking about; the production is crisp and shiny, and though it plods along at a medium pace, occasionally a complicated guitar lead surfaces and things feel downright technical for a moment or two. It's clear, though, that at their heart, Rotting Christ is very much a black metal band in the trüest sense. The fundamental structure of the songs is about as black as it gets. Dirty up the production, squint your eyes a bit, and you'll realize this album has more in common with something like A Blaze in the Northern Sky than is apparent on first listen. There's a kind of commitment here sadly lacking in many bands today. And though the whole Satanic panic thing is so far past old hat that it would take the light from old hat three years to get to it, it still works if you're willing to swing it from a slightly new angle.

One gets the notion that Rotting Christ is operating in a bit of a vacuum, and since they reside in economically depressed Greece, they probably are to some degree. There's really nothing else out there like this right now that I can call to mind, and by all rights, it really shouldn't work as well as it does. There just aren't enough loop-to-loops or sharp turns to hold the attention of the average metalhead, judging by what's popular these days. Rituals does work, though. On the metal map it sits roughly halfway between the points labeled "black" and "drone," and while it doesn't exactly give rise to a new genre, it does feel like it's sitting there almost by itself. Rituals is a sophisticated (gasp), potent work of belief, commitment, and patience.

I'm not sorry I dismissed Rotting Christ previously on name alone because I am afforded one of the great joys of music collecting – a joy that I experience less and less the more time passes…which is that singular experience of finding a band you didn't know about before with a whole shit ton of records to check out. Good stuff.

Thrillkiller - Time

In the latter half of 2014, I took my wife to see the Landless Theatre Company's prog metal production of Stephen Sondheim's Sweeney Todd, the Demon Barber of Fleet Street. Not only was the show fantastic, but it also introduced me to the vocal powerhouse that is Rob Bradley. From there I learned about Rob's band Aries and their album, Rise. Towards the end of 2015, I was surprised and more than a little disappointed to hear that Aries was no more. My disappointment, however, was short-lived. For hot on the heels of the news of Aries' demise came the announcement of Rob's new project: Thrillkiller and their four-song debut EP, Time.

I took some time to read over my Aries review and listen to Rise in an effort to submerge myself back into the frame of mind I was experiencing in October of 2014. Since Thrillkiller is a brand new project for Rob (and Aries' guitarist Maxim Sobchenko, also aboard), I figured I should compare and contrast the two to determine what, if anything, has changed since Aries. I discovered that in some areas the music has changed quite a bit, while in others hardly at all. Allow me to explain.

With both Aries and Thrillkiller, the main draw for me was, and remains, the vocal talents of Rob Bradley. Rob has simply got such a great voice and impressive range that I cannot help but bow down to his prowess; he is going to kick ass no matter what he is singing. The old cliché about listening to someone sing the phonebook feels relevant here. Do they still make a phonebook? The point I am staggering towards is that the vocals on Time are pleasantly familiar, yet also a distinct step forward.

So what is different? Aries appealed to the old-school rocker from my past; I likened Rise to a melding of early Judas Priest with Mindcrime-era Queensryche. The music on Rise recalled what was good from the music of that period, but without the cheese-factor that would come to haunt that era. It was just good ol' hard rock and roll.

On Time, Thrillkiller has taken up the mantle of a more contemporary rock sound. I feel almost silly saying "contemporary rock sound" when, at least from my metal-centric perspective, it seems that straight-up rock has all but become extinct in mainstream music. We have discussed this on the podcast in the past, but it seems that in the U.S. popular music is fairly well dominated by rappers like Kanye West and pop singers like Taylor Swift. The Foo Fighters seem the lone bastion of hard rock heavyweights left in the ever-flowing current of the American music mainstream. Given the current landscape, the word "contemporary" might just as well be replaced with a milk-carton photo and the words "last scene." But I digress.

You will have to forgive me for not having a more recent example for comparison, but the one band that comes to mind, particularly during the track, "Passion Killer", is Matchbox Twenty. That's right; to me, the 90s still seem like yesterday. But compared to the 70s/80s Priest reference, I am still moving us forward in time, so let me have my usage of contemporary. Another band I might hear a little bit in these songs is Maroon 5. I do not hear particular songs, but Rob's broad vocal range certainly allows him to cover territory that is also the stomping ground of Adam Levine. Imitation? Hardly. Peers? Most definitely. You know how certain singers have a sound to their voice where you can always pick them out from other singers? Rob has this edge he puts on his voice that I would know anywhere.

While Rob and Thrillkiller have updated their sound, I feel like they have also upped the ante regarding technicality and songwriting. The songs have polished pop sensibilities, but they don’t sacrifice the core of what in the end are still rock songs. The guitar playing (presumably performed by Maxim) still manages to keep things unpredictable with killer riffs and passionate solos. I hope there is a full-length album in the works because I can’t wait to hear what these guys do next.

My tastes these days certainly lean towards darker and heavier music, but as I am always quick to point out, unlike my podcast-brother Buke, I do have vast horizons of music that I enjoy outside the realms of metal. If I am not wrecking my neck to the latest Cattle Decapitation album, then I might be chilling out with some Miles Davis on vinyl, or perhaps some Frank Sinatra. Metal came from the blues, so you know I love some B.B. King or Muddy Waters. Classical was metal before metal was, so I can get behind that too. My wife has helped me learn to appreciate pop music from the 80s. So while the focus of METALHEADS may seem like I have blinders firmly in place, just know that I do in fact appreciate good music of all types and styles. As such, I feel both confident and qualified to recommend Time by Thrillkiller. My wife likes it too. Just saying.

Amestigon - Thier

I love this fucking album. It gets so many things right, and I'm perplexed by how little attention it received in 2015. Hailing from Austria, Amestigon have been active since 1995, making it all the more puzzling to me that I've never heard of them. What initially piqued my interest was the involvement of Silenius (Abigor, Summoning) with this record, but I was quickly drawn in for plenty of other reasons.

Thier is comprised of four lengthy compositions, ranging from 11 minutes for the shortest track to 20 minutes for the title track. The music here is fundamentally black metal, but this is not your typical lo-fi blast fest. Amestigon has a unique approach that I found difficult to categorize or compare to other acts past or present. The songs utilize long and dark chord passages with symphonic underpinnings that evoke a sorrowful, bleak and occult atmosphere.

The compositions have a repetitive feel and often devolve into slow or mid-paced riffing and arpeggios accented by synths with a meditative quality. Amestigon, however, is not afraid to unleash speed and fury when it is called for, and this makes the aggressive sections rewarding and effective. Despite the long track times and repetition, the band does an excellent job keeping the listener's attention with creative twists and turns in chord progressions and careful layering of sound. The vocals often repeat similar lines over and over, something I initially found strange, if not somewhat irritating. However, the method quickly grew on me as it nicely complements the ritualistic spirit of the record.

There are plenty of slow and crushing moments, but stylistically Amestigon's sound does not strike me as doomy. Rather, the inherent heaviness comes from the production that is overall clean but favors the low-end. The guitars and kick drum especially have a bassy quality that beefs up the slow and sludgy sections. Unfortunately, however, as a result, the fast and more traditional black metal parts tend to sound somewhat muddy. I found myself tweaking the equalizer to tease out more high-end bite from the guitars during otherwise epic blasting/tremolo parts. In the end, this is not a huge problem and adds a muscular quality to the sound that is often lacking in black metal. The drums are crisp and clear and stylistically have a cymbal-heavy post-metal vibe that I found refreshingly tasteful. The drumming is also remarkably on-point for traditional straight ahead moments.

Thier's most impressive quality is their attention to detail. For example, the majority of vocals are a high-end sneer and Silenius' familiar reptilian snarl appears prominently on the title track. However, a variety of clean and harsh vocal stylings are carefully peppered throughout for subtle effect without ever distracting. The synth work is unassuming and provides a background bed of strings, bells, and other tasteful textures. Careful attention was also put into guitar tones and their interplay with the keys.

In sum, I'm struck by the balance and maturity on display. Amestigon manages to blend modern and traditional elements of black metal into a minimalist aesthetic that is truly unique. I look forward to exploring this band's back catalog to trace their development and cannot wait to hear their future efforts.

King Diamond & Exodus - Warfield Theater - San Francisco, CA - November 2, 2015

Okay, so…confession: This show was the first time I've seen King Diamond live. That fact seems a little strange to me since I've been a fan since the release of Mercyful Fate's Melissa in 1983 – 32 years ago…wow – but for whatever reason the stars have just never lined up.

I remember being a little scared on my first listen to Melissa. There just wasn't anything else like it at the time. It was soooo dark, atmospheric and completely overtly Satanic. That was pre-9/11 of course, and even pre-AIDS, so the bar on scary was a little lower, and I was only 12 or 13 years old, so cut me some slack.

Fast forward to now, and I'm finally ticking-off a big notch on the whole "Yeah, I saw ‘em," list. King Fucking Diamond.

I was a little concerned going in because the show was at San Francisco's Warfield Theater, which is a notorious sound tornado where metal is concerned. I mean it can be a real shit-show. Thank goodness someone had their ears on straight, though, and I'm pleased to report that this was probably the best sound quality I have ever experienced there. Everything was well balanced, and there was no need for earplugs since apparently the sound guy was not one of those I'll-cover-the-band's-sins-with-punishing-volume types.

Exodus hit the stage first, and they were…Exodus. That's not entirely accurate. They were Exodus minus Gary Holt and plus Kragen Lum (Heathen), who fills in when Gary is off earning his (presumably) larger paycheck with Slayer. I like Exodus well enough, but I've seen them a gazillion times, living in the Bay Area such as I do, and honestly? There's something palpably lacking when Gary Holt is not present. Zetro is back of course, and this was the first time I've seen them with him, but I have to admit that I'm probably the only guy on Earth who preferred Rob Dukes on vocals. I think Shovelheaded Kill Machine was a post-reformation highlight, and Dukes sounds great on that album. Frankly, I've never been sure why people disliked the guy so much. The set was a short 30 minutes, and they picked the obvious ‘classics' to fill it ("Bonded By Blood", "Toxic Waltz", "Strike of the Beast"…you get it), so all was fine and well there.

The crew was on point, and the turnover went down pretty quick. There was just time to grab a beer and a kickass hoodie from the merch booth, and the lights went down. Uriah Heep's "The Wizard" came through the increasingly louder sound system, and played in its entirety, so I'm gonna go ahead and assume that song is King Diamond's "Doctor Doctor," since I happen to know he's a huge David Byron fan. If you don't know who that is, pick up Heep's Demons and Wizards to hear KD's biggest influence…you'll catch the connection pretty quick.

King hit the stage to "Welcome Home" from Them, so a minute or so in I got to hear the most metal lyric in recorded history: "We're going to repaint the front door soon!" Goddamn, right you are, King. You're going to repaint the shit out of that thing. The early set was taken up with KD standards and three songs from the vaunted Fate canon. "Come to the Sabbath" and "Evil" are trotted out by the band with regularity – and were great – but the true highlight was the title track from Melissa. Just…wow…worth the price of admission alone. Seven songs in the band launched into the Abigail album, in its entirety, the intended ‘purpose' of the tour.

King Diamond was spot on. Since he had bypass surgery a few years ago and he is getting a little long in the tooth, it's pretty amazing that he managed to sound EXACTLY like King Diamond. His voice is in such fine form these days that when he reaches a part of a song that has harmony vocals on the record, he ALWAYS sings the highest note in the harmony. I mean, the man could have cheated if he wanted. But no, he went straight for the money shot. One of the more challenging vocal sections (by my count) is in "The Family Ghost" from Abigail – "And the darkness came closer to home on the following niiiighht!" I wondered in advance if he would be able to tackle such difficult sections. No problem – he tossed it off like he was ordering breakfast at a diner.

The band, in general, was so good as to be almost mechanical. Tight as a drum, and if something went askew at any point, I did not catch it. And let me just pause here for a minute to give a huge horns-up to Andy LaRocque, one of the most criminally undermentioned guitarists in metal. Andy was throwing down shreddy goodness (that was tuneful and interesting to listen to) as far back as 1986. His name just does not come up enough when people talk about ‘the Gods of Metal.'

It was ultimately reassuring to walk out of a show by a legend that lived up to the hype. King Diamond is huge, but only really in an underground sort of way. I'd say he's at the top of the underground, the proverbial King of the Hill. And that's fine, but I do lament a bit the fact that he is the kind of musician that the mainstream just still doesn't know about. It's a shame, because he and his band are out there right now, doing very real and vital performances. Trust me, he's several notches above what one will see on the Black Sabbath The End tour, or whatever album Judas Priest is touring for – no offense, I love ‘em. But Ozzy and Rob are a shadow of their former selves. If you want to see and hear a living metal vocal God who can still pull it off, see King Diamond. May the Devil bless him.

 

King Diamond Photos

 

Exodus Photos

Odetosun - The Dark Dunes Of Titan

Anyone who knows me is probably familiar with the fact that I'm a progressive rock fan as much as I am a metal head. I have been a prog fan since my early days of music exploration. On any given day during high school, it wouldn't be out of the norm to spin Screaming for Vengeance by Judas Priest followed up by Relayer from Yes. These two genres have always fit comfortably side by side in my little music world and continue to do so to this day. So, it should come as no surprise that The Dark Dunes of Titan by German metal band Odetosun would be to my liking. So much so, that it has dominated my CD player since its release in October of this year.

On the surface, it is easy to describe Odetosun as progressive death metal. While this is somewhat accurate, there is so much more to their sound. There are heavy doses of post-atmospheric metal mixed in with jazzy interludes and spacey 1970's progressive rock. Their sound is massive and ominous, but also rhythmic and spread-out. At times, it feels like Odetosun is metal's version of a progressive jam band with harsh vocals. Which might seem like an odd mix of styles, that may not work for some, but Odetosun finds a way to blend it all together to create a unique sound.

Odetosun's approach starts to make sense when you consider The Dark Dunes of Titan is based on the science fiction novel As On a Darkling Plain by Ben Bova. For those who are unfamiliar with this book, the plot centers around an Earth manned mission to Titan, Saturn's largest satellite. The objective is to investigate centuries old machines left behind by an alien race. Okay, this is some heady stuff for a metal album. However, if this is what it sounds like to venture out into space, then sign me up for the ride.

The Dark Dunes of Titan consists of 4 songs clocking in at 43 minutes. The first half of the album kicks off with an instrumental called "At the Shore of the Ammonia Sea." Spacey keyboards and jazzy guitar work coupled with trance-like bass playing pulls you along at a deliberate pace. It seems as if Odetosun intends to lure you in so that they can set you up for what is coming next. "Machine Horizon" follows with a heavy burst of energy that feels like a stampede of wild horses passing right over you. There is an Opeth vibe circa Blackwater Park that is unrelenting. The song is definitely the centerpiece of the album and showcases Odetosun at their best.

The latter half continues with "Remember Sequoia Forest", the album's second instrumental and shortest track. Tasteful guitar work and classic progressive overtones create an effortless transition between the album's heaviest tracks. Things come to a close with the 16-minute title track, "The Dark Dunes of Titan." It is here that Odetosun finds a heavy groove that is highlighted by slick riffs, pulsating bass work, and ample doses of mellotron. During most of this song I can't help but think of Isis (the band) meets early 1970's Genesis.

The Dark Dunes of Titan is a challenging listen and requires your full attention. It is an album that evolves with each spin. Some may not enjoy the expansive style or the ease with which Odetosun moves between genres. Personally, I find their approach to be refreshing and much needed in a world of metal that can, at times, be overly saturated and generic. So, if this intrigues you, and you are interested in trying something slightly different, please head over to Odetosun's Bandcamp page and check out one of my favorite releases of the year.

Black Breath - Slaves Beyond Death

Hi, everyone. Before I start this review, I should introduce myself – my name is Mark, and I'm the "Spotify playlist guy" for the METALHEADS Podcast, for whatever that's worth. I am very grateful to George, Buke and Jay for even mentioning the playlists on the podcast, let alone asking me if I wanted to write a review on the website. I started making these playlists just to keep track of what I heard on the show, and then it became a fixation to make sure I cataloged everything, so I didn't miss a single shred of the metal euphoria. The podcast allowed me to combine two of my favorite things - metal and anal-retentiveness – and the ability to share that with others is a lot of fun. There are now spreadsheets involved; is there anything more metal than spreadsheets?

Cheers to George, Buke, and Jay for opening our eyes and ears to a whole new world of metal. This is my first album review, which is not necessarily something you want to hear ("this is my first time performing brain surgery," "this is my first time flying an airplane") but the beauty of this podcast in particular and metal, in general, is that it draws together people with a shared enthusiasm and if nothing else, this review was written with enthusiasm.

In writing this review, I was forced to think about what I want from a metal album, or rather, what characteristics of a band or album make my ears truly take notice. I came up with some basics: riffs, loud, heavy, fast, and stirring, but then I realized that sometimes what I want most is a little punishment. Black Breath's Slaves Beyond Death unflinchingly provides that punishment in abundance. Slaves Beyond Death, the Seattle quintet's third album, is an absolute monster combining death metal, thrash, and hardcore into one searing package that I haven't been able to turn off since my first listen. Sidenote: after A Flourishing Scourge's excellent appearance on the podcast, a METALHEADS field trip to Seattle may be in order. I'll check flights.

Hardly a coincidence, the theme of the album is not just punishment, but a perpetual punishment lasting into the afterlife. While I'd prefer to avoid an infinite life of mining brimstone to fuel the tanks of Satan's army, if this is the soundtrack playing while I do it, I might be able to get into it.

The opening track, "Pleasure, Pain, Disease", sets the tone with a massive riff and pounding drums that accompany us through the rest of the album's 49 minutes. Only leaving off to make room for some sincerely excellent guitar solos; the most notable of which is the album's closing, eight-minute, totally on-theme, instrumental track, "Chains of the Afterlife", which brings a sublime, stunning end to a killer album. My personal favorite track is the crushing "Reaping Flesh", which epitomizes everything I enjoy about this album: chainsaw-grinding-on-a-live-wire guitars, intelligible but grisly, growled vocals, steady drum march, tempo changes, and crisp guitar solos – five minutes and twenty seconds of pure metal spectacle. The lyric "I live in the shadows/Beyond the city of light/Each time, you close your eyes/I am lurking" speaks for the album as a whole.

I had the privilege of discovering Black Breath's discography all at once after hearing Slaves Beyond Death, and it sounds as though they have been building up to this album since 2010's Heavy Breathing, which, while excellent, featured a more thrashy, straightforward hardcore sound. 2012's Sentenced to Life is a next logical step that adds more death elements, but Slaves Beyond Death is the true masterstroke.

In the research I did, and the other reviews I read to prepare for this review, I encountered nearly every word in the metal thesaurus – gruesome, brutal, sick, evil, burnt, grotesque, pummeled, gnarly, morbid, bleak, punishing, tribulation, and merciless – and every single one of them apply. Black Breath have created an awesome album worthy of everyone's attention.

Black Breath is on tour (with Decapitated & Theories) now through February with the final stop at Café 611 in Frederick, MD. Cancel that field trip to Seattle!

Maïeutiste - S/T

French black metal rarely disappoints, and Maïeutiste's self-titled debut is no exception. This is a massive record both in terms of length as well as musical scope. Clocking in at over 1 hour and 16 minutes, this record is comprised of 11 tracks of adventurous metal that does not hesitate to explore within established metal genres as well as clearly outside of well-defined borders of metal in general.

Maïeutiste is a black metal band at their core that at times remind of the glorious single note melodies of Agibor and the bleak stylings and menacing vocal delivery of their fellow countrymen Deathspell Omega. In the end, however, Maïeutiste is very difficult to pigeonhole due to their inherently chameleon-esque nature. The band employs elements of thrash and doom as well as rock, jazz and blues in their compositions with convincing execution. In fact, the musicianship on this record is exceptional, which is all the more impressive given the broad range of styles on display here. The band is especially effective at blending acoustic guitars into distorted passages, achieving some potent and nuanced atmospheres. Some of the most memorable material on the record is acoustic; the interlude "Purgatoire", for example, features haunting ritualistic chanting that gives way to an interplay of hypnotic acoustic arpeggios and brooding cello.

The mood of the record is also well complimented by a clear and organic production. The mix, however, features the guitars and vocals prominently and as a result, the low end suffers to an extent. The drums especially have a somewhat flimsy quality and at times I found myself wishing for meatier kick drum and more audible bass that would have enhanced some of the more aggressive and pummeling sections.

My initial reactions to the record were not entirely positive. I was impressed by the execution and the bold experimentation. However, I was left feeling overwhelmed by the sheer length and seemingly scatter-brained approach. Although I gravitate toward the unique and avant-garde side of black metal, I felt that this material lacked cohesion and ultimately came off as using a "kitchen sink" approach. Case in point, the track "Absolution" features a jazzy section, complete with walking bass line (played on an upright bass, as far as I could tell), and an eerie rising saxophone line. "Lifeless Visions" is, for the most part, a fairly textbook death/doom track featuring growled vocals and droning melancholic riffing. "Annonciation" is a somber and slow bluesy jam that builds to a full-blown wah-wah pedal solo. Again, the quality of execution is not the problem here. Rather, the jumping in and out of such widely different styles resulted in a confused aesthetic and left me unclear as to the band's intention. Further, the non-metal influences often felt a bit too "on the nose" to serve a good purpose. The jazz section, though eerie and memorable, evoked cliché film noir imagery while the blues jam conjured up a vision of Stevie Ray Vaughan decked out in corpse paint.

I am still not clear as to what exactly this band is intending. Initially, I believed that Maïeutiste was a young band still struggling to find its voice and that this record showcases the difficult and imperfect process of incorporating their varied influences. I planned on ending my review with an expression of hope that future efforts would more subtly incorporate the non-metal elements into the core black metal framework. This record is, however, a grower and with subsequent listens the approach began making more and more sense to me. I am left with a feeling that Maïeutiste may just be one of those bands that simply does not give a fuck and does what they want. I hope that this is the case, because, in the end, what is more, metal than that? Black metal purists will hate this, and even fans of the left-field black metal variety may find it difficult to digest. My guess is Maïeutiste don't care either way.

Roundtable - Dread Marches Under Bloodied Regalia

A few days ago I found myself, as I so often do, scouring the landscape of Bandcamp in search of quality music that had not yet graced my ears. On the METALHEADS Podcast, we frequently make reference to Bandcamp as a wonderful resource for heavy metal music discovery; but the other side of that coin is that you end up listening to A LOT of not-so-great music in your quest for one Holy Grail band. Such is the price of our particular musical obsession, and we pay it gladly. Because when you finally make that discovery, the feeling of elation that follows wipes away the fruitless hours of mediocrity and replaces them with this one moment of personal glory.

On this particular day, I had heard many average-at-best black metal bands (because I tend to click on the albums with the cool or interesting artwork, and for some reason those tend toward black metal) and despaired of ever coming across something worthy of my Paypal account. Then I stumbled upon the curiously named Roundtable from Melbourne, Australia. The artwork, while not exactly award-winning in nature, when combined with the band logo and the album title, Dread Marches Under Bloodied Regalia, was enough to inspire the slight hand movement required to hear the music.

As a great number of heavy metal albums begin with an introduction or instrumental track, when sampling a band for the first time I tend toward clicking on the second track, which, in this case, was the peculiarly named "Corpulent Warlord." For the next ten minutes and thirteen seconds I listened. Then I clicked around on a few other tracks, listened some more, and decided to purchase the album.

What sounds did caress and bludgeon my hearing? How shall I describe the experience to you, dear reader? I shall not begin by placing a label upon Roundtable. If you have listened to episode 37 of the METALHEADS Podcast (which for those reading this over the next few days, it will not actually post until next week) you will know that I took myself and other reviewers to task for taking the easy way out of describing music by slapping two-to-four genre tags on a band and calling it a day. Not only is this rather lazy, but it is also becoming increasingly difficult to perform accurately as metal music continues to evolve.

So whatever shall I do? Well, I am going to start by describing the band in their words. I read the band's description of themselves on their Bandcamp page and decided this was too interesting not to share:

"A tripartite union of true riff believers; fellow travellers wending their path through the cosmic ether. Transcending mere Iommic ritual, they wield might and beauty alike in pursuit of the mastery of lysergic liturgy. From the raw material of riff, rhythm and bellow, the lore of alternate realms is realized in extended compositions that explore the possibilities and limitations of their craft."

Is that all clear now then? No? Well, what can we take away from this last paragraph? They are a tripartite union, so they are a trio. They transcend Iommic ritual (I love that part) so seem to be influenced by Black Sabbath but with a desire to further the sound rather than just ape it. They use "might and beauty" as well as "riff, rhythm and bellow" to create their "extended compositions", so it is safe to say they play a lot of instrumental riffage, both clean and with crushing low end as part of their longer than average songs. Oh, and they write about fantasy, or "alternate realms."

Want something a little simpler and a wee bit more specific? Ok, how about this section of a review I saw on Bandcamp. This simple description sold me on the album, so maybe it will do the same for you:

"For another reference point, this is exactly what High On Fire would sound like if Matt Pike was as interested in medieval fantasy as he is UFOs and government conspiracies."

After reading this I did a little side-by-side with some early High On Fire, and had to agree, there is a definite similarity there; only with songs about warlords, sieges and demons. Though, while there are similarities, do not write Roundtable off as a mere High On Fire clone. The vocals are bellowed in a similar fashion, but the music has a more romantic medieval feel.

Dread Marches Under Bloodied Regalia contains six tracks clocking in at one second shy of 49 minutes. Three of these tracks are instrumental and of varying length, while the other three tracks feature vocals and carry on for at least ten minutes each. So basically you get vocals on every other song. I might normally be let down by the fact that only three songs bear vocals, but those three songs make up 32 of the 49 minutes, and the instrumental passages are just so darn good, I will abstain from discontent.

Only you can truly judge whether music is right for your tastes, so without further ado, may I present for your listening pleasure, the track, “The Siege of Uthur's Keep.”

Wilderun – Sleep at the Edge of the Earth

If you are a person like me, you spend countless hours scouring through a multitude of music sites and reviews looking for something new and exciting. On occasion, you find some decent music that fell through the cracks. If you are lucky, you stumble across an album that rewards you with a listening experience that is unforgettable. Wilderun's second release, Sleep at the End of the Earth, is one of these albums that make it worth the effort of every minute spent searching.

On first listen, it becomes apparent this is not just another, run-of-the-mill, folk metal album. Elements of progressive and symphonic metal are woven together with traditional American folk music to create a lush, well-crafted sound that sets this album apart from other contemporary folk metal albums. Sleep at the Edge of the Earth has a heavier, slightly darker sound than its predecessor, Olden Tales and Deathly Trails (2012). The music ebbs and flows between grandiose orchestration and crushing metal riffs only to lead you into serene acoustic passages that conjure ethereal soundscapes from distant lands. The experience is pretty epic to say the least. However, fans of their debut release, there are still plenty of folky sing-along moments throughout the album to quench your thirst.

There is much to like about this album. The production is pristine and worthy of the praise it has received up to this point. Quite an accomplishment when you consider this is an independent release. [Hey metal labels, time for you start doing your jobs because you are missing out on something special here.] The songwriting is mature and complex. The inclusion of traditional folk instruments such as the mandolin, melodica, autoharp, and dulcimer give Sleep at the Edge of the Earth an added dimension that makes it unique. The orchestration is majestic but not bombastic or cheesy. I have to believe Symphony X's Michael Romeo would surely enjoy how well the orchestration and metal co-exist with each other. And if that wasn't enough, the musicianship is flawless with each band member displaying technical precision. But for my money, the highlight are the vocals. The transition from harsh to clean vocals is seamless throughout the album. Never once do I feel like either style dominates or hinders the music. The melodies are catchy and make me want to sing along despite being the world's worst singer. Honestly, this is sonic nirvana.

The 4-part, 20-minute epic, "Ash Memory" dominates the first half of the album. Metalheads and old farts, prog guys like myself, will find plenty to like here. You could listen to each part on their own, but "Ash Memory" is best enjoyed as one song. It is at this point you realize you are on a musical journey that must be seen, or in this case, listened to, until the end. With its Opeth-like riffs and flurry of blast beats, "The Garden of Fire" is the album's standout song. When vocalist and guitarist Evan Berry was interviewed for this site's METALHEADS Podcast, he was asked to describe "The Garden of Fire". His response was short and sweet, "It's just a heavy fucking track." I couldn't have said it any better. "Linger" slows things down with a heavy dose of mandolins and slide guitars that showcases the band in its most organic form. Here is the chance to catch your breath and enjoy the hauntingly beautiful melodies. However, do not drift away for too long because "The Means to Preserve" will snap you back to reality with its dark, imposing arrangements and commanding choruses. Alas, it is at this point you realize the musical journey is coming to an end.

Sleep at the Edge of the Earth is an excellent album that has so many aspects to appreciate. It caught me by surprise on first listen and has remained in constant rotation since its release earlier in the year. Sleep at the Edge of the Earth was the top album on my mid-year "best of" list, and I expect it will challenge for the top spot on my end-of-year list as well. So, do yourself a favor and give Sleep at the Edge of the Earth a listen or two. You may just find yourself enjoying the same musical journey I experience each time I spin this album.